Last Oven Fired 1978

THE LAST BOTTLE OVEN FIRING - 1978

The first time in 20 years. The last time in history





26 August – 3 September 1978

'A once and for all opportunity to witness an important reminder of our local heritage.' 

David Sekers,  March 1977

For three centuries, Staffordshire pottery has been coal fired in hundreds of bottle ovens. Since the Second World War, they have been replaced by cleaner, gas, oil or electric kilns. The Gladstone Pottery Museum now preserves the sole surviving group of four majestic ovens together with one small enamel kiln. They will never be fired again. The Clean Air Acts, and their delicate condition prevent it.

But in August 1978, with around 12 tons of local coal, a group of increasingly elderly men who still possessed the stamina and the skills required, together with a massive team of (younger) volunteers and staff from Gladstone Pottery Museum, organised The Last Bottle Oven Firing.

Last Bottle Oven Firing – August 1978  Organised by Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton  Hudson and Middleton - Updraught stack oven Normacot Road, Longton  Photo: Unknown source
Last Bottle Oven Firing – August 1978
Organised by Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton
Hudson and Middleton - Updraught stack oven Normacot Road, Longton
Photo: Unknown source


This was the last firing, ever, of a traditional coal fired oven, in the traditional and time-honoured way, at the nearby Hudson and Middleton Works. The whole process took 8 days - actually much longer than for a commercial oven firing - and was recorded on film for posterity.

The mastermind behind the project was David Sekers, Museum Director at the time.  The fireman responsible for the event was Alfred Clough, the local master potter and retired pottery manufacturer.

The Last Bottle Oven Firing was just part of the many and exciting years which make up The Gladstone Pottery Museum Story.


Alfred Clough and the Last Bottle Oven Firing

In October 1978, Alfred Clough, the Fireman responsible for the firing, presented a talk about the event to the British Ceramic Society. An audio record was made of the talk. This has lain dormant for almost 40 years. But now it has been edited, and together with still images of the Last Bottle Oven Firing, this 20 minute movie has been created.






WHAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST BOTTLE OVEN FIRING?

From a contemporary report by Pam Bott


The Last Bottle Oven Firing in The Potteries began on Saturday 26 August 1978.  But, for the organising committee, preparations began many months before.

As the location of the bottle oven is in a working factory, Hudson & Middleton (Longton) Ltd., extra precautions had to be taken to prevent any dirt and dust from spreading to the production area during the cleaning up period. A great deal of pigeon droppings had to be removed (the exact tonnage has not yet been worked out!) Volunteer members of the committee and 'volunteers' from the local Detention Centre worked several weekends cleaning the oven and the area around it, repairing various parts of it, and erecting screens to protect the factory area.

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
The updraught stack type bottle oven at the works of Hudson and Middleton
Meetings with the placers were arranged and volunteer recruitment was organised. Last minute work at 10pm on Friday August 25th 1978, at the firing site, included erecting barriers and displays, painting the shelters for the turnstile attendants and putting up notices and directions.

Twelve hours later the public were streaming in and for many people a week of nostalgia began. It is interesting to note that during the firing more local people visited us than on any other occasion.

The placers, none of whom had met or worked together before, merged into a well-organised team in less than an hour. The placing of the oven was spread over three days and apart from a few minor hitches everything went according to plan and the oven was filled late on Monday afternoon. A cheer went up and the team of men, who had been laughing and joking throughout the three days finished the day off with a song.

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Photos: Ken Davis




On Tuesday morning the clammins was built by local bricklayer, Billy Ryan, and after a slight delay the fires were ready to be lit.

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978 Billy Ryan building the clammins
Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Billy Ryan building the clammins
Photo: Staffordshire Past Track here>

It was left to members of the committee to light a fire each, starting with Pam Bott and ending with fireman Mr. Alfred Clough's grandson, Alistair.

Black smoke once more belched out over Longton much to the excitement and appreciation of all those present.

The responsibility of the night firing was taken by fireman (the sitter up) Jack Hill who had a team of energetic volunteers who did all the baiting. There were a few people who gathered to stay up throughout the night but most of them did not manage to keep awake for long.

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978

One of the debatable points of the week was whether the band of people gathered around the oven at 6am on Wednesday morning were there out of sheer enthusiasm or just to sample the bacon which was cooked on a shovel over the fires. The smell was delicious and the sizzling so spectacular-that it has been recorded by the BBC sound archives!

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Les Dennis, volunteer, cooks breakfast on a British Standard No.8 shovel
Notice the heat in the oven - well advanced

Shifts changed over on Wednesday morning and Mr. Clough took over once more. After several baitings throughout the day and the taking of trials the firing was announced to be finished at 8pm on Wednesday night.

For the next two hours nothing was done to the oven at all. The fires were left to gradually burn out. At about 10pm the clammins was brought down. A brilliant glowing orange was revealed. The breaking down of the clammins proved to be the most spectacular part of the firing not only for the excitement as everyone waited to see inside but also because we had forgotten to check if there was anything inflammable nearby with the result that several cables smouldered and melted causing temporary loss of light.

For the next two days the oven was left to cool, even so there was still some warmth left in the firemouths on Saturday morning. The ware was drawn from the oven, the majority of it having fired perfectly. At 4pm on Saturday September 2nd the cycle of firing was complete.

Throughout the week a film of events was taken for the museum by the University of Aston; a film was made by the local education authority; slide photos were taken by several of our volunteers and a complete log of events was tape recorded by volunteer Terry Woolliscroft. The films will not be shown until sometime next year but there will be post card style pictures of the event at the museum shortly.

The ware from the oven was put on sale two weeks after the firing and resulted in large queues forming with some customers even camping out the previous night. The response has been fantastic but there is still a few pieces left and a mail order catalogue is available from the museum.

After the firing the whole Hudson and Middleton factory had to be cleaned. It was hoovered from top to bottom, even the bottle oven!”

Pam Bott,   Jan 1979


Gladstone Pottery Museum Story - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Volunteers take a tea break!
Paul Niblett (oddman), Jack Hill (sitter up), Arthur Turner (placer) and Fred Greasley (oddman)
Photo: Courtesy The Sentinel  Date: August 1978


WHERE WAS THE LAST BOTTLE OVEN FIRED IN THE POTTERIES?

Hudson and Middleton (Longton) Ltd, Sutherland Works, Normacot Road, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent 


A History of the Company produced in a leaflet handed to visitors to the Last Bottle Oven Firing.

For over 140 years now, (in 1978) pottery has been manufactured at Sutherland Works. Normacot Road, Longton. At one time it consisted of two factories, one making earthenware and one producing bone china, the two separate entrance—arches still being evident.

Records indicate Skelson and Plant as the first owners, probably starting business around 1834, at about the same time as the firm of Taylor, Middleton and Hudson, who, it is thought, occupied three separate factories in nearby streets. In the 1880s this firm became known as Middleton and Hudson, and records exist of their backstamps for the period.

Hudson and Middleton from St James Church Tower
 Thanks to Phil Rowley for help in sourcing this image Date: 1910

In 1892, Wm. Hudson and & Co. and J. Middleton & Co. came into being and Wm. Hudson & Co. moved into Sutherland Works using Sutherland China and later Royal Sutherland for their backstamps. J. Middleton & Co. occupied premises in Chelson Street nearby and were well known for their Delphine trademark.

In the wartime conditions of 1941, the firms came together again as Hudson & Middleton Ltd. and traded through to 1975 with the Barlows and Chapmans, descendants of the original families, prominent in the direction of the company’s affairs.

Site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing - 1978
Hudson and Middleton (Longton) Ltd., Sutherland Works, Normacot Road, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent
Photo: Brian Colclough. Taken from St. James Church tower, Uttoxeter Road, Longton

Last Bottle Oven to fired in The Potteries, on the left
Recreation Ground, Florence, Longton
Photo: Source unknown  Date: 1978



In 1975 a new company was formed, Hudson & Middleton (Longton) Ltd. to continue in a more restricted range, lines traditional to the old company. Hudson & Middleton (Longton) Ltd. is in every sense a family business, with four members of the Fairweather family actively involved in its day to day running. Royal Kendal and Delphine trademarks predominate today with exports to Europe and North America of considerable importance to the business.







Planning the firing

Planning for The Last Bottle Oven Firing began in March 1977, eighteen months before the event. David Sekers produced a leaflet which outlined what was being planned. It also explained  to neighbours what they should expect.

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Part of the Last Bottle Oven Firing survey form 1977

This is the text

Dear Neighbour, You may have read in the local press that the Gladstone Museum has recently applied to the local authority for permission to organise the firing of a bottle oven in Normacot Road.

In view of the likely atmospheric pollution which this may cause, the Museum was advised that it must first seek the views of the British Ceramic Manufacturers Federation and of people living and working within the immediate vicinity of the site before the application will be allowed to proceed further.

The purpose of my writing to you, therefore, is to tell you more about the plan and invite you to give me your reactions using the reply form opposite.

What Are We Hoping To Do 

The Gladstone Living Pottery Museum was set up as a charitable trust by some at the Industry's best-known names to record and relate the heritage of the Staffordshire pottery industry.

But the Gladstone is more than a museum. We use the same skills and techniques employed by our Victorian grandfathers - all apart from the firing of pottery which has to be done in modern ovens because of 20th century smoke control regulations.

These regulations have changed the Potteries for the better and no-one wants to put the clock back. But for just one occasion - less than 24 hours pollution and once only - we would like to recreate a typical kiln firing and make a film of the techniques involved for the benefit of present and future generations of pottery enthusiasts. school children, industrial archaeologists and historical interests.

Fortunately, there are still just a few people alive in the City of Stoke-on-Trent today with the necessary skills and knowledge to place a kiln with saggers and fire a bottle oven in the correct way.

We would like to call on their experience and make a film of an authentic kiln firing before the knowledge of the process is lost for all time.

The Gladstone Museum has four traditional bottle ovens but these are too old and need to be preserved from unnecessary stress We have therefore approached the owner of an adjoining bottle oven in Narmacot Road who had readily agreed that we can use this kiln for a firing - providing, of course, that we can obtain sufficient public support for the project. This, of course, is the question you have to decide.

What Does A Kiln Firing Entail? 

Before the kiln can be fired, it must be dried out and this will require a few days of firing at low temperatures. Then once the whole structure is completely dry, up to 15 tons of coal (unfortunately, the smokeless variety is unsuitable) will be used for the actual firing over a two or three day period. This is likely to produce periodic emissions of dark smoke doting a 48 hour period.

When Will The Firing Take Place?

During the course of one holiday week within the next twelve months.

Who Will Be Affected?

Only those people living and working within the immediate vicinity of the kiln - probably no more than a quarter mile radius of the site.

What Other Benefits Will Arise From A Kiln Firing? 

1. Local people will have a once and for all opportunity to witness on important reminder of our local heritage. And appreciate present conditions.
2. The firing is likely to attract large numbers of visitors - and trade - to local shops, restaurants and other amenities.
3. It will provide a yardstick to judge the revolution that has taken place in the pottery industry.
4. The firing will be used to manufacture a commemortaive souvenir of a unique occasion.

l have tried to give you a balanced and unbiased view of the case for and against a kiln firing. You must decide if it should be allowed to take place. Please send me your views on the reply form if you are not able to deliver it to the Museum personally, please leave the form in a prominent place near the entrance to your premises. Someone will collect it during the weekend of 30 April – 1 May 1977.

David Sekers 1977

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Photo: courtesy of Phil Rowley, original origin unknown

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Cartoon from The Evening Sentinel 1978




Hudson and Middleton site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing Drawing by John Hemmer 1978
Hudson and Middleton, Normacot Road, site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing
Drawing by John Hemmer 1978




The Survey of neighbours

In May 1977 David Sekers, Pam Bott and Terry Woolliscroft made a house-to-house survey of the neighbours surrounding the bottle oven.

Properties in Gower Street and Chadwick Street, Uttoxeter Road, Warren Street, Normacot Road, Beaufort Road, and the park side of Lightwood Road were surveyed. The boundary of the area was defined by Eric Hambrook Stoke on Trent's Director of Environmental Services.

The survey was required to establish 'No Objection' from people living within the 'near surroundings' to the oven. The survey revealed only one objection - from a couple living immediately adjacent to the factory but their objection was later withdrawn.

The firing went ahead.






Timetable for the firing

Placing, cooling and drawing was much longer than usual so that visitors could witness the process

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story

Sat 26 August 1978 - Open for visitors
Placing - ware into saggars. Saggars into oven.

Sun 27 August 1978
Placing - Ware into saggars. Saggars into oven. Placing flatware.

Mon 28 August 1978
Placing - Ware into saggars. Saggars into oven. Placing flatware.

Tues 29 August 1978
Morning - brick up the clammins and lumping firemouths
Lunchtime (dinner time) - light the fires - baiting
Afternoon - firing proper

Weds 30 August 1978
Morning and afternoon - Firing proper - Taking trials - Bullers Rings
Evening, after tea - draw more trial rings. If OK, break clammins at 8pm for fast cool 'to get a godd shine on the glaze'

Thurs 31 August 1978
Cooling

Fri 1 Sept 1978
Cooling

Sat 2 Sept 1978
Drawing

Sun 3 Sept 1978
Tidy up.  Product from the firing went on sale two weeks later.





