Stoke’s historic bottle ovens are the subject of a new survey aimed at preserving the region’s heritage.
There were once 2,000 bottle ovens across the city but now only 50 remain.
The iconic structures, named for their characteristic shape, were in use in Stoke-on-Trent from the late 17th century until the mid-20th century.
They include a variety of kiln types used to fire pottery in the decorating process (muffle or hardening on kilns) and in the processing of raw materials (frit and calcining kilns). The Clean Air Act of 1956 forced many local potteries to seek less polluting firing technologies and saw a steady decline in the number of bottle ovens in the city.
Experts are now working to record all of the remaining ones through detailed photography, scale drawings and written descriptions. The aim is to provide a greater understanding of how they were constructed and used to help their future conservation.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is conducting the survey as part of the Stoke-on-Trent Ceramic Heritage Action Zone (HAZ).
The HAZ is a five-year long heritage-led regeneration programme focused on the city’s bottle ovens and Longton Town Centre Conservation Area. It is being delivered by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Historic England, alongside other local and national partners.
Councillor Dean Richardson, Heritage Champion said: “The remaining bottle ovens in the city are a truly wonderful addition to our skyline.
“The surveys being conducted are to help preserve the legacy of the ovens, providing a lasting record of these historical structures. Catching the attention and support of some of the top universities in the country is a wonderful nod to our exceptional heritage and our founders architectural ingenuity.”
The project also has the assistance of Staffordshire and Liverpool John Moores universities, and the Institute of Technology Sligo, which is undertaking 360 degree photography at a selection of sites. The University of Keele is also undertaking laser survey. These hi-tech survey techniques allow the detailed capture of complicated and difficult to access environments that would be hard to achieve with a 2D record alone.
So far recording work has illustrated the great variety of bottle oven types and construction methods employed and some new discoveries have been made along the way, notably at the Phoenix Works in Longton.
The bottle ovens there were previously thought to be up-draught type, but have now been recognised as down-draught type of which surviving examples can be seen at only one other site in the city. Furthermore, the examples at the Phoenix Works are the only down-draught bottle ovens remaining in the city that operated in conjunction with a separate chimney.
The project was launched in 2019, but was severely impacted by covid-19, and was only recommenced in 2021. It is now entering its final phase and is due to be completed this year.
There are also a limited number of volunteer opportunities at some of the more easily accessible sites if any residents are interested in helping the historic survey. If you would like more information on volunteer opportunities email Zoe.Sutherland@stoke.gov.uk.