What Happened?

Timeline - from the log book - the events leading up to and during The Last Bottle Oven Firing

For explanations of unusual Potteries words go to The Potbank Dictionary here>

1976 The Germ of an Idea

The Last Bottle Oven Firing was the brain child of David Sekers. The idea came to him shortly after he was appointed Director of the Gladstone Pottery Museum in 1973-1974.

In 1976 Sekers set about testing his ideas with many of the industry leaders and experts who were supporting Gladstone.

Was it feasible? Did a bottle oven still exist which was in working order and which could be used? Could  permission be obtained from the Environmental Services Department to hold such an event? How much would it cost? Could funds be generated to help Gladstone's Charitable Trust? Do sufficient people, with the necessary skills, still survive and are they fit enough to place, fire and draw the oven?

So many questions. After much deliberation and debate it was deemed possible, "but only once!"

January 1977 

A suitable bottle oven was identified on the site of Hudson and Middleton (Longton) Ltd., Sutherland Works, Normacot Road, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. The oven was found to be in 'working condition' and was complete with the equipment necessary to fire it. It had last been fired in 1963 and pigeons had occupied it since then.

March - April 1977

David Sekers wrote and published a leaflet  - "Proposed Kiln Firing. What you should know"

May 1977

The Survey of Neighbours. In May 1977 David Sekers (Gladstone Pottery Museum Director), Pam Bott (Gladstone Pottery Museum Curator) and Terry Woolliscroft (Volunteer) made a house-to-house survey of the neighbours immediately surrounding the bottle oven which had been proposed for the firing. Without their agreement to the event it would not be possible for it to go ahead.

Properties in Gower Street and Chadwick Street, Uttoxeter Road, Warren Street, Normacot Road, Beaufort Road, and the park side of Lightwood Road were surveyed. The boundary of the area was defined by Eric Hambrook, Stoke-on-Trent's Director of Environmental Services.

The survey was required to establish 'No Objection' from people living within the 'near surroundings' to the oven. The survey revealed only one objection - from a couple living immediately adjacent to the factory but their objection was later withdrawn. Signatures were obtained from the neighbours to show that they had no objections to the event. The firing was able to go ahead and a date was set - August Bank Holiday 1978.

Mr Alfred Clough, the retired pottery owner and kiln firing expert, was invited by David Sekers to fire the oven and direct the proceedings.

January 1978

Gladstone's Engineering Volunteers begin work on the bottle oven site to prepare it for the event. Pigeons had been in occupation at the site for at least 15 years, it was last fired in 1963. Bird eggs and lots of pigeon poo was found on the crown of the oven. "Muck by the ton." Clinker from its last firing was found in the oven mouths and asholes.  The engineers built a roof over an area which would be used by visitors during their tour of the site when the oven is being fired.

February 1978

Announcement in The Friends of Gladstone Newsletter

"Bottle Oven Firing - a Date for the Diary

Stand by between August 26 and September 3 1978 - the dates provisionally selected for the firing of a bottle oven in Longton. The essential permissions have not been witheld, local people are vociferously in favour and a major planning exercise is now underway to ensure that the operation will go smoothly. It will never happen again, so do not miss it this time."

April to August 1978

Gladstone's Engineering volunteers (together with volunteer helpers from Werrington Detention Centre, Ash Bank, Stoke-on-Trent) continue work on making the bottle oven useable and visitable. Working parties at the Hudson and Middleton, Sutherland Works, were arranged for every Thursday evening and every Saturday morning during the late spring and summer.

May 1978

24 May 1978
  • Organising Committee Meetings for detailed planning of the event begin. 
  • Sample saggars ordered (made by The Diamond Clay Co. Ltd, Hartshill). Arrangements for saggar washing (coating the inside walls of the saggars with glaze) put in place. 
  • Ware from other pottery firms was sought. 
  • The coal was chosen - FLORENCE NUTS. 
  • Provisional timetable created.

31 May 1978
  • Saggars chosen. 750 Ovals and 500 Rounds were required (subject to trialling and placing on site.) An inscription was to be made on each of the saggars. Stencilled on, with a cobalt stain, to be done when the saggars were washed inside with glaze.
  • Recruitment of volunteer placers commenced with the help of Radio Stoke and The Evening Sentinel (local evening newspaper) for publicity. Alfred Clough (Fireman) wanted placers to know that this was a "Filthy Stinking Job". Placers needed to be experienced. 
  • Mr. Clough listed materials required.
  • Discussion took place to list jobs required to prepare oven on site.

