A potter's tools were fairly simple. An animal rib or flat piece of wood for shaping the pot when throwing, knives for trimming, antler tines for piercing for spouts and bungs, perhaps a number of sheep's tibiae and metapodials (elements of the bones in the foot of the animal), as templates for rim profiles. Some carved bone and antler stamps were used with rouletting wheels for decorating the pottery.
Evidence would suggest that after about 900AD the potter's wheel as we would recognise it came back into fashion. The type of potter's wheel probably varied, anything from a small turn-table (slow wheel) to a large kick wheel. Two kinds of fast wheel may have been used. The first and most likely type to have been used in the Saxon period, is basically a cartwheel mounted horizontally on a pivot, the wheel being rotated by hand or with a stick. The pot was thrown on a disc or small platform fixed to the centre or nave of the wheel. The other type consisted of a lower wheel turned with the foot and an upper wheel head for throwing the pot, the two wheels being connected by a series of struts.
In order to make a kiln the potter dug two shallow pits, one of them with a semi-permanent wall of clay or stone (sometimes insulated with earth or turf) with a simple domed roof built over it, possibly just of turf, but sometimes of clay. (Turf is fine for a single firing, but if it becomes too roasted, breaks down into sand and minerals which just don't hold together). This one became the kiln and was joined to the other pit by a small opening. The pots were stacked in the kiln, generally upside-down, sometimes one inside another, whichever way they packed most tightly. The loading could be done through the top of the
The kiln was then sealed with wet clay leaving just the opening between the pits and a small flue opening. Some kilns had a raised central floor on which more pots were stacked, which allowed the hot air to circulate around the pots better. A hot fire was then built in the second pit in front of the opening. The potter would keep adding fuel slowly until the temperature was high enough to fire the pots, gauging its 'readiness' by the degree of luminosity of the items which glow whilst being fired. When this temperature had been reached the potter let the kiln cool down (sometimes for a whole day) until it was cool enough to remove the pots. Most would be hard and ready for use although some would have cracked if the clay and sand or shell had not been correctly mixed. With maintenance, a kiln of this type might last from five to ten years.
The types listed above are some of the main types of English pottery in our period. However, hand-made pottery was still being produced locally and good quality pottery was being imported from the continent. No doubt, foreign pottery was used to demonstrate an individuals cosmopolitan nature even then.
''Original article by Ben Levick, 1993<br>Revised by Rolland Williamson, 2002<br>Illustrations by Colin Levick''