Scriven's Report on Child Labour in the pottery industry
Doctors report on health conditions



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Doctors report on health conditions

[ J. B. DAVIS, (Surgeon) report on Hanley & Shelton ] [ Mechanics' Institution ]
[ injurious occupations
[ H. HARDING, (Medical Officer) report on Hanley
[ ROBERT GARNER, F:L.S., (Surgeon) report on Stoke-on-Trent ]
[ report on Longton ]

J. B. DAVIS, (Surgeon) report on Hanley & Shelton  

No.1: A few REMARKS on the GENERAL and sanatory condition of the town of HANLEY and SHELTON, and its Inhabitants, more especially with respect to the Health of the Children of the Working Classes.

THE position of the town being elevated, and upon the brow of a hill, it is consequently exposed to the winds from all quarters, but more especially to the north-east, for a valley approaches the town in this direction, and serves to give force and increased effect to the cold winds which prevail from that quarter.

It is to this elevated position and free ventilation that I am disposed to attribute our comparative exemption from epidemic and certain endemic diseases, especially to the common fever of the country, which in the summer and autumn more particularly prevails in the surrounding towns of Burslem, Newcastle, and Stoke; whilst Hanley and Shelton suffer much less from the disease. But owing to this position and particular exposure to the most ungenial wind of the heavens, the north-east, I conceive a peculiar character is, to a certain extent, given to the diseases of the town-pulmonary affections prevailing very extensively.

The direction in which the streets are built might have slightly counteracted this unfavourable exposure, but unfortunately the inhabitants have, no doubt in ignorance and without design, given it increased effect by arranging most of the streets on the north-east and eastern side of the town in a direction parallel to the current of the wind when it blows from this quarter.

There is a small closely-built district near the centre of Hanley, called Chapel Field, and a series of blind streets branching off from the main street in Shelton, both which places are crowded with inhabitants living in squalid poverty. Many of the inhabitants of these spots, but especially the children, have a peculiarly sickly aspect, most probably from the poor and improper food they take, conjoined with the impure air they breathe. Numbers of children die during infancy in these quarters of the town, and fevers and other epidemic diseases prevail there most extensively and in their most virulent forms.


In different parts of the town and on its outskirts there are many stagnant pools in which vegetable matter is constantly undergoing a process of putrefaction, for they are used for the purpose of steeping hazel-rods in, to render them more pliant in the use to which they are applied, that of forming crates, in which the earthenware of the neighbourhood is packed.
Besides these sources of unhealthy emanations, there are three or four establishments on the outskirts of the town for boiling and calcining bones on a large scale, which frequently inundate the neighbourhood with very offensive odours. 

But I have never been able to trace sickness directly to either of these kinds of emanations, the work-people themselves enjoying as good health as the rest of the community.


The inhabitants may be generally distinguished as follows: - They consist mainly of workpeople engaged in the manufacture of earthenware and china, and the various trades subsidiary to this manufacture. 

The rest are master manufacturers, shopkeepers, and professional men.

Of the various branches into which the staple manufacture of the town is divided, Mr. Scriven, the highly respectable Sub-Commissioner, will, I believe, give a detailed account. Besides these there are numerous auxiliary occupations, such as these of designers, engravers, crate-makers, paper-makers, colour-makers, lawn-weavers, colliers, &c.

In these various trades women and children are employed as well as men very extensively. Children, too, are employed from an early age. They thus acquire an unhealthy aspect, have the seeds of various diseases sown in their constitutions, and are largely precluded from that elementary education which should be obtained in childhood.


The wages paid in this neighbourhood are good, better than those of most other manufacturing districts. Habits of improvidence prevail notwithstanding extensively; and it not unfrequently happens that men who draw 3s. a-week for them own work and that of their children, suffer some of the evils and many of the irregularities of poverty.

Intemperance in intoxicating drinks is a serious evil among the working class. Many of them allowing their families almost to starve to beg in order that they may indulge in this vice. The numbers of public-houses, beer, and spirit shops being great, and the latter appearing to enjoy a very prosperous trade.

A Tee-total Society, not much encouraged in the town, has probably done something to check the consumption of these fluids, but it is to be feared too little to be appreciable. Its effects are more apparent in having seemingly reformed a few notorious and abandoned drunkards.


