A churchwarden pipe is a tobacco pipe with a long stem. The history of the pipe style is traced to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Some churchwarden pipes can be as long as 16 inches (40 cm). In German the style is referred to as "Lesepfeife" or "reading pipe," presumably because the longer stem allowed an unimpeded view of one's book, and smoke does not form near the reader's eyes, allowing one to look down.
Such pipes were very popular as an Oriental influence from the seventeenth century onwards in Europe. They remained most popular in Eastern Europe, as an emblem of the Hussars, cavalry troops with roots in Hungary and Poland, whose employment and influence spread from Russia to France and England during the Napoleonic Wars and brought the pipes with them as part of their characteristic dress. It was even known as the "Hussar pipe" at the time. Engraved portraits exist of men smoking such an instrument. This long stem pipe type has its origins in the Ottoman Empire, geographically and historically.
Churchwarden pipes generally produce a cooler smoke due to the distance smoke must travel from the bowl to the mouthpiece. They have the added benefit of keeping the user's face further away from the heat and smoke produced by combustion in the bowl. They are also more prone to breakage since more pressure is placed on the tenon when the pipe is supported around the mouthpiece. Long ago, churchwarden pipes were made of clay and were common in taverns, and sometimes a set of pipes would have been owned by the establishment and used by different clients like other service items (plates, tankards, etc.).
Clay churchwarden pipes were also used during the pioneer era in North America. Many clay pieces of these pipes have been found by archaeologists, giving rise to the myth that the long stems of the clay churchwarden pipes would, for sanitation purposes, be broken off by the next client of the tavern or saloon who wished to smoke. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, pipes were cleaned by being placed in iron cradles and baked in ovens. Examples of such clay pipes can be seen at the historic Fort Osage museum in Fort Osage, Missouri.
Churchwarden pipes were reputedly named after churchwardens, or night watchmen of churches in the time that churches never locked their doors. These "churchwardens" could not be expected to go all night without a smoke, so they had pipes that were made with exceptionally long stems so the smoke and the pipe wouldn't be in their line of sight as they kept watch. Churchwardens experienced a surge in popularity after the release of Lord of the Rings film trilogy in 2001, since many of the characters smoke churchwardens.
- Iain C. Walker (1977). Clay tobacco-pipes, with particular reference to the Bristol industry. Parks Canada : available from Print. and Publ., Supply and Services Canada. pp. 983–985. ISBN 978-0-660-00869-1.
- Hume, Ivor Noël. "Hunting for a Little Ladle". The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Retrieved 12 February 2016.