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SWAN BANK POTTERY, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent

 

Location

The excavation site is in a private car park at the end of Clayhanger Street in the centre of Burslem. It was clear from the 19th century maps that this was the site of an oven from the Swan Bank Pottery. Part of a hovel wall was visible.

 

Excavations began in 2007 and continued through 2008. We did not restart in 2009 due to the very sad death of the landowner.

Hovel wall

Overview

The lowest features of a 19th century oven were discovered just a few inches below the surface. These comprised the domed substructure of the oven floor, the fire brick ash holes and the brick walk-way inside the surrounding hovel wall. The numerous manufacturer′s names, on the fire bricks of the ash holes and bag wall (the inner wall of the kiln), indicated the many repairs (and rebuilds) to the oven through its long life (c 1830-1900).

 

The best indication of the pottery fired in the oven were the “Rockingham” ware teapots, found in the lowest layers of the ash holes. These are dated to the very late 19th century.

Kiln

 

The 19th century maps show a small square shape attached to the hovel. When excavated this proved to be a muffle oven, the lower part of which was quite well preserved with some fire bars and their supporting bars still in place. The oven was typically square with three fire mouths and a small rectangular building attached to it. This building would have contained the stairs and the entrance to the chamber of the oven.

 

18th centuary kiln

 

 

Below the substructure of the 19th century oven floor was a level, red clay floor with remnants of three saltglazed saggars still sitting directly on the floor. Also under the ash holes were fire mouths cut directly into the clay floor. This indicates a saltglazed oven of the mid 18th century.

18th centuary kiln

 

 

The area immediately to the East of the 19th century oven proved most interesting. The yard had been completely paved with bricks. Beneath this were several very compacted dark layers and beneath these dumped yellow clay. This dumped clay seems to have been the main levelling layer and contained mainly slipware and other early 18th century pottery. Finally beneath this was the original sloping ground surface. Surprisingly this ground surface contained what we think was part of the farmhouse (shown on the 18th century maps) in the form of a carefully laid tile floor and a wall base with a ditch running to the North of it. This ditch, which may be a drip trench for the farm house, was filled with grey clay containing huge quantities of pottery. The pottery was from about 1680 to the 1760 period and included tankards many with WR (William III) and AR (Queen Anne) excise marks. There were also some very fine saltglazed wares including lids with Chinese mythical beasts and some “Whieldon” type creamwares.


On the last day of digging we discovered the Northern bank of the ditch was not natural. Pottery was probably dumped in a very wet area which had then been cut through when the ditch was dug. The pottery from here is by far the earliest on the site probably late 16th to the first half of the 17th century. This includes a Midlands Purple chafing dish as shown in the finds.


A further feature cut into the original ground surface was a rectangular pit of unknown use. This contained an almost complete Midland Purple cistern of very fine manufacture. It was clear that this had been used as a saggar to protect fine ware when it was being fired because of marks of other vessels on the outside of its base.


A second area of the yard much further to the South was investigated. This had footings for various buildings associated with the late Victorian period of the pottery works. Beneath these was a much thicker levelling layer of clay. This again contained the mix of slipware period wares found elsewhere on the site.

 

 A chronology of the site

 Finds gallery

 

 

 

© Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, January 2011.