Stoke-on Trent in the county of Staffordshire, is the home of pottery in England – as well as home to the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold, known fondly as the Staffordshire Hoard. So a visit to Stoke pays rich dividends, particularly if you visit these three essential attractions.
For a sense of history and local context, start at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Bethesda Street. Here you’ll find galleries full of natural science, local history, art, archaeology and ceramics. Two of the more unusual galleries celebrate the aforementioned Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo Saxon gold, and a Spitfire plane, on display in memory of its designer, Reginald Mitchell, and the role it played in the decisive Battle of Britain in 1940.
The second stop is at Middleport Pottery in Port Street, Burslem. Here you can join a factory tour where the pottery making skills of the 19th century, in particular the tissue transferring technique, are still employed to make the famous Burleigh pottery featuring Asiatic Pheasants and Calico. Our guide, is a former potter and he makes our day with his obvious passion for the craft on display. We also learn of the revival of the factory, thanks in no small part to the generous endowments from the Prince of Wales Trust. Go Charles indeed! The donation is funding an apprenticeship scheme to ensure these time-honoured skills are kept alive for future generations.
All this pottery making is thirsty work, so at our final destination of the Emma Bridgewater Factory in Lichfield Street, Hanley, we are happy to sit in the colourful café and enjoy a coffee, served in Emma’s signature spotty mugs. Afterwards, we set off on the factory tour, to meet the jiggers, jolliers, fettlers, casters and decorators whose eye for detail and traditional skills result in the beautiful hand-decorated pottery pieces. In what became a good news story for local industry, in the 80s Emma was seeking a special cup as a gift for her mother. Unable to find anything quite right, she created her own – and a company was born. Today items in the Emma Bridgewater ranges are collectors’ items, and this thriving factory produces more than 25,000 pieces a week. The gift shop is full of quirky designs, homewares, books and linen. And the garden spaces are a joy to behold, again a living testament to the design values of Emma and her husband, Matthew.
Stoke-on-Trent is an amalgamation of six cities in the heart of England. Full of museums, history, pottery and craft factories, gardens, culture and a Monkey Forest, there is something for everyone of every age. And for ‘potty’ ceramic lovers, the Ceramics Trail offers the opportunity to learn, discover, try your skills and buy at five different heritage locations around town.