|Shaw's - History of the Staffordshire Potteries - originally published in 1829|
Chapter 4 - The Manufacture of Pottery, prior to 1700
next: Chapter 5 - Introduction of Porcelain by Messrs. Elers
previous: Chapter 3 - On the Origin of the Art
contents: index of Shaw's book
[these headings are not in the original - they are added for ease of reading]
|The importance of pottery manufacture|
|Sun Kiln Potteries|
|Types of Clay|
|Butter Pots & Burslem|
|Value of experiments|
|Laws regulating Butter Pots|
|Quart Drink Mug|
|Decoration with glazes and clays|
|Discovery of Salt Glaze|
|Lead Glaze & Saggers|
|preparing the clay|
|Firing in the Oven|
|Ware discovered at Litlington|
|Potteries at Red Street|
TO GREAT BRITAIN, a principal manufacturing and commercial Nation, the
Art of making Pottery and Porcelain, is truly important; whether viewed as conducing to augment the national wealth, by increasing the value of the mineral productions many hundred fold, providing for national Exports to the amount of more than a Million sterling annually; or as affording unto a large population of mechanics and artizans, a compensation for labour and skill, enabling them with their families to live in comfort, and thereby in some degree increasing the sum of general happiness.
The manufactories, in early times, were situated at the junction of public roads, for the two-fold purpose of publicity and room; and the fact is demonstrable, that wherever one of these
Sun Kiln Potteries was situated, a spacious and commodious
opening of the road remains; witness in Hanley, and Shelton, Burslem, and Lane End. How
long anterior to 1600, these Sun Kiln Potteries existed, cannot now be ascertained; but there were two at
Bagnall, Golden Hill, Tunstall, Brownhills, Holden Lane, Sneyd Green, Botteslow, Penkhull, Fenton, and Longton Lane, besides others in the (present) towns. A few of these yet remain in operation, (making the large red brick
like milk pans, flower pots, and other coarse vessels;) one is near the Meir Lane Furnace; another near to the Hanley Market-Hall; a third rather modernized at, Golden Hill; a very old one at New Oxford, near Chell, and in other places also.
Porcelain Clay, is generally redish white, also greyish and yellowish white, without lustre, or transparency. It occurs either friable or compact, stains the fingers; adheres to the tongue; is soft, but meagre to the feel; and is easily broken. Specific gravity about 2.3. It falls to pieces in water, and by kneading becomes partially ductile.
Magnesian, or Stealitic Clay, is almost cream colour; its texture is minutely foliated; it has a slight greasy lustre, takes a polish from the nail. It stains the fingers, is very friable, and to the touch smooth and unctuous. When laid on the tongue it dissolves into a smooth pulp, without any gritty particles. It is very plastic, and has a strong argillaceous odour. It occurs in nodules, in a hard cellural horn-stone, called soap rock, that forms large mountainous masses near Conway, in North Wales, and originates from the decomposition of indurated steatite.
Clay from Slate, is ash-grey, passing into ochre-yellow; its texture is foliated; it has a smooth unctuous feel, and its siliceous particles are so small as to occasion scarcely any grittiness between the teeth. It occurs in thin beds lining the bottoms of the peat-mosses, of a white ash colour, deprived of iron and carbon by the acid of the peat. Also in thicker beds at the foot of the mountains, but of a darker colour, and less plastic.
Clay from Shale,— varies from greyish blue to bluish black : its texture is foliated; it has a smooth unctuous feel, takes a polish from the nail, is excessively tenacious and ductile, with but a slight degree of grittiness.
Marly Clay, is bluish, or brownish red: either compact or foliated: it has a soft unctuous feel, takes a polish by friction with the nail, is very plastic, more or less gritty, though less so man the common alluvial clay.
It burns to a brick of a buff or deep cream colour, and at a high heat is readily fused. It effervesces strongly with acids, and contains from ¼ to ½ of carbonate of lime. It is largely employed as a manure, and when the calcareous part does not exceed 10 or 12 per cent, is esteemed as a material for bricks.
