Disposable clay pipes were very popular until the beginning of the 20th century, when their popularity was overtaken by cigarettes.
This Leicester Fosse supporters’ clay pipe, one of the oldest items in the Club’s heritage collection, dates from the 1880s. It is a rare surviving example of one of the many mass-produced clay pipes made for Leicester Fosse supporters at that time.
On both sides of the bowl of the pipe is a rough image of a footballer. The words on either side of the stem are ‘Football pipe’ and, ‘Play up Leicester.’
These pipes were mass produced by William Flanagan, Leicester’s last known clay pipe manufacturer. In the 1880s, his factory was on Frog Island, near Sanvey Gate. Researching these pipes, we unearthed an account of Flanagan’s methods.
China clay powder mixed with water was rolled into rough pipe shapes. The stems were pierced with a fine metal rod. These rough pipe shapes were then placed into moulds, to shape the finished pipe. They were then removed from the moulds and air dried on racks before being fired in 40 batches of 144 pipes (making a total of 5,760). The kiln was bee-hived shaped, made of brick and completely enclosed.
This kiln had a central column of fire clay. The pipes were stacked against this with the bowls pointing outwards. They were kept in position by several thicknesses of old paper play bills (from Leicester’s Pavilion and Palace theatres) which had been covered by a thick paste of clay and horse manure. The firing lasted for 10 hours, reaching a temperature of 900 degrees Celsius.
After six hours of cooling, the kiln was half demolished to remove the batches of pipes. Finally, the mouth pieces were often sealed with a mixture of soap wax and gum to prevent the pipes sticking to the mouths of the Leicester Fosse supporters for whom they were intended.
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