Unloading Clay at the Melling Pottery
The Birth of the Melling Pottery
In 1872 Scottish potters first started to arrive in Melling from Rutherglen near Glasgow in Scotland, with Mr Service, to set up a new factory under his management. Melling was to offer a better way of life financially, and the migrants brought with them new potter skills and craftsmanship to the area, as well as a culture of rich traditions in music and folklore.
The new pottery gave employment to many people outside the area, and became the hub of the village and society and some of the workers took an active part in Melling village life, notably in Melling Prize Band which was mainly made up of pottery workers, and gave many hours of pleasure not only to members but to the people of Melling generally.
The Prize band taken on Melling Vicarage lawn no later than 1907.
It is suggested that Melling was chosen possibly due to a visit to Scotland, made a century earlier by a potter called Richard Abbey, who became a world-famous pottery printer and was born in Aintree. He may have been the founder of a small Melling Pottery which pre-existed on the site, where stoneware pots and Melling jugs had been made. He visited the pottery in Glasgow to teach engraving and it may have been through him that the Scots first heard of Melling, and with the coming of the canals the site would have been an excellent location to transport clay from southern England via Liverpool. The reason why the stamp ‘Midland Pottery Co.’ was used is unknown, did the migrant Scots think they had reached the Midlands which is renowned for their famous potteries.
Warehouse and Workers
The only stoneware pottery in the district, the factory consisted of three kilns, warehouses, sheds and six double cottages. Clay from Devonshire was shipped to Stanley Docks in Liverpool where it was put on to a barge to the door of the pottery works. Being close to the canal meant that delivery was quick and cheap. The water from the canal was also used for the manufacturing process. Coal to fire kilns was brought by barge from Wigan.
THE JOLLY ROOM: where soft clay was moulded into jars which are partially dried before the glazing
The females who worked in the pottery were called ‘Jolley Girls’. It was considered good work and many young girls in the area were pleased to start their working life in the pottery.
LOADING: heavy receptacles known as ‘saggers’ containing soft clay jars being loaded on to trucks which are passed into the kiln
As well as being employed making pots, men were employed making boxes to pack the pottery for shipment.
Mr Edward Service, Pottery Manager
The Service family probably came from the Caladonia pottery where documents show Edward Service as pottery Manager and his son, James as a potter. When he took over the Melling pottery it was a small concern, but by his shrewdness, foresight and exceptional business qualifications the company made steady progress until it was one of the largest of its kind in Lancashire. The people of Melling were not slow to recognise his worth, and entrusted him with much responsible work to which he gave himself wholeheartedly. He was appointed trustee of Melling Schools, and for a long time he was Chairman of Melling Parish Council, as well as holding other senior positions on various boards. The Melling brass band particularly owed its existence to the exertions of Mr Service, for he spared neither time nor money on its welfare. He was also a strong churchman and attended Melling Parish Church regularly, of which he was a sidesman where he was laid to rest in 1915 at St Thomas Church, Melling leaving behind seven children.
The Melling Jug
The unique ‘Melling Jug’ comes in a variety of sizes, and many are personalised with various wives’ names and contain images. This significance may help to explain its purpose as perhaps symbolic and as a useful method of communicating stories and morals, especially in the 18th century when not many people were literate. The ‘Melling Jug’ was commercial and popular in and around the farming areas of Melling and would have proven a suitable wedding gift, and apart from being useful in holding liquids for a new wife, it would serve as a reminder/warning to any would be rouge husband and this may be one reason why so many show only the wife’s name.
Rev Hayes & Tithebarn work Party and Mrs Dow pouring tea from her Melling Jug
The End of the Melling Pottery
In 1922 the pottery was bought by Hartley’s Jam works where they manufactured the jam pots for Hartley Jam factory in Aintree, it is assumed that the production of the pottery ceased at this time as there does not appear to be any Midland pottery produced dating beyond this.
Disaster struck the pottery in 1929 when it was destroyed by fire. The fire engulfed one of the two storeys where machinery and a vast number of earthenware pots and jars were ready for dispatch to the jam works. Great quantities of water were poured into the building from all sides but with little effect for flames continued to envelope the whole structure, and left only a mere skeleton. When the fire broke out a number of employees were close to hand, but no one knew how it started and as a result of the fore many men and women where thrown out of work. The factory chimney had to be demolished after the fire as it was unsafe, and the day of the blasting of the chimney was made a school holiday so that the children could watch. This was the final curtain for a unique industry that gave employment to many beyond the bounds of Melling, and created a community of skilled craftsman, with the Scots leaving Melling due to the southward migration of potters from Scotland.
Although the pottery has now long gone, and the voices of the potters can no longer be heard from the open windows singing ‘I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow toon (town)’, the memory of the pottery is kept alive in the jugs, mugs, muff warmers, whiskey jars, ink bottles etc., which are special to Melling and are still to be found today. Indeed broken bits pottery are still being uncovered in the surrounding fields, and are remnants of past times when they were prized by local farmers who used it to fill in potholes on farm tracks and improve drainage in the fields.
It is with gratitude to the pottery and its people, who brought industry and prosperity to the area, that we give thanks for shaping the present and future of Melling, through its rich past.
Midland Pottery location (based on a 1891 map)
Acknowledgement and thanks go to E.E Newton MBE and Laura King for this information on the Melling Potter, referenced from their book Melling Pottery – An Unique Local Industry
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