The Potteries Bottle Oven Owners Club is bringing together its members, friends and supporters to celebrate bottle ovens and showcase the new and imaginative uses they can be put to with a concert in the bottle oven at Heron Cross Pottery in Fenton.
On Wednesday 30 November, Stoke-on-Trent-based singer Samantha Lloyd will perform inside one of the biggest bottle oven structures in the city, in the cathedral-like space where the firing chamber once stood.
The bottle oven has long-been an iconic symbol of the Potteries, with around 2,000 existing across Stoke-on-Trent at their peak. Now just 50 potters’ ovens, muffle kilns and calcining kilns remain on 29 separate sites across the city.
The huge brick-built structures were an essential tool in pottery manufacture and were the
dominant feature of the area’s landscape for many years. But environmental legislation, starting with the Clean Air Act of 1956, alongside the introduction of new gas and electric fired kilns, put a stop to their use and sealed the fate of traditional coal-fired ovens and kilns.
The Potteries Bottle Oven Owners Club, formed in 2019 as part of the Stoke-on-Trent Ceramic Heritage Action Zone, is a forum for the owners and care-takers of bottle ovens, bringing them together to find solutions to ongoing conservation and maintenance issues. The Clubs aims include: promoting interest in the city’s bottle ovens; supporting the conservation and preservation of bottle ovens and their historic environments; collaborating on projects and events; sharing best practice in maintenance and conservation; and educating local people, staff and visitors.
Membership of the Club, which now includes the majority of bottle oven owners in the city, covers every type of oven – from well-known examples of up-draught hovel ovens at Middleport Pottery and Gladstone Pottery Museum to Moorland Pottery’s unusual four-chambered muffle kiln in Burslem, as well as calcining kilns spread across the city from Middleport to Etruria to Longton.
The Club is working hard to establish best practice in maintaining these iconic listed structures, sharing experiences, talking to heritage professionals, creating useful guidance documents for its members, and starting to put that information into practice in the course of repair and maintenance work. The concert is the first of a series of events to celebrate the city’s bottle ovens and explore imaginative ways of bringing them to life.
Moorland Pottery’s Jon Plant, chairman of Club, said: “It is essential that the City of Stoke-on-Trent has a focussed group of bottle oven owners that are united by the need to preserve these iconic structures. This exciting event represents a new and creative way to promote bottle ovens to a much wider public. It brings life and purpose to these wonderful structures. As a club we are hoping it is a blueprint for other event-based activities throughout the city, that will embrace a much wider population.”
Ian and Julia Godfrey, owners of the bottle oven at Heron Cross Pottery, said: “Owning a bottle oven causes mixed emotions; there is very considerable pride at owning such an iconic building, but this is offset by finding something practical to do with the bottle oven so that there’s sufficient income to properly maintain the structure. That means we must seek novel uses for the bottle oven and hopefully the acoustic properties of our oven will prove a hit.”