Burslem History (3)

Probate Documents – Furniture, Bedding, Household Utensils, Provisions, Agriculture, Pottery Industry (2), Credit.

 

Probate Documents

 

One of the best sources for examining how people lived and how their homes were furnished during the first half of the eighteenth century is through the use of probate inventories. These were simply lists of what a person had at the time of their death.[i] Unfortunately they do not exist for a large proportion of the population and any analysis based on probate evidence will under-represent both females and the poorer elements of society, being biased towards wealthier males. Those aged may have been living with children or other family members and therefore may have owned relatively little, falsely suggesting a lack of wealth. Therefore these documents can be no more than a minimum statement of a person’s wealth at the end of their life.[ii] Many of the documents differ in terms of structure and content, due not only to the quantity of the deceased’s possessions, but also the methodology and literacy of the appraisers. With these points considered probate inventories are still one of the best sources for the study of social history at a domestic level.[iii]

 

If the deceased had left a will he would have named a person(s) to act on his behalf in matters of probate known as the executor. It was the executor’s responsibility to bury the deceased (if the deceased had left a will they were commonly referred to as ‘the testator) and ensure that their wishes were completed. This included collecting any money that was owing to the testator, and paying legacies and debts. In order to generate finances an inventory was drawn up of the testator’s possessions, often including his or her debts and credits. These were compiled by appraisers, who were often neighbours or relatives, one of whom would have had sufficient knowledge of the deceased’s trade to accurately value any work tools or materials. The way appraisers worked differed widely from the simplistic total valuations of goods of a certain kind anonymously combined together, through to the extremely detailed that listed all possessions and often compiled on a room by room basis. Twenty-five probate inventories randomly selected of people who lived in the parish of Burslem during the first half of the eighteenth century were examined, eighteen of which were sufficiently detailed to allow a glimpse of what their homes were like, and it is from these that the following conclusions are drawn.

 

But this was not, nor in reality had it ever been, merry olde England with husbandmen toiling neatly-tilled fields and gathering in the yield during sun-drenched hazy harvests. These were days of crude sanitation (where it existed at all), medical services for those who could afford them were primitive, work was hard and unremitting, crime commonplace, wages small and life cheap. It would be unrealistic, even foolish, to judge these early eighteenth century individuals by the meanness of their household furnishings by modern day standards. If done so it would falsely suggest both a lack of wealth and comfort as this was also an age in which their predecessors would have considered some of these items as luxurious. Furniture, although still made robustly and passed from father to son, was now decorative as well as merely functional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burslem Probate Inventories Sample

 

 

 

Name

Date

Address

Occupation

IIP

Value (£)

Malkin John

1671

Sneyd Hamil

Yeoman

Y

90

Wedgwood John

1705

Burslem

Yeoman

Y

331

Steele William

1707

Burslem

Potter

 

255

Simpson William

1712

Burslem

Earthen potter

 

31

Simpson Hannah

1713

Burslem

Widow

Y

122

Shaw Aaron

1713

Burslem

Potter

Y

19

Taylor Thomas

1713

Burslem

Earthen potter

Y

170

Wood Isiah

1715

Burslem

Potter

Y

133

Wedgwood Thomas

1716

Burslem

Potter

 

36

Malkin Isaac

1718

Burslem

Not stated

Y

31

Lockett Thomas

1719

Burslem

Potter

Y

21

Wedgwood Richard

1719

Burslem

Yeoman

Y

408

Simpson Thomas

1720

Burslem

Earthen potter

Y

43

Edge Samuel

1721

Burslem

Earth potter

Y

75

Wedgwood Dorothy

1728

Burslem

Not stated

Y

21

Marsh Isiah

1732

Burslem

Not stated

Y

64

Simpson John

1733

Burslem

Not stated

Y

35

Shaw John

1734

Sneyd Green

Not stated

 

220

Shaw Aaron, the younger

1737

Burslem

Potter

Y

81

Wedgwood Thomas

1737

Burslem

Not stated

Y

44

Cartlich Joseph

1740

Burslem

Not stated

Y

81

Taylor John

1743

Burslem

Not stated

Y

64

Marsh John

1747

Burslem

Potter

 

17

Warburton Joseph

1752

Burslem

Not stated

Y

171

Stevenson Thomas

1756

Burslem

Earth potter

Y

52

Note. Date stated is the date of probate rather than date of death.

IIP: Involvement in pottery production as indicated through the inventories.

 

Furniture

 

The most common form of seating was chairs the majority of which would have been simple structures without arms. A total of 342 were found among the eighteen detailed inventories suggesting an average of nineteen chairs per dwelling. However, some had more than this such as Richard Wedgwood and John Wedgwood with sixty-one and fifty-one respectively. Likewise a number of individuals had far less, such as William Steele and Isaac Malkin, both with only three, and William Simpson with two, although these may have been incidences of under-recording. Over half  (64%) were simply recorded as ‘chair’ and those that warranted additional description were ‘joined’ (45), ‘sedge’ (a type of thick woollen cloth - 31), ‘black’ (10), ‘cane’ (9)[iv], ‘turned’ (9), ‘couched’ (8), ‘easy’ and ‘for a child’ (one each). The term ‘joined’ has a two-fold meaning. This often refers to furniture made by a joiner but in the case of some tables, chairs, stools and beds could also be used to describe those pieces where the frames were morticed and tennoned and the joints secured by wooden pegs. Similarly, the term ‘turned’ meant that the item had been made by a joiner or had parts that had been turned on a lathe. Extra comfort was provided by cushions, of which there were at least twenty, although this is a much-deflated figure from the common use of the plural with no specified number. The majority warranted no additional description with the exception of seven ‘couched’ and three ‘flowered.’ These were found within inventories also containing plain cushions and may have simply been the appraisers method of differentiating between the two.

 

The next most popular form of seating was stools. A total of thirty-two were found with nineteen were simply recorded as ‘stools’. Those offering some form of description included ‘buffet’ (7), ‘joined’ (4), ‘square’ and ‘three-footed’ (one each). In addition to these were six close stools, the precursor of the commode. The only other type of seating were forms or benches (18) which were merely elongated stools of the simplest construction designed to withstand rough usage.

 

A total of sixty-six tables were recorded giving an average of 3.5 per dwelling, the majority of which were likely to have been of solid oak or elm. Sixteen were simply recorded as ‘table’ and those given a description included ‘little’ (20), ‘oval’ (12), ‘square’ (4) and ‘folding’ (1). The latter would have been fitted with hinged flaps supported by moveable gate legs. Of the more conventional ‘long’ table (9) none were found in inventories later than 1720 showing that this traditional type was falling into disuse. Likewise, the majority of oval tables did not begin to appear until the mid-1730s, and the single incidences of ‘round’, ‘buffet’, & ‘white’ tables did not appear until the 1750s, showing both a change in fashion and taste. The differing styles suggest that tables, along with chairs and other items of furniture, had by now become more decorative and ornate rather than being purely functional. Similarly, the single incidence of a ‘dressing table’ did not appear until the 1750s. These, in the traditional sense, were flat tables on which meat or other food was ‘dressed’ before cooking. However, due to its location in one of the sleeping chambers rather than in the kitchen it is a fair assumption that this was a piece of furniture similar to a conventional dressing table.

 

The most popular pieces of furniture for storage were still coffers (46) followed by boxes (41) and chests (39 – with a further three described as ‘chest of drawers’), while trunks (9) and arks (6) were far less numerous. These were used for storing a variety of items from clothes to bedding and other linens and napery ware. Where they were found in barns they were often used for storing meal, malt and other provisions, such as the three described as being used for salt. When found within the house they sometimes also acted as a form of seating. There were also a small number of straw baskets (6) and hampers (4).

 

Wardrobes were still yet to be invented and the majority of clothes when not folded and stored flat were hung in a press or cupboard press (5). These were large cupboards often decorated with simple mouldings or carvings and with doors and usually shelves. Cupboards (21) were usually a side table sometimes with one, two or three shelves for displaying pewter or earthenware. Only three types were described as having a specific function – ‘livery cupboards’ (3), a ‘safe cupboard’ and a ‘spice cupboard.’ Livery cupboards were usually small and contained a shelf. These were either on legs or hung on the wall and surmounted by a canopy. The front and sides were pierced with ventilation holes or more frequently made of turned balusters set closely together. The name is derived from the liveries of wine, beer or bread, which along with candles, each person took to his bed upon retiring for the night. Safe cupboards served a similar purpose of storing food and usually had panels of woven hair to ventilate the contents. Spice cupboards, as their name implies, were for storing spice and other condiments. Less numerous than cupboards was the traditional dresser (8) for displaying plates and the more newer ‘dresser of drawers’ (11).

 

One piece of furniture among the more affluent were writing desks which appeared in five of the inventories, although the one belonging to John Wedgwood (1705) was probably the same one mentioned fourteen years later in the inventory of Richard Wedgwood (1719). Only Thomas Wedgwood (1737) had two, and one of these may have been one of those previously mentioned in the inventories of John or Richard. Bookcases were equally rare, found only in two inventories.

