No. 47 – January 2004

Secretary’s Notes

Council met on 15th October at the Society of Antiquaries in London. The Editorial Committee once again reported good progress, both with the publication of forthcoming volumes of Medieval Ceramics and also with the receipt of various grants towards publication, including a grant from the Marc Fitch Fund toward Volume 25. This should be out early in the New Year. The next two volumes will feature, respectively, the papers from the Irish conference in 2002 and, it is hoped, a report on Scottish White Gritty Wares.

The group still holds a substantial quantity of back numbers of MC. In order to shift this stock, and to raise further funds for the Group, Council have decided to offer these to members at reduced prices – details appear elsewhere in this Newsletter.

Discussions continue over the Bibliography. Although only one response was received following the note in the last newsletter asking for members’ views, it was decided that we will no longer produce a published version of the Bibliography, but we will still support the collection of data for the on-line version.

Alongside as our immediate concerns, the President directed our thoughts towards future strategy. There is currently an EH-led initiative to produce regional guidelines in an attempt to put research back into developer-funded fieldwork. We feel that MPRG should be involved in such a process. However, if we are to produce anything, it must be something short, snappy and focused that curators can use easily. Starting points could be Maureen Mellor’s 1994 Survey, our submission to APPAG, and Alejandra Gutierrez’s recent questionnaire on teaching and research in higher education. We could, for example, push for decent indices of ceramic work to be incorporated into revamped SMRs/HERs, as there is now government money available for upgrading these.

Council again discussed ways of commemorating John Hurst through the work of the Group. A few replies were received after the invitation for suggestions in the last newsletter – a travel fund and a research fund for students were suggested. Council thought a memorial lecture was the easiest option, and that a ‘general research fund’ in John’s memory could cover several options.

In February 2003, MPRG was approached by a Hungarian archaeologist mooting the idea of European project on production centres. This was followed up at a round table discussion at EAA conference in St Petersburg, attended byDerek Hall and Maureen Mellor. It was suggested that MPRG might like to promote such a project, involving setting up a database for European production centres. Preliminary discussions have already been held with King Alfred’s College, who currently hold the database of production centres in England, and with EH. Part of the project would be to put the resulting database on-line. Derek Hall gives further details of this project below.

You will receive with this newsletter the preliminary publicity for next year’s annual conference – a three day event in Winchester on the subject of Transformation. Further details and booking forms will be available with the next Newsletter in April.

The next Council meeting will be held on Tuesday 20th January.

Lorraine Mepham, Secretary

Back Copies of Medieval Ceramics

Ever felt that there was something missing from your bookshelf? Why not remedy this straight away by looking at what copies of Medieval Ceramics are still available at £5 each – or why not buy 10 and get one free?

As you can see there are complete runs from Volume 11, and earlier numbers might be able to be scanned at extra cost. All requests for back numbers should initially be sent to Nigel Jeffries, Membership Secretary.

Database of medieval pottery production centres in England: a new resource for archaeology

Among the principal recommendations arising from the English Heritage review Medieval Ceramic Studies in England was the need for ‘an initiative to establish a national list of production centres, recording the whereabouts of the finds, references to publication, or the current state of work’ (Mellor 1994, 32). Behind this recommendation lay widely-expressed concerns within the profession about the disappointing rate of publication of excavated production sites and the desire to improve identification and common nomenclatures for medieval pottery in order to avoid inconsistencies in reporting. It was felt a new national database could help to address these concerns and provide a basis for further technical studies of kilns, as well as informing cost-effective research and raising awareness of the importance of production centres generally.

Between May 1997 and June 2000 a project was established at King Alfred’s College, Winchester which was designed to address these issues. The project was designed and managed by Chris Gerrard, undertaken by Phil Marter and funded by English Heritage. The procedure was simple. Information held on medieval pottery production sites (defined here as c850-1600 AD) in England was obtained from the National Monument Record Long-listings and Excavation Index and from county Sites and Monuments Records, 70% of whom responded to requests for information. To these two sources were added data collated by the Medieval Ceramics Survey and that stored with the National Reference Collection of Medieval Ceramics at the British Museum. Major published national and regional data sets such as McCarthy and Brooks (1991), Musty (1969), Vince (1984), Victoria County Histories and published documentary sources (Lay Subsidy ‘potting-related’ names, for example) were also input, as well as information from local and national journals such as Medieval Archaeology and Medieval Ceramics. An advance digital copy of the thin-sections database allowed descriptions of thin-sections from pottery fragments found at kiln sites to be linked in. About half of the forty-five county museums targeted responded to a request for accession numbers for their holdings. These sources, nearly 1500 in all, were then cross-checked against the National Medieval Ceramics bibliography to verify a master database of some 4500 entries which was circulated to regional secretaries of the Medieval Pottery Research Group for further checking.

