Friday, December 01, 2006

Roman London redrawn after burial find

Not only that, but a tile kiln has also been found. The site is at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, and also has a late Roman burial (4th-5th century) and 7th century Anglo-Saxon burials too. The full report, from The Times of 1st December can be found here.

Here are the tile-related sentences:

' ... Other finds include a Roman tile kiln, dating from AD400-450, indicating that a significant Roman building existed near the site ...'

' ... No other tile kilns have been found in Central London, and the kiln is the latest-dated structure from Roman London to have been found thus far ...'

Hopefully, we'll hear much more about this in the future.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mouse imprint on a Roman Brick in Germany

I picked this up from British Brick Society's Information 102, page 8, T P Smith, 2006.

Here is a translation of the German text into English using AltaVista's Babelfish (

During opening a Roman ziegelbrennofens with Neupotz was the casting of an antique mouse in a brick. Since February 2001 the LOD Speyer accomplishes Jockrim and the local municipality Neupotz excavations on the gemarkung Neupotz, which became necessary by the classification of a development area in co-operation with the convention community. To day came among other things Roman piece of road, one cellar, three Getreidedarren as well as a complete manufacturing plant for bricks with furnace and workshop. All plants date after the first impression into the second and third after-Christian century.

On the hole threshing floor of the altogether surprisingly well received ziegelbrennofens a Tegulafragment with the highly detailed body casting of a mouse was in the destruction debris (see upper photo). The animal probably killed, when over still yield, to drying which are laid out brick plates ran. The casting is so clear that the rodent could be determined zoologically. See for this the following contribution of the Diplombiologin Martina Dumke.

Determination of the animal casting found at the excavation place The Habitus of the found animal is the one mammal. One finds mouse-well-behaved animals in the order of the insectivores (Insectivora) under the pointed mice and in the order of the rodents (Rodentia) under the genuine mice. The following regulation characteristics can be used on the basis the casting:
* Head fuselage length (KR): Distance between lip point and tail root (70mm)
* Swan length (Schw): Distance between the tail root and the tail point (without final hair) (76mm)
* hind foot length (HF): Distance between Hinterrand of the heel and the front edge of the longest toe (without claw) (19mm)

Further characteristics:
* Apodemus mystacinus rock mouse
* 4 toes at the front feet, 5 toes at the hind feet
* Sohlenschwielen at the hind feet
* split oberlippe
* probably not yet reproductionable male

The Insectivora can be excluded, since these exhibit in each case 5 toes at the rear and front feet. Thus the find animal is to be assigned to the order Rodentia and here the genuine mice. For the determination of the kinds apart from the characteristics specified above also the ear length and the skin condition are needed, by expulsion procedures arrive one however at the kind Apodemus - forest mice. Unfortunately each large regulation and thus the establishment on a kind are pure speculation, since it probably concerns an animal not attained full growth yet and cannot the koerpermasse thus obligatorily be used. Besides important regulation characteristics, like the tooth condition, are missing the skin colouring and the number of tail rings. Unfortunately one cannot orient oneself also at the momentary circulation area, since also mouse populations had to bend themselves in the past millenium in its spreading the strong pressure of humans as well as the climate. The following kinds of the kind Apodemus occur in Europe: *Apodemus mystacinus rock mouse
*Apodemus flavicollis yellow neck mouse (favored by the author)
*Apodemus sylvaticus common forest mouse Apodemus microps dwarf forest mouse
*Apodemus agrarius fire mouse

Hopefully, it gives an idea of the original text! Smith's text in Information says it's a Field Mouse (Apodemus mystacinus). To see the pages, with a couple of photos, go to:
THEN: On the left hand bar click on the link to 'Archaologie in der Pfalz.' Then on the right hand panel scroll down to 'Heir kommt die Maus!' Then click on the link highlighted: 'Mehr ├╝ber dieses Thema erfahren Sie hier'

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Roman Portable Ovens

I've just been reading the latest Research News: Newsletter of the English Heritage Research Department Number 4, Summer 2006, pages 23-24. In it there was an interesting snippet about rare Roman Portable Ovens (Clibani). In particular, there was a photo of the fragments from the Chester Amphitheatre excavations, and the comment that the fragments were collected as ceramic building materials. So it's a possible thing that may be found in cbm samples, along with all that amphora ...

On searching on the web, I found that a similar photo of the Chester fragments is included in the Chester Amphitheatre Newletter issue 9, 12.08.06 It will download as a PDF and you will need Adobe Acrobat to read it. See pages 6-7 in the pdf. There's a helpful description of the sherds.

Failing that, get hold of a copy of the Research News, details as above. They are free; I can't remember exactly where from, but try emailing: in the first instance. Most of the edition is given over to Chester's Amphitheatre Project, which is quite interesting in itself.

If you want to see a picture of a near-complete oven, there's a drawing of one in: W F Grimes, 1930. 'Holt, Denbighshire: The Works-Dept of the Twentieth Legion at Castle Lyons' Y Cymmrodor Vol XLI, 1930, page 212. Or you can see one in use in this online impression. It's on the right of the drawing, and an adult is putting something into it, or taking something out. The drawing was created from a clibanus found on the excavations at Prestatyn, Wales, which was a Roman baths and civilian settlement. The full reference to the drawing is: Blockley M, 1986. 'The Prestatyn excavation: education, presentation and video' IN Cracknell S & Corbishley M (eds), 1986. Presenting archaeology to young people, CBA Research Report 64, 17-23

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Adventures in archaeological research: 1

I've just started the second, more intensive research phase for my Early medieval ceramic building materials in Yorkshire article.

