The Pottery riots in Burslem, August 1842

19/09/201912:5125/10/2019 16:04Leave a Comment

In the ceramics collection here at PMAG there are three items closely connected with the riots of 1842, each given to one of the protagonists: the man in charge of the Burslem police force, George Ryles; Captain Thomas Powys who gave the order to fire on the rioters; and the Chartist orator, Thomas Cooper, who was convicted of conspiracy and inciting violence.

The summer of 1842 was a period of widespread colliery strikes across the north and midlands, including north Staffordshire. The strikes had affected the pottery factories, which were dependent on coal to fire their wares, and many pottery workers had their hours of work reduced, leading to great hardship. On 14th and 15th August 1842 the prominent radical writer and poet, Thomas Cooper, spoke at a number of open-air meetings in Stoke-on-Trent in support of the local colliers. Following his speech on the 15th August, a number of men marched through Hanley, Shelton, Stoke, Penkhull, Fenton and Longton destroying property and encouraging others to join them.

Bone china jug, manufacturer unknown, inscribed ‘George Riles [sic] Superintendent of Burslem Police 1841 ( 2007C68)
George Ryles became the town’s first police officer in 1838 and was appointed Superintendent of Police in 1841.

The riots continued through the night and the following morning a large crowd assembled in Burslem.  Joseph Ryles, the Police Superintendent, quickly swore in a number of special constables, and Samuel Alcock, a leading pottery manufacturer and Chief Constable of Burslem, sent for Captain Powys, a local magistrate and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County.

Captain Powys repeatedly urged the crowd to disperse and read the Riot Act to them in the presence of fifty soldiers of the 2nd Dragoons who had arrived in the town. The troops, unsuccessfully, attempted several times to disperse the crowd, using the flats of their swords. Shortly after midday a large number of men arrived from Leek to join the local rioters. The troops and special constables were now attacked from several sides and Captain Powys gave the order to fire on the crowd. One man, Joseph Heapy, was killed outright and many others were injured. The rest of the crowd fled.

By this time the authorities elsewhere in the district were becoming more organised. More troops of soldiers had arrived and additional special constables were sworn in. Hundreds of arrests were made during August and the trials, in October 1842, were fully reported in the local newspaper, The Staffordshire Advertiser. Over 150 received prison sentences and 54 were transported. Among those convicted was Thomas Cooper who was charged with conspiracy and inciting violence. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment in Stafford Gaol. While incarcerated he wrote the lengthy The Purgatory of Suicides: a Prison-Rhyme in Ten Books, which was published in 1845. On release from prison Cooper continued to tour Britain as a public lecturer. He visited Stoke-on-Trent again in 1850 and it may be that this is when he was presented with this loving cup.

Bone china loving cup, manufacturer unknown, inscribed ‘A Present from the Staffordshire Potteries to Thomas Cooper, author of the Purgatory of Suicides’ (

By contrast Captain Powys was seen as the saviour of the town and was presented with a bone china dinner service

Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 16 January 1843
Bone china plate and tureen stand, made by Samuel Alcock & Co., (Acc.nos.1972P37 and 1968P50) from a dinner service
Painted with Captain Powys’ crest and, on the rim, the inscription ‘From the inhabitants of Burslem August 16 1842’. Powys was regarded as the saviour of the town by the ‘respectable inhabitants’ of Burslem who commissioned this dinner service and presented it to him in January 1843.
Written by Miranda Goodby, Senior Curator of Ceramics - Modified by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

6 thoughts on “The Pottery riots in Burslem, August 1842”

  1. Elizabeth samways says:

    I have some pieces of pottery made with Hanley printed I was wondering if you knew anything about it.. I could forward you photo.

    1. Glenn Roadley (Curator, Natural Sciences) says:

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks for getting in touch. You can contact our ceramics curators at

  2. Carolyn W says:

    Thanks so much for this information! I purchased a plate today here in Victoria BC that appears to be part of the Captain Powys’ dinner service. Now I’m curious to figure out how it made it’s way the the west coast of Canada!

  3. Frank Kennedy says:

    This write-up gives the so-called “respectable” point of view, and labelling an accumulation of events as “riots” is always loaded. I am sure the news reporting of the time would have taken the side of the “bosses” and military; what efforts have Stoke Museums made to research and present the workers’ side, the reasons for the miners’ strikes and the mass discontent and distress that had evidently built up? What were the relations between miners and pottery workers? Perhaps the full picture is given elsewhere, but this extract does look ‘skewed’.

    1. Joe Perry (Curator, Local History) says:

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for your comments and feedback on this blog. I’ve passed them to the ceramics team who should get back to you with a response.

      1. Frank J Kennedy says:

        Thank you!

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