A descriptive account of The
1893 advertising and trade journal.
The Potteries and their environs
The Potteries and their environs
Introduction: Whether simply viewed as the seat of the oldest of the English manufacturing arts, or regarded from the more complex point of view of the student of social economics, no industrial district in the kingdom presents so many features of interest as that which is popularly known as "The Potteries." The artistic nature of the industry, the absence of noise entailed in its operation, and its comparative cleanliness, have much to do with its attractiveness, and render the district one of the most pleasant of those from which our country derives its importance in the world of commerce.
The Six Towns: Added to this, the district derives a great advantage from the fact that the industry is not carried on in one vast town, but in a number of towns, spread over an area some ten miles in length, with considerable spaces of open country intervening between each. At the end of the main street of nearly all of these towns we arrive at green fields, cultivated to the highest point of agricultural development, thus affording ample breathing spaces for those engaged in the various factories to which the towns are devoted. If we were to roll Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Longton, Tunstall, and Fenton, the six chief towns of the Potteries, into one vast city, we should no doubt be confronted with all those unpleasant peculiarities inseparable from a great manufacturing centre; but, separated as they are, we have all the elements, so far as outward things go, of a happy, prosperous, and well-conditioned community. The natural characteristics of the district in question are in every way favorable to the sanitary well-being of its inhabitants. It is neither a flat and monotonous plain, nor yet a slightly diversified or undulating surface, but it is a fine rolling country, with grand sloping hills, commanding distant prospects. In all the towns we have named, this fine open country is met immediately upon their outskirts, and from their very centres it requires only an ordinary stroll to take the pedestrian into the midst of the most rural scenery. As we shall see, when dealing with that part of our subject, this combination of town and country life has made its effect visible in the social well-being of the people of the Pottery district, who, while exhibiting that superior culture visible in the intelligent classes of artisans in our towns, still retain that love of beauty and cleanliness which we associate with the rural population.
Entrance to Trentham Hall
Short history of the potter's art: Before, however, we deal with the district in its modern aspects, some short account of the history of the potter's art in Staffordshire may not be found uninteresting. It is to be deplored that no full or reliable history of the Potteries exists; and the student who would acquaint himself with the story of a district that should rank as the most important of all those devoted to our manufactures, finds only the most meager materials with which to pursue his investigations. But few as are the reliable facts to assist us, we shall find more than sufficient material for the limited space at our disposal; and shall consider our task more than amply repaid if we can tempt an abler pen than ours to produce a history of the most fascinating of all the arts devoted to manufacturing purposes. There can be no doubt that the manufacture of pottery has existed in Staffordshire from the earliest times, the adaptability of the clay of the district for the purpose having been discovered by the aboriginal inhabitants of the islands long before the Roman invasion. Of this fact there is ample proof, for in all parts of the north of the county, earthenware cinerary and sepulchral urns of the Celtic period have been dug up, as well as drinking and food vessels that were in all probability used by the Cornairi, the tribe whom our conquerors from the banks of the Tiber found settled in this region. That the art was continued in the neighbourhood during the Romano-British period, vessels found at Cauldon, Wetton, and other places in the county, bear abundant evidence; while examples are also extant of work belonging to Saxon and Norman times. Thus we could form a collection that would give us a complete history of the art of more than a thousand years, extending over the whole of the first half of the Christian era.
Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent: Nor did the early exponents of the ceramic art confine themselves to the manufacture of pottery, for from a very early period kilns existed for the manufacture of tiles, one of which, of a very remote date, was exhumed some years ago at Great Saredon. The name Telwright or Tilewright, which is a common one in North Staffordshire and Derbyshire, also tells us that the craft was one followed at the time when men derived their surnames from their trades. This branch of the art, once of such great importance, was almost entirely discontinued a century ago, although lately it has been resuscitated with the greatest success. In medieval times, the vessels made in the neighbourhood were chiefly pitchers and jugs, for meals were then served in the best houses off wooden platters, and the best classes of china were almost wholly imported from the Continent. A curious light is thrown upon the prices of pottery in the middle ages from the following entry in the "account of expenses" of Sir John Howard in1466, "Watekin, bocher of Stoke, delyvered of my mony to on of the poteres of Horkesly ivs vid to pay hemselfe and his felowes for xi dozen potes." From this we see that "potes" at that early period cost about 4-3/4d. per dozen. During the Tudor period and up to the end of the 17th century, the productions of the district were confined to the commoner vessels in every day use, such as dishes and tygs. Some of these were decorated in a rude but effective manner by dropping fluid white slip through a quill on to the surface of the vessels made of red clay, and then covering the whole with a coarse lead glaze.
Saltglazing: Many such vessels are still extant, having been chiefly manufactured at Burslem. Many of them bear the name of Thomas Soft and others Ralph Soft, while another, preserved in the Geological Museum, Jermyn Street, has the name of William Talor in the rim. The Soft family comes from an old Derbyshire stock, and many of the name are still potters in the district. The next important date we come to in the history of pottery is 1680, when glazing by means of salt appears to have been discovered. Like many another great invention, this is attributed to accident. The account given of the discovery is that "at Mr. Joseph Yates," Stanley, near Bagnall, five miles east of Burslem, the servant was preparing, in an earthen vessel, a salt ley curing port; and during her temporary absence the liquid boiled over and the sides of the pot were quickly red-hot from intense heat; yet, when cold, were covered with an excellent glaze. The fact was detailed to Mr. Palmer, potter, of Bagnall, who availed himself o the occurrence and told other potters. At the small manufactories in Holden Lane (Green Head) and Brownhills, salt-glazed ware was soon afterwards made."
Stoneware: In 1685, we find Thomas Miles, of Shelton, making a white stone ware, and at the same time and place brown stone ware was also manufactured. This stone-ware was probably akin to the "Bellarmines," up to that time imported from the Continent. These jugs were named after Cardinal Bellarmine (A.D. 1621), a prelate who made himself very obnoxious by his persecution of the Protestants in the Netherlands. They have always a bearded face marked upon their sides, and may be seen in many collections of old pottery.
The Eler brothers: In 1688 two brothers, named Eler or Elers, potters by trade, followed the Prince of Orange from their native home in Holland to England; and two years later seem to have settled at Bradwell and Dimsdale, two very secluded situations, far from the turnpike road, and scarcely discernible from Burslem or Red Hill. Here the two Dutchmen erected kilns, and commenced the manufacture of fine red ware, in imitation of oriental red porcelain, from a vein of clay, which, by some means not stated, they had discovered existed at this spot. They were evidently men of much skill and taste, and produced much beautiful work. It seems that the brothers Elers took remarkable precautions to prevent their secret being discovered. They employed an idiot to turn the thrower's wheel, and only the most ignorant of workmen. By means of a complicated system of signals, they were enabled to receive warning of the approach of any intruder to their mysterious factory. Yet all the precautions of the secreted Dutchmen did not prevent their process from being discovered, and their secret methods soon came into general use in the district, and much improved the productions of the neighbourhood. In disgust the Elers departed to London, where they set up a factory at Chelsea.