Alluvial Clay, contains a large proportion of quartz sand, and rounded pebbles of various kinds, showing it to have been carried from its native situation, and mingled in its progress with a variety of extraneous bodies.
Three kinds may be distinguished; viz. Pipe clay, potter's clay, and chalky clay.
Solely thro entire forgetfulness, or total disregard, of the number of sites of Potteries which have been exposed at different times in various parts of the district, can the opinion be entertained, that the whole employment of the people was making Butter Pots, only once used, and then discarded, or diverted to other purposes; and being comparatively of little value, were not likely to be either very fine in the material, or excellent in the manufacture.
Neither are the facts of their being formed of the coarsest clay, and in the rudest manner, proofs that the Butter pot claims priority of date; because vessels for immediate use would always be invented before others for mere convenience.
Whoever will be at the trouble to read the accounts formerly given of this district, will find that at Burslem was a manufactory, called the Butter Pottery, because Butter Pots were made there.
And Dr. Plott
mentions that the greatest Pottery is at Burslem, for making their several
sorts of pots. — We therefore conclude, that Butter pots were only one branch of the manufacture. There is some incongruity on stating first, that
few persons were employed; — the quantity of goods manufactured was so
inconsiderable;—that Butter pots chiefly were made;—and that the
great sale of the goods was to crate men; — as Dr. Plott asserts.
Curiosity properly so called, does not remain satisfied with mere survey of the surfaces of objects; it strives to pry into their conformation, and comprehend their properties; and rarely does the trouble fail of being amply compensated. In examining Specimens, to illustrate the progress of the Art in this district, we find all the materials are the produce of the vicinity; the Clays are those on the surface, and near the strata of Coal, and the fine sand is from the hilly parts of Baddeley Hedge and Mole Cob. At
different successive times the Potters, at pleasure, have varied these, and introduced others; from the coarsest brick clay, only much improved by weathering, blunging, sifting, and drying upon the Sun Kiln, made into vessels, that were without any glaze; to the finer clays formed into other vessels, with a smooth surface, on the inside of which pulverized lead ore was dusted from a linen bag, and the ardent heat of the oven partially vitrified it.
Pliny mentions that Anacharsis the Scythian formed the
Potter's Wheel, and taught Greece the Art of Pottery. This may be true, yet not prove that
he invented the machine. There is little doubt, that he would learn this Art, in his progress to acquire information by travelling. There is also mention of Potters many ages prior to the time of Anacharsis; and the Potter's wheel was used in Egypt anterior to Greece being colonized. See 1 Chron. IV. 22, 23—
There are some fractured specimens with partially glazed or vitrified surfaces, which, from the places whence they were obtained under the foundations of old potteries, destroyed almost a century ago— evidently were made in some period long prior to any of those whose era is clearly ascertained.
Other specimens fabricated about 1600, are large vessels for liquids,
Jowls, Drink-steins, with a hole in the lowest and narrow end, for a spigot or tap;
Bottles, Jars, and Common Butter Pots, of very coarse and inelegant workmanship, and highly vitrified on their surface to prevent their being porous.
By what means the manufacturers produced this partial glazing or vitrification, we have not been able to learn satisfactorily; but the fact is undisputable. It also causes an opinion that a kind of
Saggar was occasionally employed, to protect the finer ware. One idea here presents itself. The antiquity of the name
Sagger, (from the Heb. sagar to burn; and to this day applied as
segar, to a rolled leaf of tobacco for burning while its fumes are inhaled,) proves a very early employment of this utensil, tho' for what specific purpose
we are not now informed. Yet as the name denotes their use, it is extremly probable that use has long existed, altho' the proportions of the component materials requisite to bear the high temperatures of our bisquet ovens, have been ascertained in comparatively recent days.
