It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Richard Ewing.
Before gas and oil-fired tunnel kilns were introduced into the pottery industry the pottery was fired to 1000°C and above in bottle shaped kilns that were heated by coal. The fumes, gases and irregular bursts of heat produced would severely damage the unfired pottery if unprotected so the items were all placed in a box called a saggar. This box was made of fireclay, generally round or oval, and they had names like Long Toms, Jumbo, fiddles and kites. They didn’t have lids as the saggars were piled on top of each other in the kiln and the next saggar in the stack acted as a lid with the top saggar in each stack being empty and generally being an unfired or ‘green’ saggar.
Whilst a person could make a saggar on their own they were often made by a team of three – a master saggar maker, a saggar maker’s bottom knocker and a frame filler. The job of the frame filler, who was generally a male apprentice, was to make the sides of the box and to do that he used a wooden mallet called a mawl or mow. Saggar marl (clay) was mixed with water and other additives elsewhere in the factory and delivered to the saggar shop in the form of very stiff moistened sheets of clay. After putting sawdust or ground up old saggars onto an iron table to stop the clay sticking to it, the frame filler placed a sheet of clay on top and then battered it flat with the mow to make a large rectangle. Once the clay was properly compacted to the correct thickness, normally about ¾ inch, a strip of clay was cut that was the correct size for whichever type of saggar was being made and then wrapped around a wooden drum which effectively acted as the template.
A master saggar maker was often paid by piece work i.e. for each saggar that he made and then he in turn paid his two assistants. A saggar only lasted for about 40 firings in the kiln so there was always plenty of work for saggar makers. If you want to see a saggar being made just type in ‘mauing the saggar’ in Youtube. The photo below shows saggars at the Gladstone Pottery Museum at Stoke-On-Trent.