4 May 2017

On the road: Nettlebed, Oxfordshire

During February and at the end of March our journey to and from my home town of Reading in Berkshire took us through the woods near Nettlebed as this is our preferred route through some beautiful countryside in south Oxfordshire. In February there were patches of snowdrops growing in the woodlands and on the grassy banks of country lanes whilst in March the leaves on the trees were creating green canopies along the way.  If we went to our local woods we would now see a haze of blue under the trees as it's the season for bluebells and I'm sure that would also be the scene in the beech woods of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.



Back during our time in Berkshire and Oxfordshire we stopped in the village of Nettlebed as every time we pass that way I've wanted to take a photo of the pot kiln on the outskirts of the village. It stands out, but now looks rather strange surrounded by modern dwellings. There were several interesting things to photograph and learn from the display boards that gave an insight into the history and geology of the village.
   


This mosaic in the bus shelter depicts the woodland, the local brick making industry and the red kite. By the end of the 19th century the red kite disappeared in England, but a few pairs survived in Wales and were reintroduced into England and Scotland in the late 1980s with chicks from Spain and Sweden being released at specially protected sites in the hope that they would breed. Now they can be seen in greater numbers in the area, in other areas such as mid Wales, Scotland, East Midlands and Yorkshire and are a protected species.
I've yet to get a close-up shot as we drive through the winding lanes in the area.  I watch them as they fly high using the forked tail to steer, twisting it like a rudder. Suddenly one swoops downwards. It skims the air above the car before disappearing into the treetops. The best I can do is point the camera at a far away bird and capture its distinctive shape against the grey sky.



the pot kiln in Kiln Close



closeup of the size and different colour of individual bricks


Across the road on the corner of Kiln Close is a house that 
looks like the one in the old photo on the display board.




Tiles and bricks have been made in Nettlebed since the Middle Ages and were used locally mainly for roofing and flooring during this period. The bricks were renowned for their strength. Many fine buildings in the region were later built using them. Raw materials were obtained locally as the chalk escarpment is capped with clay and flints and at Nettlebed with Reading and London clay beds. The woodland provided fuel for the kilns. By the mid 19th century the sites were taken up with clay pits, water pools, drying sheds, brick yards as well as the kilns.

The bottle shaped pot kiln (above) was  in use from the 18th century until 1938 and is the only one left of those that were located in Nettlebed.  (The earliest known site of a kiln is of one near the village church where three generations of a family were making bricks). They would have taken up a lot of land, encroached on common land where the clay was dug out, but would have been an important enterprise employing many people from Nettlebed and other nearby villages. The main products were large water pans, seed pans, chimney pots, vases, jugs, platters, ornamental flowerpots and other similar items.  The greenish white sandy clay was advertised as the finest clay for stoneware in the south of England.  When thrown the pots were cut from the wheel with a wire and when leather hard trimmed with a knife. Glazing the interior and sometimes the exterior was necessary if the vessels were to hold liquids.  A mixture of red lead and linseed  oil was used. The use of this mixture was a hazard to health and lead poisoning of at least one worker is recorded. The kiln was converted to produce quicklime in 1927 as by then the local clay had run out. It was restored with the support of local people and Oxfordshire County Council.  

We turned off the Henley-Oxford road to travel on through Watlington.  It's necessary to drive slowly through the narrow high street where we stopped at the road crossing. The traffic lights were on red and so I was able to photograph Watlington Town and Market Hall which was built using Nettlebed bricks.




I hope many of you enjoyed the long weekend which included the May Bank Holiday on Monday. My husband and I have been at home with a head cold and an irritating cough although we seem to be getting better now. My husband has plenty to occupy him with nurturing this year's plants in the covered yard and I've been doing some novel reading and sorting out photos - putting old ones into new albums and sorting those I've downloaded onto the laptop and then storing them on my external hard drive. As usual I'm behind with reading blogs and I wish you a good day as I take one day at a time.



28 comments:

  1. I do love the history of a town and seeing buildings and sites from the past. I can remember seeing some of these pot kilns in different places on travels around the States. I don't usually get sick but my husband had cold symptoms earlier in the week and now I've got a scratchy throat, runny nose and sneezing. Ugh! Take care, Tammy

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    1. Thank you for your visit, Tammy. Head colds seem to linger so I hope you're both feeling better by now.

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  2. The pot kiln is a remarkable shape and the history really makes think about the lives of the people who built and used it originally. It must have been a very hard existence. I hope you and your husband are recovering well now.

