Madoz's Diccionario Geográfico Estadístico Histórico de España y sus territorios de Ultramar , Volume VII (1847) contains an account of the potteries of Eskoriatza, in the Valley of Leintz. It reads as follows:
Eskoriaza. Industry: A factory for making ticking for mattresses, a soap workshop, various canvas mills, a potter, a forge and six flour mills. In 1521 a fire destroyed the town and the houses were rebuilt in stone, replacing the wooden planks previously used.
Emilio Valverde y Alvarez also speaks of the potteries of Eskoriatza in his Guía de las Provincias Vascongadas y Navarra , published in 1886:
Escoriaza... soap factory, ticking manufacture, canvas makers, potteries, forges and flour mills.
On 22 August 1974, we travelled to Eskoriatza, to see if we could find any further information. We questioned some of the older people, but nobody could tell us anything of any potteries in the town, until we met Antonio Saenz de Viteri, resting on a bench in the town square. Antonio had been the clerk of the Town Council for 43 years and he told us that as a boy he remembered seeing clay vessels on a table at the door of the first house after the bridge over the river Deba, coming from Aretxabaleta. In those days there were neither cars nor lorries on the road, but only oxen carts, and the vessels were left to dry in the sun on tables which protruded out into the middle of the street without obstructing the traffic. This house was known as "Olleritxenak".
Antonio remembered that the potter's surname was Zubiate and that his son, Alberto, assisted him in the work. He also remembered that the clay was prepared in pits, near the present-day (in 1974) ball court, at the rear of the doctor's house. He thought there were three pits,
where they put the clay and left it for a few days. One of these pits was probably the one in which they mixed the clay, adding water-"the blunging pit"- after which it was passed to the other two ("decanting pits"), where after a few days the clay decanted in the bottom. This was the system known elsewhere in the Basque Country as "sieving".
Armed with this information, and with little hope of finding any trace of the pottery, we went to the house, which, as the first building on the road into the village, bore a sign bearing the name "Escoriaza". We were delighted to see the well-preserved firing chamber of the old kiln still intact, now being used as a henhouse.
The kiln and the various adjoining constructions-which probably contained the pottery workshop-did not appear to have been significantly altered. On the first floor door of these buildings, a cross had been carved with a strange stylised bird, somewhat akin to a dinosaur.
Some people who were branding a cow on a shoeing frame told us that the combustion chamber stood in the wall of the kiln facing onto a saw mill, but that it was no longer visible because the ground had been levelled, covering it. We took some measurements of the firing chamber, which was in good condition though full of rubble.
This rubble has since been removed from the kiln, and in June 2002, thanks to archaeological excavations conducted by Alfredo Moraza and Juantxo Agirre, from the Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, we took fresh measurements which differ slightly from the ones we took then.
We also uncovered the combustion chamber, which has been measured and photographed. The high temperatures in the kiln have vitrified the stones in the vault turning them white.
This floor is somewhat smaller than in the firing chamber. The wall with the mouth of the kiln measures 187 cm and the opposite wall 195 cm. The wall beneath the wall containing the doors of the firing chamber measures 203 cm and the one opposite, which faces towards a street and towards the River Deba measures 193 cm.
This chamber has a maximum height of 165 cm, and inside the door it measures 40 cm. Outside it measures 120 cm-in other words, access to the chamber was by means of a ramp, a common feature of these kilns. All these measurements are subject to change once the ground level has been definitely determined. The door is lined with bricks and has a pointed arch and vault. On the outside of this arch another half-pointed arch can be seen, also made of brick. This may indicate that the chamber had problems drawing the fire.
On the wall opposite the mouth of the kiln there is now a brick infill, which is also arched at the top, possibly indicating that there was a door here. This seems to support the theory that the chamber had draught problems. The firing chamber, as we have said, has two doors in the same wall, and the most of the masonry is covered with rows of bricks. This covering is different to that on the other three walls, which have an arrangement consisting of rows of bricks and square clay blocks. The lining on the wall with the doors appears to be newer and more makeshift.
Above the floor, there are brick walls, or pomecillos as they were called in Uribarri Ganboa. The height shown on the enclosed drawings-68 cm-is that of the maximum remaining sections. They may have been up to 80 cm high (the height between the floor and the threshold of the low door. Inside this box there are 29 holes, through which the fire from the combustion chamber was drawn. The twenty-two holes that led the fire to the upper parts of the kiln-i.e. the holes between the walls of the box and the holes in the chamber-are in very bad condition and in the drawing we have tried to show the way we think they originally looked. It is interesting to note that the 29 holes in the centre were protected by clay rings about 10 cm in diameter and about 2 cm thick.
In 1974, our measurements gave a height of 533 cm for the wall on the right of the chamber. The more recent measurements give a figure of 514 cm. This difference is probably due to the difficulties we faced thirty years ago rather than any subsequent brickfall. The wall with the doors in it measures 500 cm; the opposite wall 484 cm and the left hand wall 426 cm.
On either side of the top door of this chamber, there are holes, with two equivalent ones on the opposite wall. We believe these were probably used to support the boards from which the kiln was charged as it filled with vessels. We have seen this arrangement in other potteries in the Basque Country, such as the one in Lizarra.
The presence of cylindrical fired-clay blocks of different heights beside the rubble of vessels, trivets for separating them during firing, suggests that the utensils were placed inside the chamber on boards or platforms, mounted using these clay blocks and some bricks.
Some years ago we checked the parish records and found that the potter's full name was Félix Zubiate and that he was born in Abadiño (Bizkaia), where we know that there were also potteries at one time. He was the son of Salustiano Zubiate and Juana María Belar, both from Elorrio.
Juan Manuel Garaikoetxea Gotxikoa also worked in Eskoriatza. He had previously worked in Elosu (Alava), where he had been born in 1837, and where there was a very important pottery activity, with several kilns. The only one still standing is that run by the Ortiz de Zarate family. It has been saved from destruction, by the dedication of Blanca Gomez de Segura with the support from some public authorities. Blanca has turned the adjoining house into an interesting museum of "Basque Pottery", with a workshop where she applies the skills she learnt from Jose Ortiz de Zarate.
Another potter who worked in Eskoriatza was Juan Likiñano, who was born in the village in 1857, the son of Juan José Likiñano (also a local man) and Ignacia Lezeta, from Mendiola.
We know from the remains found in and around the pottery that the vessels were generally enamelled, although some were also glazed, and that they used green copper oxide and brown manganese oxide to decorate them. We also found abundant remains of vessels from Muelas del Pan (see the section on heat-proof vessels for an explanation of the presence of these vessels in the Basque Country).
Saenz de Viteri-and later Evaristo Larrañaga-reported that the
pottery work wasn't a great money-spinner. Indeed, it didn't even cover Zubiate's rent for the premises and he was forced to abandon the pottery during the first decade of the twentieth century.
We had heard that this old kiln in Eskoriatza, heir to a centuries-old technology, was going to be moved to another area to make way for new houses. We presumed that it would be dismantled and rebuilt; this struck us as being a pity, since being a masonry building, it would have lost all its character and looked unnatural-it would ultimately have been a new kiln, copied from the older one. Happily, we have since learned that expert engineers are seriously considering moving it whole, without dismantling it. The operation will consist of hoisting the entire construction-with a ground area of twenty-five square metres and a height of seven metres-and transporting it to the new site. Our congratulations go to everyone involved in this praiseworthy project.