Survey '76

'OPERATION BOTTLE' - The Bottle Oven Survey

The survey of the remaining bottle ovens of the Potteries, 1975-1976

On 22 November 1975, and then during the winter of 1975 -1976, a team of volunteers from 'North Staffs Junior Chamber' and Gladstone Working Pottery Museum set about surveying the remaining bottle ovens in the Potteries. There were around 60 on the list. The basis of the survey was a questionnaire prepared by David Sekers, Director of Gladstone Pottery Museum at the time.

Page down for some (but not all) results of the survey.

The team's leader was Frank Galbraith, Former Chairman, Community Development Commission, North Staffs Junior Chamber.

Operation Bottle  at the Crown Works, Steventon Place, Burslem
Frank Galbraith (Team Leader)  and Robin Stokoe (age 11)
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection   Date: February 1976

During 'Operation Bottle' all of the remaining ovens in the Potteries were identified, owners contacted and permission sought to photograph and measure them in as much detail a possible. The survey was concluded in May 1976. It was a mammoth task.

Frank Galbraith acknowledged the work of the team. "Due acknowledgement
must be made to a number of people who opened the author's eyes to the delights of 'bottle-ovening' and made the survey and this publication possible. 

To David Sekers and his staff at Gladstone Pottery Museum for their help and encouragement, the President and Council of North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce who gave the opportunity for the Community Development Commission to go ahead with the project, to Malcolm Nixon for his encouragement and advice, to Joe Mountford of Hanley, a retired kiln builder who gave much information on building, Dr. Francis Celoria of Keele University for advice, Patricia Pitts for practical help in typing, lastly a special mention to the team who turned out in all weathers of the winter, and who maintained their enthusiasm throughout. 

They were :- David Bond, Helen Bakhoff, Trevor Burgess, Philip Machin, Arthur Sleight, John Smith, Chris Stokoe, Terry Woolliscroft, and Niall Rogers. Last but far from least a special mention for Robin Stokoe, aged 11, who also attended most of the sessions in all weathers and had extra duties in examining small apertures at the back of firemouths and the like."

Each of the team members were rewarded with a memento - a 6 inch high model bottle oven in unglazed red earthenware created at Gladstone Pottery Museum by two of the crafts people, Hilda Woodward and Kevin Millward.

"Operation Bottle" - The survey of the remaining bottle ovens in the Potteries
Survey by North Staffs Junior Chamber 1975 - 1976.  Leader Frank Galbraith
Model oven by Kevin Millward and Hilda Woodward at Gladstone Pottery Museum
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection

An exhibition illustrating the results of the survey was created at Gladstone Pottery Museum and shown during June and July 1976.

The Survey  

 'Operation Bottle' surveyed and recorded a total of about 60 bottle ovens on 38 sites in the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

The team of volunteers used a basic survey questionnaire.

All the ovens surveyed were divided into four main types:
  • updraught 
  • downdraft 
  • muffle 
  • calcining
More about bottle oven types, together with more explanations,  here>

Here is a list of the ovens surveyed and their locations in the Potteries.

On the above downloadable PDF page you will see grid references which indicate the exact location of the ovens surveyed. (No ovens remained in Tunstall, the northern most town of the Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent) You can see the locations on a map if you type the Grid Reference number into the appropriate box on this website here> 

Here is an example. Grid Reference SJ913432 - Gladstone Working Pottery Museum

Grid Reference SJ913432
Gladstone Working Pottery Museum, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent

Operation Bottle - part of the draft report   

A draft and incomplete report was compiled by Frank Galbraith, the leader of the survey. No 'final' report was produced.  Individual site reports are incomplete.

Download the draft, partial report pdf  here>  

Random images and facts from the Bottle Oven Survey 1976 

At the time of the survey no ovens remained in Tunstall, the northernmost town of Stoke-on-Trent City. Click here> for images of ovens prior to them all being demolished.

The survey recorded 13 bottle ovens on 8 factory sites in Burslem, Longport and Middleport. All but one of those ovens remain standing today (December 2018) 

Westwood Tiles Ltd, Steventon Place
In Burslem town centre the oven which was recorded at the works of  Westwood Tiles Ltd., Crown Works, Steventon Place, was demolished over a weekend shortly after the survey. Formally owned by Steventons Pottery. Hackneys took over from Steventons in about 1970.

