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Elias Hawley

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Elias Hawley  b.1764 d. 1828.  Earthenware Manufacturer & Methodist lay preacher

also see: 

E. Hawley & Son
Transcription of letter 1827
Methodist New Connexion
Burslem Town



father: Richard Hawley mother: Sarah 
Elias Hawley wife:
Margaret Love

Son: Joseph 



Born in Audley & moved to The Potteries

Elias Hawley, pottery manufacturer and officer and lay preacher in the Methodist New Connection, was born in November 1764 in the village of Boon Hill in the parish of Audley, North Staffordshire. This article gives a summary of his life and provides information on several generations of his descendents who continued to work in the pottery industry until the 1980s. 

In 1733,a local yeoman of Bignall End, Staffordshire, named Richard Parrott published an account of the people who lived in various parts of Audley. Referring to Bignall End Cottages on Boon Hill he states: 

 “the next cottage was (lived in by) Henry Deans, a very poor coat. He died about 50 years since, left a widow and a son and a daughter. The son went to London and died there. His wife died about 30 years since and the daughter married. Then one Robert Hawley got the possession of it and pulled it down and rebuilt it and lived in it so long as he lived. He left two sons. They have added to it and made two dwellings of it and now both live in it”.

According to this record, Robert Hawley must have acquired the cottage around 1700 and lived in it, after rebuilding it, until he died in 1730. His two sons were Robert junior (1683-1752) and Richard (1679- 1736).  Richard had four children, Sarah, John, Maria and the eldest, another Richard (1709-1767) who married a Mary Lockett in 1732. They had a daughter Apphia born in 1737 and a son, a third Richard, born in1736 who married Sarah Lockett, presumably his cousin, in 1755. In the marriage record he is described as a husbandman. Richard and Sarah Hawley had five chidren, John , born 1755, William, born 1758, James, born 1760, Sarah born 1762 and the youngest child Elias born in 1764.

The Audley Manor Court documents between 1759 and 1765 regularly mention the Hawleys. For example, the “Presentment of all the cottages and enclosures in Bignall End and parish of Audley for 1760” refers to Richard Hawley Junior, Elias’s father, as possessing one cottage and one enclosure. Presumably this cottage was the one rebuilt by Robert Hawley, still in the family. In 1763 the court records show Richard Hawley Senior as having no cottages but one enclosure and Richard Hawley Junior as having one cottage and one enclosure. Seemingly Richard Senior was living with his son’s family.

Elias Hawley was therefore born into humble circumstances, the youngest child of a cottager who made a living off an enclosure held by the family for several generations. Other than this, little is known of his parents except that they were honest and industrious. Shortly after the birth of Elias, the family moved to the Potteries some time after 1765, possibly when his grandfather, Richard senior died in 1767. Presumably Richard, Elias’s father, saw employment in the rising pottery industry as being more fruitful than working the land. Subsequently, some years later, he died in a raging fever.

Elias was a sensible and docile child, frequently held up as an example to other children but at an early age showed the beginnings of a depressive outlook from which he suffered in later years. His parents were illiterate and as a result his education was given little attention. At an early age he was put to work in a public workshop in the Potteries, a “hotbed of wickedness” where the influence of bad example on him soon became apparent. 

As he grew older, he became involved in the excesses, which at the time were all too common amongst the lower classes of society in the Potteries including drink and gambling. Being an intelligent person, fond of company and excited by the sports of the day such as ball playing and cards at which he excelled, his acquaintance was eagerly sought by others and probably too easily given by Elias. He was an honest and good-hearted person who was more prudent in his affairs than his associates. As a result, others took advantage of his good nature and he often found himself responsible for the cost of their extravagance and revelling. He began to realise the futility of the circumstances in which he found himself and determined to leave Hanley where he was living up to 1788.


Moved to Burslem
The same year Elias moved to Burslem where he settled and as he was already trained in the art of the potter he obtained employment with a manufacturer in Longport about a mile from his new home. He was always thankful for the rest of his life that he had made this move. His new employer was a pious Methodist and encouraged meetings for prayer and singing in a spare room in the factory. This room happened to be above the workshop in which Elias was working. At the time he was not a religious man although he was an occasional worshipper at the Independent Chapel when he was living in Hanley. He therefore did not involve himself in the religious activities going on above him but he was able to hear what was taking place.


