Saturday, 28 June 2014

Clay Pipe with a Story

For Richard Carey, who knows a special pipe when he sees one. 

It's always a treat to find a clay pipe with relief decoration and even more so if it tells a story.The shape of the pipe and its distinctive forward pointing spur, dates it to 1740-1800 smack bang in Georgian London. The initials of the pipe maker A and B straddle the spur. 

A knobbly kneed actor in full flow appears on the right hand of the bowl 'D Vernon' arching above him. 

On the left another kneels. 

Adorning the inside bowl six figures sit in a decorated  theatre box - are those hats?

Vines and fruit decorate the front.

I'd love to step back in time to Georgian London. It sounds a riot, with boisterous fayres, an explosion of theatre and music halls.  Playwrights would quickly pen plays to satirise or celebrate events of the day. Actors and singers were celebrities. Artists would capture the most acclaimed performances in etchings, Staffordshire figurines and evidently in clay pipes. Strange to think there was a time when theatre was part of popular culture. 

The only Vernon I can track down in this period is Joseph Vernon a famous tenor and stalwort of Drury Lane, here playing in the Beggars opera which took London by storm when it was performed in 1728 and revived throughout the 18th century.This doesn't quite square with the 'D' above,  but let's assume it's him. 

Prime minister Robert Walpole's concern about the rise of satirical theater resulted in the licensing act of 1737, which restricted the production of plays to two patent theatres. Each had to be vetted by the Lord Chamberlain. Non patent theatres were forced to stage drama interspersed with music, melodramas, ballard operas and burlesque, none of which came under the auspices of the act. 

This was also the era of London's Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which sat on the south bank of the Thames. This side of London was slow to develop and for centuries boasted a string of establishments offering various entertainments from bear and bull bating pits and theatre at  the Rose and the Globe. 

Bear and bull bating along the Thames C 1560 from Agas's Map (Wiki) 

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens began as a popular ale house in 1661 and  experienced its hayday between 1730 - 1770. 

Londoners were ferried across the Thames for the ultimate evening of entertainment. The Gardens were the place to be seen and were frequented by royalty, aristocracy and anyone else who could afford the shilling entry fee.

The wealthy could purchase metal season tickets, the engraving would change each season.
Vauxhall Gardens Season ticket (British Museum) 
The evening began with promenading down the Grand Walk having a good look at everyone else and presumably showing off a bit too, then wandering through wooded sections to the sound of nightingales and back along the Druids Walk to supper. 
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Samuel Wale C 1751
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (Oxford University Press) 
Fifty supper boxes each seating up to 12 surrounded the main square. At nine supper was served. As people ate a whistle was blown summoning servants to light thousands of oil lamps, a sensational sight in an era before electricity and one reason for the gardens popularity. 

The entrepreneurial owner Jonathan Tyler commissioned what was then modern art including a statue of Handle the musical genius residing in London until he died in 1759. On Hogarth's suggestion Tyler displayed contemporary paintings in the gardens, Hogarth's support earned him a lifelong golden pass to the gardens. Tyler joined forces with Francis Hayman, friends and students from St Martin's Lane Academy and commissioned paintings of leisure, Shakespeare's plays and victory in the seven years war which ended in 1763. 

See Saw Francis Hayman 1742 one of the paintings from the supper boxes at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (the Tate) 
Vauxhall Gardens was also famous for its music. Orchestra's played and new songs were commissioned. The singers became huge stars and one of the biggest names was Joseph Vernon. 
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens C 1779
Hundreds of thousands of people would visit each season from across Britain and from overseas. Seemingly Jonathan Tyler and his gardens influenced the development of art and music in Britain spreading the popularity of rococo art and creating the first type of popular music the 'Vauxhall Song'. Songs first sung there such as Sally in our Alley and Delia remarkably are still known today, whereas Vernon although a huge star in his time is all but forgotten, leaving just a faint trace. 


  1. Your blog is so interesting! (Please don't abandon it.) I love how you start with a found object and write into my memory a history surrounding it. There has to be a book in you somewhere. My hubby loves to read the kind of book where chapters are about different things... like the James Herriot books about his animal patients... maybe a book like that.

  2. I was a little saddened by your despondence in your previous post, but then you remind us why we look forward to your posts with another excellent piece, especially as I am fascinated by the history of Vauxhall Gardens.
    I often spend some time looking for small metal finds but I only ever seem to find pins so I get bored and go back to looking for pipes.
    Every now and again along with the many common types, I find a special pipe which makes me glad I didn't waste too much time looking for metal objects.
    Your pipe would definitely fall into this category and is certainly more interesting than any clothe seal or token don't you think?
    This pipe actually commemorates Admiral Vernon, an 18th century naval hero,
    The thing that looks like a theatre box is sailing ship and the hats sails.
    this paper which is on the Society for Clay Pipe Research web site tells you all about it.

    1. Thank you Richard, I half expected that I might be wrong! but I'd been looking for an excuse to write about Vauxhall Gardens, so a mistake I'm not too sad I made. Julia

  3. Hate to blow your pipe theory out of the water but the decoration is in fact a celebration of Admiral Vernon and nothing whatsoever to do with the theatre.,%20BAR%201981,%20Vernon%20bowl.pdf

  4. Hello! I wanted to say I found this same pipe and it’s not an actor! It’s a man called admiral vernon who was a naval hero in the mid eighteenth century. This pipe commemorates his victory st cartegena against the Spanish... but was actually premature as they lost! A few years earlier he had a. Magnificent victory st portobello, after which the London street is named... love your blog and sorry it stopped! I’m on Instagram as @foreshoreseashore and posting this pipe there...

  5. I so hope your adventures with Mudlarking gardening and walking the streets of London continue
    Being across pond I miss it and your posts were always so creative and give your readers a look at your creativity! Hello from another Mudlark!