Stoke-on-Trent City Council is to carry out a survey of the city’s remaining ‘bottle kilns’ as part of creating a Heritage Action Zone. The project started in 2019, then was put on hold during the pandemic. It resumed in 2021 and is due to be completed later this year.
Bottle kilns are a legacy of the city’s heritage as a site of ceramic production from the 17th century and remained in use until the 1950s. They were used for processes including firing pottery and processing raw materials.
Councillor Dean Richardson, heritage champion for the City Council, said the remaining bottle kilns were a “truly wonderful addition to our skyline,” adding that the survey would help to provide “a lasting record of these historic structures.”
The current position
Despite their historical value, many of the city’s fifty remaining bottle kilns are in poor repair and Stoke-on-Trent City Council has faced questions over its commitment to preserving the city’s heritage. These have focussed on the destruction of the Leopard Hotel in Burslem where local pottery pioneer Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley met to discuss building the Trent and Mersey canal in 1765.
Following the fire, the council set up a Heritage Congress to explore the possibility of setting up a Stoke-on-Trent Conservation Trust to preserve historic buildings. The congress has been criticised for excluding many local groups that campaign on issues connected to heritage and for a lack of transparency in its decision making.
Danny Callaghan of the Heritage Network told the Stoke Sentinel that the City Council owns many important historic buildings and was needed as a partner in any restoration programme. He added that if the congress was going to exclude key heritage stakeholders, then it is, “essentially finished before it has even started”.
Support from local universities
The project to map the city’s bottle kilns is being conducted with support from Staffordshire and Liverpool John Moores universities. The Institute of Technology Sligo and Keele University will also be involved. Preliminary results show a wide variety of types of bottle kiln and construction methods. Councillor Richards said that the involvement of some of the top universities in the country was “a wonderful nod to our exceptional heritage and our founder’s architectural ingenuity.”
Many people connected with campaigning to protect the city’s iconic buildings might say that concerning questions remain about the council’s commitment to protecting that heritage.
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