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MoLAS 2005: annual review

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Selected projects 2005: Finds research

Capability statement: Finds management from processing to research

Vauxhall Glass

Seal on 17th-century wine bottle from the glasshouse (© MoLAS)

Author: Peter Rowsome

MoLAS has published several important finds studies that go far beyond findings at single sites and are often of regional significance or greater. At the end of 2004 we published the authoritative Tudor and Stuart metalwork, based on finds at various waterfront sites in Southwark but of national importance to the study of these artefacts and equally important to researchers in the former colonies. We have followed that volume this year with John Baker's late 17th-century glasshouse at Vauxhall.

John Baker's Thameside glasshouse in Vauxhall is the first of London's 17th-century glasshouses to be excavated. The publication describes the finds from the site, demonstrates how Vauxhall competed with London's other glasshouses and discusses London's late 17th-century glass industry. Excavations uncovered a furnace, crucibles, tools, working waste and finished vessels. Vauxhall was operating when lead crystal was first being made in England but it produced vessels for a proven market: winebottles, green-glass vessels and fine wares. The remains of a well-preserved 17th-century bargehouse were also recorded at the site. This work is now available as an English Heritage-funded monograph.

Caring for a Ceramic Past

Adam and Eve blue dash charger, Southwark mid-17th century, taken from forthcoming MoLAS book on delftware, in MoL Ceramics and Glass collections (© MoLAS)

Clients: United Kingdom Institute for Conservation

Author: Roy Stephenson

In October the Museum's archaeological archive (LAARC) and MoLAS Conservation played host to the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation (sometimes known as ICON) Ceramic and Glass section's annual conference. The conference was titled 'Caring for our Ceramic Past' and speakers included Louisa Burdan on reconstructing Bronze Age pots; Fatma Marii on conserving glass from Petra Church project; MoLAS's Jacqui Pearce on London pottery from the time of Alfred the Great to Queen Victoria; Rainer Geschke on conservation and Display of a Sudanese Goddess Sculpture and Rob Payton on Ethical Dilemmas and Pragmatic Solutions to retreating Ceramics for a new Gallery.


Surrey-Hampshire borderwares, c 1550-1700,  from the MoL Ceramics and Glass Collection (© MoLAS)

Author: Roy Stephenson

During April the MoL archaeological archive (LAARC) hosted a seminar for Surrey Museums Curators on the Surrey/Hampshire Borderware ceramics industry, hosted by MoLAS' Jacqui Pearce and Tony Grey. Museum of London curators and MoLAS specialists have a particular insight into the medieval and post-medieval ceramics industry of the Surrey/Hampshire borders area, and the distinctive white and red wares turn on up many sites throughout the greater London area. The seminar was an opportunity to disseminate new findings from the HLF funded project on the Farnborough Hill kilns in conjunction with Guildford Museum, and in addition to show Surrey curators the Museum's new Ceramics and Glass store.

Roman glass, 35 Basinghall Street

Some of the 'cullett' glass from Basinghall at a finds display for the client (© MoLAS)

Clients: Standard Chartered Bank and Stanhope plc

Author: Sophie Jackson

The excavation at 35 Basinghall Street in 2005 produced an outstanding assemblage of Roman glass. It is important because it offers a more-or-less complete sequence of the glass production process in Roman London, including: a large assemblage of cullet (waste glass for recycling), possible imported raw glass in the form of large and irregularly shaped chunks, blocks of material from a failed ‘tank’ of glass, associated production waste (moils from the ends of blowpipes etc) and failed vessels (wasters) from the glass working process.

Several of these features have yet to be reported from any other site in the Roman world, including the evidence for the pre-firing of the cullet (presumably a “cleaning” process to remove organic matter) and the blocks of material from a glass-working (as opposed to glass-making) ‘tank’. Also the chunks of raw glass may provide for the first time direct evidence that some glass was imported into Britain as raw material from the Near East, rather than as cullet from continental Europe.

The site offers an excellent opportunity to understand the stages of the glass working process in the North-West provinces, the far end of the Empire. As it exploited large volumes of cullet, it provides a contrast to recent discoveries in the Near East, where workshops had a ready supply of freshly made raw glass. Work on the glass will be continuing in 2006 as part of the post-excavation assessment and analysis phases for the site record.

Hammersmith Embankment Slave Beads

Red and white glass beads, finished and unfinished; from Hammersmith Embankment (© MoLAS)

Clients: Akeler

Author: David Jamieson

Site supervisor: David Jamieson

The discovery of a sizeable assemblage of early-17th century glass beads and ‘wasters’ in association with a brick furnace in the grounds of the private estate of Sir Nicholas Crisp (on what is now Hammersmith Embankment) during excavation 2005 is one of the most notable discoveries in the glass industry in London in recent years. The products, in a range of at least eight colours (with at least fifteen main varieties), probably catered for both the local (English) and colonial native markets apparently with two distinct series in different decorative traditions and size ranges. The ‘wasters’ suggest that two different methods of finishing the shaping were used, one for small beads and the other for large ones. This is the first clear archaeological evidence for the manufacture of early post-medieval glass beads in England. Sir Nicholas Crisp’s patent for making and vending beads has been identified and he also obtained a monopoly for trading slaves from Guinea to the West Indies. For various reasons he was forced by Parliament to surrender both these monopolies in 1640.

It will take some time for the implications of this unexpected discovery to be fully understood and for findspots to be recognised both in England and across the globe. Preliminary research (prior to chemical analysis, which will be needed for proper confirmation) suggests parallels for the blue-on-white-on-blue (‘Nueva Cadiz') beads in the Americas; and large brick-red, white-striped ‘trade’ beads similar to one type of the Hammersmith beads have been found in a site in Ghana, and at Plimoth (sic) Plantation in the US (the latter famous as the destination of the Plymouth Brethren). The early colonial connections (which appear to be concentrated in the Americas at this stage largely because of our longstanding links with archaeological colleagues there) add further international significance to this remarkable assemblage.

The client, office developer Akeler, who supported the excavation also sponsored a highly successful field trip for local children to see the excavation results. Click here to see a report.

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