Volunteers wanted to dig for pottery secrets

Moulds being put to work by craftsmen at a Portobello pottery
Moulds being put to work by craftsmen at a Portobello pottery
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SECRETS from Portobello’s lost pottery industry are set to be uncovered as part of a new archaeological project.

The seaside resort has been described as a Scottish Stoke-on-Trent, after the English city famed for its ceramics industry.

A new initiative by the Portobello Heritage Trust – called Dig Portobello – will encourage residents to excavate their back gardens in the hope of unearthing key clues to the potteries which thrived in the area for around 200 years.

Martin Cook, project manager for Dig Portobello, said: “It was a really important industry in the area and it would have employed hundreds of people.

“The main thing we are looking for is early ceramics and maybe even parts of the potteries themselves.

“We have found some items from the 19th century, but we don’t know what else could be found there.

“We are only just starting to find out about the early ceramics industry there.”

Ceramics factories are believed to have sprung up in Portobello in the 1760s, making everything from high-end crockery to ginger beer bottles and urinals.

High-quality clay and bountiful coal resources drew potteries to the Firth of Forth, from where owners were able to export goods as far afield as America.

The industry thrived in the area until the 1970s when the last remaining pottery, Buchan’s, closed its doors.

Homes were built on the land but there may still be pottery kilns and debris dating back to the 18th century hidden in back gardens, explained John Lawson, archaeology officer with the city council.

Mr Lawson said: “Portobello is at the heart of the ceramics industry, to the extent it was the Scottish Stoke-on-Trent.

“Any material from the 18th century will be a major discovery as we know pottery was being produced there at the time but a lot of the pottery we have is unmarked.

“We would love to find something from that time period – that’s the holy grail for this site.

“Hopefully, this will demonstrate to residents the importance of this industry in the area.”

Professional archaeologists will be on hand between Friday and Sunday to offer advice to residents, who are encouraged to dig a trench in their gardens measuring around one metre by two metres in size.

Those without gardens can get involved in test pits on areas of council-owned land this weekend.

Councillor Richard Lewis, culture convener for the council, said: “Edinburgh has a fascinating history and this project will really allow members of the community to discover sections of Portobello – and their own back gardens – that have been buried for almost 250 years.”

Dig Portobello will take place at The Wash House Community Centre, in Adelphi Grove.

Volunteers can sign up for free geophysical survey training on Friday at noon and an introductory talk at 7.30pm.

The archaeological explorations will take place from 10am on Saturday and Sunday.

The project will also provide guided walks around Portobello and drop-in sessions, including Wee Pottery Workshops for children.

The council-backed project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.