Newsletter No. 32 – December 1998
Council met on the 26th of October at the Education Department of the British Museum. The Secretary reported on an invitation from the Society for Medieval Archaeology, asking Council to send, once a year, a representative to their own Council meetings. The MPRG is happy to accept this invitation in principle although none of the Council members present could easily attend the meeting in question. We do welcome this approach from the Society and look forward to future fruitful co-operation.
Most of the meeting was, as ever, taken up with the report from the Editorial Committee; their projects and responsibilities seem neverending. At present the editors are finalising Medieval Ceramics 21, beginning Medieval Ceramics 22, taking orders for the Guide and clearing the decks for publication of the Minimum Standards document. It is therefore perhaps fortunate that progress on the anticipated Occasional Papers on Ipswich Ware and Trondheim Redwares has slowed, for it seems the Editors have enough on their plates as it is! The delays in producing Medieval Ceramics were discussed by Council. It seems the introduction of refereeing has unavoidably slowed the process but we are of the opinion that deadlines for contributions must be set and stringently applied, even at the risk of publishing a slimmer volume than usual.
A draft of the Minimum Standards document was submitted to Council. It was agreed that this should be circulated for comment among the regional groups of MPRG and if you are interested in seeing it a copy should soon be with your regional groups secretary. It is hoped that the finished document will be published and circulated with Medieval Ceramics in May 1999.
Anne Jenner provided a report on the forthcoming conference in Sheffield and you should find a preliminary programme with this Newsletter. It looks as like this will be a very interesting meeting and I, for one, am very much looking forward to exchanging views with specialists in other periods.
Chris Cumberpatch, the Regional Groups Officer, raised the issue of those recommendations arising from the Mellor Report that might be addressed at a local level. It was felt that regional groups could be involved in setting up lists of important collections and sites and that this might stimulate activity in some groups which have been rather quiet in recent years. Further details will appear in the Newletter.
Finally, Council discussed plans for the next AGM. The President, Secretary, both Editors, the Assistant Editor and one ordinary member are standing down, which leaves a large hole in Council. It is customary for the President to invite somebody to take over as his successor, although that post, as well as all the others, is available for anyone who wishes to stand. The greatest problem is losing the editorial team. Jacqui Pearce may stand for one of the Editor's posts and Council considered that, in the event that nobody offered their services, the other Editor's post might be filled by co-opting one of the present incumbents for a year. This would have the effect of staggering the terms of office for the Editors, thus avoiding the five-yearly problem of losing both of them at once. It is hoped that the membership are sympathetic towards this plan.
The next meeting of Council is on the 10th February 1999; if there are any matters you wish me to raise, please contact me.
Duncan H Brown, Secretary
The proofs for volume 21 of Medieval Ceramics are being finalised at present (it will probably be just over 100 pages), and the editorial team hope the journal will be out by early next year. It is planned that volume 22 will be shorter but will appear in time for the meeting in May next year at Sheffield. There is still time for short contributions to the Compendiario for volume 22.
Mike Hughes, Co-Editor
for the Processing, Analysis, Publication and Archiving of Post-Roman Pottery
As a result of the survey of medieval ceramics (Mellor 1994), the MPRG took on board the need to produce nationally agreed minimum standards for those working with medieval pottery. The other ceramic period groups have all published guideline documents of their own (Fulford & Huddlestone 1991; PCRG 1991; PCRG 1992).
Over the past year an MPRG working party has been working on the production of a draft document. It will include a broad summary, outlining general principles, which it is hoped can be agreed by all three ceramic period groups. The draft document is now ready for circulation among the wider MPRG membership. All regional group organisers have been circulated with a copy. Please contact them if you would like to see one (for the name and address of you regional group organiser, contact Chris Cumberpatch, Regional Groups Officer).
All comments should be sent to me by Christmas, or as soon afterwards as possible, to: Anna Slowikowski, Bedfordshire County Archaeology Service, St Mary's Church Archaeology Centre, St Mary's Street, Bedford MK42 0AS, tel 01234 270009.
- Fulford, MG and Huddleston, K. 1991, The Current State of Romano-British Pottery Studies, a review for English Heritage. Occasional Paper No. 1.
- Mellor, M. 1994 Medieval Ceramic Studies in England, a review for English Heritage.
- PCRG 1991 The Study of Later Prehistoric Pottery: general policies. Occasional Paper No. 1.
- PCRG 1992 The Study of Later Prehistoric Pottery: guidelines for analysis and publication. Occasional Paper No. 2.
Regional Group Meetings
The spring 1998 meeting was held at St Albans Museum, on the theme of Hertfordshire Greyware and related types; over 20 people attended! There is no autumn meeting, but a joint session with the East Midlands and Anglia Roman Pottery Research Group is planned for Saturday 6th February 1999, at Aylesbury Museum, to discuss the differences and similarities in our ways of working with ceramics, and the general need for minimum standards. This will also be an opportunity to discuss the draft MPRG standards document, although, as all comments should be in by the New Year, please don't wait till this meeting if you would like to contribute.
For further details of this meeting, or if you would like to go on the mailing list, please contact Anna Slowikowski (see above, Minimum Standards, for address).
Unfortunately the planned NWRMPRG meeting for June had to be postponed. It is hoped that a meeting will be held in the New Year. Anyone interested in being placed on the group's mailing list should contact Julie Edwards, c/o Chester Archaeology, 27 Grosvenor St, Chester CH1 2DD.
Ceramics and related courses
Handling session: decorated medieval floor tiles
An opportunity to handle medieval floor tiles from Guildford Museum's collection, including material from Chertsey, Guildford, Merton, Newark and Waverley. The session will be repeated on two days, 13th–14th February 1999, at Salter's, Guildford Museum's Annexe, Castle Street, Guildford. Cost is £5, including light refreshments, a glass of wine and a talk. The displays will continue as a public exhibition until 20th February. Applications for tickets should state which day you will attend, and enclose a cheque payable to Guildford Museum. For further details contact Guildford Museum, Castle Arch, Guildford, Surrey, GU1 3SX, tel 01483 444750/444752.
Meetings and Conferences
British Archaeological Association Meetings 1999
We have been asked to advertise the following series of lectures, which are all held in the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1V 0HS, with tea from 4.30pm and meeting from 5pm. Non-members welcome, but should contact the Hon Director, Philip Lankester, beforehand (details deleted on request).
- 6 Jan. 'The grand amorial stove and "Turkish Bath" at the Palace of Whitehall', David Gaimster.
- 3 Feb. 'Timber importation to the British Isles and its uses in medieval times', Gavin Simpson.
- 3 Mar. 'Louis d'Orléans (1372–1407) and the sculptured images of the Nine Worthies' Julia Watson.
- 7 April 'Unspeakable Architecture; or the terminology of Gothic', Alexandrina Buchanan.
- 5 May 'Romanesque wall painting in England and Scotland: discoveries and research since 1990' David Park.
Majolica and glass: from Italy to Antwerp and beyond. The transfer of technology in the 16th–early 17th century.
This conference will be particularly concerned with workshops for the production of luxury tablewares established by Italians in Antwerp, and the diffusion of this technology to other regions in North-Western Europe. The place of majolica and glass within the broader setting of the 16th century economic and social developments and processes will also be considered. Material from excavations in Antwerp will be on display and there will be poster displays and space for material brought by delegates. Papers will be presented in English and French. The conference will take place in Antwerp on 3rd–5th June 1999, and the fee will be approximately 1500 BEF. For further information, or to offer a poster, contact Stad Antwerpen, Archeologie, Godefriduskaai 36, B-2000 Antwerpen, Belgium, tel/fax +32 3 232 9208.
