In the Potteries in the 1820s and 1840s

Two first-hand accounts of personal visits to the Potteries in the first half of the 19th century, extracted from books:

1823, letter to The Monthly Magazine:

“You pass, in two minutes, from a crowded street into a meadow or a corn-field; and, amidst shops and factories, you continually stumble upon what was not long since a farm-house, and which yet retains somewhat of its rural, cottage-like character, wholly distinct from that of the mercantile edifices which have sprung tip around it. Figure to yourself a tract of country, the surface of which, cut, scarred, burnt, and ploughed up in every direction, displays a heterogeneous mass of hovels and palaces, farm houses and factories, chapels and churches, canals and coal-pits, corn-fields and brick-fields, gardens and furnaces, jumbled together in “most admired disorder,” and you will have a pretty correct idea of the Staffordshire potteries. Then pervade the space your fancy has thus pictured, with a suffocating smoke, vomited forth incessantly from innumerable fires, and the thing will be complete.

The people, however, who pass their lives amid this dingy atmosphere, this “palpable obscure,” this worse than Egyptian darkness, seem to experience no inconvenience from it; and, in fact, to be scarcely sensible of the existence of the evil. One of them asked me, with most amusing simplicity, “whether London was not a terribly smoky place to live in?” The inhabitants, nevertheless, I repeat, though not blessed with the rosy cheeks we generally see in country-folks, appear to enjoy good health, with the exception of the colliers [miners], and a few pallid mortals employed in the preparation of certain deleterious articles made use of in the manufacture of pottery.”

24th January 1850. Letter XXIX, given in the book The Victorian Working Class: Selections from Letters to the Morning Chronicle:

“As a whole, the appearance of considerable portions of the Pottery towns, is not very unlike that of the better parts of the iron and coal districts which I have described in the south of the county. The population, however, from the nature of their occupation, look clean and respectable. At meal times, or in the evening, they pour out from the manufactories — men, women, and children — with aprons and sleeves plentifully besprinkled with dashes as of liquid white clay. Here and there, however, you see a symptom of the neighbouring coal-mines, in the appearance of men and boys in coarse besmirched flannel clothing and wooden clogs, with faces and hands like [chimney] sweeps.”


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