The Brislington Potters
This chapter contains information on all the 17th-century Brislington potters whose existence is known from their appearance in contemporary documents. References to master potters and those individuals who were concerned with financing the industry occur most often in the documents while the throwers, painters, kiln men, apprentices and labourers who were the people closely involved in the production of wares are rarely mentioned. Indeed, the identity of the majority of the pottery workers, whose ‘works of art’ are seen in private and museum collections and are so highly valued today, are unknown to us. Inevitably we are not seeing a representative sample of the individuals who were responsible for tin-glazed earthenware production in Brislington and any analysis of their wealth, status, religion and literacy based on the available documentary evidence is necessarily biased.
In this chapter only the most relevant dates and documents are referred to when considering the individual potters; full biographical details of the known potters together with complete transcriptions or extracts from the most important documents are given in Appendix A. To avoid filling the text with the record offices references of many original documents only the sources of previously unpublished documents are given below. Otherwise the information has been taken from Jackson and Price’s Bristol Potters and Potteries 1600 – 1800 published in 1982 and the location and record office reference codes of the original documents are given in full in Appendix A.
A family tree showing the relationship between the Bennett, Wastfield and Dickson families is given in Figure 14.
Between 1629 and 1642 John Bissicke was living at Montague Close in Southwark. For part of that time he had been living with Jacob Prynn who was probably an immigrant from the Low Countries and the proprietor of the Montague Close tin-glazed earthenware factory from 1625 to 1633. Sometime after 1642 John Bissicke moved to Brislington; he was certainly there in January 1652 when he was assigned a lease on land in the parish. From 1656 to 1659 he was involved in various transactions concerning land at Brislington including purchasing a cottage, garden, orchard, withy bed and a meadow called the Moore. In his will dated 22 October 1659 Bissicke was described as a ‘potter’ and the document provides details of his property and his family, including his wife Ann and various kinsmen and women including Ambrose and Mary Bissicke. Amongst a number of bequests he left property to Alice Bennett, the widow of the Brislington gallypotmaker Robert Bennett I. Of particular interest was the reference to his ‘kinsman Richard Bissick (sonne of Richard Bissick of the Borough of Southwark in the County of Surrey Gally-pott maker)’ which confirms John Bissicke’s Southwark origins.
He was survived by his widow Ann Bissick until her own death in 1668. Ann named Edward Crofts as one of the overseers of her will and he was also a beneficiary together with his wife Sarah and their daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. This was certainly the Edward Crofts who, with his wife Sarah, was recorded working as a potter in St. Mary Redcliffe parish, Bristol, from 1660 to at least 1671 (see Chapter 5 below).
Another family associated with the pottery, the Collins’, may have lived in Brislington for some time before the pottery was established. An indenture of 1657 referred to a John Collins, deceased, and his widow Alice who had formerly occupied a property including a house and 49 acres of land in the parish. In 1661 Robert Collins, who was described as a potter, purchased a substantial piece of land including arable, pasture and meadow ground adjacent to the River Avon for £92. In 1663 he acquired a property in East Tucker Street in Temple parish, Bristol, from Solomon Huntington the second husband of Alice, the widow of the Brislington potter Robert Bennett I. In that document he was described as a yeoman rather than a potter and there are further references to him in connection with agricultural land which he either tenanted, purchased, sold or let in Brislington. In 1671 he was again referred to as a potter but he had died by 1689 when his widow was recorded as paying rates to St. Luke’s church in Brislington.
The first reference to Robert Bennett (I), who was an early Brislington gallypotmaker, occurred in 1656 when land in Brislington parish was assigned to him by the potter, John Bissicke. Little is known about Robert Bennett, other than that he purchased further land and tenements at Brislington in 1657 from the absentee lord of the manor, Rowland Lacey of Shipton-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire. We know from a later indenture that Robert Bennett ‘lately dwelt with other howsing thereto adjoining and belonging situate lying and being at Birtchwood within the parish of Brislington’. Bennett died in 1659 and his will of 1658 referred to him as having purchased land from the Shelton family who were related to John Bissicke. He left the house in which he lived to his wife, Alice, and his will showed that he had three children – Robert, John and Mary – all under 18 years of age. The Brislington potters Robert Wastfield and John Bissicke were overseer and witness to the will respectively.
