Canterbury Archeological Trust

Longmarket Pottery
Nigel Macpherson-Grant

Hillside Systems

Trust Index


Longmarket Index

Trust Web Site

Drawing of jug At the time of writing the Longmarket excavation is still in progress. However, during the course of the excavation excavated materials has been rapidly processed and the greater part of the post mid-twelfth century pottery corpus has been 'spot-dated'. The Longmarket excavation is proving to be exceptional. both archaeologically and ceramically, with many new and intriguing finds of all periods. The Canterbury Excavation Committee and Trust sites in the Marlowe area provided the city with excellent Early-Late Anglo-Saxon ceramic sequences: it is already clear that Longmarket will do much the same with its late twelfth- to early seventeenth-century levels.

There are stratified sequences incorporation a remarkable quantity of ceramically rich garderobes, cess-tanks and rubbish pits. Moreover there are good indications that this sequence extends back to at least the ninth century. The features and finds from Longmarket's c. 1150-1650 levels are an unexpected and timely bonus. Canterbury is unusually well-provided with document-dated sites for the late eleventh and twelfth centuries.

We also have a good grasp of ceramic trends in the fifteenth century and for much of the post-medieval period from c. 1650 onwards. A serious hindrance has been the inability to date confidently pottery of the period c. 1250-1400. not for the lack of pottery (there is plenty of it) but simply because of the absence of good document-dated contexts and reliable stratigraphic sequences. Canterbury is not alone in this; it is a problem that has tended to prevail nationally. Further, Canterbury's sixteenth-century levels have been very poorly represented both in terms of sequences and material. Material from the Longmarket excavation will hopefully provide sufficient information to rectify this problem .

In addition there is ample material to fill out and confirm our knowledge and dating of suspected trends. One of these is the conjunction between a particular ceramic type. documentary evidence for Theoric the Goldsmith, and the possible recovery of his workshop area and parts of his property. Sherds from vessels identical to those illustrated here have come from various parts of the city, always from contexts suggesting a date between c. 1175-1225, but lacking absolute confirmation. Their original function was also a puzzle. For good reasons some experts preferred to call them lamps; there was very slight evidence that they might also be used as crucibles. but no proof. Now we have it: hundreds of sherds from Theoric's workshops, known to be operating between c. 1180-1204, many of them heavily encrusted from their use as metallurgical crucibles.

The above is only one small instance. In twelve years with the Trust I have not witnessed elsewhere the recovery of so many complete, or restorable, vessels, only exceeded by the remarkable cache of local medieval jugs from Professor Frere's Canterbury Lane well. What makes Longmarket different is that many of these vessels (and sherds) represent quality imported tableware and reflect long distance trading contacts and the wealth of those living in this 'high profile' city-centre area. Many are unusual, and a few exotic: highly decorated jugs from London, early German near-stonewares, elegant jugs from North France, a group of jugs from the Saintonge, vessels from Spain and North Africa or the Middle East.

Many lesser known imports and even some unusual highly-decorated local jugs add to the sense of quality of the Longmarket assemblages. In the near future the task of studying, assessing and describing this material will go to John Cotter, who joined us last year from Colchester to share the load of processing and studying Canterbury's post-Roman pottery.

Islamic pottery from
the Longmarket excavation

John Cotter

Amongst the thousands of mainly local medieval sherds from the Longmarket site is a small number of pieces that are quite our of the ordinary. While a medieval pot from France, Germany or the Low Countries is always an interesting find, the presence of such pots is never quite such a surprise as that of pots from the Islamic world, which had no direct contacts with Christian England.

Along with the Chinese. the potters of the Arab world produced some of the most sophisticated and beautiful pottery known to the medieval world. When these Arab wares managed to reach the Christian west, they were highly prized and regarded as luxury items. The surprising thing about the Longmarket site is the unusually high number of Islamic vessels present - at least six or seven vessels in all. This may not sound very many, but if one considers that probably more Islamic sherds have been found on the Longmarket site than in all the other Canterbury excavations put together. then it becomes clear that there is something special about the Longmarket.

