THE FESTIVAL OF BOTTLE OVENS
Celebrating 40 years since 
the last time a bottle oven was fired in The Potteries

August and September 2018, at Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton
The Last Bottle Oven Firing remembered again with an eight-week exhibition, 
special activities, pop-up events, films of the firing and a new book detailing what went on.


 Potteries Bottle Oven Day - Every August 29th
~the day the last bottle oven was kindled~

"...when admiring a piece of fine pottery, spare a grateful thought for the fireman.”
Robert Copeland, 2009
"The ovens are the most important part of the potter's plant, and it is on their successful management that the results of the business will largely depend."  Ernest Albert Sandeman, 1901 

"The actual operations of the fireman and his assistants are obviously vital factors in successful oven practice."  Stanley R. Hind, 1937

"From these huge, filthy, curious brick-built and iron-strapped structures came the most exquisite, delicate and utterly beautiful pottery in the world." Anon, 2018

The hot, throbbing heart, of The Potteries

The Potteries Bottle Oven : the huge, imposing, and towering brick-built, bottle-shaped structure, up to 70 feet high, essential on a potbank for the making of pottery.  Images of the remaining examples here>      Where are they located? here>

Painting: "Bottle Ovens at Twyfords Etruria in 1950"
artfinder.com/terrywoolliscroft#/

"Figure to yourself a tract of country, the surface of which, cut, scarred, burnt and ploughed up in every direction, displays a heterogeneous mass of hovels and palaces, farmhouses and factories, chapels and churches, canals and coal pits, corn fields and brick-fields, gardens and furnaces, jumbled together in 'the most admirable disorder' and you will have a pretty correct idea of the Staffordshire Potteries. Pervade the space your fancy has thus pictured, with suffocating smoke ,  vomited forth incessantly from innumerable fires, and the thing will be complete."  Monthly Magazine, 1st November 1823.

“In the pottery district of North Staffordshire, chimneys may, at any time, be seen vomiting forth black smoke filling the streets and roads to such an extent as sometimes to impede vision beyond a distance of a few yards." The report for 1878 by the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board

In 1939 there were about 2000 bottle ovens, or strictly speaking, bottle-shaped structures of various types used for firing pottery ware or its components. They dominated the landscape of The Potteries of Stoke-on-Trent. Most were fired once a week. At a push, some were fired twice a week. Each firing required at least 10 tons of coal. Each 'baiting' filled the atmosphere with thick, belching black smoke.

"It's a fine day if you can see the other side of the road"

Today (2018) there are less than 50.  Only one remains in working order - the oven at Hudson and Middleton's factory in Normacot Road, Longton, site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing in August 1978. None will ever be fired again. The Clean Air Act of 1956, and their delicate condition have put paid to that.

In total only 29 'potters' ovens remain standing. These were the ones specifically used for the firing of biscuit or glost pottery, they were not used for calcining. 18 of those are all within 5 minutes walking distance of Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent

At the multi-award-winning Gladstone Pottery Museum itself, there are 5 bottle ovens. There are also two next door, at the Roslyn Works. This is the most important and precious group of buildings in The Potteries. 

Throughout this website the term 'bottle oven' refers to a bottle shaped structure, of various types and functions, used for firing pottery ware or its components. Bottle ovens can be classified into four main types. Within these four types are additional variations giving a total of twelve different types of oven. All are listed here>

This website has been archived for preservation by the British Library

The last commercial bottle oven firing 1976

This was the penultimate commercial bottle oven firing in The Potteries.  It was at the factory of Acme Marls, Bournes Bank, Burslem and it took place in the summer of 1976. This small selection of photos was taken at the event. more here>

One further firing took place at the factory before production was transferred to a new site.

Acme Marls, Burslem July/August 1976
Final temperature of close-on 1400C has been reached
Thermocouple and block removed from the top of the clammins and the crown damper cracked open
photos: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  more here