The females, from being employed from an early age in the manufactories as transferrers painters, burnishers, &c., do not acquire those domestic habits which would best fit them for housewives and mothers: and it frequently happens that when they are bearing children they continue to labour in the manufactories, and send out their infants to nurse during the day, This is a source of great mortality amongst infants, for they are fed by their nurses chiefly with bread steeped in water, and they early become sickly, and die of various diseases of the digestive organs, those of the chest, or head.

With respect to education, notwithstanding the number of elementary schools in the neighbourhood, and the abundance of Sunday schools, with their numerous attendants, I consider to be in a very imperfect state. 

From the children being received at so early an age in the manufactories, to produce money for their parents, their attendance at school is very brief and incomplete. The parents in general satisfy themselves by sending their children for a few hours on a Sunday to a Sunday-school, where the methods of instruction, even in the elementary branches, are very imperfect, and administered too frequently by incompetent hands. 

This is a serious evil attendant on a Sunday-school education, however numerous the benefits which flow from it. It serves to satisfy the mind of the parent with the impression that he is educating his child without abridging his hours of work, whereas the instruction is of the most slender, unmethodical, and inadequate kind, and seasons of relaxation, so essential to the growth and health of the bodies as well as minds of children, are almost altogether precluded. It is to be feared they tend also to disseminate illiberal sectarian views.

Mechanics' Institution

A Mechanics' Institution has existed in the town for 14 years. The number of members has for some years ranged only at from 200 to 300. It possesses an excellent library of upwards of 1,500 volumes, a reading-room, classes for drawing and chemistry, and latterly elementary classes. The drawing class has always been well attended - this art being so useful to those engaged in the manufactures of the neighbourhood. 

The proportions of the different classes of persons, members of the institution, will be seen in the following table:-










Professional men















Injurious occupations

In the staple manufacture of the neighbourhood, earthenware and china, in the collieries, and some other subsidiary branches, there are many employments injurious to the health. The materials of the ware, such as flint and clay, are prepared in the moist state; but in the process if baking china, around flint is used to imbed each piece of ware in as it goes into the oven, in order that it may not undergo any change of shape when at an intense heat. After the ware has been baked this fine powder has to be brushed off Females are employed in this process sometimes children. 

The irritating dust they inhale in this occupation frequently gives rise to rough and other pulmonary ailments, which sometimes terminate in phthisis.

Some of the processes through which the ware passes, at an early stage of its production, are carried on in apartments considerably heated. The plate-maker, and all those who make flat ware, work in rooms, adjoining which there is another apartment called the stove, as it is heated by a stove to about 130 Fahr. A little boy, without shoes or stockings, is kept constantly running between the plate-maker, from whom he receives the plate or dish newly formed on a mould, and the stove, into which he carries this mould with the moist plate upon it. These moulds, thus charged, are ranged upon shelves to dry, and as soon as they are sufficiently dried the boy liberates the mould and carries it back to receive a new layer of clay.

These boys, generally under 13 years of age, besides the high temperature to which they are exposed, have a very laborious occupation, being kept on the run from morning to night. A good plate maker will sometimes make from 400 to 500 plates in a day, generally about 320, each of which has to be separately removed into the stove, and another mould returned - all which is accomplished by one boy. 

Besides which, some plate-makers even require their boys to what is called wedge their clay, which is a very laborious process, and consists in lifting large lumps of clays, and throwing them forcibly down on a hard surface, to free it from air and render it more compact. These boys are usually thin and pale, and frequently suffer from pulmonary and digestive diseases. Sickness prevails among them extensively.


Another class of injurious occupations used is that in which metallic oxides are used in the formation of glazes and colours, and in their application to the ware. These concern the branches of the dipper, the ground-layer, &c. 

The processes themselves will, I have no doubt, be accurately described by Mr Scriven. The dipper has his hands frequently immersed in a glaze liquor containing white lead. Glazes may, however, be made free from this or any other poisonous ingredient; and a considerable diminution of the quality of such components of glazes has taken place of late. The dipper in particularly liable to constipation, indigestion, painter's colic; and ultimately paralysis.

He is attended by two boys, who; as they handle the ware covered with the glaze, are exposed to like evils with himself. 

