The Clay Pipe Manufacturing Process

Superstructure-remaining
Excavated kiln in section

The pipe kilns found on the site of Saw Close are of the ‘developed muffle’ type, whereby the clay tobacco pipes were fired within a large cylindrical structure made of pipe
clay – the ‘muffle’. This protected the pipes from direct exposure to a naked flame, enabling a more consistent firing process.
At Saw Close, only a small portion of the kiln superstructure survived, and none of the muffle remained, as highlighted on the image to the right (reproduced with the kind permission of A A Peacey, taken from the book ‘The Development of the Tobacco Pipe Kiln in the British Isles. BAR British Series 246, 1996.’).

How were the pipes made? 

Contemporary accounts of pipe manufacture suggest how the process worked.

 

Processing the raw material
Processing the raw material

Lumps of raw pipe clay, probably imported from North Devon, would be soaked in troughs, before being beaten on benches, covered with iron plates, into a pliable state. It’s not clear whether this was happening on site, or whether the clay had already been prepared when it arrived at the factory.

Rolling
Rolling

The softened clay would then be taken to a rolling room, where women would roll out the pipe stems, leaving a lump at one end to form the pipe bowl.

Wiring and moulding
Wiring and moulding

The roughed-out pipes were then taken to a moulding room, where very skilled workers (usually women) would insert a wire up the narrow stems to form the bore of the pipe. The pipes were then placed in a mould, and clamped in a ‘chest’ where an iron cone was dropped into the head of the pipe to form the hollowed-out bowl.

Dressing
Dressing

Once moulded, the pipes were taken to a room where extraneous lumps of clay from the moulding process were removed, and the surface of the pipe smoothed out.

Drying
Drying

The moulded pipes were dried on racks prior to firing. The pipes would have been dried for at least three days to remove excess moisture, and prevent sagging and distortion in the kiln.

Firing
Firing

Pipes were carefully stacked either within a box or vessel, known as a ‘saggar’, or a larger ‘muffle’ as was the practice here at Saw Close, and fired within the kiln at temperatures of 900-1000 °C. At Saw Close the pair of kilns could have operated round-the-clock in rotation, one heating up while the other cooled.

Tipping
Tipping

Once fired, the side wall of the muffle would have been broken out and the pipes retrieved ready for ‘tipping’. This usually involved dipping the tips of the pipes into a red lead-glaze, and then firing just the tips within a specific tipping ‘muffle’. The glaze turned green on firing, and was designed to prevent the smoker’s lips sticking to the pipe. A small number of the pipe stems recovered from Saw Close were coated with a red wax, rather than a glaze.

Packing and storage
Packing and storage

Once the tips had been applied, the pipes were ready for packing ready for distribution. They were distributed via local pubs, where drinkers bought a pipe and tobacco with their pint.

Archival photographs: reproduced with the kind permission of S. Paul Jung Jr, taken from the book ‘Pollocks of Manchester: Three Generations of Clay Tobacco Pipemakers, BAR British Series 352, 2003.’

Tipping muffle reconstruction: reproduced with the kind permission of A A Peacey, taken from the book ‘The Development of the Tobacco Pipe Kiln in the British Isles. BAR British Series 246, 1996.’