Discovering Local History 



Health in Stoke-on-Trent

Health in the Pottery Industry


It had been realised in the middle of the nineteenth century that people working in the pottery industry were susceptible to various illnesses.


In 1842 James Till (aged 43) told the Children Employment Commission that:

"I have been a dipper 26 years … The liquid used is not bad now as it used to be; there is, however, a great deal of lead used (as well as) arsenic. It has often affected me, but not to the excess that it has some men. I live very: regularly, I keep myself regular, never giving way to intemperance, as some men. I ascribe nothing to myself in this respect, but to a higher source. The way in which it attacks us is first in the bowels and stomach. I take care to take medicine occasionally; I suffer now from some affection of the liver; if it was not induced by dipping; it is certainly aggravated by it…"



People interviewed in 1856 for the inquiry undertaken by the General Board of Health reported that.

"…the bad arrangements of the workshops … (are a) frequent cause of bronchitis. The worst cases of this disease were found among young women employed in scouring china, who did not live many years after entering that employment."

Mr Scott (p. 54)

"… the process of 'ground-laying', or dusting a metallic oxide on pieces of ware, for the purpose of producing an uniform colour upon the surface was … more fatal than any other branch, in proportion to the number of persons engaged in it."

Mr Scott (p. 54)



The first person to look systematically at life-expectancy in the pottery industry was Arlidge who in a study published in 1864, concluded that.

"The mean age at death of male potters in Stoke parish, of 20 years and upwards, was 46.50, and that of males, not potters, was 52. The mean age at death of males of all classes, aged 20 and upwards, in all England, is 56, and in the city of London 52. Therefore the value of life among male potters is 9.5 years less than that of males in the general population in the country."

Arlidge (p. 19)


Arlidge also looked at the causes of death of men employed in the pottery industry. He found that 60% of them died from diseases of the respiratory system (diseases of the lung and consumption).

With the benefit of twentieth-century science we now know that certain aspects of the manufacture of pottery and earthenware, were indeed very bad for the health of workers. Particular problems arose from:-


But the main substance responsible for premature deaths was lead contained in the liquid glaze used by dippers and others in the industry.

We also know that lead was also a cause of insanity, it lowered intelligence and was also caused women to miscarry.



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