I have been giving some thought to how I want to structure this blog, and I’ve decided for the moment to feature various ancestors – tell their stories – in individual posts. I have a family tree on Ancestry so if you are reading this and think we have a common ancestor, do leave a comment and let me know.
William Hopkins was one of my maternal great great grandfathers. He was born on 5 September 1832 in Shelton, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire and baptised on 06 Jan 1833 in Bethesda Chapel, Albion Street, Shelton (now part of Hanley). Bethesda Chapel, according to www.thepotteries.org “became the central place of worship of the Methodist New Connexion. The chapel was rebuilt in 1820 to seat 3,000 people and became known as "The Cathedral of the Potteries," a name it has kept to this day. William’s brothers, however, seem to have been baptised in the local parish churches (Hanley and Stoke) so obviously his parents, Charles and Mary (nee Astbury), were not regular worshippers there.
William must have had a sad childhood. His father, Charles, died suddenly in 1840 aged only about 30. So suddenly that the Coroner described it as a Visitation of God. He was a potter’s ovenman, which meant that he loaded the pottery kilns with the pottery for firing (in large containers called saggars) and emptied them again afterwards. He had three brothers that we know about, including one who died before he was born; his brother George appears in the 1841 census but died in 1845 aged 10. His remaining brother, Ephraim, was with him in the 1851 census but we haven’t been able to find any trace of him since.
In the 1841 census, William is aged 9 living in Back Street, Shelton with his mother and brothers George and Ephraim, his father’s brothers Isaac Hopkins recorded as aged 20, an ironstone miner and Thomas Hopkins aged 20, a pottery slipmaker, plus two lodgers, Henry Halfpenny and Samuel Holland both recorded as aged 20. In 1843 his mother married the lodger Henry Halfpenny and they had a daughter, Mary Ann, but Mary herself died in 1847.
In 1851 we find William, aged 19, now a potter’s ovenman himself, and his brother Ephraim, aged 13, who is a potter’s mouldrunner. According to the potteries website, this consisted of running in all weathers from one building to another and placing the newly made ware in rows near a stove for hardening. They are lodging with their mother’s sister Jane Tinsley, her husband William and their 4 children, Thomas, William, Joseph and Harriet, in Tinker’s Clough, an area of Shelton near Etruria, where the Wedgwood factory was located at that time.
On 28 December 1857, William married Hannah Barlow in St Mark’s, Shelton. Their witnesses were Josiah Barlow, Hannah’s sister, and Jane Matthews, William’s paternal aunt. Hannah also came from a family of potters, though she grew up in Fenton, one of the other six towns of the Potteries. She herself was listed as a potter’s stilt maker in the 1861 census (stilt makers die pressed tall supports for ware after dipping). In 1858, on the birth of their son Charles, they were still living in Hanley but by the time their daughter Martha Ellen was born in 1860, they had moved to Fenton. In the 1861 census they were living at 5 High Street, Fenton (north side). William was listed as aged 27 and a potter’s biscuit oven placer (biscuit is pottery on its first firing, before glazing).
If you want to know more about the process of firing and the potteries in general, this page is very informative.
However, William and Hannah did not remain in the pottery industry. In the next decade, their lives changed drastically….
To be continued.