Potted Histories – The Thomas Edward Vase
In 2016 the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery acquired this fine lustre vase painted with the coat of arms of Burslem town Council and a procession of winged pottery workers beneath bottle ovens. It is inscribed on one side ‘Thomas Edwards, Mayor 1908-09’, and under the base ‘To Thomas Edwards from William Burton 1908’.
Thomas Edwards (1838-1910) was the last mayor of Burslem before the Federation of the Six Towns in 1910. He was born in Hot lane, Burslem, and started work at Davenport’s pottery, Longport, aged eight, earning 6d (2 ½ p) per week. He was subsequently apprenticed as a ‘placer’ responsible for filling the saggars, prior to firing and subsequently became a fireman at Twyford’s pottery at Bath Street Hanley, and then for Dudson’s in Hope Street Hanley.
At the age of 19 he joined the Ovenmen’s Society and in 1865 he was involved in the strike which helped to bring about the end of annual hiring. He was a member of this union for over 50 years and it’s Secretary for 20. As an active union member he was involved in the strike which helped to bring about the practice of ‘annual hiring’ in the pottery industry in 1865, and in 1900 & 1908 he helped to achieve increases in potters’ wages. In 1908 he gave evidence to a Government Committee enquiring into the effect of lead poisoning in the pottery industry.
In 1891 he was elected to Burslem Town Council becoming an Alderman in 1893 and Mayor in 1908-9 and again in 1909-10. He served as a local Justice of the Peace for many years and was an active Methodist. He died suddenly aged 72 and his obituaries all spoke highly of him and the affection and esteem in which he was held.
Thomas Edwards is one of the many unsung heroes of Stoke-on-Trent. His work in improving the employment conditions in the pottery industry was important in itself but he was also active in promoting improvements in the living conditions of the people of Burslem, serving on the Education Board as well as on the Committees responsible for Public Baths and Parks and was actively involved in the question of smoke abatement in the Potteries.
This vase was made at the Pilkington’s factory in Lancashire. It was a gift to Thomas Edwards from William Burton, then manager of Pilkington’s pottery. Burton had previously worked for the Wedgwood pottery firm at their Etruria factory in the 1890s and the two men may have known each other at that period. The base has, in addition to the inscription the rebus the decorator of the vase, Gordon Forsyth, in the form of four scythes interlinked.