Louisa Brindley oversaw the auction of ‘household furniture, cottage pianoforte and other effects’ at her house in Eversley Place.
That June Tuesday morning in 1893, everything had to go: not only choice items like the Charles Hampton walnut cottage pianoforte, rosewood drawing room suite and mahogany oval table but utilitarian items too, such as the wringing machine, ash pan, gas fittings and oilcloth and, more esoterically, a case of stuffed birds. Who was Louisa? Why were the contents of her home being sold? What do we know about her life up to and after that point?
Louisa Harriet Newton, as she was then, was born in May 1850 in the parish of Swynnerton in Staffordshire. She was baptised in the parish on 23 June. Her father farmed 56 acres in the tiny hamlet of Beech.
The area was very rural then as it still is now, comprising modest, mixed farms; small, often thatched, cottages and a number of large houses, including the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland’s summer home, Trentham Hall, immediately to the north.
The Newton family farmhouse must have been reasonably big. In 1851, in addition to one year old Louisa, there was space for her mother, Harriet, father, John, older brothers, Samuel and John, four farm labourers and two house servants. John was often mentioned in the local papers as a judge, and sometimes the host, of ploughing competitions. The family appear to have been relatively comfortably off and well established in the local community.
In 1861, ten year old Louisa was at school, as were her older brothers, even 16 year old Samuel. The children may have helped on the farm and in the house but they hadn’t yet had to curtail their education to help with the household finances. Louisa’s father now employed four men and two boys, three of whom lived with the family: a carter, a cowman and a 16 year old ‘farm boy’. The family also employed a servant. Notably though, Louisa’s mother, Harriet, was not at home on census night. She may have been visiting family or perhaps she was in hospital. We don’t know, but Louisa may have found herself helping in the house more than usual.
Just a couple of years later, however, the family’s circumstances had changed dramatically. In December 1863, presaging the advertisement to be placed some 40 years later, the local newspaper carried notice of an auction of the contents of the farm: a long list of animals, crops and farm implements, as well as the family’s furniture and household equipment.
The reason given for the auction is ‘under distress for rent’. So it wasn’t the Newtons who were selling their belongings but their landlord in order to recover debts owed by John Newton. It must have been a humiliating episode for the family who would have been known to everyone in the vicinity as would their circumstances, particularly after the publication of the advert.
Why had the Newtons fallen on such hard times? We can’t be sure but there is a record of the death in December 1863 of a John Newton in nearby Stoke. Despite John having lived in the small hamlet of Beech all of his life and his children knowing no other home, the landlord clearly had no room for sentimentality: the auction took place two days before Christmas. What memories of this traumatic time when Louisa was 13 years old will have resurfaced 30 years later as the contents of 9 Eversley Place were, in turn, sold?
We don’t know what happened to Louisa, her mother and her siblings in the immediate aftermath of losing the farm but we can be fairly sure that for Louisa it would have meant the end of her schooling and the need to earn a living. The next record we have found for her is in the 1871 census by which time she was 20 years old.
Louisa had left behind rural Swynnerton. After growing up in a family in which servants were employed, she herself was now working as a live-in housemaid. Her home now was at 220 Waterloo Street in Burslem, one of the ‘five towns’ (actually six) of the Potteries of which Arnold Bennett wrote a few years later. In fact, shortly afterwards, Bennett lived just a little further down Waterloo Street at 205.
In the late 19th century, the Potteries produced nine tenths of the earthenware manufactured in the UK and more than half its population was said to be ‘more or less directly engaged in, or concerned with, the industry…’
The house in which Louisa now lived and worked is almost at the bottom of the map above. The back garden of the property is marked with crosses.
Although her home was on the edge of town and in an affluent area (her immediate neighbours were two pottery managers; an ironmonger employing 8 men and two boys; a wine and spirit merchant; an engineer and iron founder employing 34 men and 14 boys; a blacksmith employing 6 men and a boy), it was very different to Beech. The nearby streets would have been crowded, smoky, dusty and noisy and there would have been many signs of poverty including the sight of children as young as 11 going to work in the many local manufactories.
The dangers of working amongst mineral dust were well known and meant that 50% of the Staffordshire potters who died in 1890 were suffering from chest diseases but the issue was ignored for decades. In addition, particularly among glazers, dippers and painters, lead poisoning was a major cause of illness and death. The Duchess of Sutherland, Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, in the lea of whose country house Louisa had grown up, was lampooned and known as ‘Meddlesome Millie’ for campaigning for better working conditions: her caricature appears in Bennet’s Clayhanger novels. The first streets Louisa would pass on her walk into town to shop or on an evening off were aptly named: Bleak Street and Kill Street.
