The area surrounding Buckley in Flintshire, has been associated with the production of pottery for at least 600 years, from the medieval period to the mid 20th century. The scale and location of pottery manufacture during the Middle Ages and through the Tudor period is poorly known, but by the early 17th century a group of cottage potters had settled around Buckley Mountain where they exploited the suitable supplies of clay, coal and, on Halkyn Mountain, lead. Potteries were often established on encroachments on common land, which can be readily identified in 18th- and 19th-century cartographic sources.
The significance of the Buckley pottery industry has been recognised for some time, attracting considerable attention, although it is only relatively recently that a comprehensive review has been conducted (Jones 2014) employing historic cartography and the results of previous work. Currently, some 31 sites have been identified, although several are not well located.
Despite the extent and significance of the industry there are now few visible surface traces. Although there have been some remarkable survivals, the Buckley area has seen considerable new development in the last 20 years, such that most significant elements of the pottery industry have already been lost.
The relationship between Buckley Mountain common, enclosures and the location of potteries. Each is classified according to its earliest known date. (From Jones, 2014)
Price's Pottery Excavation with Elfed High School
A pottery was in operation here from the 1780's and possibly earlier. Two rectangular buildings which equate with those of Price's Pottery are marked on the 1757 map of the Lordship of Ewloe, although no kiln is depicted to confirm this as a pottery at this time. The pottery appears to have been operational until the latter part of the 19th century, being disused by the time the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey mapping was produced in 1899. The pottery site has since been seriously affected by housing developments and the landscaping of the grounds for Elfed High School.
The project was grant-aided by Cadw and was conceived as one where the archaeological gains from the excavation of the pottery site would be matched by the value of involving the community in discovering its past. This included liaising with the Buckley Society, a local history group dedicated to recording and transmitting the history of the locality, but the main way in which the project aims were achieved was by involving students from Elfed High School and local primary schools in all aspects of the work. This included map regression, finds processing and excavation, tasks which give both themselves and the teaching staff an understanding of the nature of the industry that once provided such a major contribution to the local economy. This was highly successful, as demonstrated by the feedback from the school, but the students also transmitted information about their involvement to their parents and friends, widening the range of contact to the community as a whole; as part of this process one of the students discovered that her family were descended from the original owners of the pottery.
Excavation with the help of students from Elfed High School, 2014
The excavations at Price's Pottery were carried out over two seasons in the summer of 2014 and 2015 and although the excavations were not successful in identifying surviving structures, sufficient clues were obtained to suggest they may be present nearby. Large quantities of brick, undoubtedly originating from a kiln were recovered along with fragments of kiln shelves, kiln furniture such as stilts and spacers (for separating the pots during firing) and spent fuel.
A possible blunging pit was also identified during the 2015 excavation. Blunging pits were used to process raw clay, reducing it to a liquid slip by the addition of water. This mixture was agitated and then run thorugh a sieve to remove any roots or stones before being fed via a channel or ‘goyt’ into large, shallow ‘clay pans’ where it was allowed to stand, possibly over winter, before it could be used from throwing. The pit at Price's Pottery had been backfilled with hundreds of broken pots, saggars and bricks. The vast quantity of pottery we have recovered from this relatively small scale excavation has been remarkable. Preliminary findings suggest that production started in at least the early part of the 18th century, perhaps 50 years earlier than had been previously appreciated. This may be revised further once a detailed examination of the ceramics has been completed by specialists.
Over 800 people, including students, teachers, members of local groups and members of the public joined in with the activities and events that were offered during the course of the project including the archaeological excavation, partaking in educational workshops, site tours and talks.
Furthermore, students of Elfed High School entered and won a prize in the 2014 Welsh Heritage School Initiative competition for their involvement with the excavations at Price's Pottery.
Buckley Potteries Site 18
Pottery Site 18 was identified from a finds scatter discovered in 1975 by H M Harrison (Davey and Longworth 2001, 63) in a pasture field to the north of the town. Over 1000 sherds of medieval ceramics, including wasters, were discovered while fieldwalking an arable field, comprising 938 sherds of pottery and 161 ridge tile sherds. The main fabrics were gritty, highly fired white and grey wares with green and brown glazes. The major products were jugs, large storage vessels and roofing tiles, probably of 14th or 15th-century date (Davey 1976, 27). Being located in a pasture field away from the town, it has been thought that the site has perhaps the greatest potential of all the known Buckley potteries for it is one of the earliest known and is allegedly undisturbed.
A geophysical survey was carried out at the site in 1986, and this was followed by the excavation of three trenches, which were positioned to investigate anomalies detected by the geophysics, although these proved to relate to ferrous objects. No evidence was forthcoming for the kiln or any other pottery structures. The topsoil produced further quantities of pottery, including one sherd of 13th/14th-century pottery, 60 sherds of 14th/15th-century pottery, 146 sherds of 16th-century pottery and some 500 sherds of 18th/19th-century pottery (Weetman 1986).
In 2015 CPAT carried out a further geophysical survey in a wider area surrounding the original discovery, but this again failed to reveal conclusive evidence of the location of the medieval pottery kiln thought by association to have operated in this locality. Of the few visible anomalies, almost all could be matched with field boundaries or the remains of spoil tips associated with coal mining activity, and depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey mapping.
A pottery kiln should provide a strong thermo-remanent magnetic anomaly, as a result of the degree of heating that takes place. Although it might just be that the site of the kiln was missed, owing to the need to avoid the strong magnetic fields associated with the wire fences subdividing the locality, the lack of any suitable evidence could imply that the medieval kiln was sited elsewhere and the finds imported to this location. At present we are left with a spread of medieval and post-medieval pottery whose origin remains obscure.
Download the Buckely Potteries Assessment report.