First up, is establishing the presence of curved and flanged tiles in Scarborough. This has entailed checking out the origination of this oft-quoted occurence. It seems to come from J N Hare's Battle Abbey publication (1985). Anthony D F Streeten's refreshingly substantial Ceramic Building Materials report (p79-102) discusses the presence of curved and flanged tiles at the Abbey. He then cites the Scarborough curved and flanged tiles, and the references is: P and N Famer, pers. comm. The tiles were found from the early phase of Scarborough ware (pottery) production, where they were found amongst wasters.

The next step was to find out if this material was ever published. Cue a visit to the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography.

There were three references:

An introduction to Scarborough Ware and a reassessment of knight jugs
1979, Peter G Farmer: privately published by author

Symposium on Scarborough Ware
1982, P G Farmer, N C Farmer & et al: Medieval Ceram, 6, 1982, 66-119

Excavations at the deserted medieval village of Osgodby near Scarborough, 1956-65
1968, Peter G Farmer: Trans Scarborough Dist Archaeol Soc, 2(11), 1968, 29-61

Unfortunately, none of them are after the date of the pers comm from the Battle Abbey report. However, I will still check them out. To do that, I have to find out if the local libraries have got them.

I checked the University of York - they have Medieval Ceramics. They also have a puzzling reference to the Trans Scarborough Dist Archaeol Soc at the Borthwick, but I suspect they don't have the complete run. However the Scarborough and District Archaeological Society have a website, and if I need to, I will go directly to them. Indeed they have several more recent Scarborough archaeological publications, but I've already checked those (they are in my CBM library) and the legendary curved and flanged tiles are not mentioned there.

Next with trepidation onto the the privately published 'An introduction to Scarborough Ware ...' But it's not a problem. The York Minster Library has a copy. Phew.

Another avenue of enquiry would be to talk to P. and N. Farmer. Unfortunately, Peter Farmer had died, as his obituary was reported in Medieval Ceramics in 2001. I haven't yet made much headway in finding out the whereabouts of N. Farmer. Indeed, on the personal contact front, there may be several other people to talk to, as they are currently involved in the archaeology of Scarborough, so it is likely I will try them first.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tiles in odd places: Shires West, Leicester

In November/December 2006's British Archaeology (Number 91, pages 20-21) Tony Gnanaratnam reports on the excavations in Leicester from April-December 2005 - Revealing a lost community. It was a large site which focussed on St Peter's medival church and cemetery. No doubt, at some point the article will gravitate to British Archaeology's web archive, sans photos. In the meantime, of interest to tile fans is the presence of two floor tiles in one of the graves:

... The coffin contained two floor tiles, one with the mid 14th century arms of the Dukes of Lancaster (the earldom of Leicester eventually passed to Lancaster)

There is also a photo of the grave, and it shows that one of the tiles was tucked behind the head of the skeleton. Published in the article, I also found it on the dig's website, so have included it here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Early medieval ceramic roof tile in Yorkshire

Having got the funding to get proper drawings made of the curved and flanged tile thanks to a grant from the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society, I can go ahead with my early medieval roof tile article. Curved and flanged roofing tile is currently dated to 12th-early 13th century and are superceded by plain roof tile (eg. peg or nib) from the late 12th century onward.

Curved and flanged tile functioned in the same way as the Roman imbrex and tegula. The following examples are from MAP Archaeological Consultancy's Spurriergate, York, site.

This is a flanged tile, with a nail/peg hole. Only half of one, but a complete one can be seen at the Museum of London catalogue site here:
Here is a curved tile that would have gone along with the flanged tile above. As ever, it's not quite complete. Note it also has a nail/peg hole:
Although I have seen some partially glazed examples in York, it does not appear to be particularly common in the city.

Here is how the tiles would be fitted together. Unlike Roman tiles, these tiles don't tend have upper and lower cutaways to lock into the next tiles on the roof. However, sometimes the flanges tiles as a whole taper toward the bottom, or the flange itself is slightly tapered at the end:

Saturday, September 16, 2006

National Lottery flying bricks advert

As previously mentioned on this blog, there was a National Lottery advert featuring bricks flying through the air to a nice sunny location. This ad can now be viewed on line here. I may even go so far as downloading a copy :-)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Brick and Tile Recording Day 2006

Brick and Tile Recording Day

Wednesday 15th November 2006

10.00 to 4.30pm

Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens, York

Draft Programme

10.00am Tea/Coffee/Biscuits and Registration
10.15 Introductions
10.20 Why record Ceramic Building Materials? – Phil Mills (Freelance CBM specialist)
10.45 A brief guide to Ceramic Building Material types – Sandra Garside-Neville (CBM Researcher)
11.15 Tour of Ceramics Store – Andrew Morrison (Curator of Access for Archaeology, Yorkshire Museum)
12.15 Lunch (There are a number of cafes and pubs in the area, or please bring your own food as it is not
1.30 Hands-on brick and tile recording
3.00 Tea break
3.15 Hands-on brick and tile recording
4.30 Finish

Places are limited to 10 participants only and cost £45 for the day.