But the most pernicious occupation is that of the ground-layer. He applies metallic oxides to the ware; previously coated with a viscid substance, as colouring matters in the state of impalpable powder, and inhales this in great quantities. The consequences are painter's colic and paralysis, which speedily occur, and soon render him unfit for any kind of work whatever. 

It is by far the most dangerous occupation of the manufacture; and usually can only be closely followed for a period of five or six years before the limbs become useless. Some manufacturers engage their dippers to alternate this injurious occupation with some other not interfering with the health. And others have made regulations in their manufactories, for those engaged in such trades to wash themselves and change their clothes before they go to their meals.

If these regulations were general, strictly enforced, and made incumbent on all branches who use these pernicious substances, health might be greatly economized. It usually happens that those who have been engaged in these occupations are obliged to desist from them early in life, and they frequently drag out the remainder of their existence in a very precarious manner.

Printers, who apply patterns to the ware by means of copper-plates, have a very laborious occupation, carried on in very warm rooms to make the oily viscid colours work freely. They are frequently deformed from the force they have to exert on their presses, in a standing position, for such a number of hours. Some workmen will take off 360 impressions for a dinner plate in a day. 

Little boys sift the finely-pulverized plaster of Paris for the mould-makers, and are frequently affected with cough from inhaling the dust.


China-painters and burnishers, chiefly females, who begin early in life, suffer to a small extent from their sedentary labours; 

but engravers; males, who likewise commence early, suffer more from this cause. They are liable to indigestion, constipation, piles, fistula, &c. They usually carry on their occupation in very warm rooms; and their want of exercise, free aeration of the blood, and perfect assimilation of their nutriment, under the circumstance of extreme susceptibility to cold, render them prone to pulmonary diseases. 

In fact, these are the most serious evils of their occupation. Complaints of the eyes are troublesome to them, as to all other engravers and persons employed on minute objects.


Colliers, who employ young children to assist in their labours, are a deformed, sickly class; here, as elsewhere, subject to fits of great intemperance.


The preparation of oils to mix with the colours to lay upon the ware, either by the copper- plate or pencil, is a very offensive and unhealthy occupation, the empyreumatic vapours arising from them in the process being exceedingly disgusting and acrid. 

They fill the whole district of the town in which they happen to be made with an offensive odour; but they are only required in small quantities, and occupy but a short time in their preparation.


Of the various manufacturing trades carried on here they are almost all, more or less, unfavourable to longevity. It may be considered rare for the work-people to die at a very old age.


The peculiar diseases of the neighbourhood are pulmonary diseases. Pulmonary consumption, asthma, and the various allied complaints will be found, I have no doubt, by consulting the tables Mr. Scriven proposes to provide from the register-books, to be exceedingly fatal here.

The effects these produce in the offspring, improper food, and the exposed situation of the town, will account for the great mortality amongst infants. 

The neighbourhood is less liable to accidents of a serious nature than most other manufacturing neighbourhoods, from the circumstance that machinery is scarcely used in the processes. 

Those occurring in the, coal-pits are frequently very fatal. 

The number of children accidentally burnt I consider to be frightfully great. The carelessness of parents is the grand cause. Amongst those of a secondary nature may be mentioned, the intense heat produced by the common coal of the neighbourhood, the practice of having very large house-fires, the frequent want of fenders, and the absence of mothers in the manufactories. 

The open mouths of coal-mines worked out are another occasional source of accidents here.


Besides exposure to too great heat, the ventilation of workshops is very imperfect in many cases; whilst in the kilns, during the baking of the ware, draughts of cold air rush in with great impetuosity, and tend, like so many other parts of the process, to render those exposed to them liable to catarrhs.

In conclusion I may add, as the result of my observation from a residence of 17 years in this town, during which time I have practised as a surgeon, that children are sometimes cruelly overworked, in the process of plate-making especially, and that in other labours, and in the collieries, they are exposed to very unhealthy occupations. 

They also suffer greatly from the improvident and intemperate habits of their parents. In such cases their clothing is defective, and especially towards the end of each week their food very scanty. Their education is exceedingly imperfect, and the religious instruction they receive ought to be much more contemplate in the department of morals.

(Signed) J. B. DAVIS, Surgeon.

