The city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire became the centre of ceramic production during the 17th century. Due to the availability of clay and other required materials, large numbers of potteries opened up in the area and started producing high quality ceramic wear that was exported all over the world.
There are a number of potteries to visit, some showcasing modern working factories, others offering historical tours and traditional methods, and a number of others allowing you to get stuck in and learn about ceramics whilst creating your own. All equally have their charms but depending on your taste, here are some recommendations.
For Instagrammers – World of Wedgwood
Wedgwood is an iconic English brand. Able to count Royal Families and celebrities as fans, Wedgwood has stood the test of time with over 250 years of history. World of Wedgwood allows the visitor to learn about the craft and the story of Wedgwood on the award winning factory tours, but what really stands them apart (particularly for anyone wishing to update their Instagram page) is the showroom & tearooms.
The showroom is exquisitely decorated, in a theme that changes every season. In August 2018 you enter through a traditional train carriage, allowing you to peek inside to see tables decorated in pastel pinks and whites with stylish old fashioned luggage and pretty tea cups dotted around. Further inside, elaborate tables are set for tea, with reds & whites, green vines winding around British strawberries and of course Wedgwood china. It’s incredibly pretty, and classically British with a modern twist.
Towards the back of the showroom area is the delightful tearoom serving a fantastic selection of teas and cakes all delivered in Wedgwood china. The room itself is grand, with teal chairs and swirling wallpaper, while the ceiling houses vast chandeliers. The top pick of the menu is of course the ‘Afternoon Tea’, a selection of sweet and savoury treats including the buttermilk scones and a choice of Loose Leaf and Wanderlust Teas. The savoury snacks include a dry aged beef with horseradish, asparagus and crème fraîche and the Ginger cake topped with candied ginger was delicious.
For activity lovers – Gladstone Pottery Museum
Gladstone is the only complete Victorian Pottery factory, and allows you a chance to learn about the days when bone china was made in coal burning ovens. The interactive factory tour is interesting for all ages but the stand out parts really seemed to be the activities on offer and the enthusiasm of those running them.
After a demonstration from the experts then you’re able to try your hand at throwing your own pot, watched over by someone that knows what they are doing! Visitors enjoyed watching each other try their hand at the wheel with a few giggles as well as encouragement.
There’s a flower making demonstration and workshop, allowing you to learn the technique to make a bone china rose, although the skilled craftswoman made it look far easier than it was.
A further workshop provided over an hour of fun (as well as aprons in case the fun got too messy) which was decorating and painting the china. You’re able to choose from a selection of pieces, including a rose in a vase, and the china toilet, (unsurprisingly popular with children.) The large painting table makes it quite a social activity and the lady demonstrating techniques delighted everyone with her stories of Victorian painters as well as stories from her own history in the industry.
For history fans – Middleport Pottery
Middleport Pottery allows you to step back in time on a heritage trail with their original Victorian offices, one of the few bottle kilns remaining in Stoke and the steam engine which once powered the whole factory. Middleport has a great number of volunteers on hand, able to answer your questions as you tour around.
Particularly interesting is the store for the ceramic moulds, including Winston Churchill moulds, plate designs for the Battle of Britain and a whole host of Victorian jelly mould designs. Also interesting is the information covering the larger role women played in the industry due to demand during the war: not only did they take over many key roles during the war but continued to have their talents recognised afterwards.
In between the original bath houses and heritage offices Middleport has working studios, and it’s fascinating to see both modern and historical representations of ceramics.
At the time of writing, then Middleport Pottery was also home to Poppies: Weeping Window. It’s a magnificent sweeping design of poppies, cascading down the side of the factory onto the floor below, and representing British or Colonial lives lost at the Front during the First World War. It’s a moving piece, and a beautiful scene to see, unsurprisingly popular, as Stoke is actually the last location of it’s regional tour before it is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
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