When Tom Lucking went foraging for old rubbish dumps in the village of Kirton near Felixstowe, he came upon a filled-in pond to the rear of the churchyard, on land formerly belonging to the rectory. The site had all the tell-tale signs, being tucked away in a corner, behind trees, and covered in nettles. Soon, a couple of test-pits established that it contained rubbish from the rectory, dating from the 1900s, at a depth of about 4 feet.
The rector at that time (1876-1916) was Walter Parry Davies, a Welshman from Denbighshire. According to census returns, he maintained a large household, including a number of visiting scholars whom he would have tutored for entry to Oxford or Cambridge – a means of supplementing his income. Kendall, the rector of Hempstead in North Norfolk, was also tutoring for Cambridge entry during the 1900s, and had scholars aged 16-18 resident during the summer. In 1901, Davies headed a household of 16, including his wife and three adult offspring, a visitor, seven pupils aged between 16 and 18, and two female domestic servants, both in their late teens. The pupils had been born in various locations across the British Empire and Commonwealth, including India and Australia. One was a foreign subject from Norway. At that date, Kirton had two public houses, a Co-op, a greengrocer and a butcher. The nearest towns (and railway stations) were Felixstowe, four miles to the south, and Ipswich, nine miles to the north. According to the Directory for 1900, the living was worth £326 net p/a, although a considerable increment could be earned through tutoring.
Recent efforts to turn the old tipping site into a children’s wildlife area had not been entirely effective, for although the signage was there to remind people that it was no longer a zone for the compost heap and garden rubbish, nettles were still the predominant flora. Come March they would be knee-height. January was therefore a good time to dig. We began as soon as John arrived with his 1.25-ton digger. Members of the Suffolk Archaeological Field Group turned up with their rakes and other implements, and a steady trickle of villagers came to watch the excitement unfold (but only after we had removed all visible snowdrops from the site and put them carefully to one side). Derwin Gregory, our landscape expert, discerned that the pond had been tear-shaped, and suggested that the far side was over at the bank, near a boundary ditch. We therefore began scraping off the topsoil at that end in the hope of finding the edge of the pond. After a while, the silty fill came into view, along with – at first – a thin layer of broken glass and crockery.
Identifying the fill was complicated by the presence of later tipping on top. Compost, from the former heap, had been spread around, leaving a yellow layer near the top, which contained plastic rubbish, plant tags and the like. Beneath this was ordinary topsoil, and below that was an orange sandy layer that seemed to be capping the rubbish. Underneath was a black, crusty ashy layer, seldom more than a foot thick and lying on top of grey sludge where tipped ash and other rubbish such as bricks and large bottles had mixed with the mud at the bottom of the pond. We didn’t know why the pond had been filled in, but it was common enough for ponds to serve as rubbish dumps once they were deemed no longer useful.
Soon we began to unearth an array of finds from the Edwardian rectory, including a large number of off-white stoneware furniture cream bottles that would have been used by the maids for polishing the stairs, tables, and sideboards. A tally of these at the end of the dig discovered that we had found a minimum of 47 bottles, whole and broken; and there were glass bottles for furniture cream too. Although these bottles sometimes contained other pastes and polishes, furniture cream was their contents most often, and the presence of such a large number attests to the waste generated by domestic service in a wealthy middle class household such as this. When we dug an 1870s dump at a Norfolk rectory (see previous blogs), we found a large number of blacking bottles, for blacking stoves, grates and harness leather. On that site – in contrast to this one – no bottles for furniture cream emerged because in the 1870s it was not yet widely sold in bottles (and had to be confected at home with egg-white and other ingredients). At Kirton, however, there were fewer blacking bottles. We counted five: two intact and three broken. This probably reflects the phasing out of earthenware bottles for blacking during the 1900s along with the arrival of improved kitchen ranges which did not require it.
Ink bottles of various sorts were more numerous. Most were stoneware vessels with pouring lips, which were used for re-filling desk inkwells at about the time that the pupils were lodging at the rectory. In the 1900s the potteries were still producing large numbers of these bottles, which were mucky to clean out and invariably regarded as disposable. The mix of bottles at Kirton included 7 large brown ‘master’ inks (four unearthed intact), mostly made by Doulton at the Lambeth potteries, and similar vessels made by Lovatt and Lovatt at Langley Hill in Nottinghamshire, and by Gray of Portobello Road. About 20 pouring inks of different sizes were found, which may have contained different inks (e.g. desk ink, special ink for ticket writing, gold leaf, etc). Five penny ink bottles with burst-off lips can be added to this total. They were the equivalent of cheap inkwells and were perhaps used by the servants.
Another type of waste generated especially by richer households was the ceramic waste associated with dental and personal hygiene. Brushing one’s teeth was a luxury. If the poor did it, they used a rag with coal dust or a brush made from a marshmallow root. Wealthy households, on the other hand, could afford toothpaste at 6d or a shilling a pot. They also purchased toothbrushes made of bone. At Kirton we found two toothbrushes (one intact) and a number of heavy ceramic pots and lids for toothpaste. Large firms which could afford to do so paid to have their names and trademarks transfer-printed onto the pot, under the glaze, so that the promotional advertising wouldn’t rub off (as a paper label would) through constant contact with water. The broken lids for John Gosnell’s Cherry Toothpaste, while common in such sites, were rare among lids for toothpaste in that they were printed in a palette of colours. Such lids are known as ‘polychrome lids’, as opposed to the more common monochrome variety. The luxury implied by this design was a factor in the product’s success. In the Boot’s lid for Cold Cream, there is a hint of the fashionable Art Nouveau style, coming in at the very end of the nineteenth century. With the advent of shopping, such packaging was designed to catch the eye of the consumer.
Food packaging waste, in the Edwardian rectory, was associated less with the staples of meat, vegetables, bread and tea, and more with the condiments purchased in order to enhance the flavour. Here too attractive products targeted the consumer, instilling dissatisfaction with plain food and generating artificial desires through advertising. A typical advert for Colman’s Mustard declared: ‘Meat Needs Mustard’ (which it doesn’t, of course, though mustard might be thought to improve it). Among the waste from the rectory, sauce bottles and bottles for gravy browning, and essences for cooking, featured prominently. 31 sauce bottles or various sorts were recovered, whole and broken. The brands represented included ‘Beehive’ Pepper Sauce, essence of anchovies for gravy browning (which was sold by Crosse & Blackwell), Lea & Perrin’s Worcester Sauce, Holbrook & Co, Goodall Backhouse, a fluted sauce, and two vinegar bottles. Smaller cheaply manufactured bottles had contained syrups, oils and essences for use in the preparation of food. As in the 1890s rubbish which we found at Hempstead Rectory in Norfolk (What the Victorians Threw Away, chapter 3), we found several jars for relishes, chutneys and pickles at Kirton rectory. These too were sold with their contents and were disposable. Nearly every product of this sort generated disposable glassware or ceramic waste. Mostly they appeared from the 1870s onwards, finding a ready market among those who could afford to spice up their diet with strong and exotic tastes.
Right: a bottle for ‘Beehive’ Pepper Sauce and a bottle for essence of anchovies. Below: a large pot for Keddie’s Gorgona Anchovy Paste, for spreading on toast.
A household the size of Davies’ would have got through a couple of pots of jam or marmalade a week (for this was a staple). In rubbish dumps dating from the era in which these condiments were commonly sold in ceramic pots (i.e. c. 1870- c. 1930) they are prolific where the rubbish has not been sorted and scarce where it has. At Kings Lynn (see earlier blog) the 1880s refuse had been sorted and jam pots removed. Kirton produced only one intact jam pot (a plain example), two broken pots for Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade, and one broken pot for Frank Cooper’s Oxford Seville Marmalade. This tally is certain evidence that jam pots were kept at the rectory for jam making, or else passed on to others for the same purpose. Better quality rubbish contains a higher quantity of the more expensive pots with under-glaze printed labels, the types most often found being Keiller’s, Frank Cooper’s and the Army & Navy pots. This was true of Kirton, with three of the four pots found being under-glaze printed specimens. Five heavy ceramic meat paste pots, with tapering necks, and three squat cylindrical ceramic meat paste pots attest another luxury – and the waste that went with it. One of the latter bore the name ‘R. Seager, Chicken and Ham, Ipswich’, in a brown print. Seager is known to have sent his potted chicken and ham all over East Anglia in the 1900s, and was still doing so in the early 1920s. They were evidently packed and sent by rail to Kings Lynn, for examples have been found on recent digs for this project at Castle Rising and Ringstead, in North West Norfolk.
