Clay Pipes

Object: Clay Pipes

Found: Basement of old Nisa Stores on Chalton Street, Somers Town

Date: Unknown

Clay pipes were an everyday appearance in Somers Town, as elsewhere, before the arrival of cigarettes. They existed from the early eighteenth century until the 1930s. Across this period, tobacco moved from being a luxury good to something more widespread. Many clay pipes are from the nineteenth century.  There was a clay pipe making industry in Somers Town and an unusually high concentration of clay pipe makers in St Pancras. 

These ones were found in the basement of the former Nisa Stores on Chalton Street. We have not dated them, but we could fabulate a story around them. Opposite, where the archway between 26 and 28 Chalton Street is, was the home of William Godwin, father of Anarchism in the mid 1790s. It was no. 25 in the old numbering. Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Feminism, visited him there and they fell in love, married and moved to the Polygon, in 1797, in the heart of newly built Somers Town. Godwin had preached against marriage and both he and his wife had written of the importance of independence. Friendship, observed Wollstonecraft, was compromised by love and love was compromised by marriage. Indeed ‘friendship and forbearance’ would have to take the place of a ‘more ardent affection’, as marriage settled into everydayness. To keep some distance between them for their own projects, Godwin rented another space for himself, a room to write in, at 17 Evesham Buildings – twenty doors away from the marital home.

Perhaps on his walks between locations along Chalton street, Godwin sucked on a clay pipe and tossed these away where they found their way in a basement to rest for more than 200 years.

By Esther Leslie