Medieval Pottery Research Group

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Newsletter No. 36 – April 2000

Council News

Council met on February 10th at the offices of MoLAS in London, a new venue kindly arranged by Jacqui Pearce. Editorial business occupied a large part of the meeting.

Volume 22 of Medieval Ceramics has been making its way in batches to the typesetters, and now has an estimated publication date in summer 2000. Meanwhile Volume 23 is well advanced, and it is hoped to get this volume out before Christmas 2000, in an effort to catch up with the annual production cycle. In order to speed up the process, the 1999 Bibliography will be held over and published with the 2000 Bibliography in Volume 24, which should appear in spring/early summer 2001.

Our first Occasional Paper, A Guide to the Classification of Medieval Pottery Forms, continues to sell steadily; there has been interest in this volume from the Continent.

Meanwhile this coming year should see the fruition of three other projects: the Occasional Papers on Ipswich Ware and Trondheim Redwares, and the Minimum Standards document.

All these projects mean a heavy workload for the Editorial Committee, and it has been decided to appoint another editor to help Jacqui Pearce and Jennie Stopford (Lucy Whittingham was elected to the post at the AGM in March).

Clive Orton has been checking out the MPRG web site, and reported that it is now easily accessible through several search engines in the UK. However, it might be to our advantage to acquire a permanent web address, as this would lead to us being more widely accessible, particularly through non-UK search engines. The Group could buy an address (at present this costs about £50 a year), and this could then be maintained by anyone.

Just to remind members, our current web address is www.pmiles.demon.co.uk/mprg/mprg.htm, and includes useful contact addresses, details of forthcoming conferences, publications, etc, and links to other selected pot-oriented sites. Visit it today!

Also on the subject of publicity, Chris Cumberpatch submitted some draft designs for notepaper, kindly produced by his father, who is a graphic designer. Council chose one of these designs, which is suitable for conversion into a multi-purpose logo, and it should be launched in the near future.

More publicity will hopefully be provided by our pottery Supergroup postcard, which Duncan Brown was in the throes of organising at the time of the Council meeting - this has now triumphantly appeared, launched at the Conference last month. See elsewhere in this Newsletter for details of how to buy copies.

A report on the 25th Anniversary Annual Conference in Oxford is included below. Future potential venues include Raeren (2001) and Dublin (2002), but a UK meeting may also be scheduled next year.

The next Council meeting will be in June.

Lorraine Mepham, Secretary


MPRG 25th Anniversary Conference Report

As might be expected given the theme, there were many well-known faces present at this year's conference. Summaries of aspects of the past 25 years of medieval pottery studies were presented by such luminaries as Mike McCarthy, Hugo Blake, John Hurst, Steven Moorhouse, Frans Verhaeghe and Ken Barton, as well as younger generations of pottery specialists.

We were introduced to Oxford by John Ashdown, the City Conservation Officer, who presented interesting slides on the town's building heritage. Day 1 then began in earnest, with papers on the MPRG itself, the place of pottery studies within medieval archaeology, and 25 years of Saxon pottery.

After lunch, sessions concentrated on theoretical and historical studies, and continental pottery. The Ashmolean welcomed us for a wine reception and pottery exhibition viewing, and then we headed back for the Dunning Memorial Lecture, this year on 25 years of post-medieval pottery by David Barker. Then it was off to Jesus College for the Conference Dinner - producing a certain sense of déjà vu amongst those who had taken lunch at Exeter! Several delegates went on to the pub, and finished off the evening at the College bar.

Day 2 kicked off with a morning reviewing British pottery studies, including Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

The AGM was held at lunchtime, and new Council members were elected: Nigel Jeffries and Debbie Ford as Ordinary Members, Lucy Whittingham as Editor. The afternoon sessions covered CBM and scientific analysis.

The bookstall took over £1000, and the 25th anniversary postcard was launched with some success. These are now available from the Secretary, Treasurer or Assistant Treasurer (see Contacts), for 50 pence each or three for £1.

As well as looking back on the past, there was much optimism about the future of medieval pottery studies, and I look forward to being a part of the next 25 years.


Regional Groups

Active regional groups of the MPRG are still in a minority, although there are signs that interest is reviving. Those who submitted reports to the MPRG AGM this year included include SEMPER, covering the south Midlands and East Anglia, and the North West Regional Group, both of whom have held meetings in the past year.

