History

Many of the fragments are 400 years old...

According to The Museum of London, the earliest account of a pipe being used to smoke dried tobacco in England dates back to the 1570s.

Disposable pipes were hand-made until a way of implementing moulds was introduced to speed up production. By the end of the 16th century tobacco smoking had become so popular that pipe-making factories were popping up everywhere – in 1619 there were over 100 clay pipe manufacturing companies in London alone.

Many pipe-making companies included their own mark or personal initials on the pipes. These can sometimes be spotted on the stem or bowl, base or heel.

People often suggest that the abundance of fragments is due to smokers breaking the pipe when it became clogged. Though this may be true in perhaps 1% of cases, I believe that smokers just tossed their clogged or finished pipe sideways because it was easier to just spark up another one and, due to their fragility, many were easily broken into smaller pieces. 

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A fuller history can be read here on the The Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders' site

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The floor of old skittle alley in Greenwich is made from crushed clay pipes.

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A wonderful history of clay pipe smoking in New Zealand can be found on the Teara's site – be sure to click on the swagman pic at the right hand side


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More info about clay pipes in general available from The Society of Clay Pipe Research.

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It is rare to find a discarded pipe in its complete state these days, however, at Keen's Steakhouse in New York the ceiling of the Lillie Langtry Room is covered in old Dutch churchwarden pipes. Thanks to Vidiot for these images. I particularly like this shot. According to Keen's website, they have the largest collection in the world.

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A lovely coincidence... a C19 pipe-maker called Jane living in Parker Street. She was also from Essex and moved to North London!

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Did you know that clay pipes were not just used for smoking? See here.

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The Broseley Pipeworks is an old clay pipe factory in Shropshire that is now a working museum where you can watch demonstrations of how clay pipes were made. And here's some more info about the colours and markings of the pipes from that region.

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Pipe smoking in The Netherlands – also see the Amsterdam Pipe Museum


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Shown below is a collection of images showing some interesting bowl and stem fragments I have found along the Thames. More pics here.