Gladstone Pottery Museum  Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
"It ain't gonna smoke no mo no mo, it ain't gonna smoke no more!"
Alfred Clough (1975-1984), Fireman and Paul Niblett, Oddman



The Volunteers & Staff who made the last firing happen

In no particular order - if you know of others who have been missed off the list do let me know! You can use the Contact Form here>.

Alfred Clough (Fireman in overall charge of the firing),  Paul Niblett,  Ted Lockett (Cod placer),  Mr Jack Hill (Sitter up),  Kathy Niblett,  Terry Woolliscroft,  Frank Underwood,  Pam Bott,  Fred Greasley (oddman),  Arthur Maxfield,  David Sekers,  Les Dennis,  Phil Parkes,  Arthur Turner,  Mr Shaw,  Mr Miles,  Mr Simpson,  Fred Harrington,  Mr Tittensor,  Mr Wade,  Elwyn James (oddman),  John Side (oddman),  Fred Miles,  Dave Allen,  Dave Smith,  Beverley and Roy?,  Stephen Astley,  Raymond Blackburn,  Brian and Maureen Colclough,  Mr George Fairweather,  Paul Bartram,  Rodney and Eileen Hampson,  Bill Goodall,  Stephen Astley,  Martin Brennan,  John Hemmer,  Roy Nicholson,  John Side,  David Smith,  David Allen,  Beverley Downing, David Oakden,  Dr Celoria,  Mark and Melanie Batten,  Alan Freestone,  Frank Galbraith,  Colin Burgess,  Mike Willmott,  Chris Hampson,




Organising Committee

David Sekers - Museum Director
Alfred Clough - Fireman
Pam Bott - museum staff
Paul Niblett - volunteer
Fred Greasley - volunteer
Kathy Niblett - volunteer
Terry Woolliscroft - volunteer

Placers and Drawers

Jack Hill,  Ted Lockett,  Les Dennis,  Mr J Simpson,  Mr P Parkes,  Mr F Harrington,  Mr J Hudson, Elwyn James,  Mr G W Massey,  Mr J Shaw,  Mr T Tittensor,  Arthur Turner, and Mr J Wade

Last Bottle Oven Firing - 1978 - Alfred Clough (fireman) and David Sekers (museum director)
inspecting the oven before it was brought back to life



Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978 - Coal arrives from Florence Pit 

Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978 - newspaper clipping
Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978 - newspaper clipping




The Last Bottle Oven Firing Video

1978 - Potbank 

The Last Bottle Oven Firing was recorded on film by University Of Aston in Birmingham. The film documents the last bottle oven firing at the Hudson and Middleton Works, Longton, organised by Gladstone Pottery Museum. Written and directed by Jennifer Tann. Duration: 00:31:00. 

The film begins with a brief introduction to The Potteries and a short history of the growth in pottery manufacture in the area. The composition and layout of potbanks is also described. A sequence shows the exterior of the Gladstone Pottery Museum and moves on to look at a modern pottery factory and then there is a sequence showing the older pottery making methods. This is followed by a demonstration of the making of a saggar; a fireclay box used to hold the pottery in the oven. Next there are scenes of people using various techniques to decorate pottery. After this the pottery is placed in a specific way in the saggars. placers then carry the saggars on their heads into the oven where they are stacked in bungs. The commentary  gives a detailed description of the anatomy of the bottle oven and also the way in which the ovens were kindled, baited and the temperatures controlled. The final scenes show the oven being unloaded.

The full film is not available on YouTube.  Copies of the full film are lodged with various organisations:

MACE
http://www.macearchive.org/Archive/Title/potbank/MediaEntry/51983.html

BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE
http://explore.bfi.org.uk/4ce2b6dcc9fa7








Products from The Last Bottle Oven Firing

The Mail Order Catalogue

Two weeks after the event, Gladstone's cobbled yard was transformed into a huge sales area. Products from the Last Bottle Oven Firing, together with saggars, special editions and other souvenir ware was offered for sale to the public.

Gladstone Pottery Museum
Last Bottle Oven Firing - Sales of pots from the oven in Gladstone Pottery Museum cobbled yard 1978

Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Limited edition tyg from The Last Bottle Oven Firing - Original price £28
Photos: Jessica Davies

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story - Last Bottle Oven Firing
Alfred Clough, kiln fireman, with wares from oven
Photo: Courtesy Evening Sentinel 2 September 1978



Following the sale, the remaining goods were offered via a Mail Order Catalogue. Here it is :







ALFRED CLOUGH - MASTER POTTER

The Fireman responsible for the Last Bottle Oven Firing was Alfred Clough, the local master potter and retired pottery manufacturer. more here>







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