Bristol 1944: Coffee, Doughnuts and a Forgotten Soldier

A few years ago one of my students found a metal tag in the grounds of Bristol School of Art in Clifton. She had been in the military and recognised it as an American military dog-tag from the Second World War. I didn’t have an immediate explanation and was challenged to find out more. I knew Bristol was the headquarters of the US First Army in the run up to the Normandy Landings in June 1944. My son took an interest and contacted the US Embassy in London who very helpful. What has grown from that has been a fascinating window on the American presence in Bristol in 1944, the use of parts of the building by the American Red Cross and the experiences not only of a small group of US servicemen but also the local people around them.

Sometime between November 10 and December 24, 1944, a US Army corporal called Laures Champlin visited the American Red Cross Club at the Royal West of England Academy in Queens Road, Clifton. Presumably, along with coffee and doughnuts, he took advantage of the shower block put up by the army in the back-yard. In the process he lost one of his dog-tags which ended up in the dirt outside the shower block entrance. Champlin came from Louisiana and was a truck driver with the 244th Engineer Combat Battalion. They had arrived at Avonmouth Docks from New York on November 10 and were stationed nearby in Sea Mills awaiting posting to Europe in the follow up to the Normandy Landings in June. On Christmas Eve they left by train for Southampton and shipment to France.

18 year old Laures Champlin as a new recruit in the summer of 1944 (photo courtesy of the Champlin family).

That’s the basic story. Along the way we were able to add lots more detail about the Americans in Bristol in 1944 and the experiences of the 244th Engineers. We originally wrote it up for Bristol Times in 1999 but responses to that article and recent changes at the Art School have brought more to light.

The Royal West of England Academy and the American Red Cross in WWII

The Royal West of England Academy/Bristol School of Art in 1946. The outbuilding on the north side is the 1944 MOWP Hut (Ordnance Survey).

The Academy building in Queens Road was built in 1858 to accommodate two separate institutions; upstairs the West of England Academy, an artists’ body with exhibition galleries and meeting rooms modelled on the Royal Academy in London and downstairs the School of Practical Art (now Bristol School of Art). When the Second World War broke out in 1939 both continued to operate normally although many students were called up. Things changed in 1944 as the military build up began for D-Day and the Normandy Landings. Bristol was an important entry point for American troops and equipment, and the decision was taken to establish the US First Army commander General Omar Bradley’s headquarters at Clifton College. Many local buildings and open spaces were commandeered to act as offices, camps and billets for the US forces. The Art School continued to operate normally through the war but the (by now Royal) West of England Academy upstairs was taken over first as offices and then as an American Red Cross Club. The clubs served fresh coffee, peanut-butter sandwiches and doughnuts and offered music and dancing (no alcohol or hot food). The RWA was for white US soldiers only – black US troops had a separate club in Great George Street. Bigger events such as band performances were held at the Victoria Rooms over the road. American women Red Cross staff ran the clubs assisted by local people like Elizabeth Crawford and Margaret Davies. Margaret was a stenographer and they both acted as hostesses for dances. Elizabeth agreed to be interviewed and described the arrangements in the RWA galleries and some of her adventures. The main gallery was the canteen and the one behind it had a piano.

‘They had dances in there and they used to have a little three-piece band or something like that and then on Sunday night was a big thing in the Victoria Rooms when this band came up from Warminster. They were very good.’

The smaller galleries held a quiet lounge and a table-tennis room.

‘I was quite good in those days and they had an awful sort of arrangement that the one who beat you took you home. So I used to be up for hours and by the time I was getting tired my boyfriend would come in and I would get beaten so he could take me home. One awful night! A sailor beat me and I thought my Mother was going to have a fit if went home with an American sailor.’

She eventually acquired a Military Policeman’s lapel badge and wore it on her blouse to ward off suitors.

The wartime MOPW Hut / shower block behind the Royal West of England Academy building in Clifton. The tower held the hot water tank with a coal-fired boiler below.

The dog-tag was found just in front of a small outbuilding in the garden. Looking at it with a fresh eye, it is familiar as the kind of prefabricated concrete structure often seen on wartime airfield and hospital sites. Known as a Ministry of Works and Procurement (MOPW) Standard Hut, they were built in large numbers although not usually in the backyards of art galleries and art schools. There were two sizes and this one is actually half of a small one with a tower in one corner for a water tank and a boiler below. Markings on the floor suggested stalls. A brick and concrete staircase added to the back of the main building at the same time, links the art gallery on the upper floor to the garden, effectively avoiding the art school. It seems the hut provided shower and washroom facilities appropriate to the new busy use for the art gallery in 1944. It seems a reasonable guess that Laures lost his dog-tag(s) whilst taking the opportunity for a shower.

Interior of the MOPW Hut in use by the Art School as a sculpture studio in the 1990s.

Wartime Utility coffee mugs and plates, an American Aqua Velva aftershave bottle and sample size Drene shampoo bottles uncovered by recent building work near the MOWP hut.

This winter, building work in front of the hut has disturbed the ground where the dog-tag was found and revealed a small dump of wartime pottery and glass. The china consists largely of ‘utility’ white plates and mugs produced under government control and marked G VI R with the date 1944. These were made primarily for military use and issued to NAAFI, Red Cross and evidently American Red Cross kitchens and mobile canteens. The glass includes American Aqua Velva aftershave and sample size Drene shampoo bottles and shards of a clear glass Coca Cola bottle made for the US Army (5 cents a bottle). There is even an official issue fork. Presumably the other American products were either sold by the Red Cross or issued to service personal as part of their rations. (The pottery is interesting from a ceramic history point of view and I will write a separate post about it shortly).

Laures Champlin and the 244th Engineers

The US Embassy in London and various organisations in the States have been very helpful in enabling us to find out more about our soldier and his unit. T5 (Corporal) Laures Edwin Champlin came from Jonesville in Concordia Parish on the Mississippi in Louisiana. His family were farmers. He served as a truck driver with the 244th Engineer Combat Battalion and was 18, coming up 19, when he arrived at Avonmouth docks on November 10, 1944. The 244th Engineers were a specialist unit tasked primarily with road repair and construction, an essential role but one that tends not to get much mention in the history books.

The US Army Military History Institute in Pennsylvania has a 60-page account of the adventures of the 244th Engineers from recruitment to discharge, written by Sergeant Edward Hagerty and some other members of B Company while waiting to return home from France in late 1945 (Laures Champlin was in C Company). In it the larger picture of the war is replaced by an eye-witness account in which food and warmth are as important as anything. The Battalion spent six weeks living in the camp in Sea Mills. Exploring Bristol brought their first experience of the effects of war. Coming into the city, they found the blackout difficult and they were shocked by the extent of the damage caused by bombing. They involved themselves with the local community. Hagerty writes,

‘As Christmas Day drew near everyone in the Co. decided to give their candy rations to the orphans who lived in an old castle on a hill in Shirehampton (presumably Nazareth House). On the 23rd of Dec. Madden and I took the rations in a big basket up to the children as the Co’s Christmas present to them. We talked to the Mother Superior and when she discovered that Marsden lived near a brother of her’s on 154th Street, Manhattan, I felt it time to leave. They were a good pair. We promised her that we would return again and if possible bring movies for the children.’

On their return to camp they were met with the news that the Battalion had been ordered to leave for France the following day. Food for Christmas Day was all ready for preparation but had to be put away as their trucks, supplies and kit were loaded on to rail wagons at Avonmouth Station.

They had to walk to Avonmouth to catch the train – it seems odd now to think of young soldiers going off to war along the Severn Beach line through the Avon Gorge and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. At Southampton ‘We pulled into a large freight terminal and once again the Red Cross was prepared for us. We ruined their supply of “coffee and” in nothing flat. We were really hungry and didn’t mind showing it.’

Some Engineer units had played major roles in the Normandy Landings in June and had been actively engaged in severe fighting. By December the fighting had moved on and the 244th arrived peacefully by ship at Le Havre, minus their trucks and equipment somehow left behind at Avonmouth. They were soon faced with freezing conditions. Poorly accommodated and short of basic kit they had to improvise cooking facilities and took up fishing and hunting for extra supplies. Once reequipped, they began repairing roads and when laying a minefield in mid-January they had their first confusing experience of hostile shelling. Their most significant military achievement came with the Rhine crossings on 23-24 March, 1945, when they worked under fire to build approach roads on both sides of the Rhine at the Ninth Army’s bridging point at Wallach near Wesel. This was the American assault on the Rhine alongside the British attack under General Montgomery at Wesel.

The 9th Army pontoon bridge over the Rhine built on the 23-24 March 1945. The bridge itself was built in less than seven hours. The 244th Engineers built the access roads. (Pinterest. Copyright unknown).

Sgt. Hagerty describes the actions of the truck drivers, working under fire, probably including Laures:

From the first load that was needed to the last, load after load of rock came to the river. Never once slowing up, these drivers got everything out of their trucks that was in them. At noon, the drivers changed places with the assistant drivers and the trucks kept right on rolling. They deserve much credit, these men, because they not only worked hard, but really travelled the roads. Their goal was to make as many loads as possible in the shortest time possible. I am not going to name any of the drivers here because if they were named they all should be. They did a splendid job and were commended for it by Capt. Lipe.

Later they briefly saw front line action as infantry before taking part in the crossing of the Elbe in northern Germany as the war ended. From there they moved back to France and returned to the States a few at a time over the coming months.

Laures Champlin in 1946. (photo courtesy of the Champlin family).

Laures Champlin was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and after the war retrained and joined the US Air Force as a radio repairman. He died in 1972, and his family in Louisiana must have been a little surprised to hear from Bristol. They say that he mentioned getting into trouble for losing his dog-tags but he never knew where he had lost them. They have kindly provided photographs of him – looking very young in his crisp new uniform.

Stop Press. The garden soil has now given up a second dog-tag, this one belonging to Coastguardsman Kenyon D. Clauson of the US Coastguard Reserve. The main overseas role of the USCGR was as crew for troopships and landing-craft. Another story to explore.


With thanks to Phyl Barton, the Champlin family, Maxine Davies, Ben Kent, Elizabeth Longney (nee Crawford) and the Embassy of the United States of America in London.


Hagerty, Sgt. Edward D., 1946. Old Company “B”. 244th Engineer Combat Battalion. (unpublished manuscript). College Park, MD: US Army Military History Institute/National Archives at College Park.

Kent, Oliver, 1999. ‘Dog-tag clue to forgotten soldier’. Bristol Times. (Bristol Evening Post supplement). Oct 19, 1999, 3.

Sansom, John, (Ed), 2002. Public View. A Profile of The Royal West of England Academy. Bristol: Redcliffe.

Wakefield, K., 1994. Operation Bolero. The Americans in Bristol and the West Country, 1942-45. Crècy Books.

Posted in Archaeology, Architecture, Bristol, Germany, Modernism, Post-Medieval Archaeology, World War 2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newport Medieval Kiln Open to the Public

The impressive medieval pottery kiln at Newport in Pembrokeshire is now fully conserved and open to public view. The kiln is contained within the basement of the Newport Memorial Hall built in 1921. Its survival concealed within the building for a century is a remarkable story of local enthusiasm and the involvement of Mortimer Wheeler. The project to update the hall has allowed the kiln to be conserved and made accessible seven days a week. As part of the interpretation, visitors are treated to an excellent 5-minute film/digital animation showing the workings of the kiln and the pottery.

Arguably the most complete medieval pottery kiln in Britain, after partial excavation in 1921 it was preserved under the Newport Memorial Hall and largely forgotten until 2013. Unusually large for a medieval kiln it dates from the late 1400s/early 1500s and formed part of a regional industry serving South West Wales. The potters made workaday domestic jugs and jars, undecorated and unassuming but nonetheless very well made. Now as fully excavated as possible the kiln is enclosed in an environmentally stable room with a plate glass wall.

The formal public opening was held on Saturday 28 July and attended by several hundred people according to the report in the Western Mail. The kiln was opened by the Mayor of Newport, Alderman John Edwards and David Robinson of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The day was enlivened by pottery making demonstrations, talks and all manner of entertainments. A great success and hopefully the kiln will be a valued attraction for Newport in the future as well as being an important aspect of regional archaeology and history and the history of British ceramics.

The two pots were found in the 19th-century in Newport Castle. They are similar to those made at the pottery but probably come from another related pottery nearby.

Carmarthen College students have worked with us to design some beautiful reconstruction drawings. This one is based on our laser-survey data and although the precise layout of buildings is hypothetical, the size and proportions have been carefully considered.

For more detail on the history, excavation and interpretation of the site see my earlier posts:

The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire. Feb 2016

(Re) Excavating the Medieval Kiln at Newport, Pembrokeshire. Dec 2016

Finds from the Medieval Kiln-site at Newport, Pembs. Feb 2017

Latest News from the Newport Medieval Kiln. May 2017

Jars and Jugs from the Newport Medieval Kiln excavations. Nov 2017

Funding for the project has come from a range of sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sustainable Development Agency, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the Foyle Foundation and the Welsh Government.

Posted in Archaeology, Bickley Ceramics Project, Experimental Archaeology, Kilns and Kiln-building, Medieval pottery, Museums | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post-War Modern: A Concrete Greenhouse

During the Second World War prefabricated building design and technology developed very rapidly. In Britain manufacturing was tightly controlled and many small companies learned new skills in the process. Hendy Quarry in South Wales was probably one of these and in 1944 turned to developing prefabricated concrete glasshouses.

When we were in Pembrokeshire for the opening of the Newport Medieval Kiln we took time to explore the area around. Amongst other places we visited was Llanerchaeron, an 18th-century house and estate owned by the National Trust. The house itself is interesting but the main emphasis here is on the business of running such a property from the household staff to the large estate farm next door. The extensive kitchen gardens are impressive and being maintained and operated by a team of volunteers. The walled garden nearest the houses has flanking heated walls with flues and fireboxes were designed to grow fruit trees and vines against but also provided the heat source for a range of large glasshouses now mostly in a tumbledown state. Half of one of these had, according to the volunteer we spoke to, been replaced around 1950 with a reinforced concrete version. Time has taken its toll and glassless this too now is deteriorating steadily. I do not suppose its fate is a priority for the National Trust and clearly it does not fit into their 19th-century narrative very well. Nonetheless, a prefabricated reinforced concrete greenhouse seems a rare and intriguing thing and deserving of investigation.

Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion. The crumbling prefabricated concrete glasshouse in the old walled garden.

