How many ovens?

Exactly how many bottle ovens were there in The Potteries?  And how many are there now?

Many differing statistics have been suggested.


Some say that there were once 4,000 bottle ovens belching smoke into The Potteries atmosphere, but this seems a grossly exaggerated figure. There were simply not that many actual bottle ovens.  But there were lots of other factory chimneys - those which serviced boiler houses, steam engines, slip kilns, and more. There were also those chimneys associated with collieries, the Shelton Bar steel plant, and Michelin,  These conventional chimneys added to the grand total which spewed their filth into the atmosphere of The Potteries.

It is safe to say, that in their heyday, just over 2,000 operable bottle ovens dominated the landscape of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent. Maybe up to 2,300. So how can we be so sure?  This report from the BPMF, British Pottery Manufacturers Federation, in 1964 shows the details:





Here are the facts - 'operable bottle ovens'

  • 1939: 2000+ operable ovens
  • 1958: 222 
  • 1960: 157 
  • 1961: 95 
  • 1962: 70 
  • 1963: 30 
  • 1964: 20
  • 1978: 1 -  that of The Last Bottle Oven Firing more here
  • 1979: 0

1843

The Spode Factory in Stoke supported 37 bottle ovens: 7 biscuit, 14 glost, 16 enamel.
Source: The Penny Magazine Of The Society For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge. May 1843


1959

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.

"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at least half-a-million tons of raw coal a year less than it was before the war, and over 1,500 bottle-ovens have been replaced by smokeless ovens and kilns."

It is interesting to see that the inspectorate gives a figure of 572 coal fired ovens in use in 1956/8 whereas the industry's own trade association (British Pottery Manufacturers Federation - BPMF) gave a much lower figure of 222. Perhaps the the Association wanted to show a more optimistic figure to demonstrate, perhaps, that they were proactive in ridding the district of the smoke belching-bottle oven for good.


1975

60 ovens were recorded by The North Staffs Junior Chamber in 'Operation Bottle'
All but one (at the Hudson and Middleton Factory in Normacot, Longton) were inoperable.


1978 

The last time a bottle oven was fired in The Potteries 

The Last time a bottle oven was fired in The Potteries  -  1978
The last time a bottle oven was fired in The Potteries was in August 1978
The event was organised by Gladstone Pottery Museum
The oven was at the factory of Hudson and Middleton (Sutherland Works), Normacot Road.

2016

46 bottle ovens remain standing on 25 sites in The Potteries, and all are now inoperable. All are Listed Buildings. (Note: In October 2016 there are Stoke-on-Trent 469 listed buildings in Stoke on Trent.)

Some publications say that 47 remain but the hovel ( and chimney) surrounding the oven in Town Road, Hanley (formerly of J H Weatherby and Sons Ltd) collapsed in February 2012 and is therefore not counted here.

15% of the remaining ovens are preserved at the group to be found at Gladstone Pottery Museum (more here>) and the adjacent Roslyn Works in Uttoxeter Road, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent.



2016

August: Restoration and renovation continues at Gladstone Pottery Museum to preserve the most important group of bottle ovens remaining in The Potteries.


Gladstone's Bottle Oven No 1 is steadily being encased in a large amount of scaffolding as part of an essential maintenance project. The work is necessary to ensure the safety of museum visitors, and the long-term preservation of the bottle ovens. Failed mortar and spalled bricks will be replaced. More here>  Words and pictures by Nerys Williams, member of the Gladstone Museum Staff.


LOCATION OF THE REMAINING OVENS BY TOWN

Don't get confused!
There are two Falcon Works in The Potteries.  Falcon Works, Stoke - these are the works of W.H. Goss, off London Road/Sturgess Street. And Falcon Works, Hanley - the works of  J.H. Weatherby, in Town Road.

Tunstall - 0
No bottle ovens remain in this, the most northerly, of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent.

