17th Century Ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent

Ozzie the Owl - a 17th Century North Staffordshire Slipware Jug

The production of pottery in Stoke-on-Trent dates back to at least the 17th century. The pottery industry became established in Stoke-on-Trent mainly due to the abundance of a great variety of potters clay and coal substitute to fire the ovens lying just below the ground in the area. There were also sources of other raw materials necessary for potting close by: lead in Derbyshire, salt in Cheshire, and fine sand in Mow Cop.


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. Farmers made pottery to help improve their standard of living, but there were people who, in realising the poverty of the soil for farming, recognised the wealth of opportunities which lay in pottery making, and soon pottery became their primary business, with farming only necessary to provide food for their own needs. Burslem became a fast-growing centre of pottery-making and earned the position of "mother town" of The Potteries. Good red-burning clays and excellent long flame coal (essential for firing pottery ovens) could be dug from the surface along a belt running in a north-west to south-east line, thanks to geological formation causing outcropping of these materials.


From Burslem, potters set up small factories in the nearby hamlets of Tunstall to the north, and Cobridge, Hanley, Shelton, Stoke, Fenton and Longton to the south. All these settlements lie along the belt of coal and clay and have now been formed into the City of Stoke-on-Trent.


Before the 18th Century, pottery manufacture was largely a domestic industry, perhaps involving the whole family. Early potter's workshops varied in form and size and probably accomodated all of the processes in one building. 


Pots were either thrown on the wheel or press moulded from local clay. The same clay was used to make coloured slips to coat and decorate the pots which were fired once and were then sold locally to peddlars or cratesmen, or were sent further afield by packhorse. Staffordshire pots were reaching the North American colonies by the early 17th century.


Most of the roads in the Potteries were in a poor state in the 16th and 17th century, and this was not helped by the habit of some of the potters of digging their clay pits in the roads - a practice that gave rise to the term "potholes"! Few roads could be negotiated by horse and cart.  


Information courtesy of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Steven Birks at www.thepotteries.org


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Discover more about the history of ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent by visiting our fantastic museums:

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery


Discover the world famous Staffordshire Hoard along with the history of the Potteries, including the world's greatest collection of Staffordshire Ceramics. See a Spitfire and all sorts of art and craft.

The Works


Described as the worlds best kept secret, a visit will reveal Moorcroft's unique handcrafted, quality, collectable art pottery. Factory tours, shopping, museum and bottle oven come together creating an unforgettable experience.

The Dudson Museum


Discover the 213 year history of the oldest surviving family business in the ceramic tableware industry. Explore the original Dudson factory courtyard and bottle oven housing a wonderful collection of Dudson pottery.

World of Wedgwood


10% off admission and purchases

The World of Wedgwood, a unique visitor experience celebrating the very best of British industrial and design heritage. Experience Wedgwood for the day through shopping, food and visitor tours.

Gladstone Pottery Museum


The only complete Victorian pottery factory with original workshops, huge bottle ovens, cobbled yard, tile gallery, Doctor's House and Flushed with Pride - the story of the toilet. Visit the gift shop for handmade pottery,books and gifts.

Spode Works Visitor Centre


A fascinating exhibition at Josiah Spode's former pottery, the birthplace of bone china, in the setting of a historic building. There are films, activities, stories of the factory, the workers and the everyday and amazing things they made

The Ceramics Trail