Reinforced concrete seems such an unlikely material for a glasshouse and the delicacy of the structure is a real surprise. Seeming largely slotted together it looks like a fragile constructional toy. The lack of glass makes it look vulnerable in stark contrast to its former occupant a hearty vine now bursting through at the end nearest the door.

On one end a label identified it as having been made by the Hendy Quarry Company and gives four patent numbers. These were submitted by John Ace Roberts of Barry in 1944/5 and cover the building structure and the detail of the hinges windows and skylights. Patent 594822 is for ‘Improvements to Buildings consisting of a Rigid Framework and Glazing or other Sheet Covering Material Carried thereon.’ The patents were granted in 1947.

Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion. Interior of the prefabricated concrete glasshouse in the walled garden.

The bolted scarf-joint between the frame post and roof beam of the prefabricated glasshouse.

Drawings from the 1944/5 application for Patent 594822. Figure 26 shows the two piece scarf-jointed form of frame. (Espacenet. European Patent Office).

The core of the structure is a series of vertical reinforced concrete posts set in a concrete floor slab and with a roof beam scarf-jointed at an angle. A ridge would form a full building. At Llanerchaeron the top ends of the roof beams are mounted onto the existing garden wall to form a lean-to. Spaced about 9ft apart, the posts and beams are slotted along their sides to take inserted additional precast elements such as solid wall blocks and window frames as seen in the patent drawings. The method is very similar to that used in the Ministry of Works and Planning (MoWP) Standard Hut designed in 1942 itself derived from an earlier hut designed by the British Concrete Federation (BCF) and other experimental designs from the late 1930s.

The frame structure of a Ministry of Works and Planning (MoWP) Standard Hut designed in 1942. (Mallory and Arvid, 1973. p. 188.)

Around 60 different prefabricated building designs were proposed or manufactured in WW2. Lightweight wood and metal structures were useful in mobile or battlefield situations. The advantage of concrete buildings was the relative accessibility of materials and relatively low-tech manufacturing. Against that was the problem of weight and bulk for shipping and the time taken for construction. These buildings became the standard types for projects in the UK and that required a degree of permanence. Airfields, hospitals, military camps and prisoner of war camps were the main results.

The MoWP Hut was particularly practical because it was designed to be adapted to local materials. The frames combined with a concrete sheet roof were supplied from the works. A 6ft spacing between posts could take matching concrete wall-sections but builders were encouraged to use local resources and many were finished in brick – 6ft = 12 bricks. Window frames simply had to fit the 6ft module. The concept derived from the earlier BCF Hut which was designed to utilise standard concrete paving slabs as wall components but hence required a lot more uprights.

A 5-bay MoWP Hut built at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol in 1944 for the US Army as a shower/latrine block. The walls are finished in brick with wooden window frames. The raised section held a water tank. Normally ten bays long this is actually half a hut!

The Hendy glasshouse uses a frame structure very similar to the MoWP Standard Hut and the long pre-cast wall slab under the windows. The use of these to build a full height wall can be seen in the 1953 advertisement for the Hendy garage version of the building. The only real difference is that the Hendy system uses a 9ft post spacing rather than a 6ft one.

An advertisement for the Hendy Portable Garage. Autocar, March, 1953.

Hendy Quarry Co. sold out to English China Clays in 1955 and there seems to be little information on them. They built sample buildings at agricultural shows in the early 1950s and advertised in the motoring press. Tarmac still operate the quarry itself.

Once you start looking, modular reinforced concrete garages and garden walls from the 1950s and 60s are all over the place. The 1965 Pitch and Pay Park development in Sneyd Park, Bristol features concrete post and slab garden walls for example. Designed by Prebend Jacobsen for Span Developments this estate reflects the leading edge of post-war Modernist suburban estate design. Modular prefabricated concrete components have moved from the experimental and theoretical in the 1930s through a period of rapid development and assimilation during the war to become part of the armoury of modernist architects and designers. Hendy’s were a small part of that, probably looking to capitalise on their new found skills making components during the war. As early as 1944 they had begun planning for peacetime. I rather like the concrete glasshouse as a brutalist’s imagining of a brighter future.

If anyone knows of a more complete example I would love to hear about it. I would like to encourage the National Trust to consider how they might conserve and/or reuse theirs.

For more information on Llanerchaeron, opening times etc see National Trust, Llanerchaeron. It is about 2 miles SE of Aberaeron in Ceredigion, West Wales.


Draper, K., L. 2015. Building for War: Examples of Temporary Structures Designed for Wartime Use in Britain (1939-1945). Paper delivered at the 5th International Congress on Construction History.

Espacenet. European Patent Office website. Entries for patents GB594822; GB586218; GB586223 and GB594875.

Mallory, Keith and Ottar, Arvid, 1973. The Architecture of Aggression. A history of military architecture in North West Europe 1900-1945. London: Architectural Press.

Posted in Architecture, Bristol, Modernism, Post-Medieval Archaeology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laser-scanning the 18th-century Kiln at Dunster

The kiln in Dunster is the oldest ‘complete’ pottery kiln in Britain and sits alone in the corner of the grounds of Dunster Castle in Somerset. It was built in 1759 and its construction is recorded in detail in the Lutterell family papers. Like the watermill nearer to the house it was designed as a working feature within the naturalistic design of the castle park. The potters, John Mogg and his wife Ruth, would have had to both make and fire pottery and cope with the attentions of the Lutterells’ guests. At the mill, the millers still have the same situation today but nowadays their employer is the National Trust.

Following on from recording the old kiln at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, David Dawson, Bill Stebbing and I have begun laser-scanning the Dunster kiln – Exmoor National Park, the National Trust and the other stakeholders having given their permission. David and I have a long association with the kiln at Dunster having played a significant part in its rediscovery, excavation, conservation, recording and publication.

Figure 1. Laser-scanning the 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset.

Figure 2. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset is partially buried by a metre or more of later dumping of construction debris and soil.

Some History

We researched and published the pottery, The Pottery House in the Old Park as it was known, in 2007. Read or download pdf from This is a quick summary:

The Dunster Castle park was extensively remodelled by Henry Fownes Lutterell from the 1740s onwards and the pottery was one of a number of features designed to animate it. Lutterell’s agent George Gale kept detailed accounts for each project. In February 1759 Gale advertised in The Western Flying Post for ‘a person that can undertake making and burning all sorts of Coarse Pottery Ware.’ Construction seems to have started under a potter called James Saunders but by August matters are in the hands of John and Ruth Mogg from Bristol. The accounts detail bills for carpentry, lime supplies, masonry, blacksmith’s work, clay, lead ore as well as workshop tools such a sieves and a file. The Moggs had to site-manage – the account notes:

’15 days Work directing & helping to put the house in order to go to Work… By lost time afterwards in directing the Masons about Building the Kiln – and for preparing the clay & making Arches to go round the bottom of the Kiln – and repairing the bottom of the Kiln 3 times.’

The first firing was in November 1759. It obviously went well because the cash book shows steady pot sales from the 13th of the month onwards. There were six further firings between February and October 1760. Things seemed to be going well but by Christmas John Mogg was dead. In January 1761 Ruth was paid £13.10s – their remaining wages plus a gratuity of £1.10s from Mr. Lutterell and was gone. The accounts note further purchases of lead and ‘potter’s wood’ and on June 30th Gale ‘gave John Norris a potter towards his expenses in coming from Crock Street to take the work.’ (Crock Street is in Donyatt in South Somerset. The Norris’s were the largest of the potter families there). There the account stops.

The pottery must always have been fairly impractical. It is on a little knoll up which everything had to be hauled, clay, water, fuel, everything. It was always first and foremost for show. Nonetheless the archaeology suggests it continued in us for some time.

Excavation of the kiln interior revealed that the fireboxes had been blocked in the 1830s or 40s. The floor had been removed and lowered at this time and the flues filled in to make a clay floor. In the flues were fragments of unfired pottery suggesting that at the point of demolition there had been recent activity in the pottery. The estate chose to retain the kiln as a landscape feature whilst demolishing the house and workshop. That and other building work behind resulted in a raising of the ground level burying the lower metre or more of the kiln and making the interior and exterior flush. Eventually forgotten, overgrown with ivy and used as a shed it remained so until its rediscovery in 1989. Now conserved and presented once more as part of the Castle grounds it has come back to life.

Laser-Scanning the Kiln

The images below are screenshots based on our initial scanning data. There is more surveying to do as well as processing so they are far from perfect. Nonetheless they show some great detail. It is possible to see how much of the building is buried and how it is built as a brick structure encased in the thick stone exterior. Inside, the surviving lower courses of the underfloor flues fan out from the two fireboxes, off-centre and irregular. They must be the ‘arches around the bottom of the kiln’ that the Moggs had to repair several times. If you look carefully you can see that the flue leading from the top side of the left firebox has melted and is blocked. There is more damage in the centre. The height of the firebox gives an idea of where the floor would originally have been. Both have ledges for fire-bars and project a long way into the kiln.

Figure 3. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data showing the front elevation. Copyright Scan to PLAN.Figure 4. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data. Cross-section through the doorway, showing the western firebox and the remains of the flue structure. Copyright Scan to PLAN.Figure 5. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data. East-west cross-section. Copyright Scan to PLAN.

Figure 6. The 18th-century pottery kiln at Dunster Castle, Somerset. Screenshot from the initial laser-scan data. Plan view of fireboxes and flue structure. Copyright: Scan to PLAN.

Why get so excited about an old kiln? It is surprising how poorly documented the development of pottery technology is. Basic questions about fuels, fireboxes, chimneys and kiln furniture can be a challenge to answer. Kiln design, by which I mean building an innovative structure with a particular aim in mind as opposed to working within a convention or tradition, might be said to emerge in the late 17th century. This kiln has ledges for fire-bars, a conical brick chimney, a flue structure directing heat into the centre of the floor. These are aspects of innovation – not necessarily at Dunster literally but in the context of the pottery industry in the mid 18th century. It is securely dated and many of the people who built it can be identified. It is a small window but it is very exciting!


