Brick kilns, glassworks, and huge deposits of artefacts were found during development works at Baileyfield, Portobello. The structures and finds represent several different industrial activities taking place in the area between the 18th and 20th centuries.
AOC Archaeology undertook the excavations between 2017 and 2019 on behalf of Barratt Homes, as advised by the City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service (CECAS).
The works at Baileyfield provided an opportunity to explore Portobello’s industrial heritage and gain insight into how the different factories operated and worked alongside each other. The excavations revealed substantial surviving remains of brick and sandstone surfaces, walls, kilns, chimneys, and flue systems.
These relate to multiple phases of the 18th to 20th century Abercorn Brick and Tile Works as well as the 19th to 20th century glass and bottle works owned by Cooper and Wood and United Glass Bottle Manufacturers amongst several others. The area was covered by up to 4m of dumped material including bricks, glass bottles and objects, and ceramics and stoneware from the surrounding potteries.
The excavation works uncovered various structures and features associated with the Abercorn Brick and Tile Works and Bottle Works. The surviving structures included the remains of brick buildings used for storage or workshops, brick kilns used for firing bricks, and brick-drying areas used to dry the bricks before firing. The structures were all linked by a network of flues, tunnels, and chimneys. Although originally built as a brick works, many of the structures were reused within the later Bottle Works.
Numerous glass bottles were recovered from the site (many of which were substantially intact), but surprisingly few were associated with the actual glassworks on the site and are instead likely to be domestic refuse from Portobello. This is likely because any glass vessels produced on the site would have been sent out for sale and only defective or waste pieces of glass would have remained on site. Glass waste was found during the excavations in the form of large and small angular lumps that were probably smashed out of the crucibles as a waste product after casting or as runs of molten glass created by run-off from the casting and moulding process of bottles. A few fragments of refractory ceramic kiln props were also found with glass waste adhering to them.
Most of the ceramic artefacts from the site were items of stoneware from A.W. Buchan’s nearby pottery works, which had its final kiln firing in 1972. The artefacts were dumped at Baileyfield because they were found to be defective in some way, with evidence of uneven glaze, glaze crawl, smudged hand-painted decoration and fuzzy transfer printed labels found on many items. Some were remarkably intact and it’s not clear in all cases why they were discarded.
A variety of household tableware was found, representing dinner services, casserole dishes, serving dishes, plates, bowls, milk or cream jugs, butter dishes, oil and vinegar bottles and honey pots. These were hand-painted with garish polychrome designs, with many falling into distinctive styles created by female designers and painters. These included the thistle with bluebells and heather motif designed by Miss Grace Blair, ‘Riviera’ and ‘Brittany’ designed by Lady Milne, ‘Rouen’ designed by Miss Irene Eyers, and ‘Hebrides’ designed by Miss Lynn Kerr.
Bottles and Jars
Stoneware bottles and jars were found in a variety of sizes, most of which had a plain exterior. This allowed the bottles to be sent away to various other manufactories where they would be filled with a product and a paper label applied by the company.
Buchan’s produced a lot of alcohol containers, particularly whisky flagons, which were often pre-printed with the distillery information allowing them to be filled by the distillery and immediately sent out to sale. Whisky varieties represented on the site included ‘Blue Cap Claymore Scotch Whisky’, ‘Munro’s King of Kings Very Rare Old Whisky’, and ‘Catto’s Extra Special Scotch Whisky’. A number of miniature flagons stamped with ‘Auld Lang Syne’ were also found.
A range of small food and drink containers were recovered, which would have contained consumable products. These vessels were often transfer printed with labels identifying the maker and product, with examples from ‘Young’s Morecambe Potted Shrimps’ and ‘Numol Lecithin Food Body Builder’.
Fragments of hot water bottles and their stoppers were found amongst the ceramics. These came in three sizes: 1½ pint, 2 pints, and 3 pints. A notice was printed on the top reading ‘Heat this bottle before filling it with boiling water’.
Buchan’s were famous for their ‘portovases’, an enlongated pyramidal vase often marked ‘In Memoriam’ that could be stuck into the ground beside a grave and filled with flowers.