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Friday, 12 August 2011

Children of the Potteries

The pottery industry was heavily reliant on child labour. In 1816 in Staffordshire, Wedgwood’s Etruria works employed over 100 children aged ten to eighteen (a few children under ten also worked there).

In the 1840s, a children’s employment commission discovered that over 1500 children under thirteen worked in the Staffordshire potteries, plus over 3,700 aged thirteen to twenty-one. They usually started work when they were seven or eight years old.
Children did many different jobs in the Potteries. They worked as ‘jiggers’, ‘mould runners’, ‘oven boys’, ‘dipper’s boys’, apprentice painters and figure makers. The jiggers and mould runners helped the dish, plate and saucer makers, and they worked extremely hard. The jigger turned the potter’s wheel. The mould runners carried pots to and from the stoves. They were on their feet all day. Sometimes boys did both jobs. They walked over several miles in a day.
The children, who were directly employed by the potters, typically worked for up to thirteen or even fifteen hours daily. Plate makers’ boys worked in temperatures of up to 120ºF (48 Celsius).
Some of the pottery processes were very unhealthy because white lead, and sometimes arsenic, was used in the glazing agent. The glaze made the pots look beautiful after they had been fired in the kiln, but was highly poisonous. You can find out more about the pottery children of Staffordshire and other counties in The Children History Forgot.

Images: Pottery manufacture: Placing earthenware in the biscuit kiln, putting pots into saggars, ‘turning’ the pots on a lathe to create rims and other decoration, and transferring prints onto pots. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862).
The Wedgwood works at Etruria. Engraving from Staffordshire and Warwickshire Past and Present, Vol. II, (William Mackenzie, London, no date.)
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

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