Sunday, 25 July 2010

Kilns of the North Rejoice!

Kilns of the North Rejooiiiiiice, Riiiiver and mountain spriiing...
So, it's done its first firing and delivered a fully cooked bisque firing. Hooray.
Adrian and his son turn up at 9.00am Tuesday 20th armed with a van full of optimism and good will, an unshakeable conviction that the fault, whatever it was, could be corrected in - oooo - minutes - half and hour max, and alternatives for every part of the kiln's anatomy, just in case.

A couple of hours later,
and several calls to Mr. Stafford Controller later,
and a great many wires and flashing lights,
and testing,
and little peeps and bigger squeals and an alarm or two,
and numerous figures and numbers and mixtures of figures and numbers,
and a small amount of grunting,
all this a two hours later,
it was,

The culprit was one of the electrical components in the wiring. Controller wasn't 'goosed,' nor was the actual wiring-in the cause of the problem. It was a manufacturing fault elsewhere - which was kind of reassuring - for me anyway. It has, as I write, completed its second firing. I love the controller - it lights up like a Christmas tree and tells you exactly what's going on. It takes 2 days to cool down, if you're uber-cautious, which I am. So, we'll see tomorrow how it all comes out but from now on, it's about how I'm making the stuff, not about whether or not the kiln works. It works just fine. Now all I've got to do is learn how to read the meter...

Meanwhile, there's a very fine story about the origins of Northern Kilns that I'd like to share.
It concerns the founder of this highly esteemed, Best of British, company, one Jim Cross.
Originally a school teacher, Jim, it seems, had an incurable love for clay, kilns and all manner of ceramic invention. He went to Goldsmiths, London - (date to be supplied), which is where he trained - or learned - it's unclear if anyone really trained him as such - what is clear, however, is that there was no kiln and that he had to build one. There must have been some kind of restriction on what could be built where and on what could be visible, and what sort of fumes could be emitted. Jim's first kiln, for such it was, was a wood kiln - built in the middle of London, right next to the railway, but built entirely underground. His son, Dylan, takes up the story:

'The kiln was built, as we said, out of old, made-in-Darwen, gents urinals. The toilets were being demolished. The size was 4' x 2' glazed. This was a most crude system. He said he was very, very green at that stage. The kiln was built out the back of Goldsmiths. There is a hill at the back which he used for the chimney which ran approximately 27' into the railway. The chimney was made out of salt glazed, interconnecting drainage pipes. Earth was packed around the joins. Dad sold on the soil, after every firing, to some people who were growing things in a greenhouse because the soil, by then, was sterilised.

The fuel used was wood and waist engine oil. The oil had added kick because the garage he got it from also did re-spray jobs. Dad said he wasted a lot of time drop feeding oil and a drop of water on top to energise the oil burn further.

I've got him to look at the map. It was approximately where the Ben Pimlott building is now he reckons. Laurie grove was not there at that time. There was the railway in the back yard, so to speak. That’s not there either.' (This is an edited version of Dylan's email.)

So, the story of the Mighty Northern Kilns began in the bowels of New Cross, behind Goldmiths School of Art, in a rail yard, or near enough, underground, with a large number of urinals and some engine oil. The combination of temerity, cheek, determination, and sheer outrageous inventiveness has surely made Northern Kilns the most inspired makers of kilns we have in this country. Anyone that can make a flat pack kiln and, as in one recent episode in a school in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, bring it down a two hundred year old oak staircase, without making a mark on either the stairs or the walls, must be deserving of some kind of collective knighthood.

But somehow you just know that the maker of a wood-fired, underground, unrinal-kiln, would have little truck with any such nonsense...

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