The origin of the pottery known as the Gladstone Works dates right back to the birth of the pottery industry as we know it today.

At the end of the 18th century Longton was the next largest  pottery town after Burslem, and the future growth of Longton was made possible by the sale of the Longton Manor estate in the 1780s, which allowed the Burslem potters, and others, to buy land at a time when there was a shortage of developable land in the Burslem area.

Local Potters: The Shelley Family

Among the purchasers of the Longton lands were the Shelleys, a local family who had become well known for their potting skills. By 1787 they had established a large and thriving manufacturing concern on a site to the south of Lane End, adjoining the recently turnpiked road to Uttoxeter. It is on part of this site that the Gladstone Pottery Museum now stands.

Here the Shelleys produced their own earthenware, and also decorated plates and dishes manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood at Etruria. Two of the family, Thomas and Michael, were to achieve considerable prestige as manufacturers; yet by 1789 their business had failed, and they were declared bankrupt and forced to sell their factory. The purchaser was William Ward and he paid £900 for the site.

‘Less grandiose ambitions’: William Ward

William Ward had less grandiose ambitions and split up the site into two smaller potbanks. This division of the Shelleys’ property is still in evidence today, for the Gladstone Pottery is part of the Ward purchase; the Park Place Works (now the Roslyn Works) , which lies opposite Gladstone, forms the other part of the original Shelley property.

There is a map dated 1815 which shows the potbank split into several small lots. Many of these buildings were incorporated into later phases of building work in the 19th century, so visitors to the Gladstone Pottery Museum today will be, at least in part, surrounded by the fabric of 18th century buildings. It was in 1818 that Ward sold his potbank to John Hendley Sheridan for £1,222.

John Hendley Sheridan: Four Remarkable Decades

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.

Sheridan himself rose from a relatively obscure background to become a major civic official in the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent. He let out the potbank to tenants and seems to have chosen entrepreneurs who, with his help, enlarged and modernised the whole factory site.

In 1818 the premises were made up of two houses 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. Sheridan seems to have erected extra kilns and workshops for his tenants, completing a form of courtyard development which is clearly visible in a plan of 1840.

Thomas Cooper: A Daring Tenant Potter

The most daring of Sheridan’s tenants was one Thomas Cooper. It is to him that we owe the present appearance of the potbank. Evidently under Cooper the business thrived; by the 1850s he was employing 41 adults and 26 children to produce china and parian figures. In 1853 he bought the Master’s house in Chadwick Street. In 1856 he demolished the old houses fronting the High Street; rebuilding followed at once. A Deed of Second Mortgage between Thomas Cooper and John Hendley Sheridan dated 7 February 1857 refers to the two newly built houses and workshops against the High Street…. at present unfinished and unoccupied…

How Gladstone Got its Name

Evidently the period of successful expansion was relatively short-lived; by 1876 the site had passed into the hands of R Hobson and Co. It must have been during this period that the Works were called after the famous politician W.E. Gladstone, who came to Burslem in 1863 to lay the foundation stone of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute.

A Family Concern

Advertisements in the Pottery Gazette show a rather fanciful view of the Gladstone Works when it belonged to R Hobson & Co (1879-1885). From this time on there was a family link between successive owners of the site, and all seem to have made bone china.

Procter, Mayer, and Wooley were the owners between 1885 and 1892 and George Procter and Co from 1892 to 1939. George Procter died in 1910 and a detailed inventory of the site was made for his daughter and grandson, also called George Procter.

From 1939 the company was called Gladstone China (Longton) Ltd, under the same management. During the Second World War, Gladstone China closed temporarily and the business was ‘nucleated’ with the firm of Thomas Poole who had been granted a government licence to continue production – George Procter was married to Thomas Poole’s daughter. The two companies merged in 1952 to be called Thomas Poole and Gladstone China. Thomas Poole and Gladstone China bought up the land around the works including the White House and the Vulcan Public House and obviously intended to expand. The Clean Air Acts of the 1950s,  forbidding the use of coal fired bottle ovens, probably led to investment being concentrated Thomas Poole’s main factory – the Cobden Works.

The Beginning of the End?

It was in March 1960 that the ovens last fired; but decorating and then only despatch departments were active until May 1970 when Thomas Poole and Gladstone China put the works up for sale.

During the 1960s when 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 landscape of The Potteries. Many sites were considered but the Gladstone site was considered the best example of a medium sized typical potbank.

Saved at the Eleventh Hour

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 turned it over to the Staffordshire Pottery Industry Preservation Trust to be run as a museum. The museum was opened in 1974 and officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester in 1975.

In May 1994 ownership of Gladstone Pottery Museum passed to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.