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.