David Dawson and Oliver Kent, 2007. ‘‘Animated Prospect,’- An 18th-century Kiln at ‘the Pottery House in the Old Park, Dunster, Somerset,’ in J. Finch and K. Giles, (eds), 2007. Estate Landscapes. Design, Improvement and Power in the Post-Medieval Landscape. Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Monograph 4. Woodbridge: SPMA/Boydell and Brewer, 95-112. Read or download pdf from

David Dawson and Oliver Kent, 2008, ‘The development of the bottle kiln in pottery manufacture in Britain.’ Post-Medieval Archaeology, 42/1, 201-226. Read or download pdf from

For more on laser-scanning at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, see my blog post from April 2017 Laser-Scanning the Old Winchcombe Pottery Kiln.

All photos copyright Oliver Kent, 2018. The laser-scanned images are copyright Bill Stebbing/Scan to PLAN, 2018.

Updated 6 Aug 2018.

Posted in Archaeology, bottle kiln, Folk and Country Pottery, Kilns and Kiln-building, Post-Medieval Archaeology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Babel Tower Brickworks

Tower of Babel. Joos de Momper, Antwerp c.1600. Oil on canvas. 175cm x 249cm. Musee Royaux des Beaux Art, Brussels. (Wikipedia Commons)

Whilst at the Medieval Pottery Research Group conference in Brussels at the beginning of June some of us found time to visit the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts. I particularly wanted to see the Brueghels. Near to those was this huge Tower of Babel by Joos de Momper, painted around 1600. De Momper lived in Antwerp and was a friend of Jan Brueghel and his son, sometimes collaborating with them but generally specialising in landscape rather than genre painting.

The story of the Tower of Babel appears in Genesis 11: 1-9 and explains how the multiplicity of human languages emerged. (I have quoted the English King James Bible. De Momper would probably have read it in Flemish or French.)

1. And the whole earth was of one language.

2. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3. And they said to one another, Go to, let us make Brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime (sic) for morter.

4. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.

5. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them which they imagined to do.

7. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

8. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The painting shows the Tower of Babel mid-way through construction with Nimrod and his entourage inspecting the works in the foreground. Babel was a popular subject and many painters included construction details – lots of scaffolding – but what is arresting about De Momper’s depiction is the sheer density and range of activity. He has taken verse three as his theme, ‘Go to, let us make Brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime (sic) for morter.’ In some languages the mortar is given as bitumen but De Momper seems to have gone for lime as a logical interpretation.

The Babel Brickworks, Tower of Babel (detail). Joos de Momper, Antwerp c.1600. Oil on canvas. 175cm x 249cm. Musee Royaux des Beaux Art, Brussels.

In the foreground on the right a group of limekilns are distinguished by their square shapes and the barrow runs to their rims. One glows from the top and smoke billows around them.

Behind and above them a vast spill of terracotta forms a significant splash of warm colour across the middle of the canvas, the brightest of a series of diagonal lines across the painting, retreating in scale and leading the eye from the masons in the bottom right all the way to the top of the tower. This a huge disorderly stack of fresh bright brick set out in front of a building and a group of large round brick kilns, each with a surrounding timber shelter. Flames belch from the nearest kiln as carters load up and foremen inspect and organise.

In effect this is a convincing picture of brick production in the large 15th century with a convincing representation of a functioning brick kiln. It is interesting that De Momper shows a round updraught kiln with a wide top rather than a clamp which one might assume was more usual. Archaeological excavations of early kilns invariably focus on the kiln itself and pay scant attention to the surroundings. When post-holes are identified they are rarely interpreted as parts of the kiln or are too unclear to be read at all. Here De Momper clearly indicates a lean-to roof resting on the kiln and supported by posts. Such structures are known from 19th century examples in Britain, often walled in as at Barham Brothers Brickworks in Bridgwater, Somerset or indeed the Bulmer Brick and Tile works in Essex as well as from smaller potteries.

The painter uses the kilns for another purpose of course. The people of Babel are to be punished and these are reminders that they are transgressing and that the fires of hell are ever present. Do not overreach yourselves, the painting warns. The structure, colour and message is remarkably similar to De Loutherbourg’s much later painting Coalbrookdale at Night with its sensual and sinister depiction of the Bedlam Furnaces in Shropshire.

Coalbrookdale by Night, (Bedlam Furnaces). Philip de Loutherbourg, 1801. (Wikipedia Commons/Science Museum, London)
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Modernism in Bristol: Charlotte St and Gill Sans

Bristol bookseller Douglas Cleverdon is best remembered as the man who asked Eric Gill to paint a shop-sign for him. The lettering that resulted was seen by Stanley Morison of Monotype who asked Gill to develop it as a full typeface. The result was Gills Sans.