There is a possibility that Bennett may have come from elsewhere to settle in Brislington, but we know that by 1658 he was actively involved in tin-glazed earthenware production as his will described him as a gallypotmaker and referred to the ‘implements of the trade I now use’.
Robert Bennett’s widow, Alice, married Solomon Huntington, a mariner, but from her will of 1668 we can deduce that she continued the trade of gallypotmaking in her own right and she seems to have left the majority of her estate to her son, Robert Bennett.
Robert and Alice Bennett’s son, also called Robert (II), was the main beneficiary in his mother’s will and it is assumed that her estate included the Brislington pottery although it was not specifically mentioned. In May 1669 Robert was described as a gallypotmaker of Brislington when he was granted a licence to marry Sarah Cole at St. Thomas’ church in Bristol and in June 1669 he obtained his freedom to work as a master potter in Bristol by virtue of his marriage to the daughter of a freeman and the payment of a fine of four shillings and sixpence. However, it seems that he never carried on his trade in Bristol as he was referred to as a gallypotmaker of Brislington in transactions concerning land in 1670 and 1671 and in his will made on 14 June 1671. He died in 1671 and left all his property to his wife, Sarah, excluding two fields called the Moores which he left to his daughter, Sarah, who at that time was still a minor. The Brislington potter Robert Wastfield witnessed the will which was proved on 13 July 1671 in London.
After Robert Bennett II’s death various members of his family married other people connected with the Brislington and Bristol pottery industries (Fig. 14). His widow married Robert Wastfield in 1672. His grandson, also called Robert, married Deenes Ward, the daughter of Edward Ward who worked as a potter in Brislington and Bristol. His grand-daughter, Sarah, the daughter of his son Robert Bennett, married the Brislington potter Thomas Dixon in 1685. Sarah was also the step-daughter of the potter Robert Wastfield.
Robert Wastfield, described variously as a gallypotmaker or gentleman, had a colourful past. He had been a Commonwealth soldier in the Civil War and had held the office of a sequestrator which involved the valuation and seizure of Royalists’ land and property (Underdown 1985, 251). He was one of the earliest to embrace Quakerism in north Somerset as it is recorded that ‘Some of the first that received the Truth, and the Messengers thereof, were the said … Rob Wastfield of Brislington’ (SRO DD/SFR 10/2(39)). It was also reported that he ‘received part of the Ministry and was serviceable in the beginning but declined pretty much for want of faithfullness in his latter days’ (SRO DD/SFR 10/2(39)). He seems to have been initially very enthusiastic in his faith as in September 1655 he burst into Keynsham church, told the minister to stop seducing the people, and urged the congregation to abandon their ‘false worship’ (Underdown 1973, 186).
By 1658 he had published a pamphlet entitled ‘A True Testimony of Faithful Witness Recorded’ which was his account of three Quaker meetings held in an orchard at Ash in Somerset which had been broken up by ‘many brutish and wild people, with Cudgils, long staves, Pikeforks, and such like weapons’ which ultimately resulted in at least one Quaker being imprisoned in Ilchester jail (Morland 1978, 3-4; Underdown 1973, 188).
In 1672 he married Sarah Bennett, the widow of Robert Bennett II, and for the first time he described himself as a gallypotmaker (Fig. 14). However, it is clear that he had been married previously as the 1672 will of his father, Henry Wastfield, referred to his grand-daughter Jane, the daughter of his son, Robert Wastfield.
Until 1675 he regularly attended Quaker meetings throughout Somerset and also held meetings in his own house. On 7 January 1670 the Quarter Session records mention the holding of ‘an unlawfull meeting or conventicle in Brislington … uppon Sunday ye seaventh day of August last past, contrary to ye Act of Parliament, … which sayd unlawfull meeting or conventicle was held in one End of a Barne belonging unto Robert Wastfield of ye prsh of Brislington aforesaid’ (SRO QS/I/126/2(11)). Holding such meetings was not without personal risk and usually entailed fines or imprisonment. Wastfield seems to have been well respected by his fellow Quakers as he was asked to minister, perform secretarial duties and was selected to visit and admonish Quakers who had ‘strayed from the path’ (e.g. SRO DD/SFR n.1; Morland 1978, 79-80).
Robert Wastfield died in 1677 and it is likely that his widow, Sarah Wastfield, carried on the pottery after his death as in her own will dated 1678 she left her daughter Sarah ‘all my tooles frames boards mylls and all utensills and implements now used or belonging to the Trade of Gallypotmaking’. She also left ten shillings to each of her apprentices and men servants, but specifically excluded Edward Ward from this bequest. The will referred to members of her family including her son, Robert, daughters Sarah and Elizabeth, and daughter-in-law Jane Knee.
Edward Ward was first recorded in 1677 when he witnessed the will of Robert Wastfield and in 1678 he was noted as the apprentice or servant of Sarah Wastfield, the widow of Robert Wastfield. In 1680 he was described as a gallypotmaker of Brislington on the apprenticeship of his son, Edward. On 15 September 1682 the minutes of the Common Council Proceedings of Bristol record Edward Ward’s freedom to work as a potter in Bristol. He was accorded the special privilege of being nominated by the Mayor of Bristol, Sir Thomas Earl, for the freedom of the city: ‘Mr. Mayor having formerly had the liberty of making one free of the Citty, being first to be nominated to the honer did this day nominate one Edward Ward a Potter now liveinge att St. Annes who was approvd of by the house and orderd that he be made free accordingely’ (Fig. 16). Within a few months of receiving the freedom which permitted Ward to practice his trade in the city he had leased a property there in Temple parish where he established the Water Lane pottery (see Chapter 5 below). Ward appears to have retained his connection with Brislington for, from 1694 to 1702, he paid rates on the mill at St. Anne’s. It is assumed that the mill was being used as a colour mill for the purpose of grinding the raw materials for the preparation of pottery glazes.
Sarah, the daughter of Robert Bennett II, and the step-daughter of Robert Wastfield, married Thomas Dickson in 1685 (Fig. 14). Although at the time of his marriage and again in 1694 his occupation was given as a linendraper of Bristol, in the early part of the 18th century he described himself as a gallypotmaker. Unfortunately his marriage to Sarah was short as she died five years later in 1690 and there were no surviving children. Under an ancient legal right called ‘Courtesy of England’, Thomas claimed the land and tenements forming part of her inheritance which had been the subject of a dispute with her uncle, John Bennett. The land and property was at Birchwood in Brislington parish and comprised 12 acres of pasture on which Robert Bennett I had built a tenement for his own occupation, a tenement known as the Royal Oak and four acres of meadow, pasture and withy beds called the Moore. The outcome of the legal dispute is not known although it is assumed that it was resolved in Thomas’ favour. In 1696 Dickson married again, this time to a Sarah Reynolds.
By 1707, when Thomas Dickson was first described as a gallypotmaker, he had become embroiled in a dispute with the Bristol potter Thomas Frank. Both men were Quakers and in accordance with their sect’s usual practice they requested the intersession of some of their number to arbitrate between them (Pountney 1920, [annotation to Pountney’s own copy in Bristol Museum]. The reason for the dispute was not recorded but one could speculate that it might have been connected with the mill at St. Anne’s which Dickson took over from Thomas Frank in 1707. He also owned a property described as ‘Mr. Wastfield’s house’ in Temple parish in Bristol and was associated with property in Brislington which had previously been connected with the Bennett or Bissicke families.
Between 1707 and 1716 Dickson and his wife Sarah took on six apprentices to learn the art of gallypotmaking. They included Daniel Snow, John Bush, John Cornish, John Niglett, Robert Evans and Richard Riley who all successfully earned their freedom to carry on the trade of gallypotmaking or potting in Bristol. Thomas Dickson died in 1733.
