Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Richard Ewing.

Edward Johns was born in Bristol in 1823 to a family of drapers and at the time of the 1841 census he was a draper’s apprentice living with his parents. By the time of his death in 1893 he had created Edward Johns & Co in Armitage in Staffordshire, a major success in the pottery industry (later Armitage Ware, Armitage Shanks and now part of Ideal Standard) with large export sales. (So much so that one of the reasons that Americans call the toilet the “John” is reputedly due to his company and their success following the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition).

But in the late 1840’s he was a travelling non-Conformist Minister, (what is now called Congregational and was then called Independent), styled as Rev Johns and conducting services, weddings etc in the Rugeley area of Staffordshire.

And then he married Martha Whittle of Great Haywood, Staffordshire. At the time he was 27 whilst Martha is believed to have been 56 and widowed three times. Just one year later in the 1841 census they are reported as 35 and 52 so neither were ‘precise’ about their ages. Martha died in 1856 and Edward inherited houses and railway shares and was suddenly able to call himself a ‘gentleman’ i.e. wealthy enough to not have to work.

In 1858 he married Martha Williamson in Birmingham, a spinster with a two-year-old son, and just a few months later his own son, Edward Lewis Williamson Johns, was born. The couple moved to Colton in Staffordshire where two daughters were born, and Edward became an auctioneer. To add to his gentleman status, he now began to create contacts amongst society. His auctions took place all around the area of Stafford and Rugeley with many of them in the village of Armitage. He also joined the Freemason’s Lodge in Lichfield.

Probably following problems with the birth of their third child, Martha died in 1864 and a short time after that he took charge of what at the time was known as the Armitage Old Pottery and the company becomes Edward Johns & Co. This pottery had been built in 1817 and made tableware and more recently had begun to make sanitary ware as well.

It had been overshadowed by a new pottery being built next door but the people running the new pottery moved back to Glasgow to open a pottery there and the new pottery was put up for sale or lease in 1866
In the next twelve months:-

  • Edward Johns married Eleanor Haynes in Manchester
  • Josiah Spode IV bought the ‘New Pottery’
  • Edward Johns bought the ‘Old Pottery’ for £1,000 on 20th March 1867. A mortgage for £1,000 with Josiah Spode IV was completed five days later.
  • Josiah Spode put out a tender to dismantle the ‘New Pottery’ in June 1867 and it was duly dismantled.

From Edward Johns’ perspective this was a strategic masterstroke and it is hard to believe that it is a coincidence. Not only had a potential commercial competitor been removed but also a competitor for skilled labour in the sanitary trade which would, of course, reduce any pressure on labour costs. Any local ill-will over the move would also be aimed at Josiah Spode. Edward was obviously a very persuasive man with his preaching and auctioneering background and no doubt he would have been able to portray it as a way of making sure that Josiah’s £1,000 mortgage was more secure. There is no evidence that the actions are connected in any way but...

Edward Johns was a fluent speaker and it is worth recording that, at a public function held soon after his acquisition of the Pottery, he said: "If my men make sacrifices and do their best to help me, we shall pull through, and our ware will be known all over the world". This has come true to an extent of which he, even in his wildest dreams, could not have imagined. In the following 25 years Edward Johns capitalised on an export boom and the growing middle-class demand for sanitary products and converted all their production to sanitary ware. He continued to support the Independent Church in Armitage and built a Club & Institute for his workers which was the envy of the local towns.

He died on 8th April 1893 and was buried in the Congregational Chapel graveyard in Armitage.


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