History

The history of the Gladstone site is a wonderful example of the history and development of the pottery industry. While no single factory can show all developments, the complex history of owners and tenants and the pottery they produced is typical of the development of the pottery industry in Longton.

1770s-1869 Growth of an industry

Land larger than the current Gladstone site was bought from the Lord of Longton Manor by two brothers, Thomas and Michael Shelley, who operated two factories jointly. They produced creamware, the typical Potteries product of that time.  In 1815 the site split and the Gladstone Portion had a house, small workshops and one bottle oven, maintaining a separate history from that point.   It had one owner until 1857, but was let out to a succession of tenants who made bone china in step with the trend of that time.  For this change it expanded from a small one-oven works dependent on other factories to a self contained three oven factory.  An entrepreneurial tenant, later owner, Thomas Cooper expanded the workshops in the 1850s, and built an imposing main road frontage in the classical style.  This replaced the old fashioned master’s house, providing warehouse space and a main street frontage for which could generate rental income from smaller retail businesses.  The boundaries of the Historic Factory were established.

1869 – 1939 – A family concern, and Gladstone got its name

The site was owned by successors of one family, who called their works Gladstone Pottery after the well loved Prime Minister. The ‘mill’ current engine house was built about 1875, as a two storey building with a pitched roof, in the typical Potteries style.   It housed a steam engine which powered grinding pans on the first floor for grinding raw materials.  It also would have powered steam jiggers and jolleys on site.  Steam engines were introduced in the 1870s when child labour was becoming less available.   Few other changes were made to the site, the pottery industry went through booms and slumps, little money was available for investment and the workshops behind the grand frontage were ageing, and in a poor state of repair.  A detailed inventory of the site in 1910 gives a snap shot of uses and fittings for that date, which oral histories tell us had changed very little up to 1939.

 

1939 – 1971

The factory closed down production during the war period being ‘concentrated’ with Thomas Poole (Longton) Ltd, members of the Poole family being Directors of Gladstone China. After the war repairs were needed to get the factory operational again and much repair work was done to the kilns.  Thomas Poole (Longton) Ltd took over the factory in 1950 which was a boom time for the industry and prepared to expand purchasing the buildings of the Doctor’s House, White House, and the company Salisbury China.

The Clean Air Act forbidding the use of coal fired bottle ovens, probably led to investment being concentrated on Thomas Poole’s main factory – the Cobden Works. In March 1960 the bottle ovens were fired for the last time, but decorating and then only despatch departments were active until May 1970 when Thomas Poole and Gladstone China Ltd put the works up for sale.

 

Saved at the Eleventh Hour

1971 – 1974 Saved and reborn

During the 1960s when so many of the old pottery factories and bottle ovens were being demolished there was a group of local people, centred on the Trustees of the Cheddleton Flint Mill, who were interested in saving part of the traditional distinctive Stoke-on-Trent landscape. Many sites were considered but the Gladstone site was considered the best example of a medium sized typical potbank. When the factory was due to be demolished to make the site more attractive to purchasers, a local businessman, Derek Johnson of H&R Johnson the tile manufacturers, bought the site and transferred ownership to the Staffordshire Pottery Industry Preservation Trust to be run as a museum opening in 1974.

The city of Stoke-on-Trent took ownership of the site in 1989, and took over management of the museum in 1994.

More detailed history of the development phases –

 

The Shelley Family

 

In 1774 land larger than the current Gladstone site was bought from the Lord of Longton Manor by two brothers, Thomas and Michael Shelley, who owned the land separately but operated their factories jointly. The land is currently occupied by Gladstone Pottery Museum, Roslyn Business Enterprise Units and the Gladstone/Roslyn carpark.  They produced creamware, the typical Potteries product of that time. Michael owned the Gladstone portion, which was rented out and sold after he died in 1789 to William Ward who sold to Thomas Shelley two years later.  Thomas continued to rent out the Gladstone portion and the two sites developed separately and the information from this point is about owners and tenant manufacturers of the current Gladstone site.

 

John Birks operated the factory c1802 to 1807, in partnership with his brother he also had another factory in Longton producing ‘Egyptian Black’ (basalt), and black basalt shards have been found on site.

