An abundance of coal and clay is the main reason for the Pottery Industry becoming established in North Staffordshire. Starting as a small community of farmer-potters in the mid-seventeenth century, the trade of making butterpots for the easier marketing of butter developed in the town of Burslem. Thus Burslem earned the position of mother town of the Potteries.
From Burslem, potters started small factories in the nearby hamlets of Tunstall to the north, and Cobridge, Hanley, Shelton, Stoke, Fenton and Longton to the South. All these lie along the belt of coal and clay, and have been formed into the City of Stoke-on-Trent, (Federated 1910).
By 1740 a substantial industry had been established., but potters made less and less use of the clays found here. Potters wanted white clays that were as like as possible to the china for the Far East. The local clays were not favoured because they fired red. White burning clays from Dorset had begun to be brought into North Staffordshire about 1720 and shipments from Devon followed in the next twenty years, but it was not until after 1796 that china clay and Cornish stone came into the Potteries in any quantity.
The industry was so firmly rooted by then, with its fuel and common clays mined locally and the wealth of skilled craftspeople composing at least half the population that the idea of moving the industry to South West England would never be considered seriously. About 7-10 tons of coal were needed to fire one ton of earthenware, and as much as 17 tons for bone china. There is no coal in Devon and Cornwall.
To begin with the clay came by boat , pony and on peoples backs. The Potteries had no proper roads until the middle of the 18th century. A canal was cut in 1767 linking the main route for raw materials to come in the finished product to go out. The Trent and Merseyside placed the Potteries at the centre of an international trade. Stoke was put on the railway in 1848 and the canal was gradually superseded. Many small tramways lined the factories, collieries, and the main line railways.
The nature of the industry was changing constantly as new materials and ideas were tried. Most pottery companies had a short life but some companies still in existence today were founded by master potters. Two of the most ‘famous names’ are Wedgwood and Spode.
It was Josiah Wedgwood’s business acumen which places him in the forefront of marketing men of all times. He introduced a system of controlling his mixtures and firing his ovens based on scientific principles, he worked tirelessly to ensure that the new canal would serve the pottery towns, and he understood the market needs and built his business by satisfying them with an excellent product.
Josiah Spode, father and son, founded a business which developed techniques of ceramic manufacture that became the mainstay of the industry. He perfected the method of blue-printing in 1780 and led the world in this decorative treatment. Before 1800 his son introduced bone china which has become the most successful English porcelain ever made.
Many other famous names contributed to the advancement of the industry over the years - Adams, Minton, Mason, Aynsley and Doulton in dinner ware, Twyford and Doulton in sanitaryware. Having been established in Stoke-on-Trent the indsutry stay there because of the skills of the people.
The provision of machinery and supplies for the specialised industry has led to the concentration in the areas of ceramic colour makers, pottery machinery makers as well as the millers who prepare the body and glaze materials essential for the pottery manufacturers.
Today, ceramics is a modern industry. Stoke-on-Trent is still famous for its tablewares, tiles and sanitaryware sold all over the world. New uses for ceramics include insulators for the electrical industry and special ceramics used in engineering and the chemical industry. Machines have removed much of the unskilled repetitive work, but the skills of pottery making are still based on people.