While driving along Wine Country Drive from Cessnock, it is difficult to miss the beehive-shaped structures that feature prominently on the property that is now Potters Hotel Brewery Resort in Nulkaba. These are the kilns that were used to make clay bricks, roofing tiles and sewage pipes required by the region at the time.
The first Brickworks was set up by Stephen Arthur Henery and Mark Robinson (circa 1880) on the 10-acre site especially chosen for its rich clay deposits in the soil, which were considered ideal for making bricks.
The kilns fed the insatiable demand for bricks by the coal mining industry – the primary industry and employer in the Hunter at that time. Not only were the pit top buildings mostly made from bricks, but the shafts were bricked as well.
The pipes and bricks produced by the kilns were also used to build the town as well as the water and sewage systems, which were added later. The roof tiles made by the potteries became a popular local roofing material, and red brick with vertical scores on its surface was unique to the pottery.
It eventually became the biggest employer in the area outside of the mines. During 1928 the original entrepreneurs formed the company known as Robinson and Henery Ltd and moved into the business of producing garden terracotta pots.The business grew, and a new kiln was commissioned under specifications of W Cunningham who was a pottery manufacturer in England. In 1929 the name was changed to Cessnock Potteries.
In 1931 Cessnock Council accepted a tender for the salt grazed stoneware pipes used for development of sewerage lines in the area. During this time, brick and garden pottery ceased at Cessnock Potteries, and public works took over. This expansion continued, and sewerage pipes were supplied to neighbouring townships including Scone,Singleton, Muswellbrook and as far away as Condobolin and Bourke.
In 1933 it became apparent to the plant engineer Joaby Shoesmith that coal was often associated with clay and this led to the discovery of more clay in the area. During the 1940s renovations were undertaken at the plant to convert to electric power and during World War II the company was declared to be an essential industry for the war effort.
In 1989, what is now the Hotel part of Potters was built and named Potters Tavern to reflect the rich heritage of the area. In 2002, the accommodation was added to Potters to take advantage of the lush grounds and its proximity to the wineries.
Around this time,the Hunter Beer Co. first started operations, much smaller than the scale seen today.Today, many of the kilns have been restored by the Ord family, who owns Potters Hotel Brewery Resort. The four kilns that remain on the site are also Heritage listed.■