If you're interested in attending, drop me a line at

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Roman Stamped Tiles of Vindonissa (1st Century A.D., Northern Switzerland)

Another book available from Archaeopress is: BAR S1449 2005: The Roman Stamped Tiles of Vindonissa (1st Century A.D., Northern Switzerland) Provenance and technology of the production ? an archaeometric study by Folco Giacomini. ISBN 1841718858. £25.00. 84 pages; illustrated throughout with figures, maps, plans, tables and illustrations. Abstracts in French and German. This work presents an archaeometric study on the Vindonissa stamped tiles. Vindonissa (Canton of Aargau, Switzerland) was an important Roman camp during the 1st century AD. With Vindonissa stamped tiles, archaeologists refer to all tiles stamped with the name of the military units that were stationed at Vindonissa from 47 to 101 AD. These tiles are among the most common archaeological findings in the Vindonissa legionary camp, but commonly occur in different Roman sites of Switzerland. The principal aim of this study was the petrographic and chemical characterisation of the Vindonissa tiles to determine the production site (or sites) for these ceramics and to obtain information concerning the technological aspects of the tile production and the distribution of these stamped tiles in Switzerland in Roman times.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tegulae: manufacture,typology and use in Roman Britain

Peter Warry kindly notified the ACBMG list of his new publication:

... my book on tegulae (Tegulae: manufacture,
typology and use in Roman Britain. BAR417) has now been published.
It broadly follows my PhD thesis. The structure and a few of the
conclusions are set out below. I would be delighted if anybody
wishes to offer any data or arguments that either support or
contradict my conclusions.
Peter Warry

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapter 2 - Manufacture: showing that tegulae were made with wet
clay in a four-sided mould and shaped with a wire (the clay was too
wet/adhesive to be rolled). In the later third century some
manufacturers converted to an inverted box mould and some imbrex
manufacturers also changed from upright to inverted formers around
the same time.

Chapter 3 – Typology: the form of the lower cutaway changed over
time and a sequence of four distinct cutaway groups (found
throughout the province) are proved. Using this cutaway sequence,
tegula size reduces steadily through time with the flange dimensions
and cutaway lengths also reducing in proportion. At the end of the
sequence some regions develop their own unique forms.

Chapter 4 – Dating: the cutaway groups fall into date ranges (A= up
to 120, B=100-180, C=160-260, D=240 onwards, regional forms 300
onwards). Substantially more data are required to verify these date
ranges, in particular the Group C forms could have a much more
extensive overlap with the Group B cutaway forms. The Legio XX
tiles stamped "VERO III COS" are more likely to be 126 rather 167.
The tiles with the Britannica cognomen from Carpow are more likely
to be 180 than 210.

Chapter 5 – Stamps: Legionary stamps had an average life of twenty
years. Many of them were in use contemporaneously which suggests
that each cohort had its own stamp. Military practice, when they
stamped tiles at all, was to stamp all of their production not just
a proportion; unstamped tiles are likely to be produced by
contractors. All of Legio XX output (including that with stamps)
may have been produced by contractors from c125 onwards whereas
Legio II did not use contractors for roof tiles until the third

Chapter 6 – Roof Construction: Early roof design used large tegulae
of graduated sizes that were laid upon a bed of mortar and daub
without fixing nails; this design was superseded by tegulae all of
similar size that were laid directly onto common rafters with the
lowest row being secured with nails. In the mid-third century the
pitch of roofs may have increased and every other tegula was secured
by a nail or in some cases with a wooden dowel. A third century
roof would have used roughly 40% more tegulae than a first century
one (due to the reduction in size of the tegulae) but the
improvement in tegula design meant that the roof would have weighed
some 14% less.

Chapter 7 – Vaulted roofs: over 20% of tegulae are longitudinally
convex such that they would form an arch shape when placed on a flat
surface. These were not wasters but deliberate manufacture for use
on vaulted roofs where they were secured with mortar rather than
nails. Examples of this approach occur in Rome and there is more
circumstantial evidence from Britain.

Chapter 8 – Economics: a typical civilian tile works would have
employed just five people gathering wood and preparing clay in the
winter and making tiles in the summer. Military tile works were
considerably larger: the Classis Britannica tile works employed
between 30 and 80 men depending upon whether they worked all year
round or just during the summer months. Based on the labour cost,
tegulae would have cost just over 5 denarii each.

Chapter 9 – Conclusions

Peter Warry's book is available from: Archaeopress: BAR 417 2006: TEGULAE Manufacture, typology and use in Roman Britain by Peter Warry. ISBN 1841719560. £34.00. 167 pages; 126 figures, maps, plans and drawings; 114 plates. 5 data Appendices.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Brickmakers in Australia's first settlement

When the First Fleet reached Sydney Cove in 1788, it carried with it a consignment of brick and wooden brick moulds. For further information check out this website. There is also a pdf leaflet here, which includes lots of details and pix about the early and more recent brick industry in Australia.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Flock of migrating bricks

Bricks fans can currently be royally entertained by an advert for the National Lottery. It shows a flock of bricks flying over hill and dale, through snow and town, to find a sunny plot to build on. Very amusing indeed for those of a brick persuasion. Not quite worked out the significance of it all yet though (apparently it's something to do with getting people to think about the possibilities of winning), but there's a press release about the advert here (pdf format). As for me, I'm wondering if my chances of getting a lottery grant have gone up, what with the National Lottery now setting such great store by bricks :-)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fashion, Architecture, Taste (FAT)

FAT is a partnership of architects, and I've just seen some photos of their buildings in The Guardian. In particular, there is a new development at Islington Square in East Manchester, and they use brick in a very pleasing manner.