Personal crisis & his conversion to Methodism 
By the end of 1788 Elias was beginning to feel dissatisfied with his life and appears to have reached something of a personal crisis at Christmas that year. He was still enjoying gambling and during the Christmas holidays a card match had been arranged between five or six potters and some friends who resided at Edgmont, a village near Newport, Shropshire where Elias also had relatives. Elias was nominated as the leader of the team of potters and as someone of a competitive nature he entered into organising this with enthusiasm. The wintry winds and a snowstorm did not deter the potters from making the twenty-six mile journey, the parties assembled and the game went ahead. Around midnight Elias’s thoughts started to trouble him and he began to feel an overwhelming dissatisfaction with himself and everything around him. Unable to keep up appearances, he retired from the game. His companions remonstrated with him but to no avail and he vowed never to play another card game for the rest of his life. He adhered to this resolution ever afterwards. It was only with difficulty that they managed to restrain him from attempting the journey home at that late hour and in such poor weather conditions.

After this event Elias seems to have entered a period of psychological depression and he was taken over by feelings of desolation and a desire for seclusion from the world. He took to walking alone in the local fields in the evenings, was unable to sleep and frequently retired alone to his bedroom where he wept. During 1789 he attended the occasional sermon by a Mr. Shadford in the Methodist chapel and subsequently found solace through taking up more regular attendance. He also found comfort from other preachers in the Burslem circuit that year, particularly a Mr Roberts and shortly afterwards embraced the church wholeheartedly which gave his life a new purpose and a new spiritual direction for his energies.

However, in the early stages of his new life he immediately faced a conflict in that all the things of the world that he had found so exciting and captivating were still tempting to him and it appears he had the occasional relapse. His knowledge of the world was limited to what he had personally experienced, he had no books or, if he had any, he was unable to read them. His major concern now was that he was unable to study the bible so he needed urgently to learn to read.


Elias marries Margaret Love
In 1784 Elias had married Margaret Love who lived in Stone, Staffordshire. The marriage was a happy one and they shared both the joys and sorrows of life until Elias died. Margaret seemingly had received a better education than her husband and it was she who now undertook to teach Elias to read. So great was his eagerness to learn that in a few months his proficiency was considerable and he set himself a target of time to read the bible from cover to cover which he substantially exceeded.

His consistency of character and his devotion to the Methodist church led, in the early 1790s to his appointment as a Class Leader , which role he modestly accepted and discharged his duties, which could at times be difficult and delicate, most creditably for many years.


Unemployment in The potteries and a move to Coalport china factory
Unfortunately new adversity was awaiting him. This was a time of great unsteadiness of employment in the Potteries and sadly Elias lost his job at a time when the price of provisions was at its highest. The family were reduced to extremities and were without money and the means to obtain it. To go into debt in such circumstances was unthinkable and for many days they lived to a rigid economy until there was no food left. Had they told others of their predicament, no doubt help would have been given but their pride did not allow them to do so.

Although eventually succour was given by a source now unknown, in 1795 Elias was compelled to leave the Potteries to find employment elsewhere. He found this particularly sad because at that time there was a revival of religious fervour amongst Methodists throughout the country and in Burslem Elias was very influential through his activities in swelling the ranks of the church members.

Leaving his family behind in Burslem, as a trained and experienced potter he made for the china factory at Coalport in Shropshire where he found employment. He joined the Methodist church at nearby Madeley and made many friends there with whom he had much in common. These friendships lasted long after he had left Madeley.

Return to Burslem & Elias becomes a local preacher 
Within some months he heard that employment prospects at home had improved and he returned to his family and his church in Burslem. Every Sunday he took part in groups of Methodists visiting towns and villages miles around the Potteries to assist at meetings for singing and prayer. Also at this time he became a local preacher.

In 1797, there were disagreements within the Methodist church on matters of religious liberty and church government. This led to the venting very strong and emotional feelings by the proponents of the various views. Elias was involved in the affair and conducted himself with greater coolness and circumspection than was apparently the example of many. A division within the church became inevitable and, following his conscience, Elias took the decision to join the newly created body. This was a difficult choice as he had a long history in the Methodist church and many friends stayed behind.


The Methodist New Connexion 
Nonetheless, having abandoned his former compatriots he became a subordinate officer in the New Methodist Connexion. His influence on this infant church in the local area was great and his counsel contributed to subduing divided opinions and stabilising the church society in its early days. He was also involved in the building of a new chapel for public worship. By 1801, however, the future of the new Methodist cause looked most unpromising but at Christmas that year, sitting downhearted in the chapel, it occurred to Elias that a Sunday school might be the means of reviving interest. This idea was taken up and the school opened the following March heralding a period of growth in church members and spirituality.

Methodist New Connexion in Burslem

The first Methodist New Connexion meeting in Burslem was in the house of a Mr. Rowley in Hot Lane by 1797. This soon became inadequate and in 1798 Job Ridgway built Zoar Chapel (locally known as "The Salt Box" because of its style of building) on land called Kiln Croft, in Princes Row, Nile Street.
Zoar was a plain brick building with Classical features and seated 500, having a gallery round three sides.
In 1802 a Sunday school was started.

John and William Ridgway acquired a site for a new chapel on the newly constructed highway (Waterloo Road) between Burslem and Hanley, the chapel was built and it opened in 1824.

Methodist New Connexion

Sets up his own potworks
On his return from Coalport in 1795 it is known that Elias worked hard for his daily bread but other than the fact he was involved in the pottery industry the exact nature of his work is not clear. It seems that by 1799 he had set up in commerce on his own as in July of that year and again in 1804, he visited Ireland on business, partly on his own account and partly to do business for others. One of these visits was just after a rebellion and near Wexford he was shown the sites of where many bloody deeds had been done. As he travelled a good deal on foot he was often in much personal danger from parties of marauders lurking near the roads. He also visited Limerick and made many pleasing connections, from a business and friendship point of view, both there and in Wexford. He always looked back on his Irish visits with great satisfaction.

Elias’s life continued without major incident and his business and work in the New Connexion presumably developed well. However, in 1812,following his European conquests, Napoleon closed all continental ports to shipments to and from Britain. America was also threatening to close its ports to British goods. This had a damaging effect on the pottery industry in Burslem and Elias’s business was so badly affected that once again found it necessary to leave the town to seek another way of life.


Move to Eccleshall
This time he moved with his family to Eccleshall, a market town some sixteen miles from Burslem and opened a shop principally for the sale of China and Earthenware. He was no stranger to the New Connexion congregation at Eccleshall as he had visited there many times as a lay Preacher. Unfortunately this venture in Eccleshall proved to be a disaster. In making his decision to move there he had listened to well-meant but unreliable advice from friends and had himself miscalculated and overrated the potential returns from the business. After little more than seven months he had to collect what was left of his effects and return to Burslem. His disappointment led to a return of the dark clouds of depression, which he had not experienced for many years.

However, an occurrence just before he left Eccleshall uplifted his spirits. One Sunday after he had been preaching in the chapel a stranger came up to him and acknowledged him as his spiritual father and tearfully thanked him for the benefit he had gained from his preaching on an occasion many years before.


Sets up in Burslem with J Read and later his son Joseph Hawley
On his return to Burslem circumstances clearly quickly improved for Elias and by 1818 he is mentioned as an earthenware manufacturer at Flash in Burslem in the Potteries Commercial Directory for that year. How he recovered from his disaster in Eccleshall and rose to the position of manufacturer in such a short time is not known.

The name Flash no longer exists in Burslem but is identified as an area at the lower end of the current Royal Doulton factory in Nile Street. His son Joseph supported Elias in this business and by 1822 he was in partnership with a J Read with a factory in Waterloo Road. This partnership concluded at Martinmas in 1825 when the Waterloo Road factory became Elias Hawley and Son.

Trade journal entries:-
For the works in Waterloo Road, Burslem

Elias Hawley

Hawley & Read

Elias Hawley & Son

Joseph Hawley

1818 Potteries General

1822 Allbut

1828 Pigot

1830 Pigot

Letters written at the time by Joseph Hawley indicate ongoing financial difficulties through low prices, problems with the workforce and the collapse of the glost oven.

From a letter dated 20th November 1827, written by Joseph Hawley:-

At Martinmas 1825 the term expired which J.Read and my father had engaged together as partners – of course a dissolution took place, J.Read engaged with another partner, father and me united together thinking with the capital we had (though small) with prudence, good management and the blessing of God we should have succeeded.

Elias's ill health
Throughout his life Elias had enjoyed good health in spite of his delicate appearance but by 1821 his health had deteriorated to the point where he felt it necessary to resign from his role as a church leader. His resignation was accepted by the Leaders Meeting but their transactions book recorded the following: “That this meeting duly appreciating the the services brother Elias Hawley has rendered to the society for the last 24 years begs to express its acknowledgement of the same and being desirous still to secure his assistance and advice do hereby request his acceptance of a seat amongst them as an honorary member as long as health and circumstances shall enable him.” Elias continued on the council up to his death.

By 1821 the Burslem New Connexion had achieved permanency and an influence greater than former years and in that year it was determined that the chapel was now too small. An extension would prove difficult so it was decided to raise a new chapel on a different site. 

