The bottle oven has long-been an iconic symbol of the Potteries, with around 2,000 existing across Stoke-on-Trent at their peak.

These 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, and the introduction of new technologies put a stop to their use and sealed the fate of traditional coal-fired ovens and kilns.

In 2020, just 50 ovens, muffle kilns and calcining kilns remain on 29 separate sites across the city. NOW a club has been formed that will see their owners work together to find solutions to ongoing conservation and maintenance issues.

The Potteries Bottle Oven Owners Club has been developed over the past 18 months through the Stoke-on-Trent Ceramic Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) and its partner organisation, Potteries Heritage Society. Its formation is part of the HAZ’s five-year programme of heritage-led regeneration initiatives covering Longton Town Conservation Area and bottle oven sites across the city. The HAZ is being delivered by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Historic England with the support of local partners.

The club, which already has the backing of nearly every owner of a bottle oven in the city, has been set up as an independent organisation, managed and co-ordinated by its members, so that it can continue when the HAZ programme comes to an end.

The club’s aims are:

To promote the heritage of Stoke-on-Trent through stimulating interest in the city’s bottle ovens

To support the conservation and preservation of bottle ovens and their historic environments

To co-ordinate and collaborate on projects, campaigns and events

To formulate and share best practice in maintaining and conserving bottle ovens of all types

To build our understanding of bottle ovens and to educate local people, workers and visitors.

Membership of the club already spans the whole city and every type of oven – from Gladstone Pottery Museum’s unique and well-known collection of up-draught hovel ovens in Longton to Moorland Pottery’s unusual four-chambered muffle kiln in Burslem, and including calcining kilns spread across the city.

Moorland Pottery’s Jon Plant, who was elected to be the club’s first chairman, said: “Caring for a bottle oven is a massive responsibility, and one best shared with other owners in a club dedicated to the preservation of the Potteries’ greatest icon. Some of the owners have taken care of the ovens for generations and have learned, perhaps the hard way, how best to care for them, while others have recently taken on challenging sites. Together they bring an unparalleled level of experience and knowledge to the club.”

The club’s activities were subdued by Covid-19 restrictions this year, but members aim to collaborate to tackle maintenance and vegetation growth issues early in the new year.

Cllr James Smith, heritage champion at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “These iconic structures have not only been a symbol of the Potteries for many years, but also a great source of inspiration to many artists and creatives in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. We’re very proud of our city’s unique history and heritage, and that is why we have invested into our historic Town Halls for example, to give them modern day purposes and safeguard their future. I think the club is a fantastic idea and I look forward to working with all the bottle oven owners in the city with the shared goal of preserving these unique structures.”

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