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J. and J. White's, Baptist Mills Pottery, Bristol - 1840 to 1891

The Beginning

The White family had, for many generations, been tobacco pipe makers in Rich's Buildings, Redcross Street, Old Market, Bristol. In August 1814, Joseph White (1799 - 1870, see photo) was apprenticed as a turner to JD Poultney. He is listed as a tobacco pipe manufacturer in Rich's Buildings, Redcross Street, Bristol in Matthew's Bristol Directories between 1829 and 1845. Between 1838 to 1841 the firm is listed as Joseph White & Sons.

In 1828 brothers Joseph and James White began business as J. and J. White, manufacturers of yellow ware and black teapots which were made from local Bristol clay which was of a poor quality and resulted in wares of an inferior nature. Their shinning black teapots were made from red clay, covered with a lead glaze coloured with manganese.

Around 1839 or 1840 Joseph and John had a disagreement with their father who was also their landlord at the time. The two brothers bought premises and mills at Baptist Mills, Bristol from the Harford Brass Battery Company where they set up as potters and maintained a successful business until 1890.

The land they purchased included; a melting house, a charcoal house, a dwelling house, yards and a chapel. The chapel may have been a meeting house for Quakers or methodists. It may, on the other hand have been a chapel for the local catholic population who were descendents of the French Roman catholic employees of the 17th Century cloth mills or descendents of catholic workers brought from Holland/Northern Germany by Abraham Darby in the early 18th century.

In 1840 James White bought more land at Baptist Mills. He and his brothers land included; the original Baptist Mill, a meadow called "the three cornered meadow", and, The Butts, which was land which had probably been anciently used for archery.

Poultney says that the two brothers retired in 1855 and passed their business to their sons.

The pottery supplied goods both nationally and to various parts of the expanding British Colonial Empire.

It was at Baptist Mills that the pottery produced "Egyptian Black" teapots (see photo). Such was the success of this new product that "shining-black" teapots were forced out of the market. The "Egyptian Black" teapots were exported as far afield as the Azores and Batavia.

With the large amounts of power provided by their newly acquired water-mills from the River Frome J. & J. White went on to produce a wide range of products. They produced imitation Bristol stone-ware; making numerous patterns including jugs, mugs, measures and toys. Other products included Lustre ware, Rockingham teapots and marazine blue-ware (the luster-ware soon gave way to their more successful lines).

Another important product was their "Bristol Stone-ware Glaze". This they supplied to potters across England, including Doulton & Co., and as far away as Australia. This was a glaze made without lead, it was impervious to commercial acids and resulted in a superior finish.

Perhaps their oddest product was the Punch-faced tobacco pipes which were said to have been moulded by a secret process in Froom Villa by James' first wife. These pipes were a lurid green and yellow. They sold in very large numbers over a large area. It is known that some were sold as far afield as Quebec, Canada (1845/46).

Commercially the business was a success and was the local leader in the wide product range it produced.

Social Conditions at Baptist Mills and the End of the Pottery

The two brothers built and lived in two villas in Baptist Mills. James in Froom Villa, Lower Ashley Road (as mentioned in Harrison's Directory, 1859 and in Morris' Directory, 1867). Joseph lived in Porch House. These houses and their pear tree are said to have stood until the construction of the M32 in the 1960s.

It may well have been that the two brothers operated separately at two, quite separate, potteries on the site.

In 1855 both James and Joseph White retired and left their sons to run the business. In 1858 Joseph's second son, William D White, left for the west coast of America. It appears that Joseph's son, also called Joseph, continued to run the business. The Kelly'sBristol Directory of 1861 lists the pottery as the Phoenix Pottery. In the 1860s J. & J. White sold their original Redcross Street pottery to John Ellis. When the last of the original brothers died in 1875 the Baptist Mills business was continued by his executors. By the 1880s the business was much smaller than in previous years - consisting by this time of only one two-story building. It had declined in importance and required capital investment in more modern machinery, the necessary capital, however, was not available.

Both women and men were employed in the potteries but it does not seem to appear that women were members of the factory's  'Sickness Benefit Scheme'. In 1870 male employees were paying between 4d and 1s8d a week into the scheme (about 2p - 8p in today's money).

The City Corporation of Bristol had plans to demolish the mills at Baptist Mills as they were the cause of wide-spread flooding in the area. The mill dams on the River Frome were preventing the free flow of the river's water. The flooding of the River Frome was practically an annual event. In 1882 the flood was especially severe and one man drowned. By this time the St Werburghs and Mina Road areas had been built up and the flooding caused widespread damage. In 1883 a report on the Condition of the Bristol Poor refers to "Naked children at Baptist Mills".

After a long negotiation between the Trustees and the Corporation the pottery's mill was sold and, with the business becoming increasingly uncompetitive, the executors of the estate sold the salable assets. The Pottery closed in 1891.

The Bristol Corporation demolished the pottery and the mill. It straightened out and deepened the course of the river - the culverting can still be seen where the river is exposed between Baptist Mills and River Street in St Jude's, Bristol.

Frederick J White (1838-1919, Joseph's son) left Bristol with his family in 1863 and set up a pottery business in Courtenay or Courtney Bay, New Brunswick, Canada. Between 1875-92 he returned to Baptist Mills to run the pottery. In 1893 he moved back to the USA. This time settling in Denver. Here he carried out research into Colorado clays and worked in local stone-ware factories. In 1894, with his son Francis G White (1869-1960) he set up his own pottery business producing fine stone-ware which was glazed in delicate shades. His business became known as the Denver Art Pottery which moved to other sites in Denver to allow for expansion c.1911, 1915 & 1921.

Photographs by kind permission of Bristol Museum and Art Service

The sources for these notes are:

So.... I do hope you enjoyed reading these brief notes and it gives some idea of the materials in your Community History Archive.

Did you know that there were many potteries at one time in Easton, St George, Whitehall, etc? I'm sure that they could be a source of inspiration to existing local potters. The permanent display at the Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery has many examples of East Bristol pottery and some local porcelain.

For me, what is fascinating is the continual colonial and slave trade connections which come to light concerning our past local industries.

Be glad of any comments, additions, etc to this short article. Just get in touch with.........

Jim McNeill, 10 Daisy Rd, Eastville, BS5 6JS, Tel. 939 1571 or e-mail: