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Bottle oven festival marks launch of Stoke-on-Trent Ceramic Heritage Action Zone

Published: Wednesday, 16th May 2018

An eight-week festival has been organised to mark the 40th anniversary of the last bottle oven firing in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Festival of Bottle Ovens will be the first major activity of the Stoke-on-Trent Ceramic Heritage Action Zone (HAZ), which was officially launched today (May 16).

Throughout August and September, Longton’s Gladstone Pottery Museum will celebrate the city’s rich bottle oven heritage through exhibitions, events and films – as well as opportunities to meet the team who took part in the last ever firing back in August 1978.

Stoke-on-Trent was among only eight areas nationally – and two in the whole of the Midlands – to be announced as HAZs by Historic England in December. The five-year scheme, led by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Historic England, aims to revive Longton, its historic buildings and give a fresh focus on the future of the city’s iconic pot banks. As well as the Bottle Oven Festival, the HAZ programme will see:

  • Longton receive a boost of up to £4 million through investment by the city council (up to £2.4m), Historic England (£900k) and the private sector
  • Longton Town Hall refurbished with city council staff moving in once the work is complete, boosting footfall in the town
  • a HAZ officer recruited and appointed whose job will be to oversee the project during its five-year lifespan, and to seek further funding opportunities
  • an archaeological dig in Longton to examine the site of 19th-century workers’ housing
  • work to repair and refurbish the main entrance to Gladstone Pottery Museum
  • a collaboration with students at Staffordshire and Keele Universities, who will use state-of-the-art equipment to survey the condition of the city’s remaining 48 listed bottle ovens and document them in 3D for generations to come
  • the physical connection improved between Gladstone Pottery Museum and Longton town centre to enhance the links between the two.
  • the possibility of applying to Historic England for a Longton PSiCA (Partnership Schemes in Conservation Areas) in the future, which would provide funding for the preservation and enhancement of the conservation area

Councillor Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, transport and heritage, said: “We were delighted to be awarded Heritage Action Zone status by Historic England following a successful bid and the exciting work starts now for Longton.

“We’re committed to supporting all six towns of Stoke-on-Trent and a big part of this scheme will involve bringing the town hall back to life by refurbishing the building and moving council staff in, which will boost footfall in the town and support existing businesses. 

“To be one of only eight places across the country to receive HAZ status in the latest round is really encouraging and gives us all a unique opportunity to breathe new life into some of the town’s historic buildings, while supporting and enhancing the existing cultural offer.”

The bottle oven festival has been organised by volunteers at Gladstone Pottery Museum. Paul Niblett, who is part of the team organising the event, said: “It’s 40 years since young enthusiasts of Gladstone organised a small group of retired potters to demonstrate what coal-firing bottle ovens were all about. That elderly group were equally enthusiastic and, despite their advanced years, entered into the week’s activities with zeal, dedication and pride.

“Sadly, the potters are no longer with us. However, their legacy of skill and knowledge is with us: on film, in photographs and in audio-tape recordings. For those of us involved with the 1978 firing, we felt that it was time to celebrate this legacy, before we, too, have passed on. The two-month anniversary is our tribute to the skills of the potters of the past and is an opportunity for today’s generations to learn and appreciate what they have done.”

There are now 18 Heritage Action Zones in villages, towns and cities across England. They have been identified by Historic England as places in need and where the historic environment can create economic growth and improve quality of life for people.

Longton developed rapidly in the early 1800s due to the expansion of local industries, notably pottery, coal and iron. The legacy of Longton’s industrial past remains evident to the present day, as the town features the largest number of extant bottle ovens in the city. As with many of the surviving ovens across the city, some of Longton’s examples are in a poor state of preservation having suffered years of neglect following their wholesale redundancy in the mid-20th century. 

Veryan Heal, planning director for Historic England in the West Midlands, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the city council and other partners on this Heritage Action Zone in Longton, and indeed all the six towns. Stoke-on-Trent is a city rich in heritage. There is much to be done, and I am confident that we have the right plan, and the right partnership, to achieve great things in Stoke-on-Trent.”

Gladstone Pottery Museum website

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