1842 Pottery Riots
Predominantly centred on Hanley and Burslem, in what is now Stoke-on-Trent, the 1842 Pottery Riots took place in the midst of the 1842 General Strike, and both are credited with helping to forge trade unionism and direct action as a powerful tool in British industrial relations.
The riots took place in the back drop of the 1842 General Strike, which itself was started by colliers in and around the Potteries, and was part of the popular working class Chartist movement. The spark that lit both the General Strike and Pottery Riots was the decision, in early June 1842, by the by W.H.Sparrow, a Longton coal mine owner, to disregard the law and fail to give the statutory fortnight's notice before imposing a hefty pay reduction of almost a shilling a day on his workers. The men went on strike and soon surrounding colliery workers began showing support. The strike cause was championed by Chartist, who called for a General Strike across the Potteries. However, by the end of July strikes were endemic across north Staffordshire and were spreading, notably in south east Lancashire.
As the strike spread it gained the attention of the Chartist movement. On 13 August prominent Chartist orator Thomas Cooper arrived in Hanley and was given lodgings by coffee shop owner Jeremiah Yates. On Monday 15 August 1842, Thomas Cooper, gave a speech at Crown Bank in Hanley, decreeing: "that all labour cease until the People's Charter becomes the law of the land." John Ward states what happened next in his 1843 book:
Later on the 16th, Thomas Powys, a Burslem magistrate and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the county, ordered troops to fire on a procession of strikers in Burslem Square. One was killed and many more wounded. This enraged the crowd and they set off to retaliate, by burning down Powys' house. The whole situation continued to deteriorate. The agent of Lord Granville's coal pits had his house ransacked and his office burnt. The Rev Aitkens manse was partly destroyed, his money stolen and his wine drunk. Many other acts of vandalism and retribution were conducted, but mine owners, clergy and magistrates were singled out for special retribution. The rioters were hounded and rounded up by the troops over the course of the day.
The parish church of St John's grave-yard contains the grave of the man killed. The traditional story relates that he was merely a spectator. He was a 16-year old orphan who left behind his younger sister. His grave reads:
I went up town a sight to see
Met with a shot that kill-ed me
No mourn for me I beg you make
But love my sister for my sake.
Although the rhyme indeed hints at the interred being shot, the grave in question is actually that of a Nathaniel Johnson who died in 1837 and is buried along with his father. This is not consistent with the dates of the riots and the story about the deceased being an orphan.
A total of 274 people were brought to trial in the special assizes that followed, of whom 146 were sent to prison and 54 were transported (to Australia). John Ward names those deported. By the end of 1842 the County Police Force had been established and the first Chief Constable appointed.
This did not dent the popularity of trade unionism though. The Miners' Association of Great Britain and Ireland was formally established on 7 November 1842. The United Branches of Operative Potters (UBOP) was born on 6 September 1843.  Likewise, the Cotton Spinners Association and the Operative Stonemasons' membership swelled from 2134 in 1842 to 4861 in 1845. There is however, no memorial to the Pottery Riots in Stoke-on-Trent, and the incident is largely overlooked in national and local history. There is a poignant memorial in the grave of the 'striker' who died. See reference to St John the Baptist graveyard above.
- Thomas Cooper’s personal account
- John Ward’s account of what happened
- Video looking at the grave of the man supposedly killed in the riots
- Disorder and Unrest in Staffordshire. Staffspasttrack.org.uk.
- Pottery Riots 1842. Healeyhero.co.uk.
- Workers’ History. Workersliberty.org (15 December 2005).
- General Strike 1842. Chartists.net.
- Jeremiah Yates. Thepotteries.org.
- The Chartists: the first national workers' movement By John Charlton ISBN 0-7453-1182-2
- 1842 Pottery Riots. Healeyhero.co.uk.
- The Borough of Stoke-Upon-Trent, in the Commencement of the Reign of Queen Victoria. Books.google.co.uk.
- The Crisis of 1842: Chartism, the Colliers' Strike and the Outbreak in the Potteries. Web.bham.ac.uk.
- Curiosities of Staffordshire- The Pottery Riots 1842. YouTube (20 August 2013).
- Transported to Australia. Chartists.net.
- "The Potters' Union". stokemuseums.org.uk. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012.