Stoke 2

Another day trip to Stoke- more derelict buildings including an amazing mill/warehouse who knows what on the canal- if I’d had a companion with me we could have got in as the wall wasn’t too high, but I wasn’t prepared to risk it on my own. Even I have a modicum of common sense (sometimes)

A trip round the Middleport factory with our lovely guide, John- this is the home of Burleigh ware, and Middleport now make ceramics for Poole pottery as well as Leeds ware (the creamy white cut out designs that were so popular in Victorian times)

Watching the craftspeople, talking to them and even having a go (I managed to break a plate I was smoothing off, much to the delight of the craftslady and the rest of the group, none of whom were prepared to have a go…) really makes you value the immense skills involved in this high end ceramics manufacture, many of the techniques having been unaltered other than using electricity and gas to power the processes and health and safety being a lot higher  up the agenda.

Most potters in the 18th and 19th centuries died young- usually by the time they were in their 40s or 50s, often from silicosis, from breathing in the dry ceramic dust that permeated the atmosphere in the factories. And of course many of the chemicals used in glazing were dangerous and there was not the protection provided for the workers that they now enjoy. And filling the bottle kilns was a thankless, tough and horribly hot job, emptying them just as bad, and carrying wooden planks over the shoulder,  laden with greenware (the unfired ceramics) or on saggars balanced on the head, led to many children and younger people being disabled, or permanently disfigured. And then there’s Josiah Wedgwood’s hand turned potter’s wheel which a young girl, aged perhaps 8-10 years, would have to turn for 10hours at a time….

And when the potters were paid, they’d have to buy their beer and meals in the pub attached to the factory, of course, owned by the factory owner, so prices were higher, but the workers needed change to pay the children who worked for them. Being paid piecemeal, a practice that has continued in some factories until today, meant that it was essential to work efficiently, so having some very cheap labour in the form of children, to fetch, carry and help make the processes faster, was a necessary evil.

Even in the 1980s the craftspeople making flowers would be paid £1.20 per dozen for roses and perhaps make 5 dozen a day. And daffodils took much longer, and forgetmenots, which are made from a solid lump of clay, are fiddly and you need a lot of them to fill a vase…. Did you know that when a flower maker finished her training she had to pay for the tools of her trade to be made? The most useful one is the flattened and shaped 6 inch nail, but tiny crochet hooks, squashed, and carved wooden sticks, a cross between a cocktail stick and kebab stick, were used as well.

I popped into Moorcroft in the hope of going on the tour there, but due to sickness and being very busy no tour this afternoon. I will go some time, but they are so busy with work, attending events etc over the summer, they don’t know when tours will be running then, and until then most of them are booked up. I had a good look round the museum though- it’s not exactly my taste  but the craftsmanship is phenomenal and I would love to see how it’s done. ( I can imagine and have read about it, but seeing the techniques, using slip to create patterns, then filled with coloured glazes,  would be a whole new experience)

So I ended up at the Gladstone Museum and even though all i did was speak to the demonstrators, still 2 hours disappeared and I still had lots to ask, and the demonstrators had even more to tell me.

This time I tried to find out what the workings were that I’d visited with a friend last time. Totally derelict, the land is for sale (oh, to have the money..) and there are 3 bottle kilns, very dilapidated; I drove past again and asked a few people. No one had any idea. I might have to contact the council to see if it can help. Nor could anyone tell me what the mill/warehouse near Middleport was. It’s really quite odd that there are tracts of land that no one has knowledge about even though it is there, watching you, egging you on to investigate. These sites seem to want to be rediscovered and I’m happy to oblige!