SEMPER held a meeting at the Buckinghamshire County Museum at Aylesbury in March on the theme of Shelly wares. Material from inside and outside the south-east Midlands was discussed and about twenty people attended. The North West group met in Lancaster in July 1999 - a report on this was included in MPRG Newsletter 34.

Mike Ponsford of the South-West group has reported that work connected with the Bickley Experimental kiln project continued this year. A poster display about the project was on display at the MPRG conference. Mike has plans to organise a meeting to revive the regional group in the near future and anyone interested in this should contact him (address in Medieval Ceramics).

Nigel Jeffries has temporarily taken over the London group and is currently planning a meeting to be held later this year. He will be announcing details of this shortly (see below).

Anne Jenner would like to organise a meeting to discuss forming a group to cover North-East England. Anyone interested should contact her regarding this. It is hoped that a meeting will be held later this year.

Chris Cumberpatch, Regional Groups co-ordinator

London and South-East Group

While Beverly Nenk is on maternity leave, it has been agreed that the contact for the London and South-East group will be Nigel Jeffries. He would to like to get the group active again and has begun making enquiries about arranging a meeting for the group on a Saturday in September, centred around the preliminary working title of Mediterranean and Near Eastern ceramics. The venue is likely to be the Museum of London, to be confirmed in May. Once a venue has been decided, he will contact members of the group with details.

Nigel is in the process of obtaining a membership list but this job would be made easier if members could make themselves known to him either by contacting him through his email address or by telephoning during office hours. Any comments are of course welcome.

Contact Nigel Jeffries, MoLSS, 46 Eagle Wharf Road, London N1 7EE. Tel. 020 7 566 9312. Email njeffries@museumoflondon.org.uk

SEMPER

The next SEMPER meeting will be held in Suffolk, on the theme of Early-Late Saxon pottery in East Anglia and the Midlands, and probably in early September. Watch this space for further details, or contact Anna Slowikowski (01234 270009) or Sue Anderson.


Meetings and Conferences

English Heritage Ceramic Training Courses:
Pottery imported into Roman Britain

Due to popular demand this English Heritage sponsored training course, 'Pottery imported into Roman Britain', first taught in February 1999, is being repeated. Designed for practitioners who process Roman pottery, and catering to varying levels of expertise, it aims to familiarise participants with the wide range of imported wares that can be found in Britain.

The course is based upon the National Roman Fabric Reference Collection, supplemented by the Museum of London reserve collections, and is a good opportunity to see essentially all the imports that occur in Britain. Following introductory lectures on amphorae and coarse wares (Roberta Tomber), Gallo-Belgic wares (Valery Rigby) and finewares (Robin Symonds), emphasis will be on the handling of sherds, with a high ratio of tutors to participants. Binocular microscopes will also be available. Because of the wide diversity in imported wares throughout the country, participants are encouraged to bring their own material.

Course enrolment is limited to 15 persons per course and will be held in London on the 12–13th and 14–15th June, at the British Museum Blythe Road premises. A fee of £20.00 will cover all tuition, coffee and lunch on both days. Travel expenses, accommodation and evening meals are not included.

Those interested in attending should write to David Green, Museum of London Specialist Services, 46 Eagle Wharf Road, London, N1 7ED, as soon as possible.

Archaeological Ceramic Building Materials Group

The King's Manor, University of York
Saturday 30th September 2000

This one-day meeting will include papers on 'Pre-Conquest' floor tiles, ceramic petrology in the study of medieval floor tiles, a new approach to dating bricks in standing buildings , and Tarbock tilery (Merseyside) and the 20th Legion. After lunch, there will be further discussion on recording standards for Ceramic Building Material.

There may be visits to the Yorkshire Museum's floor tile collection and Ann Los' brick collection in Beverley on the Sunday.

Please contact the secretary asap. if you are interested in either (or both!), or if you would like help in finding accommodation for the weekend.

Contact Sandra Garside-Neville, Secretary, Archaeological Ceramic Building Materials Group, 63 Wilton Rise, York, YO24 4BT.


A possible candle-maker's trough from Lichfield, Staffs.

Possible candlemaker's trough, drawing by Nigel Dodds (BUFAU)

A recent evaluation carried out by Marches Archaeology at Greenhill in Lichfield uncovered, amongst other features, a cess pit. This contained a complete unglazed squat whiteware jug, probably dating to the later 14th century, and a substantial portion of another whiteware vessel hitherto unparalleled in this country, which may be a candle-makers' trough.

The vessel base was c31cm in length and c7cm wide and made from a single slab of clay. The sides of the base were roughly parallel, the ends elliptical. Of the four feet on the base, two were pierced, presumably to aid firing, although why the other two were not pierced is a mystery. On the walls of the vessel there are clear horizontal ridges indicating that the upper part of the vessel was coil-built. Although several sections of the rim survived, it was not possible to reconstruct a complete profile. However, it seems likely that the original height of the vessel was c30cm. One curved end section, a substantial amount of which survived, had a horizontal strap handle c.4cm below the rim and it is likely that there was the same arrangement at the opposite end. A patchy green glaze covered the exterior of the vessel and part of the interior. In places the glaze was discoloured to a dull brown, presumably due to the effects of cess.

The closest parallels for this vessel can be found in Hurst et al (1986, Pottery Produced and Traded in North-West Europe 1350–1650, Rotterdam Papers VI, pl. 22 and fig. 65 no. 223), where they are described as candle-makers' troughs. They are both Low Countries' products dating from the 15th–early 16th centuries. They differ from the Lichfield example in having crenellated rims, a reinforcing central rib on the long sides, and no feet or handles. Such a find is very rare in Europe and unique in Britain. The date of this vessel is difficult to establish precisely. Whitewares appear to have been in use from the ?mid-13th century until the 14th century. However, their floruit appears to be the later 13th century and first half of the 14th, since from the later 14th century oxidised red and orange sandy wares become more frequent and usually form the main component of 15th century groups.

It is hoped that residue analysis will confirm the function attributed to the vessel. In the meantime, if anyone has any parallels from Britain or has any other useful observations, I would be glad to hear from them. I would also like to thank Sarah Jennings and John Hudson for their interest and comments.

Stephanie Rátkai, 7 Pinehurst Drive, Kings Norton, Birmingham B38 8TH.


Ceramic News

Scottish White Gritty ware production site at Colstoun, East Lothian

Recent Historic Scotland-funded fieldwork by SUAT Ltd at this scheduled pottery production centre re-exposed the type 3 kiln excavated by Ben Edwards in 1969. Fifteen samples were taken for archaeomagnetic dating by Geoquest Ltd and the last firing date of this kiln has been given as 1320–1350 AD.

A full report on the kilns excavated at Colstoun and the pottery assemblage from the 1969 excavation is being prepared for Historic Scotland.

Derek Hall, SUAT Ltd, Perth, Scotland

Westhorpe Terracottas

A project to record the collection of 187 pieces of architectural terracotta from Westhorpe Hall, Suffolk, collected by Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service (SCCAS) during desilting work in 1991 has recently been approved by English Heritage.

Westhorpe Hall was built for Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, between c.1526 and 1533. Although planned to be his main country residence, the death of his wife Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, in 1533 resulted in financial problems which caused the Hall to revert to the crown soon afterwards. Minor repairs were carried out to the building in the 1540s, but there was little interest or financial support for the house from the crown and it was eventually demolished in the mid eighteenth century.

The hall was a brick and terracotta-built courtyard house. The main elements of the house itself were a gatehouse leading to a courtyard 126 feet square. A survey records a servants' range to the west of the main house. The moat was approached over a brick bridge of three arches, which is the only Tudor survival.

Lack of funding resulted in minimal work being carried out on this assemblage previously. The funds provided by English Heritage will aid the publication of this important group of terracottas.

Sue Anderson, SCCAS.


Websites

PotWeb

A pilot web page, illustrating the Ashmolean Museum's collection of Saxon, medieval and later vessels, was previewed at the recent MPRG conference, It is 'designed to introduce you to ceramic studies as a new way of looking at the past'. Architectural ceramics should be included in 2001.

The authors, Maureen Mellor and Jeremy Haslam, would be grateful for any feedback - visit the site at ashweb.ashmol.ox.ac.uk/PotWeb.

Shapwick Project

The Shapwick Project website has changed and is not the one published in Medieval Ceramics 21. It is now www.wkac.ac.uk/shapwick.


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