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England Earthenware Occupations, Glass, Pottery (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Earthenware (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Glass[edit | edit source]

Glassmaking was introduced into Britain by the Romans and in the Middle Ages was largely concentrated in the Weald of Sussex and Surrey. This area had the raw materials, sand and potash (formed from ash of beech, oak and bracken), as well as a plentiful supply of wood for fuel. The main products were window glass and simple vessels, but the quality was inferior to continental glass.

Elizabeth I encouraged immigration of foreign glassmakers, especially window glass makers from Normandy and Lorraine in France, and Venetian fine crystal-like glass makers. They settled in the south east but in 1615 James I banned wood as a fuel for glass furnaces as the forests were being rapidly depleted. Glass makers were therefore forced to move to areas which had (or imported) coal: Stourbridge in Worcestershire, Newcastle upon Tyne, south east Scotland, London and Bristol. The English invention of lead crystal glass in 1676 paved the way for the enormous success of English glass and glass cutting in the 18th century, however excise taxes hampered the industry from 1745 to 1845. Other specialties such as bottle, plate, crown and flint glass were being produced around St. Helen’s, Lancashire by the mid-19th century.

Information on the industry can be found in Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982), Dodsworth (Glass and Glassmaking. Shire Publications., 1996), Hey (The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford University Press., 1996), Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) and Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949). Information on specific glass products can be found as follows: bottles and bottle collecting (Hedges), decanters (Leigh), English drinking glasses (Bickerton), glass blowing (Hurley, The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991, Wymer English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949), looking glasses (mirrors)(Hurley), pressed flint glass (Notley), scent bottles (Walker), studio glass (McLaren). There is a glassmakers’ index covering glass blowers, glass cutters, glass bevellers, glass bottle makers etc. The apprenticeships for the Glass-Sellers’ Company 1664-1812 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 5. Glass-sellers’ Company 1664-1812; Woolmens’ Company 1665-1828. Society of Genealogists, 1997).

Pottery[edit | edit source]

The potter is one of the oldest craftsmen and a wide variety of small potteries were in production all over England long before Josiah Wedgwood revolutionized the industry in the late 18th century. Many kinds of ware were produced: terracotta, majolica-faience, slip-ware, earthenware, porcelain, bone china and stoneware. England commenced making its famous porcelain in 1730 Chelsea (London), 1744 Bow (London), 1751 Lowestoft, 1751 Worcester, 1755 Liverpool, 1757 Burslem, 1760 Plymouth, 1774 Bristol and 1780 Coalport. Bone china made by Spode commenced in 1805 (Arnold 1968).

The potter needed clay, water and a nearby supply of coal to fire the kilns. These were found abundantly in the six towns known as the Potteries in Staffordshire, (Stoke-on-Trent, Burslem, Tunstall, Hanley, Longton and Fenton), which still had about 120 small traditional works in 1829 when the seven large-scale integrated operations were active. During the 19th century other new centres started up, for example Leeds, Yorkshire. The raw material is heavy and not easily transported so pottery works need to be sited near the supply. Likewise, many of the finished products are large and heavy jugs, urns, baths and other containers, flower pots, chimney pots, tiles etc. Transport to distant markets only become feasible after the development of the turnpike roads and the canal system. The history of the trade is described by Sekers (The Potteries. Shire Publications, 1994), Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982), Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968), Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon., 1982), and Beech (Was Your Ancestor a Potter? Family Tree Magazine Vol 4 #6, page 4-5), whilst the potteries area and way of life are detailed by Morland (Portrait of the Potteries. Robert Hale., 1985), Sekers (The Potteries. Shire Publications., 1994), and Beech (Was Your Ancestor a Potter? Family Tree Magazine Vol 4 #6, page 4-5).

Information about the potters craft is found in Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), Sekers (The Potteries. Shire Publications, 1994), Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982), Wymer ('English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968, and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991), and Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1982). A large number of Shire books are devoted to specific products as follows: architectural ceramics, mediaeval tiles, tiled furniture, and Victorian tiles (Van Lemmen), Aynsley china (Ashworth), bathroom ceramics and water closets (Blair), blue and white transfer-printed pottery and ceramic bygones (Copeland), ceramics of the 1950s and 1960s (McLaren), Copeland ware (Wilkinson), lustreware (Michael Gibson), Maling and other Tyneside pottery (Bell), Minton (Joan Jones), Parian ware (Barker), post-mediaeval pottery (Draper), Pratt ware (Lewis and Lewis), Royal Crown Derby (Sargeant), Royal Doulton (McKeown), tin-glazed earthenware (Black), and Wedgwood ware (Copeland).

Famous makers include Josiah Wedgwood (Tames), Minton, Spode, Royal Doulton, Copeland, Aynsley, Royal Crown Derby and Ridgway. Little (Master Potter. Family Tree Magazine Vol 9 #12, page 8) has written on a genealogist’s search for her potter ancestor Higginbottom who worked in the Torquay pottery.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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