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Buckley Society Magazine Issue 30: The Identification of Buckley Pottery by Davey and Longworth"

Brookhill Pottery, Buckley

November 2005

Buckley Society Magazine Issue 30, Spring 2006

Copyright lies with the authors and The Council for British Archaeology: Wales/Cymru

This article is covered in 164.1 - 164.13. Enter under CAPTION: "Identification of Buckley Pottery" to see all the entries



Plate 1. Buckley Pottery: Sgraffito ware, Brookhill pottery, showing elephant's feet and trunk (cf Amery and Davey 1979. 54, no 5)




P J Davey and C M Longworth



The Buckley area in Flintshire, North Wales, has been associated with the production of pottery for at least 600 years (Messham 1956; Harrison and Davey 1977). Nineteen different pottery sites [Fig. 2] have been identified producing a wide range of ceramics, ranging from the 15th to the 20th centuries (Davey 1974, 1975, 1976). Buckley is situated 12 kms west of Chester at a height of 140m above sea level on Buckley Mountain, close to the Dee Estuary [Fig. 1]. By the early 17th century a group of cottage potters had settled around Buckley Mountain where they exploited local supplies of clay, coal and lead. The peak period of production was at the end of the 17th century.


The North-West Medieval Pottery Research Group held a seminar at National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Liverpool Museum) on 6th October 2001 to discuss the Buckley pottery industry. The pottery studied on the day was the full range excavated from three sites in Buckley, North Wales, over the period c1650-c1830 and which is held in the collections of NMGM.


The event was planned to provide an opportunity to find out more about the wide range of wares produced in North Wales and to discuss the problems of identifying this material. Delegates attending included amateur archaeologists, contract archaeologists, museum archaeologists and pottery specialists.


The purpose of this shorter contribution is to provide a brief introduction to the potteries and to discuss the problems of identifying the pottery to source that formed the main focus of the seminar.


The Buckley Potteries

To understand why Buckley developed as a potting centre, it is necessary to examine its location. As with other major production areas, its geological and geographic position was the prime reason why the pottery industry developed.


The solid geology of the region is Carboniferous Limestone, which is overlain by coal measures. The upper layers of the coal measures constitute the Buckley Fireclay Group (Wedd and King 1924, 61). During the glacial period, boulder clay was deposited from two sources, the Northern Drift comprising bands of buff loam within red boulder clay, and the Welsh Drift comprising a stiff yellow clay (ibid 145). There is a major geological fault line north-south through Buckley which has exposed the range of clays and coal. Smaller faults in the coalfields created uplifted fault-blocks exposing further clays and coal. The faults caused mineralisation to take place, producing lead sulphide along the joints and the faults, and also along the bedding planes in the limestone. This produced the source of lead for glazing the pots. White-firing clays were produced in pockets in the Carboniferous Limestone in the pre-glacial period (ibid 174).


By the early 17th century, a group of cottage potters had settled around Buckley Mountain where they exploited the suitable supplies of clay, surface coal and nearby sources of lead. The settlers established encroachments on Buckley Common and utilised the wide range of clays found in the region. Red boulder clay, the most common raw material, was often mixed with a lighter buff-coloured clay to produce the domestic pottery. White clays were used in the production of clay tobacco pipes. Cooking pots and saggars were made from the fireclays.


Transport was comparatively easy in that the pots were carted down the hill to the Dee Estuary and then exported by water either to Chester market or to ports around the Irish Sea. Pots were also carted overland by mug sellers who called at the potteries (Messham 1956, 49).


Brookhill Pottery c1640-1720: Grid ref SJ 278655

This is the earliest post-medieval site in Buckley. It has been dated by the clay tobacco pipes found throughout the excavation. The earliest wares include complex slip decorated thrown bowls executed in both sgraffito and trailing techniques, porringers with press moulded handles, a female figurine and large tripod cooking vessels (Amery and Davey 1979). Later wares include mottled ware tankards and bowls, slipware dishes and black and brown glazed cups and storage vessels.


Pinfold Lane Pottery c1690-1720: Grid ref SJ 275655

While the kiln furniture and clay tobacco pipes are similar in form and fabric to those from the Brookhill site, the pottery is noticeably different. Bowls with simple slip trailing round the rim are restricted to Pinfold Lane and there is a wider range of press-moulded dishes. Both Pinfold Lane and Brookhill produced mottled ware tankards and bowls, but Pinfold Lane has a wider range of bodies and slip decoration (Davey 1987). Both sites produced a large collection of black-glazed wares (ibid 95-97).


