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Appendix 2: Post-medieval earthernware production in the Merseyside region: documentary and excavation evidence


As with Buckley, the raw materials present in south Lancashire were instrumental in the growth of post-medieval pottery production, which began as a cottage industry in the 16th century.

The evidence for the potting industry on Merseyside is attested both from documentary evidence and from excavations. Although there is a growing amount of information for Merseyside, at present it is not possible to establish a complete chronology. The sources do not overlap in their information, there are many gaps, and terminology used to describe the wares is variable, being dependent on the date when the report was written. The documentary evidence is not sufficiently detailed to identify particular sites. There are few clearly stratified sequences from excavations and few kiln groups. These are chronologically scattered and do not coincide with periods covered by the best domestic assemblages.

Documentary evidence


The earliest documentary references to pottery in Liverpool are contained in the records of the town before 1600. They provide evidence that digging clay for brick making was regulated and those sites were specified (Boney 1957, 1). Gatty quoted a Municipal document dated 1618 referring to brick making and the collecting of marl on the common of Toxteth Park (Gatty 1882, 3).

In Liverpool the movement of goods for export was regulated by various orders. In 1663 an order was made controlling the movement of carts laden with mugs through the town (Boney 1957, 2). In 1674 town dues were payable on 'the shipment of mugs, cupps and pipes to foreign ports and along the coast' (Mayer 1855, 178). These may have been brought to Liverpool from elsewhere, although transport overland was risky for breakable merchandise. It seems reasonable to suggest that the majority of the exports during the second half of the 17th century were made in and around Liverpool. By 1685, there was a toll charge of sixpence per cartload on pots for export by 'forreiners' and only twopence per cartload 'if the Potts be a freeman's' (Boney 1957, 2).

Prior to the 18th century, 'only bricks, pipes and mugs' were manufactured in Liverpool (ibid, 3). The word 'mug' is a regional dialect word meaning pot. References in documents and on maps to mug-kilns can be read as pottery kilns. The pots were made of local clays and possibly slip-decorated. During the years 1710 to 1720, evidence from parish registers confirms the movement of potters to Liverpool from Southwark (ibid, 3). It is from this time that delftware production developed. A reference to 'ware made of pipe clay and glazed with salt' quoted by Boney indicates an undoubted reference to salt-glazed stoneware. There is a reference to a pipemaker in the register of St Nicholas' Parish Church dated 29 July 1679. By the mid-18th century, pipe manufacturers in Liverpool employed about 60 men and 60 women in seven potteries (Gatty 1882, 5-6). The clay was imported from Devon and south Wales (Holt and Gregson MSS vol xvi, 206).

Sugar moulds were also manufactured in Liverpool. In 1716 the Council gave an order to allow W. Hughes to collect clay 'for making sugar moulds or potts and other kinds of muggs' (Gatty 1882, 7). By 1756 the manufacturers of the mould works were advertising their wares in the Liverpool Advertiser (ibid, 9).

In addition, there are contemporary references to Liverpool being a producer of earthenware. For example, a certificate signed by Alderman Thomas Shaw and Samuel Gilbody (both potters) describing a title-printing experiment of Sadler and Green in 1756 states 'The town of Liverpool in particular, where the Earthen ware manufacture is more extensively carried on than in any other town in the Kingdom' (Boney 1957, 4). The census records for 1790 show that 74 families, 374 persons, were living on Shaw's Brow and all connected with potting. This area was the centre of the Liverpool potteries, with many others elsewhere (ibid, 4). Documentary evidence indicates that production was in decline by 1790, so one must assume that the number engaged in pottery manufacture prior to the 1790 census would have been far greater. Evidence in poll books gives the following information: 1734 shows 17 potters recording votes, 1761 has 117, 1790 has 78.

The manufacture of delftware was the principal product of Liverpool during the first half of the 18th century. Alongside this, lead-glazed earthenware of all kinds and salt-glaze ware were also produced. Liverpool was the only place in the country where the manufacture of 'china' and earthenware was carried on together (ibid, 6). Sites of the potteries are known from a plan of Liverpool dated by Sir James Picton at about 1760 (ibid, 22, 23).


Prescot is situated approximately 11km from the centre of Liverpool. Documentary evidence for pottery production in the 16th century comes from a number of sources. The will of the second Earl of Derby in 1524 refers to increasing the rents of potters who dug clay in Knowsley Park. The 16th century Court Leet and other contemporary records refer to potters and associated activities. In 1592 a survey of the town was made for King's College, Cambridge (the College had been granted the patronage of Prescot rectory by Henry VI in 1445). The survey was published in 1937 (Bailey) and shows all the structures described in 1592. This enabled Davey to produce a list of kiln sites with dates, owners' name and location (Davey 1978). He identified at least three potters in the 16th century, concentrated in the north-east corner of the town. Records of two of the potters, Edward Glover and James Ditchfield, go back into the 1560s.

17th century references suggest a decline in the industry. Only one potter, Thomas Willcocke, is mentioned in the Parish Records (Philpott 1989, 29). There were other potters still working in the town but there are indications of financial problems from the notices of petition detailing grievances to the trade (Hoult 1927). There is documentary evidence for pottery production in the Prescot hinterland, including Rainford, Eccleston, Windle, Rainhill, Latham and Sutton (Leigh 1977, 126-28). This suggests that, although in decline, the principal production at this time had moved to the rural areas. Further documentary research is required for the 17th century to establish the true situation.

By the 18th century, contemporary accounts indicate that the industry had improved and that pottery production in Prescot was well established with developed markets (Davey 1989, 103). The Great Diurnal of Nicholas Blundell refers to 'Prescott mugs' for export to Virginia, and to buying 'Fine Muggs of Mr Cubben' in 1702 (Tyrer 1968). Also, six potteries are indicated on an early 18th-century plan of the town (Baines 1870, 245, no. 2). Two views of the town are illustrated on a map and an engraving, both dated 1743. They illustrate kilns, the smaller ones probably being for pottery production (Davey 1989, 103-4). A description of the town by Richard Pococke in 1751 states 'they have two or three houses for Coarse Earthenware and one for the White stone, where they also make the Brown stoneware' (Cartwright 1888). There were six potteries recorded in 1825 (Webb 1982, 23), three of which had closed by 1869. Only one pottery continued into the 20th century (ibid, 24).


Rainford lies 8km north of Prescot within the parish of Prescot. Documentary evidence indicates the presence of potters since the 17th century (Davey and Morgan 1981, 79). Potters' wills and inventories from the period suggest a 'cottage' industry which, from the middle of the century, included the production of clay tobacco pipes (ibid, 79). Gibson, writing about a tyg found at Rainford, states that Rainford was known for several centuries for a rough, coarser kind of pottery (Gibson 1877, 167).

Excavation evidence


The earliest published excavation evidence is from a site in Rainford recorded by Gibson in 1877. He described the finding of beakers or vases, tygs and fragments of coarse reddish-brown pottery coated with dark lead glaze, which he ascribed to local manufacture, and dated them to the middle of the 17th century. The three most significant pieces are described and illustrated. Two of them are similar forms, a brilliant dark brown glazed vase or beaker with a facetted stem. Similar vessels have since been found on other sites in the region and would appear to be of local manufacture. The third vessel, a three-handled tyg, covered with a dull dark brown lead glaze, had sherd fragments from other vessels adhering to the interior, which suggests the presence of a pottery manufacturer in the vicinity.

It is another century before detailed fieldwork and excavation takes place in Rainford. Excavations carried out in 1978 close to Rainford Church discovered the remains of at least three separate muffle bases and large quantities of waster clay tobacco pipes, dated 1640-1660, overlying apparently contemporary domestic pottery (Davey 1991, 127). During the following two years, further excavations on the same site and in an adjoining field recovered evidence for contemporary pottery production on the same site as the clay tobacco pipes. The majority of the wares are brown or nearly black glazed red earthenwares, with bodies mixed with increasing quantities of grog or laminations of buff firing clay as the size of the pots grows (ibid, 127). Wasters of the distinctive facetted tyg described by Gibson were found (Higgins and White forthcoming). The buff bodied wares are in the 'Midlands Yellow' tradition but are more crudely made. The range of wares from Rainford includes drinking vessels, tablewares and larger containers for use in the kitchen or dairy (Davey 1991, 127).


