Master Potters in Georgian  Burslem (1714-1837)




Burslem Sunday School

Samuel Scriven also gathered evidence about the education of children in the Potteries. The testimony of Josiah Wood, the superintendent of the Burslem Sunday School, is reproduced below. Enoch Wood, the potter,  was a prominent supporter of the school and the annual reports of the institution were pasted into his scrapbook. The new Sunday school was built in 1836-37 on a site next to his factory at Hill Top. 

In the 1840s pottery manufacturers cited their support for such institutions to get their industry excluded from the factory legislation which regulated children's employment in textile mills and coal mines. As a result there were no restrictions on the age of children or the number of hours they worked in pottery factories until 1864.

Hill Top Chapel, Burslem
Hill Top Chapel, Burslem

This impressive building was built in 1836 on the corner
of Westport Road and Hall Street.
Closed in January 1977, a fire caused widespread
damage in 1983. Beyond repair the main body was
demolished in 1987 but the dramatic front
portico remains (and is a listed building ).


 BURSLEM SUNDAY-SCHOOL, Wesleyan New Connexion, for Children of all Denominations. 

No. 218. Joseph Wood, aged 53: I have been the superintendent of this school 24 years. It was first established in the Wesleyan Methodist chapel, where it was conducted for a number of years. A dispute took place between the preachers and managers about six years ago relative to the introduction of rules adopted by the conference, which ended in the trustees expelling us from the premises which we previously occupied. (see note)

This dispute led to the erection of the present building for a school to be conducted under the firmer system of management. At that time about 1700 children of both sexes attended. it under the tuition of 240 teachers; we have continued our efforts ever since, and now number 539 boys, with 93 teachers; and 728 girls, with 107 teachers: there is besides this number a class of adults of 30. The building stood us in between 3000 and 4000., out of which we have paid a considerable sum, and stand indebted in the amount of 2093 15s. The only means we have of defraying this is by annual collections and voluntary contributions. Our current expenses are considerable for books, coals, etc, which is also paid by the like means. The system of education pursued is in part upon the Lancasterian and part upon the collective or catechetical principle. The children meet at half-past ten and continue till twelve, meet again at two and continue till four, attending both before and after the religious worship of the chapel; we admit them at five years old, and often before, and continue them as long as they like to remain. 

We have no day-school at present, when however the debt is paid off we hope to establish one, and support it by the seat- rents of the gallery. The greatest number of these children have no other means of acquiring information but by their Sunday schools, in consequence of their being taken so early to work at the factories. I do not see much difference in the comparative educational condition of the children of the Sunday and day-schools, for this reason, that the time the latter devote to it is limited. and during their infancy, and except followed up by the former is of very little use to them. I think the potters' children are above par I mean those who do attend school; but there is a vast number who are ignorant, grossly ignorant, who attend nowhere; this results in some instances from the poverty of the parents, in others from their extravagance, in many from their total indifference to religious or secular education. 

We have a library attached to the school accessible to the writing and Bible classes; the books are of history and biography; immoral works are excluded. 

(Signed) JOSIAH WOOD. 

I have heard this evidence of Josiah Wood, and being satisfied of its correctness, fully concur in it.


This is a magnificent building of three stories, the basement divided into two rooms for boys, the one above being occupied by girls, and the upper forming deep galleries occupied during divine service. It is very spacious, light, well ventilated, and warmed by hot air flues.
- January 31.



The dispute with the Swan Bank Wesleyan Methodist managers referred to resulted from the fact that the teachers wanted to teach the children to both read and write, the church mangers only wanted the children to read. If they could read then they could read the Bible & it was thought that that was sufficient, the teachers, however, want more for the children under their care.

questions/comments/contributions? email: Steve Birks