Dewsberry Guest Roberts

Llanelly Pottery

Sarah Jane Roberts (second from R) and fellow pottery workers

The Llanelly Pottery was the last of the South Wales potteries.  Sarah Jane Roberts (1859-1935) was the main decorator of the cockerel plates which became its trademark. Her father Thomas Roberts (1833-1904) was a glost fireman and three of her sisters Annie (1856-1886), Margaret (1864-1921) and Elizabeth (1868-1940) were also paintresses although their work was not as well known.

Thomas’ father William Roberts (1805-c1845) was one of the many potters from Burslem in Staffordshire who moved to South Wales when William Chambers opened the business in 1839. Richard Guest (1803-1860) had been thinking about emigrating to America with his son when he heard about the new pottery, changed his mind and walked 170 miles south. He told his family that when he arrived in Llanelli, people were inhospitable, reluctant to give him lodgings, and unable to understand his English. In shops he had to point to what he wanted. Richard Guest returned to Burslem but his son David (1825-1892) remained, as did the Henshalls, Martha Cartledge (b1814), the Tofts, a Wedgwood and the Tunstalls who ran a cafe in Cowell Street under the slogan “T for Tunstall, Tunstall for Tea”.

Working conditions at the Llanelly Pottery appear to have been better than those at some of the English potteries. Thomas Chapman Dewsberry (1817-1892) told how he fainted through hunger at the Herculanium Pottery in Liverpool, often going a whole day without food. In 1841, eleven year old George Guest (1831-1903) gave evidence to Samuel Scriven’s Royal Commission on child labour describing his fourteen hour working day at Enoch Wood’s factory in Burslem.

Workers in any pottery business could be exposed to high quantities of lead. Was that responsible for the wasting illnesses that killed Sarah Jane Roberts and her sisters Emma (1874-1944) and Elizabeth (1868-1940)? According to their great neice: “They seemed to get smaller and thinner until they faded away.”

The Llanelly Pottery was forced to close in 1875 but was re-opened two years later by David Guest (1825-1892), helped by his brother George Guest (1831-1903) and their nephew Richard Dewsberry (1841-1906). The business remained in the family until, under pressure from cheap foreign imports, it closed in 1922 and was subsequently demolished. Nothing remains on the site except a blue plaque on the wall of a nearby shopping centre.

Advert for the Llanelly Pottery in the Pottery Gazette, 1892

One comment

  • Liz Andrews
    July 25, 2018 - 12:05 am | Permalink

    I am the great-grandaughter of Martha Cartledge/Ben Thomas.

    My grandmother was Martha (Maggie) Williams nee Thomas, born 1877, who married William John Williams, b.1878 Pembrey d.1964 Llanelly. There is no information listed in your database for Martha (Maggie) Williams (nee Thomas) or any of her 5 children. This is the information I know:

    Arthur Williams
    Harold Williams
    John L. Williams (Jack)
    Mary Enid Williams (my mother) b 1912 d.1993
    Elizabeth Williams (died as a toddler)

    If you are interested, I could find more information on my uncles and aunts.

    Sincerely

    Liz Andrews

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