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29th-31st August 2014

Thank you so much to everyone who took part in Dig Portobello! This exciting community archaeology project from Portobello Heritage Trust (PHT) ran from from 29th to 31st of August 2014, and was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Portobello was once a centre for industry, with a thriving ceramics trade. Dig Portobello aimed to find out more about Porty’s industrial past through a series of small excavations across the town. Porty residents dug test pits in their gardens, and lots more took part in excavations on selected areas of Council-owned land, thanks to City of Edinburgh Council‘s generous support.

 AOC Archaeology Group provided tools, training and support throughout the weekend, as well as working with PHT to deliver archaeological workshops to around 150 pupils from two local primary schools.

There was more to this archaeological extravaganza than just digging, though: PHT led guided walks around the town; there were workshops on archaeological artefacts and Portobello’s ceramics industry; and for budding young archaeologists, Wee Pottery Workshops led by one of Porty’s talented potters.

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Portobello: 200 years of Ceramic Heritage

September 2014
George R. Haggarty
Research Associate, National Museums Scotland

The district now known as Portobello was probably little more than an area of whin covered sand dunes prior to 1765 when William Jamieson (Figure 1), an Edinburgh architect and speculative builder feud his first parcel of land from Baron William Muir of Caldwell. Jamieson quickly enlarged his feu until he held in excess of 43 acres, all of which was situated to the east of the Figgate Burn and bounded on its north side by the Forth. It was in the north-west corner of his feu that he built his redware brick and tile works, and later a whiteware pottery (Figure 2).


Research into the extremely complicated history of these and all the subsequent Portobello potteries and brickworks is ongoing by Sheila Forbes, a volunteer on the National Museums Scotland Shard Project, and the author. Therefore this website will almost certainly be subjected to change as and when more information becomes available. Presently I am also concentrating on identifying the wares produced at Rathbone’s pottery (built adjacent to Jamieson’s first brick and tile works) as well as creating a time-line both for this and Jamieson’s white ware pottery (see below). I would therefore be pleased if anyone who can contribute in any way to the record of this important Scottish industry could get in touch, either directly at g.haggarty@nms.ac.uk or through Dr. Margaret Munro at the Portobello Heritage Trust (PHT). Especially useful would be any relevant family documents, plans, maps etc. I am also particularly keen to have brought to my attention any possible extant pre-1840 examples of the wares produced in any of the Portobello potteries.

Compared with some other Scottish east coast potteries such as West Pans and George Gordon’s of Morrison’s Haven, very few examples from the earlier years of the Portobello pottery industry have to date been positively identified and none at all from the late 18th century. Most of the recorded ceramic items are blue and white transfer printed vessels, identified from sherds recovered by the author in the early 1980s (Figures 3, 4 & 5). This was the time when much of the actual site of the potteries, and much of the area around, was developed by the Council without any archaeological input. All the pottery recovered by the author and others at this time has been catalogued on to a CD obtainable at no charge from PHT.

figs3_4_5How things have changed! Recently a large building project by MNM Developments on the site of the old Portobello harbour and a large mainly stoneware shard dump made possible a program of archaeological investigation (Figures 6 & 7) along with research on the mainly 19th century finds. Thanks to an extremely accommodating developer and the City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service, AOC Archaeology Group (AOC) have for the first time recovered a small but very important assemblage of Portobello pottery shards dating from the late 18th century (Figures 8 & 9).

Figs6_7Figs8_9These mainly creamwares, pearlwares and dipped wares are also presently being researched and catalogued by the author. This excavation, along with work on one of the surviving Portobello pottery kilns, has contributed to an upsurge of interest in Portobello’s industrial heritage and this was exceedingly well demonstrated during Dig Portobello. This fantastically successful archaeological weekend, conceived and developed as a local neighbourhood venture by PHT, was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and by the City of Edinburgh Council. It is generally acknowledged by the participants that it was carried out with great professionalism and much good humour by the volunteers, Trust members and staff from AOC. The important Rathbone c. 1820 period ceramic sherd material recovered by the public during the weekend is presently being worked on by AOC’s conservation team (Figures 10, 11 & 12).



