What is a saggar?

"One of the essentials in a successful pottery business is a good saggar"

SAGGAR - Hand-built kiln furniture. Sometimes SAGGER or SHRAGGER. Used during firing. An open box, in different shapes and sizes, made of  fireclay or saggar marl with added pre-fired grog and fired before use. Specifically manufactured to contain pottery during a biscuit, glost or sometimes decorating fire in a bottle oven.

The saggar protects the ware it contains from contamination by kiln combustion gases and ashes, and the action of the flames.

Saggar making
Video courtesy: Gladstone Pottery Museum
4 minutes

Saggars of a particular shape and size have descriptive names. Here are some. There will be others but the names may have been lost as the trade disappeared:
  • BANJO - shaped like a ukulele! Perhaps poorly educated potters of the 19thC couldn't spell or even say the word ukulele, so they plumped for banjo instead. Ideal for glost firing two bungs of dottled muffins. 
  • BIDLE saggars
  • CHEESE saggars
  • CUPITE saggars - the height of a cup
  • DISH saggars
  • DOODLE - half the size of an oval saggar. Peculiar to Alfred Clough.
  • DOTTEY saggars
  • DRAW-THROUGH saggars
  • HILLER (ILLA) - low height saggar for use as a lid for the top saggar in a bung
  • OVAL saggars
  • PIGGER saggars
  • PIGGIES - for firing 'boxed cups' (Source: the late Jack Jackson)
  • SALT FIRE - with holes in their sides to allow the fumes from rapidly vaporising salt to pass through to the pottery inside the saggar
  • SQUARE saggars
  • SKIMMER - low height saggar (lower than a hiller) for use as a lid for the top saggar in a bung
  • SCORER saggars
  • TIPPIES - oval shaped saggars

The word 'saggar' is believed to have entered into English in the 17th century AD and to be a contraction of 'safeguard' which well describes its function. (The OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY; 2nd Edition (Oxford, 1989) XIV:367 notes that it first enters English in 1696 as 'schrager'.

In the "Description of The Country from thirty to forty miles around Manchester" by J AIKIN, MD published in June 1795, the word saggar is described as a corruption of the German word SCHRAGER, 'which signifies cases or supporters.'

Saggars in the yard at Gladstone Pottery Museum


Occupation. Ovens department. Male. A highly respected and highly skilled occupation for a man in the ovens department of a potbank. One of the best paid jobs on a potbank. Other well paid jobs included dish makers and firemen. Watch the movie to see how it's done. Or rather, was done. The species is now extinct. The film shows the process of saggar making by the late Ralph Wheeldon, one of the last four saggar makers in the Potteries. Here he is working at the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, during the making of the film in 1981.

10 minutes


Occupation. Ovens department. Male. It was an occupation in the ovens department of the potbank. Usually a male - it was very heavy work. The saggar makers bottom knocker would work with the Saggar Maker as a team. A bottom knocker bashes and flattens a lump of saggar marl (or fireclay, as it is known sometimes) with a mawl (pronounced mow or mau) to make the bottom of a saggar. It takes about three minutes to knock a bottom. Saggar making is no longer an occupation in the pottery industry. The art and craft of the saggar makers bottom knocker has died out. Completely. In this movie you will see the saggar maker's bottom knocker - actually knocking!

25 seconds


Kevin Millward at Gladstone Pottery Museum April 2015

Movie by Valentine Clays
Saggar making with Kevin Millward at Gladstone Pottery Museum's 40th Birthday celebrations. Kevin learned the art of Saggar Making when he worked at Gladstone Pottery Museum .  It's fair to say that Kevin really is the only man left who can do it, being taught by saggars makers themselves. Kevin used Valentine Clays ES 180 (Sculpting/Pizza Body) when making the saggars.



by Ernest Albert Sandeman 1921

Download the pdf here>


Saggar Making and Bottom Knocking in Stoke-on-Trent as a guide to early saggar technology
A very readable and detailed study of the craft of saggar making by Paul Nicholson. 2011.
 Click here for a PDF file.   Starts on page 703


Traditional saggar marl is a very particular type of clay. It is a coarse, grey coloured fireclay found along with coal measures in North Staffordshire. Mixed with grog to add strength. More grog was mixed into the clay used for the bottom clay of the saggar than the side clay, as the bottom needed to be stronger. The proportion of clay to grog varied.


Saggar Making - Bannering - ensuring the top rim is perfectly flat and level

Saggar Making - Saggar Making Shop - 1932

Saggar Making - Bottom Knocking

Saggar Making - Bottom Knocking close up 

Saggar Maker's Bottom Knockers