Author Archives: lee

Origins of the name Black Burton

Burton-in Lonsdale black ware clay
Freshly Thrown Burton Blackware

Burton-in-Lonsdale used to be known as Black Burton. Most people think this was due to the amount of smoke arising from the coal fired kilns of the local pottery industry. However Stoke had far more potteries than Burton and it was never referred to as Black Stoke.

A far more likely, though understandably less popular, reason for the “black” prefix was due to the morals of the people living there. The potteries would have employed a lot of men and it would have brought a concentration of young men into the area working in what were essentially small scale pottery factories. The potters were fiercely competitive with each other and with the other potteries. Is it possible that these men perhaps could have introduced “black” habits such as an over indulgence in alcohol, non-attendance at church, blasphemous language and cock fighting? There were certainly as many pubs as potteries in the village. Here are some extracts from the Lancaster Guardian of 21st August 1875 perhaps confirming this view, though diplomatically defending the morals of the then “present” potters.

“Without any intention to make the Burtonians of a past generation more vile than their neighbours, it may be said that rudeness and cruelty were mixed up with many of their amusements”

The article goes on:

“Cock fighting was the crowning sin and the most brutalising practise of the past generation.”…….”This love of cock fighting led to much drinking, quarrelling and dishonesty.”……..”There was such a demand for fighting cocks that the immediate neighbourhood could not meet it and consequently it was a risk for anybody to keep a game cock within a dozen miles of Burton. Some of the lovers of this inhuman diversion, when a “gam cock”, as it was called, had been sighted set at defiance locks and bars, law and parish constables. Some of these game cock stealers were known to travel as far away as Kellet, Sedbergh and Nook near Kendal, and as many as 17 cocks have been the fruits of one night’s plunder. The stolen cocks used to be kept in the potteries, and, for a time, covered under large pots.”

“Rudeness of speech and unmannerly conduct at Burton-in-Lonsdale are now, comparatively speaking, a thing of the past. There was a time when few persons, especially on a Sunday, could enter the village without being called some offensive name. “

“The potter’s song of the past would not apply to the present class of potter. “The Bull (inn) will break all the Burton pots and drink the Fountain (inn) dry. It will turn the Punch Bowl (inn) wrong side up and make the Hen and Chicken (inn) fly.”

A third possible reason for the name Black Burton and, I have to admit, that this is my own theory, is that the local terracotta clay, dug up at Mill Hill near Greta House and used by all the Burton potteries, is in its raw processed state black in colour. The Burton potters used to refer to it as “black ware”. When you dig it from Mill Hill (and I have done this numerous times) it is a grey colour. It only turns black when you process it by grinding it down, turning it into a thin liquid, passing it through a sieve and then drying it out again. The photo with this post is of freshly thrown Burton “black ware”. I am told that the reason the clay is black is because it has oil in it, which I’m guessing would contribute to fuel in the firing process. The clay throws really well and fires to a light red colour.

Mining the Burton-in-Lonsdale clay

James Singleton mining the Burton-in-Lonsdale clay

This photograph of James Singleton was taken in the stoneware clay mine at Waterside Pottery, Burton-in-Lonsdale in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Waterside Pottery was located up the driveway on the opposite side of the river from the cricket pitch in Burton.

Stoneware clay was originally dug opencast in the fields outside Waterside Pottery, but this unfortunately ran out around 1905, this forced the potters to open a drift mine to access a 4ft 6 inch seam of stoneware clay that ran into the hillside. 

Law required that a qualified miner had to be employed to do this. Ted Tomlinson took this job. Ted had worked at Ingleton Colliery. Ted dug the clay in the mine whilst “Gunner” Jones carted the clay from the mine to the pottery. A railway line was built from the pottery into the mine to make this task easier. 

I’m not sure how long Ted and Gunner worked at Waterside Pottery or if they were called up for the First World War and, if they were, whether they came back to the pottery after the war?