Bottle oven at the Crown Works, Steventon Place, Burslem
Updraught bottle oven 
Photo: source unknown  Date: Early 1970s

Bottle oven at the Crown Works, Steventon Place, Burslem
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: Bottle Oven Survey 1976

Acme Marls Ltd, Bournes Bank, Burslem
From the survey: "There are three surviving bottle ovens kilns on the site, numbered 3, 5 and 6, out of a total quantity of six which are known to have existed. Bottle kiln no. 3 is the one which we surveyed. It is a Wilkinson downdraught kiln which has been used during that whole of its life for firing [refractory] oven furniture which is what Acme Marls Ltd manufacture."

"We were told [by Major Gautby and David Lovatt,Director]  that this particular oven had been built in 1943/44 by Messrs Cartlidge and Son for between £350 and £400 and, thanks to its conversion to oil it is still used to supplement their more modern kilns. The saggars which are used in the bottle ovens are made by Acme Marls Ltd themselves and are 16" high by 10" in size. We were also told that when coal was being used the firing cycle was about 10 days."

"[The Number 6 kiln] was built in 1948 by Cartlidge and Son at a cost of £1100. Originally fired by
coal when firing duration was 10 days and 18 tons of coal would be used. In 19xx it changed to oil firing, taking eight days since more even heat is given and using 3,000 gallons of oil. The kiln was built for Acme Marls Ltd. specifically for firing refractory kiln furniture. Temperature of 1400C usually reached. Ware usually fired on "bats"  ie. flat bases and separated by calcined alumina.

Acme Marls Ltd, No.6 oven being fired for the last time
Firing with 3000 gallons of oil to a temperature of 1400C
Photos: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: July/Aug 1976

In Hanley, Cobridge and Cliffe Vale, 13 ovens were surveyed on 8 sites. 

Robert Sherwin Ltd, Smithfield Works, Mollart Street
This bottle oven still stands today (2019) close to the highly colourful council building. It has no firing chamber and exists as hovel only.

Hanley. Former Smithfield Pottery
Photo source: Julian Read Collection  Date: April 2017
In the individual report for the oven, by Frank Galbraith, he described it as "plain topped and short-necked ... and of great grace and dignity."  The late Dr. Francis Celoria, lecturer in archaeology at Keele University, described it as "unique as Stone Henge."

Robert Sherwin Ltd  brush manufacturer at the Smithfield Works
Unity House, City Civic Offices in 1979, in the distance
Hovel only
Photo: Courtesy of  Images of the Potteries  Date: 1979  

In Stoke three sites revealed five ovens, two of which were 'potter's ovens.' Today, July 2017, only three ovens remain standing. Two, on the site of the Falcon Works in Sturgess Street, are fine examples of the 'updraught hob-mouthed' type of construction and as such are late 19th or early 20th century in origin and are the only ones left standing, of this type, in the Potteries.

Dolby's Ltd.,  Lytton Street, Stoke
This oven still stands today (2019) near to the A500 'D Road', and adjacent to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Twin chambered calcining kiln, Lytton Street, Stoke.
Former Dolby Pottery
Photo source: Julian Read Collection  Date: April 2017

From the survey 
"On the 1st of May 1976 the survey of the calcining kiln at Dolby's in Lytton Street, Stoke-on-Trent, map reference 881 453, was undertaken.

So far as we could ascertain from an inspection of the site it would seem that this was the only one which has existed. Within this one unit there were however twin calcining pits 7'0" in diameter at the top. From the evidence remaining it would seem that these were flint calcining kilns. Like many of the calcining kilns which we have surveyed this was built adjacent to the canal and it seems obvious that the flints were originally transported into the area by barge. 

The stack was oval in shape at the base and becomes circular by the time the decorative brickwork is reached. The actual building housing the pits was octagonal in design although one corner had been squared off presumably to allow for other machinery in the factory to be installed. There were as usual entrances at two levels, one for loading and one for unloading at the base. The overall height of the kiln was 46'10" of which the stack itself was 26'3". This kiln was unusual in that the steel casings to the pit sides were clearly visible and indeed they also had still got the fire bars intact. These were 51" long and there were four to each kiln. The original openings at the bottom had been at the extreme right and left hand side .edges of the opening. On the right hand kiln however this had been plated over and a new hole cut as near to the left hand side of this pit as was possible."