 

Seven households contained ‘a clock and case’ (one example was described simply as ‘clock’ although it appears that this was not the cooking apparatus of the same name) all of which with the exception of Richard Wedgwood (1719) were found after 1737. These were the tall floor-standing clocks whose casing housed a pendulum now commonly referred to as a grandfather clock and which came to replace the earlier lantern clock. There were sixteen occurrences of screens. These were used to partition rooms, adding a degree of both warmth and privacy, as were the seven ‘window hangings’ or ‘curtains.’ The average total for all furniture across the inventories was 11.5% of the total value of the inventory.

 

Bedding

 

The most numerous and expensive piece of furniture found within the inventories were normally beds. A total of ninety were recorded suggesting an average of five per dwelling, although some households, as of that of  William Steele (10), Isaac Malkin and Richard Wedgwood (both 8) had more. A third were simply recorded as ‘bed.’ The most common with a description were ‘chaff’ (28) and the more costly ‘feather’ (23). Less common examples were ‘joined’ (6), ‘flock’ and ‘truck’ (one each). The latter were low beds running on small wheels that could be pushed under a normal bed when not in use and most commonly used by children and personal servants. Most households possessed more than one sort and it was common to find both feather beds and chaff beds within the same dwelling and even in the same room. Beds were often shared by two or three individuals, this then not being considered a hardship. In addition to beds were forty-four bedsteads, suggesting just under 2.5 per dwelling. This was the part of the bed that supported the mattress. The sides and ends of the frame were perforated with holes through which cords were drawn to form a tight net on which the mattress was placed.

 

Pairs of sheets (111) were far more numerous than blankets (57). Sheets in the best bedrooms of the wealthy would have been of fine linen or Holland, made from the inner fibres of the flax. In less important rooms towen sheets were often considered adequate. These were a coarser variety of linen similar to canvas and spun from fibres near the rind. Other coarser materials included the hempen as mentioned and the most uncomfortable of all known as harden. Where sheets were given a description these included hempen (19 pairs) and flaxen (4 pairs). Only half of the figure for sheets were actually recorded in situ, the other half being found among linen and napery ware, but as these were often differentiated from other linens such as table cloths it is assumed that these were spare bedding in storage. Bolsters (48), long round pillows originally used by women during childbirth but now in general use, were more numerous than pillows (23). The majority were simply listed as ‘pillow’ and those that were deemed worthy of additional description were ‘feather’ (12) and ‘chaff’ (6). Another frequently found item of bedding were pillowbears (27). Less common items included coverlids and coverings (9) which were usually woven, and quilts (6). The presence of four-poster beds can be detected by the presence of curtains (7), valences (6) and curtain or iron rods (4) found amongst the bedding. These should not be confused with curtains that hung at windows, as these were more commonly known as ‘window hangings’ or simply ‘hangings’ (18). Likewise rugs (11) were seldom used as a floor covering but rather as an extra layer of warmth on top of the bed, or for covering the top of a piece of furniture such as a chest or coffer. Rugs and carpets in the modern sense did not become common even in the homes of the wealthy until the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Extra comfort was afforded for the six individuals who possessed warming pans, one of whom had two. The average total for all beds and bedding across the inventories was 14.3% of the total value of the inventory.

 

Utensils

 

Most cooking was still accomplished over the open fire. The kitchen fire was rarely, if ever, allowed to go out. A huge log that might take weeks to burn was placed at the back of the hearth and in front of it smaller billets which were constantly renewed. At night the fire was allowed to sink to a smoulder which was then revived with a pair of bellows the following morning. Fire-dogs gave necessary ventilation and prevented the wood from rolling out onto the floor. These varied in shape and size. In the humbler they were usually simple horizontal bars of iron, bent down at the back to form a foot and having a low upright bar with a pair of feet at the front. In the wealthier homes taller fire-dogs would have been found, often with ornamental uprights of wrought iron, some with cup-shaped tops which cans or small pans could be placed to keep the contents hot. Eventually the fire-dogs and loose bars became united with the separate fireback to form the dog-grate.

 

In addition to the open fire eight furnaces were recorded. These were a form of brewing or boiling cauldron with its own heater, in addition to which there were also six boilers. All households, as expected, had a fireplace, and in five instances two. A total of nineteen grates were recorded in fourteen dwellings, and tongs (18) and fire shovels (17) were found in most households, although bellows (3), fenders (5) and creepers (1) were seldom recorded.

 

A variety of iron implemens were found in and around the fireplace to assist with the cooking. These included broaches (19), jacks (8), gridirons (6 – one recorded as ‘standing’), spits (4), potracks (6), pothooks (3), Golberts (3) and bread irons (3) although many more would have been lost under the frequently used terms ‘rest of ironware’ (13), ‘chimney irons’ (5) and ‘plates for the fire’ (2). When the spits were not in use they were often kept in a spit rack close to the fire. Half of households were equipped with a ‘bakestone’ (9) used for baking oatcakes over the fire.