Experimental Firing in Suffolk
The occasion for this firing was a weekend of archaeology at Priory Farm, Preston St Mary in Suffolk to celebrate the 150th year of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. On the final day we had invited the public to view our excavation and this seemed as good an excuse as any for a pottery firing. Several years of digging on an adjacent 13th–14th century site had yielded a considerable quantity of pottery, so we had plenty of examples to inspire us when it came to making our pots. Most, but not all, of the pots we put into the kiln were made from clay dug on the farm. It has to be said that the chalky boulder clay subsoil in this part of Suffolk is a potter's clay of last resort, but I did find an area of brown clay which was free of chalk. This actually threw very well. However, it was rather short and seemed to lack elasticity in drying. This caused jug handles to break or come off. It is interesting that local medieval handles tend to be straight and stay close to the pot. Perhaps they, too, were trying to minimise this problem.
We chose to model our kiln on a late medieval example excavated at Rickinghall in the north of the county (see Medieval Ceramics 20 for report). This unusual kiln had firemouths at each end and a chamber in the middle, and measured 3.5m long and 1m across. We scaled this down to suit our quantity of pots. Gilbert Burroughes, the kiln builder, had to work very fast since we could not start building before Friday morning and it had to be ready to fire at first light on Sunday. For this reason, he supported all of the structure except the dome of the firing chamber with soft red bricks which were then covered with a particularly sticky example of our yellow clay, well stamped up with straw. The pots were then piled in and straw placed over them and the clay dome formed over the top. Four holes were cut for flues and a pyrometer inserted in the side. The kiln with the pots was gently heated late on Saturday evening.
The firing on Sunday went well and a temperature of 980°C was reached around tea-time. This, bearing in mind that the kiln was still fairly wet, was good. The two firemouths worked fine and gave plenty of scope for enthusiastic amateurs to try their hand at stoking. When several days later we opened it up, we were disappointed to find a high proportion of breakages. I think putting the raw pots in a new kiln overnight was probably the reason for our losses. The good news is that all the pots were grey to dark grey and very well fired, even if some suffered fairly drastic warping. In medieval terms they were quite usable, so we can be said to have achieved our aim.
Adrian Thorpe, Priory Farm, Preston St Mary.
The MPRG website and email
To publicise pottery events on the website, contact Paul Miles, c/o Oxford Archaeological Unit, Janus House, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0ES, tel 01865 243888.
Other email addresses can be found on the website.
Other interesting ceramics websites:
• www.ceramique.com: mainly an art site, but with a bookshop which includes some archaeological material. In French, some English.
• www.cma.ab-c.nl: the website for the Corpus Middeleeuws Aardewerk series on ceramics in the Netherlands and Flanders. In English and Dutch.
L'Innovation Technique au Moyen-Age
P Beck (ed), Actes du Vie Congrès international d'archéologie médiévale (Dijon 1996), 336 pages, 290F.
Information from Les Informations de L'Association Bourguignonne de Recherches Céramiques newsletter, which highlights Chapter 5, 'De l'amélioration du quotidien', including 'Tupins et tupiniers, la production potière en Val-de-Saône du Vie au XIIe s.' by Y Petitdent and E Poil; 'L'apparition des glaçures plombifères et stannifères: exemplaires français' by C Hanusse, M Leenhardt, N Meyer-Rodriguès and L Vallauri; 'Les grès médiévaux: évolution ou révolution?' by A-M Flambard-Héricher; 'Tradition et innovation dans la céramique consommée à Tours au Bas-Moyen-Age et à l'époque moderne' by P Husi. Available from Epona, 7 rue Jean du Bellay, 75004, Paris, tel +(0)1 43 26 40 41.
Les poëles en céramique au Moyen-Age et à l'Epoque moderne
Annick Richard and Jean-Jacques Schwein (eds), Actes du colloque sur la céramique du poële (Montbéliard, 1995), 256 pages, 8 col. plates, many B&W illustrations, c250F. Supplement à la Revue Archéologique de l'Est.
About 15 articles providing a fundamental contribution to the knowledge of this particular type of ceramic, with marked sociological connotations. Available soon from UMR 5594, Faculté des Sciences, 6 bd Gabriel, 21000 Dijon, France. Tel. +(0)3 80 39 57 97.