Hancock's Pottery c1790-1886: Grif ref SJ 284639

This was one of the major production sites in Buckley. The peak production was in c1803 followed by a general decline. The two major production types were vessels for the lead industry and domestic cooking and storage vessels. The domestic wares were black-glazed and slipware storage vessels and bowls, black and brown glazed fineware and stoneware (Davey 1976, 25; Philpot 1978).


The problem of identification



In 1954 Ken Barton carried out a small excavation on part of Prescot's pottery in Buckley (Barton 1956). The major product of this largely 18th-century site was a red-bodied, highly fired, black glazed earthenware consisting for the most part of large kitchen or dairy storage vessels and coarse table-wares. Although the site did produce small quantities of other ceramics, such as slip and agate-bodied wares, Barton subsequently used the term "Buckley Ware" to refer to this black-glazed type in Chester, where he was on the staff of the Grosvenor Museum and further afield in such excavated groups as that from the Old Grammar School in Castletown, Isle of Man (Cubbon 1971, 11, 34). This designation was used by other workers and, on the evidence of the Welsh fieldworkers present at the October 2001 meeting in Liverpool Museum, is still in general use.


The problem

Documentary research, fieldsurvey and excavations at Buckley and other pottery production centres in the British Isles during the last 50 years suggest that the designation of this type of pottery as "Buckley Ware" is both unsafe, misleading and in very many cases incorrect. There are a number of reasons for this:-


·The Buckley potteries produced a wide range of post medieval earthenware and stoneware, including black-glazed, red-bodied earthenware. The part of Prescot's site excavated by Barton had rather a narrow technical range that does not reflect the full range of wares and designs made in Buckley.

·A number of other centres made a similar range of products, also based on Coal Measures Clays. The most important of these, from a North Wales point of view are Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool/South Lancashire, Whitehaven, the Glasgow area and Ironbridge Gorge/Bristol. All of these potteries made black-glazed, red-bodied earthenware using very similar clays and production techniques. In the hand, it is virtually impossible to identify the source of a sherd of such material with any confidence whatsoever.

·The Prescot site also appears to have had a relatively small chronological range. Research at Buckley and elsewhere shows that black-glazed wares, similar to those excavated by Barton, were in production from at least the mid-17th until the mid-20th centuries.


It follows from the above that the identification of black-glazed, red-bodied earthenware as "Buckley Ware" should be abandoned. Any chronological, economic or social interpretations based on such identification are likely to be highly misleading, if not completely incorrect. The next question is whether there is any ceramic type that could be afforded the designation "Buckley Ware" with some degree of confidence.


Characteristic Buckley products of the 17th and 18th centuries

Fieldwork carried out in the 1970s and 1980s by Jim Bentley and Martin Harrison expanded greatly both the technical and chronological range of ceramics known to have been made in Buckley. In particular, excavations at Pinfold Lane and Brookhill produced a wide spectrum of 17th and 18th century thrown and press-moulded slipwares, mottled wares, unglazed coarsewares, stonewares and clay tobacco pipes together with fragments of moulds, saggars and other kiln furniture. A proportion of the products employed buff, rather than red, firing clays. Compared with other post-medieval production sites a number of the Buckley finds are sufficiently unusual and distinctive to allow their possible or probable identification when they are found elsewhere. Seven types are described below in order of their probable distinctiveness.


Clay tobacco pipes

Clay pipes made in Broseley-style moulds were produced on the Brookhill site in the later part of the 17th century by members of the Hayes family. The pipes can be identified by the use of the initials TH and full name THOMAS HEYES on the underneath of the tailed heel (Bentley, Davey and Harrison 1980; Higgins 1983) [Fig. 3].


Buckley-type Sgraffito Ware

Perhaps the most distinctive Buckley product is the thrown, red-bodied, all-over yellow slipped, lead glazed, sgraffito ware, especially those examples containing "bestiary" designs (Amery and Davey 1979, 54-55, Fig 2, Nos 1-2, 5; Gruffydd 1980; Longworth 2004, 2005) [Plate 1]. Although, given the use of Coal Measures Clays and relatively high firing temperatures, Buckley Sgraffito can be distinguished from most other similar wares, such as North Devon Sgraffito, on the basis of fabric, it is the unusual animal and geometric designs that provide the crucially diagnostic element.