Pottery reflects the status of its owners and the discovery of so many luxury items at Longmarket accords well with what historical documents tell us of the sort of people who lived here. We know, for instance, that by the end of the twelfth century a number of leading Canterbury citizens had shops and houses here - influential people such as Theoric the Goldsmith, who helped finance the military campaigns of Richard I in Brittany and Wales. Theoric's sons may have continued his trade as goldsmith into the thirteenth century. Other leading citizens who had shops on the Longmarket site included Robert son of Richard who was affiliated to the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (and therefore could have had indirect contacts with the Near East). Because of its central location - a stone's throw from the cathedral - it is likely that Longmarket remained a high status site throughout the medieval period and beyond.

Detailed research into Longmarket's medieval pottery has not yet begun in earnest but it appears likely that the Islamic wares were imported between the thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries. There are two main types of Islamic pottery. Firstly there is a pink-buff fabric with a deep turquoise glaze and faint lines of overglazed painting - possibly lustre painting; secondly, there are other pink-buff fabrics with an off white glaze and overglaze lustre painting, sometimes with the addition of blue. This last type is a reasonably well-known class of ceramics produced in the areas of Spain that were under Arab control In the Middle Ages, and consequently are sometimes referred to as 'Hispano-Moresque' (Spanish Moorish) lustrewares.

Spanish lustrewares combine two important innovations for which the potters of the Arab world were famous. As early as the ninth century Arabs of Mesopotamia (Iraq/Iran) discovered that adding a tiny amount of tin to a transparent lead glaze would produce a perfect white background for painted decoration. Pottery specialists refer to this technique as tin-glazed pottery (also as majolica, mailolica, faience and delft). The other technique they invented was lustre painting. Decoration would be painted on, using a solution of copper sulphide. Firing this in an oxygen-free (reducing) atmosphere turned the sulphide back into metallic copper giving the pots a wonderful shiny or golden appearance. Unfortunately time and acid soils are unkind to both tin-glazed and lustred pottery. The glaze often goes yellow or mushroom-coloured and in extreme cases the lustre may disappear entirely and can only be seen under infra-red light. Some of the Longmarket sherds have become duller but it is still possible to make out their original lustre designs.

The earliest reference to lustreware manufacture in Spain is in 1154, but it may have been made even before this. Some authorities have suggested that emigrant potters from Egypt !n the twelfth century may have contributed towards its development. perhaps joined by potters from the Middle East fleeing the Mongol invasions of the mid thirteenth century. Maghrebi potters from Morocco also seem to have contributed to the designs current on early Spanish lustrewares,

From the thirteenth to the early fifteenth centuries Spanish Andalucia was the main centre for lustreware productiom and its products circulated throughout the Arab-Mediterranean world and filtered through to the Christian west. Andalusian lustrewares were decorated with typically Islamic designs based on interlacing geometrical forms, stylised scrolls of vegetation and Arabic lettering. Human representation was avoided.

The growing power of the Christian kingdoms in Spain was a severe obstacle to the lustreware potters who sought an even greater market for their wares. By c. 1350. potters from Andalucia began to emigrate Valencia on the east coast of Spain where they established a new potting community and allowed themselves to become absorbed by the Christian powers. Valencian lustrewares gradually toned down their more obvious Islamic influences and replaced them with Christian symbols and coats of arms to appeal to their new clientele. The heyday of Valencian lustrewares was c. 1425-75 during which its products were sought a by the rich and famous from Cairo to London and Dublin to Norway and the Baltic; by the end of the century some Valencian lustrewares had even travelled as far as the Americas.

The origin of the turquoise blue pottery from the Longmarket is much less certain as finds of this type of pottery are much rarer in this country than the Spanish lustrewares and consequently are less well researched. Again they have a tin glaze to which a small amount of copper has been added to give a typically Islamic turquoise blue-green. Pottery of this type is known to have been produced in the Arab kingdoms of North Africa and the Near East. Egypt and Syria in particular were renowned for their turquoise blue wares. At this stage we cannot say for certain where the Longmarket pots were produced, nor exactly when they were made, but as they come from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century contexts they cannot be later than this.