Waterside Pottery closed in 1933, but then reopened again in 1937, with Richard Bateson running it in partnership with Harold Parkinson from Hornby Castle.

James Singleton, another former Ingleton Colliery worker, was employed to dig the mine. James had reputedly spent time in the Klondike mining for gold in the 1890s Gold Rush. I’m guessing he can’t have made his fortune in the Klondike, otherwise he might have found more amenable work?

The original clay mine at Waterside had become very unstable, so a new drift mine was opened. After going into the hill for 50 yards the mine collapsed. Fortunately nobody was down at the time. The collapse was turned into an air vent, which was just as well, as when James was working down there one time, the mine collapsed badly near the entrance, sealing James into the mine. James was able to escape through the air vent. The railway line from the old mine was dismantled and installed in the new mine.

The photograph was given to me by Henry Bateson. Thinking about it, if James went out to the Klondike in the 1890s, then it would make him at youngest in his late 50s in 1937 when he went to mine the clay at Waterside Pottery. Does this seem a bit old? The trouble is that the people who told me a lot of the history of the potteries are no longer living, so you can’t go back to them to ask further questions. 

Town End Pottery Burton-In-Lonsdale

The bottle kiln of Town End Pottery can be seen on the top right hand side of this drawing of Burton-in-Lonsdale (on the way out towards Ingleton).  It is the only image of Town End Pottery I have ever seen, which is surprising, considering the pottery was still in business up to the First World War. Somebody out there must have some photos?


Town End pottery was an old established pottery in the village that can be traced back to the 1700’s. At the turn of the last century, it was run by John “Jacky” Parker. Jacky had inherited the business from his father William Parker who had bought the pottery in 1863. Jacky was a hardworking man and a good thrower. He produced traditional country wares all in terracotta (or “black ware” as the Burton potters called it) and sold his pots locally. He would have made such things as jugs, jars, bowls, butter pots, plant pots and basically any pot that was demanded by households or farms. The pots probably had a simple slip decoration. The clay would have all been taken from Mill Hill Close to Greta House.

The main throwers were Jacky and Freddie Slater. Freddie learnt how to throw at Town End Pottery and became one of the best throwers to emerge from Burton. Tom Park, a blind man was employed as a wheel turner, which would basically involve sitting on a seat and turning a hand crank to power a pottery wheel. George Kilshaw, Tom Skeates and Bill or John Saul were employed as general workers. Jacky’s son Jim Parker also worked at the pottery as a youngster, but to the disappointment of Jacky showed no interest in being a potter and got out of the business as soon as he could.

Jacky used a red lead glaze on his pots. He was very fond of chewing tobacco and is remembered glazing his pots with red lead covering his hands and waistcoat then dipping his red hands into his waist coat to grab some tobacco to chew. Nobody knew the dangers of eating raw lead at this time!

Town End Pottery had a shop where wares were on sale, so people could call in and buy and order pots. However Jacky’s main business was selling pots in Kendal, which was a regular trip. I’m guessing that he probably had a market stall in Kendal and possibly supplied some shops? He kept two horses both called Bob and a large cart for taking the pots to Kendal.  Jim Brennand was one of a few people that would take the horse and cart up to Kendal. The fully laden cart would set of the night before and stay overnight at Aynams, which allowed the horses some rest before making the return journey the next day.

Sadly Jacky died at the age of 60 and on his 60th birthday in 1908. It is thought that he died of lead poisoning.

Freddie Slater borrowed money and bought the business. However despite Freddie being a brilliant thrower, he wasn’t great at business. According to Richard Bateson, He was “too busy advising other people how to run their businesses, instead of running his own”. Freddie only lasted 3 or 4 years before going bankrupt just before the First World War. Freddie then moved out of Burton and got a job at Portobello Pottery in Edinburgh, where he discovered lots of new pottery techniques, trade unions and health & safety regulations all of which he brought back to Burton-in Lonsdale when he eventually returned, causing all sorts of disruption within the Burton potteries, but that, as they say is, a story for another day.

Unlike the other potteries in Burton at this time, Town End Pottery did not produce stoneware bottles. This could have been because they had no access to digging the stoneware clay, or it could be that they had simply found a good market for the country wares that they produced?

I’ve often wondered whether if Jacky’s son Jim had shown more interest in the business, the pottery would have continued for longer. After all Wetheriggs Pottery, a family run pottery near Penrith produced similar wares to Town End Pottery and managed to keep going until 2008. The truth is pottery is a very fickle business and it requires at least one dedicated person willing to work long hours for sometimes little remuneration. It’s often easier to find other work. Interestingly, Jim Parker’s son, John Willy Parker ended up working at Waterside Pottery (after the war), so it would appear that the pottery gene seems to have skipped a generation.  Jacky had daughters, who I guess could have continued the business, however, unfortunately, pottery in Burton was seen as an exclusively male activity. I have never heard of any women potters in Burton, although Richard Bateson’s sister and sister-in-law, Mable and Millie, did work briefly at Waterside Pottery during the First World War when the pottery lost a lot of its men to the war effort. Richard can remember being “rather horrified to think of women in the pottery” when he found out whilst he was in the army. Richard was concerned not just about the dirty conditions in the pottery, but also the foul language used by the potters.  Stoke –on-Trent on the other hand employed thousands of women in the potteries, especially for painting and decorating pots.  I feel not using women in the potteries of Burton was possibly a mistake, as from my own experience of selling pottery, it is usually the woman that chooses the pot, therefore it surely makes sense for them to be involved in the making and design process?

Town End Pottery was sadly demolished by the council in 1923 in order to widen the road. Did I mention I have no photos of it?

Mark Dally Slip trailer review

Mark Dally Slip trailer review


new trailer

For years I have used the slip trailers available from the pottery supply companies and for years I have had issues with these trailers. The problems I have with these slip trailers are the following:

They are made with such thick rubber that it means they are uncomfortable to depress for any length of time, they suck air back inside meaning they occasionally burp, resulting in a sudden splodge of slip emerging (potentially ruining the pot) and the nozzles are usually too large, resulting in a very thick trail.

For many years I guess I thought that this was the only tool available for slip trailing and I had to accept it. I learnt a few tricks to improve these trailers (like pushing electrical wire with the copper removed into the nozzle to create a smaller opening and dipping the bulb of the trailer into hot water for 5 minutes to soften the rubber and make it easier to depress). And then one day I did a factory tour of Moorcroft pottery. Moorcroft make extensive use of slip trailing (they call it tube lining). The slip trailers being used at Moorcroft were very different to anything I had seen before. They consisted of a small easily compressible latex bag (a little bit like a large uninflated balloon) where the slip is contained linked to a nozzle. The nozzles looked removable and varied in diameter from very fine to thick. I noticed that the workers seemed to be using the trailers effortlessly without having to rest every few minutes due to aching hands. I also noticed that no splodging was happening with the slip, as the trailers were not sucking air back into them. In short I desperately wanted such a slip trailer for myself! I asked if I could buy one at Moorcroft. Unfortunately the answer was a resounding no! I started pestering the pottery suppliers to source some. My pleas fell on deaf ears! I have spent years thinking about attempting to make my own version (and doing nothing about it). Then one day whilst browsing through Claycraft magazine I noticed an article about slip trailing by Mark Dally. I noticed that Mark was using a very similar slip trailer to what I had seen at Moorcroft. I was delighted to see that at the end of the article Mark advertised that he actually sold such slip trailers from his website. A few mouse clicks later and a Mark Dally slip trailer was on its way to me.

