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Last updated:05 May 2015

Ceramics workers

Ceramics is the term for pottery and porcelain.  In Europe, pottery making was an ancient and widespread craft but porcelain remained a Chinese speciality until the 18th century.  That century saw in Britain a major expansion in the ceramics industry and many technical advances. 

Image of a potter at work from the Book of Trades

The potter

Where clay, coal, labour and transport resources came together conditions were favourable for the growth of pottery making regions such as the North Staffordshire Potteries.  Other clusters occurred, for example, in Glasgow and on both sides of the Firth of Forth.

Many ceramics workers were in small firms and their skills very diverse.  Trade unions were not easy to organise, but many Staffordshire potters were recruited into the general union, the National Association for the Protection of Labour, founded in 1829.  Two major strikes occurred in the industry in the 1830s.  By mid-century, trade union activity had subsided.  From the 1870s a number of new unions began to be formed for the separate crafts - hollow ware pressers, crate makers, ovenmen, and many others.

In 1906 many of these unions united in the National Amalgamated Society of Male and Female Pottery Workers.  By 1921 most of the remaining unions had joined the renamed National Society of Pottery Workers.  In 1970 this became the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union, and this Library has its archive with material from 1906 to the 1980s.

The organisation of the archive reflects the diversity of skills and range of products of the industry.  It is the mass produced utilitarian wares that are mainly reflected - serviceable tableware, stoneware bottles and jars, electrical porcelain, sanitary ware, and many other products. 

Click here for a description of the work of a potter in the early 19th century (opens as a pdf)

Click here to find out about Ceramics workers trade unions


Resources about Ceramics workers in the library collection

Board of Trade, Report of an enquiry by the Board of Trade into the earnings and hours of labour of workpeople of the United Kingdom: VIII - paper, printing, etc. trades; pottery, brick, glass and chemical trades; food, drink and tobacco trades; and miscellaneous trades in 1906 (1913) - Shelfmark: X16

Harold Owen, The Staffordshire potter (1901) - Shelfmark: A08

Llewellynn Jewitt, The Wedgwoods - being a life of Josiah Wedgwood - with notices of his works and their productions, memoirs of the Wedgewood and other families, and a history of the early potteries of Staffordshire (1865) - Shelfmark: C05

J T Arlidge, On the sanitary state of the Staffordshire potteries, with especial reference to that of the potters as a class, their mortality, and the diseases present among them (1864) - Shelfmark: J25/8

Henry Allen Wedgwood, People of the Potteries (1970) - Shelfmark: A38

Simeon Shaw, History of the Staffordshire Potteries (1970) - Shelfmark: C04

John Thomas, The rise of the Staffordshire Potteries (1971) - Shelfmark: C07

Georgina Meinertzhagen, From ploughshare to parliament: a short memoir of the potters of Tadcaster (1896) - Shelfmark: B21

LTC Rolt, The potters' field: a history of the South Devon ball clay industry (1974) - Shelfmark: H24