A bottle oven or kiln is a brick-built, bottle-shaped structure in which pottery, or its component materials, were fired. 

The simplest type of bottle oven consists of two main parts:
1) The Hovel The outer part is known as the hovel. All hovels had one distinctive and common feature, a bottle shape. This shape, with its wide base and narrow neck, evolved to accommodate the firing chamber together with room for oven men, materials and equipment. The tapering chimney was better for creating draught which aided the firing process and helped to take away smoke. It also improved protection from bad weather. In order to take away the thick black smoke which was created during firing, Local Byelaws, passed in 1877, stated that hovels should be not less than 60 feet high. Some could be up to 70 feet (21m) high. 

Bottle oven hovel
at Gladstone Pottery Museum Longton, Stoke-on-Trent
Photo: unknown source   Date: 2019

2) The Firing Chamber This is the inner part of the bottle oven. It is a cylindrical structure with a domed roof, which is called the crown. Its walls are about 12" (30cm) thick. Iron bands, known as bonts (or sometimes bontings), run right round the circular oven about 12" (30cm) apart to strengthen it as it expands and contracts during firing. A doorway, the wicket, just tall enough and wide enough for a man with a saggar on his head to pass through, is built into the oven. The wicket is surrounded by a stout cast iron frame. 

Bonts surround the oven to give it strength
These titghening bolts ensure a good fit
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: 2018

Around the base of the firing chamber are firemouths (the exact number depends on the size of the oven) in which fires were lit for the firing. Inside the oven there is a small chimney, called a bag, over each firemouth. The bags carried hot gases and intense heat from the fire into the oven's interior. Flues underneath the upwardly sloping floor of the oven, leading from each firemouth, distributed the heat throughout the inside. In the centre of the oven floor is the well hole. Each bottle oven had its own 'character' and a firemen had to learn how best to work with them, to control and cajole the way they performed and fired.

No two bottle ovens or bottle kilns were alike. They were all built differently, many without any architects' drawings or plans. Many were built 'by eye' and based only on the experience of the oven builder and the requirements of the factory owner. 'They just went up'. The decorative brickwork at the top of the hovel varied on the whim of the builder and owner.


Images of the construction of updraught bottle ovens at Twyfords sanitary earthenware factory in Etruria, near Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

Bottle oven construction at Twyfords Etruria February 1921
Bottle oven construction at Twyfords Etruria
Date: February 1921

Bottle oven construction at Twyfords Etruria 1920s
Bottle oven construction at Twyfords Etruria
Date: 1920s

Bottle oven construction at Twyfords Etruria
Date: 1920s

"Twyfords Ltd. Hanley. New Earthenware Pottery View of Ovens"
Date: 1920s

CONSTRUCTION OF A MUFFLE KILN at Twyfords Fireclay factory, Cliffe Vale, Stoke-on-Trent

Fireclay products for use in bathrooms are, by their very nature, very large and very heavy. A fireclay bath for instance needed to be hauled around the factory by a team of men with trolleys, ropes and pulleys.

These huge pottery products could not, therefore, be fired in a conventional bottle oven using saggars to protect them from the flames and products of combustion of the coal. No saggar was big enough!

Fireclay pottery needed to fired in a muffle kiln.  Here the product was stacked in a chamber which was kept sealed and away from the flames and smoke of the burning coal.

These photos show the construction of a huge new muffle kiln, for firing fireclay sinks, baths and urinals at the Twyfords factory, Shelton New Road, Cliffe Vale, Stoke-on-Trent. Now demolished.

Construction of fireclay muffle kiln
Twyfords Date: 1920s

Construction of fireclay muffle kiln
Twyfords Fireclay factory, Cliffe Vale, Stoke-on-Trent
Date: 1920s


Possibly an 'updraught skeleton bottle oven'  more here>
This oven was surveyed in the Bottle Oven Survey  more here
Demolished, late 1970s.

Crown Works, Steventon Place, Burslem.
Building cross sections of the bottle oven
Courtesy of Staffordshire Past Track here>  date: 1982


The following comes from the (hand-written) Borough of Hanley Committees’ minutes, stored in the Staffordshire Archives, Hanley Library, Bethesda Street, Stoke-on-Trent.

