The first ones were built in the 18th century, and at one point there were around 4000 in Stoke-on-Trent, the centre of the ceramic trade in Staffordshire. In the 1950’s there were still around 2000 standing and now there are only 47 left. Visiting Stoke-on-Trent in 2007 I thought it looked deserted and characterless, and when I saw old photographs with hundreds of kilns towering above the town, I thought it was a great pity that most of these wonderful chimneys had been pulled down. But a woman who had grown up in Stoke pointed out to me that most residents did not feel very nostalgic about their loss because they were reminders of a time of terrible poverty and dreadful pollution.
The clean air act of 1956 lead to the closing down of many traditional potteries in Staffordshire. Incidentally, the Chancellor has exempted British ceramic industries from the Climate Change Levy (CCL) in his latest budget after much pressure from the local MP and industry leaders. It can only be hoped that this will help to keep companies like Dudson and Emma Bridgewater to cope with competition from abroad.
A visit to Stoke-on-Trent and the various pottery museums there is certainly a very worth while journey. At the Gladstone Pottery museum one can find out how bottle kilns and the firing process worked. The Dudson factory still produces table ware (fired with gas or electricity) and they have placed an exhibition of antique pieces inside a converted bottle kiln.
It appears that conical kilns do not only exist in Staffordshire: