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


Chapter 1 - Preliminary remarks


next: Chapter 2 - Tunstall and its vicinity 
contents: index of Shaw's book

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

Location of The Potteries
Divisions of the districts
Why the Potteries?
Coals and Clays
Outcropping coal
Evidence of old potworks
Benefits of a well-directed industry
Rapid increase in trade
The North Staffordshire Infirmary
Pottery Mechanics' Institution
Locally made exports



Location of The Potteries

ABOUT five miles north west, and five miles south east of Newcastle-under-Lyme, are the two extremities of that interesting and opulent district, named — THE POTTERIES, — because almost exclusively appropriated to Manufactories of Porcelain and Pottery, not yielding in the elegance, beauty, and utility of the productions, to those of China; and in extent of operations exceeding all others in Europe.

About a mile from the boundary of the county of Stafford, on the Moorlands, is the northern part, at Golden Hill; and at varying breadths from three to five miles, the district extends to its south-eastern part, at Mear Lane Furnace, in length ten miles; covering above twenty thousand acres with Towns, Villages, and Hamlets, and forming one of the most populous and industrious districts of equal extent in the nation.

There being about fifty thousand persons in the parishes of Stoke, Burslem, and Wolstanton, supported by the Manufacture, as operatives, colliers, and persons employed on the canal to bring the raw materials, and carry away the manufactured productions.

Divisions of the districts

We may subdivide the District thus, (from the southern extremity;)—Lane End, with Mear, Furnace, Longton, and the Foley; — Lane Delph with Fenton;—Stoke, with Penkhull and Boothen;— Hanley and Shelton, with Etruria, Vale Pleasant, Cobridge, and Sneyd Green; —Burslem, with Hot Lane, Hamill, Dale Hall, Newport and Longport; — and Brown Hills, with Tunstall, Clay Hills, Greenfield, (formerly Smithfield,) Newfield, Sandyford, Golden Hill, and Green Lane. 

When Erdeswick wrote his Antiquities of the County (1590,) these places appear to have been mere fiefs of larger Estates; but at this day (1829,) they are distinct townships and liberties, important to the state on account of their wealth and manufactures.

Why the Potteries?

The Enquiry has been frequently made —"Why did the Early Potters first establish themselves in this district; and why has the manufacture in this neighbourhood flourished more than in any other part of England, or perhaps of the World?" —The largest Potteries known, being Wedgwood's, Etruria; Spode's, Stoke; Wood's, Burslem; Davenport's, Longport; Minion’s, Stoke; Bourne's, Fenton; Ridgways', Shelton; Dimmock's, Hanley; Hicks and Meigh's, Shelton; Meigh's, Hanley; with many others, considerable in themselves, but not equal to those in extent and importance.

We can offer only a conjectural Answer to the enquiry. 

When the district was first selected as the Seat of the Manufacture of Pottery, we cannot accurately ascertain; but the considerable depth beneath the present surface, at which remains of Manufactories, and Pottery, have been discovered during the last and the present century, leads to the opinion that the Art was practised here during the time the country was tributary to the Roman power; if not even prior to that era: and authenticated specimens prove that it was in full operation in different places, near three centuries ago.

Certainly during a long period, the manufacture was rude and uninteresting; neither did the productions of the early periods present any earnest of the successive and important improvements for which the last sixty or seventy years are so distinguished. But it is probable, that if we could ascertain when our other staple manufactures first began to be improved and extended, we should find this Art beginning to obtain celebrity, and that it has prospered in proportion to the facility of disposing of it profitably. Perhaps also, the Sales of Porcelain from China, may have stimulated the British Potters to imitate that commodity.

We find various causes powerfully combining to give permanence to the Manufacture here; and are persuaded that the same peculiarities of situation and advantages cannot be found in an equal extent of ground in the United Kingdom.

The situation, on the ridge of the low part of the Moorlands, is so much diversified with hills and dales, that however little might be its value for agricultural purposes, or bleak and barren its aspect, no inconvenience is ever experienced by the inhabitants from the volumes of smoke arising from the coal consumed in making Bricks, Tiles, and Earthenware. This part of the ridge has less cause than any other to be called the Moorlands; for, owing to the industry of its population, it has all the appearances of cultivated tracts of country; tho' its surface is uneven, and generally rochy, or gravelly clay. Here also the potters enjoy four of the chief natural benefits which can be connected with human existence — air extremely salubrious, water of tolerable purity, the sun seldom obscured by fogs, and an entire freedom from damp.