Works Committee Minutes – 14 February 1877
Height of Chimneys - Resolved

That the following Regulations in force under the late Bye-Laws be re-enacted pursuant to Miscellaneous Bye Law No 3, viz:
  • That the Chimneys of all Mills, Engines, Slip Kilns, and Manufactory Ovens Hovels be not less than 60 feet high.
  • That all Hardening and Enamel Kilns, Fret Kilns, and Colour Kilns, be in Hovels, or have Chimneys not less than 40.5 feet high.
  • That all public Bread Ovens, and Brick Ovens, or Kilns, or Brick Sheds, must have Chimneys not less than 40 feet high.
  • That no Brick Clamps be erected or fixed
That Smiths Chimneys and other Chimneys emitting larger volumes of smoke be not less than 40 feet high.

Extract taken by Paul Niblett, January 2014


The curious caps on the top of the bottle oven stacks shown in this photograph were 'baffles' constructed on the top of ovens during WWII.  The caps were on stilts above the opening of the stack so as to allow the free passage of combustion gases from the oven. The baffle or cap masked the glow from the burning coal below and prevented ovens (being fired) from being seen by visiting enemy bombers.

Bottle Ovens - construction.
Caps built over the top of bottle oven stacks to hide glow in firing
Source: 'Potbanks' YouTube here>  Possibly Midddleport Factory Date: early 1950s


Bottle oven flues Falcon Pottery, Sturgess Street, Stoke Photo: Terry Woolliscroft   Date: May 1976 taken as part of Bottle Oven Surve
Bottle oven flues
Falcon Pottery, Sturgess Street, Stoke
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection
Date: May 1976 taken as part of Bottle Oven Survey here>

Bottle oven construction flue plan
From "Notes on the Manufacture of Earthenware" by
E A Sandeman, 1901


The decorative ornamentation to the tops to all bottle oven chimney stacks was influenced by practicality, the builders preference and location.

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation Photo: Terry Woolliscroft   Date: 1975
Bottle oven chimney ornamentation
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft  Collection  Date: 1975

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation Photo: Terry Woolliscroft   Date: 1975
Bottle oven chimney ornamentation
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection   Date: 1975

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation
Photo: Source unknown

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation 
Burslem, Moorland Pottery muffle kiln 
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: July 2019

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation
Photo taken from Normacot Road, towards Chelson Street (was formerly Bagnall Street) 
New Chelsea Porcelain Co. In deference to St James Church, next door,
to the left, out of view, in Uttoxeter Road, Longton.
 The cross was created in glazed bricks on the chimney stack,
on the whim of the kiln builder.
Photo:  Terry Woolliscroft Collection   Date: 1970

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation
Twyfords Glost Ovens, Cliffe Vale , Stoke-on-Trent
Photo: Virtue, London   Date: 1900

Bottle oven chimney ornamentation 
Bottle Ovens at Garfield Works, Uttoxeter Road, Longton
The 1927 and 1939 ovens decorated in white glazed bricks
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection   Date: Late 1970s

NOTES on the MANUFACTURE OF EARTHENWARE by Ernest Albert Sandeman 1921

Extracts from Chapter 13

"Down Draught Ovens have come largely into use for biscuit, as it is considered that they are more economical in fuel, and that they can be worked to produce a more regular heat all over the oven; they are also generally used in firing firebricks. 

They are constructed in several ways, some with a chamber underneath the oven into which the down-draught flues run, and from this chamber a main flue is connected with a stack or shaft standing apart from the oven, the stack being used in common by several ovens. The flue to this stack is furnished with a door that can be opened or closed at will. The oven has also a stack like an up-draught oven, but with a damper on the crown hole that can be opened or shut by a lever.

The oven is started in the same way as an up-draught oven, but when it has sufficient heat in it the damper on the crown hole is closed and the door in the flue to the outside stack is opened, and by this means the heat is drawn down into the bottom of the oven by the flues, any surplus heat passing through the chamber to the outside stack.

The name for this class of oven should be 'up and down-draught', as the course of the draught is changed during the firing from up to down and down to up, according to the heat prevailing in the top or bottom of the oven. It must be admitted that the down-draught oven is scientifically the more correct, as the gases and air have further to travel as they pass among the bungs up to the dome and are there deflected down among the bungs again to the flues in the bottom, and the combustion is more complete.

Prima facie, this, coupled with a diminished consumption of fuel, would indicate that this class of oven is the best, but it has to be taken into consideration that the first cost of downdraught ovens is heavier, both owing to the arrangement of the flues and to the extra stack outside, and that they require far more repairs, and that these repairs are more costly to carry out than in up-draught ovens. In fact it is often difficult to locate a stoppage in a flue without pulling down a lot of brickwork; added to this, they require more attention in firing. Messrs. Minton's and Roby's patents are reckoned some of the best in this class of oven.

