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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Stoke and Staffordshire

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Work
Applying transfers
Girl cutting out pottery design 1843

© Miranda Goodby
Children in Staffordshire's potteries

In 1840 a Parliamentary Commission was set up to enquire into the state of children employed in the mines and manufactories, including the potteries. Adult and child workers were interviewed by the Commissioner, Samuel Scriven, in 1841 as were employers, ministers of religion and schoolteachers. While numerous employers stated that they could see nothing wrong in children working a seventy-two hour week at eight or ten years of age, the general conclusion was that children went to work too young and that, as a result, both their health and their education suffered.

Children in the potteries

Pottery factory yard
Scrap pot carriers c1890
© Miranda Goodby
On reaching the age of 14 most children were apprenticed to a particular trade – thrower, presser, transferer or paintress. However the majority of children started work in the pottery trade long before that – sometimes as young as five or six – and usually by the age of eight. They were used as cheap, unskilled labour to fetch and carry, prepare raw materials and to provide power for the few machines that the potters used.

The pottery factories, large or small, were divided into workshops in which a number of skilled adult workers would carry out one part of the making or decorating process, each assisted by between one and three children. Although the adults were employed by the factory owners, usually on ‘piece-rates’ (where their earnings depended on how many pots they produced) their child assistants were not. Instead they were paid a fixed weekly wage by the skilled workers out of their own wages. As the children were not employed by the factory there were no restrictions on how long they worked, how badly they were treated or how low their pay was.

Words: Miranda Goodby

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