mark_dally_slip_trailer3The slip trailer consists of the latex balloon/bag with a plastic tube which can take any of the 12 nozzles supplied. The 12 nozzles are really well engineered and can screw easily into the plastic tube. The 12 nozzles vary from very small (less than 1mm) all the way up to about 2mm, which means that you can alter the thickness of the line you trail, just by changing the nozzle. I would say that 12 nozzles are slightly overkill, as the difference between them is very slight. Four different nozzles would have sufficed for my needs. There are three pins varying in thickness, to put in the nozzle to prevent slip drying out if the trailer is left unused (and thus blocking the trailer). There is also a plastic end cap that screws onto the pipe (in the same way as the nozzle), which completely seals the trailer, which would be handy if say you want to continue using the slip trailer the next day without having to clean and refill it.   There are no instructions included, but there are some on Mark’s website.

All I now needed were some pots to trail on. Luckily I had thrown 40 mugs that needed decorating with sheep for a local shop, so this was the ideal opportunity!

The first problem I had was how to get the slip into the latex bag. With all my other slip trailers you can simply depress them and suck the slip inside. However this slip trailer doesn’t suck. I quickly learnt the best way to fill it is to fill one of my old slip trailers with the slip and then squirt the slip into the latex bag. Hey presto my old slip trailers still have a use!

mark_dally_slip_trailer2I started trailing the detail of the sheep onto the mug. To begin with it felt odd, mainly because I’m just not used to the shape of it. I feel the neck of the bag is a bit long and would probably consider cutting it shorter at some stage? I hardly had to exert any pressure to release the slip. I found once the trailer was filled and all the air expelled, air was never sucked back into the trailer, which meant absolutely no splodging of slip and no having to prime the trailer by squeezing out any air before going onto the pot. I ended up using two methods of holding the slip trailer whilst decorating these mugs. The first was to leave the mug on a Whirler wheel and hold the nib of the trailer with my right hand like a pen, whilst squeezing the bag with my left hand. This method was particularly good for fine detail, like the faces of the sheep. The second method was to hold the pot in my left hand and squeeze the trailer with my right hand. This allowed me to direct the trail with my right hand at the same time as moving the pot with my left hand. This worked best on larger areas, like the body of the sheep. The capacity of the bag is much larger than I thought it would be. I filled it twice to trail the outlines of 40 sheep. At the end of the job there was absolutely no ache in my hands, which is a first.

mark_dally_slip_trailer4When it came to flooding much thinner white slip between the lines to create the sheep’s fleece, I discovered that the lack of resistance of the latex bag became a problem, as the slip just comes out too quickly. I had to resort back to my original slip trailer to do this, as it allows a higher degree of control with a thinner slip. However when it comes to trailing lines (with thicker slip) the Mark Dally slip trailer is head and shoulders above every other slip trailer I have used. One thing I discovered is that the nozzles from the Mark Dally slip trailer are interchangeable with the ones on my other slip trailer (xiem tools), which is an added bonus.

Once I was used to using the slip trailer it became a delight to operate. You can get a high degree of accuracy with it, as you can hold it like a pen and it solves my gripes with previous slip trailers I have bought, in that it doesn’t splodge and doesn’t cause your hands to ache. In short it is the best slip trailer I have used and I suspect the best slip trailer that you can purchase today. At £39 a shot this may seem expensive, but it’s cheap compared to the price of developing an RSI injury from using a thick walled rubber slip trailer for any length of time! I’m not sure about the longevity of the latex bag and plastic pipe? I’m hoping that Mark would sell the bag and plastic pipe separately (you’ll never need to replace the nozzles). I would be happy to buy a couple more bags and pipes if this were possible, as it would mean I could use more than one coloured slip without having to clean out the bag (this would be really handy for commemorative plates).

To purchase the Mark Dally Slip Trailer visit Mark’s site here:



Since writing this review Mark Has uploaded a video of how to use his slip trailer;





Pottery Mug Class

Pottery Course – Make A Set Of Mugs class


This course begins Wednesday 9th Sept for ten weeks, 7.30pm until 9.30pm. The total cost, including materials and firing of 6 mugs, is £85 (additional mugs are charged at £3.00 per mug). The course is suitable for complete beginners to more advanced students. There will be tea and biscuits at half time.