Thomas Taylor took over the Brislington pottery after Dickson’s death. He had been apprenticed to Thomas and Elizabeth Frank at the Redcliff Back pottery in Bristol in 1709 and between 1717 and 1733 he was described in documents as a gallypotmaker of Bristol although he clearly had some connection with Brislington, perhaps as Dicksons’ partner, as in 1722 he was paying rates on ‘ye Pothouse’ there. By 1734 he was living in Brislington and with his wife Sarah he took four apprentices between 1738 and 1741. He was declared bankrupt in 1743 and it seems likely that the Brislington pottery then ceased to operate. He took one more apprentice in 1745 but by then he had moved to Bristol where he was living on The Back.
Only seven potters who were what we would now term ’employees’ at the Brislington Pottery, are recorded in the documents. Five of them, John Mearn, William Passewell, Nathaniel Hix, Philip Hix and Thomas Poope, are mentioned only in Alice Huntington’s will of 1668 where they were described as her ‘workfolke’ and there is no other record of them. Edward Mearn was also employed by Alice Huntington and was described as a potter, late of Brislington, when his daughter was apprenticed as a maid servant in 1673. More is known of another employee, Edward Bye, who was apprenticed to Robert and Sarah Wastfield in 1676 and witnessed Wastfield’s will in 1677. He was recorded as a gallypotmaker of Brislington in 1698 and 1703 but had moved to Barton Regis in south Gloucestershire by 1704 when he made his will. He was buried in the Baptist Burial Ground in Redcross Street in Bristol later that year. An inventory of his goods, made after his death, survives and shows that they had a total value of £19.2s.0d. (see Appendix A below).
A Chronology of the Owners of the Brislington Pottery
There has been some confusion amongst previous writers over the ownership of the Brislington pottery from its foundation in the middle of the 17th century to its closure in the 18th century.
Anthony Ray (1968, 40-47) attempted to provide a history of tin-glazed production at Brislington from the limited documentary evidence he had available. He suggested that there were two potteries operating concurrently at Brislington from about the middle of the 17th century but that one of these had been established by the Collins family at the beginning of that century to produce earthenware, not tin-glazed earthenware. He postulated that the first pottery was owned and run solely by the Collins family until 1709 when it may have been taken over by George Adlam. Ray attempted to differentiate between the terms ‘potter’ and ‘gallypotmaker’ used in the contemporary documents, ascribing those people called potters to the Collins pottery and those called gallypotmakers to a second, tin-glazed earthenware pottery, set up in the middle of the 17th century. That differentiation is difficult to substantiate as John Bissicke, who Ray accepted was the founder of the tin-glazed earthenware pottery at Brislington, was described in two documents as a ‘potter’ rather than as a gallypotmaker.
Ray’s second Brislington pottery was, he stated, run by the Bissicke, Bennett, Wastfield and Dickson families until the 1740s. This corresponds to some extent with the writer’s own chronology of the Brislington pottery although he attempts to involve the Bristol potters Thomas Frank, owner of the Redcliff Back pottery, and Edward Ward, owner of the Water Lane pottery, in its ownership and management at the end of the 17th century and into the early 18th century. However, it seems that their interest in Brislington was confined to St. Anne’s mill which was presumably used for grinding colours for their potteries in Bristol.
Other authors – Garner and Archer (1972) and Britton (1983) – followed the chronology of Ray’s second pottery, ascribing the ownership of the Brislington pottery to the Bissicke, Bennett, Wastfield and Dickson families, although the sequence and dates of ownership were sketchy and vague due to the lack of supporting documentary evidence.
From the writer’s own research it is now possible to show that there was only one pottery at Brislington which operated under various owners from about 1652 to 1743. The considerable body of documentary evidence now available enables a detailed chronological sequence to be established which shows a line of inheritance stemming from Robert Bennett I and passing down from him through his children and grand-children, the pottery only being lost to the family in 1734 when it was taken over by an outsider, Thomas Taylor of Bristol. The line of inheritance is summarised in Fig. 14 in the form of a family tree.