Coals and Clays

Other advantages for the Manufacture, which have contributed to make this district a permanent seat, and enabled it to triumph over every attempt at its removal, are the Coals and Clay for the several purposes, being readily obtained on moderate terms. Different Strata of Coals of various kinds, and Marls or Clays of different sorts and colours, some tenacious, some friable, all over the district, at a depth easily accessible, present an almost inexhaustible store of two sorts of materials, indispensable in the manufacture of Pottery. 

The Coals have a curvilineal range, much in the form of a horse shoe; regarded from the mines at Lane End to Ubberley and Bucknall; or from Shelton to Norton and Biddulph; or from Burslem to the Stonetrough mines; whence they suddenly return by Whitehill, Kidsgrove, Harecastle, to the Neighbourhood of Red Street. In the former range, the dip is about one foot perpendicular to every four feet in extent, westward; but a few strata stare, i.e. are almost perpendicular to the surface. The other range dips south-east for near four miles; and the mines of Silverdale dip eastward, and crop out westward.

The Strata vary in quality and quantity; there having been discovered in this Coal Field, thirty four different mines, from one to ten feet in thickness; and several thin veins not at present extracted. The names are varied in some places; and the quality and quantity vary also; but generally they are known by these Names:


1 Red Shag Mine,
2 Brief Furlong ditto,
3 Little Mine,
4 Bass ditto,
5 Little Row ditto,
6 Peacock ditto,
7 Spend Croft ditto,
8 Great Row ditto,
9 Cannel Row ditto,
10 Thirty Inch Cannel ditto,
11 Chalky Row ditto,
12 Row Hurst ditto,
13 Burn Wood ditto,
14 Little ditto,
15 Four Foot ditto,
16 Easling ditto,
17 Topmost of two little mines,
18 Undermost of Two Little Mines,
19 Whitfield Mine,
20 Church ditto,
21 Eight Foot ditto,
22 Ten ditto ditto,
23 Bowling Alley ditto,
24 Sparrow Buts ditto, 
25 Holly Lane ditto,
26 Iron Stone Coal ditto,
27 Flats ditto,
28 Frog Row ditto,
29 Cockshead ditto, 
30 Lime Kiln ditto,
31 Ridgway Cannel ditto,
32 Bullhurst ditto,
33 Badiley Edge ditto,
34 Deep Badiley Edge ditto

There are also several thin veins of coal lying between the above mines, which are without names, and have never been worked.

Some of these are better adapted than others for making Pottery; and others are better for domestic purposes. The great Row and Ten Foot coals are much used, because of their small portion of bitumen. There is a Cannel, or Pill, of a bituminous quality, a few inches thick, over the coals, like the cream on milk ; and by some persons the cannel is considered the bitumen of these coals. E. Wood, Esq. recently discovered a rich mine of Cannel, three feet thick. The coals which have much bitumen, are here called soldering, because they are a long time in consuming, and tho' they do not give great heat, they rarely leave much ashes; as those of Apedale and neighbourhood.

Connected with the Coal Strata, are very rich and productive veins of marl, particularly adapted for the saggers, and fire bricks of the potters' kilns, because scarcely impregnated with iron; and hence very much in requisition thro’ the district. 

There are also many Faults in this Coal field; which in some places might be a great disadvantage; but in the Potteries, a most contrary result is obvious, in the great dispersion of the Coals to every part of the district. Had the Coals been all in one spot, the seat of the Potteries would have been there only; and had the surface of the ground been a plain, or a valley, the smoke could not have readily dissipated; and this pleasant and healthful district would have been the 'murkiest den' possible to be imagined.


Outcropping coal

In the early times the Coals were cropping out at different places; and nigh these the early potters fixed their sun pans and ovens, for convenience of coals and clay. Little labour being required to procure them, they were very cheap. In Dr. Plott's time (1686,) they were about Is. 4d. the ton; in 1795, 4s. 6d.; and in 1829, 8s. 4d. The soil and clay only had to be removed, at first; and thus large and open pits were formed ; like those now open in Lane Delph, and Woodiston in Shelton. These being liable to delays from water, the miners resorted to the advantage of a gutter from the lowest Lands near, extended under all the coals above its level; which being drained by it, a supply of coals was obtained until the upper part of the mine was exhausted. In 1719, Lord Macclesfield thus drained about 150 acres of coals, by the gutter near Burslem Church, and plentifully supplied the neighbourhood more than sixty years. The gutters also are useful to convey the water from those mines whose depth exceeds its level. At first horse gins were employed to draw up large casks filled with water, and emptied in the gutter; but now powerful steam engines are used, to work two or three large pumps, with lifts of forty or fifty yards each.


