Clay pipe discovery in Northumberland field reveals link to slavery

A rare slavery relic has been found by archaeologists in a Northumberland field next to an 18th-century hotel The clay pipe which was found at Chollerford
The clay pipe which was found at Chollerford

A fragile link with the long-running fight to abolish slavery has been found in a field in Northumberland.

The survival of the bowl of a clay pipe is all the more remarkable given that the field would have probably been ploughed in the past and has also been used for football.

In the days before cigarettes, smokers would buy clay pipes and throw them away when they broke.

Small pieces of pipe stem are frequently found but bowls, which sometimes carry a maker’s mark, are much less common.

The bowl, which was discovered in the field next to the 18th-century George Hotel at Chollerford, has on one side an image of a kneeling slave in chains.

The powerful image, with the words “Am I Not a Man And a Brother?” became a mainstay in the battle against slavery.

The famous potter Josiah Wedgwood, who was on the committee of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, produced the image on cameos at his works. In 1788, a shipment of cameos was sent to Benjamin Franklin in America, where the image became widely used by those who opposed slavery.

The Chollerfiord bowl, thought to date from 1800-1830, is only the second bearing the image to be found in the North East.

The other, discovered in Durham, is not as complete.

The Chollerford find was made during field walking by Ron Brown from North East consultancy AAG Archaeology, who lives in Winlaton in Gateshead.

On the other side of the bowl to the slave image is an impression of Britannia. AAG director Jon Welsh said: “It is one of the most significant clay pipe designs ever found in Britain and is remarkably unscathed considering the land had formerly been used as a football field.

“It is always nice to have a find that has historical as well as archaeological importance and links to known historical figures and events.”

The figure of Britannia may refer to the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade of 1807 or the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

Gateshead was a centre for clay pipe manufacture in the North East at locations such as the town’s Pipewellgate, and a local maker could have copied what was a fashionable symbol at the time.

Pipes were often for sale in taverns, and one bowl, found in Wallsend in North Tyneside, was decorated with a symbol which showed it came from the Prince of Wales pub.

The Chollerford field produced a quantity of pipe fragments.

Jon said: “Some fragments were stained brown and encrusted with clinker, and are thought to be pipes disposed of when broken by throwing them into the fire.”


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