Photo Len Grant, from The Guardian, 17/04/06

From the individual Dutch gables, to the patterned brickwork, it's a delight.

Friday, March 24, 2006

George Shipway article by Alan Fisk

The Cavalryman Rides Again: the historical novels of George Shipway


Alan Fisk

First published in 'Solander' Vol 7 No 1, May 2003, pages 4-6 (published by the Historical Novel Society). Many thanks to Alan Fisk for allowing me to include it in my blog. Thanks to Jim Poulton for the illustrations.

In October 2002, Imperial Governor, a novel about the Boudiccan revolt against the Romans in 61 A.D., was republished after being out of print for many years. [A review of Imperial Governor appeared in The Historical Novels Review, Issue 22, December 2002 and see also a review at Historical Novels Info.]

For its author, George Shipway, becoming a historical novelist was a third career, which he started late, and which lasted for only a few years. In that relatively short time, though, he established himself as a noted and sometimes controversial writer.

He died in 1982, but his wife still lives in the cottage in Berkshire that they first moved into in 1949. She has given Solander invaluable help with this article.

George Shipway was born in 1908 in Allahabad, India, where his father was a publisher. In accordance with the custom of that time, George was sent to England at the age of eight to go to boarding school at Clifton.

After leaving school, he became a cadet at Sandhurst, the Army’s academy for future officers. Sandhurst trained cadets for both the British Army, and the Indian Army, which was the one for which George Shipway was destined. He used to claim in later life that the only reason he had joined the Army was so that he could play polo, which he would not have been able to afford to do as a civilian!

After Sandhurst, he was commissioned in 1928 into the 13th. Duke of Connaught’s Lancers, a cavalry regiment. He returned to India, where he married while he was posted at Jullundur.

In the ensuing years, the Shipways moved “all over India”, as Mrs. Shipway recalls. George Shipway’s service included two years away from his regiment with a force of irregulars on the frontier between Baluchistan and Iran, as well as being a staff officer in Delhi and in central India, but history was about to bring his Indian Army career to an end. At Partition, the Indian Army was divided, and the 13th. Lancers was one of the regiments assigned to Pakistan.

The Shipways came “home”. George Shipway had obtained a transfer to the British Army, to the 3rd. Carabiniers, the Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards, a Scottish regiment. In the end, he decided not to go through with it. His explanation was that he had never been north of Yorkshire and didn’t intend to make such a dramatic change in his life, but really he seems to have had no wish to pursue an Army career anywhere but in India. He retired in 1947 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

At this point, the Shipways happened to run into a friend whom they had known in India. She was married to another former Indian Army officer, and she and her husband were now running Cheam School in Berkshire, a school for boys aged from 8 to 14. They suggested to George Shipway that he should become a teacher at the school, which he did.

His second career, as a schoolmaster, lasted 19 years. His pupils included Prince Charles, who spent some time at Cheam. The boys liked and respected him.

Looking at George Shipway’s photograph on his 1970s book jackets, one can judge that only a very foolish, or a very brave, boy would have misbehaved in Mr. Shipway’s class. The photograph shows a man who clearly knows his way about the world, with a genial expression, but who carries the bearing of one who expects to be obeyed when he gives an order.

While he was a schoolmaster, he tried his hand at writing in his spare time, encouraged by his friend John Masters, who had also been an Indian Army officer before becoming an author. George Shipway eventually began work on what would become Imperial Governor.

Mrs. Shipway describes him as a man who lived much within himself. He combined the qualities of the soldier with those of a scholar. When he was a boy, his family had thought of sending him to a grander school, Winchester, and Mrs. Shipway believes that if his life had taken that turn he might well have become a university don rather than a soldier.

George Shipway loved the countryside, and Mrs. Shipway still treasures a book in which he had collected dried specimens of more than 200 species of wild flower.

Imperial Governor was published in 1968. It takes the form of a memoir of the Roman general Suetonius Paulinus, who, when Governor of Britain, suppressed Boudicca’s rebellion. At 60, George Shipway was an unusually late starter as a published novelist, but he found success at once. Imperial Governor was widely praised.

His next novel, Knight in Anarchy, followed a year later, in 1969. It relates the adventures of Humphrey Visdelou in the chaos of the struggle for the English crown between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda in the mid-twelfth century. It is built around Humphrey’s perverse and helpless devotion to the service of the cruel but charismatic Geoffrey de Mandeville.

Knight in Anarchy is perhaps the quintessential George Shipway novel, full of violence, dirt, fear, and danger, while at the same time being scholarly and a well-constructed story. The story never flags, right up to the fascinating punchline at the very end of the Author’s Note that concludes it: “I live on the fief that Visdelou once held”.

At this point George Shipway quarrelled with his literary agent of the time. Mrs. Shipway recalls him stamping off to his study and swearing that he would never write again. Some months later he emerged with the manuscript of The Chilian Club, a novel that would bring him considerable public notice, much of it hostile.

The Chilian Club (published in the United States as The Yellow Room) is not a historical novel (except for its Prologue), but it needs to be examined here because of its effect upon his reputation for some people.

The Chilian (short for “Chilianwala”) Club in London is founded in the middle of the nineteenth century by the former CO of the 6th. Hussars, a cavalry regiment that had disgraced itself in the opinion of the rest of the Army by its behaviour at the battle of Chilianwala in India in1849, during the Sikh Wars.

By the mid-1970s, Britain is paralysed by strikes and left-wing political activism (an extrapolation by Shipway from the real industrial and political strife of the time). A group of retired Army officers, members of the Chilian Club, decide to redeem the honour of the 6th. Hussars by assassinating the union leaders, left-wing agitators, and even a trendy bishop, whom they believe to be destroying the country. It turns out that the figures whom the Chilian Club select as their targets were financed by the Soviet Union, but there are more revelations, and the novel ends in a sensational and unexpected twist that takes it into science fiction.

The Chilian Club wasn’t politically correct in 1971, and is even less so now. There were plans at the time to film it, but the unions “blacked” the project so that the film was never made.

George Shipway had described The Chilian Club as “a diversion”, but many who read it, or heard of it, were not amused. He was guyed as a silly old retired curry colonel, and was called (unfairly) a Fascist, and (even more unfairly) a racist, an accusation that is absurd to anyone who has read some of his other novels, with their noble Moorish and Indian characters.

Shipway returned to less controversial ground with his next two novels, The Paladin and The Wolf Time, which tell the story of Walter Tirel, known to history as the man who was blamed for killing King William II with an arrow in the New Forest. When Tirel is a boy undergoing a brutal training programme to become an esquire, he meets William Rufus for the first time, and is spellbound by him, although he is appalled by Rufus’ homosexuality.

The Paladin and The Wolf Time contain a gallery of characters that is vaster and more fascinating than in any of George Shipway’s other novels, and the story of Walter Tirel’s 20‑year affair with the alluring but dangerous Isabel of Conches is like no other love story that you have ever read.

George Shipway returned to India, the country where he had spent 28 years of his life, for a pair of novels set at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Unlike The Paladin and The Wolf Time, though, these two novels are not connected except by both being set in India within a few years of each other.

Free Lance follows the fortunes of two friends who have fallen into disgrace in England and taken service with the East India Company: the dashing Hugo Amaury as an army officer, and the stolid Charles Marriott as a junior merchant. Marriott stays loyal to the Company, but Amaury, whose temper nearly ruins his career, decides to strike out into the lawless interior of central India to find a life of power and wealth for himself without the help or approval of the Company.

Charles Marriott is appointed a Collector, effectively a local ruler for the Company, and Amaury accompanies him. Plenty of fights and battles ensue, not least as part of the pursuit of Amaury by Caroline Wrangham, the spirited daughter of a general.

Free Lance is perhaps not Shipway’s most successful novel, depending heavily on a couple of convenient coincidences, but it does make a serious effort to exhibit and explain the attitudes of the East India Company’s soldiers and merchants, and of the Indian peoples with whom they deal.

Ignorance and insensitivity towards Indians are the very theme of Strangers in the Land, which begins five years later, in 1806. A general newly arrived from England orders two small changes to the Indian soldiers’ uniforms and personal appearance regulations. This act eventually leads to a savage mutiny, and equally savage reprisals. The sense throughout Strangers in the Land is of an onrushing disaster, which people of goodwill on both sides try to prevent. In the end, each side feels that it has been betrayed by those whom it trusted, and the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 is a warning that will have been forgotten 50 years later, a forgetfulness that will lead to the much greater Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Strangers in the Land is notable for the large number of Indian characters, and the understanding portrayal of their tragedy, which is important to remember in view of the reputation that The Chilian Club had earned George Shipway in some quarters.

Shipway now moved back 3000 years to produce a pair of novels about the Mycenaean king Agamemnon. He had first become interested in the period when he had been taught the Classics as a schoolboy, and he travelled widely in the Aegean to research the two novels.

The first of the pair, Warrior in Bronze, tells the story of Agamemnon up to the point at which he gains the throne of Mycenae. Warrior in Bronze is full of characters from Classical mythology and drama, such as Hercules, Clytemnaistra, Castor, and Pollux, and the novel gives origins for them from which the tales and legends might have grown. Shipway also serves up his usual quota of battles, intrigues, and shocking acts of violence. Agamemnon, who narrates his own story, is entirely unrepentant, and believes that only a harsh and ruthless man could rule in the Greece of his time. When Warrior in Bronze ends, the seeds of the coming Trojan War are already sprouting.

The second novel of the Mycenaean pair, King in Splendour, tells the story of how Agamemnon brings about the war against Troy of which he has long dreamt. His account of how it really happened varies in many respects from the story we know from Homer’s Iliad. This is because, in King in Splendour, the bard who composed the Iliad is a hired hack brought to Troy by Achilles, and who is paid to compose an epic that reflects maximum credit upon Achilles, and the minimum upon Agamemnon. At the end of the novel, Agamemnon prepares to sail home, wolfishly considering how he will execute his treacherous queen Clytemnaistra and her lover Aegisthus. He cannot know that it is Clytemnaistra who will have the last brutal triumph.

King in Splendour was George Shipway’s last novel, published when he was 71. Mrs. Shipway had long urged him to retire when he reached 70, but sadly his health failed soon afterwards, and he died in 1982.

It had been an extraordinary career, lasting only 11 years. George Shipway had been first published even later than Alfred Duggan (whose first novel had come out when Duggan was 47), and his novels had been published over an even shorter period than Duggan’s (11 years, as against 14 years).