Evidence of old potworks

In 1708, in a field near the Hamill, thro' which was a foot path, 'the rains had so affected the path', as to expose the hollow of a potters kiln, at a considerable distance from any other then known, and wholly beyond any traces of tradition. A few years subsequently, on removing a very old building that a new manufactory might be erected, under the foundations were discovered the remains of a potter's oven, with some very coarse saggers, containing the kind of Pottery formerly made. Other specimens have been discovered in levelling the hilly parts of the highways in the district; all exhibiting considerable ingenuity, and great antiquity, and carrying the judgment and imagination far back into a period of time, not even conjectured by persons acquainted with only the partial statements heretofore submitted to the public.

Benefits of a well-directed industry

Were a person to place himself, in succession, on the hills, at Green Lane, Wolstanton, Basford, Harts Hill, and Fenton Park, and take a Bird's-eye view of the different parts, he would be much gratified with the many indications of the utility of well-directed industry, and its results, a vast increase of population ; numerous and extensive manufactories, with beautiful mansions; maintenance for the employed, and opulence for the employers. 

While a close investigation of the places, will prove, that of the comfortable habitations of the thousands of industrious individual journeymen, a greater number reside in their own houses, the savings of their labours, than can be found in any other place of equal population in Great Britain.

Very recently great improvements have been made in all the highways from Tunstall to Lane End; and now good dwelling houses are being erected in different parts of them; so that only a few years may be expected to elapse before the whole district will appear, to a passenger, or traveller, a large manufacturing town, with distinct names for its subdivisions.

The Philanthropist at all times with peculiar pleasure contemplates the progressive development of the human mind, where talent and diligence raise a community from ignorance to knowledge, from barbarity to refinement in civilization and the Arts; — the gradations and means, by which, under the influence of natural and moral causes, obstacles presented by a locality unpromising and unfavourable, have been disregarded or surmounted; and with success have been pursued, the improvement of manners and conduct, the acquirement of mental and physical science, and the attainment of that distinguished excellence, which contribute to the advancement and benefit of society. All the fraternity, actuated by the same spirit and resolution to promote the general interest by personal eminence in some particular branch of the manufacture, associate and form an indivisible connection for the important purpose of extending the knowledge and operations of peculiar manipulations and useful inventions; which alike dignify and more closely unite the individuals, cherish personal merit, enhance the comforts of society, promote general welfare, cement the links of the chain of mankind, and raise the people in the scale of nations.

This interesting and flourishing district most forcibly illustrates the results which may be expected from a cordial union of man's intellectual and physical powers; the researches of the mineralogist with the ingenuity of the artizan. 

Little more than a century ago, its existence was scarcely noticed; it wore then a barren aspect, and was a mere range of straggling and detached hamlets, with few inhabitants, and little trade, (as we find in Dr. Plott's History of the County;) its rich and almost inexhaustible mineral treasures were unknown, and its agricultural advantages were considered very paucile.

But since then, by uniting talents and perseverance, the recesses of the earth have been explored to enrich its owners, and extremely rapid has been the advancement in population, manufactures, and commercial prosperity. We have populous towns and villages, the abode of social comfort to multitudes; with regular markets, public edifices, extensive and commodious manufactories, elegant mansions, and comfortable habitations, for a busy and enterprising community of fifty thousand persons. The value of the productions of the district is greatly enhanced by the demand for them in making Porcelain and Pottery; and these latter are so much in request thro' the globe, as ultimately to cause their useful and ornamented productions, in all their varieties, to be exhibited in most markets of the Eastern and Western Continents.

As it is impossible for any person to determine which Earths not yet introduced, may form part of the materials of excellent pottery hitherto unproduced ; or what brilliant colours at present not thought of, may hereafter be obtained from the mineral kingdom, by the researches of mineralogists and the operations of chemists ; it becomes every person, to cultivate the ability providence has conferred, and sedulously employ his genius to promote his advancement in his profession. For, even at this period, the manufacture is rising in celebrity constantly ; and we are most agreeably surprised at the exhibition of new specimens of cultivated taste and well-directed ingenuity.

The Inhabitants of the Potteries, regarded as a body, possess the spirit of true patriotism. Parties there are, and sometimes they can scarcely 'agree to differ'; but, whatever differences may have occurred as to the manner of promoting the public good, all have united in the desire and means whereby it might be accomplished.

