Things You Can Do With A Horse

One of the pivotal breakthroughs for the Stoke-on-Trent potteries during the mid 18th century was the addition of calcined flint to their clay bodies.  The immediate effect was to whiten the clay.  But this small step opened up previously unimaginable vistas.

Potters began thinking ‘hey, we can do anything.’  And they meant, literally, anything.  They were no longer constrained by the materials at hand as they were.  Mind bending inventions tumbled one after another relating to how materials were processed, how the pottery was produced, and even how it was all moved around the country and the globe.

In just a few short decades, they went from digging clay in the back yard, plopping it on a home made wheel, burning it in a little kiln, and walking around the district peddling it, to setting up a factory for mass produced and machine lathed precise forms, creating an entire supply chain of raw materials to feed the beast, and an international network of sales outlets.

It might seem a stupid comparison, but it really wasn’t much different than the progress in computerized gadgetry since the 1990’s.  We’ve traveled pretty far since then.  And in the mid 1700’s the Staffordshire potters made a similar quantum leap.

So about that horse.  It could be just another apocryphal legend, but like they say in the world of journalism – it’s too good to check.

Staffordshire potter Robert Astbury (if you believe Josiah Wedgwood) or Joshua Heath (if you believe Simeon Shaw) was on his way to London when the horse he was riding developed a stye in its eye.  He stopped at a Dunstable inn (or maybe it was in Banbury) where the hosteller put some flint into a fire until it was red hot.  He then easily ground it into a fine powder and blew some into the horses eye.  The horse could see the road now.  But Astbury saw how white the flint became and how easily it was ground to a powder.  As soon as he returned home, he put some calcined flint into his clay body.  Whiteware, and all that followed, was born…

We get our inspiration from all over.

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History. Josiah Wedgwood.  McBride, Nast & Co/New York.  1913.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

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3 Responses to “Things You Can Do With A Horse”

  1. About the Pig’s Blood Comment « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] Whitewares pushed the boundaries of pottery making into the thick of the Industrial Revolution.  But darker colored pottery defined the pragmatism of borderland communities like Bergholtz.  It didn’t show dirt.  Remoteness combined with pragmatism has always led potters to find their oxides where they could be found.  Considering the life cycles of farm living, pig’s blood isn’t that big of a leap. […]

  2. Winds of Change | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] were preeminent suppliers of up-to-the-minute pottery fashion to the entire world.  Think Silicon Valley.  About the only thing Henry Ford added to the picture over a century later was additional […]

  3. Dinner with George Washington | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] rock salt from Cheshire (after 1670), white ball clays from Devon and Dorset (after 1720) and calcined flint.  Just as this fine grained clay body came into use, so too did plaster molds.  By 1740 […]

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