June 1978

6 June 1978
Materials required list, Version No.1, created and issued

7 June 1978
Discussions about:
  • Visitor routing
  • Opening times
  • Turnstiles
  • Signage
  • Medical facilities
  • Hoarding
  • Fire exits
  • Security
  • Admission Fee
  • Communications and two-way radio
  • Volunteers for work, turnstiles, stewards

21 June 1978
Discussions about:
  • Making wad at the museum and on-site
  • Siting of ware in the oven. Particular ware needs to be placed in particular spots
  • Report on saggar washing
  • Arrival of coal and Coal Queen for more publicity
  • Report on preparation of the oven
  • Plans for drawing the oven and returning ware to Gladstone
  • Manpower requirements
  • Choice of clothing and discussions with Victoria Theatre for making slops

22 June 1978
Evening at Gladstone with volunteer placers. Jobs allocated:

Placers required on Saturday, Sunday Monday. 09:30 till 16:30 with half hour lunch

  • Dennis
  • Parkes
  • Locket
  • Turner
  • Shaw
  • Arrowsmith
  • Harrington
  • Simpson
  • Syne (not experinced placer)
  • Field
  • Miles

Equipment required:
  • 2 dozen Slops
  • Caps, Rolls, Boots to be supplied by volunteers themselves


Required from Tuesday lunch (12 noon) through the night to Wednesday evening 22:00
Mr. Hill will take the night shift but will not be able to do any baiting shovelling himself - suggests 3 assistants required on that shift.

  • Underwood
  • Hill - night leader
  • Wade
  • Niblett
  • Woolliscroft
  • Lockett
  • Parks
  • Watts
  • Greasley
  • James
  • Field

July 1978

12 July 1978
Planning meeting at Gladstone

26 July 1978
Planning meeting at Gladstone. 18:30

August 1978

9 August 1978
Planning meeting at Gladstone.

12 August 1978, Saturday at 10:00 at Hudson and Middleton
Final meeting of ovenmen and placers, at the oven site. Briefing all.
Press invited. Now two weeks before the event.

LBOF Meeting of  volunteer ovenmen and placers
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: 12 August 1978

LBOF Meeting of  volunteer ovenmen and placers
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: 12 August 1978
  • Confirm numbers, names and jobs of placers
  • Confirm who is available and when
  • Confirm drawers
  • Explain programme of events
  • Food
  • Expenses
  • Clothing/Costume
  • Cloakroom/Restroom
  • Firing shifts - 12 noon to 10 pm, 10 pm to 8 am, 8 am to 6 pm. 
  • Clammins to be dropped 2 hours after end of firing

The Last Bottle Oven Firing Logbook
Contemporary record of the important stages in the firing
written, at the time, by Terry Woolliscroft

THE EVENT LOG - The Timeline

Gladstone Pottery Museum remained open every day, 10:30 till 17:30, during the Last Bottle Oven Firing. Extra demonstrations of pottery making and decorating, mould making, modelling and saggar making were laid on. In addition there was an exhibition of old photographs of the Potteries by E.J.D.Warrilow.

Friday 25 August 1978

  • Final preps at Gladstone and at Hudson and Middleton.
  • More saggars were prepared at Gladstone.
  • The engineering volunteers erect barrier rails at Hudson and Middleton to guide visitors through the site. These had to be removed later that day since the factory was still operating and kiln trucks needed to be moved. 
  • Prep continued through the day, finishing at 22:45 after a swift pint at The Sailor Boy in Normacot.

Saturday 26 August 1978

08:00  First arrivals at the site for final final preps. The barrier rails which were removed yesterday were put back! Display boards erected around the intermittent gas ovens [which were adjacent to the bottle oven] Final sweeping and erection of signage.
08:30  Set off to collect a 2nd load saggars from Gladstone. Then five more such journeys before lunch. By then 500 'ovals' had been brought to the site, each containing commemorative Gladstone tygs.
09:00  Volunteer placers start arriving. Slops, and aprons (overalls) issued. Placers raring to go.
09:50  Placers start their work. Eight placers start placing [ware into saggars and full saggars to the oven]. Arch bungs [between the bags] at the back of the oven were set out first.

