Through the Smoke

"Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton, Longton, through the smoke" - Old Potteries rhyme

How kids could learn the names of the Six Towns

Longton The Last Bottle Oven Firing in the Potteries Date: August 1978
The Last Bottle Oven Firing in the Potteries
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: August 1978


Extract from:  Excess Air in the Firing of Ovens and Kilns by J W Mellor, 1907
Based on a paper:  Transactions of the English Ceramic Society, 6, 58, 1907

“For the complete combustion of any fuel there must be an adequate supply of air intimately mixed with the combustible gases coming from the firemouths.

The minimum volume of air required for the complete combustion of 1 lb. of carbon is nearly 143 cubic feet. This is the theoretical quantity deduced from the simple equation :  C + O2 = CO2

But practically, owing to the fact that air and gas currents can pass along in streams side by side from firemouth to hovel without mixing to any great extent, very much more than the theoretical amount of air is required before we have an adequate supply for complete combustion.”

“I did not expect to find the greatest excess of air passing through the ovens and kilns immediately after a baiting when the fire-mouths were smoking, and least when the fire was burning clearly without smoke.

A probable explanation is that the burning hydrocarbon gases which are given off when coal is first put on the fire are decomposed by the inrush of cold air with the formation of smoke or soot, when the fireman opens everything immediately after a baiting in order to " clear the oven," and simultaneously the temperature is reduced below the "burning temperature" of the smoke.

The admission of cold air into a hot furnace burning hydrocarbon gases makes smoke instead of clearing it. But there are other reasons why air is allowed to rush through the oven immediately after a baiting.

The mechanism of the reactions which occur when the hot hydrocarbon gases, methane, ethylene and acetylene are brought in contact with cold air is, no doubt, a mechanism which is very complex. In any case the liberated carbon ultimately aggregates into particles of soot and smoke.

When smoke is once formed it can only be burned with very great difficulty.”

SUMMARY of the full article

  1. In the firing of an ordinary kiln, with flues leading direct from firemouth to hovel, the flue gas has about 55 per cent, of air in excess of that theoretically required for the complete combustion of coal.
  2. The products of combustion enter the hovel at about 800° and therefore 4 cwts. of coal per ton are used in warming up the excess air passing through an ordinary kiln.
  3. The excess of air may be reduced about 85 per cent, by causing the flue gases to pass by a circuitous path from firemouth to hovel.
  4. There is over 50 per cent, excess air in the flue gas of an ordinary up-draught oven. This excess is reduced some 20 per cent, in firing down-draught.
  5. The practice of allowing an inrush of cold air immediately after a firemouth has been charged is mainly responsible for the formation of smoke and soot* by the decomposition of the hot hydrocarbon gases.

* Do not confuse soot with coal and ash dust.


From:  The Civil Engineer and Architects Journal
Mention of The Sanitary Act 1866
Interesting piece here about the smoky conditions of The Potteries
Digitised on Google Books  here>

Longton -  The Last Bottle Oven Firing in the Potteries
Photo: unknown source   Date: August 1978
Alcock Lindley and Bloore on the corner of Overhouse Street and Scotia Road
Photo: source unknown    Date: unknown

Maddock's smoking ovens. The tower with the Maddock sign is a dipping house drying mangle.
A similar construction still exists (in 2016) at The Middleport Pottery
Photo: Source unknown  Date: Unknown 

T and R Boote tile manufactures, Waterloo Road
Photo: Source unknown  Date: unknown

Middleport, Burslem
Middleport Pottery  - Oven smoking
Photo: source unknown   Date: unknown

Middleport, Burslem Middleport Pottery - baiting
Middleport, Burslem
Middleport Pottery - baiting
Photo: source unknown  Date: unknown

Bottle ovens being fired and creating smoke in The Potteries
Smoking bottle ovens in The Potteries
photo: taken at Earnshaw's potbank, Stoke-on-Trent
From the Gladstone Pottery Museum Photographic Collection. 
Photo: courtesy Staffordshire Past Track here>   Date: 1950/51

J & G Meakin Eastwood works from Lichfield Street, Hanley
J & G Meakin Eastwood works from Lichfield Street
Photo: source unknown  Date: 1951

Cliffe Vale, Hanley
Twyfords Sanitaryware Factory
Photo: courtesy EJD Warrillow Collection  Date: 1951

Salisbury Crown China Works, on the corner of Edensor Road and Stafford Street (The Strand)
Photo: Source: Phil Rowley 

Longton skyline
Photo: source unknown  Date: unknown

Photo: Source unknown  Date: Unknown

Longton The Last Bottle Oven Firing in the Potteries
 The Last Bottle Oven Firing in the Potteries
Date: August 1978

Possibly Longton
Photo: source unknown  Date: unknown