What Happened?


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, skeleton type, bottle oven at the Sutherland Works of Hudson and Middleton (Longton) Ltd
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
Photo: Brian Colclough

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Dr Francis Celoria has a go cooking his bacon on a shovel!
Photo: Brian Colclough

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 7.30pm 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, (now Woolliscroft) former Curator at Gladstone Pottery Museum,  January 1979