Museum Magpie: The 80th birthday of Joseph Edge, 1885
Read about the fascinating stories behind some of the objects in Gladstone Pottery Museum’s collection in the Museum Magpie blog.
While sorting through the contents of a cupboard in the Collections Office I came across a photograph album dated 1885. The cover is in poor condition but it has a fancy silver shield-shaped plate with a detailed inscription.
Joseph Edge was senior partner of Edge, Malkin & Co. of the Newport Tile and Earthenware Works, which was located at the southern end of Newport Lane, Burslem. He was a well-known local figure highly-respected in the pottery industry. He was presented with the photo album on the occasion of his 80th birthday on 11th July 1885. It was a gift from his employees ‘as a token of their respect & high esteem for his benevolent character & invariable kindliness’. The presentation was made in a ceremony accompanied by music performed by the factory choir. It was followed by a celebratory works outing to Rudyard that included the entire workforce, 350 people in total, which was reported in a lengthy article in The Sentinel. The party took a special train from Longport station to the lake then proceeded to the Rudyard Hotel for an afternoon tea dance not returning until after 9pm having enjoyed a ‘delightful’ and ‘convivial gathering’.
As well as this photo of Joseph himself the album contains 196 studio portraits of his factory workers. The photos are numbered and at the back of the album there is an index that gives the name of each person and their job. For most people it includes their number of years’ service with the company and in two instances there is a note that the person is deaf and dumb. The longest serving employee was Ralph Hancock, a presser, who had been with the firm for an astonishing 51 years. He would have started working there in 1834, three years before Queen Victoria came to the throne!
Shortly after I found the photo album a student named Lydia came to volunteer at Gladstone. She’s interested in working with archives so I thought that as an example of the kind of treasure she might encounter I’d show her the album. To demonstrate the unusual index I opened the book at random and asked her to pick a photo. She chose number 148, a serious young girl holding a book whose name turned out to be Lydia Joynson, a paintress. The coincidence of the two Lydia’s made us want to know more about her so I did a bit of research. Lydia Joynson was born on Christmas Eve 1872, so she would have been 13 years old when her photo was taken for Joseph’s album. Her family were involved in the pottery industry, her father was an ovenman and her two older sisters were also paintresses; she was one of eight siblings. She married Albert Heath in 1891, he was a potter’s placer and Lydia continued to work as a paintress after the birth of their first two children but by the 1911 census they had five children and she clearly had her hands full at home.
How rare and wonderful to be able to look at the faces of pottery workers from over 130 years ago and know their names, I feel very privileged. Even Joseph himself commented on receiving the album that ’no living person possessed an album similarly filled’. Donated by a family member to Gladstone Pottery Museum this unique object will find a permanent home in the care of the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives.