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Broseley Pipe Works, Shropshire

Broseley Pipe Works was founded by Roland Smitheman in the early 1880s in a row of cottages in King Street, Broseley, Shropshire. The history of this factory provides an interesting insight into the habit of tobacco smoking and the history of modern mass production.

After being introduced to Europe from the Americas by Christopher Columbus, tobacco smoking became popular first in Spain, and then in the rest of Europe. People smoked tobacco in pipes, designed to keep burning tobacco away from their faces. The long stem allowed the smoke to cool before it got to the mouth. The stem, however, was fragile, and it was necessary to sit down while smoking a pipe. Working men wanted to smoke while they worked, so they used short stem pipes called "cutties", and sometimes cut off even the short stem these provided. They ended up with the sort of pipe that Popeye always had dangling from his mouth. The Broseley works produced both long stem pipes and cutties. Then in the 1850s, the Crimean War introduced many British soldiers to the Russian and Turkish practice of smoking cigarettes, where tobacco was rolled in paper. In 1860 - 1861 a Greek captain in the Russian army started selling Turkish cigarettes in Leicester Square. Cigarettes were like cutties in the sense that they were convenient, allowing smoking at virtually any time. This of course allowed the practice of tobacco smoking to spread further, and to be indulged in more frequently. This led to more people smoking for longer. Cigarettes are also much easier to mass produce than clay pipes. The Broseley Pipe Works did have a production line of sorts, dividing the labour of making the pipes amongst many people. Nevertheless it remained a skilled task. Pipes were produced with all kinds of novelty bowls, bunches of grapes, a foot kicking a football for example. This all took time. In contrast, cigarettes were turned out to an identical standard.

The Broseley Pipe Works is part of a large museum in the Ironbridge Gorge dedicated to the birth of modern industry, but the fact is Broseley Pipe Works was not all that in tune with the modern age of industrial mass production. The cigarette suited the demands of mass production far better than the pipes being laboriously produced at Broseley. The Bristol tobacco firm W.D and H.O Wills brought the first Bonsack cigarette making machine to Britain in 1883, a machine that could make two hundred cigarettes a minute. There were now the perfect conditions for the smoking habit to explode. The substance smoked had addictive properties, while the form it took allowed rapid mass production, and almost unlimited use. Other more benign habits such as tea drinking required a kettle, a hand to hold the cup, a table to put the cup down on between sips. Cigarette smoking required none of this. A smoker needed a match. The cigarette could then dangle from their mouth as they got on with something else. It was the perfect habit. By the First World War Broseley Pipe Works was struggling financially. Production declined, until the works finally closed in 1957. The factory was abandoned, its work force seemingly walking out one day and leaving everything as it was on the day of closure in 1957. When the Broseley Pipe Works was rediscovered in the 1990s, the buildings and their contents were virtually untouched.

Part of the reason there is now such a problem with tobacco smoking is found in those short stems you look at in the displays at the Broseley Pipe Works. They were only a short step to the cigarette. Modern industrial mass production has led to many benefits in convenience, and the production of affordable, high quality goods. But in the case of the cigarette, all these benefits were side tracked into a product ideally suited to mass production and habitual use, which had disastrous consequences for its users. Cigarette smoking is the cautionary tale of the modern age. Broseley Pipe Works is a good place to explore it.

(Information about cigarette smoking from After the Victorians by A.N. Wilson.)

 

 

Directions: Leave the M54 at junction 4 or 6, and follow signs for Ironbridge Gorge. Once in Ironbridge town look out for sings to Broseley Pipe Works, which is in the town centre. Click here for an interactive map centred on Ironbridge.

Address: Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Coach Road, Coalbrookdale, Telford TF8 7DQ . Postcode for Broseley Pipeworks TF12 5LX.

Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Access: Information limited. Contact 01952 884391 for more details.

Contact:

telephone: 01952 433424

web site: http://www.ironbridge.org.uk/

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©2008InfoBritain (updated 11/12)