Burslem - 12
3  Downdraught @  Bournes Bank. Formerly Acme Marls Ltd.
2  Calcining @ Furlong Lane. Furlong Mills Ltd.
1  Muffle @ 72A Moorland Road. Moorland Pottery.
1  Updraught @ Sandbach Road, Cobridge. Moorcroft Ltd.
1  Updraught @ Newcastle St, Longport. By the canal. Price & Kensington Factory.
1  Calcining @ Millvale Street, Middleport.
2  Calcining @ Newport Road, Middleport.
1  Updraught @ Port Street, Middleport. Burgess & Leigh Ltd. Open to the public


Hanley - 7
2  Calcining @ Eastwood Road. Formerly Johnson Brothers Trent Pottery.
1  Hovel only @ Hope Street. Dudsons Ltd. Home to a museum. Open to the public.
1  Updraught @ Lichfield Street. Formerly Bullers Works, Imperial Court.
1  Updraught @ Warner Street. Formerly Smithfield Pottery.
2  Calcining @ Shelton New Road, Shelton. Formerly Twyfords Factory.

NOTE: The Downdraught oven at  J H Weatherby Falcon Pottery, Town Road: Hovel collapsed in February 2012

Stoke - 3
1  Calcining @ Lytton Street. Formerly Dolby Pottery.
2  Updraught hob-mouthed @ Sturgess Street. Falcon Works. Formerly Goss.

Fenton - 4
1  Updraught @ Hines Street, Heron Cross. Heron Cross Pottery.
3  Calcining @ Fountain Street. James Kent (Ceramic Materials) Ltd.

Longton - 20
4  Updraught @ Chelson Street Normacot Road. Enson Works. CoRE. Open to the public.
2  Updraught @ Commerce Street.
2  Updraught @ King Street. Albion Works, King Street.
1  Updraught @ Corner of Warren St and Normacot Road, Normacot.
2  Updraught @ Normacot Road. Rear of Sutherland Works
1  Updraught @ Normacot Road. Hudson and Middleton, Sutherland Works. This was the last bottle oven to be fired in The Potteries, in August 1978. Organised by Gladstone Pottery Museum
1 Calcining  @ 120, Uttoxeter Road. Near Short Street.
4  Updraught @ Uttoxeter Road. Gladstone Pottery Museum. Open to the public.
1  Muffle enamel kiln @ Uttoxeter Road. Gladstone Pottery Museum. Open to the public.
2  Updraught @ Uttoxeter Road. Roslyn Works, adjacent to Gladstone Pottery Museum.


TYPE TOTALS
25  Updraught
  3  Downdraught
14  Calcining
  2  Muffle enamel
  1  Hovel only ( now a company museum )
  1  Oven only ( hovel collapsed )




EXTRACT FROM “Remembering the heyday of the pottery industry” by the late John Abberley
Courtesy of  "The Way We Were" published by The Sentinel, 5 April 2008

"At the peak there were more than 2,000 bottle ovens in the district, all in use at different times in a week. The pollution was appalling. The thick smoke sometimes made it impossible to see the other side of the street in Burslem or Longton.

It inspired the improbable story that a German bomber pilot saw the pall of smoke over the Potteries and flew on, thinking the place had been bombed already.

This piece of self-mockery typical of Potteries humour, might well have been dreamed up. All the same, you can see why the national image of Smoky Stoke lingered so long. It all came to an end in the late 1950s when the Smoke Abatement Act forced firms to turn from bottle ovens to tunnel kilns fired by gas or electricity. This put a lot of small companies out of business.

But there was no denying this was a further step along the way to eradicating those aspects of the industry most harmful to health, something which long before had been the concern of medical men like Dr John Arlidge. Dr Arlidge was a pioneering figure in tackling ill-health among pottery workers exposed to dangerous materials and the ever-present dust, which caused thousands of deaths.

Yet soon after the disappearance of the bottle ovens, the pottery industry began to change in other ways. So our pottery industry today is a mere shadow of what it used to be. Sons and daughters no longer follow their parents into the potbanks which are left."



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