Etruria Industrial Museum

(Staffordshire Museums and Arts)

Kilndown Close
Etruria Vale Road
Stoke on Trent
07900 267711

Welcome to the Etruria Industrial Museum and Heritage Centre. The home of Jesse Shirley's 1857 Bone and Flint Mill, the only remaining operational Steam Driven Potters' Mill in the world.



The Etruria Industrial Museum Site

The Etruria Industrial Museum is the home of Jesse Shirley's Bone and Flint Mill (Etruscan Mills) which was an important supplier to the pottery and agricultural industries from the early 1800s to 2011. It is located at the junction of the Trent and Mersey and Caldon Canals which since their opening in the 1770s has provided an ideal location for various industries due to its excellent transport link. Etruria Wharf, located on the site of the present car park, was very important in the conveyance of goods to and from the various factories in Etruria, Shelton and Hanley. A horse drawn wagon tramway ran across what is now Etruria Vale Road, between the houses on the opposite side of the road and up the hill to Hanley. A statue of James Brindley (1716 – 1772) the most famous canal engineer of the era is located opposite to the visitors centre.

As well as Jesse Shirley's Mill there is a working forge, canal warehouse and check office, the summit lock of the Trent and Mersey canal, the only staircase lock in Staffordshire and the site of the first public hospital in what was to become Stoke-on-Trent built in 1803 and called the Dispensary and House of Recovery. The site was later occupied by an early gas works.

From the late eighteenth century the area was occupied by Ball's dye works. In 1820 Bourne and Hudson began boiling and calcining bones on the site which provided size sold as glue and calcined bone which was transported for grinding to Bell's Mill, rented premises in nearby Cobridge Road. In 1842 John Bourne bought the mill and on his death in 1852 his step sons, Jesse and Joseph Shirley inherited. It was Jesse that built the new mill in 1856 which can be seen operating today.


Jesse Shirley's Bone and Flint Mill

staffs etruria jesse

During the first part of the 18th century the beneficial use of ground flint and bone was discovered. Flint (i.e. silica, up to 50% of the total) can be added to clay to produce earthenware products, it gives the ware strength, whiteness and prevents shrinkage during firing to make a hard cream product. The problem with grinding flint using the technology of the day was that it produced clouds of dust; the workers quickly died of "Potters Rot" (silicosis of the lungs) and would not undertake the work. Consequently, the wet pan grinding method was developed to reduce harmful dust; this is illustrated at Jesse Shirley's Bone and Flint Mill.

Cattle bones were found to be the most suitable for adding to clay (again up to 50% of the total) to produce bone china. It is the bone which gives the ware its characteristic translucent quality, it is whiter than other ware and its high strength allows it to be finer.

About 1747 it was discovered that Cornish stone (a partly weathered granite) mixed with china clay would form a porcelain body. Small quantities of Cornish stone were also processed on site.
The two processes for bone and flint were similar and the ground products revolutionised the ceramics industry; existing water powered corn mills were converted and new water mills were built. Wind could not supply the continuous high power required, but steam power was an obvious application as steam engines became more powerful and reliable. Thus building of the steam powered Jesse Shirley's Mill was commenced in 1856 at the Junction of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Caldon Canal as canals offered cheap transport of these heavy raw materials.

Jesse Shirley was born in 1819. In 1834 he was employed by his step-father John Bourne at his firm of Bourne and Hudson Bone Works, originally as a writing clerk. When John Bourne died in 1852 he left the business to brothers Joseph and Jesse Shirley. It was the latter who had the present Mill built in 1856/1857. The road access to the site was poor but the location was chosen because of the proximity to the canals and the availability of a wharf so providing easy access to many local potteries and to all parts of the country.

Bone, usually from cattle would originally have been sourced locally but as demand increased it was sourced from various parts of the country and latterly from overseas. Flint was from the south and east coasts of England and near continent.


Calcining Kiln

staffs etruria calcinThe kiln was used to calcine (roast) flints and bone to approximately 1000 degrees centigrade to change their nature and make them suitable for grinding to a fine powder.

Flints are an unlikely raw material for pottery as they are hard and black in their natural state. If they are calcined above 1000 degrees centigrade crystalline water is driven off to leave a softer, lighter and whiter product.

The calcining kiln consists of two chambers with a hovel built above them to create a draught to aid combustion. Filling the kiln was a very skilled job requiring layering of fuel and either bone or flint. Flints would be built up in layers with slack (small pieces) coal using approximately 1 hundredweight (51Kg) of coal per 1 ton (1.02 tonnes) of flint. It would be allowed to combust for 8 to 16 hours (depending on the fuel and climatic conditions) and then left to cool before being withdrawn through draw holes at the bottom. Production of ground flint ceased at the Mill in the 1930s

Bone was treated in a similar way after first being boiled to remove tissue, this would produce glue, a saleable by-product. Wood was used as the fuel as bone is more combustible and is prone to contamination from iron pyrites in coal. Calcined bone is softer and whiter than in its natural state.


Crusher Room

This is now entered down steps, but originally the floor was level with the canal wharf outside. Mining subsidence has lowered the whole area by about 6 feet (2 metres) and the canal wharf has had to be raised to maintain the canal level – see the blocked up lower part of the windows in the Gear Room. Here are the two draw holes for the kiln.

The crusher was installed in the 1930s after the calcining kiln seen today was decommissioned. It is of the oscillating jaw type, belt driven by a small horizontal steam engine of unknown manufacture and date and was used to crush oversize flints and Cornish stone.


Get directions
    Show options

From :  or 

To      :  or