Planning for The Last Bottle Oven Firing began in March 1977, eighteen months before the event. David Sekers, the Museum Director, produced a leaflet which outlined what was being planned. It also explained to the neighbours of the oven what they should expect.

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Part of the Last Bottle Oven Firing survey form 1977

Dear Neighbour, You may have read in the local press that the Gladstone Museum has recently applied to the local authority for permission to organise the firing of a bottle oven in Normacot Road.

In view of the likely atmospheric pollution which this may cause, the Museum was advised that it must first seek the views of the British Ceramic Manufacturers Federation and of people living and working within the immediate vicinity of the site before the application will be allowed to proceed further.

The purpose of my writing to you, therefore, is to tell you more about the plan and invite you to give me your reactions using the reply form opposite.

What Are We Hoping To Do 

The Gladstone Living Pottery Museum was set up as a charitable trust by some at the Industry's best-known names to record and relate the heritage of the Staffordshire pottery industry.

But the Gladstone is more than a museum. We use the same skills and techniques employed by our Victorian grandfathers - all apart from the firing of pottery which has to be done in modern ovens because of 20th century smoke control regulations.

These regulations have changed the Potteries for the better and no-one wants to put the clock back. But for just one occasion - less than 24 hours pollution and once only - we would like to recreate a typical kiln firing and make a film of the techniques involved for the benefit of present and future generations of pottery enthusiasts. school children, industrial archaeologists and historical interests.

Fortunately, there are still just a few people alive in the City of Stoke-on-Trent today with the necessary skills and knowledge to place a kiln with saggers and fire a bottle oven in the correct way.

We would like to call on their experience and make a film of an authentic kiln firing before the knowledge of the process is lost for all time.

The Gladstone Museum has four traditional bottle ovens but these are too old and need to be preserved from unnecessary stress We have therefore approached the owner of an adjoining bottle oven in Normacot Road who had readily agreed that we can use this kiln for a firing - providing, of course, that we can obtain sufficient public support for the project. This, of course, is the question you have to decide.

What Does A Kiln Firing Entail? 

Before the kiln can be fired, it must be dried out and this will require a few days of firing at low temperatures. Then once the whole structure is completely dry, up to 15 tons of coal (unfortunately, the smokeless variety is unsuitable) will be used for the actual firing over a two or three day period. This is likely to produce periodic emissions of dark smoke during a 48 hour period.

When Will The Firing Take Place?

During the course of one holiday week within the next twelve months.

Who Will Be Affected?

Only those people living and working within the immediate vicinity of the kiln - probably no more than a quarter mile radius of the site.

What Other Benefits Will Arise From A Kiln Firing? 

1. Local people will have a once and for all opportunity to witness on important reminder of our local heritage. And appreciate present conditions.
2. The firing is likely to attract large numbers of visitors - and trade - to local shops, restaurants and other amenities.
3. It will provide a yardstick to judge the revolution that has taken place in the pottery industry.
4. The firing will be used to manufacture a commemortaive souvenir of a unique occasion.

l have tried to give you a balanced and unbiased view of the case for and against a kiln firing. You must decide if it should be allowed to take place. Please send me your views on the reply form if you are not able to deliver it to the Museum personally, please leave the form in a prominent place near the entrance to your premises. Someone will collect it during the weekend of 30 April – 1 May 1977.

David Sekers 1977

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Last Bottle Oven Firing 1978
Photo: courtesy of Phil Rowley, original origin unknown

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Cartoon from The Evening Sentinel 1978

Hudson and Middleton site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing Drawing by John Hemmer 1978
Hudson and Middleton, Normacot Road, site of the Last Bottle Oven Firing
Drawing by John Hemmer, volunteer, 1978

The Survey of Neighbours

In May 1977 David Sekers, Pam Bott and Terry Woolliscroft made a house-to-house survey of the neighbours surrounding the bottle oven.

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.

The firing went ahead.

An Appeal for Help

Various appeals for volunteer help went out to the local press and in The Friends of Gladstone Newsletter during the build up to the firing. This is from the Newsletter

"Help is required on all these days in the following areas:

Turnstiles - 3 shifts per day: 10am - 2pm; 2pm - 6pm; 6pm - 10pm
Stewards    - ditto
Labourers   - no set shifts but mostly required 9am - 5pm  on both weekends and Monday 28th.

If you feel you would like to volunteer for any of these jobs please contact us immediately.

A team of experienced placers has been formed and Mr. Alfred Clough is the fireman.
Please contact Pam Bott at the Museum either by telephone or in writing.

Also required urgently is old tights or stockings to make the placers' rolls. Please send to Pam Bott at the Museum. "