John Hendley Sheridan and William Hyatt tenanted the Gladstone site between 1807 and 1811 making earthenware. Biscuit shards of dipped, turned and sprigged earthenware of this period have been found. Sheridan continued on his own until 1815

In 1815 the Shelley family sold the site to William Brett a banker at Stone to finance the settlement of Thomas Shelleys’s estate, and Sheridan immediately agreed to buy the house and potworks. At this time the premises consisted of a house fronting the High Street, (Uttoxeter Road), with a range of simple workshops and a kiln to the rear. This arrangement, with the Master’s house at the front of the property and workshops and only one kiln at the back was typical of the more modest manufacturing  concerns in the Potteries at this date.  The houses and a stable on Chadwick Street were sold separately.

 

Sheridan owned the property until 1857, but ceased to operate the works himself once he had bought it. During the next 40 years the development of this potbank was remarkable, and at the same time very typical of the development of Longton and the industry in the Potteries.

His first tenant was a partnership of Hugh Simpkin and William Waller until 1818 then Waller alone until 1821. They made bone china on the site for the first time.  A plan of 1840 shows three ovens on the site and it seems likely the two extra ovens were built to make it an independent china works.  Prior to 1816 the Gladstone works had always been linked with another, the one-oven works was not viable alone.

Charles Birks was the next tenant from 1822 until his death in 1834, making bone china.

Five brothers John, Thomas, Joseph, James and William Gerrard in partnership occupied the Gladstone site from 1835. By 1839 William Gerrard was the sole proprietor.  A twelve year old figure-maker and an eleven year old jigger turner were interviewed for the Children’s Employment Commission in 1841.  The interviewer commented that the rooms were small, dirty, dilapidated and unhealthy.

William Gerrard died in 1842, but his business was continued for a year by Sampson Beardmore, Samuel Bourne and Thomas Cope.

Henry Beardmore made china on the Gladstone site from 1843 until his death in 1848.

Richard Ray and partners were the next tenants from 1849 to 1854. He purchased 200 square yards and a barrow way from the owner of the Doctor’s House on Chadwick Street and this was incorporated into the Gladstone site, at about the same time Sheridan sold off the rear portion of the Gladstone site adjoining Chadwick Street. His partner until 1850 was Mr Ball, then Moses Ray and Mr Bentley.  The fourth oven was erected in this period.

The most daring of Sheridan’s tenants was Thomas Cooper tenant from 1855 . It is to him that we owe much of the present appearance of the potbank.  Evidently under Cooper the business thrived; by the 1855 he was employing 41 adults and 26 children in the production of china and parian figures.  In 1856 he demolished the old houses fronting the High Street; rebuilding followed at once.  The new street frontage was built in a simple classical style rather than the still popular Palladian style and must have been impressive and modern.  The workshops behind do not seem to have been modernised at all.   The Ordnance Map of 1856 describes the factory as a ‘China and Parian Figure Works and two biscuit and two glost ovens, a printing house, two enamelling kilns and the new buildings.  Cooper bought the factory in 1857, and operated it until his death in 1865.

Charles Bullock was the last tenant in this period, his stay was brief. The failure of Harvey’s Longton bank in 1866 precipitated his own bankruptcy in that year.

Until this frontage was built there was a dwelling-house on the site, Michael Shelley, followed by his widow occupied it between 1774 and 1808, and Hugh Simpkin lived there in 1818. William Gerrard and his family and a servant lived there in 1841. In 1851 Richard Ray, his family and servant lived in the factory house.  The new frontage incorporated the factory house but it was used as a public house, dining rooms and shops with living accommodation over .   Cooper, Bullock and successive owners lived in Dresden along with two thirds of Longton manufacturers at that time.

A Family Concern

In 1869 the site was sold to Richard Hodson and was owned and operated by his family for the next 60 years. Hodson built the last remaining feature of the Gladstone site, the engine house called in mortgage documents (which he seems to have a lot of) the Mill. It is shown as two storeys high with a pitched roof, of typical potbank style.  Steam power for potters machinery was possible from the 1840s onwards , however Gladstone like most potbanks adopted steam power in the 1870s when the previous source of power – children – were becoming less available due to education reform.  Here the Gladstone site was now able to grind all its raw materials. He seems to have been proud of his factory and used it in advertisements in the Pottery Gazette showing a rather grand (if exaggerated ) view of the Gladstone Works. It must have been at this period that the Works were called after the famous politician W E Gladstone.  He came to Burslem in 1863 to lay the foundation stone of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute, the earliest found reference to “Gladstone Works” is on a letterhead sent to a colour supplier in 1870.  The letter is signed GP on behalf of R Hodson which is significant because George Procter became Richard Hodson’s partner and married his daughter.  The grand frontage was used a shop and the ‘Cobden Inn’ later a British Workman’s Home.

