From medieval times until early in the 20th century, Nettlebed was the centre of a thriving brick business. The bricks were produced in bottle-shaped kilns. One remains in the middle of the village, a very distinctive landmark. It is the only bottle kiln preserved in the country today, and was built in the late 17th or early 18th century. There would have been several kilns of this type in Nettlebed, but the others were removed when the brick-making industry came to an end.
Clay for the bricks was dug up on Nettlebed Common. The finished bricks were used in many buildings in the Chilterns area. They were renowned for their strength. In his 1676 Natural History of Oxfordshire Dr Robert Plot commented: ‘About Nettlebed they make a sort of brick so very strong that whereas at most places they are unloaded by hand, I have seen these shot out of carts after a manner of stone to mend highways, and yet none of these broke.’
Walking down Nettlebed High Street you can see many 18th century houses faced with the local brick. Other fine examples of historic buildings constructed with local brick and tiles can be seen in New Street Henley, Ewelme School, Wallingford High Street, Watlington Town Hall and Stonor House.
In 1927 the kiln was converted to burn lime and was used for this until 1938. It then fell into disrepair but in 1975 it was restored with the support of local people and Oxfordshire County Council.
The kiln is at the beginning of Kiln Close, Nettlebed, just east of the junction of the A4130 and the B481 (north towards Watlington).
The kiln can be viewed at any time and there is an information board nearby describing its history.