‘made in Colchester’: some medieval pottery from Mile End

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On Tuesday (14th March), the Trust completed a large area excavation at ‘Chesterwell’, a development site at Mile End to the north of Colchester. The site is in an area of known medieval pottery kiln sites and it produced a very large quantity of fragments and partial vessels of medieval pottery, as well as of ceramic roof-tiles and floor-tiles. The pottery material all represents ‘kiln waste’, ie vessels which were defective in some way and which would have been dumped here and not transported for sale. The pottery and tile wasters were dumped in heaps on the ground or in pits. The site represents a medieval industrial ceramic production site, where Colchester ware or Colchester-type ware pottery, roof- and floor-tiles, chimney-pots, and other products (perhaps candlemaker’s troughs) were produced. (On Monday, we posted an item on this web-site about the remains of a tile kiln which we excavated on the site.)

A large proportion of the pottery in use in medieval Colchester would have been made in the complex of kilns on and around this site. Some products were also exported to other towns in Essex, such as Chelmsford, Brentwood and Maldon. Documentary evidence suggests that potters would have produced pottery and tiles for commissions from merchants. The medieval pottery industry at Colchester was based at Middleborough and then re-located to Mile End as the town’s suburbs expanded, although there also seems to have been a medieval potters’ workshop in Magdalen Street. Colchester’s medieval pottery industry was a major pottery industry in Essex. It was, possibly, the most important in Essex, towards the end of its period of production, ie in the late 14th to 15th centuries. Interestingly, the pottery wasters from the site all seem to be late medieval and to date to that time.

The pottery wasters include vessels of medieval sandy grey ware pottery and sandy orange ware pottery: the sandy orange ware is a coarser version of the medieval sandy orange wares from Essex. Colchester ware or Colchester-type ware pottery could be plain or slip-painted, glazed or partially glazed. Trust pottery specialist Steve Benfield says that this is an important and interesting pottery assemblage, consisting of wasters from a kiln site, and it shows the full range of pottery forms which were produced here.

The pottery which the Trust excavates is all brought back to our HQ in labelled plastic bags, in crates, for our team of archaeology volunteers to process. The volunteers wash the pottery fragments and vessels by bag and dry them in trays. Each fragment and partial vessel is then marked. Some vessels can be partially reconstructed. The pottery is then studied by Steve and reported on in our site report. We have now identified more fragments of the decorated jug shown here and we will be able to reconstruct more of the vessel and see more of its scheme of decoration.

You can read more about Colchester ware or Colchester-type ware pottery in Colchester Archaeological Report 7: Post-Roman pottery from excavations in Colchester, 1971-85 (pages 107-166) and online at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/ .

The excavation and post-excavation work have been funded by Mersea Homes.

The images show the three joining fragments of slip-decorated jug (above); and – below – Steve holding an almost-complete coarse grey ware cooking-pot; a partial coarse grey ware squat jug which was mis-fired and shows oxidisation on one side; a tray of washed pottery fragments in the processing room here at the Trust’s HQ; plus one fragment each of a decorative roof-tile and of a floor-tile. The two fragments of tile derive from the fill of the remains of the tile kiln and they represent either products or parts of the kiln structure.


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