Handmade Pottery: How We Make Burleigh

Here at Burleigh we use traditional skills and techniques, the highest-quality raw materials and our dedicated team of craftspeople to create our classic and timeless tableware, just like we did 170 years ago. Here we share with you a short insight into our craft, and how we create timeless tableware, from clay to table.

The beginning of our unrivalled process begins in ‘The Slip House’. Where raw ingredients are interspersed in large containers called blungers. Liquid clay is then transferred below the ground to the mixing ark. This underground container keeps the clay cool, and the clay which is now referred to as slip is kept constantly moving by means of a large automated paddle. Once this liquid clay has reached the correct consistency, it is pumped upstairs to the casting shops where it is poured into plaster moulds and used to make hollow-ware such as jugs and teapots. Waste clay returns to the slip house, and can be mixed back into the system and reused.

After the slip house, we move into the Mould Makers where the block and case moulds are made. Mould making is a highly skilled process and each one is made of plaster of Paris (Gypsum) because of qualities of absorbing moisture from the clay.

After the Mould Makers, we move to Casting. Slip is pumped up from the slip house and The Caster uses a flexible hose to fill the moulds. Because the mould is made of plaster it is porous and draws in the moisture from the slip which dries from the outside in. The layer of dry clay becomes thicker. When it has reached the correct thickness excess slip is tipped away and the clay is left inside the mould until it is dry enough to remove. It is still quite damp and is left on a drying rack for a couple of days until it is dry enough to be fettled. At this stage in the process, the ware is very delicate and requires expert handling to remove from the mould.

Once removed from the Mould, the clay will go to be ‘fettled and sponged’. The observant will notice join lines on ware removed from the moulds and other blemishes which lead to the next process of fettling and sponging. The fettler removes the seams and rough edges using a fettling knife and each item is sponged to smooth any imperfections. At this stage the clay is ‘green’ meaning is has not been fired. If enough water was added it would return to slip. Until it is fired for the first time it can be recycled.

The ware is then dried in the drying room and ‘The Placer’ then places the ware onto kiln trucks which are manoeuvred into the kilns using rails and a trolley. The pottery is fired in gas fired intermittent kilns at a temperature of 1180 degrees to remove the moisture from the clay. Burleigh’s kilns hold a lot less than the traditional bottle oven but modern kilns take approximately 18 hours to fire rather than 3-4 days and can be controlled easier than bottle ovens.

Now that the piece of ware has been fired, it can no longer be recycled. It has also now shrunk to the required size, but is still porous. Each piece runs through our rigorous quality checks. If there are no faults, it goes on to be decorated in our famous Transfering Printing Shop.

Burleigh Pottery is now the last English pottery company that still continues this traditional and highly skilled hand decorating process. This process was once widely used in the pottery industry but Burleigh is now the last remaining potbank to use this highly skilled technique, making Burleigh pottery highly prized around the world.

 Each of Burleigh’s traditional patterns were hand engraved onto copper based cylinders. The printer fixes the cylinder to the printing machine, spreads on the thick oil based ink which melts as the machine heats up. The cylinder rotates and the ink flows into the engraved lines of the roller. Tissue paper is drawn carefully beneath the cylinder creating a continuous stream of pattern . The printer deftly rips the tissue into lengths and hangs them on the line for the transferrers to use. The tranferrer cuts out the tissue in the shape to fit the ware and applies it to biscuit pottery. She rubs it down with a brush and soft soap, pressing the design into the pottery and softening the tissue which is then washed off. The ink is oil based and therefore water resistant so remains when the tissue is washed away. The item is then fired for a second time to fuse the pattern onto the ware. This is done in the electric hardening-on kilns at different temperatures depending on the pattern colour. After this firing, the products are cleaned and checked over to ensure the quality is acceptable.

Finally into the Dipping House. This used to be the most dangerous place to work in Victorian times because the glaze contained lead and the people had little idea of the effects this had. Now, the dipper dips the ware into a vat of glaze ( liquid glass) . It is coloured using food dye so that the glaze is a luminous pink colour, this is essential to ensure that we can make sure that no piece of ware is unglazed. The pink colour burns away during glost firing. Plastic tubes are worn on his fingers so as not to leave finger marks in the glaze and each piece is moved in swirl like motion to get an even coat before being shaken off the excess and puts in on the conveyor which passes through a dryer. When it comes out of the other side the glaze is dry. Once dry the footwiper takes glaze off the bottom of the ware so that it doesn’t stick to the kiln truck during the final glost firing.

All ware will be checked finally in the glost warehouse and the ware will be graded best, seconds or lump (rejects)! The products are packed into cartons and despatched to the customer.