Another Kiln: The Pott House, Bedminster, Bristol

A late 18th to mid-19th century redware pottery called The Pott House, was excavated in Boot Lane, Bedminster, Bristol in 2002. 

The closure of Bristol and Region Archaeological Services has been as sad day in the history of archaeology in Bristol. The records are at present being sorted and archived. One of their last publications has been Kai Mason’s report on the Barton Hill Pottery a small 19th-century redware pottery principally making horticultural wares for the local market gardeners and chimney pots (see my earlier posts Archaeologists Excavate the Barton Hill Pottery 4 Feb 2014 and Potter’s Cat Buried with Honour 4 Feb 2014). Although there were quite few redware potteries in Bristol in the 18th and 19th centuries few have been studied or excavated and Barton Hill is unusual nationally in having been fully dug across its whole footprint. 

It reminded me that amongst the BaRAS archive is another small redware pottery excavated in 2002 in Boot Lane, Bedminster and which I helped interpret and write up (the unpublished report is now available online through Know Your Place). The Boot Lane site was much more disturbed than Barton Hill but that is balanced by the remarkable survival of a document entitled the Pott House Day Book for 1788-9, found reused as a baptismal register for St John’s Church, Bedminster in the 1980s. Evidence within it seems to tie it to this site.  I thought the would be a good time to write a few words about the Pott House and its products both to publicise the archaeology and to expand the known range of sources of what I have termed Severnside redwares (Bridgwater Jugs – 19th Century ‘Severnside’ Redwares. 12 Jan 2017).

Above: Boot Lane is top left running south from Bedminster Parade. The Pott House is located the southern corner of the block in the L-shaped building. (Ashmead, 1828). Below, the kiln as excavated and before the removal of parts of its base (Adrian Parry/BaRAS).

Like Barton Hill, the site at Boot Lane was a small pottery with one coal-fired four-firebox updraught bottle kiln. It was tucked in a back street close to the south end of Bedminster Bridge. Bedminster, south of the river has historically been an industrial area dominated by coal and tobacco processing. Once a separate (and older) town it has retained that sense of itself and in terms of development and indeed archaeological investigation has tended to be overlooked. Nonetheless the proximity of its northern edge to the port and the city centre has been an advantage and its economic contribution to the area has been significant. 

The L-shaped building on Ashmead’s 1828 map is the pottery with the kiln in the left hand wing against Boot Lane. The excavations by Adrian Parry covered the south part of the block including a small tenement called Squires Court and about half of the pottery. Redevelopment since the 1850s had reduced the pottery to fragmentary foundations. Just over half the base of a brick built updraught kiln with two out of four fireboxes identifiable was cut by more recent foundations one of which retained the NE side of the kiln as a part of it. The NW firebox was almost complete and the NE one retained an iron support for the fire bars above the ash pit. The ledge at firebox top level indicates the approximate level of the ware-chamber floor. The internal flue structure is missing but the pattern of brickwork suggests that each box had a flue running from it towards the centre with four triangular platforms supporting the floor above. The exact form is difficult to work out – the beginning of an arch beside the SE firebox suggests more flues running parallel to the kiln wall. There is a lot to learn about the development of the firebox and flue structures of updraught kilns in the 18th century and of coal technology. The kiln is set in a rectangular room and it is clear it is a bottle kiln.

The kiln after the excavators had removed the surviving bottom courses of the NE side of the interior exposing the rubble foundations. The central strip is the base of flues running into the centre from the NW and SE fireboxes. The NE box retains an iron cross bar from its grate.  The step in the outer wall at the level of the top of the fireboxes would carry the ware chamber floor. The SW side was completely destroyed by later building. 

Small quantities of redware wasters were found. They included typical late 18th/ 19th century pancheons often with two small lugs pressed onto the rim, a common Bristol/Severnside feature. Jug handles were pressed on rather than pulled on the pot and a round thumb impression made at the base again typical. See English Country Pottery – or is it? Bristol Jugs and Pitchers 3 Mar 2015.

The wasters from Boot Lane (drawing Ann Linge, BaRAS).

The Day Book found by Reg and Philomena Jackson was published by them in 1982 (Jackson, R., Jackson, P. and Price, R., 1982. ‘Bristol Potters and Potteries 1600-1800.’ Journal of Ceramic History, 12. Stoke-on-Trent City Museums. pp. 213-226). Reused as the Baptismal Register for St John’s church in Bedminster, it covers the period from September 1788 to October 1789. Other evidence shows that the pottery was in existence by 1786 and closed in 1851. The Jackson’s named it the Bedminster Pottery. 

The Day Book includes wage bills, clay and transport expenses as well as sales. The pottery employed 5 men and a boy in 1788 increasing to 7 men. The apprentice roles show that Samuel Sheppard was apprenticed to Richard and Mary Room as a potter from 1786-1805 and provides a name for the pottery proprietors. Room in turn had become free as a potter in 1784. Wages varied and two of the men seen to have handled labouring and transport. Although most of the sales are of ‘brown ware’ specific forms mentioned include pans, basins, garden potts, sugar-potts, bread pans, milk pans, a salting pan and a large garden pott. Pans range in price from 1d to 12d and can come in ‘nests’. Clay came from Robert Fricker of Bedminster (an interesting surname associated with the Sugar House Pottery in Westbury-on-Trym). 

The customer list provides an idea of the distribution range of the pottery. Five main traders buy regular stock, all of then operating in the centre of Bristol. Of more than 40 customers the vast majority are in Bristol but the rest are almost entirely in north and central Somerset. Of the rest two are in Gloucestershire and remaining three on the Severn coast in Somerset and South Wales. 

In Matthew’s directory of Bristol for 1824, the pottery in Boot Lane is one of seven redware potteries listed (including Barton Hill and the descendent of the Sugar House Pottery). Making sugar pots, glazed redwares, chimney pots and horticultural wares they served a distinct market within the city and its hinterland. These are urban potteries not country potteries and the model recurs in other cities and as an adjunct to brick and tile industries. The few wasters here are similar to others from the Severnside and Bristol area and contribute to the idea of a regional style which connects with Bristol stonewAre forms. 

Adrian Parry’s full unpublished report for BaRAS  is now available online through Know Your Place.

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