Local industrial archaeology

Pottery bottle oven, Longport, Stoke-on-Trent. Next to the Trent and Mersey canal. I can’t remember the name of the pottery sorry. I think there are only 32 of these old pottery ovens left in Stoke-on-Trent. A few, like at Middleport pottery and the Gladstone Pottery museum are preserved and in good condition. Others are derelict or semi derelict. A few are just the bases of them left on the ground. Some are being rescued and repurposed, but others are dreadfully neglected as this one is.

Bottle ovens/kilns and enamel kilns burn at different temperatures. They were different shapes, the enamel ones are thinner. The outside bottle shape has a doorway into it and surrounds a cylindrical kiln where the pottery is placed. The pottery itself is stacked in ‘saggars’- round or oval shaped covers that protect the ceramics as the kiln is ‘fired’. These old fashioned kilns were heated with coal. The clay and fires lead to lung diseases, which were also found in local miners. As coal firing was stopped because of the clean air act many of these potteries closed or converted to gas firing in modern kilns. Old photos from the turn of the 19th century show many bottle ovens all over the city and the pall of smoke they created.

Stoke-on-Trent has clay, water and coal in abundance which is why the pottery industry set up here as well as a few other places in the UK. There are many books about the industrial archaeology of the area are available. Other information can be found at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in the city centre (Hanley), Stoke-on-Trent.

Bottle oven / pizza oven….

A replica bottle oven is growing on the grounds of Spode at the moment. It’s going to be a pizza oven at the hotel on the Spode site.

Around the other side of Spode near the Church Street side is the base of an original bottle oven which had been demolished years ago. There are very few real ovens still standing in the city. Many were knocked down or fell into disrepair over the years. Where hundreds once stood and smoke stained the city sky less than fifty are still standing and many of these are in danger of being lost to the history of the city, county, and country.

Even now buddleia and other shrubs are growing in between their bricks, pulling the ovens down in continued dereliction. Hopefully some can be conserved.

For those who don’t know bottle ovens are bottle shaped buildings containing a central kiln which the oven surrounds. Pottery was stacked inside the kiln and fired by stoking fires under the ovens with coal.