In 1978 a survey of Prescot was carried out which resulted in a revised schedule of listed buildings and a Conservation Area being suggested. An assessment of the archaeological potential for the town was made, highlighting areas for rescue excavation (Davey 1978). Between 1978 and 1986 a number of different archaeological investigations were carried out in Prescot, ranging from full-scale excavations to observations of contractors' work. These have gone some way to provide information on the known pottery production in the town. The results were published in a series of papers, which together form Volume 5 of the journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the material is unstratified so, although much information is gained about wares and forms, there is little evidence to link it to kiln sites. The range of wares found indicates evidence for the production of mottled wares and black glazed earthenwares, salt-glazed stoneware and sugar-refining pottery (Davey 1989, 105). The excavation of a timber-framed building at 21-23 Eccleston Street produced 108 sherds, only 33 of which were stratified (Philpott 1989, 27). The similarity of glazes, fabric and form suggested to Philpott that most of the unstratified sherds came from the same layer as the stratified pieces (ibid, 27). The pottery is all black glazed ware, dated to no later than the mid-17th century, and the range of forms is fairly limited. There are several forms of drinking vessels, mostly tygs, two of which are similar to those illustrated by Gibson (1877, pl. IX). Large barrel-shaped vessels in coarser fabric and bowls with flanged rims were used for storage. There is also one bottle or jug with a globular body of a type not known to have been produced in large quantities in south Lancashire at this time (Philpott 1989, 27). No place of manufacture can be determined from this group, although documentary evidence indicates that small-scale pottery production was likely to be taking place in Prescot, with a more extensive output in the rural areas nearby. Much of this group resembles products found at the mid-17th century kiln site at Rainford (ibid, 31).

Excavations at Site C, north of High Street, revealed wasters of mottled ware and black glazed earthenware with saggars. This material would have been brought in from a kiln nearby and was used for levelling (Holgate 1989, 11).

Sample holes excavated in 1983-4 in Prescot produced evidence of pottery manufacture. Most holes contained saggars, wasters, stilts, separators and overfired or reduced wares (Philpott and Davey 1984, 19). Hole 14, layer 9, revealed stratified dumps of kiln waste and pottery. Kiln waste included saggars with clear, black and salt glaze, separators and fire bricks from the kiln walls. Pottery associated with it included fine shallow bowls and cups with a very glossy metallic black glaze, large storage vessels with strap handles, mottled ware tankards and bowls, some obviously wasters. The pottery associated with the kiln material is dated to the second half of the 18th century (ibid, 19).

Hole 20, layer 6, also contained pottery manufacturing waste. This included mottled ware wasters, overfired sherds and black glazed saggars. The whole assemblage is dated no later than c. 1760 (ibid, 12).

A small portion of a pottery works was revealed during a rescue excavation in 1985. Tanks or stores used in the preparation of the clays were uncovered, along with kiln furniture and pottery (McNeil 1989, 49-54). Black glazed earthenwares were the most common type of pottery excavated, divided into coarse ware utilitarian vessels and fine wares for table use (ibid, 59). Five of the six main fabrics of mottled and self-coloured wares identified at Prescot by Philpott and Davey were also found. The majority of the pieces are wasters. A small group of sherds associated with sugar-refining was identified. The sherds are of types in standard use in the industry in the 17th and 18th centuries (Brooks 1989, 63). On the evidence of the pottery types, the date of the pottery works is probably mid–late 18th century.

The results still leave gaps in knowledge. The documentary evidence of 16th-century pottery production has not been matched with finds from excavations, in that no kiln sites of this date have been located nor any wasters found (Davey 1989, 104). However, there have been finds of medieval wasters from a site in Prescot dated tentatively to the 15th century (ibid, 104). Documentary evidence for the 17th century suggests a movement into rural areas and this is matched by finds from Rainford and surrounding areas where kiln groups, wasters and structures have been located through fieldwalking and excavation (Davey and Morgan 1981, 79; Chitty 1977, 26-29; Coney and King 1982, 235-51). No kilns dated to the 17th century have been found in Prescot. There is abundant evidence for pottery manufacture in the 18th century (Davey 1989, 105). Fragments of saggars, kiln stilts and pottery wasters have been found in most investigations and one kiln site has been excavated.


The excavations at South Castle Street in Liverpool in 1976 and 1977 (Davey and McNeil 1985) provided the first closely dated post-medieval sequences for the region, in particular for the 17th and early 18th centuries. Part of a 17th-century ditch system was revealed, possibly associated with the Civil War. Market features were dated to the beginning of the 18th century. Infilling of what was probably the Pool during the 17th and early 18th centuries was located.

The most significant result of these excavations was the discovery that backfilling and levelling took place at Site 1 in one operation in c. 1726 (ibid, 12) when the market area was cleared to build St George's Church. Large quantities of pottery were sealed by this activity, all closely dated. The earthenware finds comprised slipwares, black glazed ware, mottled ware, self-coloured ware, tin-glazed earthenware and unglazed earthenwares. The tin-glazed earthenwares included glazed and biscuit ware and were considered to be of local origin from the potteries recently established in Liverpool (Morgan 1985, 63-76). Considerable quantities of coarse black glazed ware were found associated with the transportation, storage and display of produce at the market. The place of manufacture is uncertain, but likely to be the southern Lancashire region (Philpott 1985a, 85-105). Facetted and carinated tygs, identical to those from Rainford, were found at Site 2 amongst the infilling for the Pool (ibid, 88).

