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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One Response to Laser-Scanning the old Winchcombe Pottery Kiln

  1. Pingback: Laser-scanning the 18th-century Kiln at Dunster | Clay and Fire

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