Film ID:
YFA 3674

ISAAC BUTTON - COUNTRY POTTER

1963-1965

Visitor Tabs

Description

Made by John Anderson and Robert Fournier, this film records the pottery-making process at Soil Hill Pottery near Halifax. This film is of particular significance as, by the 1960s, Isaac Button was one of the very few potters still making clay pots using this process. Intertitles appear throughout the film providing an explanation of this particular method.

Title - Isaac Button Country Potter, Filmed by John Anderson Robert Fournier, Slide Loans (Ceramics) 1965

Map with Titles - Part of West Yorkshire Keighley, Bradford, Halifax.

The film opens with a map and is followed by scenes of the roof tops of factory buildings and farm land with grazing cattle. The corn is blowing in the wind.

Map and Title - Bradford Halifax - Soil Hill Pottery.

On the side of a pot is the engraving "I Button Soil Hill Holmfield".
A row of clay pots sit by a wall. Isaac, smoking a pipe and wearing overalls, walks out of the workshop and looks up at the smoking factory chimney. Isaac puts his cap on and walks back into the workshop past pots of various shapes and sizes.

Title - Mr. Button now runs this pottery alone, supplying the neighbourhood with farm and household vessels.

There are stacks of glazed bowels and chicken feeders in the workshop. Chickens in the farm yard eat and chickens drink from the feeders. A woman standing in a kitchen mixes ingredients together in a bowel. A man pours drink from the stopper of a potted vat into a potted tanker.

Title - Until 1939 thirteen potters kept the kiln filled weekly.

Photograph of men outside the workshop next to rows of pots and an arrow identifying "Isaac Button, 1930."
A glazed pot JMR 1851. "19th Century Soil Hill Slipware".
A jug with painted words "From Mother Earth I claim my birth, I'm made a joke for men, Now Jam here, filled with good cheer, come take me if you can".

Title - The three essential clays are dug from Soil Hill.

Using a shovel, Isaac cuts turf from the ground, He pats a cow in the field as he works and then digs the soil underneath the turn reaching the clay bellow.

Title - Red Clay for pots.

Isaac is making a pot on a potter's wheel.

Title - Buff clay for slip.

A man lifts a pot with "slip liquid" inside and rotates it to cover the inside of the pot. He pours the excess into a bucket on the floor.

Title - Refractory clay for the kiln.

Both the exterior of the kiln and the interior shelves are stacked with pots. Spinning cogs can be seen rotating.

Title - The clay is mixed with water in a "blunger", passed through a sieve and run into a drying trough.

Isaac shovels clay into a "blunger," and inside a rotating whisk mixes the clay and water. The cogs of the blunger rotate. Isaac turns a tap on letting the clay and water flow into a rectangular sieve which moves from side to side through which the mixture is poured. Isaac smokes a pipe and shakes the sieve from side to side.

Title - The kiln dries the clay.

Clay is spread over the flour in blocks.

There is a diagram indicating the location of the clay, flue and kiln. Arrows show the flow of heat as it passes through the kiln and out of the chimney.

The misshaped pieces of clay are removed with a shovel and stacked up. Cogs rotate, and the clay is mixed. Isaac puts the clay into the machine to be churned, and at the other end of the machine, a thick slab of clay is pushed out. In the workshop, slabs of clay are stacked up.

Title - The clay "sours" for a month or two, and is then re-pugged.

Isaac puts the slabs of clay back into the mixing machine. A new slab is created, and Isaac uses a wire to cut the slab in half. He places a small piece of clay on to scales to weigh it and then begins to mould it with his hands placing it in a pile. Isaac places one of these clay balls onto the potter's wheel and moulds it by dipping his fingers into the slip and getting the clay in between his fingers giving it shape as it rotates. Finished pots are lined up on a plank of wood. Isaac separates the pot from the wheel with a wire, and another man puts it with the others on the plank of wood. Isaac makes more pots on the wheel in the same way, and they are taken to the plank of wood by the other man who lifts the plank filled with pots and takes it to the kiln. Several varieties of pots are stacked on the shelves in the kiln.