A black and white photograph of Cleverdon’s shopfront in Charlotte Street, just off Park Street, shows two windows sitting close to the steeply sloping pavement, the sign and a few bits of the surrounding architectural detail. The address was 18 Charlotte St.

I have tried several times to work out exactly where Cleverdon’s shop was and where the famous sign hung. No one seems to have photographed the lower end of Charlotte St – essentially the side and rear of 71 Park Street. Hill St behind is little more than a back alley. The present street numbering and that used in the 1920s/30s do not seem to match; Charlotte St has no number 18.

In the blitz on November 24th 1940 the end of the block between Park Street, Charlotte St and Hill St was gutted and subsequently demolished. A photograph of the junction of Park St and Charlotte St on the morning after the bombing shows the destruction. The corner building (71 Park St) has lost its front, roof and floors and the side wall into Charlotte St only remains vertical because steel joists and a column inserted as part of the street level optician’s shopfront are resolutely holding on. The side wall running up Charlotte St is visible as far as the front door to the building above and a bit beyond. The door is gone and opens on nothing but the opposite wall. Above is a large Guinness poster. A few doors down and two more shops are completely gone.

Today an eccentric and temporary looking single storey post-war building functions as a shop on the Park St level with Vincenzo’s pizza restaurant above on the flat roof and behind it becoming ground level further up Charlotte St. Vincenzo’s is a longstanding Bristol institution if ever there was one with its chianti bottles hanging in nets from the ceiling. Both give 71 Park St as an address; Vincenzo’s is 71a.

Stephen Groome recently published the wartime photo on the Facebook group Bristol – Then and Now Photographs and pointed out a detail I had not noticed before. Above the side door to the burnt-out building are painted the words Clifton Arts Club.

Suzanne Clarke wrote a history of the Clifton Arts Club in 1993. The Club originally met in the Royal West of England Academy but by 1922 the space was needed for other things and they sought new premises. In 1923 they moved into 17/18 Charlotte St ‘over number 71 Park Street… a large room with a stage, a smaller room and a kitchen, the rooms being entered up some steps from a door in Charlotte Street.’ ‘Further up Charlotte Street, in the same building was Douglas Cleverdon’s antiquarian bookshop… started in 1927.’ Above the CAC rooms the two upper floors were a flat and photographic studio belonging to Methven Brownlee. According to Suzanne, Douglas Cleverdon rented the flat and Eric Gill was a frequent guest (the reference is to Fiona MacCarthy’s 1989 biography of Eric Gill).

So the destroyed building on the corner of Park Street was a shop on the lower ground floor numbered 71 Park St. The Clifton Arts Club meeting rooms on the upper ground floor and a two floor flat above were accessed from the main door to the side in Charlotte St and numbered 17/18. Behind the main building prewar maps show the rear yard/outbuilding area back to Hill St as built over and this must be Cleverdon’s shop also numbered 18 Charlotte St. The neighbouring building at 69 Park St has a small yard and a two storey stable/outbuilding at the rear. Judging from the photo of the bookshop the same was true for 71/17/18 – the maps showing that the yard area had been built over long before.

The photo shows a two storey building with an internal floor level cutting into the slope. This can only be the upper ground floor would seem that Douglas Cleverdon’s bookshop was in a two storey building on the corner of Charlotte Street and Hill Street where the main entrance and bar of Vincenzo’s restaurant and linked to the building fronting Park Street. Bearing in mind the floor levels and the slope of the pavement, the

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Laser-Scanning the old Winchcombe Pottery Kiln

As a contribution to the project to repair and present the old bottle kiln at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, David Dawson and I, together with Bill Stebbing of Scan to PLAN offered to carry out a full 3D laserscan survey of the kiln and its surroundings. Matt Grimmitt and the team were keen and we spent a cold couple of days in the snow in early March.

Laser-scanning is an incredibly quick way of recording 3D objects in very fine detail. The resulting plan can be rotated and manipulated on screen to look at the subject from any direction – to fly through – and sliced to make plans, elevations and sections wherever needed. Millions of digitally recorded points mean that measurements are quickly available and very accurate. It seem odd to map and survey without a tape or paper but it works.

The precise history of the pottery at Greet near Winchcombe is sketchy before it was bought by Michael Cardew in 1926. Brick historian Martin Hammond, who surveyed the kiln in the 1999, identified the bricks used in the lower parts of it as late 18th century and those above and forming the conical chimney as 19th and 20th. The pottery was connected to a brick and tile works on the north side of the village and a potter and a brickmaker were recorded in the 1841 census (for a brief history see British Brick Society, Information, 121, 2012, 3-8) The pottery site as a whole is quite large and includes extensive clay pits and a variety of buildings of all periods including workshops, a large 19th-century red-brick house, a ruined stone cottage and a late 20th-century brick bungalow.  By 1900 it was known as Beckett’s Pottery making red earthenware country pottery and a range of horticultural wares which closed around the time of the Great War. Purchased by the Cardews in 1926, it was restarted with the help of former employee and thrower Elijah Comfort. The bottle kiln was used – sometimes with difficulty – throughout Cardew’s time there and subsequently by Ray Finch. It was extensively remodelled internally in 1950 before going out of use in 1953. Under Mike Finch, Matt Grimmitt and the team, the pottery continues to operate making stoneware and earthenware domestic and kitchen wares and is well-known across the world.

