Clean air

1878  “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.


An Act to make provision for abating the pollution of the air. 5th July, 1956. "Prohibition of dark smoke from chimneys: Subject to the provisions of this Act, dark smoke shall not be emitted from a chimney of any building, and if, on any day, dark smoke is so emitted, the occupier of the building shall be guilty of an offence." Manufacturers had seven years to make provisions to fully comply with the act, so July 1962 was the deadline.  more here>

Bottle oven demolition, unknown source and unknown date
Bottle oven demolition
Photo: unknown source  Date: unknown


Extract from 'Industrial Health - a survey of the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent (Ministry of Labour and National Service) Report by H.M. Inspectorate 1959

"Many people who have not visited the Potteries link the area with the Black Country; this, however, is separated from the Potteries by many miles of open country and the extensive Cannock Chase. They think of the Potteries as an area of bottle-ovens and factory chimneys belching out black smoke day and night and the whole area constantly bathed in gloom and fog.

Today the atmospheric pollution as judged by ordinary observation is probably no worse and no better than that of any other industrial area of a similar size. The amount of smoke arising from pottery firing has been progressively reduced by the continuing replacement of the coal-firing bottle-oven by electric or gas-fired intermittent and tunnel ovens.

During the period of the survey (1956-58) there were 572 coal-fired ovens or kilns still in use, but the industry estimates that at the present time it is burning at least half-a-million tons of raw coal a year less than it was before the war, and over 1,500 bottle-ovens have been replaced by smokeless ovens and kilns."


Part of a paper read by GE Earnshaw MRSH FAPHI, Senior Smoke Inspector, City of Stoke-on-Trent, to the West Midlands Division of the National Society for Clean Air at Stoke-on-Trent on April 22, 1964

"Most of the pottery manufactured in this country takes place in Stoke-on-Trent, and for at least 200 years it has been the staple industry of the district. Unlike many manufactured products, each stage in the preparation of raw materials, and in the manufacture of the article, needs heat treatment. The only fuel that was available and was capable of producing this heat was coal. The next largest industry in this district was coal mining, and whether or not the pottery industry settled here because coal with a high volatile content was available, it did provide ample and cheap supplies of coal.

The outlets or chimneys of the hovels surrounding the pottery ovens and kilns were no more than 25 to 60 feet high so the smoke, particularly during adverse weather conditions, filled the house yards and streets like a fog.

What the housewives thought of this on washing day, I don’t know.

Some 40 or more years ago (ie in the 1920s), it was probably true to say that the Potteries had no rival in Britain, or possibly the world, as far as its smoke was concerned.

This could be expected when one considers that at that time, grouped mostly in the confines of the six Potteries’ towns, there were at least 1,286 ovens, 829 kilns, 437 boiler chimneys and more than 1,987 chimneys serving other processes and heating appliances in connection with the 350 pottery factories.

In addition there were 14 brickworks, 12 tileries and 15 collieries each with chimneys in connection with boilers and ovens on the respective works.

Firing a bottle oven - a profession in itself

The firing of an oven was almost a profession in itself as there was so much at stake in the oven. Long experience was necessary as a few minutes carelessness could often mean ruin to the oven’s contents. The final temperature to be attained must be as even as possible throughout. The long flames produced by the high volatile coal are employed to carry the heat to the middle of the oven. Temperature rise must be controlled, as a satisfactory finished article depends on the time it is subjected to heat at varying degrees of temperature. When it is realised, in the case of the bigger ovens, that a ton of coal could be fed to an oven within the space of minutes, it can be appreciated how difficult it is to attain smokeless combustion.

Limits of black smoke emissions were fixed by the local authority both for boilers and ovens, although they had not the force of law, and records show that there were many prosecutions regarding smoke emissions from boiler chimneys. For ovens and kilns the limit was 10 minutes black smoke per baiting (a charge of coal). It was realised that it was impossible to avoid such emissions at certain stages of firing, but the excesses, due to carelessness and lack of maintenance of ovens, were dealt with by the Inspector."

Councillor Eric Gibbon was not at Mr Earnshaw’s presentation but offered some positive support on the content including the following:

“The coal required to burn in the old-fashioned intermittent kilns the amount of ware that is being fired in the new units (gas, oil and/or electric tunnel kilns), would be about 727,000 tons per year.

Against this the amount of coal used in the (town) gasworks and power stations to produce the refined fuels used on the new kilns is 473,000 tons per year, a direct saving of over a quarter of a million tons, as against an annual consumption of about 22,500 tons of oil."

Spode Saga - the in-house magazine welcomes the lighting of a new tunnel oven
Date: June 1951


The demolition of this factory, just across the road from Gladstone Pottery Museum, caused quite a stir in July 1975. ATV television news recorded the event on film. The film was called 'A Present from the Past' and was broadcast on December 8th 1975. It was made by Donald Shingler, who was born in The Potteries and a distant relative of Arnold Bennett. The film gave  one of the first details accounts of the industrial heritage of the potteries and the efforts being made to conserve and interpret that heritage. The unique sequence from the film of the Bluebell Bottle Oven being demolished was made available to Gladstone Pottery Museum in the from of a series of prints.

Pam Bott (now a Woolliscroft) was working at the museum and took photographs to record the event and here are a few of them.
Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton Demolition July 1975 photo: Pam Bott, now a Woolliscroft 01
Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton
Demolition July 1975
Photos: Pam Woolliscroft nee Bott

Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton Demolition July 1975 photo: Pam Bott, now a Woolliscroft 02
Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton
Demolition July 1975
Photos: Pam Woolliscroft nee Bott

Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton Demolition July 1975 photo: Pam Bott, now a Woolliscroft 03
Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton
Demolition July 1975 Showing the ATV Television crew filming the event
Photos: Pam Woolliscroft nee Bott

Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton - Demolition July 1975 photo: ATV Television
Bluebell Works, Barker Street, Longton - Demolition July 1975
Photo: ATV Television
Now on line at Staffordshire Past Track here>


Bottle oven demolition
Photo: source unknown.  Location: Unknown  Date: late 1960s

Bottle oven demolition
Photo: source unknown.  Location: Unknown, but probably Longton  Date: early 1970s

Bottle oven demolition
 Globe Pottery, Waterloo Road, Cobridge where a Mercedes Garage now stands
Photo: Source unknown Date: 1950s?

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