H. HARDING, (Medical Officer) report on Hanley

No 2. Hanley, Staffordshire, December 28, 1840

THE district in which I have acted for many years as medical officer, consists of a large manufacturing town with upwards of 20,000 inhabitants, together with a rural district of considerable extent, not so thickly populated.

The condition of the working classes, when trade is good, is not so bad as will found to be the case in other localities of equal extent and population. To this remark, however; there will be some exceptions, and at the present time, the poor inhabitants are suffering severely from want of employment, and many of them are in very destitute situations.

The prevailing diseases here are asthma, consumption, bronchitis (acute and chronic) pneumonia, hepatitis, dropsy, palsy, and rheumatism. These are of course exclusive of the diseases of infants, such as croup, scarlatina, measles, &c. &c.

Febrile diseases are by no means prevalent here (speaking comparatively), the synochus biliosa the most common. The constant decomposition of coal in large quantities, and of a great variety of mineral substances, may be one cause of this unfrequent occurrence of the above-mentioned complaints. 

These causes, on the other hand, have a great tendency to produce and to aggravate all affections of the organs of respiration, and in some measure to account for the great prevalence of those diseases I have already pointed out.

There is one existing nuisance in the neighbourhood, which in my opinion loudly calls for the interference of the proper authorities. I allude to the neglected state of some of the coal pits, which are not now in use. It is true that some of them are guarded by a circular wall 10 or 12 feet high, which renders them comparatively safe; but many others remain without any fence or protection whatever; accidents have sometimes arisen from this cause, and it is to be feared a repetition of such is more than probable, unless some means are adopted for rendering them more secure.

I am not aware that there is any thing particularly calculated to produce disease amongst children, in the manufacture of earthenware and porcelain nor are their hours of labour so very long, as to preclude the possibility of their taking sufficient exercise out of doors.


I have, &c.

H. HARDING, Medical Officer

ROBERT GARNER, F.L.S., (Surgeon) report on Stoke-on-Trent

No. 3. Stoke-upon-Trent, January 1,1841.

OF the injurious effects produced by the nature of their employment, upon the health of the working class of this district, I believe that those owing to the noxious properties of lead continue among the most deleterious. But complaints owing to this cause I believe to be less common and less severe than formerly, owing, I think, to attention to ventilation, &c., on the part of the masters, to greater cleanliness and the less frequent use of spirituous drinks on the part of the work-people, and to the difference of chemical composition which has taken place in the glazes, alkaline substances having to a great extent taken the place of metallic.

The effects produced on the system by the action of lead are well known, and as such are occasionally seen in all their forms in this district, but I believe them to be sometimes exaggerated by some of the sufferers themselves, for the object of exciting commiseration or obtaining relief. 

I, however, believe, that epileptic symptoms are likewise not uncommon, and such, accompanied with a low nervous fever, have in a few cases for some time preceded death.

I should think that much good might result from a scientific inquiry into this subject. It is generally admitted that it is unsafe to work in the lead before eating in the morning. Plain printed directions respecting cleanliness, &c., might be given to the work-people and placed in work-rooms.

From the occasional use of purgative medicines, such as castor-oil, the alkaline sulphates (particularly if the sulphate of lead is in reality found to be innocuous) and the phosphate of soda I should anticipate advantage. 

A servant in this place took in mistake about an ounce of extract of lead. She had not any unpleasant symptom, though there was reason to believe that the stomach was not well emptied. The above saline remedies were plentifully administered, and apparently with the best effect.


The operation of scouring china, from the flint with which it is covered in the biscuit oven, I believe to be injurious to those employed in it. I have seen consumption which appeared to be properly attributable to this cause. I should think that, by proper measures, these effects might likewise to some extent be remedied.

I an not informed if children are employed in any number in scouring china. I have several times seen them suffering under the effects of lead.


Children are much employed in rooms heated to a high temperature. They, however, do not stay long in them, but are generally in a cooler room adjoining. They are apt to throw off their clothing and sometimes walk a considerable distance home in the cold air, in this half-clothed state. I have seen inflammation of the chest and likewise croup in these children.

The operation of dusting on the coloured grounds on china is prejudicial. I do not know children are at all employed in this department I do not know that the work-people are commonly acquainted with the degree of danger attending the use of each colour, and the poisonous or non-poisonous nature of them has not, as far as I know, been investigated.


