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Michelmersh Pottery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussions between Andy Russell and Mary Harris January 2000

 

The Michelmersh pot, a spouted pitcher, was certainly made and fired in the kiln excavated in the garden of Four Seasons since it is clearly a kiln waster with three large spalled areas, one of which leaves a 3cm diameter hole through the wall of the pot and a number of hairline cracks. The fabric of the pot is a fine sandy clay fired to a pale reddish brown colour. All the other 7 cwt of waster pot sherds found were of the same fabric.  The spouted pitcher and all the other types of pot found were made on a fast wheel powered  by a treadle or a human assistant. All pottery of the Saxon period from the Lower Test Valley is, like Michelmersh Ware, made from a sand tempered clay whereas pottery from the Upper Valley around Andover is flint tempered ware.  This means that examples of burnt flint found locally are not likely to be associated with the pottery industry but are more likely to be  pot boilers probably prehistoric.

 

The spouted pitcher was unusual in that the assemblage of pot sherds comprised mainly plain cooking pots.  The spouted pitchers were very few in number compared to other forms.

 

The quantity of wasters found suggest that the kiln was in use for some considerable time.  Pottery making was normally a seasonal occupation only taking place in the Summer when the newly made pottery could be air dried before firing.

 

The date of the kiln is late 11th century.  Although many of the types of pot are similar to ones made later in the Middle Ages the spouted pitchers are very distinctive and have been found elsewhere in Hampshire in securely dated 11th century contexts.  Examples have been found in Romsey, Winchester, Bishops Waltham and Southampton but since ‘Michelmersh Ware’ was not known as a type before the finding of the kiln and some is not very distinctive some examples may have been overlooked or wrongly attributed to foreign imports or basic Medieval pottery since the quality of the fabric and potting is surprisingly high for its period.  

 

The quality and quantity suggests that potting must have been an important occupation in Michelmersh and the manufacture, firing and transporting of the products to its various markets would have employed a number of people.  This must have formed an important part of the village economy at the time. In 985 Ethelred II granted Michelmersh to his friend, Alferð. It may have passed directly from Alferð to St Swithun’s although St Swithun’s claimed that it was given to them by Queen Emma in 1143. Ownership by St Swithun’s may account for examples of Michelmersh pottery being found at Winchester and Bishop’s Waltham.  However, since examples have also been found at Southampton the pottery seems to have come onto the open market.   It is perhaps the high quality of the pottery which leads to it being found on high status sites.   Since there is no reference at all to pottery making in the manor in the Court Rolls of the 13th century the activity must have ceased by or during the 12th century despite the easy accessibility of good quality clay.  The manor did not change ownership during this period and it is difficult to understand why a successful activity should have ended. 

 

The pottery found at the kiln site was all of high quality, sandy clay fabric but only a few sherds were from spouted pitchers or carried applied decoration.  Most of the sherds were from cooking pots which had simple rounded outturned rims but a few had squared off rims.  Sherds from several pots of this distinctive type have been found in the garden of Pump Cottage, Timsbury, together with sherds from one or two hand built cooking pots of a similar fabric and probably of the same date.  

 

This suggests    

1. The site of Pump Cottage, Rudd Lane, was already inhabited in the 11th century!

2. There must have been at least one other kiln firing hand built pots.  The site of excavated kiln at 'Four Seasons' was detected by a flux-gate magnetometer survey.  There was a second magnetic anomaly within the garden of Four Seasons which might well be another kiln but it seems unlikely that another kiln as close would be producing pots of such a different quality.  With the ready availability of suitable clay in the area there may have been a number of small kiln sites producing simple pots for local use. 

The Michelmersh Pitcher

This was found at a kiln site at 'Four Seasons' Michelmersh

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From a second kiln found further northeast a range of cooking and storage pots were found.

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The excavations of the kilns were reported in  the Hampshire Field Club proceedings

click here to download pdf file

Wessex Archaeology have a summary report

click here to download pdf file

Michelmersh Pottery poster by Mary Harris. Click to download pdf file.

Page up-dated 10/5/23

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