The planning stage took three years and during this process Elias was very much a leading promoter of the project in spite of his infirmity and the likelihood he would not live to see the completion of the new building. Whenever his health allowed he attended and generally presided over planning meetings and when building commenced, he superintended operations as much as his knowledge of such matters enabled him. He watched the building through all its stages even at the risk to his own health, catching cold on numerous occasions as a result of exposing himself to the elements.

Built in 1824 as the Bethel Methodist Church
Built in 1824 as the Bethel Methodist Church

photo: May 1988

standing on the corner of Waterloo Road and Regent Street East (renamed in the early 1950's to Zion Street).

Built in 1824 as the Bethel Methodist Church. This chapel with its five bays and the bay pediment, was built at a time of religious fervor.

The wings were added in 1835 and provided space for schoolrooms and the preachers house. Originally the facade, like the sides, was of brick; stucco was added much later. The impressive galleried interior sat a thousand worshipers, at a time when Burslem's entire population was not much more than 12,000.

On the day the new chapel opened he was well enough to attend worship there and seeing his warmest wishes realised delighted him. In 1827 his illness became worse and he retired from his preaching activities at the end of the year, choosing for his last sermon the words “ The end of all things is at hand”. By all accounts it was a very moving and impressive sermon.

His health afforded him little time for business but a lot of time to watch the progress of his disorder. The last time he attended Chapel; a friend observed that, ”standing as it were on the verge of both worlds, he bore testimony to the unspeakable enjoyments of the soul that has a clear prospect of future glory.”

Towards the close of his life he had an inability to sleep and his wife Margaret frequently heard him in prayer and praise during these sleepless hours and one night he appeared to be in conversation with someone from the spiritual world.

Elias died on Sunday 23rd November 1828. His son Joseph sadly writes in a letter how he visited his father that morning and asked if he would like him to sit with him for a while. Elias feebly answered “yes” but was too weak for any further conversation. Joseph stayed with him for some time and then left, not knowing it would be the last time he saw his father alive. Left alone with Margaret, Elias managed to get up and walk to the door but on returning, lay on the sofa, put his head back and died. He was in the sixty fourth year of his life. He was buried shortly afterwards in the graveyard of St. John’s church, Burslem.

St. John the Baptist parish church - Burslem
St. John the Baptist parish church - Burslem

In his early years, Elias lived the sort of life one would expect from someone of his poor background but even in his most degenerate days he was an honest family man. He had sufficient reliability and standing to gain the confidence of his employers and the capability to advance himself from the lower levels of society to become a capable businessman and partner in an earthenware manufactory.

For many years these good qualities gave him security and made him satisfied with himself. At a certain point in life he suffered from depression as he became dissatisfied with his existence as it was, and found greater fulfilment in the spiritual activities within the Methodist New Connexion. As a local preacher he excelled beyond what might be expected considering his lack of education, but once he had learnt to read, his detailed study of the scriptures provided him with a storehouse of material to which he added his own thoughts.

He valued books generally as a source of knowledge although beyond the bible he was not widely read. In conversation it was his aim to glean something valuable from every person he met and from this he gathered information on many subjects. As a man he was modest and unassuming, he had a lively personality and his conversation cheerful and humorous, sometimes being viewed by people as being too close to levity. His friendship was sincere and his advice was reliable. He was also a very cautious person and on most occasions before making a decision or taking action he was seen as being unnecessarily scrupulous in his analysis of the issues. This quality was partly natural but was probably also the result of some of the circumstances he had experienced.

From midlife his piety became fervent and the church had the benefit of his example, his best wishes, his success and his prayers for many years. He assisted at its discussions, encouraged its membership, defended its privileges and promoted its discipline. 

As a husband and father Elias had his share of the joys and sorrows of family life. He and Margaret had six children but only two, Joseph and Mary Anne survived him. His children received good educations as can be witnessed from a number of Joseph’s letters which are retained to this day in the Hawley family. Margaret lived on for a number of years living with her son Joseph who continued running the Waterloo Road factory on his own.

NOTE: with regards to the comment "He and Margaret had six children but only two, Joseph and Mary Anne survived him.." 

Amanda Fearns makes the following comment "my family descend from Elias Hawley's daughter Tabitha, an older sibling of Joseph and Mary Ann, who also survived him. Tabitha's descendants continued to work in the pottery industry and moved to Glasgow and then Bo'ness in Scotland to work in the potteries in the 19th Century. They then moved to Norton, Stockton on Tees, England in the early 1900's to work in the potteries as kilnsman and painters"

next: Joseph Hawley (Son of Elias & Margaret)

updated 9 Sugust 2021