Shropshire History


Clay Tobacco Pipes


to Index


Clay is very abundant in Shropshire and was greatly used to make pottery, as well as bricks, tiles and pipes. Another product was clay tobacco pipes and the main area for making these was the villages of Broseley and Benthall. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco into Britain at the end of the 16th Century and its popularity grew quickly. There were no cigarettes in those days and most people used clay pipes.  These varied from the long churchwarden pipes (giving a cooler smoke) to short ones used at work that were less likely to break.


Iniitally, pipe making was a cottage industry with hundreds of individual pipe makers working from home, many using their own stamps to identify their wares. During the 19th Century, however, pipemaking began to be concentrated in several factories. The former works of William Southorn & Co survives intact on King Street, Broseley and is now the Broseley Pipe Works of Ironbridge Museum. It is a good place to see how the clay pipes were made. There is a display of clay pipes at the nearby Cumberland Hotel. They were sold at most taverns and "Will you take a Broseley?" became a familiar phrase to smokers.  Pipes are still being made in Broseley by Rex Key.


To make a clay pipe, a piece of clay is rolled until it is about 4” long and ½” in diameter. A straw or stick is then poked into the clay lengthwise until it comes out of the other end. Care should be taken that it doesn't poke a hole anywhere else in the stem. The straw or stick is then moved back and forth gently from both ends until it slides out easily. The ends of the stem are trimmed with a knife and then the ends are squeezed gently to make sure the holes are still open. The edges of the ends are smoothed with wet fingers and the maker gently sucks and blows through the stem to make sure it is clear. The stem is then covered with a damp cloth and put aside.


To make the bowl, a 2” ball of clay is rolled and then a thumb is pressed into the top to make a bowl shape. The edges of the bowl are pinched until it is the size and shape required. The sides and bottom of the bowl should be uniformly about ¼” thick. A sharpened stick is used to poke a hole in one side of the bowl. This is slightly closer to the bottom than the top and no larger than ¼” in diameter to prevent tobacoo being inhaled when the pipe is smoked. The bowl is then set aside and left uncovered to harden for 15-20 minutes, depending on how soft it is.



A tool is then used to score one end of the stem and around the hole made in the side of the bowl. Water is dripped over the scoring marks to wet them. The stem is then pressed onto the bowl and the seam smoothed with a wet finger. The area around the seam is then strengthened with some slip (a thick paste made of clay and water). The pipe is allowed to harden uncovered for 15-20 minutes and then the maker gently sucks and blows on the pipe to make sure it is clear. If there are any obstructions, they are cleared away with a stick, knife, or straw. The pipe is then left to dry for a day and fired in a kiln to make it hard.



Gazetteer of Sites


Benthall - Bradley’s Pipe Works (SJ66500190)

The site of a late 17th Century muffle kiln for clay tobacco pipes was revealed during the construction of a new house at 11, Benthall Lane in 1983. A derelict 18th Century cottage had been built on top of the kiln and underneath this were a number of clay tobacco pipes, together with pipe kiln waste. The majority of the pipes were marked RB or Henry Bradley and the kiln probably belonged to that maker. Over 100 mould types and different marks were recovered and this suggests that he was a large scale manufacturer employing a number of journeymen. The pipes dated to the period around 1660-1690.


Benthall - Coppice Head Pipe Works (SJ66430183)

A small pipe kiln dating from the 16th to 17th Centuries.  An old couple living Coppice Cottage remembered a pipe kiln attached to the house when they moved here in the 1930s, which was later demolished. Numerous fragments of 17th Century clay tobacco pipes have been found in the garden.


Benthall - Hartshorne’s Pipe Works (SJ66740220)

A group of clay tobacco pipes, ranging in date from 1660-1770, were recovered from the garden of 23, Benthall Lane in 1982. The presence of mould duplicates and kiln waste suggests that there may have been a pipe kiln. The site was formerly the Old Leopard Inn, which was probably built over the pipeworks in the 19th Century. Although there was a range of pipes present, many of them were marked IH or IAMS HART, indicating that the works belonged to James Hartshorne. The pipes date from the period 1690-1720.