Given that medieval England had no direct contacts with the Arab world how does one explain the presence of Islamic pottery at Longmarket? Some pots may have made their way back to England in the baggage of Crusaders returning from the Holy Land - this might explain the occasional discovery of twelfth- or thirteenth-century Syrian 'Rakka ware' on some English sites, but this type has not been identified from the Longmarket where a slightly later date seems probable. Another possibility is that medieval pilgrims either to the Holy Land or to the famous shrine of St. James at Compostella in Spain might have brought back the occasional Islamic pot as a souvenir. On rare occasions the route was more direct. We know for instance that in l289 Eleanor of Castile, the Spanish wife of Edward 1, ordered 4,000 pots of 'Malik' for the royal household. In this case 'Malik' almost certainly refers to Malaga - the main centre for Andalusian lustrewares. There are also records of imports of Andalusian (Malaga) lustreware into Sandwich, Kent in 1303.

Although in public the powers of the Christian west avoided direct contact with the infidel east, in practice the east had too many things that the west wanted - luxury items such as gemstones, precious minerals, silks, spices and exquisite glass, metalwork and pottery.

Throughout most of the Middle Ages Italian merchants acted as go-betweens between the Christian and Islamic worlds. By the fourteenth century powerful Italian merchant companies based in Genoa and Venice had a virtual control over the traffic in Arab commodities leaving the Mediterranean. Italian merchants would collect English cloth from London, Southampton and possibly other English ports and trade it throughout the Mediterranean. even as far as Damascus in Syria. On the return journey the holds of Italian ships would be filled with Arab luxuries including pottery.

There would have been many ports of call on the return journey. A ship leaving Syria might call in at other Arab ports in other countries and take on more wares. Then perhaps it would return to Genoa before the outward journey to England. On the way out of the Mediterranean Italian ships often called at the Balearic islands (under Arab rule until 1230) including Majorca, to collect more goods including the tin glazed pottery which they called 'Majolica' or 'Maiolica' after that island. Finally, after several more ports of call their ships would dock again in London or Southampton from where their cargo would enter the open market.

Spanish and Portuguese ships were also responsible for conveying wares from the Arab south and east to the markets of north-west Europe. In addition to eastern goods, these would also be shipping wine, oil, soap, iron, bow-staves and dye stuffs from their own countries, but would include whatever Arab pottery they could get from southern Spain or North Africa.

It was more usual for Iberian merchants to off-load their wares at the great international port of Bruges in Belgium rather than to call directly at the English ports. The Italians would sometimes do likewise. Flemish and Dutch merchants were therefore largely responsible for conveying luxury items to the eastern ports of England, particularly in the fifteenth century. There is even a document of 1441 which allowed Valencian lustrewares to enter Bruges free of duty. Flemish and Dutch merchant ships were frequent callers at Kentish ports, and for this later period at least, we can be reasonably sure that this was the route by which exotic goods reached Canterbury.

Small and battered though they may be, the Islamic sherds from Longmarket provide important evidence for long distance trade as well as demonstrating the considerable wealth of the medieval occupants of this site. While their existence is in itself remarkable, they also hint at the now vanished presence of more perishable luxury items which may have reached Longmarket by the same long and difficult routes. These could have included wine, oil and soap from Spain and Portugal, spices and perhaps even silks from as far afield as China - it is known from documents that such luxuries were available in some medieval cities during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A few drops of liquid mercury from the Longmarket provide some corroborative evidence that foreign luxuries other than pottery were reaching the site, for the only sources of mercury known to medieval Europe lay in Spain and the near East - in just those areas where Islamic pottery could be easily acquired.

An overall description of what was found on the site, written while the dig was in progress
Two Late Saxon Combs
A very interesting article on two hair combs found in the Longmarket excavation
Human remains
A short report on some human bones found during the excavation
Two Medieval London-type jugs from Longmarket
A detailed report on two interesting jugs found in a cess-pit.

See this place today Click on the logo to see this place today.   The information on this page is Copyright © Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1991 Reproduced with permission.
The text and pictures were taken from Canterbury's Archaeology 1989/1990, The 14th Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Peter Collinson Last change: 7th September 2008