Old Nosey

Much of what I understand about the distant past I know from the multitude of lost and discarded objects unearthed on metal detecting forays. In the early days I used to ask a knowable detectorist. Sometimes my finds were interpreted by historians or archaeologists. Finding artefacts and engaging in research has taught me more about history than I ever learned at school. I know many detectorists who say the same.

Duke of Wellington

Death mask of the Duke of Wellington. Courtesy English Heritage

This death mask of the Duke, a plaster model of his face, was taken on the day he died of a stroke – or seizures – in 1852, at the age of 83.

During the 19th century it was common to make a model of the face of someone who had recently died. This could be used to produce plaster casts, like the one above, as a memento or commemorative item for the friends and admirers of the deceased. This cast, unlike some, was not widely distributed – perhaps because it shows the Duke as an elderly and fragile man.

Apsley House / English Heritage

A detectorist friend of mine, Sally Atkinson (aka Sukisal), presented me with the tamper shown below because I had coveted it so much. For years I didn’t know who the figure represented and even used it in an earlier blogpost on scanning. With the help of people like Gordon Bailey and his book Detecting Finds, I now know who the tamper represents. Gordon writes, “Tampers became ‘stoppers’ at the beginning of the 19th century with figures depicted such as Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon“.

Old Nosey

Pipe tamper – caricature of the Duke of Wellington, © JW

The caricature of the Duke of Wellington was meant to poke fun at the man. One of the nicknames the soldiers had for Wellington was Old Nosey since his nose was rather prominent. With his exaggerated features and his jaunty cap he looks almost animated.

British humour, circa 1840, pokes fun at Wellington, who was very unpopular with his troops. Legend has it that he stopped all smoking in the barracks. Naturally, the soldiers were not too pleased and from that incident the new word ‘stopper’ for the pipe tamper came about.

FrenchClay Pipe

Clay head of a pipe mocking the Duke of Wellington. © English Heritage.

Going off on a tangent here, but thought you might like to see this clay head of a French pipe found on the battlefield of Waterloo. Again we have an unflattering caricature of the Duke. See that large schnozzle.

James Mackay’s article on ‘Tobacco Stoppers’, written for an unknown source in 1970, is worth a read. Mackay makes mention of earlier stoppers made of wood. Varies sources repeat the following apocryphal tale.

Be patient – the James Mackay link takes some time to load.

Shakespeare’s Tree

In the 1750s the Reverend Francis Gastrell cut down a mulberry treesupposedly planted by Shakespeareat New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon, having grown tired of tourists asking to see it. The second half of the eighteenth century saw a brisk trade in souvenir objects claimed to be made of wood from Shakespeare’s  tree. Tell me another; archaeologists would have difficulty in concocting a more believable story. I’m not that gullible!


Many thanks to the people and organisations below.

English Heritage – Gordon Baily – Sally Atkinson -James Mackay – National Pipe Archive

Please complete the FEEDBACK form – bottom left. Thank you. BETA at the moment.

4 thoughts on “Old Nosey

  1. I was reading, and saw tampers.. then changed and called stoppers.. I was going to ask how they came to be known by that name…. but you already answered my friend.

    And re those objects made from the tree… I wonder how many objects were made form the ‘original cross’ that Jesus was crucified on.. LOL

    One of the things I have not found is a tamper, John.. I will add that to my bucket list.

    Many thanks


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Randy – also for the feedback.
    You are the only one who has bothered so far!

    Sorry deleted your remark. Went something like “Well done, John Keep up the good work”.

    Liked by 1 person

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