Isaac takes a larger piece of clay and builds a taller pot on the wheel. He runs a piece of card along the outside of the pot keeping his fingers inside, following the line of the pot upwards keeping the outside of the pot smooth. He removes it from the wheel by cutting it with wire.

Pots are lined up on planks outside and are rotated.

Title - Isaac Button can throw a ton of clay into pots in a day.

Isaac weighs out the clay using a large set of scales. He shapes it into one small ball and one large ball. He lifts a large vat from one side of the workshop to the other. He makes a base out of the small ball of clay on the wheel and puts the larger ball on top and begins to mould it into a vat, smoothing the edges with the card and making a funnel at the top. He then cuts the vat from the wheel with wire and uses a crescent bracket to help him lift it to the work bench. Large pots with handles are lined up on the shelves in the kiln. Isaac breaks pieces of clay in to smaller sausage shapes, and with the slip, places the pieces of clay onto either side of a finished pot. He shapes them over the top to create a handle.

Title - Some pots are slipped - coated with light coloured clay.

Slip is mixed in a blunger. Isaac pulls out a shelf of large pots and pours a little slip from a bucket into the pots. He takes one of the pots and turns it around to coat the inside with slip, pouring the excess in to the bucket. Vats and pots are line up in the kiln.

Title - The dry pots are coated with glaze and packed into the kiln.

Isaac mixes the glaze with a plank inside the container then dips the pots inside to coat them. Isaac lights his pipe and then pours the glaze into a larger pot using a cup. He then pours the excess out before painting the rim of the pot in a different coloured glaze, making the top of the pot a different colour than the base.

Isaac takes a lid of one of the pots and turns it the other way around. Pots are stacked on shelves in the kiln. Groves are placed on top of each other creating a ledge so that Isaac can place a pot inside another pot. More groves are placed on top of that pot so that more pots can be stacked in the kiln. Isaac creates more shelves inside the kiln using slabs resting on small bricks.

Isaac places pots in the kiln, puts small pieces of clay on the side, and puts a slab on top and then another pot on top. Isaac fills up the kiln with pots and then places bricks in front of the archway before covering them, sealing them with clay, and smoothing it over with a trowel. The chimney from the kiln goes through the roof of the workshop.

Isaac lights the kindling in the furnace and places bricks in front of the hatch. He then places pieces of wood into the furnace to keep the fire going. Isaac wheels coal into the furnace room. Fire and smoke billow out of the furnace, and Isaac shovels coal into the furnace to keep the fire going.

Title - Drying off overnight.

Smoke billows out of the chimney. Isaac locks up the workshop in the evening. He walks back to the workshop where the chimney is still smoking. Isaac opens up the workshop doors and goes to shovel coals into the furnace.

Title - The six hearths take 50cwt of best coal.

Isaac shovels coal into the furnace and smoke billows out of the chimney.

Title - 48 hours firing.

There is a shot of smoke and fire in the furnace and chimney. Isaac removes one of the bricks to check the fire. The thermostat reads 800 degrees.

Title - A test is withdrawn from the top of the kiln.

Isaac stands on top of the roof looking into the kiln. The thermostat reads 1000.

Title - 1000 C

Isaac places the brick back and covers it with clay to seal it.

Title - The kiln is sealed and left to cool.

Isaac takes down the bricks from the archway with a trowel. He then takes the finished pots out of the kiln and places them in the workshop.

There is a shot of the workshop building and yard. Isaac leaves the workshop and looks up at the chimney.

Title - The last potter on this ancient site?

Isaac walks back into the workshop. There is a scene of the workshop chimney cogs and machines inside, and outside the workshop, corn in the fields blows in the wind. The film closes with a shot of the surrounding countryside.

Title - End
Post Script.
All potters will be sorry to hear that Soil Hill was sold shortly after the completion of this film. It is no longer used as a pottery.