Placing onglaze decorated flatware into saggar using cranks
prior to placing in the oven
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: Last Bottle Oven Firing August 1978

10:00  The first members of the public start to arrive and gain entry for a first look at what's going on. Then members of the press, Radio Stoke, and the Aston University Film Crew start filming. Good progress all morning, in fact the volunteers were working too hard and too fast!

Entrance turnstiles at Sutherland Works, site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection  Date: August 1978

11:00  1st ring started. Visitor numbers low at the moment.
12:00  Half of the placers take half an hour lunch break. Then the other half have theirs at 12:30. Shift work!
13:00  General call to all the placing team to go slower. Placers working just how they used to. Too fast. "Go Slower" for the benefit of the paying public!
13:50  Trip to Gladstone to fetch more flatware for placing. All submitted ware now brought across from the museum. Some confusion about cranks. Not enough. More Gladstone cranks sent for. "2nd trip to fetch more empty round saggars for cranking flatware. 3rd trip to fetch more Gladstone-produced flatware. Also 'bobs' brought for trial holes.
14:30  2nd ring started (already!) Saggars with holloware still being placed.

16:00  First day's placing finished. Clocking off time! Most placers go home. Still a lot of visitors around. Decision made to allow public inside the oven to see what has been going on at first hand. Ted Locket (cod placer) still inside the oven describing what is going on.
17:00  Public still arriving!
18:00  Approx close. Everyone goes home after successful day with 440 fee paying adults through the turnstiles - and its only the first day. Success!

Sunday 27 August 1978

Placing continues throughout the day. 3rd ring set in.

National Coal Board's heavy horses deliver a batch of coal.

Heavy horses deliver a batch of coal
Florence Nuts (name of the coal, not the horses)

First placing ware into saggars into the saggars and then placing the saggars into the oven. [The word placing has two meanings. Don't get confused - this definition of the placer might help here> ]

Placers are very keen and still working too hard and too fast. Bless 'em!

Monday 28 August 1978

DAY 3 - Bank Holiday Monday
Placing continues. 4th ring set in.
Pipe bung created and placed over well hole.

Space inside the oven now becomes very cramped. Last oss removed.

Cod Placer (Ted Lockett) placing a saggar on a bung in the oven
Note that the joint between the top of on saggar and the bottom of another saggar in the bung
is sealed with wad clay. 

Tuesday 29 August 1978

Firing Day
Fires kindled. Firing commences. Smoke seen.
Mr Alfred Clough - Fireman
Mr Jack Hill - Sitter up and night fireman

10:00  Open for visitors. Busy.
10:00  Billy Ryan (builder) begins bricking up the wicket to form the solid doorway to the oven called the clammins.
10:30  Building the kindling for each firemouth commences. Carried out by oddmen. Mr Clough gives instructions. Lots of dry newspaper first. No wood sticks yet. Coal still arriving in wooden barrows, distributed around perimeter of the oven.
12:10  Billy still building clammins. Making it last a long time for the benefit of visitors. Daubs and covers brickwork with clay/sand mix to seal against air holes.

Billy Ryan builds the clammins and daubsclay over the bricks to seal them
Photo: screen shot from the Aston Film.

12:25  Clammins building complete. Wood sticks now placed in firemouths on top of paper. Coal on top.
12:27  Alfred Clough shouts "Cameras ready?"

12:37  Kindling ("kindding") begins. 

12:37 Pam Bott kindles first mouth
  supervised by Jack Hill and Mr. Clough 
Photo: Brian Colclough

Eight firemouths previously prepared with paper, sticks of wood and coal set alight using specially made flaming taper, in turn by :
    • Mouth No.1  Pam Bott (Gladstone Pottery Museum Curator)
    • Mouth No.2  Jack Hill (Sitter up and Night Fireman)
    • Mouth No.3  Terry Woolliscroft (Volunteer Odd Man)
    • Mouth No.4  Fred Greasley (Volunteer Odd Man and member of Vol Engineers)
    • Mouth No.5  Paul Niblett (Volunteer Odd Man and member of Vol Engineers)
    • Mouth No.6  Kathy Niblett (Volunteer and member or Organising Committee)
    • Mouth No.7  David Sekers (Director of Gladstone Pottery Museum) 
    • Mouth No.8  Alistair Clough (11 year old Grandson of Alfred Clough, Oven Fireman) 

12:45  Kindling complete.
12:50  State of oven. Fires beginning to take hold. All dampers open. Slides [on the regulator holes] open. Doors to mouths open, but maybe closed anytime. All ash holes open.