Few if any branches of Manufacture equal that of the Potter in affording opportunities for the exercise of ingenuity and research. Great are the advantages of making experiments, to persons of observant habits; and most of them conduce to general benefit, altho' not wholly pertinent to the primary purposes of enquiry; hence we may reasonably suppose that very great improvements would have resulted, had the early manufacturers possessed a share of that knowledge of Chemistry of late so much sought after and cultivated.
These exhibit the early attempts at ornaments; and are regarded as suggesting the method which still exists, of applying loaves, sprigs, flowers, medallions, &c. in relief, and formed of a different coloured clay.
The Stouker (a vulgarism from stick, to place or fasten,) was the workman who affixed handles, spouts, and other appendages, for utility or ornament; and the Potter who could then (and even till within the last 50 years) throw, stouk, lead, and finish, was a good workman; very few indeed being expert at more than two or three of these branches.
The different vessels for domestic use, are variously ornamented, with several loop handles stouked to the sides. The Drink Cups, shaped like tall ale glasses, have two handles on the prop; and all are glazed with lead ore.
Pots of this date are devoid of every kind of ornament, and only some are partially glazed on the inside.
The common people of the district at the present day, call Irish Tub Butter, Pot Butter. The porous pots would imbibe the moisture of the butter, and lessen its weight; and those which were too heavy would similarly defraud the purchaser. So that about 1670, Government officially interfered to compel all manufacturers of Butter Pots, at Burslem, (most unauthorizedly called the Butter Pot Manufactory, in a Map of the county published in 1757; tho' neither Speed, Camden, nor Erdeswick so name;) to make them hard in quality, and in quantity to contain not less than fourteen pounds avoirdupois, under a serious penalty for non-observance.
This person, Cartwright, cannot have deserved the epithet of "a poor Butter pot maker," by Plott applied to some of those he visited; for there is the proof to the contrary still existing, in his handsome donation of twenty pounds yearly to the poor of Burslem. forever, from the year 1658. Tho' we must not suppose all others equally affluent, we cannot help believing, from this bequest, at such a period, that Burslem contained other potters who were not poor men,
On Tuesday in Whitsun week,
1824, the late Mr. John Riley, accompanied the author to inspect a
curious and beautiful specimen of Brown ware, made at the Green head, Burslem, and in the family of Mr. Richard Keys, almost a century:—
The vessel is a QUART DRINK MUG, of a cylindical shape, rather widened but not flanged at the top, with a thin edge. [The body is common clay, with a silecous mixture, (tho' almost a century prior to the introduction of flint,) obvious especially in the handles.] This is by the four handles asperated into four compartments, and four
persons might use it, yet each drink from his own place.
specimens just described may have been placed within larger vessels for firing, and it is possible that the high degree of heat needful to fire the latter, may have so affected as to vitrify the silecious particles along with the lead. It is now well known that lead and silex will form glass; the lead increasing the fusibility of the silecious materials, and improving their
brightness. The introduction of one article after another, is usual in all manufactures; custom soon renders
confident the workman who at first was timid; and experience quickly makes him familar with the proportion of the kinds of clay, and other materials required by the different sorts of Pottery.
Some of the specimens of Dishes, Drinking Mugs, Candlesticks, &c. formed of these mixed clays, have great beauty of teint from the mixture, and are rather curious in workmanship, the edges being ornamented much similarly to the old pattern of marble paper.
1680, the method of GLAZING WITH SALT, was suggested by an accident; and we give the names of the parties as delivered down by tradition. In this as in many other improvements in Pottery, a close
investigation of one subject has frequently reflected fresh light upon another; something altogether unexpected has been presented to notice; and not unfrequentlv from an incident comparatively trivial has resulted a discovery of paramount importance. At Stanley Farm, (a short mile from the small Pottery of Mr. Palmer, at
Bagnall, five miles east of Burslem,) the servant of Mr. Joseph Yates, was boiling, in an earthen vessel. a strong lixivium of common salt, to be used some way in
curing pork; but during her temporary absence, the liquor effervesced, and some ran over the sides of the vessel, quickly causing them to become red hot;
the muriatic acid decomposed the surface, and when cold, the sides were partially glazed. Mr. Palmer availed himself of the hint thus obtained, and commenced
making a fresh sort— the common BROWN WARE of our day; and was soon followed by the manufacturers in
Holden Lane, Green Head, and Brown Hills; the proximity of their situation to the
Salt-Wyches, affording great facility for procuring the quantity of Salt required for their purposes.
