The Samlesbury Pipeline Pottery

A Rare Find of a medieval Production Site

Excavation along the Samlesbury to Helmshore Natural Gas Pipeline in 2002, carried out by Northern Archaeological Associates, on behalf of National Grid, revealed a previously unknown pottery production site dating from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. The site lies south of the River Ribble near Samlesbury and comprised the truncated bases of possible clamp kilns, together with over 10,000 sherds of medieval pottery. The pottery was analysed by Oxford Archaeology North.

Clay for the pots is abundant in the area, being a product of the last Ice Age. Indeed, the many large pits in the vicinity of Potter Lane may have been used to extract clay for pottery production.

The remains of the possible clamp kilns were represented by gullies, and cobbles within them may have been a permanent base, for a less permanent superstructure. Evidence from other parts of the country and experiments carried out in the 1960s have indicated that pottery would be stacked, perhaps to the height of two pots, and a turf wall was constructed around them, with holes left as vents. The structure was then covered with wood for fuel and the kiln was fired. The gullies may have aided drainage in the typically wet Lancashire climate.

In the medieval period, the commonest way to throw a pot was on a kick wheel. The pots made at Samlesbury were quite utilitarian in character, such as storage vessels, in the form of jars, sometimes also used as cooking pots. Other types were pipkins, which were small, handled cooking pots, jugs, and bung-hole cisterns. These latter were often used to make and store beer. The bung-hole (where a spigot or simple tap was inserted) was a little above the bottom of the pot, allowing the beer to be poured, but leaving the sediment behind. A single sherd from a dripping pan was also recovered. This distinctive type of flat-bottomed vessel was used at the side of a cooking spit to capture fat from roasting meat. The pottery was mostly coated in a green glaze made from lead, but had little other decoration. This was restricted to incised lines, rouletting, and stabbing, particularly on the handles, which gave them a distinctive appearance.

A reproduction cistern, with a bung-hole from a similar vessel from Samlesbury. Such vessels were often used to brew beer.

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Drawing of a jar from Samlesbury, probably used to store or cook food

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Fragments of pierced tile, part of the kiln furniture found at Samlesbury, which can be seen in the sixteenth-century illustration.

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A drawing of a pipkin handle from Samlesbury and a modern replica. These vessels were used for cooking and were common from the twelfth century.

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The rim of a two-handled jug from Samlesbury. The distinctive spout was probably modelled on jugs from Saintonge, in south-west France, which are very rare in the North West.

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A stabbed handle from a jug, which would have been been used to serve or store liquids, such as beer. In high-status households, jugs were distinct from ewers, which were commonly made from metal, had a tubular spout, and were used for washing hands.

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