One can also compare Shipway with his friend John Masters. Shipway’s novels combine the scholarship of Duggan (who, like Shipway and Masters, had served as a soldier in combat) with the roughness of Masters. Shipway’s Amaury family, members of which make appearances from the eleventh century to the twentieth, is perhaps a deliberate echo of Masters’ Savage family.

Duggan had Shipway’s erudition, but lacked his toughness, while Masters had the toughness but did not have Shipway’s deep education.

George Shipway’s most notable distinction as a historical novelist is his unflinching representation of the attitudes of the times and places of which he wrote. We may be appalled by Walter Tirel’s willingness to kill helpless peasants in order to weaken a rival lord’s economic power, while at the same time Tirel is always obedient to the laws of honour. Those laws simply don’t apply to serfs. As modern readers, we do not have to approve of his viewpoint, but that does seem to be the way a man of his time and class would have seen it.

In his Indian novels, Shipway is quite aware (even mentioning it in a foreword to Free Lance, for example), that the attitudes of his British characters are now considered reprehensible, but he is not afraid to give them the outlook of their own time. He is equally faithful to the attitudes of his Indian characters, not all of which would be approved of by modern Indians.

Because George Shipway never modified his historical novels to fit modern views, they have not dated, whereas The Chilian Club is now a period piece that would require notes and explanations if it were to be published again, which is highly unlikely.

George Shipway’s historical novels are strong meat indeed, and will not appeal to everyone. His in-your-face, no-apologies style leaves no room for indifference. Either you like his novels or you don’t.
His undoubted strengths are the force, clarity, and imagery of his writing, and the accuracy of his backgrounds. He has a rare gift for vivid verbal pictures: a flight of arrows shot from one ship to another at sea forms “a shimmering bridge”; looking out over the length of the city wall of mediaeval London, “(the) helmets of the watch and ward twinkled like jewels on a two-mile-long diadem”.

Those who like to read historical fiction will find that he is an author who can make another time and place live with a skill that few historical novelists can match. Those who write historical fiction as well can learn from an author who never forced his characters to adopt whatever attitudes were fashionable at the time or writing, instead of the attitudes of their own time.

Alan Fisk lives in London. His historical novels include The Strange Things of the World, The Summer Stars, Forty Testoons, and Cupid and the Silent Goddess. His website is at:

See also the Wiki page for George Shipway

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Clay Drainage Tile & Pipe Manufacture ...

Through the kind offices of the author, I have managed to get hold of an off-print of:

Clay drainage and pipe manufacture at Johnby Whythes, Greystoke, c.1851-1909 by E Davis
Transactions of the Cumberland & Westomorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society, Volume II, 2002, 261-275

It is a study of that tile works (including quantities produced and ownership), and also comments on the types of drainage tiles available in Cumberland. A great addition to my library!

February 2014: E Davis, along with S B Davis, have also published their work about Cumbrian drainage as a whole,  and details can be found here:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A History of Field Drainage

This is a super article from the Hendon and District Archaeological Society's Newsletter March 1974, which they have put on their wonderful website:

(Page 2)

History of Field Drainage

One exhibit now on show at Church Farm House Museum deals with field drains as an aid to archaeological dating. The following notes are a background to the subject:

Land drainage has a long history in Britain, going back to the Roman cutting of the Car Dykes in the Fens and the ditches of Romney Marsh. By the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, most available land had already been reclaimed by surface draining of lakes, marshes and fens. At the same time there came the Industrial Revolution and a steady rise in population. Early statistician Gregory King estimated the population of England and Wales at 5 1/2 million in 1700. By the first Census in 1801 it was 9,000,000 and by 1851 almost 18,000,000. The problem was how to provide food for all these people, using only the same amount of agricultural land as before.

(Page 3)
One solution -- there were of course others -- was to improve the drainage, and thus the crop-yield, of heavy farmland by underground, or hollow, drainage. This was no new idea. Deep trenching, with faggots, stones, shells or gravel laid at the bottom of the trench, and then the earth by replaced on top, had long been used as a drainage method; such drains, however, did not last long and needed frequent or re-laying.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century a few landowners began to employ a more effective type of although drainage, using tiles or drain bricks to replace the faggots and stones. One method was to cut a small, rectangular channel at the base of the trench, and put a roofing tile over it. Another was to lay two hollowed-out bricks face to face so that the hollow formed a pipe. A later improvement was to turn over the edges of a roof-tile into a horseshoe shape before firing; this was either laid directly on the floor of the trench or on a base plate. It is this original use of roof tiles for drainage purposes which gave later land drains their name: tile-pipes.

As a mark of the importance of the government placed on the laying of hollow drainage systems, a statute of 1826 (confirmed in 1839 and 1840) exempted from the duty normally paid between 1784-1850 on bricks and tiles "those bricks made solely for draining wet and marshy land -- provided they are legibly stamped in making with the word DRAIN."

The late eighteenth or early nineteenth century methods were expensive, and only rich landowners could afford them. Early tile-pipes were shaped by hand around a drum. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century, when the extrusion method of machine-making tile-pipes was invented, that hollow drainage by tile-pipe came within the reach of most farmers. Thomas Scragg patented a cheaper method of making tile-pipes in 1845; by 1849 a writer in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England could describe a machine for making drain tiles operated by one man and three boys, who could turn out nearly 11,000 tiles off 1" bore in ten hours. The price of this machine was £25.