Regulator hole and slide, just above the firemouth
Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection

12:55  John (Jack) Hill (night fireman) closes all doors.
13:20  Alfred Clough states that not much will happen now to about 17:00 when he returns.

Dr. Mike Kennedy, and his assistant Dr. Ian Tams, of the Department of Respiratory Physiology, City General Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, arrive to attach special sampling tubes, with brown gaffer tape, to the slops of some ovenmen. Dr. Kennedy wanted to sample the foul air and dirt in the atmosphere during the firing to further his research into the incidence of pneumoconiosis in the pottery industry. This was an opportunity which he never thought would come his way!

Ted Lockett, the cod placer, seen here with a
sampling tube attached to his slop

14:30  More coal arrives (about 1 ton) and distributed around the oven for use later and for the 'show'. Distribution made with wooden wheelbarrow.

15:30  Oven doing well but ahead of schedule. Against John Hill's wishes the doors were reopened to try to slow down the ovens rate of temperature rise. No.2 firemouth emits clouds of sulphurous smoke. Thick yellow clouds issue from the base of the firebars in the ash hole.
15:30 Sulphur! Thick clouds of smoke fill the placing shop - due to 'top kindle.'
16:50  Sulphur smell still coming from No.2 mouth. Brickwork still cold.
17:10  Mr Clough returns. Closes all oven doors.
17:15  Mr Clough walks round the oven clockwise. Inspects each firemouth in turn. Closes firedoors shut.

17:42  Mr Clough walks around once more. Notices coking on top of the fuel beds. Uses poker to break the coking.
17:53  Breaking the top coking of fuel on the firebed complete. Puffy smoke still being produced
18:16  Mr Clough walks around oven. No.4 mouth is burning away, ahead of the other mouths. Therefore a smallish bait (top up) is required, just in the GLUT. Four shovel fulls. Also required in No.7 Mouth. 3 shovels. Doors jacked open (slightly opened.)
18:30  No.4 mouth firedoors closed up. No.7 mouth doors still jacked open.
18:35  No.7 mouth firedoors closed.

19:00  Mr Clough takes a tour of the oven. "Jack. Level off at 7.45 to 8 o'clock to make OK for next baiting".
19:16  Mr Clough takes another trip around the oven. Observing. Some concern? Opens firedoors and pokes fires.
19:21  Mr Clough says "Commercially, we would have had a couple of baitings by now. But for the show this is what we have [specifically] not done. The aim being to slow it all down." Purposely loosing time.
19:30 This was the 1st BAITING starting at No.1 Mouth. Doors jacked to allow heat from oven to reduce prior to loading coal.
20:15 Finish baiting [45 minutes for 8 mouths = approx 5 minutes per mouth].

20:20  Mouths are hot and therefore full of smoke. Doors opened. Regulator slides off.
20:22  All dampers fully closed.
20:49  Mr Clough signs off for the day. Leaves responsibility to night firemen Jack.

Mr. Jack Hill  - night fireman and sitter up
Photo: screen shot from the Aston Film.

21:20  Jack makes tour of oven. Closes all doors.
21:26  Jack closes all regulator slides.

22:07  Jack opens some slides partly.
22:20  Jack makes tour of oven. Checks all going well.
22:50  Jack decides on 2nd BAITING. Night shift Arthur, Frank and Paul take on the role of baiting. Dampers opened for baiting.
23:00  Two mouths completed.
23:10  2nd baiting complete. [This second baiting much faster than the first]

23:15  Big tidy up! Tidying the remains of the coal around the perimeter of the oven. Clouds of coal dust!
23:49  Jack closes all doors.
23:55  Jack closes all dampers.

Photo: Terry Woolliscroft Collection

Wednesday 30 August 1978


00:10  Regulator holes checked. Slides adjusted.
00:15  Cracks appear in the clammins due to the rising temperature. Cracks covered over with sand.
All quiet!
01:20  3rd BAITING. Finishes at 01:35. 15 minutes. [Getting skilled at this!]
02:00  All dampers closed. Outside it's pouring with rain.
02:10  All regulator holes slides closed.

02:25  Pigeons still alive on crown of the oven. Surely they will fly away soon.
03:55  4th BAITING. Finished at 04:10.
04:45  Dampers in the 4th Quarter half closed.
04:45  Doors closed.
05:00  All dampers closed.

