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Who smokes anymore? Documentary, archaeological and osteological evidence for tobacco consumption and its relationship to social identity in industrial England, 1700–1850

The introduction of tobacco to Europe in the sixteenth century preceded a proliferation in societal norms, rituals and taboos surrounding its consumption. Historical sources suggest that pipe use was highly gendered, and became entangled with ideas about masculinity and sociability. The focus on male social smoking behaviours in historical sources provides limited scope for a more nuanced understanding of tobacco consumption across different social groups. Osteoarchaeological evidence for habitual smoking can also be identified from ‘pipe-notches’ and distinctive staining on the teeth. Further, the analysis of archaeological pipe assemblages provides insight into the materiality of smoking. Combining documentary, material and osteoarchaeological evidence, this chapter provides a unique consideration of the embodied experience of tobacco consumption in relation to social identity during the industrial period in England. It is demonstrated that age, class, gender, ethnicity and regional and cultural backgrounds may have all affected the ways in which people experienced tobacco consumption. Class and occupation were particularly important determining factors of tobacco consumption, as well as shaping how certain tobacco consumption practices were marginalised in print culture. We also identify a disconnect between documentary evidence for consumption of tobacco as a predominantly male social practice, and osteoarchaeological evidence for a large proportion of women also consuming, perhaps in the privacy of their own homes. The types of evidence utilised here can all present biases that result in the ‘invisibility’ of certain societal groups. However, in combination, they provide a unique perspective for understanding embodied experiences related to tobacco consumption across society.

It has been argued that tobacco was the first truly global commodity (Gately, 2001). The arrival of Europeans in the Americas resulted in the widespread distribution of the plant through colonial and imperialistic expansion. Port books and tax records show that after arriving in Europe in the sixteenth century, in just 200 years, American tobacco had virtually traversed the globe and generated enormous wealth for Western states; it was the impetus for the earliest colonies and a significant actor in the emergence of the slave trade. As tobacco spread, it became entangled with everyday life, both through its incorporation into pre-existing rituals and contexts (especially those that already involved intoxicants (Withington, 2011)), and through the formation of entirely new practices and behaviours. This necessitated the emergence of new tobacco etiquette and material culture, such as pipes, cutters, snuffboxes and tobacco jars (McShane, 2022).

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, tobacco was brought into England in small quantities. In 1603, just 25,000 lbs were imported (Goodman, 1993: 59). However, within decades, imports had increased exponentially, and tobacco prices had fallen, making the product easily available to all members of society (Taylor, 2018: 40). By 1700, 38 million lbs arrived in various ports across the country (Goodman, 1993: 59). This could equate to enough for every inhabitant of England to have a pipeful a day (Shammas, 1990: 78, table 2). Although used as a medicine in pills, drinks and ointments, tobacco was largely consumed in clay pipes, which remained the predominant mode for consumption until the late nineteenth century. Snuff-taking emerged initially among elites at the end of the eighteenth century (Hughes, 2003) and gradually filtered down to the rest of society, while the cigar did not become popular in England until the nineteenth century.

Despite a diverse range of sources that attest to tobacco culture in industrial England, research on tobacco history has been dominated by economic historians who have used trade and taxation sources (e.g. for England: MacInnes, 1926; Shammas, 1990). The reliance on these led to large gaps in our knowledge of the social components of tobacco use, such as who used it, why and what its effects were on the body. Further, more recent narratives about tobacco use are mostly drawn from the perspectives of middle- to upper-class white, ‘literate’ men, especially from urban centres. One way to reassess current narratives is to take a multidisciplinary approach and draw on the various sources of evidence for tobacco use that exist for England.

In this chapter, we aim to bring various strands of information together for the first time to create an interdisciplinary perspective on tobacco and tobacco use in three different communities in England (Barton-upon-Humber, central London and Coventry) from 1700 to 1850. We focus on how embodied experiences (as described by Craig-Atkins and Harvey, this volume: introduction) of tobacco use were strongly tied up with different and intersecting aspects of identity – especially occupation, gender and class – using a combination of population-level and individual case study analyses. First, we present trends drawn from historical research and artistic representations to explore social perceptions of tobacco consumption. We follow with data derived from archaeological clay pipe assemblages from the regions of interest, which provide information on the identities of smokers and their smoking practices in different contexts. We then present results of the analysis of evidence for tobacco use in archaeological human skeletal remains, providing direct population-level impressions about exactly who was using tobacco and how. Finally, we combine historical and osteobiographical approaches in a case study of Sarah Green, an identified woman from Coventry, to explore how aspects of her identity may have intersected to affect her choice to consume tobacco.

Using various forms of evidence, we demonstrate that age, class, gender, ethnicity and regional and cultural backgrounds may have all affected the ways in which people experienced tobacco consumption. In particular, we identify a disconnect between documentary evidence for consumption of tobacco as a predominantly male social practice, and osteoarchaeological evidence for a large proportion of women also consuming, perhaps in the privacy of their own homes. Also evident is that class and occupation were likely dictators of the ways in which tobacco was consumed, and that the association of certain tobacco consumption practices with specific social groups within the media was used to marginalise these same people. While each strand of evidence (historical, archaeological, osteological) can contribute unique perspectives about tobacco use, together they can capture the complexity of this history and provide a broader consideration of tobacco consumption in relation to social identity during the industrial period in England. Using this approach, we are able to show how the social, the material and the body itself can combine to provide embodied experiences of groups often overlooked in historical contexts (Craig-Atkins and Harvey, this volume: introduction).

Regions of study

Prior to presenting relevant historical, archaeological and osteological evidence, it is important to outline a brief history of the three regions chosen to represent different English communities, since this is integral to contextualising their tobacco use practices. Barton-upon-Humber (Barton) is a medieval market town in Lincolnshire situated just 5 miles south-west of Hull, on the southern banks of the Humber Estuary. Until the nineteenth century, Barton was small, with between one and two thousand residents (Barton on Humber Branch Workers’ Educational Association [BHBWEA], 1978) who were mostly dependant on agricultural work. During rail expansion in the early 1800s, which saw the population double, occupations and businesses in the town became more varied, serving local needs (Rodwell, 2011: 8). Most of these roles were manual, with 29% of men employed in farming, and 38% of women in domestic services; there was also a large portion of men (around 22%) and some women in shopkeeping and trading, while just 5% of men were recorded as being within ‘professional’ occupations (e.g. solicitors, clergymen) (BHBWEA, 1978: 36, table 2). In the 1850s, nearly 80% of residents were born in Lincolnshire. Of the remaining individuals, only 1.7% (n = 68) were from outside England, of which nearly all were from the home nations or Ireland (BHBWEA, 1978: 5). At Barton, excavations of St Peter's Church between 1978 and 1984 yielded around 2,800 burials dating from AD 950 to 1855 (Waldron, 2007). Of these, 141 adult individuals dating to phase A (1700–1850) were analysed in the current study.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, London became the biggest town in the world (Schwarz, 1992), and was at the centre of a global trading network. It was highly cosmopolitan, attracting migrants, merchants, investors and scholars from across the globe. It was also highly stratified, housing the country's richest and some of its poorest communities, with the West End being wealthier than the East. St James's, the church from which our skeletal material originates, was located along Piccadilly in the boundaries of Westminster City. It was a particularly busy thoroughfare through London and was home to some of the wealthiest families in the city. However, the area of central London also had many poor (Besant and Mitton, 1902; Boulton and Schwarz, 2011). Communities within the city were socially and occupationally diverse, with many skilled and unskilled labourers – most of whom were involved in all kinds of manufacturing, service sectors or dealing, and ‘middling classes’ – including tradesmen, shopkeepers and professionals (Schwarz, 1992: 11, 51). Between 2017 and 2019, construction for HS2 resulted in the excavation of St James's Gardens in Euston, the area used as a cemetery for St James's, Piccadilly. The cemetery was in use between 1788 and 1853 and is one of the largest industrial period cemetery excavations to have ever taken place in the UK, with over 10,000 burials recovered, as recorded in the (unpublished) Mace Dragados & HS2 (2022) Report – St James's Gardens Post-Excavation Assessment. A sample of 281 complete adult individuals were analysed from four different burial areas believed to correspond to a range of socioeconomic statuses, from high to low. Thus, the sample from St James's Gardens reflects a variety of occupations and lifestyles.

Once an exceptionally prosperous medieval town, Coventry suffered a decline in the early post-medieval period. However, it went on to become an industrialised city, helped first by the construction of a canal, and then by the arrival of the railway in the 1830s (Soden, 2003). Although previously famous for cloth, Coventry became important in the silk ribbon weaving trade (Stephens, 1969) and later the watch making industry (Trickett, 2006). The weaving and ribbon trades provided jobs for thousands of residents. The city had a high number of small workers’ houses and was densely crowded. It is reported that the wealthy preferred not to live within the city, but did enter for entertainment (Stephens, 1969). By the mid-nineteenth century, there was a large number of Irish migrants, who worked in the local industries (Prendergast, 2019). Excavated between 1999 and 2000, the post-medieval burial ground of Holy Trinity Church, located on the former site of the Cathedral of St Mary's in the centre of Coventry, yielded 1,706 skeletons, the vast majority of which were buried between c.1776 and 1850 (Soden, 2000). This assemblage included several historically documented individuals, identified from their coffin plates. The cemetery contained a mixture of low status and some more wealthy members of the town. Just over 100 skeletons were retained and are now held by the University of Leicester, and a total of seventy-nine adult skeletons were available for analysis in the current study.

Historical sources

In this section, we examine the available historical evidence and previous historical research into the social perspectives of tobacco use. The aim is to identify if and how tobacco may have related to various components of identity, including gender, class, social status and age. Social historians have addressed the gap in our knowledge about tobacco culture in England using diverse sources containing information reflective of people's ideas, thoughts and perceptions about tobacco and tobacco use from the late sixteenth to twentieth centuries. Sources include poems, plays, songs, satires, paintings, pamphlets, criminal proceedings, learned writing and (etiquette) books, of which relevant examples have been presented here.

Tobacco arrived in England both as a disease panacea and as an intoxicant. While for the former it seems to have been recommended as a medicinal remedy for common ailments in both men and women (see Gardiner, 1610; Pauli, 1746; Vaughen, 1602), the very first English pipe users were men; the habit was introduced by those in male occupations (sailors, adventurers, merchants, sojourners) (Lemire, 2018). Initially, tobacco was expensive, limiting its use to those that could import it or afford to buy it. Working (2022) and Withington (2007) show how tobacco use and smoking in company had a key role in elite identity construction in seventeenth-century England. It demonstrated associations with exploits in the ‘New World’ and was key in politics and negotiation, becoming strongly intertwined with elite male sociability (see Withington, 2007; Working, 2022). By the mid-seventeenth century, tobacco's popularity had increased among all men, as can be observed in multiple types of sources from the period. Male consumption of tobacco features strongly in poetry and plays (McCullen, 1968). There are contemporary references to excessive consumption of tobacco, especially in taverns (e.g. Pauli, 1746: 18), which were key sellers of the product (McShane, 2022). Male drinkers with tobacco pipes are frequently depicted in satire in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London (Roman, 2022). The masculine nature of public pipe smoking can be further demonstrated through the review of historical documentation on assaults and homicides where tobacco pipes were used as a weapon, which were overwhelmingly committed in drinking establishments and by men that had them to hand (Inskip and Muir, 2023). Many anecdotes from the period begin with a man smoking a pipe in a drinking house (e.g. Whitely, 1888: 15, 18, 60).

In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the emergence of polite society and new rules around civility and bodily control resulted in a shift in manners and etiquette around tobacco use. Hughes (2003: 66) and Tullett (2019) both argue that smoking was becoming discouraged in some public spaces, increasingly seen by historical commentators as impolite and as a habit of the lower classes (e.g. Hartley, 1860). Snuff, fashionable in French courts, became popular among elite English groups at this time. This, it was argued, fit better in polite society as it was smokeless and removed the need for frequent expectoration (Hughes, 2003: 68). It became fashionable in London and potentially the most generic form of tobacco use in the country (Goodman, 1993: 93). Snuff, Tullett (2019: 150) argues, was not without its problems when it came to politeness and bodily control; instead of encouraging salivation, it caused sneezing and nasal ejections which resulted in dirty handkerchiefs and soiled clothing. It eventually fell out of fashion, with pipe smoking re-emerging strongly in the nineteenth century (Goodman, 1993: 93). At this time, new and more expensive types of pipes made of meerschaum, and later brier, emerged. Cigar smoking, which was long associated with the Spanish, also became popular with upper-class males. By this time, tobacco consumption habits had become so intertwined with social status that Hilton (2000: 17–18) shows that, in reference to Sherlock Holmes, you could tell what status a man was by the way he consumed his tobacco. How to smoke correctly was also frequently a subject in male etiquette books (e.g. Day, 1840; Hartley, 1860) and the pursuit of tobacco consumer knowledge was an important part of gentlemanly connoisseurship (Hilton, 2000: 28–9). High-status men socialised in their smoking rooms and refrained from public smoking, which was associated with lower-class males.

There is far less written about the use of tobacco by women; their lives were rarely the subject of written discourse, and fewer of their writings have survived. This had led to the impression that they did not consume much tobacco. Nevertheless, McShane (2021) shows there is evidence that women frequently consumed tobacco and suggests that this evidence has been overlooked due to the assumption that consumption was of the male sphere and the fact that it did not fit with narratives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century female domestication and politeness. In fact, Goodman (1993: 61) argues that prior to the nineteenth century, there is little evidence to support the idea that smoking was a particularly gendered activity in England (although see Lemire, 2018: 758). For instance, travellers’ diaries indicate that women were likely to have been smoking and chewing tobacco in England (Penn, 1901: 79–81) and Teare (1798: 9) discussed washerwomen who needed to smoke as much as soldiers, sailors and other labouring men. However, it is possible that regionality played a part. McShane (2021: 30; 2022: 7) highlights how female smoking was universally accepted in areas with strong maritime and tobacco trade connections, such as in the West Country.

However, by the eighteenth century there is significant commentary to support the idea that it was not considered desirable for women to smoke (McShane, 2021). Importantly, Rowley (2003: 181) argues that if tobacco smoking was a strongly male exploit, it was automatically unwomanly. Evidence for this attitude is found within poetry, plays, satire and news reporting. Pipe-smoking women were often labelled with ‘undesirable’ or ‘unfeminine’ characteristics. In several satirical prints, such as Rowlandson's ‘St Giles Courtship’ (1799) and ‘Sea Stores’ (1812), women looking to solicit men or in promiscuous positions were depicted with pipes (Inskip and Muir, 2023). In an assessment of four assault cases where women used pipes as an ad hoc weapon, all were committed by lower-class women and details suggest that in two cases they were possibly soliciting men (Inskip and Muir, 2023). The association between pipe smoking and women from ethnic minorities may have also painted the practice as something ‘exotic’ or ‘other’ (e.g. Chatterjee, 2022), or worked to further marginalise ethnic groups by associating them with the disreputable activity of pipe smoking and associated ‘undesirable’ behaviours (Figure 5.1). These perceptions of female smoking did not change until the early twentieth century, when the mass-produced cigarette emerged on the market and tobacco companies identified the untapped potential of women consumers (Hilton, 2000).

Figure 5.1 Two prostitutes bargaining with a naval man. Thomas Rowlandson's Sea Stores, 1812.

Older women were also subject to commentary, such as the woman in Cruikshank's (1807) ‘Smoking a Parson!!’. They were often portrayed as poor and/or eccentric or having masculine attributes. Inquisitions into the deaths of four older women do point to habitual pipe use. During an inquisition into the death of a 70-year-old pauper woman, who was ‘very fond of her tobacco pipe,’ from Southwark, London, she was labelled as a ‘peculiar old woman’ (Anon., 1898). The Lancet reports on the death of Phoebe Randal, a smoker of over 20 years who burnt to death after her bedclothes caught fire from her pipe (Anon., 1857). The pipe was often given to her by her husband ‘freely’ as it was the ‘only comfort she had’ as she suffered from significant ill health. Mary Clues (52 years old) from Coventry (Wilmer, 1774), and Grace Pett (about 60 years) from Ipswich (Anon., 1744) also burnt to death with the inquisitions recording their long-standing habits of smoking a pipe at bedtime, with both recorded as intoxicated before their demise. Importantly, the latter three cases highlight habitual pipe smoking in the privacy of the home.

While female smoking was apparently frowned upon in polite society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, snuffing – which is not associated with spitting, blackened teeth and smoke – was more acceptable and became popular with elite women in the first part of the eighteenth century. McShane (2022: 36), who draws upon diaries, snuff boxes and print discourse, suggests that social commentary on snuffing focused more on how snuff was taken, and that criticism was levelled at those that used it immoderately. McShane (2022) goes on to say how, unlike pipe users, female snuffers were depicted more favourably in media.

Historical evidence suggests that tobacco was used by all sections of society; however, perceptions about the way in which it should be used fluctuated with time. What emerges strongly from this research is that, by the eighteenth century in England, social norms around tobacco use, especially that of the pipe and cigar, appeared to be highly gendered and interconnected with socioeconomic status and class (Goodman, 1993; Hilton, 2000; Hughes, 2003; McShane, 2022). Despite this, much of our evidence pertains to London and metropolitan areas. We still know little about rural women's use beyond the fact that diaries highlighted by McShane (2022) indicate they were consuming it. Thus, perceptions of who was consuming tobacco and how are perhaps distorted by materials that focus on polite society and the urban elite.

Clay tobacco pipes

Clay tobacco pipes are one of the most common finds on historical archaeological sites (Lemire, 2018). The style and make of a pipe, the inclusion of decoration or motifs, its manufacturer and provenance and the spread of different types within an assemblage can all provide information about the people who were using them. This section will consider archaeological pipe assemblages from four different areas of London, followed by Barton and Coventry to further contextualise pipe usage in these areas and the identities of those using them.

In England, London dominated the clay-pipe-making industry in the first part of the seventeenth century and remained a leading producer until the twentieth century (Oswald, 1967). By 1750, there were also large centres of industry in the regions of York, Hull, Bristol and Chester (Oswald, 1967: 6). As English pipe production was subject to codes and regulations from the seventeenth century, we have a significant amount of information from historical records about pipes, their makers, designs and marks. This information has been used by archaeologists to date contexts and sites and to help reconstruct trading networks (e.g. Cortes Bárcena, 2013). However, pipes are under-exploited as a source of information about smoking culture (Cessford, 2001). The fact that pipes were generally cheap, were diverse in quality and form and used publicly makes them an ideal medium to explore facets of society, such as identity and class. Davey (1981) demonstrates how the types and quality of pipes varied between high-status occupants of Norton Priory and those nearby at Chester, while Hartnett (2004) uses tobacco pipes and historical records to assess local agency in colonial Ireland. Archaeological science has also enabled archaeologists to assess residues from pipes, with new approaches revealing what substances have been smoked (Raffety et al., 2012) and the genetic sex of the users (Schablitsky et al., 2019).

Thousands of clay pipes have been excavated across London, and, while few reports consider their meaning beyond typology and dating, studies have been useful in demonstrating differences between social groups in terms of the types of pipes present and how they were used. At St James's Gardens, thirty clay pipes were recovered from the cemetery, with twenty associated with burials. Pearce (2022) examined the pipes and identified that most of these were typical of London, with one French import. Unstratified material from the cemetery produced six mid-nineteenth-century pipes, including a floral decorated pipe, one claw pipe, one with raised thorns, one possibly associated with a local public house and a French pipe of a befeathered woman's head. Of pipes found in burials, three had red wax on the mouthpiece, thought to prevent the clay from sticking to and damaging people's lips. There were two pipes with masonic symbols, one with generic leaf seams and another with distinctive oak leaf decoration. The mixed nature of the assemblage may reflect the diverse nature of those interred at the cemetery and those visiting it. The decorative range of the pipes, and the presence of two with masonic imagery, suggests that they may have acted for their user as a means to signify aesthetic preferences and associations with certain groups in a city with an incredibly diverse populace. Interestingly, all the pipes found within burials were recovered from the second and third cemeteries, thought to represent the working class and middling sorts. This could suggest that pipe smoking was an important element of identity for these groups, important enough for pipes to potentially be included within burials.

In terms of the lower echelons of London society, Pearce (2007) examined clay pipes from three privies from a group of terraces on Regents Street, in Limehouse – situated in the dockland area of the city, and from a row of terraces from the Minories at Goodmans Yard, Whitechapel (Ritchie and Miles, 2011). Although some of the pipes from the Minories are a little earlier than those at Limehouse, the pipes at both sites are mostly without decoration and are not of high quality; the earlier pipes at the Minories have limited evidence for milling or burnishing, a technique used until the early eighteenth century on higher quality pipes. However, at both sites it is possible that some of the pipes might have had longer stems, which may have been more expensive (Cessford, 2001; Pearce, 2007). All contexts contained local London pipes. This suggests that individuals from these two locations may have preferred locally made pipes, either because they were easy to obtain from local establishments such as taverns, inns or theatres, sometimes free with drinks, or because they were cheaper to procure. Ritchie and Miles (2011) noted that some pipes at both sites were used heavily; even though they were generally disposable, certain pipes continued to be used for some time, possibly demonstrating that they were favoured by their user. While there was much similarity in the pipes between the three Limehouse privy contexts, Pearce (2007) also noted subtle quality and stylistic differences between contexts. This suggests that while people in the area used similar pipes, tastes and/or means varied between inhabitants living closely together.

We can contrast the findings from the Minories and Limehouse with those found in the moat area at the Tower of London (Higgins, 2004), a high-status site. While some of the earliest pipes date to the early to mid-seventeenth century, the majority came from the late seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century from local London makers. In this assemblage there was a great range of variation in pipe types and manufacturers. Here we find three more unusual pipes, one each from Bristol and Chatham, and one pipe possibly from France or Italy (Higgins, 2004: 242). Higgins suggests that it is difficult to be sure whether this reflects the mobile nature of the soldiers based at the tower, or provisioning at a high-status site (Higgins, 2004: 242). Many of the pipes were decorated and some of the earliest pipes were burnished to a high quality. In terms of decoration, a high number of pipes had armorial motifs. While these have been associated with taverns and inns (Pearce, 2007), and a tavern was very close to the Tower, Higgins (2004) suggests that variations in their form suggests they possibly came from a range of sources.

There is much less information about clay pipes from Barton, but the first recorded pipe maker in Hull, established by 1644 (Watkins, 1979), is just five miles from the town. Sixty-seven clay pipe stem fragments and twelve bowl parts were recovered from excavations of the cemetery at St Peter's Church. The date range of the identifiable fragments ranged from the mid/late seventeenth century through to the nineteenth century. These fragments were consistent with pipes made in Hull, but may also have been procured from nearby Nottingham and Lincoln (Mann, 2011). Only one pipe had decoration: swags of drapery and leaves along the stem (Mann, 2011). Excavations on Maltby Lane found two mid–late seventeenth-century pipes (Trott, 2011), while four fragments from Dam Road were also likely to be locally made pipes (Taylor, 2008). A single Prince of Wales pipe was found somewhere in Barton, although no information is provided for its context (Le Cheminant, 1981). Without more extensive work on clay pipes in the area, the information that can be gleaned is limited. In general, it seems that people in the town preferred local or regional pipes, perhaps reflecting the more insular nature of the small town. The lack of decoration could indicate that, unlike in larger more diverse populations, pipes were not used as a priority means of expressing facets of identity.

Excavations at Much Park Street, at the centre of Coventry's industrial heart, revealed an assemblage of 221 clay pipe fragments that date mostly from the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century. These were associated with a well, demolition layers of a ribbon factory, and terraced housing (Hylton, 2016), which was described as dilapidated by the 1800s (Prendergast, 2019: 76). Unlike Barton and the assemblages from Limehouse and the Minories, there was greater variation in the pipes represented, despite the fact that they were recovered from an apparently poor district. This included glazed/painted stems, decorated pipes with possible association to taverns (plume and feathers, and anchors), a pipe with rouletting, a leaf decorated stem, a bowl being held by a claw and a bowl in the form of a basket. Whitely (1888: 78, 90) recounts that the Horse and Jockey pub on the corner of Much Park Street was the meeting place of the ‘dilettante of the city’ and the Rose Inn was a meeting place of the well-to-do. The theatre was also not far away. Although the community at Much Park Street included many that laboured in the factory, and from the nineteenth century included many Irish immigrants (Prendergast, 2019), a mixed community may be in the vicinity of the street which could explain the diversity in pipes. Despite the street's Irish connections, none of the pipes had decorations associated with Ireland, such as those presented by Hartnett (2004).

The osteological evidence

The analysis of evidence for tobacco use in archaeological human skeletal remains, alongside an estimation of biological sex and age – and contextual information from the burial ground, can provide the only direct information about exactly who was consuming tobacco within a specific population. Here, we describe the two distinctive characteristics of the dentition that have been used as evidence of prolonged or habitual tobacco consumption. We follow with the results of analysis of three skeletal samples from our regions of interest, to further investigate how osteological evidence can provide information on the variation of tobacco use by sex, age, location and status.

The first type of evidence available from the skeleton is the ‘pipe-notch’, a characteristic semi-circular abrasion caused by habitual clenching of the teeth around the stem of a clay pipe while smoking (see Figure 5.2). The presence of these dental abrasions is well known in post-medieval skeletal populations from various countries (Geber and Murphy, 2018; Inskip et al., 2023; Ubelaker, 1996; Walker and Henderson, 2010), but they are inconsistently recorded and reported. It should also be noted that the formation of pipe-notches represents the use of a specific abrasive clay pipe stem, while tobacco consumption was likely to have taken place in a variety of forms, including via the taking of snuff and the smoking of cigars, cigarettes and the use of less abrasive pipe stems/mouthpieces.

Figure 5.2 Circular pipe-notch in the left dentition of a middle adult male caused by abrasion of the enamel surfaces by the habitual smoking of a clay pipe (PSN208, Sk134130, St James’ Gardens).

Therefore, the second form of evidence – tobacco staining on the lingual (inner-facing) surfaces of the teeth – can potentially provide greater information on tobacco consumption, outside of specific pipe usage. This evidence consists of the adhesion to the tooth of a substance of variably light brown to black colour (see Figures 5.3 and 5.4). While little is known about the process, the adherence of tobacco staining to the lingual aspects of the teeth is likely to be highly variable. A number of factors could influence its formation, including the type of tobacco consumed, the means by which it is consumed, the oral biome of the person consuming it and their oral hygiene routine (if any), the types of food and drink consumed and the use of the mouth for other purposes (e.g. its use occupationally as a third hand/tool). There does appear to be a strong correlation between pipe-notch formation and lingual staining (Walker and Henderson, 2010); however, other sources could potentially contribute to the staining of the teeth, such as the inhalation of other forms of smoke or consumption of tea, coffee or other discolouring substances during life. Additionally, tobacco staining should not be confused with preserved soft tissue or other organic adhesions to the teeth occurring post mortem, nor with calculus deposits (which may also be stained a brown colour due to tobacco consumption). Generally, differentiation of this substance from other sources can be made by observing the typical characteristics of this kind of staining: a very thin coating which is not raised from the tooth surface, a ‘cracked ink’ or ‘dry riverbed’ appearance to the substance (see Figure 5.4), and its location predominantly on the lingual surfaces. Combining staining with pipe-notches will provide a minimum estimate of tobacco consumption use within a population.

Figure 5.3 Staining caused by tobacco smoking on the lingual (inner-facing) surfaces of the upper left canine, premolars, and first molar of a young adult possible male (PSN157, Sk1963, Barton-upon-Humber).

Figure 5.4 Magnified image of lingual staining on the upper right first molar of an older adult female (PSN25, Sk417, Holy Trinity Church).

Very few studies have attempted to present prevalence rates of smoking in different populations, despite the fact that known smoking status can provide opportunities for the investigation of trends in tobacco consumption and its relationship to various diseases in the past. There have been some exceptions, however. Walker and Henderson (2010) analysed the adult population of St Mary and St Michael Cemetery, London (1843–54), and found a significantly higher prevalence of notches (39.6% males, 2.9% females) and lingual staining (25.9% males, 3.9% females) in males. Geber and Murphy (2018) found higher rates of pipe-notches in an Irish population from Kilkenny Union Workhouse (1847–51) – 60.7% in males, 28.6% in females – but did not investigate the prevalence of lingual staining. Geber and O’Donnabhain (2020) have since provided further data from a solely male Irish prison population at Spike Island (1860–83), which presented with a pipe-notch prevalence of 77.3%. Inskip et al. (2023) found that 97% of males with observable dentition in a Dutch population from Beemster (eighteenth and nineteenth century) had pipe-notches. Here we assess notches and staining from our sites at Barton, Coventry and central London for comparison with historical and archaeological sources. We recorded the prevalence rates of evidence for smoking in three separate categories:

  1. Prevalence of pipe-notches: All available dentition were observed for pipe-notches. This type of wear is typically seen on the incisors, canines and premolars at the intersection between two teeth. For this reason, these teeth were divided into nine ‘sites’, consisting of a pair of neighbouring teeth, in both the upper and lower dentition (see Figure 5.5). The presence or absence of a pipe-notch within an individual was recorded if all nine sites were represented by at least one upper or lower pair, in which both teeth within the pair were present. If at least one site was absent in both the upper and lower dentition, a score of unobservable was attributed to the individual, as a pipe-notch may have been present but could not be accurately observed.
  2. Prevalence of lingual staining: All available dentition were observed for lingual staining. To be included, at least 25% (eight of thirty-two) of lingual surfaces had to be observable. If not, then a score of unobservable was attributed to the individual. If any dentition presented with discolouration to the tooth surface with the characteristics typical of lingual staining, then the individual was scored as present for staining.
  3. Total prevalence of evidence for smoking: The total prevalence of individuals with any evidence for smoking was calculated. A score of present was attributed to any individual who demonstrated evidence for a pipe-notch and/or lingual staining.

Figure 5.5 The anterior dentition is divided into nine ‘sites’ (circles), made up of the intersection between two teeth. At least one of either the corresponding upper or lower sites, consisting of both teeth, for all nine sites must be present for the accurate observation of a pipe-notch. Molars (black) were not recorded for pipe notches since the pipe stem is very unlikely to be in contact with these teeth due to their position at the back of the mouth.

Age and sex estimation

Age and sex estimates for each individual were established using standard osteological methods (Brickley, 2004: 23–4, fig. 9a; Brooks and Suchey, 1990; Bruzek, 2002; Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994: 18–20; Cunningham et al., 2016; Falys and Prangle, 2015; İşcan et al., 1984a, 1984b, 1985; Klales et al., 2012, after Phenice, 1969; Lovejoy et al., 1985). Adult individuals were categorised into one of the following age categories: young adult (20–34 years), middle adult (35–49 years), old adult (50+ years), or unknown adult (20+ years). Each individual was also placed in one of the following sex estimation categories: female, male or unknown.

Evidence of tobacco use, sex and age

A total of 470 adults (20+ years) with estimated sex were analysed. Due to absences of dentition or unobservability of tooth surfaces, 49.8% (234/470) of the sample were excluded, of which many were old adults who had significant tooth loss in life. Of the remaining 236 individuals with observable dentitions, 57.6% (136/236) of the sample presented with evidence for smoking, in the form of a pipe-notch and/or lingual staining (Table 5.1).

Table 5.1

Prevalence rates of evidence for smoking in populations from Coventry, Barton and London. Prevalence rates are presented in three groups: rate of pipe-notches; rate of lingual staining; rate of pipe-notches and/or lingual staining combined.

Population Sex Adult age Pipe-notch Lingual staining Pipe-notch and/or lingual staining
Holy Trinity Church, Coventry Female Young 0% (0/5) 14.3% (1/7) 16.7% (1/6)
Middle 0% (0/3) 25% (2/8) 40% (2/5)
Old - (0/0) 100% (1/1) 100% (1/1)
Unknown - (0/0) 50% (1/2) 100% (1/1)
Total 0% (0/8) 27.8% (5/18) 38.5% (5/13)
Male Young 0% (0/4) 20% (1/5) 25% (1/4)
Middle 36.4% (4/11) 46.7% (7/15) 71.4% (10/14)
Old 50% (1/2) 60% (3/5) 100% (3/3)
Unknown - (0/0) - (0/0) - (0/0)
Total 29.4% (5/17) 44% (11/25) 66.7% (14/21)
Total 20% (5/25) 37.2% (16/43) 55.9% (19/34)
St Peter's Church, Barton-upon-Humber Female Young 0% (0/9) 15.4% (2/13) 22.2% (2/9)
Middle 20% (1/5) 15.4% (2/13) 33.3% (2/6)
Old - (0/0) 100% (2/2) 100% (2/2)
Unknown - (0/0) 0% (0/1) - (0/0)
Total 7.1% (1/14) 20.7% (6/29) 35.3% (6/17)
Male Young 50% (6/12) 50% (7/14) 61.5% (8/13)
Middle 14.3% (1/7) 33.3% (5/15) 50% (5/10)
Old 75% (6/8) 54.5% (6/11) 77.8% (7/9)
Unknown 0% (0/1) 0% (0/2) 0% (0/1)
Total 46.4% (13/28) 42.9% (18/42) 60.6% (20/33)
Total 33.3% (14/42) 33.8% (24/71) 52% (26/50)
St James's Gardens, London Female Young 0% (0/16) 30% (12/40) 50% (12/24)
Middle 12.5% (2/16) 32.1% (9/28) 45.5% (10/22)
Old 0% (0/1) 50% (3/6) 75% (3/4)
Unknown 0% (0/4) 0% (0/4) 0% (0/4)
Total 5.4% (2/37) 30.8% (24/78) 46.3% (25/54)
Male Young 41.9% (13/31) 63.6% (21/33) 61.1% (22/36)
Middle 56.1% (23/41) 52.9% (27/51) 70.6% (36/51)
Old 25% (2/8) 62.5% (5/8) 66.7% (6/9)
Unknown 100% (1/1) 33.3% (1/3) 100% (2/2)
Total 48.1% (39/81) 56.8% (54/95) 67.3% (66/98)
Total 34.7% (41/118) 45.1% (78/173) 59.9% (91/152)
Total Female Young 0% (0/30) 25% (15/60) 38.5% (15/39)
Middle 12.5% (3/24) 26.5% (13/39) 42.4% (14/33)
Old 0% (0/1) 66.7% (6/9) 85.7% (6/7)
Unknown 0% (0/4) 14.3% (1/7) 20% (1/5)
Total 5.1% (3/59) 28% (35/125) 42.9% (36/84)
Male Young 40.4% (19/47) 55.8% (29/52) 58.5% (31/53)
Middle 47.5% (28/59) 48.1% (39/81) 68% (51/75)
Old 50% (9/18) 58.3% (14/24) 76.2% (16/21)
Unknown 50% (1/2) 20% (1/5) 66.7% (2/3)
Total 45.2% (57/126) 51.2% (83/162) 65.8% (100/152)
Total 32.4 % (60/185) 41.1% (118/287) 57.6% (136/236)

Evidence for pipe smoking, in the form of pipe-notches, was strongly associated with males. A total of 45.2% (57/126) of males with observable dentition demonstrated evidence of pipe-notches, while only three middle adult females (5.1%, 3/59) presented with a pipe-notch. In males, an increase in the prevalence rate of pipe-notches is observable with increased age, rising progressively from 40.4% in young adults, to 47.5% in middle adults, to 50% (9/18) in the oldest age category. This is unsurprising given that it takes time to develop pipe-notches.

The lack of pipe-notches in females does not, however, mean that women were not tobacco users. A total of 28% (35/125) of females presented with lingual staining (in comparison to 51.2% in males). The total prevalence of females with overall evidence for smoking (which required a stricter inclusion criteria of a greater number of observable teeth) was even higher at 42.9% (36/84; 65.8% in males), indicating a significant proportion of females may have consumed tobacco in some form. It is difficult to assess differences in the prevalence of smoking in females in different age categories due to the reduced sample size, particularly in the old adult age category, in which only seven individuals within the entire observable female sample fell. However, a very large proportion of older women were smokers (85.7%, 6/7).

Evidence for smoking was present in all age groups, with a rise in prevalence in later age groups in both males and females. The presence of notches and staining in the young adults suggests that many individuals were likely to have been smoking in adolescence, if not sooner. The higher prevalence in older adults is likely due to the accumulation of evidence for smoking over a lifetime.

Evidence for tobacco use, location and status

Overall prevalence rates of smoking in both males and females were similar between populations, ranging from 52% at St Peter's Church, Barton-upon-Humber, to 59.9% at St James's Gardens, London. This suggests that regardless of location, at least half the population were using tobacco in some form or other in this period. Prevalence rates of lingual staining ranged from 33.8% (24/71) at Barton, to 37.2% (16/43) at Coventry, to 45.1% at London (78/173). There were also variations in the prevalence of pipe-notches, with the population from Coventry presenting the lowest prevalence (20%, 5/25), and higher rates within the populations from London (34.7%, 41/118) and Barton (33.3%, 14/42). This indicates that, while smoking may have been no less popular in any one population, methods of consumption within those populations may have varied based on fashions, preferences and practicalities.

Within the population from St James's Gardens, it was possible to further investigate prevalence rates of smoking according to socioeconomic status (Table 5.2). Differences in the prevalence of lingual staining and pipe-notches can be observed in males among different socioeconomic groups. While males from the group with the highest socioeconomic status present with the lowest prevalence of pipe-notches (22.2%, 2/9), this group also presents with the highest prevalence of lingual staining (64.7%, 11/17). The prevalence rate for overall evidence of smoking within males with the lowest socioeconomic status presented the lowest result, at 50% (9/18), lower than in males from other status groups where rates ranged from 58.6% to 80%. A smaller observable sample size in females made it difficult to determine differences among socioeconomic status groups. However, while lingual staining did not tend to vary among socioeconomic groups (ranging from 24.1% to 38.5%) in females, the overall prevalence rate for evidence of smoking in the middle-high status group was considerably lower (26.9%, 7/26) than in other status groups, which ranged from 44.4% in the high-status group to 80.0% in the low-status group. Interestingly, one of only three women to demonstrate evidence for a pipe-notch was of high socioeconomic status, which is surprising considering the reduced number of pipe-notches observed in men in this status group. Differences in prevalence rates among socioeconomic groups from St James's Gardens could be due to a host of factors, including reduced sample sizes, but also supports historical observations of variations in social norms and identity signifiers within different social strata, as well as access to resources, such as types of smoking paraphernalia.

Table 5.2

Prevalence rates of evidence for smoking in different status groups, ranging from high to low, from St James's Gardens, London.

Population Sex Status group Pipe-notch Lingual staining Pipe-notch and/or lingual staining
St James's Gardens, London Female High 16.7% (1/6) 27.3% (3/11) 44.4% (4/9)
Middle-high 0% (0/21) 24.1% (7/29) 26.9% (7/26)
Middle-low 0% (0/8) 38.5% (10/26) 71.4% (10/14)
Low 50% (1/2) 33.3% (4/12) 80% (4/5)
Male High 22.2% (2/9) 64.7% (11/17) 75% (12/16)
Middle-high 44% (11/25) 52% (13/25) 58.6% (17/29)
Middle-low 61.3% (19/31) 62.2% (23/37) 80% (28/35)
Low 43.8% (7/16) 43.8% (7/16) 50% (9/18)
Total High 20% (3/15) 50% (14/28) 64% (16/25)
Middle-high 23.9% (11/46) 37% (20/54) 43.6% (24/55)
Middle-low 48.7% (19/39) 52.4% (33/63) 77.6% (38/49)
Low 44.4% (8/18) 39.3% (11/28) 56.5% (13/23)

Case study: Sarah Green of Much Park Street, Coventry

As well as providing population-level information, a careful consideration of the different types of evidence available can also provide a greater understanding of individual embodied experiences. In this section, we use osteobiographical information and historical data of an identified woman with lingual staining, to explore the ways in which different components of her identity may have intersected to affect her choice to consume tobacco. Analysis of the dentition of PSN25 (Sk417), an older adult (50+ years) female from Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, demonstrated unusually heavy lingual staining on the upper molars (Figure 5.6). The woman was identified as Sarah Green from her coffin plate. Her death certificate indicates that she died in 1847, aged 62 years, from ‘fever and convulsions’. Census data from 1841 placed Sarah on Much Park Street, Coventry, sharing a household with her husband(?) John Green, 75, a shoemaker; Sarah Green, 19, a silk winder; Catherine Green, 17, a ‘filler’; George Green, 13 and Ellen Ward, 2. At the time of the 1841 census, Sarah was a ‘nurse’. This term could encompass a broad range of occupations, including nursemaid or midwife, but may be referring to the role of a domiciliary nurse: a working-class woman who visited and cared for the sick, particularly the poor, within their own homes (Denny, 1999). Many of Much Park Street's inhabitants, located in the centre of the city, were involved in the silk ribbon trade, including the two young women living in the household alongside Sarah, and she may have, at an earlier point in time, also undertaken work in this industry.

Figure 5.6 Heavy lingual staining on the upper right dentition of Sarah Green (PSN25, Sk417), an older adult female buried within the post-medieval burial ground for Holy Trinity Church, Coventry.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Coventry was becoming overcrowded, and the reasonable-looking façade of Much Park Street hid the congested maze of courtyard buildings located behind it (Prendergast, 2019: 76–7). Complaints from the inhabitants of Coventry included poor sewage drainage within the city due to the construction of mill-dams and poor water supply (Anon., 1845: 33, 43, 87–8). Those residing in the courtyard buildings were often highly impoverished, with crowded, unsanitary housing conditions and diseases such as cholera running rampant (Prendergast, 2019: 81–3). As a domiciliary nurse, Sarah's profession may have been in high demand among the inhabitants of Much Park Street and the wider city.

The high level of staining on Sarah's molars indicates that, at least towards the end of her life, she was possibly a heavy smoker. We could not say if she used a pipe as not enough of her teeth were present to observe pipe-notches. The adoption of tobacco consumption by Sarah may be due to a myriad of factors relating to her perceived social identity, constructed from an intersection between her age, gender, socioeconomic status, cultural and regional backgrounds and her personal preferences. Of importance may be that the area around Much Park Street in Coventry during this period supported a number of Irish immigrants and individuals of Irish descent (Prendergast, 2019). As discussed below, the smoking of pipes held particular significance for those of Irish cultural heritage, particularly of labouring backgrounds. While 1841 census data for Sarah says she was born in the county of Warwickshire, she may have been influenced by the cultural milieu of Much Park Street.

It is difficult to fully understand Sarah's socioeconomic circumstances from the little documentary evidence that exists, but her occupation was probably working class at this time, and her residence on Much Park Street indicates a poor socioeconomic background (Prendergast, 2019). Historical sources, such as court case records and inquisitions, have traditionally linked smoking with women of impoverished backgrounds (Inskip and Muir, 2023). Although the data from the different socioeconomic divisions at St James's Gardens suggest that smoking by women may not have been confined to the working classes, for Sarah, tobacco consumption in particular may have offered a small pleasure, if she could afford little other luxury (Geber and O’Donnabhain, 2020). Contemporary discourse highlights the importance of periodic leisure activities, such as the consumption of tobacco, in providing women with a break from the routine of work in the home or outside of it (Hilton, 2002). Additionally, tobacco smoking is known to reduce appetite (Hughes, 2003), making it a handy substitute for those who could not afford adequate food.

Sarah's age and health may have also been a considerable factor in her choice to use tobacco. The consumption of tobacco, particularly via a pipe, appears to have been commented upon more frequently among older, poorer women, although these women were often described as ‘peculiar’ or ‘eccentric’. Additionally, Sarah's skeleton demonstrated several spinal and degenerative joint diseases and poor dental health, both of which are typical of older age, but which can cause pain. Of greatest note was the unilateral osteoarthritis and complete degeneration of the left temporomandibular joint (the joint that connects the mandible to the cranium – see Figure 5.7), likely as a result of dislocation of the joint and subsequent use. Tobacco consumption may have acted as a rudimentary medical aid, with mild analgesic qualities. Its use as a pain alleviator has been documented throughout its history, including into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Stewart, 1967). During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the boundaries between what constituted medicinal or recreational consumption of drugs – such as tobacco, tea, coffee and opium – broke down. It was also during this time that the concept of addiction to a substance developed (Smail, 2007:183–4). Tobacco, and the way in which it was consumed, may have been seen by Sarah as fulfilling multiple roles: as a pain alleviator, an appetite control, a leisure activity, a signifier of age, class or ‘peculiar’ or ‘other’ status and additionally as a ‘necessity’ born from its addictive qualities.

Figure 5.7 Complete degeneration of Sarah Green's left temporomandibular joint (arrow), causing flattening and atrophy of the joint surface.

Discussion: smoking and identity in industrial England

Analysis of different types of sources has provided a depth of knowledge unobtainable from each type alone, especially on rates of tobacco consumption and how use depended on multiple intersecting aspects of identity, including gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and occupation. While tax records and port books reveal key details on the amount of tobacco in England, and historical commentary on tobacco use suggests it was widespread, the osteological evidence indicates that around half of adults from all groups were consuming tobacco frequently enough to leave staining and/or notches on their teeth. Furthermore, due to the limitations of the types of osteological markers used, this represents the minimum amount of use within the groups studied. While we did not undertake a dedicated analysis of the dentition of children, a notable finding is that by 20 years of age some people had significant evidence for chronic tobacco use, inferring that use began early in life, perhaps in childhood or adolescence. This adds credence to the concerns of early anti-smoking campaigns in England, who focused strongly on the impact of tobacco on youth (Goodman, 1993: 118), as recorded by social commentators at the time (Billings, 1875). It would be valuable to assess the dentition of children to narrow down the age at which habits were established.

The evidence from clay tobacco pipes and osteological analysis generally supports notions drawn from historical sources about the entanglement of tobacco use with identity. At prima facie, gender seems to have played the strongest role in shaping tobacco practice, as it was this aspect of identity for which the biggest differences in tobacco consumption could be found. A key finding here is that while socio-historical commentary presents a picture that women were not big tobacco users, that such an activity would have been ‘unseemly’ for the majority of well-mannered women during this time period, the osteological evidence from the current study suggests otherwise. In fact, female use rates may be almost as high as men's. Furthermore, this use may have transcended socioeconomic status, as indicated by the data on females from different socioeconomic status burial grounds from St James's Gardens. The lack of agreement between this finding and most historical representations of female smokers has significant implications for understanding female tobacco use in this period.

Historical sources often depict women who smoked during the nineteenth century as being associated with poverty, prostitution and disreputable behaviour, not in keeping with ideas of respectability at the time (McShane, 2021). This may reflect attempts by almost exclusively male commentators to shape and control what they perceived to be a male activity (e.g. Hilton, 2002: 323–4). In certain regions of the country, women who publicly smoked it seems were, thus, vilified and shamed, grouped with others of marginalised status. The negative social perceptions of female smoking likely forced women to consume in a different manner to that of men. While male smoking was inseparable from sociability undertaken in public or shared space or as part of the daily grind, the act of smoking for a woman was likely an intensely private affair, being undertaken for pleasure or solace within her own home or with other women (e.g. McShane, 2021; Rowley, 2003: 184), something hinted at by the inquisition sources or perhaps by Sarah Green who may have used it for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, female spaces, and what occurred within them, were not subject to the same level of attention as that of public male activities within historical documentation, and we generally lack archaeological evidence from female-dominated spaces. One notable exception is Davies’ (2011) study on archaeological pipe assemblages from Hyde Park Barracks, Australia. This prison, which solely housed immigrant and destitute women of British and British/Irish descent from 186286, showed that smoking and pipe use were very common among the lower-class women that resided there. The pressure to avoid public smoking may also explain the low level of pipe-notches we find generally in females. Women may have opted for less abrasive mouthpieces or stems, or were careful as to how they used pipes to avoid tell-tale tooth damage that physically embodied smoking (see following paragraphs). They seemingly opted for other modes of delivery; Billings (1875) highlights the practice of rubbing snuff into the gums, which was especially popular with girls and young women.

While social commentary had a strong impact on how and where men and women might use tobacco, it also dictated tobacco practices of the different classes, particularly through bodily control. We can potentially see the effect of this within our analysis of osteological and clay pipe data by socioeconomic status, as well as in court records and inquisitions, which provide insight into the daily lives of people. The clearest difference came from the variation in pipe-notch numbers in men, which can be further augmented by data from other archaeological collections dating to the industrial period, with rates as low as 11.6% in London (Western and Bekvalac, 2020: 94) to up to 97% in a Dutch farming community (Inskip et al., 2023). In our male populations, there were clear variations in the frequency of pipe-notches according to site and status. Men from Barton (46.4%) and the working-class burial ground at St James's Gardens, London (61.3%) having the highest prevalence, and men from Coventry (29.4%) and the high-status London group (22.2%) having the lowest prevalence.

To interpret these differences, it is important to consider what pipe-notches embody, as not all pipes would have caused the formation of notches. The clay ‘cutty’ pipe has a shorter, thicker stem, which can be clenched between the teeth. Historical sources suggest that these pipes were particularly popular with manual workers, as they freed the hands for work (Brongers, 1964). The habit of holding a pipe between one's teeth may have also extended to periods beyond when the pipe was lit, to avoid the impracticality of repeatedly putting it away and taking it back out. The constant presence of a pipe between the teeth, or even the sight of the notches created by them, would have acted as a visual reminder to others of the individual as a ‘cutty smoker’. Learned sources (Anon., 1890; Earle, 1822) describe these notches in relation to sailors, and it is quite likely they could have acted as a physical indicator of lower socioeconomic status/occupational type. It is unsurprising that pipe-notches were most common in men at Barton, where historical records show that the vast majority of the population were engaged in manual labour, and within the working-class group at London, who were also likely to have undertaken manual occupations.

The association between pipes and manual work may then partly explain the low numbers of notches in the high-status men from London. In a strongly stratified society, such as industrial Britain, where physical appearance and bodily control was important, men of higher socioeconomic status might have deliberately avoided using short pipes associated with manual labourers. This effect might be particularly strong in large cities like London, where large groups of middle- and upper-class people resided and socialised. Etiquette books made it clear that having clean and good teeth was a sign of civility (Day, 1840; Hartley, 1860). As such, avoiding short pipes may have also been a choice to prevent the formation of notches, which by association embodied working-class status, a group perceived to undertake immoderate and uncivilised smoking. The high rates of staining in the high-status group suggests that, rather than smoking less than other groups, they were perhaps using more and it remained an important part of elite male identity despite changes in perceptions of public smoking. While at present we cannot tell from osteological methods, this was probably through cigars and other types of pipes with longer and thinner stems, such as the churchwarden or alderman, that were used in leisure smoking (Western and Bekvalac, 2020), as depicted in images of smoking clubs and groups in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Roman, 2022). These pipes were not clenched between the teeth, as they were more fragile and required use of the hand to steady the bowl. In addition, mouth pieces made of whalebone, wood, horn or amber were available for clay pipes and Meerschaum pipes (Penn, 1901), which were far more expensive and less abrasive than clay stems, and became available in England around the nineteenth century. What is interesting is that some high-status men and one high-status woman did have pipe-notches, showing that despite negative social commentary on the use of clay pipes by elites in the later nineteenth century, some made the choice to do so regardless.

The unexpected appearance of notches in high socioeconomic groups, or the low rate identified at Coventry, shows that there are clearly other aspects of life intersecting with gender and socioeconomic status to dictate personal tobacco use. Differences in regional smoking fashions and practicalities may have impacted prevalence rates, and these were also likely to have changed over time. For example, cigar smoking did not become a fashionable alternative to the pipe until the early nineteenth century, and then usually among well-to-do men who had access to the imported and often expensive product (Hilton, 2000: 51–2). It is interesting to consider the population from Coventry who demonstrated the lowest prevalence rate of pipe-notches (20%), but a similar rate of lingual staining to other populations (37.2%). This indicates that while a large proportion of the population was still consuming tobacco, the smoking of abrasive clay pipes was less common. At first, this appears unusual, as much of central Coventry during this period consisted of labourers of poor socioeconomic status, similar to the lower status burial grounds at St James and Barton, and there are plenty of archaeological pipes present. However, the high rate of staining shows they are either smoking pipes less frequently and/or are more likely consuming tobacco in other ways. One possibility is tobacco chewing, which was associated with those in manual classes as, like pipes, it freed up the hands for work (Teare, 1798). One major factor in the low prevalence of pipe-notches may be the involvement of many inhabitants of Coventry within the silk ribbon trade. Silk can be easily damaged by smoke and it is likely workers would not have been permitted to smoke while working with the material, limiting the potential time available to use a pipe. Billings (1875) discusses people that rubbed snuff into the gums in lieu of smoking tobacco. He also described how this approach was used in regions such as Lancashire by those working in spinning and mills, where chewing and smoking tobacco was not permitted. It is highly likely that similar rules might have applied to Coventry. As such, the practicalities of occupation here may have constrained peoples’ tobacco choices leading to alternative practices or different modes of use at different points in a person's day.

