Film ID:
YFA 502



Visitor Tabs


This is a Charles Chislett film commissioned by the Church Pastoral Aid Society Production, featuring his two children, Rachel and John, and using intertitles to explain each stage of the process of making earthenware.

Title - The Hands of the Potter. The story of the manufacture of English Earthenware

A Church Pastoral Aid Society Production
Script, Photography and Editing by Charles J. Chislett A.R.P.S.

Intertitle - What's in a cup?

Chislett's daughter, Rachel, comes out of the house and trips over the pet rabbit, dropping a tray of cups. Her brother John breaks a piece of the broken crockery with a hammer.

Intertitle - That's one way of finding out. But it's no use wishing it were whole again. Cups and plates are shaped by skilled hands and machines which put into practice the accumulated experience of scores of generations of potters. What materials do they use? How is it done? Let's go the potteries of Staffordshire and see for ourselves.

The streets around the factories in the Potteries are shown, with smoke coming out of the factory chimneys.

Intertitle - Most of the pottery made in England comes from within a few miles of this church

A church is shown, with gravestones near the street, and the factories in the background. Rachel and John peer up at the Church's clock tower. They then take in the view of the smoke filled industrial landscape from the top of the tower. Also from the top of the tower, two vicars point out places that can be seen, with many factories and terraced streets. They all climb down from the top and the film moves to a street, with a woman walking past a corner shop advertising 'Cherry Blossom' boot polish. The gates of the Wood and Sons Trent Pottery works are seen, and inside the court yard the two vicars are met by another man.

Intertitle - English Earthenware is made up of:- 35% calcined flints which give strength and whiteness.

The flints are piled up in the yard.

Intertitle - 15% Cornish Stone which gives strength and vitrification.

The stones are also piled up in the yard.

Intertitle - 30% ball clay which gives plasticity.

The Ball Clay is being shovelled out of the back of a truck.

Intertitle - 20% China Clay which gives whiteness.

The China Clay gets tipped out of a shovel. Two elderly workers are resting having a smoke.

Intertitle - They know how cups are made

One of the workers shows his blackened hands. He puts the ingredients into a bucket (a sagger), shakes it about then pulls out a cup, smiling at the camera.

Intertitle - Flints are burned and crushed and then mixed in water with ground-stone and clay.

The flints are shovelled into a crusher and this is then taken by conveyer belt to go into a mixer.

Intertitle - The resultant white liquid (slip) is sieved and then passed over magnets to extract any bits of metal from the grinding mills.

This sieve is shown in operation.

Intertitle - Next it is pumped into canvas bags, called press-cloths, which are then squeezed to get rid of the water.

This process is shown.

Intertitle - Mat-like pieces of clay are left which fed into the pug mill, from which emerges clay ready for use.

A woman worker rolls the clay is up on a bench and cuts it. She then places a piece onto a turning machine and forms it into a vase.

Intertitle - Now see the clay transformed into plates by hands and machines

A worker carries a lump of clay on his head past the ovens to a wheel, watched by Rachel and John looking through a window. Once on the wheel the clay is flattened to form a plate. These are then finished off on machines by a line of women and put into piles.

Intertitle - After drying, the plates are packed into fireclay containers called "slaggers", for "firing"

The plates are covered in some fine material and put into round containers, slaggers, which are carried off by men on their heads.

Intertitle - Two or three thousand slaggers are then carefully stacked in each "biscuit" furnace and fired for days

The slaggers are passed along a line of workers on their heads to the ovens.

Intertitle - Today many special devices guard the potter's health. Dust was his enemy

Women workers polish the plates on a turntable in front of dust extractors.

Intertitle - Firing leaves the pottery either worthy of a trade mark or . . !

Some plates are being marked on the back with the trade mark whilst others are being smashed into a basket.

Intertitle - Sometimes the pattern is printed onto thin paper from which it is transferred onto the plate

The pattern emerges from a rolling machine, cut and put onto the plates by hand by women workers. They are then washed and stacked to dry. Cups are hand painted.

Intertitle - after painting, the earthenware is piped into liquid glaze which becomes hard transparent during the second firing

A worker dips a plate into the mixture and holds up the finished product against the unfinished one. Plates are painted on a wheel, and other products are hand painted.

Intertitle - An electric furnace in use for "firing" on-glace decorated pottery

The pottery is stacked onto shelves on a trolley and pushed into an oven, and the finished products are shown.

Intertitle - In this case a gas "tunnel" kiln is being used

Slaggers are piled onto a trolley and pushed into a kiln.

Intertitle - Cups go through the same processes from clay to finished product

Cups are being moulded on a wheel by women workers. These are then placed on long trays and carried off to another room to have the handles put on.

Intertitle - Hollow-ware can be a cast in moulds

A man breaks open a cast to reveal a jug. The jugs are finished off and again carried on long tray, this time on the heads of workers. A worker shovels coal into a furnace. More plates are made. Outside several cats get fed from one of the bowls.

Intertitle - It's not much good making pottery unless it is well packed for transit

The pottery is packed into straw in large wooden barrels and lowered onto horse drawn carts. One barrel is marked for La republica Habana, with a label stating, 'Britain delivers the goods'.

Intertitle - The art of the potter takes many forms . . .

Three men stand holding different examples of pottery: a jug, a vase and a teapot. Another holds a large plate - all highly decorated.

Intertitle - . . . And there is more in it than meets the eye

Back in the family garden Rachel holds a vase on a table, out of which pops the pet rabbit.

The End