Thirty-two kilometres, around seventeen nautical miles, separate Dover from continental Europe, and continuing further north you come into flat, low-lying, water-logged land. It was here that tobacco began to be cultivated in the early 1600s, but it was not of Dutch origin. In fact, the relative proximity of the Netherlands and various historic events had brought about a wave of English migrants to this part of Northern Europe, ever since Elizabeth I had sent money and around six thousand soldiers in order to back the rebellion of the Republic of Seven Provinces against Philip II of Spain (1585). Subsequently, under James I other migrants crossed the Channel, especially Puritans and other dissenters within the Anglican Church, who found a more congenial and tolerant religious climate in those parts. Thriving trade in the ports attracted those who sought new commercial opportunities, especially in the production of a certain commodity that King James I so detested. In the early 1600s important trading links were established between London and the Provinces, the latter beginning to challenge England’s maritime commercial ventures, including those in the New World, including the import, processing, trade and export of tobacco. It may have been thanks to some English and French students at Leiden University who were smoking tobacco as early as the 1590s that the aromatic weed was introduced to this part of the world. It is also suggested that the Spanish troupes are to be blamed, or else credited with its introduction. In any case, by the time of King James’ Counterblaste to Tobacco it had already been introduced in Amsterdam and beyond, and as new waves of English migrants arrived, they spread the habit further, as well as supplying the necessary equipment to smoke tobacco.
In the early 1600s, among the English soldiers stationed in the Provinces were some who were skilled in manufacturing pipes to supplement their pay. When a treaty which initiated a truce was signed in 1609 between the Spanish and the Netherlands, these craftsmen decided to invest their money earned during the war to take up their skills again, and so did some refugees. This is why several Dutch cities saw the rise of the first pipe makers: William Boseman began his activity in Amsterdam in 1607, even before the truce; in 1617 it was William Baernelts’ turn, a partisan of the Tudor dynasty seeking a new beginning. He decided to set up his manufacture in the city of Gouda, to the north-east of Rotterdam and not far from Delft, home of ceramics. If the records are trustworthy, his business was the first to manufacture pipes in Gouda. Each pipe that came out of the kiln bore the stamp of its maker, a Tudor Rose. Legend has it that Baernelts was not his real name at all, and that he was not a common person, but a man who came from the theatre, a playwright who had pretended to be dead, fleeing wife and creditors. In other words, Shakespeare.
By the 1630s there were as many pipe makers in Holland as there were in England. Pipes from Gouda and other places were already being exported, not only to nearby countries, but also to those further away, such as Norway, Prussia, Russia, East Indies and the New World. All thanks to a certain number of Englishmen. Meanwhile, what were the Dutch doing? Initially there was a kind of silent agreement between them, namely that the ceramists fired the pipes and the foreigners made them. The English were careful to guard their secrets, and even the apprentices were chosen among the children of their compatriots. Nevertheless, the Dutch swiftly learned the craft, and soon took over the whole cycle, thereby turning the tables on the English. Indeed, in 1641 the city Council received the request for a guild that was limited to the locals. Nothing was done, however, as many Englishmen were married to local women from Gouda, but from then on it was established that the pipes should bear the manufacturer’s mark. The guild was established as late as 1660, although people of any nationality could be members. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia determined the independence of the Seven Provinces, but by this time the English were already firmly settled, so much so that they considered themselves Dutch.
Thus, it could be said that by crossing the Channel the army of pipes had firmly established a foothold in Holland, to spread from there to the rest of Europe, but this would be simplifying things too much, as the context is more complex and still rather unclear in places, and paper-based records do not shed enough light on the matter. We should seek the help of archaeologists, who have been cataloguing evidence of pipe fragments unearthed in different parts of Europe, above all clay pipe fragments. The shapes, marks and other features enable the archaeologists to date the pipes and determine their provenance quite accurately. However, their greatest satisfaction is when they find the remains of an ancient pipe maker’s workshop. As they gradually bring to light evidence, and compare this with ancient documents, they succeed in shedding light on an activity that turns out to be full of surprises. Indeed, they are piecing together data that is difficult to interpret and is constantly shifting.
One surprising question that archaeologists have raised is the following: considering that the clay used for pipes (quite similar to the one used for porcelain) had been rarely used by English ceramists before the advent of pipes, that none of them had used moulds before, that the kilns for making vases and other ceramics were far less advanced than those developed subsequently by pipe makers, how come that all these factors that determined successful pipe manufacturing suddenly came together between the 16th and 17th centuries? A possible answer could be provided by an illustrated treatise on ceramic manufacture written in 1557 by an Italian, Cipriano Piccolpasso. In this treatise he describes kilns that are akin to those that would later be used for pipes, as well as techniques to prepare clay that closely resemble those used by pipe makers many years later. Furthermore, it is said that it was an Italian, Guido di Savinio, who introduced majolica production to Antwerp in the early 16th century.
As for the pipe moulds, we have to seek them in North-Western Europe, where from the early 14th century there was a thriving production of religious terracotta figurines. During the Protestant Reformation demand declined, so that craftsmen turned to animal figures, toys …and pipes. Craftsmen were numerous in that period. It is not certain how, but the moulds reached London, perhaps along with two ceramists from Antwerp in 1570, where the local white clay, which was easily shaped, was ideal for the new technology.
Going back to pipes, it is worth providing some rough dates for the first pipe manufacturing establishments in some countries: Scotland, 1622, Ireland, 1630 and Bavaria, as early as 1600. In some German states pipe manufacturing began in 1620, as in Chioggia, near Venice. As for Flanders, the region of the Netherlands that maintained allegiance to Spain, but near Gouda, we can speak of the early 1600s. In Sweden, 1660, in Austria, 1690, and France, the late 1600s. Taken individually, these figures do not have much meaning, but if viewed collectively, it means that in just one hundred years pipe makers had established their craft almost all over Europe.
Tobacco arrived almost always first in a country, together with imported pipes. Subsequently, expert craftsmen would arrive from nearby countries or from afar with their equipment to establish themselves, facilitated by the local kilns where possible, and by the presence of raw material, which otherwise had to be imported. Following the successful establishment of the manufacturers, the pipes in turn spread throughout Europe, competing with those from other countries. When pipes made in Gouda achieved international renown, fair imitations of these were made in Germany and then passed off as original when sold. However, it was the soldiers who largely circulated the pipes, more than traders or manufacturers.
The Thirty Years’ War broke out in Bohemia in 1618, a series of conflicts that involved almost the whole European continent. Thirty years of battles and transfer of soldiers, who then returned home, only to be sent out to battle again. Soldiers who smoked pipes if they were already acquainted with them, and brought these habits back home, or else they learnt how to smoke observing the others. According to archaeologists, there are various sites in Europe where clay pipes were made, but there are far more places where people started to smoke. The phenomena varied from country to country and from city to city, and there were areas which had not yet been reached. Moreover, it has to be considered that tobacco was not always smoked (in France it was inhaled in the form of snuff) and that some countries (especially Spain and Portugal) savoured tobacco in the form of what was later to develop into the cigar.
The spread of pipes and tobacco provoked all kinds of reactions on the part of the authorities, who often imposed harsh restrictions, albeit not effective, which were invariably followed by further fiscal measures aimed at benefiting from this inexorable craze. King James I was only the first of a long line of people to condemn the practice.