Tripod cooking pots

The earliest levels of the Brookhill site contained wasters from a number of very large tripod cooking pots made in a buff, "fireclay" fabric with many coarse angular inclusions. The vessels were supported on three small lugs as feet and had single or two opposed handles. The exteriors sometimes exhibited iron-wash finger stains (Amery and Davey 1979, 76-77; Fig 13, Nos 132-4) [Fig. 4].


Other thrown slipwares

Red-bodied, thrown slipware dishes with internal decoration were made in the same forms as the sgraffito ware, with some similar, floral and geometric designs (Amery and Davey 1979, Fig 2, Nos 8-13) [Plate 2]. Unfortunately, as many other centres produced similar wares the identification of Buckley products is risky unless almost complete forms and designs are present and can be compared in the hand with material from Buckley kiln sites. Brookhill also produced a buff-bodied thrown slipware with multi-coloured trailed slip on a yellow background. The use of green slip as the last stage of decoration is most unusual and may be diagnostic of Buckley [Plate 3].


Press-moulded slipware

Fragments of moulds and press-moulded wasters were found at both Pinfold Lane and Brookhill. With the possible exception of the most simple mould, no examples of pottery made using these moulds have been recovered. Two of the moulds are so complex in design that their products should be easy to identify (Amery and Davey 1979, 58-59, Fig 4, Nos 24-25) [Fig. 5]. As a generalisation the earliest of the Buckley press-moulded wares are buff-bodied and very similar to finds from Staffordshire and elsewhere.


Dishes made at Hancock's pottery in the early 19th century, however, are red-bodied and are very highly fired. The designs are much more simple and the remnant dentelle design is knife cut [Plate 4]. The reverse of these wares is normally fired a very deep purple colour that becomes redder towards the outside edge. This effect appears to be a product of both the high temperatures used and oxygen starvation due to the close packing of the dishes, one inside the other. At present, and subject to a proper study being carried out of products of other centres, this purple-backed, press-moulded slipware is the nearest to a diagnostically Buckley product that has been recovered so far.


Moulded handles

A number of the black-glazed and slipware products recovered from Brookhill involve the use of small, applied, moulded handles or lugs on cups or porringers (Amery and Davey 1979, 62-65, Fig 6, No 40; Fig 7, Nos 57-58, 61-62) [Plate 5]. These elements are sufficiently complex in design to be clearly identifiable, if found elsewhere.


Possibly diagnostic forms

A number of specific thrown forms in use at Brookhill appear, on present knowledge, to be restricted to Buckley. They include large, flared, heavily-built beakers both plain and slip decorated (Amery and Davey 1979, 60-65, Fig 5, Nos 27-29; Fig 7, No 50) [Plate 6], thick-walled pedestal cups or lamps, occasionally decorated around the rim with white slip dots (ibid, 64-65, Fig 7, Nos 51-55) [Plate 7] and slip-trailed biconical vessels with lids (ibid, 60-61, Fig 5, No 31) [Plate 8].


The mottled wares

The Buckley potteries produced a wide range of mottled ware, in red, pink and buff-firing bodies. In the absence of detailed publication of many other Coal Measures Clays potteries, it would be risky to attempt to define a characteristically Buckley mottled ware type. The Buckley wares are dominated by dishes, many are slip-coated before being glazed, a number of unusual looped-over handles are in evidence on the hollow-wares and one example is slip trailed (ibid, 74-75, Fig 12). It may be possible, in a given instance, to identify this ware provided that new finds are compared in the hand with products of the Buckley kilns.


Guidelines for fieldworkers

Given the above definition of the problems of identifying Buckley pottery and description of some of the more diagnostic 17th and 18th-century types, a number of points emerge for the future:-


·Red-bodied, black-glazed earthenware should not be described as Buckley Ware.


·Other ware types that correspond closely to those described as characteristic Buckley products above should be called "Buckley Sgraffito Ware" etc, as long as comparison in the hand with kiln products has established technical, fabric and decorative identity. The term "Buckley-type Sgraffito Ware" etc might be used either for items that appear in the hand to be identical to the published Buckley descriptions, or for those that, when compared with the kiln groups, are similar in many respects, but not identical, to those excavated in Buckley and defined above as characteristically Buckley products.


·Every effort should be made to compare all possible Buckley products found elsewhere with the reference collections held by National Museums Liverpool, the Grosvenor Museum, Chester and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.


·Any discussion of the sources of pottery from excavations in North Wales or further afield should take full note of the alternative sources possible for most of the technological types described here.


·Detailed publication of kiln groups from the many other potteries founded on Coal Measures Clays, together with comparative analysis will be required before the identification of many types of post-medieval ceramic found in North Wales can be made with any degree of confidence.



The Buckley Archive in Liverpool Museum

The Buckley Archive comprises excavated material from the post-medieval kiln sites and the associated excavation records, photographs, drawings, reports and correspondence created by James Bentley during the 20-year period of his work on the Buckley potteries. In addition, the archive includes general items associated with pottery and industrial production in Buckley collated from various sources.


The archive also consists of additional reports and drawings compiled during a Manpower Services Commission scheme run by the University of Liverpool in the 1980s. The archive is held in the National Museums Liverpool and is available for consultation by appointment.

Other collections of Buckley pottery and archives

Liverpool holds the largest collection of excavated material from Buckley. There are further groups of excavated material held in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester. The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent holds a reference collection of Buckley material. Pottery from the 19th and 20th centuries is held in the Flintshire Museum Service Reserve Collection and the University of Wales School of Art Gallery and Museum, Aberystwyth. The Flintshire Record Office is the main repository for documentary sources relating to Buckley. The Buckley Library Heritage Centre is another source for documentary information.



Buckley ceramic products of the 19th and 20th centuries, that includes bricks, tiles and industrial wares as well as pottery, are more frequently maker-marked - Catherall, Hancock and Powell being the most common names. This material deserves more detailed description than can be given here and would provide an appropriate subject for a sequel to this paper.


The writers would be very interested to hear of any Buckley pottery found in Wales and would be pleased to assist with the identification of possible Buckley wares, in particular those types described above as "characteristically Buckley". In the first instance, please contact Christine Longworth at National Museums Liverpool (tel: 0151 478 4311; e-mail:






Amery A and Davey P J 1979 'Post-medieval pottery from Brookhill, Buckley, Clwyd', Medieval and later pottery in Wales, 2, 49-85.


Barton K J 1956 'The Buckley potteries - II: excavations at Prescot's pottery 1954', Flintshire Historical Society Publication, XVI, 63-87.


Bentley J, Davey P J and Harrison M 1980 'An early clay pipe industry in North Wales', The Archaeology of the Clay Tobacco Pipe, III, 273-282.


Cubbon A M 1971 'The mediaeval chapel of St Mary's Castletown, later the Castletown Grammar School', Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, VII, No 3, 1-36.


Davey P J 1974 The Buckley Potteries: an archaeological field report, Buckley Clay Industries Research Committee, Flint.


Davey P J 1975 Buckley Pottery, Buckley Clay Industries Research Committee, Flint.


Davey P J 1976 'Recent fieldwork in the Buckley Potteries' Buckley, 4, 16-29.


Davey P J 1987 'Further observations on a post-medieval kiln group from Pinfold Lane, Buckley' in: B Vyner and S Wrathmell(eds) Studies in medieval and later pottery in Wales presented to J M Lewis, Department of Extra-Mural Studies, University College, Cardiff, 93-120.


Gruffydd K Lloyd 1980 'Seventeenth-century bestiary ware from Buckley, Clwyd', Archaeologia Cambrensis, 129, 160-163.


Harrison H M and Davey P J 1977 'Ewloe Kiln' in: P J Davey (ed) Medieval pottery from excavations in the North West, Institute of Extension Studies, Liverpool, 92-99.


Higgins D A 1983 'Clay pipes from Brookhill, Buckley', Medieval and later pottery in Wales, 6, 51-64.


Longworth C 2005 'Buckley ceramics in the seventeenth century: socio-economic status of the potters and possible design influences', Interpreting Ceramics Issue 6,


Longworth C 2004 'Buckley sgraffito: a study of a 17th century pottery industry in North Wales, its production techniques and design influences', Internet Archaeology Journal 16,


Messham J E 1956 'The Buckley potteries - I', Flintshire Historical Society Publications, XVI, 31-61.


Philpot S 1978 A study of some pottery from Hancock's Pottery, Buckley, Clwyd, BA dissertation, University of Lancaster.


Wedd C B and King W B R 1924 'The geology of the country around Flint, Hawarden, and Caergwrle', Memoirs of the Geological Survey, England and Wales, London HMSO


Author: Davey, Peter & Longworth, Christine


Year = 2005

Month = November

Building = Industrial

Landscape = Industrial

Object = Visual Art

Work = Light Industry

Extra = Visual Arts

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