A descriptive account of The
1893 advertising and trade journal.
The Potteries and their environs
The Potteries and their environs
The Wedgwoods: We now arrive at a name in the history of pottery which dwarfs that of the Softs and the Elers into total insignificance. We need scarcely say that we allude to the immortal name of Wedgwood. The Wedgwoods were an old Staffordshire family, and one member at least was a potter in the 17th century. This was John Wedgwood (1654-1705) the great uncle of Josiah, who in the next century founded the world-famed pottery which he named "Etruria." Only one piece signed by John Wedgwood is known to exist, and that is preserved in the Geological Museum before alluded to. It bears the name and date, 1691, incised around the jug. Josiah Wedgwood was a native of Burslem, and was apprenticed in his youth at the Churchyard works in that town. About this period (1740) a great impulse had been given to the study and appreciation of classical art, partly through the discovery of the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and also on account of a growing enthusiasm for the beautiful Greek painted vases, which were being sought for with great avidity in the tombs of Etruria and Magna Graecia. Josiah Wedgwood devoted his life and great talents to an attempt to reproduce the severe beauties of the Greek and Roman pottery. In this in a large measure he succeeded, although at the best his productions were only imitations, but imitations of such beauty as to attract the attention of exponents of the ceramic art in all parts of the world. In course of time Wedgwood himself found imitators galore; and the manufacturers of the once lordly Sevres did not scruple to copy both his methods and patterns. Thus Staffordshire came, in course of time, to set the fashion for the potters of the world to emulate. How completely this district has since eclipsed all the great centres of the manufacture of pottery in Europe is shown by the fact that in 1849 the town of Delft, which once supplied the whole of the Continent, as well as England, with pottery ware, only contained two factories devoted to the industry. In 1808-9, china ware was manufactured in Etruria, but this branch has since been discontinued. In 1860 the productions of "Majolica" was added, and in this department were equaling in beauty the best Sevres, is now manufactured. At the present time every description of pottery ware known to the market is manufactured in North Staffordshire, and from the factories of this district the whole world may be said to draw its supplies.
Other branches of activity: In the foregoing remarks we have confined ourselves to the pottery trade only, for in importance this great industry places all the other crafts of the district far in the rear. But, at the same time, there are other and very important branches of activity in the neighbourhood to which we shall allude specially under the heading of the various towns with which they are associated. Of these the chief are coal mining and iron industries, which if not as important here as in South Staffordshire, would yet, if the Potteries did not exist, mark out the neighbourhood as one of the most populous manufacturing districts of the midlands. As the following pages will show, too, the various towns with which we shall deal, are all rich in the different crafts that minister to the requirements of civilised life in its highest forms of development, while their broad and handsome streets are lined with shops and warehouses, where every necessary and many of the luxuries for the adornment of the person and the comfort of the "inner man" are to be found in abundance, and at prices as cheap as in any town or city in the kingdom. But particulars of these will be given in those pages of our little work especially devoted to the subject, and in these brief introductory remarks, we will confine ourselves to the potteries as a whole, and treat of those features and peculiarities which are common to all the towns that go to form the district.
Material benefits of being a potter: In our opening remarks we stated that the condition of life of the thousands engaged in this great pottery industry, was most enviable compared with that of the toilers in other great industrial centres; and we pointed out how the beauty of their surroundings materially assisted to ameliorate the lot of the inhabitants of the towns under notice. That the dwellers in the district reap, too, most material benefits from their employment no one who has visited the potteries and seen the comfortable houses of its inhabitants can doubt. About twenty years ago the great Lord Shaftesbury, speaking in Parliament, alluded to the subject in these words. "If we turn to the Potteries, we there see a large body of intelligent men who by their own thrift and industry have raised themselves to the possession of the suffrage. There are in that district about 9,000 potters, men in receipt of high wages; and, I am told, that very nearly 3,000 of these by their own industry and care have purchased their own freehold, and are now living in their own houses." What was true then is equally true now, for unlike many industries, depression in trade seems to have had but little effect upon this branch of production, and the prosperity of the neighbourhood has been maintained in spite of McKinley tariffs and "labour wars."
But not only do the men find profitable occupation, but women and children too, and these in departments probably better suited to their sex and age than any other industry in which this country is engaged. Woman's natural taste here finds an admirable outlet, and you may enter into a room in any of the larger factories and find a dozen women or girls, pallette in hand, all engaged in painting designs upon the better classes of pottery. Their surroundings are such as would satisfy the most exacting of social and sanitary reformers. There are no noisome adjuncts, none of the deafening thuds of machinery to be met in the great cotton or woolen factories. Nor do hundreds here work in one department, where to breathe is to inhale diseases of the most deadly description. On the contrary, the work conduces to a love of the beautiful, and with this love comes the desire to see with their own eyes, away in the fields that surround their homes, the inimitable beauties of nature. This love of the artistic is also exhibited in the homes of the people. In walking through the pottery towns it gives one pleasure to see at the windows of even houses of the humbler kind, classical groups of statuary in porcelain; and in the passages of such houses, and before the doors, encaustic tiles laid in the most effective and attractive manner. Sometimes when the means of the owner does not permit of his having a complete decoration of this kind, we may see here and there an ornamental tile inserted in the midst of a general surface of plain ones, thus displaying an artistic taste and a desire to gratify it as far as the purse of the occupant will go. In fact, everywhere we see the results of the artistic nature of the employment in which the people are engaged, by the development of their artistic faculty alike in form, colour, material, and design. Whilst men, women, and children are receiving practical instruction in art in the work they follow, theoretical education is also afforded by the various municipalities. Schools of Art, in connection as a rule with the Department at South Kensington, everywhere flourish. Excellent teachers are engaged, and admirable results are shown. In this connection it is a pleasure to refer to the splendid educational facilities which are offered to all classes in every one of the towns under notice, and taking the district as a whole we have no hesitation in stating that the standard of education here is as high as any locality in the kingdom. It is owing to this fact that so many of the journeymen employed in the various factories rise to be mastermen, and the trade is thus in the hands of a very large number of small manufacturers, by means of whom a healthy competition is maintained.
Social activities: The training of the taste, as far as concerns form and colour, conduces to a similar development of the other artistic senses, and it would be a matter of surprise if we discovered that the sister art of music was either neglected or undervalued. We doubt if any district in the kingdom, not excepting South Wales, takes so great an interest in musical subjects as the Potteries. Burslem is especially distinguished in this direction, and possesses a large body of chorus singers who have given most gratifying proofs of their ability at the various competitions which have been held at the Crystal Palace, leaving the famed choirs of Lancashire and Yorkshire far in the rear. In nearly all the towns, oratorios are given at Christmas, and everywhere the classical music seems understood and appreciated. Ability to read music at sight is a common accomplishment, even among the least educated and prosperous of the community. The Tonic Sol-fa system, now taught in all the board and most of the National Schools, trains the children in musical knowledge, which, later on, they put to good account when they join the various harmonic societies connected with the town, village, or works. We have alluded more than once to the beauty of the country surrounding the Pottery towns. The district immediately abuts upon a purely agricultural region, which includes the Vale of the Trent and Trentham, the far-famed seat of the Duke of Sutherland. The Park and the noble wood extend for miles, and are a favourite holiday resort among the pottery folk. When it is reflected that this splendid rural seat is within walking distance of most of the industrial towns with which it will be our pleasure to treat, some conception may be found of that complexity of characteristics which distinguishes the social condition of the people who reside, as it were, in a veritable urbs in rure, unknown to toilers in less pleasant crafts and less favourably placed towns, who work from year's end to year's end, without one glance at those green fields that tell of purer and happier lives spent in nature's own cities, where the roar of the furnace and the throb of machinery are unknown.
Such are the general features, historical, social and material of the six towns which will be the subject of more minute description in the following pages. Our introductory remarks, meager as they are, will have been ill-written indeed, if they have not taught the reader that this is an industrial district of no ordinary kind, and that in the towns we shall describe, and in the various factories and commercial houses to which it will be our pleasure to introduce him, will be met characteristics and features of interest such as may be looked for in vain in other parts of the kingdom.