A great cause of the mortality amongst young children, particularly infants, in this district (though not at all connected with the nature of the employment) is the neglect of them, in many instances, from their mother's being obliged, from necessity, or in some cases choosing, without such necessity, to absent themselves at their work for several hours, or even for the whole day, and committing them to the care of hired attendants, in whom, of course, it would be too much to expect the cares and attentions of the mother herself.

The above is all I have observed pernicious to any extent in the manufacture of this district, a manufacture which appears to me, on the whole; very free from injurious effects on the human system

I am, &c


 Report on Longton

No: 4.

AGREEABLY to your request, I send you a few remarks relative to the state of health of the working classes; as connected with locality and employment, in this district of the Staffordshire potteries, in which I have resided; as a medical practitioner, during the last 26 years.

This town, Lane End; or Longton, is supposed to contain a population of about 12,000, and is chiefly situated on a gentle acclivity with good drainage. It is plentifully supplied with excellent water, conveyed in pipes from reservoirs about a mile distant, belonging to the Duke of Sutherland: 

The rent-charge of this indispensable article is moderate, being about 1p per week to each house occupied by the labouring classes. Coal is also plentiful and tolerably cheap. An abundant supply of these two requisites conduces greatly to the health and comfort of the poor.

Although the district, abounding in coal and therefore having a clay subsoil, is humid, I am not aware that the inhabitants suffer from any peculiar disease arising from locality, nor do I think that the mortality is greater here, than in other manufacturing districts.

If any exception, however, were made to the correctness of the foregoing remarks, as to disease, it would be with reference to consumption, which occasions a great proportion of the deaths that occur.

Several circumstances seem to contribute to the prevalence of this disease; viz, the humidity of the air; the great vicissitudes of temperature to which some of the work-people are exposed in their employment; and the injurious effects which one or two branches have upon the pulmonary organs. Most of the workshops are well ventilated, but the heat of some of them, is raised much beyond the healthy standard.

Much of the evil produced by the sudden transition from heat to cold, might, however, be obviated by flannel clothing being worn next the skin, and by more cautions conduct on the part of the individuals themselves with respect to unnecessary exposure to cold; but an improvement so palpable, will never be effected, I fear, until the working classes are better informed as to the best means of preserving health.


The scouring of china, being a very injurious employment, claims peculiar attention. The ware, in the clay state, is placed, during the process of firing, in pulverized flint, from which it is afterwards cleaned by what is termed "scouring." The "scourers", chiefly young women, necessarily inhale, the room being literally filled with dust, the fine particles of flint, which produce similar effects to what is provincially denominated, in the Sheffield trade, "the grinder's rot;" something might be done, perhaps, to lessen this evil, if judicious precautionary measures were adopted.

I have suggested the use of a wet sponge, so adapted to the mouth and nostrils that the air of respiration must necessarily pass through it. This would effectually prevent any solid body; however impalpable might be its state, from being inspired; but, at present, whether arising from the novelty of the plan, the trifling trouble which its adoption would occasion, or from the individuals for whose benefit it is intended being careless of the impending danger, I have not been able to get the experiment tried.


"Slip making", or preparing the clay, is another unwholesome occupation. "The clay" is prepared by boiling the composition to a proper consistence on kilns, and during the process of evaporation, the room is filled with dense aqueous vapour. The men engaged in this branch suffer severely from winter cough and chronic bronchitis; and but few of them, if they survive, are able to perform much labour after the age of 60. 

"Glazing the ware" is another branch which also injures health, and frequently shortens life.
All glazes contain more or less carbonate of lead, which renders, "dipping", or "glazing", a pernicious occupation. Men employed in this department, are subject to colic, epilepsy, and paralysis of the fore-arms, which incapacitates them from labour.

As the "dippers", however, only require the first and second fingers, with the thumb of each hand, to be denuded while dipping, to enable them to finger the ware, something might probably be done to diminish the risk of paralysis; and with this view I have recommended the use of long-sleeved gloves, impermeable to water, which would limit the portion of skin exposed to the action of the glaze within very narrow bounds and thereby lessen the danger from absorption. But, as in the case of the "china scourers", I have not been able to give effect to the suggestion.

I beg to add that if any of the foregoing observations should assist in furthering the benevolent object of the Commissioners, I shall be much gratified in having made the communication. I am, &c.


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