At this period, 1670, pulverized lead ore became very commonly used for glazing the vessels; and to prevent the ornamental parts being injured by the fire, and the glaze being discoloured by the sulphureous vapour from the coals, the employment of SAGGERS became general; but they were not prepared of determinate proportions of marl. This was a discovery of much later date.—
About 1685, Mr. Thomas Miles, of Shelton,
mixed with the whitish clay found in Shelton, some of the fine sand from Baddeley Hedge, and produced a rude kind of WHITE STONE
WARE; and another person of the same name, of Miles's Bank, Hanley, produced the BROWN STONE WARE of that day, by mixing the same kind of sand with the Can Marl obtained from the coal pits. Other manufacturers soon followed and various kinds of Pottery resulted. Some of the specimens are glazed with lead ore, and others with
salt; some have only the inside, others have both sides glazed; and all of them manifest considerable
improvement in quality, shapes, and ornamental workmanship.
These improvements caused attention to be given in reference to body, glaze, and workmanship, by the Burslem Manufacturers; and in consequence we find CROUCH WARE first made there in 1690. Indeed we may mention, to their credit, that almost every new kind of Pottery was first made by them, and the successive improvements are mere results of introducing materials of a different kind with most or all of those previously used.
The specimens are jugs, cups, dishes, &c. some of them so well finished, as to induce the opinion that the Turning Lathe was now beginning to be employed.
None of these have however those neat and varied shapes adopted in the next stage of improvement this kind of Pottery possesses several excellent properties; tho' not manufactured now in this District. It is cleanly in appearance, of a very compact texture, durable, and not easily affected by change of temperature. There are some curious specimens of vessels fused accidently by the increased temperature after the salt had been cast into the oven. The loss occasioned by the too high vitrification, for some time prevented the observation that an inferior kind of Porcelain was thus unintentionally produced; for the thinnest pieces have semi-transparence, but were regarded as of little value because sooner affected than the other by increase, or sudden change, of heat.
Up to the conclusion of the 17th century, all the kinds of Pottery, whether glazed with lead ore, or with salt, was fired only once. The oven was always adapted to the quantity of Articles made during each week; and no manufacturer of that period fired more than one oven full weekly, commencing on the Thursday night, and finishing about mid-day on Saturday. There were about twenty-two ovens then in Burslem, and its vicinity, each with eight mouths, at equal distances; and around those used for Crouch ware, was a scaffold, on which the fireman stood to cast in the salt.
had long been well known, that Common Table Salt, or Muriate of Soda, is immediately decomposed on being gradually poured into a fire; and it was easily
believed, and successfully proved, that the result would be similar, was it to be poured into a potter's oven, at a certain stage of the process during a high excess of temperature. The Saggers were therefore adapted to the purpose, by being formed with holes in their sides to admit the vapours, and the ware was so placed in them, that every part might be affected. The
muriatic acid, evolved by the intense heat, from the soda, in the form of vapour highly charged with alkaline
particles was dispersed all through every interstice of the oven and its contents of saggers and ware, completely covering all, and acting on the small portion of silica, and the alumina of the body, partially decomposed the latter, to which the former united while in a state of liquefaction, and the surface of all the vessels became wholly vitrified. Of most bodies, great heat causes the particles to expand and occupy a larger space; but the fact is indisputable, that the particles of vessels of Pottery, on cooling, are more closely united, and the dimensions of the mass diminished.
