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Middlesex Street Excavation Blog – New discovery

28 October 2019

Archaeologists from MOLA are undertaking excavations of the Boar’s Head Playhouse in Whitechapel, London, ahead of construction of the new Middlesex Street accommodation by Unite Students. The excavation of the site is exploring the remains of the Shakespearean-era playhouse which stood there, but has also led to some other unexpected discoveries, including new evidence of the site’s role in clay pipe manufacture in the East End in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Along with the remains of the Boar’s Head playhouse, archaeologists working on the site have discovered a kiln dating back to the eighteenth century, that was used for clay pipe-making, alongside clay pipes dating from 1680-1710. This fascinating find reveals the long-tradition of pipe-making on the site and highlights the area’s history as a centre for manufacture in the 17th century.

Toxic and often smelly industries like horn working and clay pipe making were based in the East End of London so prevailing winds from the west would blow any unpleasant smoke or fumes from manufacture away from the City, a more affluent area of London.

The kiln found by archaeologists is remarkably complete; it is rectangular in shape, which is common for kilns in London of the time. When the kiln went out of use, it was backfilled, and when archaeologists removed the backfill, they uncovered a lot of kiln furniture, revealing an intricate flue system, and a muffle (a circular chamber in which the pipes are fired) made of heat-resistant clay with fired pipe stems embedded sideways in the walls to help conduct the heat.

Explore the kiln in 3D for yourself in this 3D photogrammetry model.

During the excavation, clay pipes that failed in the kiln, known as ‘wasters’, were also found. The team even made an exciting discovery of the white clay used for making the pipes, which was still soft and squishy to the touch some 250 years later. Many of the pipes found were marked with the letters ‘W.W’. From these initials, MOLA’s Finds Specialists hope to work out who the maker of the clay pipes was.

Look out for more updates on the progress of the dig on our blog and Twitter, and over on MOLA’s blog and Twitter.

– The MOLA Team