Large numbers of sherds of unglazed earthenwares were found in the area of the Fish Market, including several types of normally glazed pottery. The high numbers of sherds from here suggested to Innes and Philpott that there may be a kiln or kiln dump nearby (Innes and Philpott 1985, 116-21). Subsequent research in Prescot indicates that these sherds are probably fragments of sugar moulds (Brooks 1989, 63-64). Self-coloured ware associated with the 1726 levelling was comparable to some found at Norton Village dated to the same period and also to similar wares from Hanley dated before 1700 (Innes 1985, 106-15).

Stoneware was recovered from both sites. The major form of the early 18th century, the straight-sided tankard, shows distinct differences in detail from Burslem vessels, both in design and form (Danby and Philpott 1985, 77-83). Fragments of salt-glazed saggar and vitrified fire-box from Site 1 may be associated with 19th-century production of flagons (ibid, 78).

Mottled ware was found on both sites within a narrow date range, placing it early in the 18th century. Cylindrical tankards, the most typical form found widely in the north west, were identified, the other hollow-wares being too fragmentary to ascribe a form. Flat-ware included large bowls with a variety of rims paralleled at Buckley and Prescot, but not at Stoke. Flat plates found at Liverpool are unparalleled elsewhere and suggest a Liverpool manufacturer. In general, the mottled ware is most similar to Prescot wares regarding glazes, fabrics and surface treatment, suggesting Prescot as the source for the Liverpool material, but there is also the possibility of a pottery in Liverpool itself (Philpott 1985b, 50-62).

The most enigmatic group of wares from Liverpool is the slipware. There are three major groupings. A variety of 'earlier' wares, few in number, are represented by Cistercian, Midland Yellow, North Devon and slip-trailed red earthenwares dated to the mid-17th century. Similar slip-trailed red earthenwares have been found at Burslem, Staffordshire (Mountford 1974, 2), at Beeston Castle (Noake 1993, 204) and at Peel Castle, Isle of Man (Davey 2002), the latter two related to Civil War contexts. The majority of stratified finds are from the second group, dated between 1710 and 1726. These are buff-bodied, thrown and press-moulded wares, with a variety of methods of applying the slip and differences of form which subdivides them into types. Press-moulded wares comprise plates, dishes and saucers, some with raised concentric circles around the inside base, some embossed. Thrown wares are mainly hollow vessels, especially posset pots. This closely dated group provides valuable information about the types of slipware in use in Liverpool at this time. The source of the material is unknown, although it is 'Staffordshire' in general type (Davey 1985b, 35). The 'later' slipwares have been dated to the 19th century and were probably not produced locally (ibid, 35).

Excavation at the Old Hutt, Halewood, near Liverpool, in 1960 also produced mottled ware similar to that found at South Castle Street, tin-glazed earthenware made in Liverpool, and black glazed ware probably made locally (Wrathmell 1992).

Norton Priory

Norton Priory, near Warrington, was excavated in the 1970s. Large numbers of Cistercian-type ware drinking vessels had been dumped in the cloister garth some time after the Dissolution of the Priory in 1536 (Greene and Noake 1977, 58-59), when part of the site was converted into a Tudor mansion. Excavation evidence indicates that this type of ware was in use during the 16th century or possibly from late in the 15th century (ibid, 58). The Norton material differs from Brears' Cistercian ware type-series (Brears 1971) in that no applied clay decoration is found, with the exception of clay bosses on some vessels, and these are not in a light-coloured clay (ibid, 58). The range comprises only two main shapes; pedestal cups, similar to Brears' type 8 (Brears 1971, 22) and barrel shaped. There are also a few cylindrical drinking vessels. The suggested source is north Cheshire, Merseyside or Clwyd (Greene and Noake 1977, 58).

Speke Hall

At Speke Hall, near Liverpool, an important group of late medieval to early post- medieval wares was sealed by the construction of the west range in c. 1550. The site was excavated in 1981-82. Two important groups of pottery were recovered. The earliest pottery dated from the late 15th century. Alongside imported wares were found highly fired grey jugs and storage vessels, probably locally produced, decorated with thumbed strips and incised lines. Sixteenth-century levels revealed hard-gritted red wares with brown glaze and Cistercian-type ware, found in considerable numbers, kitchen and finewares being represented (Higgins 1992, 56). The kitchen types are upright jar forms; the finewares are mainly drinking vessels and compare in form to the two main shapes excavated at Norton Priory (Greene and Noake 1977, 59). They have distinctive handles and pronounced bases, a common feature of 16th century pottery in the north west (Higgins 1992, 56). Similar types of vessel have been excavated at St Elphin's Rectory, Warrington (Davey and Morgan 1977, 114), and Prescot (Philpott 1989, 27-33).

