I was scrolling through Facebook whilst drinking a cup of coffee the other day, when a post caught my eye. It was a chap who has written a book about the potters and their potteries in the small village of Burton In Lonsdale in North Yorkshire which has also been known as “Black Burton”. He described a walk around the village taking in all the pottery sites and I thought “I need to check this out”.
“The Last Potter of Black Burton” by Lee Cartledge
We parked at a convenient layby near the river and followed the instructions to Greta Wood. We have walked along this route before, to the woods to let the The Dog chase squirrels and so we know it quite well – we followed the road alongside the River Greta until we dropped onto a path/driveway on the right as the road began to rise. Reading the guide, we immediately noted where the clay had been dug to such an extent, that it got so close to the road we had just left and threatened the foundations of it. Looking at the dense undergrowth, you could see where the digging had been. We carried on, this time with our noses to the ground looking for more evidence, but this part of the path had been covered with hardcore, but as the track turned into a path and into the woods, we spotted the terracotta clay the book mentioned and picked up the larger bits to have a closer look, looking for fingerprints. We didn’t see any obvious signs, but it was still fascinating.
We came up to the little bridge and turned left, much to The Dog’s surprise as we usually carry on up the hill. We walked up a little narrow track, a bubbling little stream gurgling down the bottom of a steep bank on the right. On our left, fallen trees and undergrowth dominated, but again, you could clearly see where the ground had been cleared and excavated, a sloping cliff as a backdrop. We stopped at the spot shown in the guide’s photograph and imagined how the potters worked hard to get the clay out of the ground. There is also evidence of coal mining in the area too. We retraced our steps and went off the guide slightly to check out a fenced off area high up the hill. It was extremely muddy and we looked like a pair of Bambi’s, but got up there. It’s just a very deep hole, hidden under grass, brambles and woodland debris – no wonder they had closed it off. There’s no signs pronouncing what it is, so we presumed it was a ventilation shaft of some description and slithered back down the hill again.
We walked back to the car and the bridge, admiring the cottages opposite which were formerly a pottery. At one end, there’s a little side room with a sloping roof which apparently has a sloping floor inside, where the waste water from the pottery making flowed to the outside. Genius. The cottages are in private hands, but what a great little piece of local working history to have in your home. We walked past these cottages, up to the little concrete cap covering a mine ventilation shaft – it’s kind of hidden in a fenced off area near the picnic site and a bit overgrown. There’s a utilitarian company sign unceremoniously attached to the fence, and the cap is unremarkable, but it’s nice to have the shaft noted and not just filled in and lost forever.
The road continued up to the Waterside Potteries, to be found down a long driveway. Again, these are in private ownership so you would look highly suspicious loitering down there as it’s a dead end. It’s a cluster of private housing, converted from the pottery and there’s no real evidence of there being a thriving pottery industry, so we trotted back to the crossroads and the car. From this point, we marked where two other potteries were, one completely gone and replaced by detached modern housing in a cul de sac and the other, converted into homes. It looked too modern to be an old building , but there are photos of it, though I think there has been lots of alterations.
We wandered up the steep hill until we got to another small crossroads half way up and turned left into Leeming Lane, a charming street of cosy cottages with splendid views across the river. The road curved right and we faced the towering presence of Burton’s beautiful parish church. Situated on top of the hill, it can be seen for miles around and is a lovely building. We peered into the graveyard where most of the potters are buried, but didn’t go in. A few years ago, the spire of the church was refurbished with larch and for many months, it had a beautiful deep copper colour that shone in the sunlight. Now weathered into a grey, it’s lost that wonderful lustre which is a bit of a shame.
We carried on past the church and got burped out onto the High Street. We strolled along, looking at the mixture of charming stone cottages, tall elegant houses and village hall. Burton in Lonsdale has a lovely little village shop run by the community and staffed by volunteers, crammed with all sorts even with a little café. At the end of the High Street, the road curves to the left where we found a little indent at the foot of the wall – either a plague bowl to wash your hands before entering the village (during pandemics!) or a mortar and pestle from yet another pottery that existed just around the corner. Again, it’s disappeared and replaced by modern bungalows. Opposite, down a driveway, we spotted a footpath sign and plunged down towards a little stream – it was quite steep and muddy, so there was a lot of slithering and yelps. The Dog looked at us in bemusement and with a look “you useless bipedals, you need four paw drive” as she patiently waited for us by the dinky little bridge at the bottom.
We popped out by a stile and as instructed, kept left of an old barn and strolled across the fields. They would afforded us some great views if the weather had not closed in and we now walked in a steady drizzle. We clambered through stiles, across fields of sheep who watched us warily and stopped to admire the scenery and the little valley below us. Trying to work out where the river was, we pulled out our phone which has a handy Ordnance Survey app and realised we were slightly off course! Turning around, we saw a finger post by the wall and trotted over to it and onto the road. We followed the lane down and around to the right, passing farms and cottages, tucked down this little road. It was very pleasant with high hedges and walls. Eventually we came to a dead end. To our left was a very fancy house, set well back from the road, slightly elevated. In front of us, the track ran out by a gate. At one time, you could walk down to the river here and cross a bridge, but as the guide mentions, the locals found a seam of free coal and gladly helped themselves to it. Unfortunately, they were a little bit too keen and undermined the riverbank and bridge, which collapsed into the river and never rebuilt. It sounds like it also took away the income from the toll house that was there too.
We started to feel a bit uncomfortable standing there and pointing, thinking that the people in the house were watching us and wondering what we were up to – potential burglars casing the joint? We turned around and walked back along the road back into the village. We took a different route back to the car, down a little back lane full of lovely terraced cottages and read more about where the potters lived. We passed the Punch Bowl pub and licked our lips. Oh for a Sunday dinner, meat and vegs, stuffing, a Yorkshire pudding on top and lashings of thick gravy together with a pint of the landlord’s best brew, but alas it was to be a pipe dream. It was firmly shut, a victim of the current Covid restrictions and we were denied. So we waddled back down the hill, slightly damp from the drizzle and headed home for a warming cuppa and a large slab of cake.
The link for the walk is below. A very interesting read with the back story and history of the Burton Potteries.
Oh and while we were in the woods, we discovered that new life was appearing – the trees were starting bud. What a lovely sight after suffering the double whammy of cold wet rainy days in the depth of mid winter and lockdown to find spring is starting to push her way in and make the world feel a little bit brighter.
Here’s the link to the Burton Pottery Walk.