Gestingthorpe and the neighbouring villages – Castle Heddingham, Sible Heddingham and Sudbury – have a lot of ceramic history in proportion to their size. The landscape is marked with clay names and clay pits. The area is famous for bricks in particular but has produced pottery too in the past. The Art Potter Edward Bingham had his pottery at Castle Heddingham in the late 19th century and in the Bulmer Brick and Tile Company played host to Sam Haile, Marianne de Trey and Mary Gibson Horrocks in the 1940s and early 50s.
The Gestingthorpe History Group includes a number of people with ceramic interests and skills and they have built a wood-fired updraught kiln using their knowledge gained from archaeology, from experience working at the Bulmer brickworks and from a copy of Fred Olsen’s ‘The Kiln Book.’ The core team are Andy Craig, Michael Hogan, Peter Hogan and Chris Moulton.
The kiln is built into the slope for insulation using wasters from the Bulmer brickworks and any others that come to hand. It’s is a brick length thick and reinforced with am extra skin on the outer face. The open topped form follows the examples in Olsen. The ware-chamber floor has been beautifully made by bricklayers Mike and Peter Hogan – a small dome flattened on top to take the floor itself which has eight flues oriented around the firebox to distribute the flame as evenly as possible.
The result is a kiln that has a lot in common with the designs that we have used in reconstructing early post-medieval kilns from the South West at Bickley.
The area is renowned for its bricks and its complex geology means that there are a wide range of different clays available. The potters have been collecting samples and making are firing pots with them. There are a lot of variables but the range of colour suggests possible links especially to the local Roman archaeology. There is a villa/industrial settlement only a short distance from the kiln site.