 

Broaches were iron utensils similar to a spit for roasting meat over the fire and turned manually. Gridirons were a platform of long bars with a long handle and short feet used for the same purpose. By the eighteenth century varieties were either square or circular. Potracks and pothooks were used for suspending pots by chains over the fire. Golberts were long bars fitted with hooks at frequent intervals. These leaned against the back of the fireplace at an angle of forty-five degrees. The ends of the spit were placed on whichever pair of hooks was more suitable. Bread irons, or ‘slices’, were long-handled spades used for removing freshly-baked loaves from the oven. However, as bread ovens were built into the left-hand side of the chimney these were regarded as a fixture and ignored by the appraisers.[v] These were heated by faggots, the wood being burnt inside and the ashes then raked out with a bread iron or slice, after which the bread and other food such as cakes, pies and pastries were placed in the oven to cook by the heat retained within the bricks.

 

Two of the eight households that had a jack also possessed a ‘clock.’ These were mechanical devices for turning the spit automatically when roasting meat by a system of weights and gears. Placed below the slowly revolving meat were ‘dripping pans’ (8 – three of which were brass) to catch the juices while the joint was being basted.

 

Households normally had between one and three cooking pots (28), the majority of which were iron, and most had a frying pan (15) and/or a skellett (11). These were similar to a frying pan but with a longer handle and three feet to stand over the fire. Sometimes pans were thrust directly into the hot ashes for cooking, these also being ideal places for baking potatoes. Kettles (31) were found in most inventories, with some individuals having as many as four although only two were specified as ‘tea kettles.’ The majority of these implements were iron although a few brass ones existed. The phrase ‘brass and pewter’ which occurred in six of the inventories would have under-estimated individual items of either metal.

 

Trenchers (90) and porringers (63) had by now largely been superseded by plates and dishes. Porringers were round wooden or occasionally earthenware bowls, sometimes with a lid or ear-shaped handles and used for soup or porridge, while trenchers were normally square and usually made of wood with a small depression in one corner for salt. Although a total of ninety trenchers were found they only occurred in seven of the inventories, while the sixty-three porringers were only found in four inventories. Therefore, those that possessed these two items had relatively high quantities.

 

A total of 274 plates were found, eighty-four (or 30%) of which offered no further description as to material or decoration. By far the largest were those made of pewter (100 or 36%). Thirty-six were recorded as being ‘white earthenware’ and a further seven as simply ‘earthenware.’ There were also thirty-six recorded as ‘pasly’, possibly earthenware decorated with a paisley design, and two households had ‘blue and white ware plates and dishes.’ A total of 165 dishes were found, sixty-one of which were pewter. In addition to plates and dishes two inventories also recorded unspecified items and amounts of ‘earthenware.’ One individual also had an unspecified amount of London Ware, and another flower pots which may also have been earthenware. Eating utensils were equally rare. Eleven spoons were recorded in two inventories while just one person had six of the relatively new ‘knives and forks.’

 

Tin was seldom recorded, possibly due to items of this material being considered cheap and practical. Items of earthenware may also have been considered similar by appraisers and not worth recording individually being disguised under the general phrases ‘all other things’ or ‘all things omitted.’ Surprisingly there was no mention of butter pots.

 

A total of nine glasses were found in six inventories, no doubt listed as they were relatively expensive items. Another person also possessed both a pewter pint and a pewter quart. A total of five ‘cans’, cylindrical drinking vessels, were found (four tin and one copper) and only one individual possessed cups (2) being of pewter. Bottles, probably of dark green glass, were only recorded in two inventories, with one individual possessing thirty-six and the other an unspecified amount. This latter individual also possessed a bottle rack in which to store them.

 

Tablecloths were found in nineteen inventories, including three flaxen, two hempen and one diaper suggesting that food was rarely served on an uncovered table. A total of 226 napkins were found in ten inventories, including twelve flaxen and six diaper. These were used for wiping knives, two-pronged forks and spoons on. Most of the linen items would have been made at home and woven by a visiting weaver or someone in the neighbourhood who possessed a loom. Only the wealthy bought items of linen readymade.

 

Candles appeared to be the main form of lighting judging from the forty-seven candlesticks recorded. Thirteen were iron, twelve brass, eleven pewter, while a further eleven made no mention of their metal. In addition were two candleboxes, one of brass and the other of tin. The candles themselves, along with rushlights, went unrecorded probably being of very little value and not worth the effort of listing.

