Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Sharpe Kiln

As I have written in the past, I've been corresponding with archaeologists and researchers in England to get ideas about what Thomas and Sarah Davenport might have known about pottery making, kiln building, clay processing, and other related skills.  I need to know as much as I can about this in order to judge the local adaptations that the Davenport's created to Southern Utah's new landscape.

Most recently, I was tracking down excavations of pottery kilns in the Derbyshire region.  I found the website of the Sharpe's Pottery Museum that included a mention that the kiln had been archaeologically excavated in the 1990s.  Philip Heath answered my email inquiry.  Mr. Heath is the Heritage Officer for the South Derbyshire District Council.  He has put me in touch with the archaeologists involved and also sent me a digital image of one of the interpretive panels at the site.  He said that I could post the image on the blog, and more information about the Sharpe's Pottery Museum is on their website at:

Thomas Sharpe established his pottery in 1821.  The Sharpe's Pottery operated as a company, making Mocha ware and Rockingham-style ceramics. These pottery types are also known as yellow ware because the stoneware body has a strong to pale yellow colored paste.  These ceramics were often decorated with annular banding and the dendritic patterns for which Mocha ware is famous.

The kiln photo above shows one possible configuration with which Thomas may have been familiar.  The picture above shows the archaeological excavation inside the standing hovel-- the bottle-shaped chimney that surrounds a kiln in most English traditions.  In this case, all the bricks were removed, leaving only the stained soil to mark the structure itself.  While a later foundation wall cuts right across the kiln foundation, you can still clearly make out the circular footprint of the kiln and most of the fireboxes that surround it.  In the English tradition, the kiln is round and the fireboxes are generally below the floor surface and evenly spaced around the outside edge.

Academic industrial archaeologists used to talk about "ethnic" or "national" technological styles, which was a way of explaining why the English immigrants to Utah built round, up-drafting kilns, while the Danish immigrants built rectangular, cross-drafting kilns.  I look forward to talking with the students about this and making more posts about this in the future.


  1. You might also get some milage out of talking to the people at the Jackfield pottery and tile works at Ironbridge. They still have their massive kilns stills standing (in fact, Jackfield still operates: http://cravendunnill-jackfield.co.uk/), but as a World Heritage Site for industrial heritage, they have a massive library, etc. See (http://www.ironbridge.org.uk/ under Jackfield and Coalport sites). And come visit us in Leeds in the fall and work in a trip to Ironbridge research library.

  2. A great suggestion Steve! I have spoken with Paul Belford in the past regarding this research, but not since I started planning the dig in Parowan. I think you might know Paul-- he is the director of Ironbridge Archaeology. I have seen the pictures of the Jackfield project on their blog. I have been trying to find excavations of sites that Thomas Davenport may have seen or visited, which makes the kilns around Chesterfield and in Derbyshire more promising. Excavations at Stoke-on-Trent and the Five Towns, as well as Ironbridge, will be important to interpreting our results.

    Of course, visiting their library (and you) would be of great value. I'd love to bring my graduate student along to give her an opportunity to see the preserved kilns for herself, including the Sharpe's, Gladstone, and Ironbridge examples in particular. I'm trying to find the funds to support that!

  3. You might want to contact Dr Chris Cumberpatch in the UK who has done a lot of work on ceramic assemblages from Sheffield and devised the Derbyshire Late medieval and post-medieval type series. he will also have access to, or be able to put you in touch with the people who have the grey literature from the excavations done in Chesterfield since 1980. You will be able to find him on Google.