Initially the pottery was jointly owned and managed by John Bissicke, Robert Bennett I and Robert Collins. Capital would have been required to establish the enterprise and it seems likely that this was provided by Collins, who was generally referred to as a yeoman rather than a potter, and came from an established Brislington family. Collins seems to have been a partner in the pottery until at least 1673 when he was last mentioned in the documents. John Bissicke had presumably acquired considerable expertise in tin-glazed earthenware production during his years at Southwark and provided the potting skills and manufacturing techniques necessary for setting-up and running a profitable concern. It is likely that Bennett was also an experienced potter but it is not known where he learned his trade. However, his involvement was obviously significant as the pottery passed down from Robert Bennett rather than through his associates, Bissicke and Collins.
Robert Bennett I was the first of the three to die, probably towards the end of 1659, but there was no specific mention of the pottery in his will. He left to his wife Alice ‘all that my household stuffe except implements of the trade I now use …’, although he did not indicate who was to inherit his implements: perhaps they remained for the general use of the pottery. John Bissicke died shortly afterwards, either late in 1659 or in the first months of 1660 and, although he made detailed provisions in his will concerning his property interests, again no mention was made of the pottery.
Robert Bennett’s widow, Alice, married a Bristol mariner, Solomon Huntington, sometime between 1663 and 1668, but we know that she had retained her late husband’s interest in the Brislington pottery and seemed to have being running it after his death as in her own will of 1668 she made bequests of money to five men she referred to as her ‘workfolke’, one of whom was also described as her apprentice.
Although the pottery was not mentioned in her will, it was presumably included under her ‘houses, Leases, Lands, Tenements and goods whatsoever …’ which she left to her son Robert Bennett II. In 1669 Robert gave his occupation as a gallypotmaker of Brislington when he was granted a licence to marry Sarah Cole. In his will made in 1671 he again described himself as a gallypotmaker of Brislington and left the major part of his estate, which presumably included the pottery, to his wife Sarah.
The widowed Sarah Bennett married Robert Wastfield the following year. In 1671 Wastfield had been described as a ‘gentleman’ but on his marriage he gave his occupation as gallypotmaker. In 1676 Robert and Sarah Wastfield took Edward Bye as an apprentice and Bye worked as a gallypotmaker at Brislington until at least 1703. Wastfield was usually described as a yeoman or gentleman and it is most likely that his wife was running the pottery in her own right. Certainly in her will Sarah made specific provision for ‘all my tooles frames boards mylls and all utensils and implements now used or belonging to the Trade of Gallypot-making’ which she left to Sarah, her daughter by her first husband Robert Bennett II. She also gave to ‘my Apprentices and to my men servants (except Edward Ward) tenn shillings apiece’.
The daughter, Sarah Bennett, married Thomas Dickson, a Bristol linendraper, in 1685 and through the marriage Dickson acquired the rights to the pottery. Sarah died shortly afterwards in 1690 and after her death and the death of their child, Thomas Dickson was able to claim, on 19 October 1694, the right to occupy his deceased wife’s land during his lifetime, that right being known as ‘Courtesy of England’. After his death the land was to revert back to the Bennett family. It is assumed that this land and property included the Brislington pottery.
In 1696 Dickson married Sarah Reynolds and between 1707 and 1717 they took six apprentices, Dickson being described in the apprenticeship records as a gallypotmaker. He seems to have run the Brislington pottery until about 1730 when Thomas Taylor began paying rates on Dickson’s properties in Brislington. Thomas Taylor had obtained his freedom to work as a gallypotmaker in Bristol in 1718 and worked in St. Mary Redcliffe parish in the city until his involvement in the Brislington pottery where he initially worked in partnership with Dickson. Taylor owned the Brislington pottery until his bankruptcy in 1743 whereafter tin-glazed earthenware production at Brislington ceased, the pottery being advertised for sale in the Bristol Oracle newspaper in 1745.