 

Candles were bought from chandlers but were also often made at home, either by the wife or servants, or by a travelling candlemaker, who like the travelling weaver, visited at regular intervals. Fats were carefully saved in the kitchen and melted down to make grease in which the cotton wick was dipped, dried and then dipped again until the candle was the correct thickness. Mutton fat was considered the best because it dried the hardest. Sometimes a small quantity of wax was mixed with the grease to give a firmer consistency. Only the more wealthy, and then only in the principle rooms in the dwelling would have had candles with a high percentage of beeswax. The yellowish tallow candles were chiefly used in the servants quarters or lesser bedrooms. Those unable to afford candles would have managed with rushlights. These were made from the plinth of meadow rushes and dipped using the same process as candle-making in mutton fat. A rushlight was on average fourteen inches in length which would burn for approximately half an hour.

 

Snuffers, Like candles and rushlights, were also probably considered cheap and therefore the only pair mentioned was in the inventory of John Marsh. These were similar to scissors, fitted with a small box on one of the blades, the charred wick of the candle curling over the edge of the candle was snipped off and caught in the box which closed when the handle of the snuffers were brought together. Other artificial light was provided by tin crossitts, being small vessels for holding grease, oil, or pitched rope, and either mounted on a pole or suspended from the ceiling.

 

Trene ware could form a considerable portion of the inventory. Household objects of wood were sometimes grouped together and as before this resulted in some of the items being under-represented. The majority of wooden ware appears to have been used for washing, brewing and storage. The most common wooden items were barrels (41). If used for storing beer these would hold thirty-six gallons, although they were sometimes used for storing meal or corn. These were followed by looms (13), an open vessel of any kind, and tubs (14 – seven of which were recorded as brewing tubs, & one salting tub, used for preparing the meat for winter). Other trene ware included turnells (6), shallow open tubs used in salting or placed under a cheese press, bouks (6), a form of bucket, basins, bowls and kimnells (5 each), which were tubs for household purposes. Many items however would have been lost under the frequently-used phrase ‘wooden vessels’ and ‘lumber.’ Hair sieves (13) were often appraised alongside the trene ware as they were often used in the dairy process. Boards, shelves and planks were sometimes recorded by the appraisers, appearing in eight of the inventories. A total of 243 were recorded and specified numbers included the sixty boards and six planks belonging to William Steele. The sixty-two boards belonging to Isaac Malkin and 108 belonging to Samuel Edge may have been used in the cheese process or may even have been loose boards forming part of an upper floor of the dwelling.

 

Twelve churns were recorded. These would either have been the older conical shaped vessel fitted with a perforated plunger and worked by means of a vertical motion, or the newer revolving churn fitted on a frame and turned by means of a pivot. This was barrel-shaped and less tiring to operate than the plunger and staff. Only two individuals possessed a cheese press, one of whom also had a cheese ladder. The process of expelling any superfluous moisture and consolidating the curd was sometimes assisted by placing the moulds of the cheese into a press. The old presses were weighted with stones although by the eighteenth century these had largely been replaced with wooden screw presses. Cheese ladders were supports for a milk sieve over the cream. The process of cheese-making was to slightly warm the milk and curdle it by adding rennet, originally extracted from the stomach of a cow although vegetable matter was sometimes used. When the curd had firmly settled at the bottom of the tub the whey was drawn off. The curd was then broken into small pieces, squeezed tightly to make it compact before being placed in a cheese mould with muslin lining. For those individuals who possessed a cheese press the cheese was now placed into it, otherwise the moisture was allowed to drain away or evaporate naturally. Finally the cheese was allowed to ripen in a warm room. Four malt mills were recorded but there were no occurrences of malt kilns. Although none of the testators could be traced as having a licence to sell ale it seems likely that at least a few were involved in brewing.

 

The process began with steeping the barley in water, usually in a cistern, for three days to enable it to swell. It was then removed and ‘couched’ or placed in heaps for one or two days before being spread into rows about twelve inches thick on a floor in a room where the temperature was moderate. As the barley began to grow the heaps were regularly raked during a period of two to three weeks to ensure even growth of the shoots. When the grain had germinated sufficiently it was placed in a malt kiln. However, none of the individuals possessed such a device, the grain may have been placed on hair sieves or other utensils and warmed by a fire. Alternatively it is also possible that the grain could have been placed on hair sieves and left to dry in the hovel of the bottle ovens during the forty-eight hours the oven was allowed to cool after firing. The finished malt was then stored in wooden barrels until required.

