Here we are building a kiln in Stoke on Trent! What could be more strange than for us to travel from Australia to Stoke-on-Trent to build a kiln?
The staff and students at the Clay College are all really great and we all get along really well. We are billeted with staff member Richard Healey and his wife Lucy – who is a chef. WOW! Great food all week. A really lovely couple. It must have been a bit stressful for them to have a couple of total strangers in their home for 2 weeks, but we got along very well. We had a great time. I hope that they have recovered.
They live in an amazing old house called the ‘Flax Mill’, that has its own little stream and pond, on a site that goes back well before the English civil war. A decisive battle was fought right here on these grounds. There is a monument in the adjoining paddock. This is some kilometres out of Stoke, and is the site of our kiln building experiment. Lucy is setting up a cooking school on site and Richard has his studio, where he makes blue on White contemporary hand painted and thrown porcelain. Beautiful work. If I lived locally, I’d be enrolling.
We spend a week in the construction phase, mostly laying bricks, Then I give a master class on kiln building at the college on the Saturday. This is open to the public and is fully subscribed – which is pleasing.
All the students flat-out, hard at work bricklaying!
Janine and I spend the Sunday at work on the kiln by ourselves, cleaning up, but most importantly doing a lot of the welding on the steel bracing that will be necessary to completely support the kiln structure while it expands during firing. It’s a lot easier to do this welding while there isn’t anyone else around.
Janine and Grace volunteer to get into the firebox and throat area of the kiln to wash the floor of the kiln with alumina kiln wash. A shitty job. Thank you!
The packing and firing goes pretty much to my expectations, although Janine did overhear some chat about people expecting to have to fire for 40 hours. When I was asked what to expect in terms of firing time I said that I expected to fire for around 12 to 14 hours. If everything goes well. However I don’t know anything about this wood that we have to use for this firing. So it might take a little longer. As it turned out the firing lasted for 13.5 hours and the results were good for a first firing. I left them with the recommendation that they should plan to fire the kiln again a second time, as soon as possible, without me being there to advise, while it is all still fresh in their minds.
The firing can be very clean when using a down-draught style firebox like the Bourry box that I have developed to a such a sophisticated standard. When it comes to side stoking the main chamber, there is inevitably going to be some smoke and this needs to be managed carefully. However, when the time comes to drop the last remaining butt ends of the sticks into the firebox. There is a brief moment of quite intense smoke as the amount of fuel outweighs the available oxygen for about 1 or 2 minutes.
While we are in Stoke, we make time to go to the local Museums. First we take the tour of the Gladstone pottery Museum, which was good, an excellent experience. The working conditions of their employees must have been horrific back in it’s hey-
day. A time long before any thoughts of OH&S in the minds of the factory owners and government.
For me, brought up in Australia, it’s really interesting to see actual bottle kilns. There weren’t that many of therm here in Australia. I am of an age where i was able to see the old ‘Fowlers’ Pottery in Marrickville in Sydney, before it was torn down. I ended up with a truck load of dense fire bricks from their old bottle kiln and they are now incorporated into my wood fired kilns here.
We also spent a long time in the city museum where we saw a really extensive ceramics collection. Amazingly, it is here that we finally find a collection of pots made in the Plymouth Pottery Works by William Cookworthy from the Tregonning Hill, Sericitic, weathered granite.
This is the best collection of Cookworthy work that I have seen. The V&A has nothing and the British Museum, only has one piece.
After the unpacking of the kiln, I get a nice little wood fired cup out of the firebox area.
A sweet little thing to remind us of our working holiday trip.
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