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Buckley Society Magazine Issue Seven: An Early Pottery Site in Buckley by James Bentley: Fig. 1 "

Brookhill Pottery, Buckley

January 1982

Buckley Society Magazine Issue Seven, January 1982


An Early Pottery Site in Buckley by James Bentley:

Fig. 1 Plan of Brookhill Pottery Site




Buckley's pottery and brickmaking industries developed considerably after the canalization of the River Dee in 1737, when clay products could be economically transported to distant markets. Immigrants, mainly from Staffordshire, Lancashire and Ireland, are also known to have joined the native community to promote as well as to labour in the Local works about this time.


In his article on 'The Buckley Potteries', J. E. Messham recorded and mapped the whereabouts of several potteries which were in production during the eighteenth century. Using this information, H. M. Harrison and myself excavated a small site in Pinfold Lane during 1971, evidence from which proved conclusively that it had been in production late in the seventeenth century.




In 1973, after diligent field walking, we came across what we suspected to be another pottery of this date. It was situated between the 'Trap' brickworks and that of the defunct Buckley Brick & Tile Co., on a sandstone outcrop of the fireclay series. The rising ground there falls into a shallow valley along which a ditch now meanders, but which is recognisable as a stream on John Speed's 1611 map of Flintshire. Across the defile runs an ancient trackway that once led to the pinfold of Ewloe township. It is of further significance that the field adjacent to the ditch produced medieval pottery wasters.


Permission to excavate was granted by the owners and tenant, and during July we investigated an area covering part of a garden in front of a derelict cottage. This was found to be a pottery work-site of similar dating to Pinfold, i.e. 1680-1750. An exciting feature of the finds here was the apparent transition from totally-thrown pottery manufacture to the production of 'pressed' ware. We recorded the dig and deposited our report in the Clwyd Record Office, Hawarden.


During work at the site, a pile of clinker and cinders was observed on an adjacent patch of barren land. I commenced work here in September 1975 with the removal of the debris, and was rewarded with the exposure of a pottery work-floor containing numerous early seventeenth-century artifacts. Furthermore, this upper part of the site also revealed two buildings at right angles to each other, and another small one about ten yards to the north. East and north of these, in descending tiers were numerous kiln foundations. I have designated this part of the excavation Brookhill Cinder Area (BrC), as opposed to the original area investigated which I called Brookhill (Br). The area uncovered to date (1981) extends over some fifty square yards. Eight kiln bases have been fully excavated (Nos. 1-8), and the location of a further four revealed (Nos. 9-12) (Fig. 1.). A large area of the pottery site is still untouched.




The fine earthenware goods were hand-thrown from blunged, levigated clay. Coarser weight-bearing and refractory pots were made with a more granular body. This latter fabric seems to be a mixture of marl and fireclay, and according to the tempering, burnt as red or dark purple ware. Ridge tiles were made of a less refined tempering of clay and bear large intrusions, whilst heavy weight-bearing sagger vessels were made from coarse yellow-buff refractory material.


Once thrown and allowed to harden, most of the smaller items were decorated to some degree. Cups, goblets, tankards, 'tygs', platters, jugs and other hollow vessels were often dipped in dark, iron slip-glaze, with some of the glaze swirled round the interior. The exterior was dipped as far as the finger grips of the potter. Sometimes the fingerprints are still discernible on excavated wasters. If the vessel required further decoration, it was often in the form of trailing lines of thin, white slip, applied over the dark slip. General patterns seem to have been used but applied individually by different workers. Many patterns included the profile of the tulip. The decorator's individual interpretation of a tulip head show variety and imagination. Similarly, much scope appears in oak leaves, fir trees and a varied assortment of designs. Some bear animal or bird themes, the most striking examples of which have been scratched on the wet slip-covered surface. Rare specimens include a written motto or maxim on the rim of the vessel. These types are called sgraffito ware.


