Potsherd: Atlas of Roman Pottery

South Midlands shell-tempered wares

Jars, bowls and dishes in coarse shell-tempered wares produced in eastern England and distributed widely in Britain during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

Fabric and technology

Fairly hard, slightly soapy fabric with irregular texture; dark grey or black core with brown or grey margins and black to light brown surfaces (frequently patchy); abundant fine or medium flakes of shell (most < 1mm, but rarely up to 3mm), with occasional fine black and red iron ores and white mica, and rare coarse flint and limestone particles. Wheel-thrown. Surfaces smoothed, and often with horizontal rilling. The shell dissolves out in acid soils leaving a brittle fabric with pitted surface, occasionally described as ‘vesiculated ware’.


Principally necked jars, flanged bowls and plain dishes. Jars and bowls frequently have horizontal rilled surface, occasional scored wavy-lines and ‘slashed’ rims.

Form Description
- 1 jar with rolled rim
1 2 jar with square-cut rim
2-4 3 jar with undercut rim
7 4 bowl with rounded flange
8 5 bowl with pointed flange
9-10 6 bowl with square cut flange
6 7 plain dish
5 8 plain dish with thickened lip

Table 1.  Classification of South Midlands shell-tempered ware forms (after Sanders)


The shelly clays at Harrold were exploited from 1st cent. AD but a major expansion in production from early 4th cent. Abundant in late 4th-cent. assemblages in east and south Midlands.


Production at Harrold (Beds), and perhaps Lakenheath (Suffolk), but additional sources likely.


A broad belt across southern Britain, north of the Thames and south of the Severn-Humber line. Outliers in Wales and north; relatively uncommon in East Anglia. The jars are the most widely distributed type, and the only form found towards the periphery of the distribution.


Referred to as ‘calcite-gritted wares’ in earlier literature.


Bath fabric 11. Caister-on-sea fabric SHEL-150. Chelmsford fabric 51. Chesterfield fabric 2. Gestingthorpe fabric H. Gloucester fabric TF22. Great Chesterford fabric 2. JRPS bibliography fabric lsh. Leicester fabric CG1B. Lullingstone fabric 71. Milton Keynes fabric 1a. Kent coarse fabric 23c. Towcester fabric 44b/d.


Principal discussion, with gazetteer of find spots is Sanders 1973; quantified data in Pomel 1984. For Harrold kiln-site: Woods 1994, especially phases 5-6. Recent discussion of Midlands shelly wares in Marney 1989, 58-64. RCHM gazetteer F207-10, F606-8


Marney 1989. Marney, P. T., Roman and Belgic pottery from excavations in Milton Keynes, 1972-1982, Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society. Monograph, 2, Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, Aylesbury, (1989).

Pomel 1984. Pomel, M. G., ‘A study of later Roman pottery groups in Southern Britain: fabrics, form and chronology’, M. Phil. thesis, Institute of Archaeology, University of London, (1984).

Sanders 1973. Sanders, J., ‘Late Roman shell-gritted ware in Southern Britain’, B.A. dissertation, Institute of Archaeology, University of London, (1973).

Woods 1994. Woods, A., ‘Petrological report on ceramics from Harrold’, Bedfordshire Archaeology, 21, (1994), pp. 99-106.

Distribution of South Midlands shell-tempered wares in Britain
Roman Pottery in Britain (Tyers 1996)
  • Fabric code: LRSH (p.192)
Thumbnail images (click for higher resolution):
National Roman Fabric Reference Collection
(Dore & Tomber 1998, Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 2)
  • Fabric code: ROB SH ((Late) Romano-British Shelly ware, p.212).
Thumbnail images
Worcestershire ceramics online database
(Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service)
  • Fabric no. 23 (South Midlands shell-tempered ware)
Thumbnail images (click for higher resolution):
The pottery kilns of Roman Britain (Swan 1984)
Kilns producing this ware are located at:
  • Harrold (Beds)
Further details of these sites are available through the link above, and are summarized and mapped here.
South Midlands shell-tempered wares
URL: http://potsherd.net/atlas/Ware/LRSH • © Text 1996, 2014: Layout 2012, 2014. Some images may be linked to other web sites.