Although she lived in a comfortable villa, Louisa’s quarters will have been in the attic or basement along with Sarah Chilton, the live-in cook. Their employer and landlord was William Woodall, the owner of the James McIntyre and Co pottery, situated just a hundred metres north at the Washington China Works. The pottery produced items such as hall-door knobs, pestles and mortars, garden labels, artists’ palettes and coloured tiles in addition to crockery.
William Woodall was a prominent figure in Burslem, a well-known philanthropist as well as an important employer. In particular he was a founder, in 1869, of the town’s Wedgewood Institute, which comprised an education centre (attended by Arnold Bennett) and a ‘Free Library’. Woodall went on to become a Liberal MP, best remembered for his support of women’s suffrage, as shown by his proposed amendment to the 1884 reform bill. At this stage, Louisa’s life might not have been what she had dreamt of as a child but she seems to have chosen her employer well.
However, another man was soon to become even more important in Louisa’s eyes. On 9 September 1872, she married John Brindley. Brindley is a common name in the Potteries, so it’s difficult to work out whether John was related to his famous namesakes: James, the great engineer and builder of the Trent and Mersey Canal, which was so important for the economy of the area, and John, James’ younger brother, who built the first pottery in Longport, conveniently situated on the banks of the new canal. What we do know is that Louisa’s husband-to-be, John, was also born and bred in Longport. In 1871, aged 23, he had been earning his living as a potter for at least ten years and was still living with his parents, Joseph, a crate maker, and Mary who ran a grocery store on Station Street, very close to the site of his famous namesake’s pottery.
By the time of the 1881 census, Louisa and John had two children, seven year old Harry and two year old Reginald, and were living in Lawson Street (off Heaton Street!) in Porthill, the next settlement to Longport. This map dates from some 15 years later and you can see that the area still has the characteristics of a small village compared to busy, industrial Burslem.
Next door were John’s parents and his older brother, George. John and George were both still described as potters, as were most of their neighbours. We have no way of knowing how Louisa felt living so close to her in-laws. Did it remind her of how her own family had broken up so suddenly? Was she grateful of the help with childcare, especially when the couple’s third child, Harold, was born? And did the family move out of town so that their children could grow up in a healthier, safer environment. We can’t be sure but the move to Porthill appears to have been made possible by John’s career providing them with a better standard of living than many people in Burslem.
Nevertheless, for some reason Louisa, John and the children were soon to move 160 or so miles north to Newcastle upon Tyne which, although on a much smaller scale than Stoke on Trent, was also a pottery centre. We don’t know what prompted the Brindleys’ move from the midlands but we do know that over the previous couple of decades there had been a series of bitter industrial disputes over wages and working conditions. John perhaps discovered that he could earn better money elsewhere.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was said ‘the potteries of the Tyne do not aim at the dainty and the tasteful, they are content with the useful. Their pots have to bear rough usage and they are made roughly.’
However by the 1880s, at Maling’s Pottery in the Ouseburn, things were changing. Patterns became ‘more consciously artistic’. ‘New shapes were introduced to go with the new patterns, and sometimes the combination of an artistic print, ivory body and smart shape could produce something quite stylish, such as the Kilda pattern tureens of the late 1880s.’ (pictured below)
The first mention of the Brindleys in Heaton is in the trade directories of 1887. They were living at 25 Algernon Road. The photograph below was taken some 40 years later but shows the now-demolished houses in Algernon Road next to Ringtons which, in 1887, hadn’t yet been built. If John Brindley worked at Maling’s, it would take him only about 15 minutes to walk there.
However, Maling’s wasn’t the only earthenware manufacturer in Newcastle. In 1887-8, there were six, with all but one of them (T Fell and Co of St Peter’s) in the Ouseburn. The others were:
C K Walker’s on Foundry Lane, owned by Cuthbert Kendal Walker who lived in and around Heaton (132 Tynemouth Road, 11 Warwick Street, 163 Mowbray Street and, at the time of the auction on Eversley Terrace, at 16 Holmside Place, the very next street, though he soon emigrated to South Africa). This firm specialised in the manufacture of flowerpots.
Wallace and Co of Pottery Lane and later Foundry Lane, which also specialised in flowerpots, along with ‘wc basins and traps and chimney pots’.
J Wood and Co of Stepney Bank ‘manufacturers of every description of earthenware, also gas reflectors, lamp tops’
J Young of Lime Street.
