Pit Firing at Beltain May 2020

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This is a record of a "pit" firing undertaken by Bill Crumbleholme at the time of the Beltain Festival in May 2020. Due to virus lockdown, Bill did this alone in his garden!

Queen of Mai

It being the start of May, Bill constructed a sculptural Queen of the Mai, to oversee the firing!

first layer of pots

A bed of fine sawdust was made up at the base of the chamber, which had been built of bricks left over from the wood kiln chimney.

The first layer of pots was placed, they had been filled with sawdust. Some were placed on pieces of dried banana skin.

next layer

Dried seaweed was placed around and over the pots and more sawdust tipped over - this was fluffier curly shavings, which burn more easily than dust.

next layer

More sawdust was built up theb a layer of seaweed and another batch of pots.

Some of these pots were being refired, as the previous attempt had left them somewhat smutty and unattractive.

next layer

When half covered a dusting of dried tea leaves was sprinkled over the pots. And then more sawdust added.


A bed of charcoal was added over the sawdust, to provide some fuel to get the burning going.


A small dried twig fire was built and when darkness started to fall, that was set alight - using a small gas torch.


The fire was gradually built up with prunings from a bay tree and ivy stripped from a wall.

tall flames

Eventually the whole structure caught light and up went the Queen!


By midnight the fire had died down and the sawdust and shavings were glowing under the covering of ash from the burnt out  fire above.

next morning

Next morning the chamber was still fairly warm, despite light rain overnight. It was left to burn out more.

out of the fire

The pots rose out of the ashes like a Phoenix!

There was good contrast between the smoke effects and the  burnished  pale clay, some of which was also covered with very fine terra sigillata slip.

The combustable extras such as the seaweed and tea leaves had produced a few flashes of colour.

close up

A close up of some of the smoke effects.