The key to the success of the project has been to design and manage a series of linked tables within a Microsoft Access database. This allows the researcher easily to interrogate the information held within the database. The database contains records of archaeological investigations or events (eg excavations), kilns, components (eg waster dumps), pottery fabrics, forms (standardised using the Classification of Medieval Pottery Forms; MPRG 1998) and sources (eg article reference). The relational structure of the database allows the researcher to interrogate the data in various ways such as looking for pottery kilns by county, by date, and so on. There are 738 kilns recorded on the database, 97 waster pits, 80 buildings interpreted as potters’ workshops or living accommodation, as well as a wide range of associated features such as clay pits, puddling floors, fuel dumps, fences, drains and boundary ditches. Unsurprisingly, there has been strong bias in favour of recording kilns, which comprise 60% of all the recorded elements from medieval pottery production centres in England. Neither is the work evenly spread, some counties like Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Yorkshire having strong track records of excavation and wider synthetic research, others such as Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Durham, Lancashire and Warwickshire being far less well represented. The bibliography confirms that much of the recent work has been undertaken by a small pool of active researchers, with a notable lack of recent academic research into medieval pottery production being undertaken through universities and MPhil and PhD levels. Very few recent theses were identified in the course of this project, the weight of publication strongly favouring short descriptive articles rather than broader scale analysis of results. It is a sign of the times that the basis of modern research into kiln classification remains Musty (1974) and that, with some notable exceptions (Le Patourel 1968; Moorhouse 1983), documentary evidence for the medieval pottery industry remains untapped.

Between November 2002 and March 2003 the format of the database was finalised and is now equipped with an ‘easy-to-use’ front end complete with a selection of regularly used data queries and a help file. The data will be made available free of charge on CD to all those who originally supplied information to the project. For anyone else who would like a copy, the database is available at cost on CD and in hard copy (price per page), plus postage and packing from Phil Marter, King Alfred’s College, Winchester SO22 4NR. For anyone wanting more information, a website explaining the project and giving examples of the data available can be found online. For the next three years, until March 2006, the database will be maintained by Phil Marter and anyone willing to update or make corrections to particular entries will be able to do so by passing new information directly to him. In March 2006 the responsibility for the upkeep of the database will pass to the Medieval Pottery Research Group.

Le Patourel, J, 1968. Documentary evidence and the medieval pottery industry, Medieval Archaeol 12, 101-126

MPRG (Medieval Pottery Research Group) 1998. A Guide to the classification of medieval ceramic forms. MPRG Occasional Paper 1. London; Medieval Pottery Research Group

Mellor, M, 1994. Medieval Ceramic Studies in England. A review for English Heritage. London; English Heritage

Moorhouse, S, 1983. Documentary evidence and its potential for understanding the inland movement of medieval pottery, Medieval Ceramics 7, 45-87

Musty, J, 1974. Medieval pottery kilns, in VI Evison, H Hodges and JG Hurst (eds), Medieval pottery from excavations: studies presented to Gerald Clough Dunning, with a bibliography of his works, 41-67. London: J Baker

C Gerrard and P Marter

Database of European Production Centres

Following a round table session at last years EAA conference in St Petersburg it was decided to take forward Zsolt Vagner’s suggestion of a European database along similar lines to the one described by Chris Gerrard and Phil Marter above. For this to work successfully we need several European partners with a view to submitting a bid to Culture 2000 later this year. It is our intention to have a day session on this subject at this year’s EAA conference in Lyons in September. I would like to ask anybody who might be interested in becoming part of this potentially exciting project to contact me in the first place so that I can register their interest.

Derek Hall, Assistant Secretary

Regional Group Reports

Scottish Group

Stove Tile (B&W)
Stove Tile from St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh (© SUAT Ltd)

Stove Tiles

Fragments from these high status central heating systems were very rare finds in Scotland until recently when several have been recovered from excavations in Edinburgh, St Andrews and Perth. The example from St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh appears to be from a chained unicorn, the jury is still out as to whether this might be a fragment from the Scottish Royal Coat of Arms.

Scottish Redware Sourcing

It is hoped to start this ICPS project in the new financial year and as part of it the participants would like to include samples from redware brick and tile works. If anyone has or knows of a collection of named Scottish bricks could they contact either Derek Hall or George Haggarty.

Can I ask for more regional group reports from people please? I know that we are busy little bees up here but I am sure that some of you are as well.

Scottish contact

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