Unearthing the secrets of Portobello's pottery past

Residents in Portobello are being urged to take a closer look at their own back gardens this weekend to help archaeologists uncover the secrets of the area’s once thriving pottery industry.

Portobello's iconic kilns
Portobello's famous kilns, image credit: Arthur Jeffery

The area has a rich industrial heritage, with a ceramics industry that thrived in the town for more than 200 years.

Dig Portobello, an initiative from Portobello Heritage Trust (PHT) which is supported by the City of Edinburgh Council and The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, will see small trenches dug to examine potteries from Portobello’s past.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Culture Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Edinburgh has a fascinating history and this project will really allow members of the community to discover sections of Portobello – and their own back gardens - that have been buried for almost 250 years. Budding archaeologists don’t even need to have their own garden to dig in as selected pieces of council-land will also be unearthed.”

Portobello Heritage Trust’s chair Margaret Munro said: “We can’t wait to start digging. We are very proud of our heritage, but want to know more about our industries. This project gives everyone in the community the chance to find out more over an exciting weekend of activities.”  

Get involved

The people of Portobello are being encouraged to sign up and dig a small trench no more than 1m x 2m in size in their gardens, with the guidance of professional archaeologists. Those without gardens or people from outside the area can also take part, as the council has given permission for test pits to be dug on selected areas of council-owned land. 

A range of activities will take place over the weekend, all based at or starting from The Wash House Community Centre on Adelphi Grove. Volunteers of all abilities are encouraged to sign up for free geophysical survey training on Friday 29 August at 12pm and an introductory talk at 7:30pm. The archaeological explorations will take place from 10am on Saturday 30 August–Sunday 31 August.

The project will also provide guided walks around Portobello and a range of drop-in workshops, including sessions on ceramics, artefacts, and ‘Wee Pottery Workshops’ for children. The full timetable and information on how to sign up can be found at AOC Archaeology.

To sign up for the geophysical survey training, to take part in the excavations, or to register your children, please contact the Portobello Heritage Trust with details of which days you would like to participate. Please specify whether you are digging in your own garden, and please let them know of the address. 

Contact Margaret Munro of the Portobello Heritage Trust on 0131 657 2866 or munroporto(at)hotmail.com

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