The idea of this class comes from me asking my wife what sort of a pottery course would appeal to people and she said that a course which resulted in making a set of mugs would be a winner!
The more I thought about this concept for a class the more I liked it, as It means you can learn a variety of ways of assembling mugs and handles as well as different decoration techniques to apply to mugs.
It also fits my requirements of teaching pottery in a slightly different way and giving you a chance to get away from the typical pottery workshop class.

Why learn how to make a set of mugs

• You will learn a variety of different clay assembling skills, including throwing, coiling and slabbing.
• You will learn multiple decorating techniques.
• Making a set of mugs will increase your overall skills with pottery.

How I’m going to teach it

I’m going to start off with slab assembling a mug, followed by coil assembling a mug. I will then move onto throwing mugs on a pottery wheel.
In order to teach throwing mugs on a pottery wheel, I’m going to take you through the basics of centring clay, opening out clay, making basic bowls, making basic cylinders and finally making mug shapes.
In between making mugs, I am going to teach a variety of decorating techniques such as inlay, slip resist, slip trailing, wax resist and general glazing techniques.
I will also teach how to make handles. I will teach how to pull handles (on and off the pot), and how to extrude handles and how to use wire loops to make handles.

What you need to bring with you

Basically just wear old warm clothes that you don’t mind getting clay on. Also it’s a good idea to have short nails.

Cost of the course and materials

The cost of the course is £85 per person. This price includes firing 6 mugs per person. If you want additional mugs then I will charge £3.00 per mug

How do I get on the courses?

Just send me a deposit of £20 and I’ll book you on, the remaining £65 should be paid at the first class. You can either post me a cheque, bacs it through or call round with the money.

I need a minimum of 8 people for this course to run. In the unlikely event of me not getting enough people then I will run the first class for free and give you your deposits back.

Here is a video of me making a mug;

Ten Weeks to a Teapot

Throwing a potThis ten week course begins Wednesday 17th Sept 2014 for ten weeks, 7.30pm until 9.30pm. The total cost including materials and firing is £85. The course is suitable for complete beginners to more advanced students. There will be tea and biscuits at half time.

Why learn how to make a teapot over ten weeks

I’ve spent a lot of time teaching workshop classes where everybody can work on their own thing but I thought it would make a change and be fun to learn pure throwing techniques together as a group of students over a few weeks. A teapot is one of the most challenging things you can make on a pottery wheel, as it encompasses just about every wheel technique including making internal galleries, fitting lids, collaring the clay in to make a spout. If you can master the teapot, then you should be able to throw just about any other shape.  Don’t worry if you are new to ceramics/throwing, I’ll give you all the help you need.

How I’m going to teach it

I’m going to start with the basics, learning centring, opening out and making basic bowl shapes over the first couple of weeks. Then over the next few weeks I will teach how to make cylinders, how to make collar clay in order to make spouts, how to make an internal gallery, how to make lids, how to pull handles from the teapot body and finally how to assemble a teapot.

Here’s a video of me making a teapot from scratch to give you some idea of what’s involved.

What you need to bring with you

Basically just wear old warm clothes that you don’t mind getting clay on.  Also it’s a good idea to have short nails!

How do I get on the course

Just send me a deposit of £20 and I’ll book you on,  The remaining £65 should be paid at the first class.

I need 8 people for this course to run, no more, no less!  (8 people would give us 2 to each wheel.)  There are 6 people booked on already.  In the unlikely event of me not getting enough people then I will run the first class for free and give you your deposits back.

Please share this Page

How to make Quarls

After over 40 years of use, the four quarls on our kiln are looking slightly worn. Here they are in the kiln:

IMG_1547Quarls are basically curved blocks that deflect the flame from the burners, so the flame shoots up the side of the bag wall.

