Index for Shaw's history   

Shaw's - History of the Staffordshire Potteries - originally published in 1829

 

Chapter 5 - The Introduction of red Porcelain by Messrs. Elers, of Bradwell, 1690

 



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[these headings are not in the original - they are added for ease of reading]

Shaw's source of information on the Elers
Red Porcelain
Elers settle at Bradwell
The Elers try to protect their operation 
Elers leave Staffordshire 
Elers oven practice

 

 

Shaw's source of information on the Elers

That Messrs. Elers effected important improvements, and extended the knowledge of (he processes in the Art, cannot reasonably be doubted; but as much hyperbole has been employed, and great obscurity attaches to the subject, we have exercised much care in the enquiries concerning them; and by means of information from Mr. Richard Broad, now eighty-eight years of Age, whose father owned property nearly adjoining; and also, by other accounts from the family of Marsh, who occupied the premises immediately afterwards; with corroborative proofs from specimens still remaining, we hope to supply a correct account of the persons and their manufacture. 

 

Red Porcelain

The East India Companies, both Dutch and English, were now supplying Europe with unglazed RED PORCELAIN, as well as the white kind, beautifully ornamented, and called China. The difficulty of finding natural clays equally pure with those of China, made it not easy to imitate the red Porcelain; which was first attempted, and appears to have supplied the name. How the persons in question came to know that Bradwell would supply them with a beautiful Red Clay, peculiarly fine in grain and colour; and also coals for their purposes, with trifling expence and labour, cannot be ascertained; but such is the fact; and in the field west of Brownhills toll bar, at this day, is a vein of the same clay, occasionally used by the Potters for a dip.



Elers settle at Bradwell

About 1690, Messrs. Elers, settled at Bradwell, (from Nuremberg,) where they had a small manufactory, and according to tradition, another also at Dimsdale, both in very secluded situations, and at a distance from the public roads; scarcely discernible from Burslem, and only partially so from the manufactories at Red Street. 

Here for some time, the brothers made Red Porcelain unglazed Tea Pots, merely of the fine red clay of Bradwell, and a small proportion of the ochreous clay from Chesterton, to vary the shade; and also Black Porcelain, or Egyptian, by adding manganese in proportions agreeable to the dark shade wished for. 

The remaining specimens shew that some degree of success resulted; the price was from twelve to twenty-four shillings each, they have a fine grain, and are excellent in form and every quality except ornaments, (which are coarse and grotesque,) and will ever manifest the ingenuity and enterprize of their fabricators. 

 

The Elers try to protect their operation

Being extremly jealous lest any purchaser or visitor should approach the scene ot their operations, between the two factories was preserved a mode of communication to intimate the approach of any persons supposed to be intruders. 

Their servants were the most ignorant and stupid persons they could find; and an idiot was employed to turn the thrower's wheel. Each person was locked in the place where he was employed; and such was the precaution to preserve the supposed secret, that, previously to the few work people retiring at night, each was subjected to a strict examination. In this state the processes were pursued, when a person named Twyford, from Shelton, obtained employment under them, and had sufficient prudence to manifest entire carelessness and indifference to every operation he witnessed or participated

A very singular method of ascertaining all their processes, is currently reported to have been adopted by another person named Astbury; (known by his acquaintance as very acute and ingenious, and well capacitated to effect all requisite developements.) Having assumed the garb and appearance of an idiot, with all proper vacancy of countenance, he presented himself before the manufactory at Bradwell, and submitted to the cuffs, kicks, and unkind treatment of masters and workmen, with a ludicrous grimace, as the proof of the extent of his mental ability.

When some food was offered him, he used only his fingers to convey it to his mouth; and only when helped by other persons, could he understand how to perform any of the labours to which he was directed. He next was employed to move the treadle of an Engine Lathe, a very different machine from those of this day, and by perseverance in his assumed character, he had opportunify of witnessing every process, and examining every utensil they employed. 

On returning home each evening, he formed model's of the several kinds of implements, and made memorandums of the processes; which practice he continued a considerable time, (near two years is mentioned,) until he ascertained that no further information was likely to be obtained; when he availed himself of a fit of sickness, to continue at home; and this was represented as most malignant, to prevent any persons visiting him. 

After his recovery he was found so sane, that Messrs. Elers deemed him unfit longer to remain in their service, and he was discharged, without suspicion that he possessed a knowledge of all their manipulations.


Elers leave Staffordshire

Only a short time subsequently elapsed, ere they found that no longer were their operations secret; and mortified at the fact that their precaution had been unavailing, disgusted by the inquisitiveness of the Burslem potters, and convinced that they were too far distant, from the principal market for their productions, they at length discontinued manufacture at Bradwell, and removed to a munafactory in the vicinity of London, where a branch of the family now is resident. And, as it is known that an Establishment for manufacturing Porcelain, was in operation at Chelsea, between 1720 and 1730, (the era of Reaumur's analytical investigation of the materials and specimens sent from China,) there is great probability that in this manufactory the Messrs. Elers were concerned.



Elers oven practice

We have obtained the following information concerning the OVEN which has been mentioned as having cast forth such tremendous volumes of smoke and flame, as were terrific to the inhabitants of Burslem, and occasioned that misunderstanding and persecution which ultimately caused Messrs. Elers to quit their residence:

The Oven itself had five mouths, but neither holes over the inside flues or bags, to receive the salt, had any been used by them; nor scaffold on which the person might stand to throw it in.

The foundations were very distinctly to be seen in 1808, tho' now covered by an enlargement of the barn. E. Wood, and J. Riley, Esqrs. both separately measured the inside diameter of the remains, at about five feet; while other ovens, of the same date, in Burslem, were ten or twelve feet. 

Mr. John Mountford, twenty-seven years since; took down the remains of the oven, and he states that the height was about seven feet, but not like the salt glaze ovens. It was adapted to fire choice articles ; and as the most careful research and enquiry in every direction near the spot, supply fragments of Red unglazed Porcelain, and Blue Pottery, (probably made by Mr. Cookworthy, or his relation Mr. Marsh, who succeeded Messrs. Elers, at Bradwell farm; and whose relation, Jacob Marsh, Esq. now resides at Lane End,) there is every probability that only the Red Porcelain, and Black, were made here, as the oven is only adapted for such productions.

We may also mention, that the Salt glazed Pottery of that time, was comparatively cheap; and the oven, being fired only once each week, required to be large, to hold a quantity sufficient to cover the contingent expenses. Hence we find the ovens were large, and high, and had holes in the dome, to receive the salt cast in to effect the glazing. And, had the processes of Messrs. Elers been so terrific, as to cause the Burslem potters to flock to Bradwell, in astonishment at the smoke and flames from so small an oven; there must have been very quickly effected a complete change, for Twyford and Aatbury, commenced and carried forward, manufactories of Red Porcelain, and White Pottery glazed with salt, amidst many small thatched dwellings in Shelton, some of which remain to our day.



 

 

 



next: Chapter 6 - progress of manufacture from 1700 to 1760 
previous: Chapter 4 - The manufacture of Pottery prior to 1700
contents: index of Shaw's book