Right: a selection of ceramic packaging for luxury products. Top left of picture – a heavy meat paste pot, capable of holding far less than the weight of the container suggests. To the right of it, another, slightly larger, caked in mud. Centre: part of a large jar for Frank Cooper’s Oxford Seville Marmalade, above fragments of a meat pot for Seager’s Chicken and Ham. Below it are the remnants of a large marmalade pot for Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade. To the right is a generic pot that would have contained one of several ‘English Preparations’ sold by Poulton and Noel. The list includes ‘Belgravian Rolled Ox Tongues’, ‘British Brisket of Beef & Spiced Beef’, ‘Belgravian Pates’, ‘Turkey & Tongue, Veal & Ham’ etc. A paper label would have identified the contents. Again the quantity contained in the pot must have been very little. The plain pots (top of picture) held similar luxuries but were generic enough to have been purchased and labelled by an array of smaller purveyors.
Beverages were well represented in the sample of rubbish from the pond. Unless a supplier had an arrangement whereby the bottles were returnable – and that is assuming that it was convenient for the purchaser to bother – or unless a household retained bottles for bottling home-made drinks, most ended up in the ground. The rector’s household at Kirton consumed a good variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, which included Hock (from Germany), Champagne, Benedictine and other imported spirits and liqueurs. They arrived in England bottled, so the bottles were non-returnable. Beers were supplied by Catchpole & Co from Ipswich. Ginger beers and fizzy drinks came from Talbot & Co (Ipswich), Pain & Bayles (Ipswich and Felixstowe), J. Clarke (Ipswich) and, in the case of one Hungarian mineral water bottle, the Hunyadi Janos Saxlehners Bitterquelle manufacturers.
Far Left: a stoneware ginger beer bottle for Pain and Bayles of Ipswich and Felixstowe. This bottle was made by Lovatt (Notts) and is dated 1900. The second image (left) shows various drinks bottles, including a bottle for Benedictine (top left), tall elegant brown bottles for Hock, a beer bottle and fragments.
In the 1900s, both Bourne of Denby and Lovatt dated their stoneware ginger beer bottles. Examples with the date stamps for 1900, 1905, and 1907 helped us to date the rubbish to this decade.
Another ubiquitous throwaway in this era was the medicine bottle, many of them plain, rectangular specimens with gradations for table spoons. These were generic bottles for cough mixture etc, but among the more informative ones were a bottle embossed with the name of the ‘Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital’, another embossed ‘B. Broom, Chemist, Woodford Green’, and another from ‘Bradley and Rourdas, Belgravia’. These bottles suggest, as might be expected of a wealthier patient, that the best medical help from London was sought where necessary. A local bottle embossed with the name ‘Ellis, Pharmacist, Walton’ refers to a chemist who held a shop previously owned by Pain & Bayles. He is listed there from 1901, but is gone by 1912 (my thanks to Tom Lucking for researching the details). The other medicines included a blue bottle for Bishop’s Granular Citrate of Magnesia, which was for stomach upsets, and an ice-blue bottle embossed ‘Anderson Gratton’s Embrocation’. Finally, a bottle for ‘Elliman’s Royal Embrocation for Horses’, coupled with a large shoe for a cart-horse, revealed that a horse was kept at the rectory in Edwardian times. Indeed it is quite likely that an ash-cart was stationed at the back of the premises, and that a horse was employed to drag it to the pond when full.
The dig was well attended by members of the village, and a great time was had by all. We are grateful for the use of the church hall, and for the teas, coffees and biscuits, as well as the work everyone put in to rake over the spoil, wash finds, and uncover information about the rector. Items from the dump (such as the Victorian Gosnell toothpaste lids and a Victorian lid for Burgess’s anchovy paste) suggest that tipping began before 1901, while the presence of a bottle date-stamped 1907, and a bottle for Foster Clarke & C0’s Eiffel Tower Fruit Juice, of the short-necked variety which came in c. 1906-7, shows that tipping probably ended about that time. Whether the pond contains a full seven years worth of waste from the rectory is far from clear, since tipping may have occurred at multiple locations. We hope in future to find where the remainder of the rubbish went, and the rubbish from the village, which is unaccounted-for.
Below: rescuing nature – snowdrops and a toad are carefully re-located.