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George Longstaff and Clay Tobacco Pipe Manufacture in Stamford

Nicholas J Sheehan  2023


Brief History of the Clay Pipe industry

The manufacture of clay tobacco pipes began in England in the 16th century soon after the introduction of tobacco from North America by Sir Francis Drake. [1] London took the lead in producing pipes, followed by Bristol, and the industry quickly spread throughout the country, so that by the mid-17th century clay pipe making was a well-established trade nationally. [2] The South West of England, particularly Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, was the primary source of the white earthenware clay used throughout the pipe making process.

Pipe smoking was common amongst all classes but the fortunes of the industry fluctuated early on in response to opposing factors such as the punitive tobacco tax of 1604 and the granting of a charter to the Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers in 1619, [3] as well as to disruption by the English Civil War. [4] After smoking was temporarily supplanted by snuff in fashionable circles in the 18th century, [5] there was a resurgence of pipe making from about 1820. [6] However, as cigarettes, cigars and wooden pipes subsequently became more popular, the industry went into terminal decline and few clay pipe-making businesses survived into the 20th century. [7] 


Clay Pipe Making in Stamford

Pipe making reached Lincolnshire around 1640 [8] and clay pipes may have been being produced in Stamford by 1665. [9] The earliest trader of pipes in Stamford was Francis Barnewell, a surgeon and tobacconist, but it is unlikely that he made pipes himself, more probably bringing them in from London. [10] The first recorded pipe-maker was William Whitehead who was active in 1673 [11] and worked in the trade for about twenty years. [12] Several other pipe makers followed for short periods. [13] Robert Collington (d.1733), a grocer, imported clay from the Isle of Wight and Thanet [14] for the local pipe makers up to about 1716 [15] and later set up his own pipe-making business.[16] He may have been the only pipe maker working in Stamford at that time.

Production of clay tobacco pipes in Stamford occurred mainly during the periods 1650-1745 and 1815-1895. [17] Between these times, because of falling demand, no pipe makers were recorded in the Stamford Hall books, either as freemen or apprentices, from about 1745 until 1817. [18] After Robert Middleton (1789-c.1860) entered the trade in 1817, [19] he and his family became the sole makers of pipes in the town until 1849. [20] His business on North Street was then taken over by George Longstaff. [21]


George Longstaff (1815-1875)

George Longstaff was the principal clay tobacco pipe-maker in Stamford during the third quarter of the 19th century. Born in 1815 in Spalding, he was the fifth of ten children of Henry Longstaff and his wife Ann (nee Sewell). All five sons became pipe makers, with at least four of them, Thomas Staveley, Charles, George and Sewell becoming masters and William and James being employed by other master pipe makers. George learnt his trade in Spalding before moving to Stamford, where he married Mary Larks (d.1916) at All Saints Church in 1846. They had eight children. [22] 

On taking control in 1849, George acquired Robert Middleton’s kiln, workshop and two-storey house on North Street. It was the only kiln operating in the town at the time [23] and he was assisted in running the business by his wife Mary and younger brother Sewell (b.1828). Robert Middleton’s youngest son, also called Robert, stayed on and worked for the Longstaffs for several years, most likely until at least 1863. [24] Other former Middleton employees who stayed on included William Henry Taylor and Robert Andrews. [25] Peter Cole and James Lees may also have worked for George Longstaff for a while. [26] It is evident that the business thrived as George submitted plans in 1873 to extend the kiln. [27] Although the Longstaffs remained in the same home, their address changed to 15 and 16 Elm Street after the east end of North Street was renamed East Street in about 1868 and the small lane between East Street and Broad Street became Elm Street. [28]

Another of George’s brothers, Willliam (c.1817- bef.1881), was also working as a pipe-maker in Stamford in 1851, but for whom is uncertain.

It is not known from where George Longstaff obtained his raw materials but one nearby source of tobacco pipe clay was the extensive pits at Northampton whose black or grey-coloured clay was exported to neighbouring and more distant counties. When such supplies were exhausted, the business may have used Devon clay. [29] Longstaff was not known to have used the brownish-coloured local clay, although Samuel Saunders who was a pipe maker in Stamford Baron in the late 17th and early 18th centuries occasionally did so. [30]

George Longstaff marked most of his pipes 'GL' on the sides of the spur [31] and he was the only member of the family to add his personal insignia apart from Thomas Staveley Longstaff who stamped 'LONGSTAFF' upon the bowls of his pipes. [32]

After George’s death in 1875, aged 59 years, his widow Mary took over the running of the business until at least 1892. However, by then, the industry was in sharp decline and falling demand forced her to cease manufacture and close down the kiln. [33] Efforts by the Longstaff Bros, probably George and Mary’s sons, A. and Jabez, to revive the business in 1896 proved futile [34] and most pipe-makers had shut down by end of the 19th century.

The Longstaff’s brick-built clay pipe kiln was discovered in 1972 during building work on North Street, at the rear of Stamford School. [35]


Fate of Clay Pipes


The lifespan of clay pipes was relatively short. Considering the huge numbers produced, along with their fragility and disposable nature, it is unsurprising that intact or fragmentary examples are regularly found in rubbish dumps, on agricultural land, and in parks and domestic gardens, often carried there in midden waste or soil imported from elsewhere. [36] There have been major finds of clay tobacco pipes at several sites in Stamford, including that of the North Street kiln, the River Welland and Stamford Racecourse. [37] A small number of these pipes were made by George Longstaff.

Clay tobacco pipe found in the Stamford area

[Photo Nicholas J Sheehan]



A print version can be downloaded HERE



[1] National Pipe Archive. Worcester and Clay Tobacco Pipes.› publications

[2] Carpenter, Daniel. Clay pipe making. Heritage Crafts. April 26, 2017

[3] Oswald, Adrian. The Evolution and Chronology of English Clay Tobacco Pipes.  Archaeological News Letter. Vol 7. No.3. September 1961. p.55

[4] National Pipe Archive

[5] Oswald

[6] Wells, Peter K. The Pipemakers of Lincolnshire. In: Davey, Peter (ed.). The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe I. Britain: the Midlands and Eastern England. B A R British Series 63. Oxford: BAR Publishing, 1979. p.123

[7] Carpenter

[8] Wells, p.123

[9] Comrie, A C. The Clay Tobacco Pipe Industry in Stamford. In: Davey, Peter (ed.). The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe I. Britain: the Midlands and Eastern England. B A R British Series 63. Oxford: BAR Publishing, 1979. p.187

[10] Comrie, p.187-8

[11] Wells, p.160

[12] Comrie, p.188

[13] Comrie, p.188

[14] Comrie, p.193

[15] Comrie, p.188

[16] Wells, p.161

[17] Comrie, p.187

[18]Comrie, p.188

[19] Comrie, pp.194-5

[20] Comrie, p.188

[21] Wells, p.161

[22] Hammond, Peter. The Longstaff Family of Tobacco Pipemakers. Society for Clay Pipe Research Newsletter 70. Autumn/ Winter 2006. pp.11-14

[23] Comrie, pp.194-6

[24] Comrie, p.195

[25] Comrie, p.197

[26] Comrie, p.199

[27] Wells, p.161

[28] Comrie, p.198

[29] Moore, W R G. Northamptonshire Clay Tobacco-Pipes and Pipemakers. Northampton Museums and Art Gallery, 1980. pp.4-5

[30]Comrie, p.192

[31] Comrie, p.223

[32] Hammond, p.13

[33] Comrie, p.193

[34] Comrie, p.200

[35] Wells, p.161

[36] Comrie, pp.219-21

[37] Comrie, p.201

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