London Clay Pipe Studies

The clay tobacco pipe industry in the parishes of St Margaret and St John the Evangelist, Westminster

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Great St Anne's Lane (173958)

Archaeological evidence

In 1995 the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) carried out an investigation at 18 Great Peter Street (Grainger 1996; site code: SAL94). During a watching brief on contractors’ works at the north end of the site, a large number of marked and decorated clay tobacco pipes were recovered. The decorated pipes were armorials, mostly bearing variations of the royal arms of the house of Hanover and the so-called ‘Prince of Wales feathers’. The pipes were found in a layer of loose, dark grey silt and ash (context number 202), which also contained much brick rubble and fragments of kiln muffle. A large proportion of the pipe bowls was collected, but unfortunately it was possible to retrieve only one muffle fragment. The deposit was recorded under ‘rescue’ conditions and its original extent could not be measured. However, information supplied by the site contractors suggests that it might have covered an area of approximately 10 x 4 metres, as shown below on Fig 3. Another large group of armorial pipes was recovered from deposits excavated from an engineering test pit (context number 13), located close to the area of the watching brief. Finally, a small number of pipes was found across the rest of the site in areas of controlled excavation.

The excavation produced 344 pipe fragments, of which 305 were bowls. Of these, 263 were decorated with armorial devices and 145 were marked with the makers’ initials. All of the makers’ marks were moulded in relief on the sides of the heel or spur. Most of the pipes have been classified according to the Chronology of Bowl Types (Atkinson and Oswald 1969, 7). These are type AO26, spurred pipes with thin bowls dated  c. 1740–1800. There is also a small number of type AO25 heeled bowls, this being the standard bowl form in the London area for most of the 18th century. Finally, a few of the pipes have been classified according to the Simplified General Typology (Oswald 1975, 37). These are type OS12 bowls with a date range of c. 1730–80.

This is believed to be the largest group of armorial pipes to have been found in the course of archaeological excavation in the London area. Much has been written previously about this style of pipe decoration (in particular Atkinson and Oswald 1980 and Le Cheminant 1981a and b). Armorial pipes seem to have been produced from c. 1740 and are found most frequently in London. They were made for the upper end of the market and represent the peak of the mould-makers’ art in the 18th century. As such they would have been relatively expensive, but there would have been a ready market for armorials among the more affluent members of Westminster society.

The armorial pipes from SAL94 are of relatively poor quality, and were probably made in old and worn-out moulds. Most of them were not smoked and there are some obvious wasters (kiln rejects) that were deformed, over-fired or pierced by the moulding wire. It seems likely therefore that the pipes were discarded from a local workshop, particularly as they were found in conjunction with fragments of kiln debris.

92 pipes, produced in four different moulds, are marked with the initials BT. This represents 63.5% of all the marked pipes. The only known Westminster pipe maker with those initials was Benjamin Turner, recorded in a Westminster poll book in 1749. At that time he gave his address as St Anne’s Lane (now St Ann’s Street), which formed the western boundary of the archaeological site. It is therefore beyond reasonable doubt that these were his pipes.

Other makers’ marks on pipes recovered from deposits [202] and [13] are the single initial W on the left side of the spur, found on 31 pipes from the same mould, and IP, found on nine pipes from three different moulds. With the BT pipes, these three makers account for 91% of all the marked pipes from the SAL94 site.

Of the armorials without makers’ marks there are two designs that occur most frequently: a Hanoverian arms decoration which is found on 84 pipes from the same mould, and a Prince of Wales feathers design which occurs 48 times. It is reasonable to assume that these unmarked pipes were produced at the same local workshop as the marked examples, and were probably made by Benjamin Turner.

A catalogue of the marked and decorated pipes, together with photographs of many of the pipes, can be found in Appendix 1.

Fig 3  Location map showing the archaeological site at 18 Great Peter Street (blue) and the area of the watching brief where most of the pipes were found (red). The probable location of Benjamin Turner's house and the former position of Pipemaker's Alley are shown also

Documentary evidence

The surname Turner occurs fairly frequently in the parish records of St Margaret’s, Westminster in the early 18th century and there is evidence that more than one member of the family was a pipe maker. In 1716 Ann, daughter of George Turner, pipe maker of that parish, was apprenticed to Ann Ridout, a market woman of St Martin-in-the-Fields (Gibbons, no date). Ann Ridout was possibly related to the pipe-making family of the same name (see 79 Great Peter Street). There are a number of Turners in Oswald’s list of London pipe makers (Oswald 1975, 147), although they were not all necessarily working in Westminster. They include George (freedom granted by apprenticeship in 1694, and possibly the father of Ann, described above), Henry (1) (warden of the company in 1694), Henry (2) (apprentice of the company in 1694; took Thomas Wright as an apprentice in 1732) and Matthew (took Thomas Edwards as an apprentice in 1704).