This temporary inconvenience entailed on the district, the character of being unhealthy, but fhe contrary is the fact; as may he seen every day in the very old persons living; and proved by consulting iiie Bilks of Mortality. It. is now fruitful, but old people regard il as less so than when glazing with salt was practised. The vapours destroyed the insects pernicious to ve¬getation; and altho' fruit wa's covered with carbona¬ceous filaments, the labour of cleaning it was amply compensated by the superabundance,
Being now arrived at the date when Dr. Plott visited this district, it is very probable we should incur censure, were we to omit his comprehensive detail of the Processes then practised; we therefore give them verbatim.
"'The greatest Pottery (says Dr. Plott, History of Staffordshire, chap iii. sees. 23-29) they have in this County, is carryed on at Burslem, near Newcastle-under-Lyme, where for making their several sorts of Pots, they have as many different sorts of Clay, which they dig round about the Towne, all within half a mile distance, the best being found nearest the coale, and are distinguish't by their colours and uses as followeth:
all which they call throwing clays, because they are of a closer texture, and will work on the wheel;
which none of the three other clays, they call Slips, will any of them doe, being of looser and more friable natures; these mixed with water they make into a consistence thinner than a Syrup, so that being put into a bucket it will run out through a Quill, this they call Slip, and is the substance wherewith they paint their wares;
neither of which
clays or Slips must have any gravel or Sand in them; upon this
account, before it be brought to the wheel they prepare the clay by steeping it in water in a square pit, till it be of a due consistence; then they bring it to their
beating board, where with a long Spatula they beat it
well it be well mix't; then being first made into great squarish rolls, it is brought to the
wageing board, where it is slit into flat, thin pieces with a Wire, and the least stones or gravel pick't out of it. This being done, they
wage it, i.e. knead or mould it like bread, and make it into round
balls proportionable to their work, and then 'tis brought to the
wheel, and formed as the Workman sees good.
"When the Potter has wrought the clay either into hollow or flat ware, they are set abroad to dry in fair weather, but by the fire in foule, turning them as they see occasion, which they call whaving: when they are dry they stouk them, i.e. put Ears and Handles to such Vessels as require them:
After the vessels are painted, they lead them, with that sort of Lead Ore they call
Smithum which is the smallest Ore of all, beaten info dust, finely
sifted and strewed upon them; which gives them the gloss, but not the colour; all the colours being chiefly given by the variety of Slips, except the Motley colour, which is procured by
blending the Lead with Manganese, by the Workmen call'd Magnus. But when they have a mind to shew the utmost of their skill in giving their wares a fairer gloss than ordinary, they lead them
then with lead calcined into powder, which they also sift fine and strew upon
them as before, which not only gives them a higher gloss, but goes much further too in their work, than Lead Ore would have done.
"After this is done, they are carried to the Oven, which is ordinarily above eight foot high, and about, six foot wide, of a round copped forme, where they are placed one upon another from the bottom to the top:
In twenty four hours an Oven of Pots will he burnt, then they let the fire goe out by degrees, which in ten hours more will be perfectly done, and then they draw them for Sale, which is chiefly to the poor Crate-men, who carry them at their backs all over the Country, to whom they reckon them by the piece, i.e. Quart, in hollow ware, so that six pottle, or three gallon bottles make a dosen, and so more or less to a dosen, as they are of greater or lesser content.
For more than a Century prior to Dr. Plott's visit, at the two Potteries at Red Street, were made considerable quantities of all kinds of Vessels then used; and during the early part of the eighteenth century, the manufacturers there, named Elijah Mayer, (who perished near Ulverston,) and Moss, fabricated greater quantities ol Pottery than any others of the whole district.
A descendant of one family, subsequently in possession of one of these Manufactories, much wished to impress the
notion, that these two had made more than all other Potters conjointly. We may
allow a little latitude for family partiality; but having positive proofs of the mistaken views
of our correspondent, we can do justice to the merits ol the parties.
next: Chapter 5 - Introduction of Porcelain by Messrs. Elers
previous: Chapter 3 - On the Origin of the Art
contents: index of Shaw's book