 

Brewing was performed by the women in the house, although in some larger dwellings a maltster or brewer may have been employed. Into a large, normally copper, containing water was added the ground malt and a canvas bag of hops and after the mixture had boiled it was transferred to a tub and further malt added along with yeast to promote fermentation. The mixture was then stirred or ‘mashed’ until becoming thicker in consistency. The tub was then covered with sacks or cloths to retain the steam. After two or three hours bowls of hot water were allowed to percolate through the mass and the impregnated liquid drawn off and placed in a copper. The slower the water percolated the stronger the beer so that a quick process produced weak or ‘small beer.’ This part of the process occupied between two to four days depending on the season and then the yeast was removed from the top of the liquid which was then ready to be transferred to barrels.[vi]

 

Five spinning wheels were found in four of the inventories. The only person with two was Dorothy Wedgwood who also had 8lbs of ‘teer of hemp’ and ‘22 slippings of linen yarn’. Raw materials for spinning were seldom recorded. With the exception of six individuals possessing flax and two with yarn only one individual was recorded with dressed hemp. William Steele however, like Dorothy Wedgwood, also appeared to be actively engaged in spinning with both wheels and yarn.

 

Jewellery and other items of personal adornment were rarely mentioned as these were often bequeathed in wills. Clothing always fell under the universal term ‘purse and apparel’ which occurred in twenty-two of the twenty-five inventories. The only exception were the two individuals that possessed riding boots. The men inhabiting Burslem during the first half of the eighteenth century would have worn shirts, waistcoats, breeches, jackets and cloaks or boots, while the women dresses although only the more affluent would have afforded silk, satin or velvet. For those of the middling class and above it was also customary to wear wigs. The less fortunate would have been dressed in dull hard wearing clothes made either of home spun or locally produced material.

 

The washing of apparel and linens would have been a physically demanding task during the first half of the eighteenth century. As none of the dwellings contained a separate laundry it must be assumed that this was done in the same room as the fire, or where mentioned, furnace or boiler. The heated water was used in circular wooden tubs, the clothes added and allowed to soak before being beaten with a wooden implement. Soap was never mentioned, instead a solution made from the sahes of burnt wood and vegetable matter was used. The less scrupulous were even known on occasion to wash their laundry in wells and drink pools. During summer clothes would be left to dry upon lavender or rosemary bushes in the garden, or even on hedgerows. After drying they would be ironed, the implement itself being a flat piece of iron with a handle into which heated iron rods were inserted. These evidentially came to be replaced with the more convenient ‘smoothing irons’ similar to modern ones.

 

Six individuals possessed books, but only the inventory of Isaac Malkin recorded the amount of twelve. These would probably have been the small and cheap chap-books. He also owned three bibles, while another three individuals owned one bible each. Nine of the homes were furnished with pictures (67) ranging from between four to seventeen. Three individuals also possessed maps, the only person with more than one being Thomas Wedgwood (1737) with three. The only detail given was the ‘map of England’ belonging to Joseph Warburton. A total of twenty-four looking glasses were found. The majority of these were not very clear, having a blue toneand chiefly used as dressing glasses. Only the very wealthy would have afforded the much clearer mirrors of Venetian glass.  One individual also possessed a ‘weather glass’, probably an early type of barometer. Firearms were equally rare. Only Samuel Edge possessed both a gun and sword, although William Steele had a ‘fowling piece’, a long-barrelled gun for shooting birds. The average total for all household utensils across the inventories was 14.7% of the total value of the inventory. Linen and napery ware on average accounted for an additional 4.6%.

 

Provisions

 

Provisions were rarely recorded as inventories did not record food that was for daily consumption, only listing processed food such as butter and cheese, or stored food such as bacon. Therefore any attempt to reconstruct the eighteenth-century diet using inventories is impossible. Those who possessed cows at least had a ready supply of milk, butter, cheese, and when slaughtered, meat. Bacon was found in four inventories, cheese and malt in three, butter and meal in two, with single occurrences of corn, tea and drink. John Shaw, one of the individuals that possessed a cheese press, also had suitable trene ware and livestock that included six cows, five twinters, a heffer and a calf. The ‘parcel of cheese’ in his house valued at £3 15s suggests that he was a cheesemaker. The five persons with provisions revealed that foodstuffs only accounted for 1.8% of the total value of the inventory.

 

There were two references to tea kettles and single occurrences of a tea cabinet and a coffee mill. Beer was the main drink of a large proportion of the population until the later years of the eighteenth century when tea became more affordable. Water still contained many impurities and by boiling it in the process of brewing a potential danger to health was removed. Bacon was dried in a smoke chamber formed in the flue above the fire with access from the stairs or an upper room. After drying it would have been hung from the roof of one of the chambers until required. Butter, a perishable commodity, was not normally recorded unless found in any great quantity. Therefore those individuals where the appraisers mentioned this provision it is a reasonable assumption that they were producing butter which would have found its way to the local markets.

