unusual imported pottery from our Williams & Griffin store site

Today (6th November), new Trust volunteer Jo – on her first day here at the Roman circus centre! – joined volunteer Wendy in the ‘archaeology in action’ room. This is where our friendly volunteers process archaeological pottery fragments and vessels and chat to our visitors. We gave Jo some finds bags of post-medieval pottery from our excavation site at the Williams and Griffin store in the High Street at Colchester, which we excavated last year. We recovered so much post-medieval pottery from the Williams and Griffin site that it is still working its way through the system here at the Trust’s HQ! Jo’s pottery today has been washed and marked, and she was just starting to try and piece vessels together from the fragments.

The fragments in one of the finds bags represent at least three vessels but, interestingly, we have identified two vessels with a very similar pattern, each including a fragment with a handle. The handles are of different sizes, so the two vessels must also have been of different sizes. However, the two vessels both seem to be handled dishes and to have belonged to a matching set of tablewares. This pottery is very unusual, here in Colchester, but we have identified it as Weser slipware. Weser slipware pottery was manufactured at several sites in the ‘Pottland’, between the rivers Weser and Leine in Lower Saxony (now part of northern Germany). Fourteen or so vessels made in Weser slipware (represented by 31 fragments) were catalogued in Colchester Archaeological Report 7 or CAR 7, which is our monograph on the post-Roman pottery from Trust excavations in Colchester town centre in 1971-1985. Weser slipware pottery was exported mainly between 1580 and 1630, and mainly to Holland, although it is found in Britain, especially along the east coast. Weser slipware has also been found in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and New York State, as well as at the Hanse port of Bremen, and it is thought to be a significant indicator of Hanseatic League trading.

From CAR 7: ‘… Weser [slipware] has a finely sandy, hard, off-white to buff or pinkish fabric with a clear lead glaze over areas decorated with coloured slip. Only dishes and bowls were found… These normally have an internal covering of cream slip which provides a background for the simple but attractive designs in red-brown and green slip …’. The two ‘matching’ vessels which we identified today display the patterns described in CAR 7: around the rim and the angle of the flange there are red-brown concentric lines, with more concentric lines in the base. The applied red-brown and green patterns are of dots, chevrons and wavy lines. Of our two ‘matching’ vessels, one is decorated with rows of dots plus wavy lines while the other is decorated with chevrons plus wavy lines. The decorative motifs alternate in groups of four. If these two vessels really are from the same set of tablewares, then this would be a very unusual find, indeed.

Welcome to the Trust, Jo!

The images show new volunteer Jo starting to put some of the Weser slipware fragments together in the ‘archaeology in action’ room of the Roman circus centre; some of the fragments from the two ‘matching’ vessels, including the two handles (and an unrelated fragment); and three fragments displaying the very similar but slightly different patterns of the two ‘matching’ vessels.


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