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Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre - Pottery Replica Project - Making & Firing Days at Down Farm

As part of the project, we spent a couple of days at Down Farm, hosted by the farmer and archaeologist Martin Green. This gave us a chance to film and record voice recordings for the visitor centre displays about the pottery - which will go along side similar videos of iron working and flint knapping.

Return to the main page about the project at this link.

Bill Crumbleholme was filmed making pottery and firing some he had made earlier in a bonfire and a small turf kiln. The images below show some of the results.

Two beakers and an urn

The first firing was done with a simple bonfire, these are the reasonably successful two beakers and an urn that emerged from the flames.

close up of beaker

This is a close up of one of the beakers, showing the pattern impressed with a comb. This pot was made using clay from the Head, which seemed to stand up fairly well, although the beakers both distorted into oval shapes slightly, having been fired on their sides. There is a little bit of surface cracking and the salt that was left on the surfaces after they had dried out before firing seems to have discoloured the clay somewhat - but this may disappear when washed.

fired collared urn

This is the collared urn that didn't do too badly in the flames! Clay from the Head, tempered with grog, sand and crushed sea-shells (the small white flecks) - which seemed to survive as fairly hard lumps after firing. The salt has left a stain on the surface.

spalled urn

This collared urn did not behave very well - the surface was spalled, with small pieces of the surface flying off during the fierce firing period. This urn had been tempered with crushed flint, which had perhaps expanded on heating - which would have helped to explode the surface.

spalled grooved ware

This grooved ware bucket almost made it through the fire, but lost some sections by spalling. This had been blended with coarse grog.

broken urn

This urn broke up during the fierce firing - probably not dried out enough during the pre-heating phase of the firing.

incense cup

The incense cup looks Ok, but part of the base had blown off. This was recycled clay from Bill's store.

turf kiln ablaze

The second firing was done in a small kiln built of turf, like an igloo, this image shows it at the hottest phase, after a more gentle pre-heat.

turn kiln stoke hole

This side on view of the turn kiln shows the stoke hole - formed using an old bottomless urn - through which the heat was introduced to start with into the kiln chamber. A fire was lit outside the kiln and the heat blown into the chamber by the fairly strong breeze. After several hours pre-heating, the pot inside was deemed to have been dried out and so then timber fuel was introduced into the chamber through the gap in the top, to fill it up and start a real blaze going. This was restoked several times, using a mixture of thicknesses of timber and also some pine cones - which seemed to burn as embers very well. towards the end of the firing flatter pieces of wood were placed across the top of the chamber to form as imple lid, which kept the heat in the chamber and enabled the pot to reach a higher temperature.

turf kiln flames

This is a view into the top of the kiln, showing the high intensity of the flames through the chamber. The stiff breeze help to keep the fire burning brightly, by bringing in fresh oxygen.

burnt out kiln

After an hour or so of intense stoking finished the fuel all burnt away to reveal the upsidedown urn base and a burnt inner wall of turf.

fired collared urn

This is the fired urn - very impressively all in one piece with no damage and seemingly well cooked! The dark colour is sooting because of being buried in the embers while cooling. A smart "Killer Whale" colour scheme, but perhaps not what bronze age folk were aiming for - a more oxidised orange red terracotta finish.

fired beaker

A small beaker had been placed inside the urn, this too fired very well, although it seems a very light colour, perhaps the clay from the head has been stained by the salt content or perhaps there is some pale coloured clay within the mix.

We were very pleased with the overall results of the firing and making sessions (not photographed here) and the voice recordings were eventually done well after a helicopter had gone home for lunch!

Many thanks to Mark and Jennie for helping with the firings, Martin for hosting us and the Peters for guiding and filming the action.