Once the articles had been thrown, decorated and glazed, all the defects remedied or 'fettled', handles or appendages added, they were stored in open-sided covered sheds and supported on planks of timber. They were ready to be fired.




Differing from the typical round pottery kiln used in Buckley during modern times, these were of a small fragile construction. Pits of about 5 feet (1.5m) diameter were dug in the ground and sagger-like stout clay vessels placed in the hollow. Slabs of clay about 1 ½ inches (5cm) were then laid on top of them to form a floor. A gap left on one side of the perimeter served as a gate.

In all probability (positive evidence is not forthcoming), a wall of fireclay sandstone fragments was then built round the circumference to a height of about 4 feet (1.3m). A series of platform tiers, composed of hollow-pierced clay vessels supported on more flat slabs of clay or 'bats', were laid inside this circular wall. (Fig.2.).




It would appear that the half-built kilns were filled with pottery by gritting the floors of the 'bats' and pressing some of the larger fragments round the circumference of the base of the vessel so that they were slightly raised from the 'bat'. Many of the wasters seen to have been burnt upright, mounted on each other.


Large stout earthenware probably occupied the central area and was used as a support for shelves, which held smaller items. As the level of filling towered above the walls of the part-complete kiln, it would be logical to assume that tapering of the ware occurred to form a cone. A wicker beehive-shaped 'former' may have been placed over the kiln and plastered with a mixture of clay and straw, being allowed to set after making a central vent. The kilns were fired with wood and coal. Heat percolated through the under-floor labyrinth of sagger-supports and fired the entire kiln. When the temperature became intense, flames roared through the vent on the crown of the clay arch. The wicker 'former' burnt away, but the clay hardened and held the kiln intact.


On emptying, evidence again appears to show that the hard, but not vitrified 'former' of clay, was removed and the pottery extracted. Wasters may also have been removed and used as hardcore for the miry surround of the site. The kiln was reconstructed from the top of walls with a fresh firing of pottery. When it became unusable, evidence suggests that the last batch of wasters were left in situ, the semi-permanent walls being re-used elsewhere and a lens of collapsed clay-dome covering the wasters, and a pit of fire ash was left to disperse. The site plan (Fig.1.), shows that new kilns were built in close proximity to abandoned ones, and in some instances, overlapping took place. Now, after nearly four centuries, the stratifications appear as a thick blanket of kiln debris, pocked with lenses of ash, sagger and wasters, in varying degrees of completeness. Covering these are extensive wads of red clay from the collapsed 'crowns', and above it, later deposits of soil vegetation.




Although the products of this pottery site are mainly of post-medieval dating, several specimens show characteristics of much earlier period. The heavy silted cooking pots, dripping basins and ewers, display forms unchanged from the sixteenth century. Some have features which are decidedly foreign. The scraffitio platter dishes are rare in the north and are therefore of some significance. Similarly, a damaged figurine (Fig.3.), of a Stuart lady has its likeness in ware from St. Etienne, France, and is one of only four specimens found in Britain. These two types of ware, and their respective kilns, are considered to belong to the first half of the seventeenth-century. The more sophisticated pottery manufacturing centres existing in Britain at that time required saggers or supporting furniture in their kilns to cater for the increasing amounts of delicate pottery which was being produced. Only a few of these localities had natural fireclays, or suitable clay to make saggers, and would have to obtain them elsewhere. Normal plastic marls are not suitable for their manufacture because they cannot withstand the searing heat of furnace flames, nor can they support weight at high temperatures. The Buckley potter was fortunate in this respect in that the local fireclay series is of a low grade, renowned for its resistance to wear and tear after repeated use at extreme temperatures. It also possesses great weight-bearing strength when subjected to intense heat, notwithstanding a resistance to acids and corrosive vapours. It has a burning temperature of about 1200°C. Buckley, was therefore, in an ideal position for the early establishment of a pottery centre. In addition to the easy accessibility of underlying suitable fireclays and marls, outcropping coal was in abundance. Nearby, and on the same elevation, were lead mines at Rhosesmor and Halkyn, from which glaze was made from 'potter's ore'. Of great importance also was the Dee estuary, three miles away, which could be reached by descending gentle sloping terrain. Hardways, along which sleds and later tramways ran, have been traced to the eighteenth century. These, on reaching the estuary at Sandycroft, Wepre and Mancot, trailed across the sand alongside a creek to form a 'mark' or loading wharf.


