The History of the Burleigh Foot Bath
When the business was in its youth as expected of most earthenware manufacturers in Burslem, we produced a range of toiletwares. With even an indoor flushing toilet being extremely rare in Britain in the 1860's, a fully plumbed in bathroom as we know it was out of the question for almost all of the UK if not the world. What may surprise people to hear is that even by 1950 less than half of British households had a bathroom. With 31% of families reported having use of a portable bath. It therefore makes sense that toilet wares formed such an important part of our repertoire of produced items throughout the first half of the 1900's.
The height of this trade for us was in the first 2 decades of the 20th Century, as middle class households would still rely on ceramics to support washing. With a vast array of art Nouveau patterns and shapes that covered everything from water jugs and basins, to chamber pots, soap boxes and even foot baths.
The sector was so important for Burleigh that advertisements from this period list 'toilet' goods at the very top, above 'Dinner sets'!
The demand waned slowly over the following decades meaning that toilet wares moved into the 'fancy goods' market. Where people may have still had a wash basin but not to actually use; but instead more of a nod toward nostalgia. And of course, the footbath had really lost its purpose, neither necessary for domestic use, and no longer required for the 'Hospital ware' sector, which was another channel of important sales in both the 19th and 20th Century. The once huge business of making ceramics for use by the medical trade had evaporated as people turned to metal, then plastic or disposables as cheaper alternatives; relegating items such as the footbath to the history books.
In more recent times, we have often looked at shapes from times gone by to see if they can be re-purposed; a number of items fit into this category. With such a rich archive, it is a continuing surprise to everyone here at Burleigh just what can be found.
And so the footbath still has a purpose today, we doubt many people bathe their feet in them, but they make excellent planters to hold herb pots in the kitchen, and even filled with ice to chill drinks for an elegant gathering. Like everything here at Burleigh, our footbaths certainly have an interesting story to tell.