There are references in the local press to the three Brindley children in 1888 joining the famous children’s naturalist club, the Dicky Bird Society, which originated in Newcastle but became a worldwide phenomenon, and in 1891 to Reginald passing an elementary inorganic chemistry exam at Heaton School of Science and Art but no mentions in the press of either John or Louisa.
Louisa will surely have borne the brunt of settling the family into a new area, finding schools for the children, discovering where best to shop and furnishing a rented house. Interestingly, John was now described not as a ‘potter’ but as an ‘artist’. Was he at first working for Maling, attracted by the company’s new emphasis on artistic ceramics or even a reason for the firm’s improved reputation – or perhaps for John Woods and Co?
We don’t know but by the time of the 1891 census, John was described as a ‘china decorator’ and was categorised as an employer. The couple’s eldest son, 17 year old Harry, was also a ‘china decorator’ but described as an employee. Perhaps he was his father’s apprentice. There was a long tradition of independent painters in the ceramics industry in this country and overseas. They would often be employed by potteries instead of, or as well as, in-house painters. John and Harry may have done work for Maling’s or for one of the smaller potteries. Or was he perhaps buying plain pottery himself and decorating it to sell?
At this time, the younger children, Reginald and Harold, were still at school. The family had moved to a larger newly built house, 19 Cardigan Terrace, where their neighbours were in a variety of mainly white collar jobs: a naval architect, a customs officer and a music teacher, for example, and from Norway and Barbados as well as from all over Britain. Heaton was very different to Burslem, where one industry dominated and many families had lived there for generations.
The Brindleys now had room for a lodger, Ann Peel, also from Staffordshire, who had found work as a waitress. She would have provided a small but steady income while John established his business. The family’s fortunes seemed to be on an upward trajectory.
And the following year, John was described as a ‘china dealer’. The family were recorded at 9 Eversley Place, a particularly desirable place to live, facing Heaton Park and close to the grounds of Heaton Hall while still convenient for the shops of Heaton Road and Heaton Park Road. The street name is not recorded on this 2nd edition OS map which was surveyed in 1894-5 and published in 1898, but it is the middle of the three streets running north to south between Heaton Park View and Wandsworth Road. Although only a three minute walk from their previous house and almost certainly rented, it represented yet another step up.
Is it a coincidence that in the 1890s, Maling produced a pattern called the ‘Eversley’? Could the design below even be John’s work? We don’t know: pottery designs were rarely attributed at this time.
But, in the summer of 1892, everything changed again: the family were to separate. John, 18 year old Harry and 12 year old Reginald left 9 Eversley Place for the last time, travelled to Liverpool and boarded the White Star’s liner, ‘Teutonic’. On 3 August, they arrived in New York. The trio had travelled in Second Cabin Class along with other middle class passengers. Along with quite a few others on board, Harry and John are listed as ‘farmers’ on the ship’s roll, probably just to speed up the registration process. We know that they had just three pieces of luggage between them. Their final destination was given as New York and their stated plans were to stay in the USA permanently. We can’t tell whether John had a job offer before he went or had simply heard that the city to which they were heading, Trenton, New Jersey afforded a higher standard of living than Burslem and Newcastle upon Tyne.
Unlike in Newcastle where there was just a handful of manufacturers of decorative ware at that time, in Trenton there were many. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Trenton was the United States’ answer to Stoke on Trent with a myriad of producers of decorative ceramics which would have employed painters like John and Harry: companies such as the Etruria Pottery, The Ceramic Art Company, Willets Manufacturing Company, International Pottery Company, Greenwood Pottery Company, Ott and Brewer Company and many others. There must have been considerable competition for skilled decorators.
In 1892, the year of John, Harry and Reginald’s arrival in the United States, The National League of Mineral Painters was formed with the aim of facilitating communication between artists and developing a national school of ceramic art. Its founder was Susan Stuart Frackelton, a leading light in the Arts and Crafts movement and a painter who specialised in ceramics. There were around 500 members across the US by 1893 but, in those early years, Trenton painters were notable by their absence from lists of members and exhibitors. Nevertheless, it is clear that Trenton was a leading centre in the Brindleys’ chosen sphere.
First impressions must have been good because, as we have already seen, on 6 June 1893, back in Heaton, the family’s furniture was auctioned, Louisa said a last goodbye to the piano and the case of stuffed birds and she and young Harold set off to join the rest of the family.
The ship they travelled on from Liverpool via Queenstown was Cunard’s ‘RMS Campania’, the largest, fastest and, in first class at least, most luxurious passenger liner of the time. This was only its second voyage. Louisa and Harold carried six pieces of luggage between them and, like John and the older boys the previous year, they weren’t travelling first class. The single journey cost Louisa between £7 and £10 with half fare for Harold. We know a lot about the ship and this voyage in particular because there is a ‘Passenger Log Book’ for 1893 online, which describes not only the engines and passenger accommodation but has photographs of the electric lamps, the barber’s shop and even the lavatories.