 

Agriculture

 

The inventories reveal that agriculture still played a part of life in eighteenth-century Burslem. Livestock was present in twenty-one of the twenty-five inventories. Sixty-three cows were recorded in eighteen inventories. The majority (40) were simply recorded as ‘cow’, although calves (10), twinters (6), stirks (4), twinter bulls (2) and a heifer were found.

 

Thirty-six horses were found in fourteen inventories and it is likely that these would have been used for riding rather than draught animals. Fourteen of these were simply recorded as ‘horse’, and those that were differentiated included mares (15), nags (4), colts (2) and a foal. Nine individuals kept swine but only one had poultry. Pigs were regarded as one of the stand-bys of the lower classes as only those with enough kitchen waste would have kept them, although those engaged in dairying may have fed them on whey.

 

Although the keeping of livestock appeared fairly common, agricultural implements were exceedingly rare. Items that were mentioned included carts (3), ploughs and harrows (2 each). Eight of the ten troughs that were recorded were for the use of swine, in addition to which were five cisterns. Nine saddles were recorded, four of which were recorded as Hackney sadlles, and seven gears, but chains (2), bridle, pillion and pillion cloth (1 each) were more rare. Six individuals also had ‘corn and hay in the barn’, but only three also had corn that was ‘growing on the ground.’ Four people also appeared to have hay, and three oats. One also had straw and another manure, a valuable commodity before the advent of artificial fertilisers.

 

The average total of all inventories mentioning livestock was 13.5% of the total value of the inventory. This ranged from the two cows belonging to William Steele representing just 1.9% of his total inventory to Thomas Wedgwood (1716) whose livestock accounted for 56.5% of his inventory total. Similarly, low average figures were also found across the inventories for corn (growing) (4.5%) and agricultural implements (3.2%).

 

The relatively low figures for livestock, corn (growing) and agricultural implements reveals that farming was no longer the main occupation of the parish. Many of those with livestock had no agricultural implements. The highest individual figure for agricultural implements was Thomas Simpson (5.4%) who also had one of the highest figures for livestock (18.9%). The proportion of his inventory representing pottery production was 16.2% and may be indicative of the dual occupation of farming and potting. Elsewhere it was impossible to distinguish any correlation, despite seventeen of those employed in pottery production keeping (usually a very limited amount of) livestock.

 

Pottery Trade

 

As expected all eighteen of the detailed inventories made some reference to the involvement of the pottery trade. Of the remaining seven inventories some, including William Steele, William Simpson and John Marsh were described by their appraisers as being a potters. However their inventories neither mention raw materials, tools or finished goods associated with the pottery trade, suggesting that they were probably employed by someone else rather than working for himself. This was certainly true of both Steele and Marsh, although William Simpson was active at the potworks he occupied at ‘The Stocks.’[vii]

 

Fifteen wheels were found and seven lathes. In addition to these one individual had both a lathe wheel and a saggar wheel, while another had a ‘sallie bench and wheel.’ Two individuals also possessed wedging boards, one of whom also had a handling table. Sieves (13) were recorded along with paddles (10), shovels (9) and lawns (7). Less frequently found items included tubs (5), mortar and pestles (4) and single occurrences of a mattock, squeezing box, salt box and slip tub. Five individuals also possessed a total of 139 boards designated as being used for the pottery trade.

 

Aaron Shaw’s workhouses (note plural) that stood in the centre of the town slightly south of where the Ivy House was located[viii] contained two wheels and a lathe although there was no further mention to raw materials, other tools or finished goods associated with the pottery trade. Only the inventory of Thomas Stevenson stated the oven itself, although there were iron pokers (7), tongs (3) and crows (2), with single references in others to saggars, a closing ladder, ‘scaffold for the oven’ and ‘planks for scaffolding about the oven.’ ‘Iron bonds about the oven’ were recorded in four inventories.

 

Six inventories mentioned ‘clay to make pots.’ In addition Aaron Shaw the younger had 1200 pieces of flint ware, nine pecks of ground flint and an unspecified quantity of ‘burned flint ware’ and ‘green ware turned and unturned.’ Two individuals possessed lead ore, one with burned clay and marl, while a further four were simply appraised with ‘materials’ belonging to the trade.

