Clay Pits

Clay Pits or Clay Pit Hill is the name of an area of Chitterne where an area of smooth white clay 250 metres across is to be found on top of the chalk. The site on Chitterne St Mary Down, close to the parish boundary with Codford, is no longer worked and the old pits are in a wood on private land.

The smooth white clay with round pebbles had been uniquely preserved in the chalk plateau by sinking into a large hole, of unknown depth, in the chalk millions of years ago. The nearest equivalent clay is to be found 14 miles to the south-west.

The clay is thought to have been known and used by man at least since neolithic times. Two flint scrapers, thought to be neolithic, have been found at the site and nearby an enclosed area and a field system have been identified from aerial photographs.

In 1651 Lord Henry Pawlett granted a licence for one year to Christopher Merewether and Edward Fripp, both of Chitterne, to dig thirty loads of clay from the clay pits on Chitterne St Mary Down to make into tobacco pipes, they having paid him 10 for the licence, and to pay him eight gross of pipes to be delivered at The Angel in Andover.

From the Chitterne St Mary burial records we find buried on 2 November 1711: Thomas Morgan, a Claydigger, "killed by ye found....of ye Pit."

According to Canner, "the hill called Clay Pits is the place where the best clay in England is to be found for the manufacturing of tobacco pipes." He further says that, "in the seventeenth century it was dug and carted to Amesbury and used by the firm of Gauntlett for the above purpose."

Fuller says, "the best for shape and colour are made at Amesbury. They may be called chimneys portable in pockets the one end being the hearth, the other the tunnel thereof. Gauntlett pipes which have the mark on the heel are best."