The fortunes which have been realized from small capitals, by individual talent and industry, are very numerous, considerable, and in some instances, almost princely; and with honour and comfort are they enjoyed. Most of the lands near the houses of the manufacturers, belong to the several estates; and the other in the vicinity of the towns now are cultivated either for variety or convenience, to support horses employed for numerous purposes, and milch cows to supply the wants of the population. The tenure is mostly freehold; altho' there are some copyholds; and other customary freeholds paying fines and renta certain.



Since 1780, the demand for Grain and Flour has been increasing to a vast amount; and new sources of supply from distant parts, have been opened by the Canal; so that the inhabitants need not fear either monopoly or scarcity; tho' the price of these and all other articles of food, will ever be higher in a district which produces so little, and consumes such large quantities.
The great demand for milk and butter, has diminished the number of acres appropriated to tillage. That part which is so employed, is usually let to the potatoes in his leisure hours. A crop of Wheat usually follows; then one of Oats succeeds. The Straw of both is an article in great demand for packing pottery ; and always obtains a good remuneration to the agriculturist.
The Manure is often the refuse of the farm yard, and likewise lime, and, at times, both these, mixed with the soil of the sides of the roads, gutter clods, ditchings, and the drawings off the butts of pastures. On some lands, refuse salt is occasionally employed. The lime stone for these and other purposes, is brought from Cauldon Low. Great plenty of potatoes and other vegetables, are supplied from the neighbourhood of Bowers, Betley, and Lawton ; and smaller supplies come from the neighbouring villages.

In the woods within many miles circuit, great quantities of hazel rods and coppice wood are cut at the successive growth of about seven or eight years, to supply the Crate Makers of the district with materials for Crates, in which Pottery is packed. A good price is paid for the heads and rods, so as to render their careful cultivation an object of interest to the Landowners.

The western extremity of the district, being hills, which arrest the progress of the clouds from the Atlantic ocean, and combined with the high rarefaction of the air by the immense combustion of coals in the Potteries, we always find the clouds brought by the westerly winds precipitating their waters. Yet not only is the district now productive of much pasturage for the horses and cattle; but the atmosphere is pure and healthful, and seldom are the people affected by epidemic diseases. However, we notice many instances of Bronchocele, or thick neck, a very unseemly enlargement of the glands of the throat.


Rapid increase in trade

We may observe that it has happened with this district, as with most other places where the increase of trade from the industry of the manufacturers has been rapid, that there remain many improvements to be effected to promote the convenience of the inhabitants. However, the whole district is now alert, as we shall proceed to shew.

Until some time after the commencement of the present century, workmen were rather scarce, because of continual drains for the army and navy; and public attention was wholly absorbed by the principal and primary source of wealth — the improvement of the various branches of the manufacture, and in supplying the foreign demands. But, after the peace, when labour was become cheap, the attention of all classes was directed to the improvement of the public roads of this district, to render them good and direct; a truly important object, and one indispensable to the interests of commerce in a populous manufacturing district. These facilitate the intercourse with commercial, intelligent persons, and animate and refine manners, that in all ranks of society precede that improvement in morals, which it is desirable this district should enjoy. 

This object, at one period (1784,) caused a complete insurrection; the lower classes being fearful that by good roads their trade would be carried out of the country; and only by great efforts on the part of the Masters, were the results prevented from being most prejudicial. But much labour, and great sums of money, have been expended on the highways; and care has been exercised to secure regularity of building in streets; and to supply them with Lamps and Water. 

The Trustees of the several Markets avail themselves of every method to supply the Dealers with most convenient stalls, and accommodate those persons who attend as purchasers. And all the Markets are well supplied with provisions and merchandise.

Many of the new Streets are distinguished by the Name on the corners; but few of them have the Doors of the Houses numbered. This might be done on a very useful, simple, and convenient plan — all the even Numbers might be on one side, and all the odd ones on the other; a person would then be certain on whether side was situated the house he was seeking. The introduction of Gas Lamps with powerful burners, in the streets, and most of the highways, is a very convenient accommodation to all parties, strangers and inhabitants.

Good Water is supplied from Reservoirs at Lane End, and Hanley; but is more of a rarity in all the Towns, than is desirable for the health and cleanliness of the population. A stranger is surprised to see water carts in the streets, selling at a halfpenny a pailful, this essential article of human enjoyment.


The North Staffordshire Infirmary

In 1815, the Nobility and Gentry of the neighbourhood most promptly aided the exertions of the Manufacturers in the Establishment of one of the grandest methods of alleviating the Sufferings of the afflicted classes of operatives. By their munificent donations, with one of £500, from his Majesty, (then Prince Regent,) and a Legacy of £1000, from the late John Rogers, Esq. of the Watlands, this extensive and populous district enjoys the advantages dispensed by the NORTH STAFFORDSHIRE INFIRMARY.

It has a situation almost central, and one of the most eligible in the vicinity, being on a rising plot of Land, in the Liberty of Shelton, but so wholly free from surrounding buildings, that it is readily seen from many parts. The Edifice is now enlarged much from its original construction. It is of Brick, very spacious and commodious with numerous wards for the accommodation of numerous In-patients; besides all appropriate Apartments for the various purposes and Officers of the Establishment.

During more than ten years the Benefits had been dispensed to the neighbourhood; and with the increased population, an increased demand for the helps conferred, was experienced, and the Trustees at length resolved upon an enlargement, the better to meet the wants of the applicants. 

The Intention was published, and numerous donations were immediately received; but the chief Aid was wholly unexpected and unprecedented : —

A Gentleman, whose philanthropy is exceeded only by his urbanity and modesty, suggested the trial of a Bazaar, to augment the Funds. Some obstacles were presented, but were surmounted. 

The trial was made; and to the honour of the Ladies be it mentioned, the store of Articles of utility, elegance, and taste was so abundant, that the sales realized more than Nine Hundred Pounds additional to the funds for enlarging the Edifice.

Thus a lasting benefit results to posterity, thro' the benevolent hints and exertions of Arthur Minton, Esq.

A Medical Library, and Museum of Subjects of Anatomy and Physiology, have been recently projected: and great expectations are raised in reference to the advantages they will afford.

The whole expense of the Establishment, is defrayed by Annual Subscriptions of the opulent, in addition to small weekly deductions from the Earnings of the operative classes.

The Most Noble the Marquis of Stafford, is the Patron; and the President, Vice-Presidents, and committee, are elected from the most worthy and estimable Persons of the neighbourhood.


Pottery Mechanics' Institution

The same high Personage is the Patron also of the POTTERY MECHANICS' INSTITUTION. A truly noble Donation from him, was followed by extremely-liberal Contributions, from 

Josiah Wedgwood, Esq. 

Richard Edensor Heathcote, Esq., M. P., 

Thomas Hawe Parker, Esq., 

E. J. Littleton, Esq., 

M. P., Sir John Wrottesley, Bart., M. P., 

and some other gentlemen; and which were applied to purchase a Library and apparatus, exclusively adapted to Philosophical Researches. 

The Members contribute small sums annually, and have the Books regularly circulated amongst them. Classes for particular Studies also are formed ; and those for Chemistry, Modelling, and Drawing promise to be very useful. During the three Winters since its establishment, Courses of Lectures have been regularly delivered to the Members, free of expense ; and to visitors on payment of a small sum. 

Many of the intelligent manufacturers are honorary Members, and by their example excite their workmen to excellence in their particular branches. In our times, it is readily admitted by all persons of true discernment, that to combine the gratifying and advantageous pursuits of science and literature with the energies required by commercial engagements, are highly beneficial; because all corroding cares are alleviated or dissipated by them.

Without the partiality of friendship ascribing adscititicms excellence ; or the rancour of envy depreciating their real importance; the full meed of praise will be assigned by posterity unto all those Worthies, already demised, whose indefatigable exercise of ingenuity and industry, in introducing fresh materials, implements, or ornaments, have benefitted all with whom they were connected, by commencing and establishing the goodly fabric of a staple manufacture on a solid and durable foundation; and, likewise, to their successors and survivors, who, by having improved and advanced the Art to its present perfection, have completed a celebrious superstructure, every way worthy the talents of their eminent progenitors.


Locally made exports

When it is considered, that nearly the whole of the Materials used are native productions, and that five parts in six of the manufactured articles are exported, few Branches of manufacture have greater claim to the gratitude and admiration of their countrymen, than these valuable establishments, and the persons who have founded, fostered, and advanced them. 

The late Mr. Wedgwood, in his day was a principal promoter of this advancement; and since his time additional and great improvements have been made by the united genius of the present Potters, Spode, Wood, Ridgways, Minton, Turner, &c. and it is a fair presumption that specimens of their productions will be found, not only in the cabinets of princes and opulent persons of taste, but in the markets of every state where British commerce extends.

We shall now proceed to describe the several Towns, according to their present appearance; and from a careful survey of their improved condition.




next: Chapter 2 - Tunstall and its vicinity
contents: index of Shaw's book