Vocational training in ceramic science for workers in North Staffordshire’s pottery industry began in 1870 when courses were started at The Mechanics Institution in Hanley and at The Athenaeum in Fenton.
During 1875, The Society of Arts (now The Royal Society of Arts) introduced examinations for industrial scientists and laboratory assistants employed in the industry.
In 1879, these examinations were taken over by The City and Guilds of London Institute. Classes to prepare students for City and Guilds examinations were held at the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem and at the Mechanics Institution. In 1880 four students from the Potteries took the examinations in pottery and porcelain manufacture. They all passed.
By the 1890s, courses in ceramic technology were being held in all “the six towns”.
The technical school in The Wedgwood Institute became the centre for advanced level training and preliminary courses were run by technical schools in Tunstall, Hanley, Stoke, Longton and Fenton.
In 1899, William Jackson was put in charge of all the ceramic courses in the Potteries.
Advanced level courses were transferred from The Wedgwood Institute to The Victoria Institute in Station Road (The Boulevard), Tunstall where a Pottery School, with a research laboratory, had been established.
The laboratory was created to test the firmness, plasticity, tenacity, porosity and colour of any type of clay and at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the only laboratory in England undertaking original research for the pottery industry.
Most students who attended classes at The Victoria Institute were trainee managers, industrial chemists and laboratory assistants who were taking City and Guilds Preliminary (Stage One), Ordinary (Stage Two) and Honours (Stage Three) examinations in pottery and porcelain manufacture.
William encouraged his students to undertake research and ran a weekly “post-graduate” class for those who had passed their Stage Three examinations. Many had become works managers or ceramic scientists, who used the laboratory’s facilities to find practical solutions to scientific problems they faced at work.
In 1900, William formed a discussion group where research students and pottery manufacturers met to share scientific knowledge.
Originally called The North Staffordshire Ceramics Society, the group later changed its name to The British Ceramics Society.
Membership increased and the society grew in importance. Visits to factories and technical schools in Europe and North America were arranged and the society extended its activities to embrace the whole ceramics industry including refractory products and building materials.
(Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2010)