 

Five individuals had ‘pots’ or ‘ware ready’, while a further three had ‘pots at the warehouse’ or ‘kiln.’ Only the inventory of John Taylor made any differentiation with ‘126 dozen of best ware’ at £7 and ‘80 dozen of second best’ at £4. His tools consisted of three wheels (£1 1s), two lathes (£3 10s) and ‘90 boards and other workhouse tools’ (£3 10s). The total of the pottery element was £19 – 1 – 0, almost a third of the total value of the £64 inventory.

 

The appraisers of Isaiah Wood, whose potworks stood at the ‘back of (the) “George”’[ix], regarded him as a potter although it is obvious from the contents of his inventory that he had the dual occupation of farmer-potter. His livestock consisted of three cows, two calves, a twinter, a mare and a young swine worth a total of £22, and in his barn was hay, corn and a cart. His appraisers listed the individual workhouses and their values:

 

‘in the potter’s handling room ……….. £3 – 0 – 0’

‘in the turning room ………………….  £5 – 0 – 0’

‘in the smoking room ………………..   £1 – 0 – 0’

‘in the sliphouse and oven house …….  £24 – 0 – 0’

 

This accounted for £33, just over half of the total of his £64 inventory and demonstrated an individual who had invested a serious amount of capitol in his business.

 

The nineteen people that appeared to have some form of involvement in pottery production had a mean average of 23.9% of the total value of the inventory. The actual totals varied enormously from Hannah Simpson (0.9%) and John Malkin (2.8%) to Isiah Marsh (86.8%) and Aaron Shaw the younger (68%). Rather surprisingly coal, the main source of fuel for firing the ware, was not recorded in any of the inventories.

 

Credit

 

Fourteen inventories made mention of credit. These included phrases such as ‘by bond’ (4), ‘debts owed by specialty’, ‘money upon bond and note’, ‘money out on credit’, ‘money at interest’ (one each) Ten people had ‘desperate debts’ and for one individual the appraisers listed the ‘debts desperate and retrievable’ together. These ‘desperate debts’ were those where the appraisers feared there was little chance of recovering the money.

 

The value of debts owing to the deceased formed an average of 47% of the total inventory. This varied from Thomas Wedgwood (1716) whose debts owing to him amounted to a mere 4% to Hannah Simpson whose debts accounted for 93% of the total of her inventory. She had lent out £90 ‘on specially’ and had a further £12 of desperate debts. Her ‘materials belonging to the pottery trade’ were valued at only £1 and represented less than 1% of her total inventory. Rather than being money owed to her for ware that she had produced and sold to customers it would appear that this was capitol lent out in return for interest that would allow her a steady income. Likewise William Steele and William Simpson whose inventories contained debts owing totalling 83% and 90% respectively of their total wealth appeared to have no involvement in the pottery trade and may suggest the same. Indeed, those with inventories which contained a high percentage for items and /or materials belonging to the pottery trade appeared to have little or no debts suggesting that credit was not widely used by those in pottery production. However, the overall high figure reveals that a system of lending and borrowing was an established part of the economy in general.

 

The total value of Thomas Taylor’s inventory was £170, although £100 of this were ‘debts owing to the deceased upon bond and other contracts’ with a further £30 of ‘desperate debts’ increasing the total amount owed to Thomas to £130, or 76% of his total inventory. John Shaw’s appraisers listed £117 as being ‘money at interest’, slightly more than half of the total value of his £220 inventory, with a further £40 of ‘desperate debts.’



[i] Freehold and copyhold property were excluded as they did not fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction and many items may already have been disposed of.

[ii] Michael Reed, The Ipswich Probate Inventories 1583 – 1631 (1981), 1.

[iii] A. J. H. Sale (ed.), Cheltenham Probate Records 1660 – 1740 (1999), xvii.

[iv] The analysis revealed the total of cane chairs to be eighteen although nine of these cane chairs belonged to John Wedgwood (inventory dated 1705) while the other nine belonged to Richard Wedgwood (inventory dated 1719), and in all likelihood would have been the same

[v] According to John Tellwright and Ralph Leigh in Ward’s book they mention that bread ovens were external, along with middens, situated at the front of the dwellings, and that a the majority were roofed with thatch.

[vi] The process has been taken from arm and Cottage Inventories of mid-Essex 1635-1749’ edited by Frank Steer, published by Phillimore, second edition 1969, p32-34.

[vii] ‘List of Potworks in Burslem about the year 1710 to 1715’ Compiled by Josiah Wedgwood I in Wedgwood, Josiah C, A History of The Wedgwood Family. St Catherine’s Press, London (1908). p124-126

[viii] Wedgwood, Josiah C, ibid., p124-126 and ‘Map of Burslem about 1750.’

[ix] Wedgwood, Josiah C, ibid., p124-126 and ‘Map of Burslem about 1750.’

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