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Poverty in the Potteries


Poverty in the Potteries
Poverty in the Potteries
from a mural in the Potteries Shopping Centre 
[the face - centre rear is that of the novelist Arnold Bennett]

"...from the north of the county right down to the south, they stand alone for civilisation, applied science, organised manufacture.... you cannot drink tea out of a teacup without the aid of the Five Towns; because you cannot eat a meal with decency without the aid of the Five Towns.
For this the architecture of the Five Towns is an architecture of ovens and chimneys; for this its atmosphere is as black as mud; for this it burns and smokes all night so that Longshaw (Longton) has been compared to Hell."


"The Old Wives' Tale", (1908) Arnold Bennett

Related Material:

1841 Samuel Scrivens report into child labour in the Potteries 
Audio report on child labour
Poor Law and the Workhouse  
Arnold Bennett  


"Samson Rowley, a half-famished looking lad of about 15 years of age, was charged with neglecting his work as an apprentice to Mr. Ridgway, of Shelton. It was shown that the lad was not sufficiently fed by a brother with whom he lived, who had a large family, which circumstance led a brother-in-law to obtain him a situation on the railway, where he could earn 12s per week, and provide for himself. He was discharged on promising to return to his master, and Mr. Ridgway kindly promised to assist  in bettering his condition."                                 

Staffordshire Advertiser, 10.07.1847


1840 report........

Messrs. HOOD and BUXTON'S Egyptian Ware Factory, Burslem. 
No. 180.-Robert Hood,  aged 10
I run moulds for father; have been employed three years for Mr. Hood. 
I cannot read; I cannot write; never went to day school ; I go to Sunday school. My father is a saucer- maker; he is always in work; don't know how much he gets a week; but I get 3s. 
Have no mother. Have one sister and one brother. My sister stops at home to look after house; she cannot read. My brother goes to school, but he is young yet. I go home to breakfast, and have milk-meat ; and go home to dinner, when I get bacon and tatees. 
I like my work very well; would like to work in the warehouse better, cause they are paid there for working till nine, and I am not; I think ours harder: and get so much a day. I am always very tired when I go home at night, get my supper, and be glad enough to go to bed. 
'Tis very hot in the mould-room, and a good deal hotter in summer; it makes us sweat, and we drink plenty of water. I catch cold very often, but have never been laid up with it. Father flogs me some-times, if I let go a mould or break a saucer ; nobody else. Master is very good to me.


"When I was a Child"

 the ".. individual bent his head a few seconds and mumbled something. I suppose it was grace he was saying before the meat, but as far as I could see there was no grace in anything he did. I noticed he did not join us in our repast, and I know now he was a wise man for not doing so. He had asked God's blessing on what we were to eat; but he would have cursed it had he had to eat it himself. It as a fine piece of mockery, though I did not know it then, or I should have admired his acting. I was hungry, but that bread! That greasy water! Those few lumps of something which would have made a tiger's teeth ache to break the fibres of! The strangeness, the repulsiveness, and the loneliness, made my heart turn over, and I turned over what I could not eat to those near me, who devoured voraciously all I could spare……

In the afternoon we had our school work to do, and as I could read well I had no trouble with such lessons as were given. But if some of the other lads had had heads made of leather stuffed with hay they could have not got more knocks. It was a brutal place for the 'dull boy.' However hard he worked, and however patiently he strove, he got nothing but blows. If the devil had kept a school to teach boys how not to learn, he could not have succeeded better than that schoolmaster who asked God's blessing on the dinner he didn't share.

Tea and supper by a wise economy were joined together. The New Poor Law was to be economical if anything, even to the least quantity of food a growing boy's stomach could do with. But supper time came. What would it bring? That was the question for me. It brought a hunch of bread and a jug of skilly. I had heard of workhouse skilly but had never before seen it. I had had poor food before this, but never any so offensively poor as this. By what rare culinary-making nausea and bottomless fatuousness it could be made so sickening I never could make out. Simple meal and water, however small the amount of meal, honestly boiled, would be palatable. But this decoction of meal and water and mustiness and fustiness was most revolting to any healthy taste…. That workhouse skilly was the vilest compound I ever tasted…"





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