Travelling along Wine Country Drive from Cessnock, it would be difficult to miss the beehive-shaped structures that feature prominently on the property that is now Potters Hotel Brewery Resort in Nulkaba.
Heritage listed, the structures are the extensive remains of the brick kilns that were used to make the clay bricks, roofing tiles and sewage pipes required by the region at the time.
The first Brickworks was set up by Stephen Arthur Hennery 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 the baking of bricks. Initial construction was basic, consisting of wire cut pressed bricks, these original bricks were used in coal mines, houses and public works.
In 1927 the village of Pokolbin was renamed Nulkaba to avoid confusion with the district four miles to the west also (and still) known as Pokolbin. The kilns fed the insatiable demand for bricks required 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 of brick, 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. A red brick with vertical scores on its surface, the design was unique to the pottery. With such high demand, the brickworks eventually became the biggest employer in the area outside of the mines.
During 1928 the original entrepreneurs formed the company known as Robinson and Hennery Ltd and moved into the business of producing garden terracotta pots.
The business grew, and a new kiln was commissioned under the 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-glazed stoneware pipes used for the 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 and 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 1940's 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 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.
“The Kilns at Potters Hotel Brewery Resort are as rich in history as that of the wonderful Hunter Valley in which they are located.”
For today’s visitors to Hunter Valley Wine Country, a stroll around the four remaining kilns that have been lovingly restored by the owners of Potters Hotel, Resort Brewery (the Ord family) is a must – as is a beer at the Hunter Beer Co, located amongst the kilns.