No. 44 – December 2002

Secretary’s Notes

Council met at the Society of Antiquaries on 15th October. This was a full meeting with much ground covered. Much of the meeting was concerned with future plans, given our current financial situation. Fund-raising has been pursued as a matter of urgency since the AGM in May, and has been successful in raising a significant sum, largely from the MPRG membership, towards the publication of the next two volumes of Medieval Ceramics. The decision was therefore taken to go ahead with the production of Volume 24, and this should be ready in December (possibly mailed with this newsletter). The production of Volume 25 depends to a certain extent on the raising of further funds, but Council are optimistic that this can be achieved, and that the volume will appear in time for next year’s conference in May 2003. In future, publication grants for Medieval Ceramics will be sought more actively, and the option of selling volumes through outlets such as Oxbow may be pursued.

Extra revenue can be expected from the raised subscription rates (see the notice elsewhere in this newsletter, and the subscription renewal forms are also enclosed). Members can also help by signing and returning the Gift Aid forms circulated with the last newsletter. Meanwhile we aim to raise the MPRG profile and attract more new members by circulating a new publicity leaflet. This has been redesigned for us with new graphics by Chris Cumberpatch’s father and is extremely attractive. We hope to attract sponsorship for the production of the leaflet.

Council welcomed two new members – Jane Holdsworth takes over from Bob Will as Treasurer, and Derek Hall is our new Assistant Secretary (although Sue Anderson has very kindly agreed to continue maintaining the website). Both have been co-opted to Council, and their posts will be ratified at the next AGM. One of Jane’s first tasks will be to investigate the setting up of a Euro account in order to make it easier for Continental members to pay subscriptions and to buy MPRG publications.

Meanwhile our new Membership Secretary, Nigel Jeffries, has been working hard on checking the membership list for anomalies, incorrect addresses, etc. Current membership stands at just over 400; this includes around 20 new members who have joined in the past year, mainly through the website. There is still a lot of work to be done here, and Nigel would welcome any details of changes of address, etc to help him to keep the membership list up-to-date.

MPRG made a submission to APPAG (the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, led by Lords Renfrew and Redesdale) last year, and will be represented (by Chris Cumberpatch and Nigel Jeffries) at the APPAG meeting at the Society of Antiquaries on 7th December.

Finally, thanks were given to Clare McCutcheon and all those involved in making the Dublin conference so successful and enjoyable. There is a short report on the conference elsewhere in this newsletter, plus an announcement of future conference plans from Duncan Brown.

The next Council meeting will be held on Tuesday 21st January; if you have any comments or wish to raise any issues, please contact me before then.

Lorraine Mepham, Secretary

Notice of Subscription Rise

Members are reminded that annual subscriptions are due on the 1st of February, and subscription forms are enclosed with this newsletter. Following a vote at the AGM last May, subscription rates have risen, and are now at the following rates:

  • Individual: £20 (formerly £10)
  • Insitutional: £25 (formerly £13)

This is a substantial rise, and we accept that some members may feel unable to continue subscribing at the new rates, but we hope you will understand that increasing the Group’s income has become crucial given our current financial situation.

The State we’re in: Pottery in Post-Roman Ireland

Report on conference held at Trinity College, Dublin, 2nd-4th September 2002

About 40 MPRG members, from Ireland, mainland Britain and the Continent, made the trip to Dublin at the end of August. They were well rewarded. The tone of the conference was set on the first evening, when Clare McCutcheon welcomed us with drinks, snacks and, later, homemade pasta and a cake kindly made by her mother (a second was to appear later in the conference!). Few conferences can offer such a personal touch.

Despite the Byzantine security arrangements, the rather daunting distance of the accommodation from both breakfast and conference venue, and the evening social arrangements (Duncan Brown and Deb Ford both celebrated birthdays during the conference), most of us made it through the two and a half days of lectures and visits. We learnt about the historical setting for medieval and post-medieval ceramic studies in Ireland, and about urban excavations in Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Ceramic interludes on the first day (easing us in gently) were provided by Audrey Gahan (Souterrain and Everted Rim Ware) and Clare McCutcheon (Medieval pottery in Ireland: a tale of three cities). Clare followed this on the second day by giving the Gerald Dunning Memorial lecture on the subject of ‘Continental pottery in Ireland in the Anglo-Norman period’. Dr Maureen McCorry gave a fascinating lecture on her fabric analysis of samples from the Downpatrick kiln, where she likened fabric ‘recipes’ to those of her own cakes (cake obviously constituted the leitmotif of the conference). Alan Vince discussed the chemical analysis of English and French whitewares in Ireland (vital to an understanding of the interplay between these various imported types), while Rosanne Meenan reviewed the state of play of post-medieval ceramic studies, and Peter Francis gave a marvellous exposition on Delftware in Ireland.

As well as lectures, Clare and her cohorts had organised a round of visits for us, starting with a reception at the National Museum of Ireland (a chance for many to pore over cases of medieval pottery and contest their provenance), and also including a chance to see recently excavated pottery from Smithfield in the north of the city, and a trip to Collins Barracks where Audrey Whitty discussed selected ceramics from the museum.

What came through most strongly from the conference, though, were the differences in the approach to post-Roman ceramic studies between Ireland and mainland Britain. This has much to do with the fact that an overwhelming proportion of the medieval pottery found in Ireland is imported (from mainland Britain or from the Continent). Indigenous pottery production did take place, and current research is making inroads on this subject, but much work remains to be done. The commitment of the Irish ceramic specialists, however, is not in doubt, and hopefully the links forged at this conference will enable them to gain more support from their mainland and Continental colleagues in the future.

Once again we must thank Clare and everyone else involved in the organisation of the conference, for making it such an enjoyable experience and offering such true Irish hospitality.

MPRG Annual Meeting

Mix It, Risk It, Make It, Fake It.
The technology of medieval potting

Advanced notice and call for papers

The 2003 AGM will be held at Nottingham Castle Museum on Saturday the 14th of June at 12.00.

A one-day meeting will be held on the same day and place from c10.30 to 4.30, addressing the theme of the technology of medieval potting.

The intention is to put together a programme that tackles the issues of how we comprehend the ways in which pottery was made in the medieval period. We need to look at clay preparation, and the relationship with current methods of fabric definition; at techniques of construction, decoration and glazing; at firing methods. All these issues need to be considered in terms of how we reach an understanding of the medieval potter through the analysis of archaeological evidence.

Nottingham has been chosen as a venue largely because it is easily accessible and Council wish to return to the format of holding one-day meetings (in one of three or four regular venues) and three-day meetings in alternate years. It is, however, a particularly appropriate place in which to address this theme, and it is hoped that the excellent City archaeology collections will be available to inform our deliberations.

Papers are invited from those who make pottery, those who have analysed the technology of medieval ceramics and those who have tried to interpret technological attributes.

Please contact Duncan Brown, 7 Donnington Grove, Southampton, SO17 1RW.

Meetings and Conferences

The Table. The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining in the Historical Periods

3rd-4th May 2003, Department of Archaeology & Prehistory, University of Sheffield

The focus of this conference is the social practice of dining in the historical periods in Europe from the Roman period to the 18th century, drawing on artefactual, documentary and pictorial evidence for the consumption of food and drink in various historical, social and cultural contexts.

Issues that will be explored include:

  • Dining milieu
  • Social status and dining practices
  • The production of dining paraphernalia
  • Dining rituals
  • Changing forms and styles of tableware
  • Dining and social identity

For further details on the conference programme, speakers and to register please see online. Alternatively email Dr Hugh Willmott.

Regional Group Meetings

SEMPER and East Anglia Group

The Autumn 2002 meeting was held at the Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury, on the theme of Ceramics from Urban Contexts.

Although the attendance was smaller than usual (about 13 people in all), this did not detract in any way from either the presentations of the speakers, or from the interesting discussions of the samples of pottery that members brought along. These pottery discussions are an important focus of our pottery meetings, and was proved so, when David Hall’s Ely kiln material was recognised as the same fabric as the medieval roof finial from Tempsford, Bedfordshire, that Anna Slowikowski had brought along!

The next meeting will be in the Spring, in Harlow, when we shall be looking at Medieval Pottery from Essex. This will be followed in the Autumn by another meeting in Aylesbury, the theme to be announced closer to the date. If you would like to go on the mailing list, please contact Anna Slowikowski, Albion Archaeology, St Mary’s Church, St Mary’s Street, Bedford MK42 0AS, tel 01234 294005.

Wine Sieve
North African/Iberian Wine Sieve from fisherman’s net off the coast of Fife (courtesy National Museums of Scotland)

Scottish Group

A New Review of medieval pottery imported into Scotland from c1150 to c1650

Following the MPRG conference in Edinburgh in 2001 the Scottish group have been working on producing a new review of medieval pottery imported into Scotland. The City of Edinburgh council have agreed to sponsor this publication and we have been busy raising money from the likes of Historic Scotland, the Hunter Archaeological Trust and the Society for Medieval Archaeology to help cover specialists costs. The publication has been split into areas of production and each of these is being dealt with by a different specialist as follows: Yorkshire and East Anglia Charlie Murray; Stamford and the London area Derek Hall; South Western England Derek Hall; France George Haggarty; Germany Bob Will; Low Countries Naomi Crowley and Sarah Jennings; Spain and Italy Julie Franklin. John Hurst has agreed to write an introduction. Where feasible we have been visiting museum collections to record the various imported wares present as well as quantifying and checking all published material. This will be the first such survey since Lis Thoms published a list in Ceramics and Trade (1982).

Other points of interest

Kinlochbervie shipwreck (Spanish Armada?)

Several group members took advantage of Duncan Browns invitation to view the remarkable collection of Italian maiolicas and Olive jars from a shipwreck off Kinlochbervie in the Highlands. This material was the subject of a Time Team programme.

Imported pottery from 75 High Street, Perth

Derek Hall and George Haggarty are trying to organise the laying out and viewing of all the imported pottery from the excavations at 75 High Street, Perth (aka Marks and Spencers, PHSE). It is their intention to organise this for October and contact has already been made with those specialists who they would like to invite.

Unidentified greywares

A group of greywares from Perth have been compared with material from Jutland, Northern England and East Anglia using ICPS. There is some correlation with sherds from Woodbastwick and Kirstead (both East Anglia). However some material remains unsourced and further sampling needs to be carried out, particularly involving further samples from Denmark.

C14 dates from shelly wares at Perth High Street

Derek Hall has just received the first 6 C14 dates from the carbonised shelly wares from Perth High Street. They span the 9th to 11th centuries and would seem to confirm the long held view that the earliest activity recovered on that site is all pre-burghal (Perth was founded by David I c1140). There are another 9 dates to come and on receipt of these some consideration will need to be given to the true provenance of the sizeable group of shelly wares from this site (watch this space!).

Scottish contact

Scarborough Wares

Peter Farmer and Anne Jenner are re-assessing Scarborough Wares and looking in particular at their distribution, types, date or associated pottery dates, documented dates and scientific dates and recent references.

They would like to ask fellow pottery specialists for any such information and would be grateful if people would email this to them.


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