Here they are taken out of the kiln:


My first job was to try and get accurate measurements from the original quarls:


Next I had to produce a mould which replicates these dimensions.  Fortunately my friends Adrian and Dylan Cross at Northern Kilns lent a hand with this by fabricating a metal mould for me.  A wooden mould would have worked just as well though.


You need to paint a mould release agent (engine oil or Vaseline works well) onto the inside of the mould and then fill it with a coarse castable refractory.  Castable refractory can be bought in 25 kilo bags and has a maximum firing temperature. Generally you should add a couple of hundred degrees to the temperature of your kiln, as things get a bit hotter close to the flame. We fire to 1280 degrees centigrade, so a 1500 degree- 1600 degree castable would make sense. The castable refractory is mixed like concrete with water. Avoid getting it too sloppy! It is then placed into the mould and forced down with a piece of wood. The curve can then be worked with a trowel.


It should then be left 24 hours to dry before being released from the mould.



Next it is best leaving the quarls to dry for 48 hours or so and then placing them in the kiln.


I then turn the kiln on a low heat for an hour, to make sure they are totally dry, then rebuild the rest of the kiln.


And hopefully we’ll get another 40 years of use out of them!!




Bentham Pottery Kiln

I’m doing some maintenance on our glaze kiln. The kiln is made by Kilns and furnaces and was bought by my mum sometime around 1975. We have fired it to 1260 degrees (cone 9-10) between 40 and 60 times a year since then. The cubic capacity of the kiln is 12 cubic foot. It can fire 161 mugs per firing. It has a serial number stamped on the door “02175” Here it is; IMG_1532 And with the door open: IMG_1531 It is powered by calor gas. It has 4 venturi burners. Two on each side of the kiln. They look like this: IMG_1566 Here are the bag walls: IMG_1533 Okay. I’m going to start to take it to bits now and work out what i need to replace. Here is the kiln without the bag walls: IMG_1536   Here is the kiln without the bottom two kiln shelves: IMG_1539   You can now start to see some of the problems. The 4 shelves in the middle are fine, but the 4 shelves on the outside are shot and need replacing. Here is a closer look: IMG_1541 Here is one out of the kiln: IMG_1563 The dimensions of this shelf are; 2 inch thick and 8.5 inch by 12 inch. Here is a sketch of it with the dimensions;


Taking the four shelves in the middle reveals this: IMG_1547   There are 4 AP2 bricks and two half  AP2 bricks stood on end on either side which supported the 4 shelves. Here is a picture of one of these bricks close up. Note the proximity to the burners!; IMG_0002 And here is one of the AP2 bricks out of the kiln;   IMG_1564 And a view of the other side: IMG_1565 I need four of these AP2 bricks to replace the broken ones! Once these bricks are out it looks like this: IMG_0004 The two shelves underneath are fine. Here is what it looks like with these two shelves removed (I’ve also removed one of the burner deflection blocks on the front left): IMG_1551 The brick work below these two shelves is fine. In fact the bricks look as though they were cut yesterday! Okay now onto the burner blocks; Three burner blocks look like this; IMG_1560   Which look fine. However one burner block looks like this: IMG_1556 I wonder if this needs replacing? the discolouration might be due to a lack of oxygen from the venturi burner. In which case I should just need to open the venturi burner more and allow more oxygen into the kiln? The burner deflection blocks look like this: IMG_1546   Here is one out of the kiln: IMG_1548 I cant decide whether to patch these up or get new ones? The block looks as though it is made out of cast-able refractory material. I guess I would have to make a wooden mould to make them? the dimensions are 9 inch by 6 1/8 inch base, 5.5 inch tall, 5.5 inch by 6 1/8 top, with curve. Here is a sketch of the block with the dimensions;


Here is a video of the 4 burners working;

Hope you have enjoyed this as much as me! If you have any opinions on the discoloured burner or on how to make the deflection blocks then please email me;

Digging the Black Burton clay

Jack Telford blundging clay

Jack Telford blundging clay at Waterside Pottery in 1940.

