18 December, 2023

Clay pipe production at Francis Street

Fragments of clay tobacco pipes are commonly found during archaeological investigations; the plain, broken stems are essentially the cigarette butts of the 18th and 19th centuries! IAC’s excavations at 134–143 Francis Street in Dublin 8 revealed more than the expected scattering of these remains. A large assemblage of 910 fragmentary pipes and associated material was recovered, associated with a kiln, confirming the production of clay pipes on this site. An illustrated description of this process has been shared elsewhere and the evidence we recorded represents the latter phases of production. Francis Street is a well-known centre of clay pipe manufacture in the 18th and 19th centuries, so it was gratifying to uncover the physical evidence of this during excavation carried out by David McIlreavy under licence 19E0226 from the National Monuments Service.

Orthomosaic image of kiln at Francis Street 19E0226 (created from photogrammetry)
Orthomosaic image of kiln at Francis Street 19E0226 (created from photogrammetry)

The Firing Process

The firing process would have required the pipes to be carefully stacked either within a box or vessel, known as a ‘saggar’, or a larger ‘muffle’, and fired within the kiln at temperatures of 900-1000 C (Peacey 1996). Props were used in the kiln to support or separate pipes, bats, buns, saggars or any other objects within the kiln. The kiln on our site only survived as basal levels of the brickwork structure; although four phases of use were identified. The primary feature consisted of a heavily truncated ash box and rake out pit, built of roughly dressed stone. The secondary feature was built directly on top of these, probably re-using part of the former structure, and comprised a truncated ash tray, rake-out pit and associated work surface to the west; partially constructed of red brick and re-used roughly dressed stone. The tertiary element to the kiln consisted of two sub-circular pits excavated directly into the former surface of the underlying kiln. The final kiln phase saw the deliberate sealing of the kilns using a dark grey silty clay.

Clay pipe kiln recorded at Francis Street 19E0226


A significant quantity of kiln furniture and waste (including reject pipes or wasters) were recovered from the kiln layers, and subject to analysis by our inhouse artefact specialist Siobhán Scully. These include a kiln prop, a base wad or height extension for a kiln prop, three possible fragments from a saggar or saggars, seven muffle fragments and 22 waste clay pipes stems. These were retrieved from the sealing layer of the kilns although the muffle and saggar fragments were not diagnostic of type or form. The ‘dumb-bell—shaped’ prop retrieved during this excavation has a pink/off-white fabric with only very few inclusions of grit.

Kiln furniture and pipe waste recorded during Francis Street, 19E0226


The manufacturers

Detailed analysis of the artefact assemblage identified specific maker’s marks on many pipe bowls and local typologies in form. Numerous clay pipe makers are noted in the historical records as residing on Francis Street, including properties between number 134 and 143. Two families at the forefront of pipe production in Dublin in this period were the Cunninghams and McLoughlins, and pipes with both of these makers’ stamps were recovered during our excavation. Two clay pipe bowls were stamped ‘T. CUNNINGHAM 135 FRANCIS ST’ and two were stamped ‘T. CUNNINGHAM 136 FRANCIS ST.’ A Thomas Cunningham is listed as being at 135 Francis Street between 1831 and 1845 and again between 1856 and 1871. No ‘T. Cunningham’ is listed at 136 Francis Street but a ‘Patrick Cunningham’ is listed there between 1818 and 1822 and again between 1849 and 1850 (Norton 2013). Additionally, three clay pipe bowls were stamped with ‘MCLOUGHLIN 132 FRANCIS ST.’ Two McLoughlin pipe makers are listed at the 132 Francis Street premises: Jane McLoughlin, from 1846 to 1856, and Catherine McLoughlin from 1857 to 1873 (ibid.).

Illustrations of a selection of clay pipes recorded at Francis Street, 19E0226


The product

The largest quantity of pipe fragments were retrieved from the primary rake-out pit and the sealing layer of the kiln. Of the 122 bowls with mould-imparted decoration, 92 could be typified as ‘fancy clays’; a highly decorated pipe common in the second half of the 19th century. Of the nine different designs represented, the most commonly occurring was the combination of a harp on one side and a beehive on the other. These images symbolise Ireland and Industry. Analysis of the designs suggest freemasons may have represented a substantial clientele.

An additional 158 clay pipe bowls recovered from this excavation are decorated with stamped or moulded designs. These include designs popular in Ireland in the 19th century, such as the ‘crowned L,’ ‘fancy clay’ moulding, and two pipes with stamps reading ‘DUBLIN’ with a crowned harp.

The majority of the pipe bowls (n=663) recovered were undecorated, and only nine of these could be identified as English imports. As the remainder of the undecorated pipes do not conform to English or Dutch bowl types, it was concluded that they were locally produced. Almost half of these pipe bowls have features suggesting that something went wrong during the firing and that they had to be discarded. This includes blackening and accretions on the surfaces, misshapen bowls, and grey to brown colouring indicative of incomplete firing. There are also pipe fragments incorporated in some of the vitrified material recovered from the ash pit of the kiln. These fragments may have been incorporated in the wall of the fire box of the kiln, or may have fallen into the ash pit accidentally during the production process.


This assemblage, and the kiln itself, has provided exciting physical evidence for the daily practicalities and pitfalls of the clay pipe industry, in an area well known for its manufacture.


Further Reading

McIlreavy, D. and Vleeshouwer, F. 2021. Final Excavation and Monitoring Report for 134-143 Francis Street, Dublin 8 (Licence No. 19E0226). Unpublished report prepared by IAC Archaeology submitted to the National Monuments Service.

Norton, J. 2013. Pipe dreams: a directory of clay pipe tobacco makers in Ireland. Archaeology Ireland, 27 (1), 31–36.

Peacey, A. 1996. The development of the clay tobacco pipe kiln in the British Isles. In P. Davey (ed.), The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe XIV. Oxford. British Archaeological Reports: British Series.