The chronological history of the ownership of the Brislington pottery may now be summarised as follows:
|c. 1652 – 1659||John Bissicke, Robert Bennett I and Robert Collins (Collins retained an interest in the pottery until his death in 1689).|
|1659 – 1668||Alice Bennett, the widow of Robert Bennett I.|
|1669 – 1671||Robert Bennett II, the son of Robert I and Alice Bennett.|
|1671 – 1677||Sarah Bennett I, the widow of Robert Bennett II, and Robert Wastfield, her second husband.|
|1677 – 1678||Sarah Wastfield, the widow of Robert Wastfield (and widow of Robert Bennett II).|
|1679 – 1690||Sarah Bennett II, the daughter of Robert Bennett II and step-daughter of Robert Wastfield.|
|1690 – 1730||Thomas Dickson, the widower of Sarah Bennett II.|
|1730 – 1743||Thomas Dickson and Thomas Taylor.|
|1733 – 1743||Thomas Taylor|
|1743||Thomas Taylor became bankrupt.|
|1745||The pottery was advertised for sale.|
The Wealth and Status of the Brislington Potters
Wills and leases are the main sources of information on the potters’ ownership of land, buildings, household goods and personal effects while the size of cash bequests to family members, friends and the poor hint at their relative wealth. The extent of property ownership is sometimes difficult to determine. A great deal of property may be hidden by general terms used in wills such as ‘all the rest of my lands and houses’; the only property that needed to be listed or described was that left in the form of bequests, although this information can be used as a general guide to a person’s wealth. Other documents which give an insight into wealth and status are church rate books, deeds, assignments of land and Quaker records.
It is inevitable that documentary sources tend to provide information only on the wealthier members of the potting industry – the financial backers and the pottery owners and managers – while the pottery workers rarely appear in the records. Also, to be included in this study, he or she needed to be identified in the documents as having an occupation, such as potter or gallypotmaker, which could be clearly associated with the industry. Those individuals who may have invested substantially in the Brislington pottery but who gave their occupations as, for example, gentlemen or yeomen, remain unknown.
John Bissicke, Robert Collins, Robert Wastfield and Thomas Dickson all owned land in Brislington parish although only in a modest way. Bissicke owned at least 3½ acres of land, including 1½ acres of meadow called the Moore, together with what he called his ‘other lands of inheritance’ although their acreage is not known. In 1661 Robert Collins spent £92 on buying a tenement with its two acres of orchard and ‘Backside’ together with 10 acres of arable, pasture and meadow lands including 3½ acres of mainly arable land in the common fields of Longfurlong and Westfield. In 1669 Collins purchased a further tenement and one acre of land called Little Moore which he sold four years later for £40. Robert Wastfield owned six acres of pasture and 1½ acres of arable land in the common fields of Flowers Hill and Westfield. In addition, he referred to his ‘lands of inheritance’ in the parish of Portbury Prior (now simply known as Portbury) which lay 12 kilometres (7½ miles) to the west of Brislington in north Somerset. Thomas Dickson owned 12 acres of pasture at Birchwood in Brislington and four acres of meadow and pasture called the Moore together with withy beds on the banks of the River Avon.
It seems most likely that the potters worked their land to supplement their income from tin-glazed earthenware production but it is possible that they derived an income from renting the land to tenants. In her will Alice Huntington specifically requested ‘All that soyle [probably manure] that lyeth by the barne to be bestowed upon the same ground where it lyeth’ indicating that she was particularly concerned about the welfare of her land suggesting that it was being farmed by her family rather than a tenant.
A number of the potters owned houses and tenements, in addition to their own dwelling houses, which they clearly let to tenants. John Bissicke owned three houses and one tenement, Robert Collins at one time owned at least two tenements and Robert Bennett I owned four tenements together with his dwelling house. Alice Huntington, possibly through her marriage to a Bristol mariner, owned two houses in the city, one in Counterslip and another in the fashionable new development on the Marsh in King Street. In her will she referred to ‘All the rest of my houses’ indicating that she was a lady of property.
Robert Wastfield was paying rates on one house in Brislington and another in Temple parish in Bristol. His widow, Sarah, described both properties in more detail in her will. The Bristol property was a tenement with a storehouse while that at Brislington was a tenement with other buildings, leazes, grounds and closes. Thomas Dickson also owned a property in Temple parish together with, in Brislington, a tenement at Birchwood, a cottage called the Royal Oak and St. Anne’s mill.