Portobello Harbour

It is presently generally accepted that the harbour was commissioned in the 1790s by William Jamieson for the importation of clay and flint and exportation of bricks and tiles. Baird, in his book Annals of Duddingston and Portobello states, that the contractor, Alexander Robertson, lessee of Joppa quarry in building the harbour was to deliver 1,000 cartloads of boulders. It also states that he used stone from the Roman road at Magdalene Pans and from the Old College in Edinburgh which at the time was being demolished. Confirmation of this can be seen in the large number of worked medieval stones recovered during AOC’s excavation of the harbour (Figure 13). In a bid to keep it free of sand, a number of large pipes drained water from the Figgate burn into the harbour, hence the name Pipe Street. It is probable that the harbour was never completely successful and it was finally filled in at the beginning of the 20th century. Subsequently much of this area was utilized for the enlargement of Buchan’s pottery. Archaeological evidence suggests that the harbour was constructed in a number of phases over a period of time so we still have a lot to learn about its history.

A group of carved stones from the harbour walls, almost certainly from the demolition in the late 18th century of the Old College in Edinburgh. They are currently being researched.
Fig. 13 A group of carved stones from the harbour walls, almost certainly from the demolition in the late 18th century of the Old College in Edinburgh. They are currently being researched.



History of Midlothian Pottery (earlier trading under various other names)

• c. 1766 – William Jamieson: Erected a redware brick and tile works
• 1802 – Thomas Rathbone potter in Glasgow married Grisel (later Grace), Thomas Yool’s daughter
• by 1805 – Thomas Yool was leasing from Jamieson’s a redware pottery
• 1809 – Thomas Rathbone, Thomas Yool & John Thom enter into a 17 year co-partnership to make all sorts of ceramics The whiteware pottery was leased first then purchased from Jamieson’s trustees in 1815, trading as T. Rathbone & Co. (fig 14)
• 1810 – Feu Contract between Thomas Yool and William Jamieson (not sure if this includes his redware pottery?)
• 1813 – Feu Contracts often later document describes Thomas Yool as a Stoneware manufacturer (Figure 15)
• 1817 – On Yool’s death the stock and materials from his redware pottery sold at a roup for just over £90 and his total estate was £300.
• 1825 – The late Thom was a stoneware merchant and his daughter Jane sold his co-partnership shares to Rathbone
• 1826 – Thomas Rathbone dies
• 1838 – John Rathbone: was leasing the pottery from his mother when it was advertised for let in the Staffordshire Advertiser
• 1839 – William Hannington; leases Rathbone’s whiteware pottery
• 1839 – William Hannington & James Anderson
• 1839 – James Anderson: Trading as Anderson & Co
• 1840 – James Anderson: also leases Yool’s redware pottery
• 1844-50 – Samuel and Robert Rathbone: Trading as Rathbone Brothers (Figures 16 & 17) Again in 1850 both potteries was offered for immediate let in the Staffordshire Advertiser
• 1853-1856 – Pottery said to have been closed
• 1856 – William Affleck Grey & Co: Stoneware manufacturer who patented once fired feldspathic stoneware – Midlothian Pottery (Figure 18)
• 1896 – William & Alexander Grey: after the death of Affleck
• 1921 – William Richardson; Alexander had died 1905 and William in 1921. Pottery said to have reverted to making domestic redwares (not sure about this as when the site was cleared in the 1980s a large kiln base was filled with stoneware)
• 1929 – Pottery closed for good



History of the Thistle Pottery (earlier trading under various other names)

