Saturday 8 January 2022

Scholarship on Staffordshire Pottery Industry Simply Discarded by Philistine Local Government

The city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England was at one time the centre of the English pottery industry and is the centre of a district encompassing the six towns Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall. Collectively the area is known as the Staffordshire Potteries (or simply Potteries, the local inhabitants being known as 'the potters'). 

North Staffordshire became a centre of ceramic production in the early 17th century, due to its geographical position and the local availability of clay, salt, lead and coal. The River Trent provided transport, and the ports of Chester and Liverpool were only a few miles distant. It had not been a major centre of tin-glazed earthenware of "maiolica" or the "Delft" type. The earliest products to be more widely distributed were the Staffordshire slipwares mid-17th century onwards. These had a red clay body with a light coloured slip, commonly with a darker slip trailed decoration, often "marbled", but also some in figural designs or inscribed. The first shapes were wide, elaborately decorated ornamental earthenware serving dishes. Later the factories produced cheaper more utilitarian vessels like jugs, dishes, bowls, and mugs that were more widely used (see Julia [...]'s "Mudlarking on the Thames blog"). Staffordshire slipware was widely exported, for example to America until the late 18th century. The greatest period of English slipware expression occurred in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the vessels that were inscribed and/or dated allow them to be easily placed.

    Diagnostic artifacts...  
The production of creamwares (cream-coloured refined earthenware with a lead glaze over a pale body[mudlarking finds]), began about the 1720s. A pale body was achieved by adding heated, crushed and ground flint powder and feldspars (derived from weathered granite - "Cornish rock") to the local reddish clay. This started to predominate in pottery assemblages by about 1780 until the 1840s (and was very widely exported - such as to continental Europe and America). Creamware was perfect for making the elegant and highly decorative tableware in demand in the Georgian age. It served as an inexpensive substitute for the soft-paste porcelains being developed by contemporary English manufactories (initially in competition with Chinese export porcelains) and was often made in the same fashionable and refined styles as porcelain.

By the late eighteenth century, the success of creamware killed the demand for tin-glazed earthenware [herehere] and pewter vessels alike. The Staffordshire pottery industry was in the vanguard of the Industrial Revolution, there were approximately 130 potteries in North Staffordshire during the 1750s, mostly producing creamware, rising to around 150 by 1763 and employing up to 7,000 people. 

The potteries and sources of ceramic raw materials.
BC = Ball clay, CC = China clay, CS = Cornish stone,
 F = Flint   (Maggetti et al 2015)

    Bone China (Etsy)  
While the creamware industry is associated, among others, with the name of Josiah Wedgewood, mid-18th century attempts by English potters to make soft-paste porcelain by adding bone ash derived from the cattle markets and slaughterhouses to the fabric were improved on by the Staffordshire potter Josiah Spode in the early 1790s who also added kaolin. This gave a harder paste and "Staffordshire bone-porcelain", was in full production by around 1815 and was also widely exported, for example to America. This was the typical product of the English factories,  with production being effectively localised in Stoke-on-Trent and still continuing there today (Spode, and Worcester, Royal Crown Derby, Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, and Mintons), though other factories are now active in other regions of the world.  

The Grade II* Gladstone Museum (Jonathan C K Webb

With all this rich heritage putting Stoke and the surrounding region on the map of the development and expansion of British influence in cultural development - one might say, globally - it might be expected that the city would cherish that heritage and support efforts to better understand it and make it known. But this is bonkers Britain, where anti-intellectualist Philistinism places higher values on things other than this. Pots are not golden treasures found by metal detectorists ('Stoke turns its back on pottery heritage with curator redundancies' Arts Industry 7 January 2022).

"Stoke-on-Trent’s two main pottery museums are expected to close after the local authority made all their curatorial and most management staff redundant this week. Twenty-two posts are to go. Curators at the Gladstone Museum, with its famously recognisable brick bottle kilns, and the Potteries Museum have been told that all their posts are to be deleted as Stoke-on-Trent City Council seeks to cut £7.1m from its annual budget. Both were scheduled to re-open on January 18 after a Christmas closure lengthened by the Omicron Covid crisis. Savings anticipated at the museums, which are expected to close to the public, are believed to amount to £580,000 a year. It will mean Stoke, the birthplace and nursery for Britain’s once world-beating ceramics industry, will have no heritage scholarship in place [...]  Employees are said to be stunned by the news they received this week, but have been told not to speak publicly about the redundancies".

You can almost hear the  "'Oo needs skolarship?" from the city councillors, who allegedly have recently spent millions on the museum display of a "Spitfire, made in the USA that didn't take part in the war, in its new building opened last year and costing millions”.  

Also it seems that if these staff reductions go ahead, some resolution will have to be found for the issue of curating the collections and archives they'd been working on. They cannot be allowed to be left without curatorial care. What does the City of Stoke intend to do about tis? 

NOW. Gentle Reader, just google some of the terms given above. Go on, Google them and look for example at the images, and think about what you find. The search will most likely be dominated by two classes of in-your-face visual information. The first is that the vast majority of the material will be objects for sale online. This is a feature of almost any search for information on archaeology/ archaeological material. That alone should provoke disquiet. The second feature of note is that when you find illustrations of archaeological material of the types of pottery mentioned above, the vast majority of them come from the substantial number of US sites produced by archaeology departments talking of what can be learnt from the various types of artefacts found in the region. It is here you'll find pictures of sherds. Why is that? Why is the work of British archaeologists on such material less visible in this most public of places? If they are not getting their output into the public domain, is it any surprise that Philistines simply feel they can be dismissed. What are British archaeologists going to do about this? 

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