North Devon in 100 Objects: 83. The CH Brannam Fire Bucket

A red fire bucket with yellow text 'C.H. Brannam Ltd', 'Barnstaple', 'FIRE'.

This fire bucket forms part of our C.H. Brannam collection.  As well as the company’s museum collection and archives we have four enormous machines used at the pottery in Litchdon Street and later at Roundswell.  The fettling wheel, for cleaning off the bottom of finished pots, the jigger and jolly machine for making moulded pots, the No.1 throwing wheel for big wares and Peter Brannam’s patented flower pot making machine are all part of our collections.

The old pottery building in Litchdon Street had four floors, forty rooms and thirteen staircases.  It was a warren of workrooms, drying rooms, showrooms and offices with the two big bottle kilns built into the back.  The factory was dark, airless, cold in winter and very hot in summer.  The air was thick with clay dust and mineral oil, used to make sure the clay would be released from moulds.  In a building with a substantial amount of timber in its construction, kilns operating at 1000 degrees and a workforce used to smoking on the job, fire was a constant risk.

This bucket would probably have contained sand, one of the fire precautions necessary for a dangerous workplace.  Sand is good for absorbing spills of flammable liquids, like the paraffin used with some of the pottery making machines.  By the 1930s the factory also had fire extinguishers, which were used to put out a fire at a neighbouring grocers’ shop in 1935.

Health and safety concerns, as well as the need for a more efficient production line, led Brannams to move the factory out of town in 1989.

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