Falcon Pottery, Sturgess Street, Stoke
These two updraught, hob-mouthed, pottery ovens still stand today (2019)
Goss Works. Owned at the time of the survey in 1976 by James Arthur Ltd.

From the survey :

No.1 Oven 
From the survey - edited highlights: 
"On 10 April 1976 we visited the two bottle ovens in Sturgess Street, Stoke, standing on the premises of James Arthur Ltd. As this firm is not in any way connected with the pottery trade we were unable to glean very much information regarding the active days of the oven. It is however known that these were on the site of what was the Falcon Works of the now famous Goss China. We believe from saggars etc., which were found on the premises that these were biscuit ovens. They were of the updraught type and were free-standing with no gap between the hovel and kiln enclosed within a building. No.1 was the one nearest to Sturgess Street.

There was one clamming approximately 9' high and 20" wide at the bottom 3'7" wide at the widest point. Although the inside of the ovens were clean and free from rubbish the overall condition of these were poor, particularly the stack.

There were eight firemouths but no remaining firebars or doors although it would seem that the baiting hole was at the top of the fire, [hob mouthed] so quite possibly no fire doors would be employed. The rise in the crown of the kiln was 4' and the floor rose 9" to a central bung 9" diameter.

There was a central crown damper 18" diameter and three side dampers interspersed with additional holes adjusted by inserting bricks.

No.2 Oven
From the survey - edited highlights: 
"Basic  Description : A small kiln with stack built on shoulder of oven within building, of updraught type. The kiln was thought to have been used as a glost oven for china (a large number of thimbles were found in a saggar). A slender style of stack. Decoration of the stack showed a "roll" of bull-nosed bricks 10ins from the top with a slightly projecting course of plain brick immediately below, some 39 ins below this (57 ins from top) is another decorative three courses. Bricks 9" x 3" x 4" (exactly) probably plain red but badly blackened. English bonding of one header, three stretchers.

One entrance of clammins - 7ft 11ins.  There were eight firemouths of the top loading type [HOB MOUTHED] where firedoors were not fitted. The draught hole was immediately above the arch over the "baiting" mouth and the spy hole immediately above the firemouth arch. The draught hole had no sliding metal cover or control and seemed to be controlled only by placing a loose brick."

Campbell Tiles, London Road, Stoke
Three calcining kilns. Surveyed November 1976


China and Earthenware Millers Ltd, King Street, Fenton
Demolished between 1976 and 1979

From the survey - edited highlights:   "On 31 January 1976  a survey was carried out on the two calcining kilns on the King Street, Fenton, premises of China and Earthenware Millers Ltd. This is a company who are entirely involved in grinding and milling bone and stone for the ceramic industry and they are owned jointly by a consortium of pottery manufacturers. 

There were two calcining kilns on site at present although some thirty years ago there were some bone calcining kilns of the bottle type on the site. The two which were surveyed were built as
a pair and were originally identical to one another. Both were always used for flint calcining.

Both contain a fire pit with an overall depth of 13' 9" with a fire grate at the bottom with access below ground level in an adjoining building. Each had an independent stack rising 37' 6" above the level of the building top, The stack was basically square at the bottom with rounded corners tapering to the top. Only the top was circular with a diameter of 6'. The only bontings which can be seen outside is one at the very top of the stack.

These kilns were originally built in 1950 and were last used around three years ago. When preparing for firing, firewood would be stacked immediately above the fire bars followed by a layer of flint, a thin layer of coal, more flint, a thin layer of coal and so on until the top was reached. Thereafter the fire was lit at the bottom and left for the normal firing cycle of three days. The fire bars were then dropped out of place and the flint unloaded. About 30 tons of flint were dealt with at each firing."

Longton held the greatest share of bottle ovens - 21 ovens on 12 sites. One of the sites, Gladstone Pottery in Uttoxeter Road is now a museum. It boasts 4 potter's bottle ovens and one bottle kiln for enamel firing. There are two more bottle ovens in the adjacent Park Works. 

Phoenix Works, King Street, Longton
Survey carried out 24 January 1976

This is the cover page of the report. Download the full report here >

For definitions of unusual terms used in the Potteries go to The Potbank Dictionary here>