These 16th-century groups indicate clearly that there is a north-west tradition of Cistercian-type ware, the technology for which may have been learnt from the producers of the highly fired grey ware found at Speke Hall, dated to the end of the 15th century and presumed to be locally made (Higgins 1992, 58). No production sites have been located to date but the documentary evidence for potting in Prescot in the 16th century suggests that these wares were made in the town (Davey and Morgan 1977, 126; Davey 1978; Davey 1989; Davey 1991, 127).

St Elphin's Rectory, Warrington

An important group of 16th- and 17th-century pottery was excavated at St Elphin's Rectory, Warrington, in 1977 (Leigh 1977). At the time it was the first sizeable post-medieval group to be published from the north west, outside Chester. Although not in well-stratified groups, the types of pottery represented can be firmly dated using examples from other sites in the region, including Norton Priory, Speke Hall, Rainford and Prescot. Groups of Cistercian-type ware, Midland purple-type ware, blackwares dated c. 1600-1750, Midland yellow-type ware and mottled ware from this excavation were all considered to have been made locally (ibid, 115-18).

Peel Castle, Isle of Man

Excavations in the Isle of Man show clear links with the north west of England. A large group of post-medieval wares were recovered from work in Peel Castle in the mid 1980s (Davey 2002). The most securely dated contexts are from the mid-17th century, associated with Civil War activity at the castle. Types from these contexts include speckled ware, similar to a type from Rainford (P.J. Davey, pers. comm.), yellow wares of Rainford type, and slipwares. The slipwares include hollow-wares similar to those found at South Castle Street, Liverpool, at Beeston Castle and Chester. This is an important group as it provides firm dates for wares from the mid-17th century found on sites in Merseyside.

Beeston Castle

Work at Beeston Castle has produced important groups of pottery dated to the Civil War period of 1643-45. This assemblage includes blackware, midland purple, tin-glaze ware, slipware, midland yellow and early stoneware (Noake 1993, 191). The predominant forms of blackware comprise large storage vessels, straight-sided drinking vessels and smaller jugs and jars. The large storage vessels have close parallels to Rainford examples (ibid, 203). Flange-rim dishes are the predominant form of slipware, all with a continuous wavy line round the rim, though none of the designs are wholly similar (ibid, 204). These dishes are comparable to pottery found at Peel Castle (Davey 2002) and South Castle Street (Davey 1985b, 41).


There are a number of well-stratified groups in and around Merseyside but it is not possible to establish a complete chronology at present. Norton Priory and Speke Hall provide the evidence for Cistercian-type ware of probably local manufacture in the 16th century. Peel Castle and Beeston Castle have good examples of wares associated with the mid-17th century and have parallels with wares produced in Rainford. Buckley kiln sites produced a range of wares dated from the 17th through to the 19th century; slip-coated, sgraffito, black and brown glazed, mottled. South Castle Street, Liverpool, has closely dated wares from the early 18th century and it is thought likely that most of these were locally produced. Prescot excavations provided abundant evidence of black glazed and mottled ware production in the mid-18th century and a small group from a mid-17th century context. Evidence for stoneware production is only circumstantial at present for Liverpool, although finds from Prescot point to mass production of brown stoneware flagons by the early 19th century and indicate off-white and white salt-glazed stoneware production before then. Sugar-refining pottery can be dated to the mid-18th century from a pottery site in Prescot.

Detailed descriptions of wares have been recorded in reports from 1877 (Gibson 1877) up to the present, the most detailed analyses being over the last fifteen years. There are some difficulties in interpreting the descriptions of these wares, especially in relation to the terminology. For instance, black glazed ware is described as black glazed in the majority of reports, but also with a variety of sub-categories (Wrathmell 1992), and also black and brown ware (Coney and King 1982). Mottled ware is also called splashed (Coney and King 1982; Chitty 1981) and manganese ware (Warhurst 1977; Chitty 1977). Usually the terminology changes over time. A solution would be to provide a glossary alongside descriptions of the ware and to decide on an agreed future terminology. At present there appear to be at least 37 different descriptions given to pottery types from published reports of north-west sites.

The existing evidence from excavations and documentary sources in the Merseyside area leave large gaps in knowledge which will be difficult to fill until more kiln sites have been located. The detailed work carried out by James Bentley and others at Buckley goes some way to filling these gaps.

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