05:05  All slides on regular holes closed.
05:30  First Trail Bullers Rings taken. No.2 quarter is too far advanced [compared with the three other quarters] To slow it down more air let in with firedoors jacked.
05:56  Mr Clough arrives. Tours oven to inspect. Views through doors. Checks trial Bullers rings just taken. More trial rings taken. Placers and oddmen start arriving.
06:10  Oddmen sent to tour the entire factory, including upstairs. Checking for fire risks.
06:30  Mr Clough announces that the oven is "Just below 1000C in the bulk of the oven"

06:50  Jacking doors in No.2 Quarter to slow it down again. No.4 Quarter also had firedoors jacked to "keep it back."
07:06  Breakfast time!  Bacon frying on baiting shovels.

LBOF 1978 Breakfast at 07:00 -  Ted Lockett, Les Dennis, and Francis Celoria
Photos courtesy: Brian Colclough 
07:10  Preparations for next baiting. All dampers raised. Firedoors opened.
07:14  5th BAITING.
07:26  Baiting complete. No smoke off this baiting. "the oven is hot enough now to consume its own smoke."
07:30  No smoke.
07:35  Dampers closed. Still no smoke.

08:00  Firedoors partially closed - all jacked open.
08:55  All firedoors fully closed.
09:15  All slides on regulators fully shut.
09:25  Mr Clough makes tour of the oven. No change.
09:31  Dampers raised  (By Mr Les Dennis) prior to drawing first Bullers Ring trials and the next baiting.

Les Dennis takes trial Bullers Rings from bottom of clammins, 1st Quarter

09:40  6th BAITING.
10:05  Baiting complete. Smoke seen again from stack. It didn't last long but came because this was a big baiting ("heavy baiting")
10:29  Dampers closed in Quarters 1 & 3. Dampers lowered but left cracked open in Quarters 2 & 4
10:47  Firedoors partly closed - jacked open. Slides closed shut.

10:54  Mr Clough make tour of oven. Jacking firedoors
11:12  Mr Clough tours oven. Inspecting progress.
11:55  Mr Clough closes all regulator hole slides.
12:05  Small BAITING (No.7) proceeds to top up some mouths.
12:12  Baiting finished.

12:14  Trial rings taken from four positions in all quarters of the oven. Mr Clough say "little change from last trials"
12:34 "Bottoms not changed but middles have". All dampers closed tight shut or slightly cracked.
12:41  Mr Clough inspects oven mouths and decides rake and break the coking on No.1 firemouth.
12:50  Decision made to do the next bait as a big one. Preps proceed. No.4 bars uncovered therefore baiting for bottom. No.2 - baiting for bottom. No.1 baiting for top. No.3 baiting for top.
12:53  All dampers raised open.

12:55  8th BAITING. Full baiting. Very large baiting.
13:20  Smoke seen from stack.
13:49  All firedoors still open and slides off.
14:10  Firedoors partially closed. Jacked.
15:10  Mr Clough tours oven decides on a "topping up" BAITING (No. 8) Fuel in some mouths topped up to make the best of the last baiting (the big one)

15:50  Tension mounts. [Is the firing complete?] Trials taken.
16:15  Mr Clough tours oven. Another big baiting required.
16:25  BAITING No. 9 starts. Last one
16:30  Trials [Bullers Rings] taken regularly now.

Dr. Francis Celoria,  Terry Woolliscroft and Alfred Clough
Measuring Bullers Rings just before the end of the firing
Photo courtesy: Brian Colclough  Date: 30 August 1978

19:30  Mr Clough declares the firing done. Doors open. Dampers open. [Mr Clough and many other take a walk to the Sailor Boy for a well earned pint. Much merriment. "It ain't gonna smoke no more, no more!"]

22:00  Clammins down to allow rapid cooling and create good glaze, at the risk of some thermal shock.

23:00  Job done! Three volunteers stayed on hand, Maureen and Brian Colclough and Paul Bartram, to ensure no problems occurred overnight.

Mr Alfred Clough (Fireman) and Paul Niblett  Oddman) Job Done!

Thursday 31 August 1978

Rest day and start of tidy up

Oven very warm.

Friday 1 September 1978

Rest day and start of staging build
Staging created (as usual) to make job of drawing the oven quicker, easier and safer. Unused saggars were smashed at Gladstone.

Saturday 2 September 1978

Drawing Day

Still heat in the oven. First saggar removed by cod placer. First glimpse of the fired ware. Deemed a success by Mr Clough. Well pleased.

16:00  Last saggar drawn from the oven. "Cycle complete."