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Adams family (Makers)

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cliff bank
Cliff Bank Works
occupied by Adams family c.1804-28

Several branches of the Adams family operated factories in the Staffordshire Potteries in the latter half of the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries, including four men named William Adams,  who have come to be known as William Adams I, II  III, and IV. The first three were cousins; the last two were father and son.

William Adams I (1746-1805) was born within weeks of his father’s death and inherited a potworks at St John’s Square, Burslem. His mother died before he was one year old and he was raised by his grandfather who managed the factory until William came of age.  By 1779 he was also potting at the Greengates Works in Tunstall: by 1786 Greengates had been enlarged and a third factory acquired at Newfield, Tunstall. William Adams I was an accomplished potter whose best known products included stonewares, jasper and basalt of the highest quality. Pieces are recorded impressed ‘ADAMS’ and ‘ADAMS & CO’.  At his death in 1805, his son Benjamin was still a minor and it is said that the business was carried on by his elder sister Mary until Benjamin took over the works on attaining his majority in 1809. Amongst his recorded output are stonewares and blue printed earthenwares impressed ‘B. ADAMS’.  The firm encountered financial difficulties and closed in 1820, the Greengates factory being acquired by John Meir.

William Adams II (1748-1831) of the Brick House Works Cobridge was a minor when his father died: during his minority the pottery was let to Josiah Wedgwood during which time it was known as the Bell Works.  William Adams II took over the pottery when he attained majority in 1769, Wedgwood then moving to the newly built Etruria Works.  During his potting career, this William owned or occupied several factories both alone and in partnership with others, but no marked ware of his manufacture has ever been identified.

William Adams III of Fenton Hall and Bagnall (1772 -1829.), was the son of Richard Adams of Cobridge (1739-1811. Having been in an earlier partnership for some years, William III set up on his own account at Cliff Bank, Stoke in 1804, where he manufactured general earthenware including blue printed pottery. William III had four sons: from 1819 onwards he successively took his sons into partnership and the business was extended to a very large size, by the mid-19th century occupying no less than six factories, both at Stoke and Tunstall. It is written that William, son of William Adams III had travelled to America and established a business in New York in the name of Adams Brothers.  This is difficult to confirm, but The firm had an extensive American trade and the letters of Matthew Smith, the Baltimore importer, to his Liverpool agents contain several references to his dealings with them; that of 11th November 1826 includes the most detailed:

. ‘..You may try Heath or Adams.  Try and get a new, tasty shape for the blue print’d Jugs or for a part of them – a shape there was a sample of from Adams on a foot, I think, would please – only it must be entirely covered on the outside – on the samples there is a bare streak by the foot.

…I have nothing to say against the Blue Print’d Table Ware from Adams, it will do again.  The fancy cans were a poor article & too dear.  The very substantial quantity of marked pieces to be found in America is indicative both of the size of the firm and the importance of its export trade to the United States. Documentary evidence dating to 1840-41 gives the number of employees at the three factories comprising the Lower Works Stoke as 578 and states We do chiefly with the North and South American market, and but little for home  [iv].  After William died in 1865, the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent were sold and everything moved Tunstall where the business was conducted by his sons, William and Percy W. L. Adams. They added porcelain tablewares to their other products. In turn they were succeeded by their sons and grandsons who came to direct their potteries. In 1966 Adams potteries became part of the Wedgwood Group.

For pieces marked William Adams & Sons  click here

For pieces attributed to William Adams III & Son click here

For further information see

Furniss, David A., J. Richard Wagner, and Judith Wagner. (1999). Adams ceramics: Staffordshire potters and pots, 1779-1998. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub.