The indisputable icon of Stoke-on-Trent


Huge brick-built bottle ovens and kilns, integral to a pottery factory and essential in pottery manufacture, were once the dominant feature of The Potteries landscape.

At their peak, around 2,000 existed in the City of Stoke-on-Trent. Most of the potters' bottle ovens were fired once a week, some twice. At each firing at least 10 tons of coal was burnt in each oven. Some very large ovens, with up to 14 firemouths, used over 30 tons per firing which could last over 72 hours. Thick, black, choking smoke filled the air. However the Clean Air Act of 1956 put a stop to their use and sealed the fate of the traditional coal-fired oven. Pottery manufacturers were allowed seven years to find alternative fuels.

By 1960 there were less than 200 operable coal-fired bottle ovens. New kilns, fired with gas or electricity, had replaced them. By 1963 all bottle ovens were redundant and the skills of the people who used them were gradually being lost.

In 2019 fewer than 50 remain standing, of which only 29 are potters' ovens, used for biscuit or glost firings. Eighteen of these examples are within a short walk of Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, the southernmost of the six towns which make up the City of Stoke-on-Trent.


Read all about Bottle Ovens and the Story of The Final Firing
£12.99 available from Gladstone Pottery Museum shop
and by Mail Order - phone +44 (0) 1782 237777
ISBN 978 0 9505411 3 6
http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/gpm/

Produced with the generous support of the 
Friends of The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

Planned, researched, written, designed, printed, 
published and distributed entirely in Stoke-on-Trent

"...wonderful book! ...superbly detailed and presented - 
the copious illustrations and photographs are terrific."  
Ray Johnson MBE

"Love this book's mixture of information, narrative, memories, 
snapshots, technical diagrams and the glossary of Stoke words."  
Val Bott MBE

"…incredibly interesting, informative and very well illustrated. 
I can recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history behind the pottery industry." 
Brian Milner

"It's a delightful read and such an unusual and creative way 
of telling the story - the reader is drawn into it!" 
Professor Jennifer Tann, 
Director of 'Potbank' the official film of The Last Bottle Oven Firing



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.

 “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 on extent as sometimes to impede vision beyond a distance of a few yards."
Extract from The Report for 1878 of the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board.
"It's a fine day if you can see the other side of the road"

Today (2019) there are fewer than 50 bottle-shaped structures.  The oven at Hudson and Middleton's factory in Normacot Road, Longton, was the last one to be fired, 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 30 potters' ovens remain standing. These were the ones specifically used for the firing of biscuit or glost pottery. 18 of those are within a 5 minutes walk 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 mosy 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>

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