The choice to use (or avoid the use of) a cutty may also have become linked to perceptions of cultural or group affiliation. In London, for example, multiple pipes with masonic imagery have been identified and may have been used by those of higher status, and decorations associated with Irish identity are common at sites in London. Both the work of Geber and colleagues (Geber and Murphy, 2018; Geber and O’Donnabhain, 2020) and that of Walker and Henderson (2010) link Irish cultural affinity with high frequencies of pipe-notches and, in particular, with poverty. As Geber and O’Donnabhain (2020) explain, the presence of a cutty became frequently incorporated into the often derogatory and racialised caricatures of the Irish poor within English publications. However, such pipes were also co-opted by the Irish to signify cultural belonging and subversive anti-colonial politics through the stamping of the pipe bowl with nationalist insignia and political phrases, such as ‘home rule’ (Brighton, 2004; Hartnett, 2004). The Irish elite, however, disassociated themselves with the smoking of pipes, perhaps due to its connotations with poverty (Geber and O’Donnabhain, 2020). Thus, the cutty pipe became intimately linked with an Irish labourer's sense of identity, both in terms of socioeconomic status, cultural affinity and political stance. Of note is the greater prevalence of pipe-notches in females from the Kilkenny Workhouse, which, although lower than in males from the workhouse, is still far higher than anything reported for females in England. This indicates that cultural attitudes to the pipe-smoking of women in Ireland may have differed considerably from those in England but may also suggest that the cutty pipe held similar significance in terms of cultural and political identity for Irish women as for men.

Walker and Henderson (2010) suggest that high prevalence rates of smoking noted in the nineteenth-century population from St Mary and St Michael's, London, may be due to a large proportion of Irish immigrants within this burial ground. However, female rates of pipe-notches were greatly reduced (2.9%) in comparison to those from the Kilkenny Workhouse (28.6%), perhaps indicating the pressure from English cultural norms on female behaviour within the Irish immigrant community, a phenomenon also seen in modern migrants (Reiss, et al., 2014). This population also demonstrated very little lingual staining in females (3.9%) and is believed to have come from a poor socioeconomic background (Walker and Henderson, 2010), possibly indicating a lack of access to resources such as tobacco for women of poorer status, at least in this community. Changes in practice could also partly explain the lower rates of pipe-notches in our sample from Coventry and the lack of Irish imagery on the pipes, even though many Irish are recorded as residing and working there.

The prevalence rates of pipe-notches at St Mary and St Michael's are comparable, in both males and females, to our prevalence rates at St James's Gardens. It is evident that smoking among working-class English communities may have been just as common as amongst Irish, although the kind of pipe which causes advanced wear on the teeth may not have been utilised as frequently. Thus, the perception that Irish groups, in particular Irish women, smoked much more frequently than their English counterparts – fitting with derogatory caricatures of the Irish from this period – requires re-evaluation. So, too, does the lack of understanding of tobacco's part to play in the construction of identity among other ethnic minorities in England during this time period. Apart from racist caricatures (see, for example, ‘Sea Stores’ (Rowlandson, 1812, see Figure 5.1) and ‘Sartjee, the Hottentot Venus’ (Lewis, 1810)) of ethnic minorities smoking pipes, very little is known of the consumption habits of marginalised groups. As certain types of tobacco consumption were strongly associated with class, gender, regionality and lifestyle, adopting certain methods of consumption may have provided a means for these groups to navigate complex social hierarchies, or to identify with one another via shared practices or iconography, as seen with Irish pipes (Brighton, 2004).

A full exploration of our data is impeded by the absence of research that draws on the embodied actions embedded within the construction, use and discard of clay tobacco pipes, something significantly hindered by the way in which they are used and reported in archaeological scholarship. Osteologically, the accurate identification of smokers also has its limitations, and evidence for other forms of tobacco consumption, such as snuff taking, have yet to be identified in human osteological remains. Additionally, prior to the current study, only Walker and Henderson (2010) have presented prevalence rates of lingual staining. As demonstrated in the current study, a focus on pipe-notches to the exclusion of other forms of evidence for smoking prevents a more nuanced understanding of different types of smoking activities undertaken within different societal groups. In particular, this excludes an understanding of the smoking activities of women in populations where pipe-notches are not frequently found in female dentitions. Therefore, a greater understanding of the composition of lingual staining and more rigorous recording methods for this form of evidence are needed. The development of future scientific analyses (e.g. Badillo-Sanchez et al., 2023; Eerkens et al., 2018) may provide the means to explore the frequency and manner of tobacco consumption among different societal groups further.

Conclusions

The analysis of multiple types of sources shows that not only was tobacco use extremely widespread in England, but the manner in which it was consumed was tied up with multiple important aspects of their lives. While social commentary on the ‘correct’ way to use tobacco for men and women, and by upper classes, may have strongly impacted peoples’ choices, our work and case study show that group membership, occupation, health and ethnicity intersected with these ideals to produce diverse patterns of individual and group consumption across the country. It appears that derogatory depiction of certain types of tobacco consumption and commentary on the appropriate use of the intoxicant during the industrial period were used as a means to further marginalise certain ethnic, socioeconomic and gender groups. These acts have coloured current perceptions of smoking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, whereby it is assumed that only certain sections of society were undertaking specific tobacco consumption activities. Our work challenges the predominance of historical commentary for smoking as a ‘male’ activity, and the weight that this narrative has been given in modern analyses of smoking and its relationship to identity, which has resulted in perceptions of smoking as an activity undertaken by, and of greatest importance to, men (Eliot, 2001: 48). This is likely to have contributed to the false perception today that female smoking during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a rare occurrence, isolated to those of poorer socioeconomic or marginalised backgrounds. This work demonstrates, like the work of McShane (2021, 2022), that a shift in perspective yields plenty of evidence for the frequency with which tobacco consumption was woven into the lives of women.

In fact, as our chapter has demonstrated, a wider consideration of the historical, osteological and archaeological evidence suggests that tobacco consumption was utilised broadly across societal groups in different ways and in different public and private spaces. The manner in which people consumed tobacco was likely intimately linked to their social identity, demonstrating the relationship between tobacco consumption and the body as a series of embodied actions dictated by age, class, gender, occupation and regional and cultural backgrounds. Our case study of Sarah Green provides an example of the ways in which these different aspects of identity may have affected the choice to consume tobacco. Furthermore, the choices made by some groups were also important in dictating the use of tobacco by others, with class and occupation evidently structuring factors. The association of the cutty pipe with the poor, labouring classes, people of Irish ethnicity and women of marginalised status may have affected the smoking ‘fashions’ of the upper classes and particularly of women, who likely often chose pipes or alternative methods that would not have produced notches on the teeth. The combination of historical documentation with osteological and pipe assemblage data has provided a more nuanced understanding, but there is still much to be explored.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Kevin Booth at English Heritage and Dr Simon Mays at Historic England for facilitating access to the Barton-upon-Humber skeletal collection. We would also like to thank Andrea Bradley at HS2 and Michael Henderson and Louise Fowler at MOLA for aiding in access to the St James’ Gardens skeletal collection. We would like to gratefully acknowledge the input and help during the course of this research of Maria Serrano Ruber and Dr Diego Badillo Sanchez on the Tobacco, Health and History Project at the University of Leicester. Additional help was provided by Sarah Morriss, Dr Danielle De Carle and Dr Jo Appleby, all also of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester. Finally, we would like to thank the editors of this book, Dr Lizzy Craig-Atkins and Prof. Karen Harvey, for inviting us to contribute to this volume and for providing feedback on earlier drafts. This research was undertaken as part of the Tobacco, Health and History Project, funded by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship grant (grant number: MR/T022302/1), held by Dr Sarah Inskip.

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The material body

Embodiment, history and archaeology in industrialising England, 1700–1850

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