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    1. Thank you, Annie for your visit. To have evidence of past times such as the kiln because it has been restored and not demolished is invaluable for those who are interested in local history. Yes, life must have been hard in so many ways. Thank you, Mr. P. and I are gradually feeling better.

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  3. Good Afternoon Linda, Finally home with a new internet system set up just yesterday. Yours is the first place I came to do some blog visiting. I so enjoy lovely drives along country roads, stopping to see points of interest along the way. You had some nice information of the old kilns and their history. Glad to hear about the resurgence of the red kites. It's a wonderful thing when we are able to save one of God's creatures from disappearing forever.

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    1. Welcome home, Gloria! I hope you and your husband are settling back in your home after your time away.

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  4. Hoping each day finds you both getting better. Sorry to hear you have not been feeling well. The pot kiln does look and sound fascinating. How lovely to see the red kite fly over too. So glad they are increasing in number.

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    1. Thank you Marilyn for your visit and for leaving a comment.

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  5. Sorry to hear that you have both been ill, those head colds can certainly get you down. You took us on a wonderful tour, loved the mosaic and the amazing shape of the pot kiln. Sounds like a great trip. Have a great weekend.

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    1. Thank you MM. I look forward to catching up on your news.

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  6. Having once stepped in a bed of nettles I'm not sure I'd want to live in a town named metal bed but it sure is very attractive to look at. And I would love to see the blue haze under the trees because I love wildflowers

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    1. Nettlebed is a great name for a place. I wondered if anyone would mention it and it's not surprising that it's you, Sandra, with your love of words and the fun you get out of writing about them! I would also like to visit some bluebell woods right now!

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  7. I hope you and Mr P are feeling a lot better now, Linda. I found your writing on the brick and clay industry in Nettlebed fascinating. The pot kiln is such a different shape to the ones around here, I'm glad it is still there. The mosaic in the bus shelter is lovely too. It's wonderful to see the Red Kites back, I've seen then in Wales and occasionally closer to home. Have a lovely weekend:)

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    1. Hello Rosie. We're feeling a lot better, thank you. I'm glad you found the blog post interesting. I'm interested in the brick and clay industry and kilns in general. We have a kiln on a site in Sheffield which is beginning to be surrounded by modern office blocks as the area is developed and I must go and take a look at it and do the industrial history trail in that area.

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  8. Very interesting post, the mosaic is superb, a lot of thought has gone into planning that. Hope you're both feeling better. Thank you for visiting my blog. Have a good week. Cathy x

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    1. The mosaic is lovely isn't it? A simple design, but it conveys some important aspects of local history and must have taken a while to put all those pieces of pottery in place to make the picture.

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  9. I hope you and Mr P are much better now. I envy you seeing all those snowdrops and bluebells. I have wanted to visit the bluebell woods in England since i was a little child and heard my grandfather speak of them :)

    Diana

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    1. Thank you Diana, Mr. P. and I are feeling a lot better. I would miss the bluebell woods if we lived permanently in Italy. The English bluebells are only at their best for such a short time that we appreciate them. This year they'll probably be over by the time we manage to get out to the woods in this area.

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  10. What a coincidence, we stayed just outside Watlington when we went to see Daniel in March. We get quite a few Red Kites around here in Yorkshire but I've never seen so many as we did when we were staying there, every time we looked up you would see them circling overhead.

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    1. I expect the red kites like the terrain where you live further north. Driving around Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire we saw quite a few, but a good closeup photo seems impossible when on the move!

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  11. I do hope you and Mr P are feeling a lot better now ...
    A lovely post, all of your photographs were nice to see, especially the mosaic.

    All the best Jan

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    1. Thank you for your visit and kind comments. Mr. P. and I are feeling much better now.

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  12. Dear Linda,

    Nettlebed looks like a wonderful place and love the name and mosaic and also how wonderful the big brick kiln is. Thanks for showing us.
    Do hope you and Mr P are feeling better - often with change of seasons we get a cold here too.
    Enjoy the rest of the week
    hugs
    Carolyn

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  13. I just loved the name....Nettlebed!I would have stopped and visited on that alone. What beautiful woodland and history. Such a wonderful quaint place. I'm so glad the red kite are thriving again, I've seen them in Wales, fantastic creatures, that wingspan is incredible isn't it?xxx

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    1. It was good to stop in Nettlebed. I have these plans to do some exploring in my head and Mr. P. is always willing to stop so that we I can look around and take some photos. The information display boards were much appreciated as I found out more about the village's particular history. The red kites are amazing to watch. It must be satisfying to get good shots of them with a really good camera.

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