England's Pottery Powerhouse
the sixties, the 'Potteries', as the potteries area of Staffordshire
was called, was still a place of memories of the old world - unbridled
pottery production, low wages, but unquestioning loyalty to the
'company'. Such was the life-long faith to the Potteries, that a
card company only half jokingly printed postcards of the ilk "The
Change of Air Soots Me Well" (see below; click for enlargement).
people of this area don't call their workplaces a pottery. Rather,
they refer to the 'potbank'. The word 'Potteries' actually refers
to the area of Staffordshire itself. There was a strict hierarchy
at the potbank. At the lower end of the rung was the sliphouse,
which was usually located in the building's cellar. Here, slip would
be mixed and clay pugged for use on the upper floors. Next came
the molders, the spongers, then the engravers (for decals) and at
the top of the list the decorators or painters.
The Potteries consisted of the six towns of Burslem,
Longton and Stoke.
In 1925 they consolidated into the City of Stoke-on-Trent. It was
Burslem, where Josiah Wedgwood was born in 1730. Spode, Doulton
and Minton were associated with Stoke - these companies making up
the 'Big Four'. In 1907, there were supposedly
391 pottery manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent.
was the old 'bottle' kilns, combined with domestic smoke and that
from the coal factories that lent the special air to Stoke-on-Trent.
The bottle kilns were up to 30 feet (10 meters) in height, dotting
the landscape. Today they are replaced by electric kilns, much lamented
by the 'old timers'.
Today, the 'Potteries' are still an important part of ceramics
production in England. It's history is a vibrant one, with much
more to learn and discover. For the curious, the Museums
of the Potteries offer more.
Further Reading: Mervyn Jones, Potbank,
Secker & Warburg, London, 1961