Bilston and Bradley Potteries
The trade directory and other evidence, 1818 - 1868
A history of Joseph Sankey and Co. says that the father of the original Joseph Sankey was a Bilston man and a potter. He died in the early decades of the century. His occupation shows that the trade was established at least by the early nineteenth century.
Below are the entries I have found local trade directories.
The earliest directory I have found and looked at so far is the Commercial Directory of 1818-19-20, by James Pigot, which mentions only“William Starson, potter &c, Bradley”.William Starson never appears again but Bradley constantly reappears, suggesting that the area may have had a suitable clay on the spot and that some sort of pottery works and kilns were there. Presumably this pottery, whatever its exact location, would be the one which Lawley thought was established by Iron Mad Wilkinson about or before 1790.
But the question of the earliest days of pottery is somewhat complicated by the recent re-discovery, by Francesca Cambridge, of the existence a glass works at Bradley. It seems to have been built in 1761 and continued in use until about 1810. The suggestion is that it may be that these glass works later became a pottery works.
Ivor Noel Hume tells me that such a change is not inherently unlikely. In 1949 he carried out rescue archaeology work with Adrian Oswald on Gravel Lane, near Blackfriars Bridge in London and there found 17th century delft, brown stoneware and glass turning up together. He points out that there was no evidence that the same kiln was used for both. The glory holes of a glass furnace would not be the same as those used for the stacking or recovery of pots but the foundations and stoke holes and channels could be used for both. Noel also recollects that, when excavating the John Frederick Amelung Glass factory (1787) in Maryland, it occurred to him that the ground plan of the furnaces could equally well have been used for pottery. Further, glassmakers had to have siege pots (crucibles) which required some degree of ceramic skill. Glass and pot making were two arms of the same process.
So it seems possible that the glass works may later have been used, with or without some minor adaptations to the structure, for making pottery. The fact that the glass works closed about 1810 and Starson is recorded as making pottery in Bradley in 1819 might seem like supporting evidence but it may only be due to the dates of the available directories.
A new reference has now come to light in The Staffordshire General and Commercial Directory for 1818 Part Third, published by Parson and Bradshaw of Manchester. There we find, under the heading "Earthenware Manufacturers and Dealers" two entries for manufacturers:
"New Town" is a district of Bilston, off Oxford Street, not far from the town centre and definitely not Bradley.
Pat Pearson (nee Stinson) has emailed to say that her great great grandfather was Samuel Stinson, the son of William and Elizabeth Stinson of Bradley. The 1851 census gives Samuel's birthplace as Bradley. Samuel was married in Whiston, near Rotherham, Yorkshire, in 1839, when he stated that his father was William Stinson, whose occupation was "potter". In a book about the local Wesleyan circuit there is a list of the trustees of the chapel in 1836 and amongst them is "Joseph Stinson, late of Dudley, but then of Ravensitch in the Parish of Oldswinford, potter. (It seems to me that there is a possibility that the mention of William Starson in the 1818 directory is a misprint for William Stinson).
The next reference we have is in The Directory of Wolverhampton, 1827 which has, in the Bilston section: “John Wilde & Son, manufacturers of black ware, Bradley Pottery”. It may be that Wilde had taken over Starson’s, or Stinson's, operation. But Samuel Stinson's marriage certificate shows that William Sinson was still described as a potter in 1839. It may be that he had moved to Ravensitch on selling out to Wilde.
In William White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, 1831, at p.228, under the heading "Earthenware Manufacturers" we find:
Myatt Benj (yellow)
This is the first appearance of the name Myatt, which recurs throughout the rest of this story. It is a sufficiently unusual name in the area to suggest that George and Benjamin were related, perhaps brothers.
My original guess was that this meant that, unless there were two works in Bradley, Benjamin Myatt may have been in partnership with Wilde or perhaps leasing or sharing part of his works; and George Myatt would have had separate works at Shropshire Row, a street in Bradley. (The street is said to have been named after the workers from the Coalbrookdale area who came to Bradley as industry declined in Shropshire and increased in South Staffordshire). Further information from Susan Perham now strongly suggests otherwise (see below).
Bridgen's Directory of the Borough of Wolverhampton, 1833, in the Bilston section, shows:
manufacturer of brown and yellow earthenware, Pothouse Bridge
George has now left Shropshire Row and is located at Pothouse Bridge in Bradley. Benjamin is given a different specific location “canalside” though it is not impossible that the two brothers worked together as one firm with two locations or that in fact the two addresses given refer to one and the same place.
William White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, 1834, has the following entries under "Earthenware Manfrs":
This directory is also of particular interest because in it description of Bilston it says: "Here are likewise beds of potter's clay which is made into various articles of coarse earthenware". This is the only reference found so far establishing that there was suitable clay locally and that it was use locally. (That does not mean, of course, that it was the only clay used locally).