Once cheap tile-pipes became available, they were widely used. At first pipes of small 1" bore were tried. The theory was that the water would be channelled through these so fast it would prevent silting. In fact the result was the opposite: the pipes were so narrow they silted up.

A large bore pipe -- first of 2 in., later of 3 in. or more -- came into use, and systems were laid up to the 1890s. Then, with the start of the period of agricultural depression, no more tile-pipe drainage was laid, virtually until 1939. Mole-drainage (cheaper, although it had to be renewed) was used instead.

I found that the Rural History Centre University of Reading website had the Scraggs machine on it so put in the links, and it also has a list of other brick and tile making machines.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hartleys Brick by Brick Pot by Pot

I've recently had a look at some brick and tile from a site in Castleford. There were a couple of brick stamps, and one of them was stamped:
Fortunately, I had a book that might help be identify which company manufactured this brick. The book is Hartleys Brick by Brick, Pot by Pot by David Wilders, 2003, Castleford Press, £10.00. Although I could not match the stamp exactly, there were photos of other stamps, some of which just had H CASTLEFORD on. So the brick is very likely the product of Hartleys of Castleford, and either late 19th to early 20th century in date (from the form of the brick probably 20th century).

I can't remember where I got the book from - suspect it was a flyer in a British Brick Society mailing that brought it to my attention. But the publisher's address is:

Castleford Press
8 West View Avenue
West Yorkshire
WF10 3AQ

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Protruding bricks and firing kilns

Janet R kindly sent me these references after I puzzled over a video which showed two bricks protruding from a firing walled up kiln. I thought it may be so they could check how the firing was progressing, but wasn't sure quite how it worked in practice:

'There was also a peep hole at each end of the kiln near the top and they were plugged up with a brick that you could just draw out. When you looked through, you knew where your top was. You can imagine all the heat that was coming a front, you'd no eyebrows and if you were a moustache man, no moustache! You manipulated these loose bricks with two bits of wood in your hand, and held it to keep the heat away from your face so you could look down into the kiln.'
p.33 The Barton Area Brick and Tile Industry: a personal view. By Ernest Coulam, edited by Karin Negoro from interviews recorded in June 1990.

' the front wall rose a small aperture was left above the top of the kiln gap but just underneath the level of the arch, near the top. This was above the height to which the contents would reach when set but at such a point as to allow a sight along the kiln contents under the top of the arch. The purpose of it was that it could be filled in with bricks and pug after allowing the burner to withdraw a brick and take a look along the top of the contents when the kiln was burning. When he was satisfied with what he saw the brick(s) were replaced and pugged in. A similar opening was built in the rear of the bricks was marked with a cross or something and always left protruding about 3" so that it could be easily withdrawn for this purpose.'
pp.30-31The Barton Area Brick and Tile Industry: from turning-out to management, open top kilns, arch kilns and downdraught kilns, brick and tile making machines, building and burning in Barrow Haven and Barton. Copyright E. Coulam and C.H. Watkinson, May 2000. Re-produced and re-typed by Karen Spavin July 2002.

Janet purchased one booklet from the Ropewalk in Barton-on-Humber which she says also has some displays and exhibits on brick and tile. The other was bought from the Environment Team at North Lincolnshire Council at Scunthorpe.

Many thanks for all this Janet :-)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Literary tile: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Gary kindly brought these Dutch tiles to my attention:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Stave 1: Marley's Ghost

The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh's daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a
blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley's head on every one.

'Humbug!' said Scrooge; and walked across the room.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Literary brick: You're a brick, Angela

Alan Fisk has suggested I include:

You're a brick, Angela! by Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig

Thank you Alan :-)

This leads me to wonder about calling people a brick - more later ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Literary brick: Heny VI Part 2, Shakespeare

Unfortunately, bricks do not lend themselves easily to St Valentine's Day, so this scene from a Shakespeare play (not even from Romeo & Juliet!) will have to suffice:

Henry VI, Part 2 by Shakespeare

Act 4. Scene II
SCENE II. Blackheath


Ay, there's the question; but I say, 'tis true:
The elder of them, being put to nurse,
Was by a beggar-woman stolen away;
And, ignorant of his birth and parentage,
Became a bricklayer when he came to age:
His son am I; deny it, if you can.

Nay, 'tis too true; therefore he shall be king.

Sir, he made a chimney in my father's house, and
the bricks are alive at this day to testify it;
therefore deny it not.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Literary brickmaker: Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe owned brickworks and also made pantiles. It was only later that he turned to writing his novels, Robinson Crusoe & Moll Flanders.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Literary bricklayers: Ben Jonson

Thanks to Sarah for this information: playwright Ben Jonson was a bricklayer for a short time. But it didn't suit him for some reason ... Can't imagine why!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Literary brick: The Bricklayer's Lament

Bricklayer's Lament was told by Gerard Hoffnung at the Oxford Union, December 4th, 1958.

Here is a version:


(from his Oxford Union speech) and taken from

I've got this thing here that I must read to you. Now, this is a very tragic thing ... I shouldn't, really, read it out. A striking lesson in keeping the upper lip stiff is given in a recent number of the weekly bulletin of 'The Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors' that prints the following letter from a bricklayer in Golders Green to the firm for whom he works:

Respected Sir,

When I got to the top of the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked down some bricks off the
top. So I rigged up a beam, with a pulley, at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels of

When I had fixed the building, there was a lot of bricks left over. I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom and then went up and filled the barrel with the extra bricks. Then, I went to the bottom and cast off the rope.

Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on!

Halfway up, I met the barrel coming down ... and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers jammed in the pulley!

When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom ... allowing all the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed!

Halfway down ... I met the barrel coming up and received severe injury to my shins!

When I hit the ground ... I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges! At this point ... I must have lost my presence of mind... because I let go of the line!

The barrel then came down... giving me a very heavy blow and putting me in hospital!

I respectfully request 'sick leave'.

Recordings can be be bought from the Official Gerrard Hoffnung website.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Literary Brick: The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 1
Though moody, unhappy, and disappointed, he was a hard-working, conscientious pastor, among the poor people with whom his lot was cast; for in the parish of Hogglestock there resided only a few farmers higher in degree than field labourers, brickmakers, and such like.

But among the very poor, among the brickmakers of Hoggle End--a lawless, drunken, terribly rough lot of
humanity--he was held in high respect; for they knew that he lived hardly, as they lived; that he worked hard, as they worked; and that the outside world was hard to him, as it was to them; and there had been an apparent sincerity of godliness about the man, and a manifest struggle to do his duty in spite of the world's ill-usage, which had won its way even with the rough;

Chapter 4

On the Saturday it was necessary that he should prepare his sermons, of which he preached two every Sunday, though his congregation consisted only of farmers, brickmakers, and agricultural labourers, who would willingly have dispensed with the second.

Chapter 12
'Oh, mamma, poor mamma! Why is papa up so early?'

'He has gone out to visit some of the brickmakers, before they go to their work. It is better for him to be employed.'

'But, mamma, it is pitch dark.'

Mr Crawley went forth and made his way with rapid steps to a portion of this parish nearly two miles from his house, through which was carried a canal, affording water communication in some intricate way both to London and Bristol. And on the brink of this canal there had sprung up a colony of brickmakers, the nature of the earth in those parts combining with the canal to make brickmaking a suitable trade. The workmen there assembled were not, for the most part, native-born Hogglestockians, or folk descended from Hogglestockian parents. They had come thither from unknown regions, as labourers of that class do come when they are needed. Some young men from that and neighbouring parishes had joined themselves to the colony, allured by wages, and disregarding the menaces of the neighbouring farmers; but they were all in appearance and manners nearer akin to the race of navvies than to ordinary rural labourers. They had a bad name in the country; but it may be that their name was worse than their deserts. The farmers hated them, and consequently they hated the farmers. They had a beershop, and a grocer's shop, and a huxter's shop for their own accommodation, and were consequently vilified by the small old-established tradesmen around them. They got drunk occasionally, but I doubt whether they drank more than did the farmers themselves on market-day. They fought among themselves sometimes, but they forgave each other freely, and seemed to have no objection to black eyes. I fear that they were not always good to their wives, nor were their wives always good to them; but it should be remembered that among the poor, especially when they live in clusters, such misfortunes cannot be hidden as they may amidst the decent belongings of more wealthy people. That they worked very hard was certain; and it was certain also that very few of their number ever came upon the poor rates. What became of the old brickmakers no one knew. Who ever sees a worn-out navvy?

Mr Crawley, ever since first coming into Hogglestock, had been very busy among these brickmakers, and by no
means without success. Indeed the farmers had quarrelled with him because the brickmakers had so crowded the parish church, as to leave but scant room for decent people. 'Doo they folk pay tithes? That's what I want'un to tell me?' argued one farmer--not altogether unnaturally, believing as he did that Mr Crawley was paid by tithes out of his own pocket. But Mr Crawley had done his best to make the brickmaker welcome at the church, scandalising the farmers by causing them to sit or stand in any portion of the church which was hitherto unappropriated. He had been constant in his personal visits to them, and had felt himself to more a St Paul with them than with any other of his neighbours around him.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Literary Brick: Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope, 1861
... And Hogglestock is a large parish. It includes two populous villages, abounding in brickmakers, a race of men very troublesome to a zealous parson who won’t let men go rollicking to the devil without interference.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Historical brick: Hazardous brick kiln

Longtown is a small market town in Cumbria, England, near the Scottish Border. This is from the pages of the Carlisle Journal during the 19th century:

Sudden Deaths and Inquests from the Longtown area

October 13th 1821

A widow woman of the name of Elizabeth Glendinning died in the infirmary at Dumfries yesterday week, after three weeks of the most painful suffering. This poor woman, while travelling between Longtown and Carlisle, had sat down by the side of a brick kiln, for the purpose of lighting her pipe, and while so employed, part of the heated bricks fell upon her and scorched her body in a dreadful manner... she was found in a very feeble state by some people who were passing, and who conveyed her to Gretna where she usually resided. After remaining there three days, she was conveyed to the Dumfries and Galloway infirmary, where it is needless to say the utmost attention was paid to her case, and the powers of medicine exhausted in endeavouring to alleviate if not remove the complaint under which she laboured.

The kiln concerned is likely, at that time, to be a clamp kiln or a Scotch kiln, both are rather open, and perhaps prone to collapsing. But very attractive to passers-by on a cold night or chilly early morning due to the warmth when being fired.

The home page of the Longtown website can be found here.