These ovens may also be built with a big flue instead of a dome underneath, and also, to avoid the expense of an outside stack, a wide flue may be carried up the up-draught stack outside and joined into it above the damper; but the draught obtained by this means is not sufficient, and if several ovens are to be built on the down-draught system it would probably be cheaper to build an outside stack in connection with them all, and the working results would undoubtedly be better."  

More about oven types here>


RIDDING This was an essential process in the life of a bottle oven. It entailed the thorough repair and relaying of the flues, oven bottoms, and bags. This was a major operation which put the oven out of use for some considerable time. It needed to be done every three years or so - depending on the work that the oven had been put to. In 1920 ridding would cost around £30.
REBUILD A complete rebuild of a bottle oven, excluding the hovel, was required, on average, every 20 years.


F Brammer
30 Lorne Street, Burslem
Oven and Kiln Builder
F Brammer, Burslem

Wengers Ltd.
Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent


H. Howlett and Sons
Bryanswood and Boundary Street, Hanley.
"Specialists as oven and kiln builders."

Kiln Builders

Alfred Moore

Leonard Salmons
Thomas Willet & Co
Not a builder but a supplier to the trade. Iron Foundry.
Known to manufacture bottle oven iron work: wicket surrounds, firemouth and door furniture, bonts.


Download pdf here>


How a South Wales bricklayer did it at Winchcombe Pottery, 1930s
Description courtesy of “A Pioneer Potter” by Michael Cardew 

“All he needed was a supply of plain firebricks, a good fireclay mortar, and a boy to hand him the bricks. His first step was to dismantle the old dome. I expected it to collapse suddenly, more or less at a touch, but was surprised to see that he had to take it down brick by brick. Next he built himself a platform on which to stand. Then he complained that the new firebricks I had provided were wet, so we hastily found dry ones for him. Standing now on his platform he took time to prepare a good surface - a smooth circle, sloping at 45 degrees - from which to ‘spring’ the dome.

He then proceeded to lay the first two bricks lying side by side on this 45 degree slope. To my surprise, they stayed there, and did not slide or fall. He went on, laying brick after brick until the first circular course was complete, Cutting the last brick to fit tight into its space and ramming it home like the keystone of an arch. The whole circular course of bricks was now firmly locked in position and he immediately went on to the second, the third and all the other courses, which he laid in exactly the same way.

He had built so many domes that his eye was trained and he was able to dispense altogether with the trammel or guide stick. He provided for the holes at regular intervals by laying one brick ‘dry’ without mortar standing up a few centimetres above the others; when the dome was complete he went inside with a hammer and knocked out the dry-set bricks to leave holes. As the work progressed towards the centre the angle of the bricks became more nearly vertical, but since the circles were now smaller they locked each other more securely.

For the last few circles he left his platform and worked from the top, standing on his own uncompleted dome; for the last circle of all he had to cut most of the bricks to a tapering wedge shape, leaving at last a central hole about 9 inches across.”



Two basic types of brick were used during the construction of a bottle oven.

Ordinary building bricks called 'common bricks' were used wherever little or no heat was present. So, for instance, commons were used during the building of the hovel or the stack of the oven. They were also been used for the outer wall of the firing chamber itself, away from the fierce heat of the fires. Common bricks provided sufficient strength in these areas. They were also very cheap to buy compared with heat resisting fireclay bricks. Common bricks were commonly available and local brickworks would have supplied these.

The more expensive, specialist, 'fireclay refractory bricks' were used wherever the oven was subject to intense heat. So the firemouths, glut arches and flues would be built with fireclay bricks. So too were the bags and the wall immediately above and surrounding the bags. Specialist brickworks having access to fireclay (found together with coal seams) were able to produce the specialist hard-wearing and heat resistant bricks.


Berry Hill Brickworks
Berry Hill, Stoke-on-Trent

Berry Hill Bricks
Advertisement 1957

Cobridge Brick and Marl Co. Ltd.

Apedale Heritage Centre, Newcastle-u-Lyme,
bricks collection
Date: Jan 2020

Fenton Collieries
Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent

Fenton Collieries Brick
Photo: unknown source  Date: unknown

Sneyd Brickworks
Nile Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent

Advertisement Sneyd Brickworks Ltd
Nile St., Burslem


D. Duddell Ltd.
Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent
In the Potteries a favourite supplier of fireclay bricks was the firm of  D. Duddell Ltd. Fenton.

