Scouring | Pottery industry Jobs



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SILICOSIS (Health risks from scouring)

Silica dust was the biggest threat to pottery worker's health. It has particles too small to be generally seen with the naked eye which can be breathed deeply into the lungs causing silicosis. Known as Potter's Rot. Silica was used in glaze, and to bed ware in saggars during the biscuit firing to separate items and help to prevent warping. Earthenware and stoneware pottery bodies have a high free silica content, so whenever clay is dry silica dust is released. Making a pot using wet clay is safe, but the clay scraps, spills on the floor, and clay drying on overall can cause dust. The pot has to be allowed to dry before firing, and cast pieces are fettled - have the clay seams scraped off - which creates dust. After pottery is biscuit fired it is brushed (scoured) to remove loose particles which is particularly dangerous. In the twentieth century silicosis has been much reduced by good working practises. Factories are kept cleaner, floors must be mopped every day, extractor fans are used, workers must not eat at their benches, and overalls are made of a material which does not absorb dust.

After 1st August 1898 no person under 14 years of age, and after 1st August 1899 no person under 15 years of age shall be employed in:
Dipping house or dippers drying room or in the processes of -

Ware cleaning after the dipper
Glost placing
Colour dusting
Ground laying
Majolica painting
Glaze blowing
Transfer making
China scouring.

After 1st January 1899 all workshops had to be ventilated, and workplaces cleaned at the end of the day.


1840 Report:-

"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."

"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."

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."


1840 Report:-

In 1840 the House of Commons set up a commission to inquire into the state of children employed in the mines and  manufactories. Samuel Scriven visited the area of Stoke-on-Trent from December 1840 onwards to collect evidence.


this is one of his interviews of a "scourer" >>> 


 Messrs. DANIEL AND SONS, China Factory, Stoke.
SCOURING ROOM. Thermometer, 66; Open Air, 32.
No. 63. Fanny Wood, aged 33.
I have been a scourer seven years; always with Mr. Daniel; have two rooms opening into each other; one man and three women are employed here, and no children; we get our ware from the biscuit-oven, and have to scour it; it then goes to the dipping-house. The work does not agree with us very well, because it is so dusty it makes one short of breath ; every one that works in this place suffers more or less with coughs, and we are all stuffed up ; we have known a great many deaths from it ; we come at seven, leave at six ; are paid by the oven; that is like being paid by the piece, and average 8s. per week. William Benley, who stands by me, has been 17 years in the place, and he knows five women who have died from it, and numbers that have been obliged to leave it; he now says he couldn't enumerate the number , there have been so many. My son is just begun work; my husband is a potter, and in the engine-house ; can't write.



Examples of "scourers" from the 1881 census for the Potteries area:-


1881 census:
Dwelling: Cliffe Bank
Census Place: Stoke Upon Trent, Stafford, England


Marr | Age | Sex

  Birthplace Occupation
William H. JONES  M 32 M  Head Fishlake, Northampton Patent Tile Maker
Mary Ann JONES  M 26 F  Wife Killmorry, Scotland China Biscuit Scourer
Emily G. JONES  2 F  Daur Stoke On Trent  


881 census:
Dwelling: 2 Princess St
Census Place: Stoke Upon Trent, Stafford, England


Marr | Age | Sex

  Birthplace Occupation
Mary LOCKER  M 27 F Head Longton, Stafford China Scourer
Maria BRIAN  M 25 F Sister Longton, Stafford China Scourer