Not only that but on the leg between Queenstown, Ireland and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, ‘Campania’ won the prestigious Blue Riband, completing the journey of 5,304km across the Atlantic in a record-breaking 5 days 9 hours and 29 minutes. It must have been quite an experience for Louisa and especially for young Harold. Mother and son disembarked on 24 June 1893, 18 days after the auction at 9 Eversley Place, to be reunited with the rest of the Brindley family.
In 1895 a New Jersey census return records only that the Brindleys were living in Laurence, Mercer County, New Jersey, along with the fact they were English, their ages and their ethnicity. No detailed addresses, occupations or places of birth are given. They were among 1,705 people counted in Laurence. The township is considered close enough to New York (68 miles from Manhattan) to be called an ‘outer-ring suburb’ of that city but it is much closer to Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey.
The 1900 census gives more information, although Louisa appears to have been misnamed ‘Laura’. Her month of birth is given as May 1854, although we know that she was, in fact, four years older. John and Harry are listed as ‘pottery painters’, Reginald a ‘house painter’ and Harold, an ‘apprentice engraver’. They were now renting a property at 56 South Olden Avenue, Trenton. The house still stands and is pictured below (on the right). It must have been new when the Brinkley’s first moved there because present date real estate websites estimate its building date to have been 1902.
In 1905, Harold (now known as Bertram) was still living with his parents at the house. He was an engraver and John a ‘pottery decorator’.
The nearest pottery to the Brindley’s home, just a few blocks away, was the Columbian Art Pottery which was established in 1892, the very year John, Reginald and Harry arrived in Trenton. It’s been described as follows: ‘The artistic brilliance of this company was not matched by its commercial acumen and the company operated for less than fifteen years. Their plant was located in a small building on Parker Avenue near Olden Avenue’. The ewer below, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is dated 1893-1900.
On the other hand, we know from 1917-1918 WW1 draft papers that Harry (Louisa and John’s oldest son) was employed at Trenton Potteries Company which, like the Columbian Art Pottery, was founded in 1892. It specialised in sanitary ware, table ware and electrical ware. This presentation chamber pot, depicting the pottery, dates from 1909 and is in the collection of the New Jersey State Museum.
By 1910, Bertram was described as an ‘artist – cartoonist’. John still described himself as a ‘pottery decorator’. The family now seem to have owned their house on South Olden Avenue and both Louise and Bertram, though not John, had become naturalised citizens.
There are a few brief mentions of the family in the local press: one of Reginald secretly getting married in 1909 and another just after John died on 29 January 1917, referring to him as a ‘former well known potter of Trenton’. His address then was given as Grand Avenue, Trenton Junction. After John’s death, Louisa and Bert went to live with Reginald and his family back in nearby Lawrence, where they had headed for after first setting foot on US soil a quarter of a century before.
Louisa died in May 1929 at around about the time of her 79th birthday. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery close to the family home in South Olden Avenue, along with Bertram.
We only see snapshots of Louisa’s life from the record books but they show that she overcame adversity in her childhood, supported her husband and sons as they pursued improved opportunities in the big pottery centres of Burslem, the Ouseburn and Trenton, and kept her family together. Sadly, we don’t know much more about her including whether she found a replacement for the Charles Hampton walnut cottage pianoforte she’d had to leave behind in Heaton.
9 Eversley Place is now the home of writer, Ellen Phethean, a friend of Heaton History Group and member of Shoe Tree Arts, with whom we have collaborated on a number of recent projects. Ellen was particularly interested in the Brindleys’ story as her brother is a potter. And, even after 130 years, the house is one in which Louisa would probably feel thoroughly at home.
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Ellen Phethean.
Can You Help?
If you know any more about Louisa Brindley or anyone mentioned in this article, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the speech bubble immediately below the article title (to the right) or by filling in the box right at the bottom of this page or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
British Newspaper Archive
‘Maling; the trade mark of excellence’ / by Steven Moore and Catherine Ross; Tyne and Wear Museums; 3rd ed, 1997
Ordnance Survey maps
‘The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States’ / by Edwin Atlee Barber; Putnam’s, 1901
‘The Staffordshire Potter’ / by Harold Owen; Grant Richards, 1901
‘Staffordshire Pottery and its History’ / by Josiah C Wedgwood; Marston, 1913
Trade directories in Newcastle City Libraries
And various online sources linked to from the text