Ann Bissicke’s possessions included a number of items of gold and silver including a silver tankard, a small silver spoon, a silver cup engraved with her and her husband’s names, a silver seal engraved with a spread eagle, a gold wedding ring and a gold death’s head ring. Robert Wastfield listed a great silver tankard and six silver spoons marked with his initials, a smaller silver tankard, a silver watch and a piece of gold worth one pound. His widow, Sarah, mentioned a silver bowl and her biggest silver caudle cup.
Furniture and bed linen mentioned by Ann Bissicke included one small box of drawers and a wainscot chest. Alice Huntington referred to her best feather bed, one pair of sheets, one bolster, two pillows, one pair of ‘Dowlis’ sheets and a green ‘seell’ rug; while Sarah Wastfield had two great chests, one spruce chest and an oak chest.
When making their wills, women were often particularly concerned with their prized items of clothing which they left to friends and relatives: Ann Bissicke mentioned her silk gown and a petticoat while Sarah Wastfield listed her grey stuff gown, a grey hair stuff petticoat, a white mantle, and an old stuff gown of a mixed green colour.
Wills give some indication of the potters’ assets in terms of cash in hand rather than that tied up in land, property, household items and personal effects. John Bissicke made cash bequests totalling £49 and Ann Bissicke bequests of £16.10s, while Robert Bennett I made bequests of at least £3.10s (there were others but these were illegible in the will). Alice Huntington left £10.10s to the poor, including £6 to be distributed amongst ‘poor friends’, that is members of the Quaker community, in Brislington and Bristol. She also left £3 to her ‘workfolke’, £1 to her apprentice and £40 to others. Robert Wastfield made bequests of £170 together with an annuity of £10. Sarah Wastfield left 10s. each to her apprentices and men servants.
The degree of literacy of the potters is difficult to determine from the small amount of evidence available. John Bissicke and Alice Huntington were only able to put their mark to legal documents while Ann Bissicke, Robert Bennett I, Sarah Wastfield and Thomas Dickson were all capable of signing their name – but that may have been the limit of their writing skills. A greater degree of literacy is indicated by the books owned by Ann Bissicke – a great household bible, a printed Geneva bible, a church bible and a book called ‘The Sanctuary of a Troubled Soul’ – assuming that she could read them. Robert Wastfield was fully literate as he kept records for the Quakers and wrote at least one religious pamphlet.
Where there is evidence as to a potter’s religion, it seems that Nonconformity was a common factor throughout the leading potters in Brislington and Bristol during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Robert Wastfield was a staunch Quaker, while Thomas Dickson and Alice Huntington followed the same faith. Sarah Wastfield, Robert Bennett II’s widow, must also have been a Quaker in order to have been eligible to marry Robert Wastfield, as members of the Society of Friends were unable to marry outside their religious community. Although John and Ann Bissicke, Robert Collins and Robert Bennett I lived in St. Luke’s parish in Brislington, they do not appear in the registers of baptism, marriage or burial for that parish. This strongly suggests that they did not attend that church and were therefore Nonconformists.
The people who have come down to us through the documents as associated with the tin-glazed earthenware industry are mainly those who were involved in the establishment and financing of the Brislington pottery; they were the ones who saw that there was a profit to be made from a tin-glazed earthenware industry in this part of north Somerset and acted accordingly. It is possible to learn something about their wealth and status although the documents are necessarily biased towards the more affluent members of society. The men, women and children who actually produced the wares are, with a few exceptions, unknown.
The leading potting families appear to have had religious Nonconformity in common – the Wastfields, the Dicksons and probably the Bennetts being members of the Society of Friends or Quakers – although the possible influence of Quakerism on the early tin-glazed industry in Brislington has not previously been recognised.
Significantly a number of the important families involved in the early history of the Brislington industry inter-married, notably the Bennetts, the Wastfields and the Dicksons. The relationship between the families was probably not based entirely on a common interest in the potting trade and the need to ensure a continuation of the tradition in Brislington: the rule against a Friend marrying outside the Society immensely increased the inter-relationships within it.