Then in Pigot’s Staffordshire, 1835, at p.396, under the heading "Earthenware Manufacturers", I found and almost identical entry to that for the 1834 entry:
The main difference is that the colour of wares attributed to Goerge Myatt has changed from blue and white to yellow. (And it is still not clear whether there are two or three potteries, both or all three in Bradley).
Since these web pages first appeared I have been contacted by Susan Perham (nee Wilde), now living in Australia. Susan suggests that at least some of the changes recorded round about 1832 may be attributable, directly or indirectly, the the outbreak of cholera which, in August and September of that year killed 742 people in Bilston out of a total population of 14,492. This death rate of nearly 1 in 20 of the population must clearly have affected all businesses in the town.
Susan has worked on her family history and has kindly provided information she has gleaned from records of baptisms and marriages and from the Bilston Taxation records 1814-19 and 1821-32. Susan has found her ancestor, John Wilde, described as a potter, and his wife, Hannah, recorded as the parents of Thomas (born 1800) and John (born 1805), both later described as potters. (John and Hannah also had four other children). The taxation records show John Wilde as the “proprietor and occupant” of a house and other buildings in Shropshire Row from 1821 to 1832. (He may have held these premises both before and after these dates).
Susan suggests that the most likely explanation of all this is that George Myatt (described in 1831 as being at Shropshire Row) was using John Wilde's premises. In other words the relationship I had guessed at between Wilde and Myatt was with George not Benjamin Wyatt.
Susan also reports that John Wilde (no.1) must have died before the 1841 census as Hannah is there listed as a widow, aged 60, living at Salop Row. John Wilde (no.2) appears to have become a widower and married a second time as he is listed in another house in Salop Row. The census also shows that John (no.2) was 35 at that time, that Sarah Wilde was 25, Adelaide was 10 and John (Susan's great-grandfather) was a 5 year old. Another daughter, Mary Ann appears to be living with her grandmother, Hannah.
The 1835 directory is the last we hear of John Wilde. Susan's research shows that her grandfather, Samuel James Wilde, born in 1880, was a West Bromwich man. This tends to confirm that John Wilde did indeed leave Bradley, sometime after 1835 and before the next directory we have in 1845; or, at the least, that he had given up his pottery interests.
The 1835 directory is also the last we hear of George and Benjamin Myatt though other Myatts re-appear later.
At this point Robert Bew takes over in the records: the next directory we have is ten years later, the Post Office Directory 1845, which records:
It is worth noting the mention of the chemist and druggist because it is unlikely that there were two people called Robert Bew. (Had they been father and son one is likely to have been designated “junior”). The suggestion is that Robert Bew was a chemist and druggist in Swan Bank and that he also owned and operated the Bradley Potteries. It is not known which of the two or three potteries in Bradley this would have been or if it was a combination of both or all of them; it may well have been the Myatts' pottery. But a connection between a chemist and a pottery is not at all unlikely – after all Josiah Wedgwood was a supreme example of the connection between chemistry and pottery.
The Post Office Directory of 1847 has only one small difference:
Bew, Robert, chemist
and druggist, Swan Bank
Slater's Directory of 1849 has Robert Bew as an earthenware manufacturer and also as a chemist and druggist in High Street. Whether this actually represents a move of his shop or is just a change of street name or a mistake is not known. (Cane was a more fashionable term for yellow).
Kelly's Directory of 1851 has
So that has him back in Swan Bank (and the phrase "cane ware" has been abandoned in favour of a return to "yellow ware".)
Melville's Directory of 1851 records:
stoneware manufacturer, Bradley Potteries
Which is practically identical. But Slater's Directory of the same year, 1851, has a different account. Under earthenware manufacturers it has:
Myatt, John, Bradley
and no mention of Bew at all. Dix's Directory, 1858 only records Robert Bew as a chemist and druggist, at 8 Church Street, but has no mention of any pottery making. Likewise the Post Office Directory of 1860 and Harrison Harrod's Directory of 1861 both record Bew as a chemist and druggist but have nothing about potteries. Jones's Trade Directory of 1862-3 does not even have Bew as a chemist and druggist.
It is a reasonable guess that John Myatt was a son of either George or Benjamin Myatt. But we have to be aware that Godden asserts that there were several potters with the name Myatt and, although he is talking about a slightly earlier period, it does show that there were other Myatt potting families around. But Godden also refers to the fact that, when Myatt’s impressed trade mark was registered in 1880, it was accompanied by a note that this mark had been used by the applicants and predecessors for 30 years before 1875 – that is, back to 1845. That is some slight evidence making the family connection a little closer to the last appearance of George and Benjamin. It is, of course, stronger evidence of a continuous line of Myatt potters from at least 1845.
There is then rather a long gap in the available directories until Jones's Iron District Directory 1868, which has:
Bew and Kearnes,
chemists and druggists, 8 Church Street
Bew’s chemist’s shop now has a street number in Church Street and he seems to be in partnership with Kearnes. It seems that after 1851 Bew never had anything to do with pottery.
So what are we to make of this evidence? At this point two jugs owned by Ivor Noel Hume become important. They fall within this period, being dated 1842 and 1849.