• by 1784 – William Jamieson had erected or allowed to be erected a whiteware pottery. Oral tradition says that it was leased by the Brothers Scott: A Robert & William Scott certainly owned the adjoining land in 1811.
• c. 1795 – Pottery leased to Cookson & Jardin: ceramic retailers in Edinburgh
• 1811 – George Morrison: Purchased the site from Jamieson’s estate and converted it to a soap works: a kiln is mentioned adjacent so the production of brown stoneware may have been carried on there by William Creelman from c. 1812-14. Creelman had set up Scotland’s first brown stoneware pottery in Coats in the 1780s where it soon had in excess of 70 workers.
• 1826 – James Tuohy: Soap maker
• 1827 – William Creelman: purchases the soap works; documents states that he also has an adjacent small stoneware pottery
• 1830 – Hugh & Arthur Cornwell: Stoneware potter; purchased the soap works and Creelman’s little stoneware pottery?
• by 1837 – Hugh Cornwell alone? (Figure 19)
• 1838-46 – Milne Cornwell & Co: Stoneware potter:
• 1840 – Thomas Tough: a potter from Musselburgh purchases the soap works site and develops it into a large stoneware pottery (Figure 20)
• 1867 – Murray & Buchan: Mainly stoneware potters (Figure 21)
• 1878 – A. W. Buchan & Co: At first produced mainly coarse stoneware (Figure 22), but latter they also developed a range of art pottery and finally hand painted stoneware (Figure 23). A recent archaeological investigation in the area uncovered a large shard dump of this material and a CD Rom of this painted stoneware prepared by the author can be had for free by applying to PHT.


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Dig Portobello took place from 29th to 31st August 2014 – previous events listed below. You can find out about PHT’s upcoming events on their website.

Please note that all events are completely free and open to all! Participate in as many or as few as you like. The Wash House Community Centre on Adelphi Grove is our Dig HQ – all events begin or take place there. You can download the timetable here.

Friday 29th of August 12pm Geophysical Survey Training We will begin the weekend’s activities with some training in geophysical survey tehcniques. This method of survey allows archaeologists establish if there are any archaeological features beneath the ground. Come along and have a go! Please meet at The Wash House Community Centre at 12pm.

7.30pm ‘Exploring Portobello’s Potteries Join us as we officially launch the project with a talk, to be introduced by PHT, with renowned ceramics expert George Haggarty and archaeologists from AOC Archaeology Group.


Saturday 30th & Sunday 31st August The schedule for both of these days will be almost exactly the same: To take part in the excavations, please register with Margaret (below) and then meet at 10am at The Wash House Community Centre on your chosen day(s). Digging will be ongoing throughout the day, but do feel free to take a break and join us for any of the other activities.

12pm Walking tour: Portobello’s Industrial Past Join George Haggarty on a whirlwind tour that will explore the visible clues to Portobello’s industrial heritage. Please meet at The Wash House Community Centre.

2pm Fabulous Finds Find out about archaeological artefacts and the secrets they keep, with AOC’s archaeologists.

2pm Walking tour: Portobello’s Architectural Gems PHT’s John Stewart will lead this trip around the town to highlight Portobello’s unique architectural heritage. Please meet at The Wash House Community Centre.

3pm Wee Pottery Workshop Sorry grown-ups – this one’s for the kids! Decorate your own bowl or tile using slip decoration techniques. Items will be fired,  and will need to be collected from our local potter at a later date. This could get messy – old clothes recommended!

3pm Pottery & People Ceramics expert George Haggarty will guide you through the history of Portobello’s ceramics industry, with plenty of examples of the town’s wares. Why not attend this workshop while your wee potters are busy decorating their bowls/tiles (all workshops are in the Community Centre)?


Sunday 31st, 4pm, results round-up On Sunday 31st only, we will bring the weekend’s efforts to a close with a preliminary round-up of what we’ve learned. Come along to the Community Centre see the finds and discover what it all means.

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Say hello!

Dig Portobello took place from 29th to 31st August 2014. To find out more, please contact Margaret Munro, chair of PHT:

munroporto@hotmail.com | (0131) 657 2866

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