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Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 10 months ago

Evidence for Potteries from Wills and Inventories

A Lecture to Archaeologists in 1984 by Don Ridgers


The research to which this talk relates was carried out as part of a W.E.A. course entitled "The Yateley History Project". The course is currently in its second year but unfortunately it will not continue in future years due to insufficient numbers. The course is tutored by Dr Porter and he has the job of linking together the various papers produced by the group on different aspects and periods of Yateley's history into one coherent document for publication as well as giving guidance throughout the year.


The particular topic of study undertaken by my wife Alison and myself has been investigation of wills, inventories and letters of administration of the former inhabitants of the parish of Yateley, which can be found at the County Record Office at Winchester or The Public Record Office in London. For economic and logistical reasons the County Record Office has been the primary source.


For those of you who may not know what these documents are I will explain briefly. Wills are self explanatory the only thing that may surprise you is the number that have survived from very early times. For Yateley the earliest one we have examined was 1515.


22 wills have been located at Winchester between 1515 and 1557 although not all these have yet been studied in depth.


When the testators died the wills had to be proved in the appropriate court, this was an ecclesiastical function until well into the 19th century. The process would consist of appraisers, presumably nominated by the court, assessing the belongings of the deceased and listing them as an inventory. The probate judgement then authorised some other nominated person or persons to dispose of the estate. An Admon - letter of administration is for practical purposes the same as an inventory except there is no will.


As a historical source they are very interesting, once the initial research to locate the relevant documents and transcribe them into legible and comprehensible text has been undertaken. It is particularly this aspect that we have concentrated on and in due course we intend to publish full transcripts of all the wills inventories and admons for Yateley from 1515 to 1800. The Elizabethan period 1558 - 1602 is already available, and contains wills, inventories admons relating to 47 people. The period 1603 - 1700 is currently being prepared and contains documents relating to about 100 people, and it is the findings of this current research that prompted my visit here this evening. (Note 2006: all the wills and inventories transcribed and studied by the Yateley History Project are on the Yateley Society's database)


Apart from becoming progressively easier to read the major changes between the contents of the Elizabethan documents and their seventeenth century counterparts are the numbers of weapons listed and the appearance of the potteries at Cove and Hawley. In the Elizabethan period no pottery is mentioned although clearly it was available long before. Plates - generally referred to as trenchers were of wood or pewter, pots were brass or iron, drinking vessels were pewter and so forth. It is possible that some such items were of pottery where their material is not stated but there must be some doubt given the level of detail generally provided.


The earliest mention of pottery of any sort which we have so far discovered is in 1605 where the Admon of John Scriggen records among his possessions "an earthen pudding pauche". "Earthen pottes" next appear among the chattels of John Bedell in 1613.


In 1614 there is evidence of much more sophisticated ware, Robert Hunt of Minley had 'a stone pott trymed with silver and gilt.' However this character seems to have had a taste for exotic things for he also had a peacock and two peahens and other items unusual for the period, which indicate he had the ability to acquire goods from distant parts, and that his pot was not necessarily of local manufacture.


More "earthen vessels" are referred to in the Admon of Thomas Parker in 1617 to a total value of 18d unfortunately it does not say how many.


The earliest Yateley Potter to die and be recorded as such was John Durgatt of Cove whose administration inventory was made in 1622. This is an extremely revealing document listing not only the goods of the household but also the entire pottery which he ran, allowing interpretation of how the pottery operated. Certain elements of the logical interpretation of this and documents relating to the other six potters of Cove so far analysed, are in disagreement with the implications of other published accounts of the potteries of Cove.


An article published in the Surrey Archaeological Collection by Felix. W. Holling B.A., A.M.A. describes many potteries in the surrounding areas and three in Cove and the types of ware they produced. There is no shortage of local clay to produce red ware but the only local source of a clay to make white pottery known to him was at Claypit Wood in Farnham Old Park in an outcrop of the Reading Beds. This source was still used in recent years as described in his paper and it was assumed that this accounted for all the white pottery found.


