A Project to Collect Pottery from Gardens in Bovey Tracey
Frances has been researching our local history and we found ourselves wondering if pottery finds from local gardens could provide a further insight into Bovey Tracey’s past.
In 2013 archaeologist Dr Imogen Wood was invited to Bovey Tracey Library to identify pottery and other garden finds brought in by many local residents and as this was very encouraging, we started to dig test-pits in and around town. So far we have dug in 28 gardens within the ancient borough boundary which includes the former burgage plots fronting on to Station Road, Fore Street, Hind Street, Mary Street and East Street.
Residents admiring the pottery from their garden. 2015
A ‘test-pit’ is simply a three or four foot wide hole dug through the top soil and down two or three feet to the natural geology of clay and stones. Pottery sherds, bits of glass and metal, clay pipe stems and ‘kiln furniture’ are separated out for later cleaning and identification.
The results so far are as follows:
Not a single sherd of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age or Roman pottery has been found. However we have found medieval pottery in 17 of the 28 gardens.
11th – 13th C Upper Greensand-derived Ware from the Blackdown Hills
According to the Domesday Survey of 1086 there was an Anglo-Saxon/early Norman settlement called Bovi. There is a form of late Saxon / early Norman pottery known as Upper Greensand-derived ware (formerly ‘chert-tempered ware’) and this was made in the Blackdown Hills area and is found in archaeological excavations in and around South Devon. We have found six sherds of this early pottery which appears to be dated between 11th to 13th C, that is, just about the time that Bovey Tracey gained borough status.
Five of the six sherds came from Mary St / East St gardens and this indicates early habitation along this line. The sherds are all small, thin, hand-made, undecorated and unglazed. They are soot-blackened and would have come from basic cooking pots.
Bovey Tracey was created a borough in the mid 13th C and initially there were 40 burgesses/households, suggesting a population of only 180. It is interesting that our earliest pottery is of a similar date to this.
13th – 15th C Medieval Totnes-type Ware
The predominant medieval pottery found in South Devon, replacing the older UGS-D ware, is Totnes-type ware which was produced from c1250 through to the 18th C. We have found medieval Totnes-type pottery in 16 out of the 28 gardens and most of this pottery would have been from cooking pots, jugs and bowls but little in the way of dinner table items. The earliest Totnes-type ware is also thin, hand-made, undecorated and unglazed but towards the end of the medieval period (c1500) it becomes thicker, wheel-turned and with some simple, wavy-pattern decoration.
We have found 56 sherds of this earlier (13th – 16th C) Totnes-type ware. By 1326 Calendar of Patent Rolls information on taxes shows that the number of burgesses had increased to 64 with an indicative population of 288. The Black Death would have reduced the population and by 1596 the Church Rate informs us that there were now 75 burgesses indicating that the population had only risen marginally to about 337. It is therefore not surprising that our pottery finds for the later medieval period are likewise relatively modest – and 90+% is of Totnes-type ware.
Other Medieval Pottery
We find a few sherds of early pottery from potteries that were active in North Devon and South Somerset, but South Devon was clearly at the extreme margin of their distribution networks. Also, two sherds of Exeter Fabric 40/42 which would have come from fine, green-glazed jugs.
Early Medieval Pottery
In the 17th and 18th C, across the country as a whole, the acquisition and use of pottery greatly increased with people now using a wide variety of domestic items. Local Totnes-type ware use in Bovey Tracey diminished and the preference now was for goods from the well-established potteries in North Devon (Barnstaple, Bideford and Torrington) and South Somerset (including Donyatt).
We now find a wide variety of domestic items including decorated plates and dishes. The pottery sometimes has an applied ‘slip’ to enhance appearance as well as coloured glazes which tend to be ‘lead green’ or occasionally ‘copper green’. The most attractive dishes show sgraffito decoration where a pattern has been etched through the slip before glazing.
17th – 18th C North Devon Pottery
We have found over 300 sherds of North Devon pottery in 26 out of 28 gardens.
17th – 18th C South Somerset Pottery
We have found over 200 sherds of South Somerset pottery in 24 out of 28 gardens.
As well as this locally-made pottery we have found a small quantity of foreign imported pottery. One sherd each of 13th/14thC French Saintonge, 16thC French Beauvais and 17thC Portuguese faience, and several sherds of 16thC Raeren and Frechen stoneware and 17thC Westerwald stoneware from Germany.
Test-pits frequently contain small pieces of clay pipe stem and more occasionally clay pipe bowls. We have a small collection of such items which mainly date between 1670 and 1730.
Bovey Tracey Potteries
In the 18thC many more modern, industrial potteries were established in England including, of course, those in Staffordshire. In Bovey Tracey, Indio Pottery and the early Bovey Pottery (Heathfield and then The Folly Pottery) started in the late 18thC, and although Indio Pottery closed in the 1830s, the expanded the Bovey Tracey Pottery Company and then the Bovey Pottery Company Limited continued until 1957. Not surprisingly, then, we find some 18th/19thC pottery from elsewhere in England as well as locally made pottery from all phases of the Indio and Bovey Tracey Potteries. Indeed, the waste from the later Bovey Pottery was spread far and wide within the town presumably acting as a cheap form of hard-core and also, perhaps, as a soil ‘sweetner’.
There is a fine collection of locally produced pottery at the House of Marbles museum but our main focus has been upon the earlier wares. We would like to thank Brian Adams, who was curator at the House of Marbles museum and has written books on the Bovey Potteries, for his generous help in identifying the more modern pottery. We would also like to thank John Allan of the Devon Archaeological Society for his generous help in identifying the older pottery and giving advice on the project as a whole.
Early Locally Made Bovey Tracey Pottery
We are most grateful to the Bovey Tracey residents who have given us the run of their gardens, and enjoyed seeing what we have found.
We would be very pleased to hear from anyone else who might be happy for a visit from us!
Malcolm and Frances Billinge October 2016