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The Saggar Maker's Bottom Knocker

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A photograph of an old pottery workshop, showing a saggar on a bench. 'The Potteries' is the area around Stoke-on-Trent, England. The pottery industry started there long before the Industrial Revolution, and the English language evolved in the locality to include many specialist words and job titles.


A saggar maker's bottom knocker was the name in The Potteries for a boy whose job it was to knock out the bit of clay which would make the bottom of a saggar. A saggar is a large fire-clay container used to protect pots from a naked flame or to create some decorative effects whilst the pieces are being fired in the kilns. The boy, for this is the time when young lads were employed in industry, did this by placing a large ball of clay into a metal hoop and knocking or hitting it into place with a large mallet. The bottom knocker was employed directly by the saggar maker rather than by the pottery. The saggar maker would be paid per item safely produced from the firing kiln, 'piece-work' being the normal way of being paid wages. Often the wages would be paid out in the local pub. 1 This also meant there was little chance of promotion other than when the saggar maker eventually retired. This was far from the only unusual job name encountered in a pottery, here is a break down of some of the others
  • Baller - weighs the clay and makes it into balls for the thrower to use on the potter's wheel
  • Biscuit rubber - rubs down the biscuit stage2 of china ware, to remove small particles and dust
  • Cod placer - places the saggars into the kiln
  • Jigger and Jollier - places clay onto a revolving plaster form called a Jigger or a Jolly depending on the form that is being made, to make bowls or flatware3
  • Fettler - assistant to the jigger and jollier, presser and caster whose job is to smooth out rough edges on plates and bowls4
  • Mould runner - the boys employed to run from one building to another to place newly-cast ware next to a heat source so it could harden
Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress
1Drunkenness was a huge problem in the pottery industry, often workers would spend all their wages on drink and then not turn up to work on Monday.2'Biscuit' is the term for ceramics after the first firing but before glaze is applied.3Flatware is ware such as plates and saucers.4The phrase 'fine fettle' means to 'be in good shape'.

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