Clay pipes have been used in this country from the late sixteenth century onwards and were made and exported all around the World in huge numbers. They had a short life expectancy and, once broken, were of no further use and discarded. Pipe fragments survive well in the ground and they can be accurately dated from their form and decoration. Furthermore, many pipes are marked, which allows them to be traced back to their individual manufacturers. Most pipes were produced locally in small, family run workshops using regional styles and different shapes and qualities were produced for different markets. These factors make pipes one of the most common and useful artefacts to be found on archaeological sites. Pipe fragments not only produce accurate dating material but also valuable information about trade and social status. Many pipes were also ornately decorated making them interesting objects to collect in their own right. These characteristics make pipes a fascinating field of study, with a wealth of avenues to explore.
The Society for Clay Pipe Research was founded in 1983 and is based in England but with a worldwide membership. The idea of the Society is to bring together pipe collectors, researchers and other interested individuals so that they can exchange ideas and information. Members include many reputable archaeologists, authors and researchers of clay pipes as well as pipe makers, collectors, family historians and beginners. One of the principal aims of the Society is to encourage the exchange of news and information between researchers, which is principally done through the Newsletter, an A5 booklet of around 60 pages in length that the Society publishes twice a year. The Newsletter is packed full of notes and articles on pipes and related topics from around the World as well as news and information, lists of pipemakers, queries, requests for information and details of meetings and publications. The Society also circulates a list of members to facilitate contact between individuals and it holds an annual two-day conference, which is held in a different part of the United Kingdom each year.
(Photographs by David Higgins)