What is a bottle oven?

The Potbank and its Bottle Oven
A bottle oven is a large bottle-shaped structure, built from brick, in which pottery was fired. It most commonly consists of two main parts, an outer and an inner.

The outer, which is the bottle shaped part, is known as the hovel. This could be up to 70 feet high. The hovel acted as a chimney taking away the smoke, creating draught and protecting the oven inside from the weather and uneven draughts.

The inner part is the oven proper. It is a round structure with a domed roof, the crown, and its walls are approximately 1 foot thick. Iron bands, known as bonts, run right round the circular oven about 12" apart to strengthen it as it expands and contracts during firing. A doorway, the clammins, just large enough for a man with a saggar on his head to pass through, is built into the oven surrounded by a stout iron frame.

Around the base are firemouths - the exact number depends on the size of the oven - in which fires were lit for the firing. Inside the oven, over each firemouth, is a bag which carries some of the heat from the fire into the oven, like a small chimney.

Flues underneath the floor of the oven leading from each firemouth distribute the heat throughout the inside. In the centre of the oven floor is the well hole.

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
The cobbled yard and three of its towering ovens
at Gladstone Working Pottery Museum
Pottery may need to be fired several times during its manufacture and different ovens were needed for each type of firing so, depending on the output of each factory, a single works could have anything from one to 25 ovens.

Within a factory, ovens were not situated to any set plan. They may have been grouped around a cobbled yard or in a row. Sometimes they were built in to the workshops with the upper part of the hovel protruding through the roof. The stack of such ovens was usually built on the shoulder of the oven itself.   more here>

Gladstone Working Pottery Museum is unique. It has four huge bottle ovens in the cobbled yard and one smaller enamelling kiln away from the hustle and bustle of the works. Nowhere else has a Victorian Potbank of this quality been preserved. The skyline of Stoke -on Trent in 1939 was dotted with 2000 bottle ovens. Today in 2015 there are 46 - 5 of them (more than 10%) are preserved at Gladstone.