Friday, 5 May 2017

Tobacco and Cure-Alls: A Post-Medieval Way of Life?

Smoking tobacco has been a popular past-time for people around the world for centuries. Multiple materials and forms have been used, but in Britain, since the 16th century, clay has been the tobacco pipe material of choice and continues to be produced to this day. The earlier pipes were very small with almost horizontal bowls, but as production increased and clay became more readily available, pipe stems became longer and consequently, bowls became bigger.

These clay pipes have been abundant at the West's Garage site, most of them adhering to the typical 'Georgian' shape, with a larger sloping bowl with foot spur, probably dating back to the mid-18th century, although expert opinion is currently awaited. Most commonly found were pieces of the pipe stem around five centimetres long, which is to be expected not only because a long, thing stem is less likely to have survived in tact but also because of the prevalence of clay pipes in England's history.

Clay pipes circa the 17th-19th centuries have been found in abundance in Southern English tidal rivers, sometimes bearing the name of an inn. The longest stemmed pipes, nicknamed 'churchwardens', were re-used by inn-goers who broke the tips off and discarded them into the river for the sake of hygiene. Jonathan House, Site Director at West's Garage, has also said that these long-stemmed pipes would sometimes get blocked and smokers would simply break off the tips to allow further use.

While West's Garage is not a river site, presumably the post-medieval townsfolk were doing just that; having some evening pipe tobacco in their own homes and discarding the broken clay pipe tips out their windows. One of the stem pieces also had an impressed mark reading 'Balls Camb', which could be a possible makers' mark.

Along with the abundance of clay pipes, many other post-medieval material evidence has been uncovered, such as post-medieval pottery sherds and bottles. One particularly interesting example is a small, complete green glass bottle that reads 'True Daffy Elixir' on one side and 'Dicey & Co. ... London' on the other.

Daffy's Elixir was one of the most popular and widely advertised medicines in 18th century Britain. One recipe for this elixir stated ingredients such as aniseed, brandy, cochineal, elecampane, fennel seed, jalap, manna, parsley seed, raisin, rhubarb, saffron, senna, and Spanish liquorice. While it was reputed to be a cure-all, modern analysis has shown it to be a laxative, made mostly from alcohol!

While the elixir was reputed to have been created by the clergyman, Thomas Daffy of Leicestershire in 1647, William and Cluer Dive & Co. claimed manufacturer's rights in the 18th century, which is most likely when our bottle came about, after which the elixir even travelled over to America it was so popular.

We have also recently uncovered a piece of green-glazed ceramic roof tile. During medieval times, a mixture of lead and copper was used to create this lovely green glaze which almost certainly places this tile from the nearby medieval priory. Possibly this tile was re-used just as the priory's limestone blocks were reused for post-medieval wall footings. Given that it was not discovered as part of a whole, it clearly demonstrates how pieces of our past can continue to live on through history.

Even when multiple stages of development have taken place and wiped out much of the past, as archaeologists, we can uncover pieces of our history that tell a story and shed greater light on a past that we may know little about. This roof tile tells us once more that pieces of the medieval priory lived on in post-medieval times, even after the priory itself had been destroyed. As for the tobacco pipes and elixir bottle, well they can tell even more stories about daily life in an expanding, industry-heavy area of Cambridge.

Check back next week as PCA continues to #DigDeeper.
A Brief History of Tobacco Pipes & Pipe Collecting. World Collector’s Net.