However when the positions of the known local sites are plotted on the geology map for the area, a new theory arises. The three Cove pottery sites, the Hawley site and the Farnborough Hill site, are all on the Bracklesham Beds. The nearest Reading Beds outcrop is about 5 miles south, or about 8 miles by road. Was there something in the Bracklesham Beds they liked?


Geologically the Bracklesham Beds consist of a variety of sands and clays inter bedded. The strata are not normally very thick 6 inches to about 5 feet in most cases. The series includes clays of a wide spectrum of colours dominated by green grey and rust colours. The major colouring agent is iron combined in various minerals so all these will produce red pottery. There are also layers of lighter material including white root clays. I wondered if any of these would be sufficiently deficient in iron to fire white. The easiest way to establish this is to find some and try it so I did.


The Bracklesham Beds outcrop in several areas not far from Cove and as I did not have access to any of those in Cove I obtained my samples from a site south of Bracknell.


I have carried out a considerable amount of engineering work in the Bracklesham Beds and I am therefore confident that similar samples could be obtained in Cove. Unfortunately I could not locate any true root clay on the site but I obtained samples of seven light coloured clays which I made into small test tiles and fired, keeping unfired samples for reference.


As you can see three of the samples fired white, or nearly white. It therefore seems likely that the potteries first came to Cove because of the choice of clays which was available to them. I hope to compare the test samples to 17th century pottery found in this area which is now in Guildford museum later this month to test this theory. It certainly closely fits the colour description for the pottery found at the Hawley site.


If thin seams of local clays were the initial spur to the industry here they can also explain its decline. At some point it would become cheaper to import clay from more productive pits in the Reading Beds and elsewhere than to dig ever deeper close by. This in turn was rendered uneconomic by the availability of finer quality mass produced wares from the Midlands as the transportation of goods became easier in the nineteenth century.


A clue to the early stages of this may be in the admon of Robert Hasell of Cove who died in 1662. He had six loads of white clay, one load of red clay and one load of Challow Witt clay. Was Challow Witt a place, and if so where?


F.W.Hollings article also discusses the fuel used to fire the kilns, making special reference to the memoirs of George Sturt the grandson of William Smith who owned and operated a pottery at Farnborough from1809 to 1858, (the pottery was demolished around 1875 ). Sturt claims that peat or turf was a favourite fuel of the 19th century potters. He mentions the cutting of turf on Cove Common and a better material from Frimley Green. This was used in addition to small timber, generally trimmings and loppings.


In the seventeenth century the use of turf as a domestic fuel was fairly widespread and it features in many inventories, for example John Scriggen 1605 referred to earlier, who had "a parcell of turves" valued at 30d, and a turfing iron. However he was a husbandman, none of the potters had any turves listed in his inventory, but all of them had wood.


To fire a kiln the fuel must be dry to be effective and it would generally have been stored near the kiln to dry out. It seems unreasonable to assume that all seven potters had just exhausted their supply at their death yet have vast quantities of wood remaining. For example John Durgatt 1622 had 30 loads of wood at 6d a load.


Robert Hall 1633 had £4 worth (80 loads) incidentally this Robert Hall had a cottage in Westheath the site of one of the kilns described by Holling. Thomas Pullen 1637 also had £4 worth of wood. Richard Taylor 1647 had wood to the value of £2 12s. Richard Dory 1662 had £8 worth. Robert Hasell 1662 had £1 5s 6d worth. Simon Hill 1680 had wood and clay valued together at £25.


Clearly there is still a great deal of work to do before we will understand the potteries fully. You may already have found further sites which I don't know about and of course I would be very interested to discuss any of your findings or mine. I hope also that we may connect the sites documented in the wills etc. to sites excavated on the ground but that is a longer term project.


Note 2006: Don Ridgers' article has been contributed to this website by the Yateley Society.


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