Benthall - Legges Hill Pipe Works (SJ67090247)


Small works off Legges Hill started by William Southorn in 1823 and believed to be the first purpose built pipe factory in Britain. In the 1930s, production moved to King Street and, by the late 1950s, the site had become a gate factory. Broseley Wood House has been built on the site, which was demolished and the area covered by an 8cm thick concrete slab. Large amounts of spoil containing clay pipe fragments and pottery sherds have been deposited east of the slab. During construction of two houses to the west of the site in 1990, a large amount of kiln waste was found including clay pipes, clay doll limbs and earthenware pottery.


Benthall - Pitts Pipe Works (SJ66900260)


Working prior to 1882 and up to 1954 but closed by 1963.


Benthall - Richard Shaw's Pipe Works (SJ66470206)

The site now occupied by Benthall Villa Farm was a small family workshop making clay pipes in the first half of the 19th Century. Richard Shaw was first recorded as a pipemaker in 1812 and appears as such in trade directories until 1859. Although shown as a pipemaker in 1844, he also held four adjacent pieces of land and was presumably operating a smallholding. In the 1851 census he is recorded as a farmer employing 3 men and by 1861 as a coalmaster employing 6 men and 5 boys. Only two incomplete examples on his marks are known but they appear to have been relief stem stamps reading R SHAW/IRONBRIDGE.


Benthall - Queen Street Pipe Works (SJ67200210)


Small clay pipe works on Queen Street. Not identified on OS maps so period of working not known.


Bridgnorth - Whitburn Street Pipe Works (SO71309310)


Working up to 1884 but closed soon after this. Excavations in 2002 revealed ash, building debris, slag, saggars, clay pipe muffle and clay pipe fragments of 19th-20th century date.


Broseley - Pitchyard Pipe Works (SJ66980266)


Started by Noah Roden in the 18th Century, who ran it until he died in 1855. His widow continued the business until 1858, when it was acquired by Edwin Santhorn and renamed as the Broseley Pipe Works. He introduced a number of changes and took out various registrations and patents to make water pipes and transfer-printed pipes. He was also using steam power as part of the manufacturing process and produced some of the finest English pipes of the period. in 1863 he was employing 28 people and this had increased to 40 by 1871. Santhorn died in 1876 and in 1879 it was acquired by Hopkins & Co, who renamed it as the Raleigh Pipe Works. By 1882 it had been acquired by William Southorn & Co, who changed the name back to Broseley Pipe Works and took over Santhorn’s registered trade mark. In 1885 it was said to be one of the largest factories of its kind in England but, in the 1930s, Southorn moved production to King Street and this works closed.


Broseley - Southorn's Pipe Works (SJ67160225)

Pipe making started on site in the 17th Century and, in the 1930s, William Southorn moved operations here from his other pipe works at Legge’s Hill and Pitchyard. It ceased production in 1952 and is believed to be the only surviving clay tobacco pipe factory in Britain. It has been preserved as the Broseley Pipe Works of Ironbridge Museum and is Grade II Listed. It is built of red brick with plain clay tile roofs, gabled ends and corbelled brick eaves. There are two parallel L-shaped ranges and the range fronting King Street is where the pipes were made and dispatched. The range behind was residential. Between them is a yard with a pugging mill and bottle kiln at the north-west corner.


Cleobury Mortimer - Southwood Pipe Works (SO66407440)

Excavations have revealed a 17th to early 18th Century clay pipe kiln and associated building. Nothing shown on OS maps.


Oswestry - Morda Road Pipe Works (SJ28782907)

A pipe manufactory was shown on an 1833 map and a pipe kiln at the end of a row of cottages was documented in 1840 when owned by Thomas Jones. In 1852 it cost 6d per gross to fire the pipes.