The Staffordshire Potteries

The Birth of an Industry


Many of the exhibits at WMODA come from the county of North Staffordshire in the heart of England. This tile panel shows the Staffordshire Potteries in prosperous times around 1900. Working potters lived in modest streets of terrace houses amongst thousands of bottle kilns which dominated the skyline of the six Potteries towns in the 19th century. Stoke, Burslem, Hanley, Longton, Tunstall and Fenton became the city of Stoke-on-Trent in 1910.

The potter at the right of the tile panel is throwing a vase of clay, an early part of the production process which includes decorating, glazing and firing.  By the 1950s, coal firing had been replaced with gas and electricity and the few remaining bottle kilns are preserved today at museum and heritage centers. The tile mural was designed by Philip Gibson to mark the new Millennium in 2000 and it is one of only two in the world.


Staffordshire became the center of British pottery production in the late 17th century. Local clay, salt, lead and an abundance of coal to fire the bottle-kilns were the natural resources required to produce pottery on an industrial scale.  During the 18th century, a canal system was constructed to transport raw materials and finished products from the Potteries towns to the English sea ports via the Rivers Trent and Mersey.  Superior white-firing clays were shipped from Cornwall and experiments by enterprising potters fueled an explosion of new styles in tableware and ornaments, many of which were exported to Colonial America.


Pottery ornaments were once sold on the streets of London by “Image” men.  They balanced boards full of Staffordshire figures and busts precariously on their heads and cried out on street corners to attract passing trade. Invariably accidents happened!

“Images very cheap very fine” was their rallying cry as they hawked earthenware statues of the celebrities of the day, including members of the royal family, famous actors, and military heroes. Staffordshire teapots, jugs, cups and plates were sold at street markets or bartered door to door in exchange for old clothes. Josiah Wedgwood offered a more elegant shopping experience for affluent society ladies with his London showroom.