Ceramics - How it's made | Ceramic Tiles




A glazed tile consists of two quite different parts, the backing or " body," and the glaze; and naturally the body is made first, and the glaze applied afterwards. This gives us the two main stages of tile manufacture, with the first of which the making of the body we will now deal, dismissing the question of glazing until later. 


The body of a glazed tile consists of one or more kinds of clay, usually with an admixture of certain other substances. Taking for particular examination the standard white body used in over ninety per cent of our glazed tiles, we find that it is composed of two kinds of clay china clay and ball clay in conjunction with two other materials, flint and Cornish stone. China clay is clay in its purest form the "kaolin" of the Chinese. It gets its English name from the country where it was used and the beautiful ware of the same name made a thousand years before either china clay or the art of china manufacture was known to our Western civilization. The principal source of supply is Cornwall, where it is found in great abundance. Ball clay, which comes chiefly from the shires of Devon and Dorset, differs from China clay in that it contains certain organic impurities impurities, however, of a kind very 
valuable to the potter not found in the latter. Flint is found in large quantities in certain chalk beds, chiefly in Southern England, and on many of our beaches, notably those of the English Channel. For Cornish stone, a form of granite partially decomposed through thousands of years of exposure to the elements, we are indebted to the county from which it takes its name. 

China Clay and Ball Clay bays.
China Clay and Ball Clay bays.

It will be noted that all the raw materials described come from the South. How then is it that " the Potteries " is in the Midlands? From the historical point of view the reason is that the origin of the great North Staffordshire industry dates back to the days, several centuries ago, when the potter's needs were limited to the rougher marls and clays of which common earthenware was made, and to the coal needed for baking or " firing " it: and the Potteries area was, and still is, endowed with an abundance of those things. But apart from the historical reason there is the practical one that it is more necessary for a pottery to be near its coalfield than to be near the source of its other materials, since it takes something approaching three tons of coal to produce one ton of pottery. Moreover, North Staffordshire furnishes the industry with much more than coal: it is rich in marls eminently suitable for the making of such things as floor tiles, and more important still in the refractory or fire-resisting material known as fireclay, large quantities of which are essential to every branch of pottery manufacture. 

3,000 tones of Flint awaiting treatment.
3,000 tones of Flint awaiting treatment.


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From: "A Century of Progress 1837-1937" a publication to commemorate The Centenary of Richards Tiles Ltd.