Richard Hodson died in 1880, leaving his estate between his three daughters and his grandson. The site was technically owned by his Trustees (who held the mortgages) until 1919.  The Factory was run by his son in law George Procter in partnership with William Mayer and George Wooley until 1892.  The company was declared bankrupt in 1890, with a list of creditor published in the ‘Pottery Gazette’. The company was known as George Procter and Co from 1892 to 1939.  Procter died in 1910 and a detailed inventory of the site was made by the Trustees of Richard Hodson for his daughter (George Procter’s widow) and Bernard Kellet Proctor his grandson, to continue as tenants.  This very detailed schedule tells us a great deal about the buildings and their usage at that time.  It shows us that the mill was still in use, the jiggers were steam powered, non-circular hollow-ware was pressed, casting was used only for cream jugs.   The hovels were specified separately from the kilns they contained.  In no case is the present number of fire-mouths and bands identical, showing the rebuilding and repairing of ovens necessary in the 50 years of active use up to 1960.  Differences between 1910 and now would be the enamel kilns in the yard, a frit kiln, gas lighting, wagon weighing machine in the tunnel.  Appended to the deed is a letter of 1913 instructing the factory manager to carry out a variety of work to enable the factory to meet the new Home Office Rules.  It resulted in all the areas which were not already blue brick paved being so, and windows altered to the hopper type.

In 1919 the factory was sold to Bernard Kellett Procter still trading at George Procter and Co and known as the Gladstone Pottery

1939 -1971

From 1939 the company was called Gladstone China (Longton) Ltd, including James Poole as a Director. George Procter (son of Bernard) married Doreen Poole, James sister.   During the Second World War some factories closed down. Others like Gladstone China had their business  ‘concentrated’ with a ‘nucleus firm’ who had been granted a government licence to continue production. Gladstone closed down production and was ‘concentrated’ with Thomas Poole (Longton) Ltd.  In 1946 the factory was deconcentrated and after 5 years of closure a lot of repair work was needed. Oral reports vary as to whether the tunnel and other areas were concreted, but this was the time when the cobbles were removed from the passage between the hovel and the oven  of No 1  and No 2 Bottle Ovens and concreted.   Ovens were greatly repaired after their long cold shutdown.  The mill (engine house) changed use. George Procter was not keen to start up again after the war.   The two companies amalgamated in 1950 and from 1952 traded as Thomas Poole and Gladstone China Ltd.

The 1950s were a time when reputedly any pottery would sell and it was a real boom time for the pottery industry. Thomas Poole and Gladstone China bought up the land around the works including the White House in 1952 the Doctor’s House and obviously intended to expand.  They also acquired the company Salisbury China manufacturing on Edensor Road in Longton.  The steam engine was last used in 1949 and electric drives were installed. The pitched roof of the mill was replaced by a flat roof with skylights, and two large rectangular windows.  The grinding pans were removed to use as flatware making workshops.  The enamel kilns in the yard were demolished and a new gas tunnel kiln installed in the top floor decorating shop.  Factory toilets were installed for staff at the rear of the building.  The Doctor’s House being used as a staff canteen and the White House as offices for Salisbury China.  Profits do not seem to have been satisfactory due the wider than usual range of patterns which prevent economic production runs.  The only company correspondence we have dates from this period and it reveals a sad tale of decline with apologies from agents at not being able to sell the pottery due to cheaper competition.  It may have been the Clean Air Acts of the late 1950s which forbade the use of the coal firing bottle ovens which required them to concentrate their investment on the core factory of Thomas Poole – the Cobden Works.  In March 1960 the bottle ovens last fired; and full scale production ceased.  Decorating  continued and the rest of the site was allowed to decay.  Most metal items were sold as scrap, and lead was sold (or stolen) from the roofs.  From the mid 1960s only despatch departments were active until May 1970 when Thomas Poole and Gladstone China put the works up for sale.

1971 – 1974 Saved and reborn

During the 1960s when so many of the old pottery factories and bottle ovens were being demolished there was a group of local people, centred on the Trustees of the Cheddleton Flint Mill, who were interested in saving part of the traditional distinctive Stoke-on-Trent landscape. Many sites were considered but the Gladstone site was considered the best example of a medium sized typical potbank. When the factory was due to be demolished to make the site more attractive to purchasers, a local businessman, Derek Johnson of H&R Johnson the tile manufacturers, bought the site and transferred ownership to the Staffordshire Pottery Industry Preservation Trust to be run as a museum opening in 1974.

The city of Stoke-on-Trent took ownership of the site in 1989, and took over management of the museum in 1994.