If you were a potter 100 years ago, digging and processing the clay was actually part of your job description.  Nowadays it is all too easy, you just make an order to a company in Stoke-on-Trent and magically a ton of clay gets delivered on your doorstep in convenient 12.5 kilo quantities lovingly packed in plastic bags.  The reason most potters now buy clay rather than dig their own is because clay is relatively cheap; and digging it and processing it is time consuming and back breaking work. Plastic packaged processed clay is a modern invention.  Most people think that pottery making begins by opening a bought bag of clay. This has only been true since the 1940s, prior to that pottery making began with a pick and shovel and a large mound of clay and a lot of hard work to process it into a malleable material that could be formed on a potter’s wheel.

Richard Bateson digging clay.

Richard Bateson digging the Mill hill clay in 1936.,

When I teach a pottery course I like to start the first lesson by taking students back to the roots of pottery.  I inform them that “We are going to get the clay” and then walk them down to the Black Burton clay pit armed with buckets and trowels and get them to dig the raw ingredient.  We then take the raw clay back to the pottery and bash it with pestles and mortars; and add water to it to make it into a slip then pass it through a series of sieves to further break it down and remove any foreign bodies. We then let it rest in a bucket and wait for the water to evaporate over a few weeks before scooping it out of the bucket onto boards to dry further. Eventually we are able to kneed the clay and begin forming it into pottery.  (Whilst waiting for it to be ready of course I do let them use the stuff in plastic bags from Stoke!)

The Burton Potters used the exact method I have just described, but they did it on more of an industrial scale.  The clay was dug onto carts and taken to the potteries where it was tipped into a blundger, which is like a large scale steam powered Kenwood chef.  The blundger would mash the clay up and break it down. It would then be sieved into a clay pan.  A clay pan is like a shallow swimming pool where the clay would dry.  It would then be dug out of the clay pan and left to dry on the walls of the clay pan.  It would be mixed up using a machine called a pug mill and it could then be thrown on the pottery wheel.

Jack Telford filling a clay pan.

Jack Yelford filling a clay pan at Waterside pottery in 1940.

The earthenware clay (terracotta) at Burton can be found at Mill Hill. It’s very easy to get to the clay along a footpath. If you park close to Burton Bridge and take the lane that follows the river downstream, you bear right onto a footpath that leads past Greta House. Before you get to the bridge over the stream you take a sharp left.  It is worth looking at your feet at this point, because the potters made this track and they used broken pots and seconds as hard-core. You can find potters’ finger prints in coils of clay that they would have used for separating pots in the kilns. After a short while you will notice a steep shale banking on your left hand side. This banking is the Burton clay. As kids we used to call it the slag heap and we would joyfully spend whole days climbing it and then launching ourselves off the top and “skiing “ back down in wellie boots. God only knows what our parents thought when we turned up home as black as the ace of spades with wellies full of black shale.

Clay drying on the clay pan walls at Waterside pottery.

Clay drying on the clay pan walls at Waterside pottery.

The Burton (Mill Hill) clay is jet black when processed, which is an unusual colour for a clay. I have been told that it is black because it has a high oil content, which possibly provides “free” fuel during the firing process? I have wondered if the old name for Burton,” Black Burton”, originated because of the colour of the clay? The clay throws well on a pottery wheel.  You can throw it really thin and produce complex overhanging shapes with ease. The clay fires light red in colour and I have fired it all the way up to 1250 degrees without it melting.

Charlie Armour pugging clay at Waterside pottery in 1940.

Charlie Armour pugging clay at Waterside pottery in 1940.

