Although it’s hard to imagine today, the area around Cripplegate Park in St John's was once a hive of industrial activity. Many local people will remember the huge electricity works that stood at one end of the park. A little further round and further back in time, there was a row of terraced houses, long-since demolished, in an area that was once the site of a factory manufacturing pipes for smoking tobacco.
‘These were very cheap and disposable items’ says Sheena Payne-Lunn, the city council’s Historic Environment Record Officer. ‘The remnants of these pipes are still found all over the city to this day when people are digging over their gardens; many were accidentally dropped or casually thrown away when they broke.’
In the early part of the 19th Century, The Russell Pipe Manufactory opened off Tybridge Street, and for the next fifty years it produced countless items of clayware which were sold across the country. ‘It would have been something of a local landmark’ says Sheena, ‘with a large circular kiln belching out smoke at all times of day and night. Nearby was an area by the river called The Pinch where poor families lived, surrounded by industry with homes always prone to flooding. Worcester back then was very Dickensian, a smoky and a smelly place!’
Earlier this autumn, an archaeological dig began on the site of the old factory, to try and find out more about it. Using old maps, the likely location of the factory was identified in a children’s play area in the park before digging got underway.
‘We didn’t manage to dig directly above the kiln’ says Sheena, ‘but we found plenty of wedge-shaped firebricks from its structure as well as a brick pathway running alongside. We also found two bowls stamped with the names of their makers, together with a pipe stamped ‘Whoa Emma!’ which was a popular Music Hall song of the Victorian era.’
During the dig, members of the public turned up to recount their family memories of the area, bringing photographs to show and going away to continue their own research into local family connections. ‘The pipe manufactory might be beyond living memory, but the dig certainly stirred a lot of interest’ says Sheena.
The dig in September 2019 has given us a glimpse of St Johns’ industrial past. An archaeological report is now being prepared which will be kept in the city’s records.
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