Artefact biographies are a valuable means of conceptualising the relationships between people, places and objects in the past. It is rare, however, that the detailed contextual information required by such approaches can be extracted from the archaeological assemblages typically found in the often dense and confusing palimpsests of complex urban sites. Eighteenth- to twentieth-century ceramic wares associated with Oxbridge colleges provide one way of exploring this issue. Detailed historical records of property owners and tenants can be combined with ceramics linked to individual colleges by corporate markings such as coats of arms or badges. This enables fine-grained reconstructions which show, in many cases, that ordinary vessels had far from ordinary histories of use and discard.