During medieval times, small potteries sprang up all over England, and when layers of clay, suitable for making pottery wares, were discovered, squeezed between the coal seams, the Black Country joined the ranks of the pottery districts.
The earliest pottery industry on a large scale was that of Wednesbury, where references to the trade date back as far as 1422. By
1686, when Dr Plot visited the area, he noted that two types of clay, one yellow-white and the other bluish, were dug at Monway Field and used together to make pots known as Wedgebury ware. The thrown pots were decorated with “skip,” “a reddish sort of earth gotten at Tipton,” before being fired. Kilns seem to have dotted the town, described by Dr Plot as being round, six feet across and over eight feet high; in the twentieth century, such a kiln was excavated in Wednesbury’s Market Place.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the pottery industry was flourishing in Wednesbury, and Wedgebury ware was sold as far afield as Worcester. The goods were, however, rather crude; examples of locally-made tygs, or two handled loving cups, have been unearthed at Church Hill, and in the nineteenth century described disparagingly by the local historian F.W. Hackwood as “hand moulded, of very dark brownish green clay, not at all very well-baked and but poorly glazed in parts.”
Nevertheless, Wedgebury ware continued to be made well into the eighteenth century. In 1789, there is mention of Thomas Mills’ pottery in Monway Field, and in 1800 Thomas Allen put up for sale his “large pottery work with all its utensils.” Alas, the industry seems to have ceased soon afterwards, the town instead turning to coal and iron industries, although it is commemorated in the name of Potters Lane in the town.
As well as the two pottery clays dug at Monway Fields, there was also a fine white clay there which was much used for making tobacco pipes. In 1705 a pipe maker, John Barker, was buried at Wednesbury parish church, and at around the same time the pipe-making dynasty of Britain’s emerged. Using the local clay, the family made pipes in the area for over a hundred years. James Brittain was listed as a pipe maker at Monway Field in 1818, and again in 1829, and the trade appears to have ceased only in the late nineteenth century, with the kilns at King’s Hill still standing as late as 1891.