There were two Benjamin Turners baptised in St Margaret’s parish in the early 18th century:

29 December 1702 Benjamin Turner son to Ben by Marg

8 November 1711 (born 19 October 1711) Benjamin Turner son to Jno by Eliz

Unfortunately it is impossible to prove that either of them grew up to become the pipe maker of Great St Anne’s Lane. However, it does seem likely that both reached adulthood, married (although no traces of the marriages have been found) and had children of their own, as shown by the St John’s parish baptism registers:

Children of Benjamin and Mary Turner:

Benjamin born 13 May 1730, baptised 4 June 1730

Ann baptised 25 April 1731

James baptised 20 August 1732

John born 6 October 1733, baptised 17 October 1733

Mary baptised 2 March 1735

Sarah baptised 17 October 1736

William baptised 1 January 1738

William baptised 18 March 1739

Anne baptised 21 September 1740

Children of Benjamin and Margaret Turner:

John born 7 September 1728, baptised 29 September 1728

Ann baptised 17 February 1730

Benjamin born 9 March 1731, baptised 4 April 1731

Richard baptised 18 June 1732

Jane baptised 12 August 1733

Of the two, it seems likely that the first (married to Mary) was the pipe maker, as discussed elsewhere (54 Old Pye Street).

Apart from these entries in the parish registers, which are ambiguous, the earliest known reference to Benjamin Turner is in the parish poor rate book of 1739. He was recorded as the occupier of a house on the west side of Great St Anne’s Lane, being the fifth property south of its junction with Old Pye Street and probably on the corner of Pipemaker's (formerly Alding’s) Alley. The annual rent on Turner’s house was assessed at £9, and he paid 3s 4½d to the poor rate.

It is possible that Turner’s house was newly built. During the four years prior to his appearance in Great St Anne’s Lane, the rate books recorded three or four properties only on the west side of the lane, south of its junction with Old Pye Street. In 1739, when Turner’s name first appeared in the rate books, 14 properties were listed.

Over the next 20 years the assessment of his annual rent fluctuated between £8 and £10, and Turner’s poor rate contribution varied accordingly. The rent was about average for a house in Great St Anne’s Lane. For example, in the year 1755 29 properties were occupied and rents ranged from £4 to £30, with the average being just under £10. It is interesting to note that in the same year 28 properties in the lane were recorded as being empty. It is quite likely that many of these were derelict or unsafe, for a conspicuous aspect of urban life in the 18th century was the number of old buildings that collapsed. This could even happen to new or half-built houses, through the use of inferior building materials (George 1966, 83–84).

Like most people in the 18th century, Benjamin Turner did not own the house that he lived in. In 1752 John Whitehead and Mary Brayfield (who were the licensees of the New Theatre, Haymarket), held the lease. A 'lease and release' that has survived among the Music and Dance Licence Records at the Greater London Records Office (GLRO manuscript MDR 1752 B2 264. 265) lists a number of Westminster properties leased by them, and these include:

Ground whereon two messuages in occupation of - Turner, pipemaker, abutting East on St. Anns Lane, St. Johns.

A messuage can be defined as ‘a dwelling house together with its outbuildings, curtilage, and the adjacent land appropriated to its use’. It appears from the lease that Turner rented two houses (perhaps with associated outbuildings and land), but apparently they were treated as a single property for the purposes of the poor rate assessment. Note that on Horwood's map of 1792–99 (Fig 4) two small, adjoining buildings, with the same overall dimensions as the neighbouring building to the north, are shown in the position where Turner's two messuages are thought to have stood. 

Fig 4  Extract from Horwood's map of 1792–9 showing the two buildings on the site occupied previously by Benjamin Turner

In 1739 (the year that Turner took up residence in Great St Anne’s Lane) Alding’s Alley (described by Seymour in 1735 as a narrow and long passage connecting Little St Anne's Lane and Great St Anne's Lane), was renamed Pipemaker's Alley. It appears as such on Rocque's map of 1747, but at the time of Horwood's map (Fig 4) it had become John's Buildings. The parish rate book for 1739 lists a number of houses in the alley and it is possible that these (like some of the houses in Great St Anne’s Lane) were newly constructed, because no poor rate was collected in the alley in the period 1735–38. Between 1739 and 1744 Pipemaker's Alley was occupied by nine ‘poor’ tenants, and four houses remained empty. Each of the houses was assessed at an annual rent of £4 and the poor rate due from each occupier was 1s 6d. Clearly these were humble dwellings. Further evidence of this comes from the window tax and land tax assessments of 1750. At that time the occupants of houses with eight or more windows were liable to taxation, but the houses in Pipemaker's Alley were described as ‘cotts’ and no tax was levied. For the purposes of the land tax each of the houses was assessed at an annual rent of £3, incurring a tax of 9s. By contrast Benjamin Turner’s house was assessed at £6, resulting in a tax of 18s, and with eight windows he incurred a window tax of 2s.

All of the tenants of Pipemaker's Alley were described by the rate assessors as ‘poor’, meaning that they were unable to pay some or all of their contribution, and they were often in arrears. Appendix 2 lists the occupants of Pipemaker's Alley between 1739 and 1790. None of them are known as pipe makers, but it is possible that some at least were employed by Benjamin Turner. It is interesting to note that the population of Pipemaker's Alley tended to remain stable for several years at a time, but that occasionally there were wholesale changes, and even a period when all of the houses were unoccupied.

There is considerable topographic evidence for the importance of pipe making in this part of Westminster in the 18th century. At its western end Pipemaker's Alley opened into Little St Anne’s Lane, where there was a tavern by the name of The Tobacco Pipe (Lillywhite 1972, 591). Its origins cannot be traced. Lillywhite states that it existed prior to 1761, but it does not appear in a register of licensed premises in Westminster for the year 1744. As late as 1799, a street directory recorded a Tobacco Pipe Alley, also opening off of Little St Anne’s Lane. According to Tatman, this was included in a London directory of 1732 (Tatman 1994, 9). Further afield, the same directory supposedly includes a Pipe Alley, located on the north side of Broadway between George and Plow Yard and White Hart Yard, although it does not appear in the poor rate book until 1739. The Complete Guide London directory records Pipe Alley at least as late as 1760. The residents of Pipe Alley from 1739 to 1747 are listed in Appendix 3, on the off-chance that one or more of them might turn out to have been pipe makers. Like their contemporaries in Pipemaker's Alley they were all 'poor', and their houses were all assessed at an annual rent of £3. It might be significant that there was a William Turner (perhaps a pipe-making relation of Benjamin Turner), living in Broadway, close to Pipe Alley, in 1735–7.

The earliest reference to Benjamin Turner of Great St Anne’s Lane as a pipe maker is in the Westminster poll book of 1749 (Osborn, 1981). Two other pipe makers of St Margaret’s parish voted in the by-election of that year: John Powell of Pye Street and William James of Broadway. Turner qualified to vote as a ratepayer of the parish ‘paying scot and bearing lot’. Powell and James voted in the original poll but their votes were disallowed. In the case of William James this is understandable because his name does not appear in the rate books for Broadway between 1737 and 1749, and it might have been argued at the time that he was not resident in the parish. However, the name Powell was recorded in the rate books for Old Pye Street between 1749 and 1758 (see 54 Old Pye Street)

Benjamin Turner seems to have occupied the same premises in Great St Anne’s Lane until 1757, paying his poor rate promptly and never falling into arrears. In that year a marginal note against his premises says simply 'pulled down', although he is shown as having paid that year’s rate. In the following year Turner's name is struck through, and in subsequent years (until at least 1766) the property was described as empty.

The parish Burial Fee Book for 1758 recorded the funeral, on 26 May, of a Benjaman Turner (sic) and the evidence of the rate books suggests that this was the pipe maker. Of the 12 burials that took place in that month only three were paid for, the rest being pauper burials. At a total cost of £1 2s 6d, Turner’s funeral was just slightly the most expensive of the three. We may infer from this that he had some status in the local community. However, there is no evidence that he left a will, and no record exists of the administration of his estate.

At least one member of the Turner family seems to have continued in the pipe-making business after Benjamin's death, taking over John Powell's premises in Old Pye Street in 1759 (see 54 Old Pye Street).


For the first time a group of pipes can be attributed positively to the pipe maker Benjamin Turner, and these can now be dated with some certainty to the period 1739–1758. Other pipes, marked with the initials IP, are likely to have been produced by John Powell (senior or junior), and the larger number of pipes marked with the initial W might have been made by a third local pipe maker, William James. The juxtaposition of their pipes and the nature of the deposit in which they were found suggest that there was a business relationship between these men; presumably all the pipes were fired in the same kiln. They seem to have specialised in armorial pipes, although the available evidence suggests that their products were not particularly well made since many of the moulds were obviously worn.

The precise location of Turner’s workshop is not known, although it was presumably situated within his property on the west side of Great St Anne’s Lane. If that was the case, it seems strange that so many of his pipes should have been found dumped on a site on the opposite side of the road. Turner might have disposed of wasters, ash and kiln debris on waste ground opposite his house. Alternatively, the material was dumped there when his house was demolished in 1757, or when the buildings along the west side of Great St Anne’s Lane were cleared to make way for the construction of St Matthew’s Church and the adjoining National School in the 1840s. The boundary between the church and the school seems to have been on the former position of Pipemaker's Alley, and this would suggest that Turner’s house was on the school site, to the north. This is occupied today by St Matthew’s primary school, built in 1868. Should this site be redeveloped in the future, it is possible that evidence of Benjamin Turner’s pipe-making workshop will be uncovered.

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