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North Devon in 100 Objects: 36. The Barnstaple Pottery Kiln

A 17th century pottery kiln.

The largest artefact in the Museum, and the most evocative of life in seventeenth century Barnstaple, is the pottery kiln excavated in 1987 on the site of the future library. The remains found on the library site were intact enough to be lifted and rebuilt in the Museum, where a reconstructed potter’s workshop gives a picture of what was once a major Barnstaple industry.

For centuries Barnstaple people were involved in pottery making.  Cross Street was originally Crock Street, the old name reflecting the industry practised in this area. Clay was dug at Combrew, near Fremington and brought to Barnstaple either by cart or by barge from Muddlebridge at the head of Fremington Pill. Lead for glazing might come from Combe Martin. Gravel from the Taw was used as tempering. The kilns burned wood and especially furze (gorse), which produced extra-high temperatures to secure the glaze.  Culm, a powdery form of anthracite found from Greencliff near Abbotsham through to Tawstock, might also have supplemented wood as fuel.

The pottery was both sold locally and exported, much of it to Ireland, and some to the American colonies, from the Carolinas in the south to Newfoundland in the north.  Pottery from North Devon, some possibly from this kiln, is found in Jamestown and Williamsburg in Virginia. Sherds of North Devon pottery are commonly found in local gardens, while behind the Library itself lie at least two more kilns which were not excavated and await the attention of future archaeologists.

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