Survey 1976

'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 58 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.

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."

It was a mammoth task.

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>

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

Note: error in the above pdf - Ref: 13 the Robert Sherwin oven is a muffle oven, not an updraught.

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, partial, 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 (July 2017) 

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 oven still stands today (July 2017) close to the highly colourful council building.

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
Photo: Courtesy of  Images of The Potteries  Date: 1979  


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