The Potteries: The Clue is in the Crest.

01/05/202012:3201/05/2020 12:33Leave a Comment

Stoke-on-Trent is known far and wide as the ceramics capital of the world earning itself the title of ‘The Potteries’. To this day the name remains in use despite the huge changes in both the economy and landscape of the six towns that make up the City of Stoke-on-Trent. 

Few obvious signs of the locality’s celebrated industrial past remain, although, there are plenty of clues around the place that hint at the intrinsic importance of the ceramics industry as part of the city’s past.

One glorious example is that of the City of Stoke-on-Trent’s coat of arms.

County Borough/City of Stoke-on-Trent coat of arm

As with most coat of arms the design and imagery includes features synonymous with the family, organisation, profession, or locality they represent. In 1912 the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent was granted its coat of arms. Two years prior Stoke-on-Trent had been constituted as a County Borough on the Federation of six former local authorities: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. The country borough was elevated to the status of city in 1925 and has kept the same coat of arms to this day.

Before the Federation of the six town in 1910 each of the towns existed as proudly independent authorities, each with their own crest. These crests represented the unique heritage of each of the towns, including important families, local dignitaries, and local industry. The central arms of the new County Borough looked to incorporate aspects from all six towns.

Starting at the top, the Stafford knot emblem is taken from the Tunstall arms. Tunstall are the only town to have adopted the knot which has been a widely used symbol throughout the county of Staffordshire for centuries. Additional imagery on the Tunstall arms is a clear nod to its pottery industry with three vases and two bottle ovens.

In between the two knots is a boars head taken from the Stoke-upon-Trent arms. The boars head is present on one of the three coats of arms that make up the right-hand side of the arms. The boars head is part of the Copeland family arms whilst the other two arms are that of the Keary and Minton families. The inclusion of the Copeland family arms, as part of the Stoke-upon-Trent arms, is not surprising and neither is that of the Minton arms; both of which represent the two most well-known and successful pottery companies in the town. The Keary arms relate to William Keary who, in 1874, became the first mayor of the newly incorporated Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent. As with the Tunstall arms, imagery relating to the towns main industry is on show with the inclusion of ceramic jugs, a bottle oven, and potters wheel.

Working clockwise, around the central shield section of the City’s arms, we start with the image of a camel. A peculiar image to be found on the arms of a city located in the middle of England; the camel is taken from the Hanley arms. The camel appears as the helm on the Hanley arms and is taken from the Ridgway family’s arms. The inclusion of the Ridgway insignia was perhaps an easy decision when it came to incorporating an aspect of the Hanley arms. The Ridgway family were the largest and most successful pottery dynasty across the Hanley and Shelton area throughout the 19th century. Furthermore, William Ridgway became the first Mayor after Hanley and Shelton were incorporated, becoming the Borough of Hanley in 1857. Again, the additional of jugs and bottle ovens allude to Hanley’s main industry.

Detail of S-O-T coat of arms showing scythe

Under the camel is the image of a scythe. Both the arms of Tunstall and Burslem contain the image of the scythe, and both for the same reason. The scythe is taken from the coat of arms of the Sneyd family. Landed gentry for over 500 years the Sneyd family owned large tracts of land in both the Burslem and Tunstall areas. The Sneyd family’s land was mined for both clay and coal and rented by generations of potting families.

Next is the image of an eagle, taken from the Longton arms. As with the camel of the Ridgway family the eagle is often present as the helm atop the Longton arms and relates to James Glover. In 1865 Longton and Lane End were incorporated as the borough of Longton and it was successful local mine and brewery owner, James Glover who became its first Mayor. Flanking the Longton arms are figures of a potter and a miner, representing the two main industries of the area.

Above the eagle is an image of, arguably, the most iconic piece of pottery to have ever come out of Stoke-on-Trent.  The image of the Portland Vase is taken from the Burslem arms and is a reference to Burslem’s most famous son: Josiah Wedgwood. Burslem became a borough in 1871 and in 1878 was granted a Charter of Incorporation and the right to display arms. Interestingly, the other five towns had and displayed ‘unofficial’ arms but only Burslem (as the ‘Mother’ town) received a grant.

Lastly, dividing the four images within the central aspect of the Stoke-on-Trent arms is a Fretty Cross. Taken from the most often forgotten of the six towns, Fenton, the cross appears on its arms dividing it into four quarters. As with Tunstall, Hanley, and Stoke, the pottery industry is represented by a vase and bottle ovens. Additionally, the coal industry is represented by a pit-head wheel whilst a sheaf of corn in front of a plough signifies agriculture. The Fenton arms have a goat’s head as the helm which is taken from the arms of William Baker, the Chief Bailiff of Fenton in 1840 and a successful local pottery manufacturer.

Detail of S-O-T coat of arms showing the Egyptian potter at his wheel

Sitting atop of the Stoke-on-Trent coat of arms is the image of an Egyptian Potter at his throwing wheel; a symbol of the rich and important heritage of pottery making.

Detail of S-O-T coat of arms [Latin motto translates to ‘United Strength is Stronger]

Back in 1912 the design of the county borough’s arms offered an opportunity to create new symbolism representing the areas new shared identity. I hope this closer study of the arms has provided a fascinating insight into the county borough’s bold new vision for itself as it moved into the 20th century. The new coat of arms was a symbolic bringing together of the six towns; a chance to reflection on what each of them had achieved in the past and the beginning of a future in which ‘United Strength is Stronger’. 

Written by Ben Miller (Curator, Ceramics)

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