Stoneware clay was available opencast in the field below Waterside pottery (opposite the football pitch and a bit further up the road.)  However this clay ran out in 1905. A drift mine was then opened to access a different clay seam. I have written about the stoneware mine in my article on “The last potter of Burton-in-Lonsdale”

Press Mould Bowl Class

I’ve often been asked to share a few of my teaching techniques. So here goes:

Press moulded bowl made by studentI have taught the following class many times. I have taught it to single students and to classes of 30 students. I have taught it to primary school children, degree students, girls at a pottery hen party and corporate team building events. If you teach ceramics then this is a really good class to have up your sleeve. It works at all levels of skill. It lasts from anything from 1.5 hours to 3 hours depending upon how you demonstrate it and the students’ level. Here is what you need:


Stoneware buff clay and a small amount of terracotta and white stoneware – Any contrasting clays work. If you haven’t got three types of clay then two types of clay will be fine. You can even create more unusual colours by adding 10 percent body stain to a white clay.

Press moulds – I always tend to use biscuit fired bowls as opposed to plaster moulds, as they store better, they are light (you can easily carry a box of 20)  and there is no danger of plaster contamination. If you can’t throw then it is worth learning how to throw to make your own bowl moulds! The mould featured in this article was thrown from 1.5 lbs of clay.

Clay guns – Clay guns are basically small clay extruders. If you don’t have a clay gun then I have used hypodermic syringes in the past without the needle and a bigger hole drilled into the end.

Knives – Ideally potters’ knives.

Tile cutting tool – Okay you don’t actually need this, but I love gadgets!

Rolling pins and cloths – You could use slats as well if you want an even thickness.

Grog – Grog is just fired clay grit, which is good for texture. You can manage without it, but I like to have it

Rulers and pencils and paper – For doing the initial design work

Kidney tools – For smoothing.

The Class

  1. Begin by getting the students to draw a 12cm square on a piece of paper and then get them to sub-divide the square into 9 smaller squares. In each smaller square get the students to do some simple line drawing. Don’t spend too much time doing this. It is really just to get the students some ideas to begin with. Here are a couple of examples:

Designs for press mould2. Next get the students to roll out a small ball of clay and cut it either with a knife or a tile cutter into a square (tile sized).

Tile and tile cutter3. Fill the clay guns, one with terracotta and one with white stoneware and get the students to reproduce their design by laying the clay gun extrusions onto the tile. Don’t press the extrusions into the tile! I also get the students to add grog into parts of their decoration to add texture. You can just pick up the grog between your finger and thumb and drop it where you want it.

extrusions of clay

completed tile

4.Now get the students to place a piece of paper over their tiles and lightly roll over the paper with the rolling pin, so that the extrusions inlay into the tile. Make sure the students don’t press too hard as you don’t want a massive tile, you just want to press down hard enough to inlay the extrusions.

Tile and design

 5. Now get the students to cut their tile in 6 to 9 pieces. If they complain about this then tell them that you want to make the design more abstract. If they still persist in complaining then allow them to cut the tile into 9 squares, so that they keep all their decoration intact!

tile cut into bits.

6. Take a press mould and get the students to begin filling it with hand rolled coils of clay and balls of clay, lightly pressing the pieces together. Start from the base of the bowl and slowly get them to work their way up. Make sure they are creative with the coils. Show them how to make spirals and zig zags.

Press mould being filled

7. Next get the students to start adding their bits of tile with the decoration facing outwards.

press mould being filled with clay8. Encourage the students to produce an attractive rim. A series of balls or spirals seems to work well.

making the rim of the bowl.9. Now smooth over everything with a kidney tool.

smooth clay inside press mould10. Empty the bowl out of the press mould by turning the mould upside down and catching the bowl in your hand.bowl emptied out of press mould.

11. Biscuit fire the bowl.


12. Cover the whole bowl with glaze. In this case i’m using blue.

glazed bowl

12. Wipe the glaze off the outside using a large sponge.

glazed bowl with outside wiped off

13. Fire the pot. Here is the finished result.

Press moulded bowl made by student