We all met in the cafe of the Potteries Museum in Hanley at 10am. After teas and coffees, Dave gave us a brief history of British ceramics, which was very interesting. The museum has a fabulous collection of figurines. I think my favourites were, ‘Murderers on the Mantlepiece’ – Staffordshire portraits of famous killers. In fact, they have a huge collection of Staffordshire ceramics, as you’d expect. I also enjoyed the display detailing the history of manufacture in Stoke. I didn’t know what cones were – thanks for the explanation, Dave.
After lunch in the Museum cafe, we headed off to Longton to the Gladstone Pottery Museum. The bottle kilns are rather beautiful now, but what it would have been like when all the potteries were active?
1878 “In the pottery district of North Staffordshire, chimneys may at any time be seen vomiting forth black smoke filling the streets and roads to such on extent as sometimes to impede vision beyond a distance of a few yards.” Extract from The Report for 1878 of the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board. [http://bottleoven.blogspot.co.uk/p/1964-potteries-progression-to-cleaner.html]
Entering the bottle kiln now is interesting, with the artificial orange glow, but I imagine loading and unloading the saggars of pots was hot and backbreaking work. I was dismayed to read how many children were employed in the 19th century, some as young as five years old. With the general pollution and exposure to the wide variety of highly unpleasant substances, one can believe Geoff when he says the life expectancy of the 19th century potter was only 35 years.
From Pug Mill to Finished Product
I loved the collection of bathroom ceramics, being a former bathroom designer. Sorry about the music on this one, it’s not my video.
In the pottery we watch a demonstration of throwing, and a demonstration of flower making. Amazing to watch, even slowed down for spectators. I’m afraid I really don’t like those little porcelain baskets and bowls of flowers, though. They had plenty for sale in the shop, so I guess people still buy them. Unfortunately, the flower painter wasn’t available that day, so no painting demo.
Late afternoon we went on to Potclays on a buying spree. James Otter, one of the two directors and SIL of the MD, kindly gave us an unscheduled tour of the factory where the clay bodies are manufactured. Who’d have thought that so much went into the production of clay? Astonishing! Maintaining consistent quality with a natural product takes a lot of skill. I hadn’t even considered how clay is extracted – of course it’s mined, near Brownhills in this case. I live on the edge of the former clay pit of a local brickworks, so I should have deduced that myself – d’oh! Interestingly, the processes that we’d seen at Gladstone could be identified at Potclays – the mixing of the slip, sieving, and the filter press. Not to mention the giant pug mills, which deposit clay straight into bags. Sadly my phone was in the car so I have no photos of the factory.
Onward to the White Lion at Barthomley for a relaxing drink and a pork pie while the rush hour traffic cleared the roadworks. The end of a very full and interesting day.