Feby 25th 1850
To H F Talbot Esqr
I have visited Wedgwood’s Davenport’s & Minton’s <1> pottery works Mr Wedgwood<2> was very obliging he allowed me to visit every part of his large works – they stand upon 10 acres of ground: The whole of the village of Etruria belongs to him – Mr Wedgwood is not a true porcelain maker & therefore advised me to go to Mr Minton<3> at Stoke upon Trent – one mile distant – who has a machine (patented) expressly for preparing flat slabs The clay in powder is put into a steel mould a steel die is then driven down upon it with tremendous force The result is a uniform flat slab beautifully smooth & compact; ready for firing
Mr Minton tells me that our slabs will each be formed under a pressure of 150 tons.
Davenport’s slabs are made from wet clay hand-pressed only.
Mr Wedgwood & Mr Minton both are of opinion that the heavy pressure plan is the only one adapted for our purpose.
A 4 inch slab of wet clay shrinks 5/7 of an inch in burning. From the dry clay it shrinks only 2/7 The latter is found to be the least distorted of the two. Plate glass is not perfectly flat. Mr Minton sees no difficulty in making slabs as flat as plate glass –
Mr Minton conferred with Mr Garratt<4> his partner & at once expressed his readiness to make the necessary experiments Mr Garrett thinks he can at once make a “body” to answer all the conditions Great secrecy is observed in the pottery business Nevertheless I succeeded in my request to know the elements used in the best white porcelain. for us Silica Sulphate Barytes Carbonate Lime & “China clay” I am to have samples of each to examine in any way that I may think desirable Mr Garratt will burn the ingredients of the “body” seperately [sic] to contract them. There will then be less contraction in the slab.
I proposed to Mr Garratt to sift into the steel mould a very infusible “body” as a thin film to be covered by a more fusible body Press & burn: the slab ought then to be absorbent on one side & close & very transparent below the surface
Mr Garratt likes the idea & will try
It will take more time than I expected before we see the first experiment completed – three weeks Mr Garratt says he must assemble for a burn all the ingredients carefully & seperately but for this he could be ready sooner Mr Garratt advises a glass stainer for the fluxing on of the “body” to glass I return to London tomorrow to find one who has been recommended to me.
This is not a district favourable to Photography. It abounds in Iron & Coal works It lies in a valley surrounded by 8 Towns & villages all pouring down dense black smoke.<5>
The ground underneath is all undermined It is hardly a safe dwelling place. Many of the houses are cracking from the earth sinking A few years back several houses were engulphed. An iron mine had been worked too near the surface. Coals are sold at 3d the hundred weight 6 times cheaper than in London the abundance of coal & a kind of Marl used in making “Seggars”<6> to burn the “ware” in seem to be the reason for choosing this district for Potteries The China Clay and Stone comes all the way from Cornwall.
There is a canal from this place to London the distance is 151 miles The boats which pass here every few minutes journey about 30 miles a day.<7>
I remain Sir your obedient Servant
T A Malone
1. The Wedgwood China Factory, established by Joseph Wedgwood (1769-1843) at Etruria, Staffordshire; that established in 1793 by John Davenport (1765-1848), at Longport, Burslem, Stafforshire; the Minton china business was established in the late 18th c. by Thomas Minton (1765-1836) at Stoke on Trent, Stafffordshire.
2. Francis Wedgwood (1800–1888), grandson of the founder; partner from 1827 and sole proprietor after 1843.
3. Probably Herbert Minton (1793-1858).
4. Possibly Thomas Garratt, formerly of the Spode china works.
5. This area of Staffordshire was known as The Potteries. Early photographic processes required substantial amounts of light for exposure, especially light towards the blue end of the spectrum, which was greatly attenuated by dense smoke.
6. Seggers were the heat-resistant clay protective cases used to contain the china during firing.
7. The Trent & Mersey Canal, connecting to the Grand Union Canal.