Sneyd Colliery Co. Ltd.
The Sneyd Colliery and Brickworks Company, Ltd.,
Nile Street, Burslem

Fireclay brick used in the construction of the enamel kiln
at Gladstone Pottery Museum Stoke-on-Trent.
Used on the doors to the kiln.
Makers mark impressed in the clay:

Harris and Pearson
South Staffordshire 

E J and J Pearson
Fire Brick Works, Stourbridge, Worcs.
Founded 1860
Manufacturer of firebricks and fireclay goods at the Delph Works, Brierley Hill, which was their main centre of operation. They also owned the Crown Works, Amblecote; and Tintam Abbey Mines and Works at Brierley Hill. The combined output of these three sites in 1903 was around three-quarters of a million firebricks per week. The company also produced speciality bricks and tiles used in the construction of pottery kilns, glass house pots, gas retorts, crucibles, linings of blast furnaces etc.(Courtesy: Graces Guide

Fireclay brick used in the construction of the enamel kiln
 at Gladstone Pottery museum, Stoke-on-Trent.
Used in the wall of the kiln.
Maker's mark impressed in the clay:
E J and J Pearson Ltd, Stourbridge
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: July 2019

Berry Hill Brickworks Ltd
Berry Hill, Stoke-on-Trent

Berry Hill Brickworks
Advertisement 1960s

Hall Brothers 
(J. T. Hall Refractories)

Bonnybridge Silica and Fire Clay Co.,
Bonnybridge, (just north of Glasgow), Scotland

John Stein
Castlecary Fireclay Works, Castlecary, Scotland

Fireclay brick used in the construction of the enamel kiln
at Moorland Pottery, Burslem.
Used in the walls of the kiln.
Maker's mark THISTLE impressed in the clay. 
John Stein, Castlecary Fireclay Works, Castlecary
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: July 2019
Information courtesy: Mark Cranston


To enable the complex shaping of both the hovel and the firing chamber a number of specially shaped bricks were used.

Tapered bricks used in bottle oven construction
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton

Tapered and curved bricks used in bottle oven construction
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton

Bull nosed bricks used in bottle oven construction
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton

Special refractory bricks, branded 'Thistle'
Manufactured by the John Stein Company,
Castlecary Fireclay Works, Scotland.
Found in Burslem at the Moorland Pottery muffle kiln 
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: July 2019
Information courtesy: Mark Cranston

Some brick shapes


According to Mr. Mort Brandon (via Phil Jenkins) on Facebook, the figure for the number of brickworks in the Potteries in 1875-76  was 122.

The list below is courtesy and shows 43.
  1. Acres Wood
  2. Adams, Tunstall
  3. Apedale
  4. Audley Brick & Pipe Co
  5. N Barlow
  6. Basford & Trent Vale Tileries
  7. Basin Brick & Tile Co
  8. Berry Hill Brickworks
  9. Berry Hill Collieries
  10. Bradwell Wood Tileries
  11. Brownhills Tileries
  12. Cannon Street Brickworks
  13. Cobridge Brick and Marl Co Ltd
  14. Cobridge Brick & Sanitary Pipe Co Ltd
  15. Cobridge Collieries
  16. Dalehall Brick & Tile Co
  17. Eastwood Brickworks
  18. Fenton Collieries
  19. Fenton Tileries
  20. W Ford
  21. Robert Heath & Sons Ltd
  22. J Hewitt & Son
  23. Highfield Tileries
  24. Lane End Works Ltd
  25. William Lea
  26. Lodge Tileries, Trent Vale
  27. Metallic Tileries
  28. Midland & Port Vale Tileries
  29. Mow Cop Brick Co Ltd
  30. J Noden & Co
  31. North Staffordshire Brick & Tile Co Ltd
  32. William Palmers
  33. Plant & Hammersley
  34. Rufus Brick & Tile Ltd
  35. Sneyd Colliery Co Ltd
  36. Stafford Coal & Iron Co
  37. Tunstall Tileries
  38. Walker
  39. Watkin
  40. Wheatly Brick & Tile Co
  41. Wigley & Shirley
  42. Wilkinson Brothers
  43. C Wooldridge


BATTER The description of the slope given to the shape of the brickwork of the hovel of a bottle oven. Batters can be stepped or flat. Church batter is curved and real bottle shaped. Straight batter is truly conical.

BATTER RULE Equipment. Used by a bottle oven builder as a measuring device. Used to give the required slope on the hovel. Sort of a protractor. (Source: Mountford, kiln builder)

For definitions of unusual Potteries words go to The Potbank Dictionary here>