By the time Michael Cardew acquired the pottery, the kiln was located within a long building made up of four components. Drawings and photographs show two two-storey sections to the west, one stone fronted and the other brick which formed the workshops. At the eastern end was a two-storey stone cottage. The cottage was the Cardew’s home in the early days. The linking section between the two contained the kiln which poked out through the roof. Subsequent to its disuse, the building housing the kiln collapsed and later the stone cottage to the east. In the 1970s the workshops to the west were demolished and rebuilt retaining a version of the original frontage. The present pottery operates from a separate range of buildings at right angles to the south. Behind the main range of buildings is an open area with the remains of a horse drawn pug-mill for processing raw clay. This was dug from the extensive area of clay pits beyond and now covered by scrub and coppice.

As it stands today, the pottery and the kiln are a complex collection of elements that reflect its long history as a working pottery and the honest and unsentimental way it has been used and modified over that time. Everything from the filled in pits and coppice woodland to the brick paths, the apple trees and the Finch’s bungalow are relevant.  It does make the understanding of the place difficult.

The kiln with the rebuilt workshops behind and the Pottery’s vintage Nuffield tractor. Below the rebuilt workshops, and a view from the clay pits beyond.The horse-drawn pugmill behind the workshops.

Our primary aim has been to record the kiln and the area immediately round the kiln, including the cottage and the horse-drawn pug-mill to the rear. The Winchcombe potters have worked hard to clear away the scrub and trees from around the kiln and the ruined cottage. Inside the ware chamber a collection of kiln-shelves and a few saggers and old pots of various kinds obscured the floor. On day one we scanned the interior as found – the surprise being the additional collection of saggers and a large 1940/50s? hump-mould hidden on top of the chamber roof, in the chimney. Matt is very pleased with the mound and plans to put it back to work. Subsequently both spaces were emptied to enable full recording.

Above, saggers and other pottery debris on top of the ware-chamber vault. The hump-mould may date from the 1940/50s. Matt Grimmitt plans to dry it out and reuse it.

Below are a selection of low-resolution laser-scanned images. The internal and external features are clear except in inaccessible areas. The kiln is typical small bottle kiln with four grated fireboxes, flues leading into the ware-chamber against the walls and in the floor. A shallow vault pierced with 20 holes vents into a conical chimney with a door to one side. On top a metal damper provides weather protection. The three main building phases are visible. The chimney brickwork is distinct from the lower part of the kiln, having been rebuilt in the 1930s. The 1950 reconditioning of the kiln in refractory concrete includes all four fireboxes, the underfloor flues and the floor itself. With these came the bag-wall which lines the chamber protecting the load from the direct flames from the flues around the base of the wall. Hennell’s earlier drawing suggests that the layout of the firebox and floor structure was changed only slightly, the addition of bag-walls being the main innovation. The presence of the bottom ring of kiln shelves indicates how the kiln was packed latterly.

Isometric view of the kiln. White areas are caused by snow and movement.

Vertical section of the kiln through the centre of the ware-chamber door.The SW (clearest) firebox with refractory concrete repairs from 1950. On the ledge above is a matching cast iron fire bar. The bar support is missing at the front but can be seen at the rear. The beautiful vault of the ware-chamber seen from below. The 20 vent holes are mostly blocked with a brick to help keep the rain out. Horizontal section across the kiln at ware-chamber floor level indicating the location of the fireboxes and the 4 floor flue openings. 11 (presumably of 12) kiln-shelves are still in place on the floor.Vertical section through the base of the kiln showing the floor and fireboxes.

The kiln and the ruins of the surrounding building and the pottery cottage.

The above images are low-resolution ‘stills’ from the data which can be viewed as a fly-through (see Bill Stebbing/Scan to PLAN’s YouTube video). It can also be converted to produce detailed conventional plans and cross-sections. The main limitation is the scanner’s inability to see into flues and other inaccessible places as can be seen in the floor areas where the detail of the relationship between the fireboxes and the ware-chamber cannot be made out.

The Pottery are raising funds towards their restoration plans and have a Just Giving page. We have carried out this work on a no-cost basis, giving our time and covering expenses and equipment hire costs ourselves. We see the recording of the kiln as valuable to the restoration project and equally to the study of ceramic history and the studio pottery movement.

For more information on the Winchcombe Pottery see:

Web, Winchcombe Pottery; Instagram #winchcombepottery #mattgrimmitt

All images are copyright Scan to PLAN/Oliver Kent.

Updated 27.04.18

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