Hence, compared with other Coal Measure earthenware-producing areas, Buckley may have held an advantage over her competitors. Unfortunately, the study of the Chester port books, which confirms the export of pottery during the reign of Elizabeth I, do not specify their origin. The port included many creeks and bays along both sides of the Dee estuary, and therefore the possibility of some of them having originated at Buckley is not impossible. Indeed, pannier-laden donkeys could have been used to convey the pottery to Chester. This trade reached a peak in 1576-7 when 87½ dozen 'crocks' were exported, while in other years small quantities of stone pots, 'jar pots', 'galley pots' and 'earthenware pots' were shipped. Exactly what these crocks were, is not clear. The word in Saxon merely stood for a pot and perhaps we have that meaning here, or possibly, sagger-like vessels which abound as wasters at Brookhill.


The large quantity, variety, and quality of the waster-pottery retrieved over the past six years, has convinced me that they must have been extremely saleable products. Furthermore, I consider the types of saggers and kiln furniture to have been the most significant finds to date because they were possibly a prime source of this specialized ware. The trade in these probably led to the introduction of bold reproductions of much finer articles made in more populous areas of post-medieval Britain.


The work continues!


1. J.E. Messham, 'The Buckley Potteries', Flints Hist. Soc. Pub., 16 (1956) pp. 31- 61.


2. J. Bentley & H.M. Harrison, 'Benjamin Cottrell's Pottery, Buckley' (unpublished ms. in the Clwyd Record Office, Hawarden).


3. H.M. Harrison & P.J. Davey, 'Ewloe', in P. J. Davey (ed.), Medieval Pottery from Excavations in the North West (Liverpool 1977), pp. 92-9.


4. I wish to express my thanks to Messrs. Butterley Building Materials Ltd., Catherall Works, Buckley, for permission to work on the site, and also for assistance in clearing large quantities of topsoil and debris. Grateful thanks are also tendered to Mr. Eric Okell for access to his tenancy.


5. J. Bentley & H.M. Harrison 'Investigation of a possible pottery site, Buckley', (unpub. ms. in Clwyd R.O.)


6. J. Bentley, 'Excavations of a possible kiln site at Brookhill, Buckley. Parts 1-3'; also 'A post medieval excavation at Brookhill, Buckley', (unpub. mss. in Clwyd R.O.)


7. P.J. Davey, The Buckley Potteries. An Archaeological Field Report (Buckley 1975);

K. Lloyd Gruffydd, 'Seventeenth-Century bestiary ware from Buckley, Clwyd', Archaeologia Cambrensis, 129(1980), pp. 160-5; A. Amery & P.J. Davey, 'Post-Medieval Pottery from Brookhill, Buckley, Clwyd. (Site 1), in Medieval and Later Pottery in Wales (1980), pp. 49-85.

8. M. Bevan-Evans, Early Industry in Flintshire (1964), p.29.


9. The Classification of Refractories (General Refract. Ltd., Publication, Sheffield).


10. J. Bentley, 'Old Buckley Tramways', Buckley, No. 1 (1970).


11. D.M. Woodward, The Trade of Elizabethan Chester (Hull, 1967).


12. J. Bentley, 'Observations on kiln furniture from Pinfold and Brookhill Pottery sites, Buckley' (unpub. ms. in Clwyd. R.O.)





Author: Bentley, James


Year = 1982

Month = January

Building = Industrial

Document = Map

Work = Light Industry

Extra = 1970s

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