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Working conditions at the Spode factory

factory Thomas Shaw, foreman of the pottery reported that Copeland & Garrett employed 780 people; 454 men, 249 women, and 77 children under the age of 13. The premises extended over 14 acres of land and included 19 ovens, 272 workrooms, 19 slip kilns, 42 warehouses, and 33 other offices. 

 In his concluding note Samuel Scriven wrote, “These works are very extensive, the whole covering nearly 14 acres of ground; they appear to have been erected many years, as there is neither conformity, order, or system of arrangement … except in the dipping house, green house, and one or two others, which are comparatively modern structures.  The printing rooms, throwing rooms, pressing rooms, and painting rooms, in which numbers are working together, are close, low, small, and inconvenient places for the purposes to which they are applied – even at this season ... they are hot and unhealthy… The premises are well drained, and great order and regularity is observed by the work-people.  The boys and girls are in separate premises, and are under good discipline.”      

woodWilliam Bardin aged 12½ worked in the biscuit warehouse.  He had  started at Copeland & Garratt’s at the age of 9½ when he began work in the dipping house, where the “lead made me bad”.   Dipping biscuit earthenware into tubs of lead glaze was described by Scriven as a “pernicious and destructive” process.  The toxic occupation affected the nervous system and was particularly dangerous for children.  Charles Barker, a worker in the dipping house, noted that his fellow workers, 4 men and 11 boys, "all ...  have been aflicted with cramp and pains ... the boys are taken in fits sometimes ... because the work is considered more pernicious than any other ... we get better wages".  “Upon the  average we (the men)  get 30s.(shillings) a week".

woodGeorge Bell, who had begun work at the age of 7 in the printing rooms, had worked in the pottery industry for 26 years; the last 10 years as a printer. As one would expect with Spode’s reputation, the printing shop was extensive.  Twenty rooms, 16 with single presses 4 with double presses.  Bell reported that each printer worked with two women and a young girl – there were 20 teams of 4 – making 80 operatives, and in addition there were 9 girl apprentices about 14 years of age.  He said the conditions "are unhealthy – hot and ill-ventilated – We have a trough of cold water in every room to wash the paper off the ware. The sudden change from the hot press to the cold water affects the women and children more than anything else.”  He concluded, “There is a part of our work which is unhealthy, which is that of cleaning our copper plates with spirits of tar on the hot plates, the fumes arising are bad.”  Scriven added his own note, “These rooms are all ill-constructed, low, close, ill-ventilated and damp”