Clay Oven Building Course on the Isle of Wight – POSTPONED!

Mary Berry

Mary Berry, cooking up a storm at one of sarah’s recent courses.

UPDATE: Due to unforeseen circumstances the course had to be cancelled. It will be running later in the year though so, watch this space for more info! 

I am excited to announce that I have been invited to run a one day clay oven building course by “At Sarah’s House” on the Isle of Wight (new website coming very soon I hear!). At Sarah’s House is a super business which runs lifestyle courses and is the brainchild of Sarah Guy, founder of Isle of Wight Campervan Holidays. Sarah recently hosted the renowned cookery writer and über-baker, Mary Berry, who ran a cookery demonstration at Sarah’s House. Splendid! Anyway, if you are interested in coming along to my course, the details are as follows.

Hands on clay oven building with Simon Brookes.

Join us for the day at Greatwood and learn how to create your own clay oven.

Date: Saturday the 4th of August 2012

Time: 9.30 – 4.00

Cost: £75.00 includes lunch and refreshments

Call 01983 852089 to book your place.

You can view some photos from my most recent course at the Sustainability Centre in Petersfield.

Spaces are limited so get in early in order to avoid disappointment. I look forward to seeing some of you there in August.


What have the Romans ever done for us?

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the freshwater system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?“. So the quote goes from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. To that list, you can also add Clay Ovens. No, honestly! The Roman’s built and cooked in clay ovens and, in common with most of their innovations, they conducted experiments in order to perfect the process of construction. Luckily for us, they also wrote it down!

Sometime between 70 and 15 BC,  Roman architect Vitruvius, recorded the shape and proportions of the ovens in use during the 1st century BC. The most important measurement he recoded was that of the height and width of the oven entrance. This happens to be one of the questions I get asked most on this blog so I thought it was time to pass on Vitruvius’s wisdom to you all. I’m happy to say that it is very straightforward, here it is:

The height of a wood-fired oven entrance should be 63 percent of the height of the inside dome. The width of the door should be half that of the oven diameter.

Got it? So, all you need to do is make a note of the height of your sand former during construction and multiply that measurement by 0.63, for the entrance height, and obviously, just divide the width by 2 for the entrance width. Simple!

But why is this proportion so important? What does fire need in order to burn? A fuel source and oxygen, right? (Yes Simon we knew that. We are not idiots you know!). OK OK! So, When the oven entrance is just the right size it is able to draw in oxygen from the entrance where it combusts, flows around the curved roof of the oven, after which the exhaust gases flow out of the top of the entrance. If the entrance is too small, exhaust gases are prevented from escaping (they mix turbulently with incoming oxygen), they pool in the oven roof and will eventually extinguish the fire. Too large and the oven will be inefficient, losing lots of valuable heat through the gaping entrance.


A 1684 depiction of Vitruvius (right) presenting De Architectura to Augustus (from Wikipedia)

The design I propose on this blog, with a chimney at the front of the oven, just behind the entrance, will help to alleviate many of the problems described above. However, it is still crucial that the entrance is the correct size in order that the oven burns as efficiently as possible.

There you have it! Next time you are firing your oven, think about good old Vitruvius scribing these instructions for future generations to use. I reckon he deserves a toast, don’t you? Cheers!

A Perfect Brick Arch

This weekend I received photos two new oven photos from visitors to the blog. I was struck, in both cases, by how perfect they looked – very neat and tidy. Here are a couple of photos of the ovens, the first is from Dave Slater from Belmont in Surrey (UK), followed by Lisbeth Schelling’s (and family) from Tønder, Denmark.

Dave Slater’s Oven

Family Schillig’s Oven

I was particularly struck by the perfect brick entrance arches to both of these ovens. It seems the secret is to use a template or former around which the bricks for the arch are laid. This is a great idea and one which has been around for centuries, ever since people have been building arches.

Making a former is very straight forward. Just decide on the width of the oven entrance – this will be the the diameter of your former semi circle. Draw it on some flat wood board, such as MDF. Cut it out and then use this to make an exact copy of the first. You then simply connect both semi circles together with connecting pieces, the same length as one of your house bricks. Once constructed, pop it in place in front of your oven entrance and build your bricks around it. Once your arch is complete, pull the former out and, hopefully the arch will stay in place.

Have a look below at more photos from Dave and Lisbeth which demonstrate what I have described.

Thanks to both of them for sharing with us.

Dave’s former in place. You can see the simple construction.

Dave has drawn the brick locations on his former so that the arch is symmetrical.

Lisbeth Schillig’s arch former in place.