Potteries Bottle Oven Day
A traditional Potteries bottle oven was lit and fired for the last time on 29 August 1978. The 19 employees and 72 volunteers from Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent organized the event and it made national headlines in print as well as broadcast media. It was a proud day of celebration for the Potteries, and was called “its largest cultural event of 20th century”.
The Potteries landscape was once dominated by huge brick-built bottle ovens (and kilns), which were integral to pottery factories and vital in pottery production. Around 2,000 were present in Stoke-on-Trent at their peak. Some potters fired their bottle ovens twice a week.
Each firing produced at least 10 tonnes of coal, with some large pieces burning over 30 tons each. Oven firings can last up to 72 hours, filling the air with thick, black smoke that is choking. The Clean Air Act of 1956 ended their use and sealed the fate of traditional coal-fired ovens.
In north Staffordshire, there were only 200 coal-fired bottle ovens. They were replaced by new kilns that could be fired with electricity or gas. All bottle ovens had been abandoned by 1963 and all their skills were slowly being lost.
Only 47 of the original bottles-shaped chimneys are still standing. The Hudson & Middleton Works in Normacot Road (Longton) was responsible for the final firing of the bottle oven. Today, the bottle oven is still in existence.
The Last Bottle Oven Firing was completed by filling it with 1174 saggars that contained specially made commemorative pottery. The oven was then filled with eight fire mouths, each containing a rolled newspaper, dry wood sticks and four cwt (200kg) of coal. The first fire mouth was lit at 12:37. Over the next 31 hours, 12 tons of coal were burned to increase the oven’s temperature to 1050¬∞C. This allowed the pottery to be fired inside.
The firing went off without a hitch. The pottery was perfect when it was fired. The glazed surface was shiny and bright. The pottery and saggars used for the firing were sold in order to raise funds to preserve Gladstone Pottery Museum’s bottle ovens. This museum is now a multi-award-winning tourist attraction.
Potteries Bottle Oven Day is the day that the last oven was lit – so special to the Potteries.