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Pottery Kilns


Dating back thousands of years, archaeological excavation has provided evidence for handcrafted pottery across Scotland from funerary urns through to basic pots to hold food or drink. The first signs of more intensive pottery production come in the medieval period but it was not until the second half of the eighteenth century that commercial production began. Based in areas where there was clay to make the pots and coal to fire the kilns, major centres of production emerged across Scotland for the large scale manufacture of stone and earthenware pottery. These were largely concentrated in the central belt with major centres in Kirkcaldy, Prestonpans, Portobello, Bo'ness and Glasgow. These industrial potteries manufactured practical domestic plates, bowls, jugs and ashets decorated with elaborate and colourful transfer or sponge printed designs, as well as plainer, more utilitarian items such as jam jars, whisky flagons, ginger beer bottles and stone pigs (hot-water bottles). Other potteries manufactured bathroom ware (toilets, basins and baths), such as Shanks in Kilmarnock.

One of the longest lasting and successful firms was that of A W Buchan and Company Limited, their premises in Portobello becoming known as the Thistle Pottery from 1955 onwards after one of their popular coloured patterns featuring a thistle, heather and bluebells. First established around 1770, the pottery came into the ownership of the Buchan family in 1867, and became known for the manufacture of practical stoneware goods such as whisky flagons and preserve jars, including the distinctive Buchan ware. In 1972, after over one hundred years in business, the Thistle Pottery closed. It was the last industrial pottery in Scotland.

Today the products from the Scottish pottery industry are highly collectible and examples are regularly seen at antique fairs and auctions but all that survives of this important industry are two of the Buchan's kilns at Portobello. Using images from the RCAHMS Collections, this gallery celebrates the rebuilding of one of these and coincides with an exhibition on the Thistle Pottery in Portobello Library (until the end of May 2014).