About Staffordshire


The geography of Staffordshire in central England helped to make it a center for slipware and other types of lead-glazed earthenware. Thick layers of clay lay only a few feet below the surface. There was so much clay within easy reach that 18th-century potters routinely dug clay right out of the roads, giving us the origins of the phrase “pot hole.”

Staffordshire’s signature bottle kilns were plentiful in the northern part of the Midlands district of the United Kingdom. The towns of Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke, and Tunstall, which are now called Stoke-on-Trent, covered roughly 100 square miles.

The area came into focus as the powerhouse of pottery production in the UK in the 1700-1800s, but it has been a significant pottery producing area for centuries. Staffordshire has plenty of clay, lead, salt and coal in the area making it a perfect place for pottery production. It’s thought that this first came together in 1467, 200 years before John Astbury introduced his red earthenware to the world, and almost 300 years before the “Potter to Her Majesty,” Josiah Wedgwood made his cream-colored, lead-glazed Queen’s Ware for Queen Charlotte.

The antique Staffordshire ceramics that we are most familiar with today are from these later periods, when as many as 4,000 bottle kilns were in use, producing fine dinnerware and fanciful figurines.

One of the leading potters of the 18th century was Thomas Whieldon, who made everything from black tea and coffee pots to knife hafts for the Sheffield cutlers, to plates with richly ornamented edges. Whieldon had many apprentices, Josiah Spode and Ralph Wood are two of the most important, and he was a business partner for about five years with Josiah Wedgwood, who learned a lot from Whieldon before establishing his own firm in 1759.

Though rightly famous for his creamware, which was lightweight and had a luminous glaze, Wedgwood also developed a line of unglazed black stoneware known as the basalts. Some wares had precise basketweave reliefs on their exteriors, others were decorated with terracotta figures called Etruscan Ware. Other achievements by Wedgwood include the introduction of Jasperware, stoneware colored by metal oxides, and pearlware, a bluish version of his creamware.

By the end of the 18th century, Staffordshire potteries were producing Anglo-American wares for the newly independent American colonies. Pieces were often decorated with slogans that celebrated American independence.

At the beginning of the 19th century, transfer-printed scenes of everything from Niagara Falls to views of Boston Harbor were produced on monochrome blue platters and plates. Today the 800-some subjects in this series are known as Historical Blue Staffordshire, or simply Old Blue.

Other wares made for the new American market were Gaudy Dutch, with vivid pink, green, red, and green glazes. And as many as forty  patterns of sponged ware, also called Stick- Spatterware, came out of the Staffordshire potteries to supply Americans with table, tea, toilet, and ornamental ware.


Etching of an 1800s Staffordshire pottery works with bottle kilns in the Background.



A more realistic view of The Potteries.

A more realistic view of life in The Potteries.






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