Harry has been a regular visitor over twenty years now and is one of the remaining experts on ceramics that has worked their way up from the “shop floor” of ceramic factories, in his case in both Stoke and Worcester. Harry has now retired from his position as curator of both the Raven Mason Collection at Keele University and the Dyson Perrin Museum, Worcester.
His talk was full of light-hearted anecdotes about his times in the various factories. He explained all the “shops” – the ceramic term was for “workshops” – were generally the same across the different factories and certainly it applied to Mason’s Ironstone. He progressed through the different “shops” from the dirty to the clean – the dirty end being the throwing and moulding of the clay to the clean end which was the decorating and glazing. There were thirty different departments during this period and these still exist today but with mechanised systems.
One of his anecdotes was that all the patterns are stored in safes – similar to bank vaults and one evening he was putting patterns away and got locked in – fortunately for him someone heard his banging and he escaped quite quickly!
Harry also gave us a history lesson on the life of the early Victorian pottery workers. Explaining that all the skills were supported by apprentices – most having to serve an apprenticeship of seven years – starting at the “dirty” end: where the potter threw the pot, the wheel being driven manually by one young boy, while another would be mixing the clay to the right consistency and weight, and another would carry the pots on a board containing twelve or more at a time to the next process. These boys were between six and eight years old and worked from eight in the morning until seven at night – rotating their times between the three tasks. There were certain tasks, which were allocated to women, but these tended to be the light duties as most women were of a childbearing age and having a child every two years until the age of forty-five. The men and women were segregated because of the women being too much of a distraction! The factories had their own “cooper” making barrels in which the china was transported to London. The owner of the factory would be able to take on any of the tasks although not necessarily to the exacting degree of the workers, but with sufficient knowledge so as not to be hoodwinked.
This was a fascinating talk and gave the members an insight into the workings of the pottery in the early 19th Century, illustrated with pictures of working potters and the beautiful Mason Ironstone ceramics. We look forward to his next visit.