Bilston and Bradley Potteries
Frank Sharmanpage 1
How this story came about
When the Black Country Memories Club was arranging its "Made in Bilston" exhibition, Philippa Tinsley of the Wolverhampton Art Gallery kindly scoured their store rooms for Bilston artefacts and let us have a list of them. The list included ceramics by Bew and Myatt. Apart from the brief reference in Lawley, we knew nothing about these potteries. So, in due course, I researched local trade directories and some other sources and put an account of Bilston and Bradley Potteries on this site, together with photos of the then known examples, including one acquired by Reg Aston. In due course Barbara Bibb made contact and gave us a photo of another example she had just acquired. Then, at the Bilston Craft Gallery, Andrew Alvarez and Francesca Cambridge started work on a new permanent exhibition, "Craftsense". Francesca identified many further examples of Myatt wares in the city council's collection at the Art Gallery and at Bantock House.
Frank Sharman was then contacted by Ivor Noel Hume, OBE. He is a retired historical archaeologist, who worked for the City of London at the Guildhall Museum and became the Director of Archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. He continues as a ceramics expert, specialising in stoneware and earthenware. One of his many books is If These Pots Could Talk: 2000 Years of British Household Pottery, published by the University Press of New England in 2001 and it is available here in the UK. Noel had acquired a large Bilston-Bradley jug and, whilst the email correspondence was going on, acquired another huge one. He has carried out the most remarkable and detailed research on these, and some similar ones, and the results of this work will appear in 2005 in Ceramics in America. He has kindly provided us with photos and permitted us to refer to his findings here and now. I have made the briefest summary here: much more detail and argument will appear in Ceramics in America.
At the opening of the Craftsense exhibition we were put in touch with the Mary Weaver collection - which immediately more than doubled the number of known examples of Myatt pottery!
I have pleasure in acknowledging the assistance of all those named here.
Introduction: the initial information
Staffordshire pottery is world famous but it is normally associated with the products of the Stoke on Trent area. But in the days when Bilston and Bradley were still in the county of Stafford, pottery was made there too and at least some of it appears to have been of a very high order.
It is likely that, as was originally the case with the Potteries, local clays were used. In the Bilston area of southern Staffordshire there were many clays. The fireclay, so essential to the metal producing and metal working industries of the area, was in abundant supply. So was brick making clay. But there seem to have been finer clays too, which probably include those exploited by Wards of Darlaston for their garden pots. Wards first factory was in Bilston, in what was then called Goose Throttle Lane. What seems to be the pit from which they dug their clay remains as a pool in The Lunt. It may have been this sort of local clay that was used by the various Bilston potters for their earthenware.
Nothing much seems to be known about these potters. Geoffrey A. Godden's "Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks", Barrie and Jenkins, 1964, is the only book I have found which makes any reference at all and that to only one pottery. The entry (at p. 456) reads:
Godden then adds what amount to words of warning for anyone trying to find out more about these potters. "A similar mark was used by Joseph (?) Myatt, Lane Delp and Fenton. Staffordshire Potteries. Late 18th to early 19th century. Earthenware, Wedgwood-type Wares". Godden also notes "Myatt Impressed mark [without the enclosing rectangle] late 18th to early 19th century. Many potters of this name were working in the Potteries from c.1790 into the 19th century. It is difficult to state with certainty which used this mark, or to fix the period to narrow limits."
To this I would add another, and more basic, warning: Myatt must not be confused with Myott, a very prolific, modern, pottery from Stoke on Trent. And it might also be noted that Bilston pottery must not be confused with Bilton pottery, Bilton being a manufacturer in Stoke.
In his History of Bilston (published in 1893) G. T. Lawley has a short passage (at.p.261) in which he deals with "The Pottery Trade". He says:
Lawley is usually a reliable historian, is known to have access to all the local trade directories, and is writing almost contemporaneously of the events he mentions here. But he is known to have relied on hearsay or oral tradition and does not often cite his sources. His account seems to suggest that there was only ever one pottery in Bradley.
The 1902 Ordnance Survey map for the Bilston area marks three sites as being potteries.