Potty about pottery?
The production of Staffordshire pottery used to centre around the six
separate towns of Burselm, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and
Tunstall. The six have now combined into one and are known as
Stoke-on-Trent . Meanwhile the industry is a shadow of the pottery
powerhouse that had grown up back in the 1700s. Staffordshire’s
abundance of clay and the availability of lead, salt and coal had made
it the perfect place for the production of pottery for several
centuries. The area once supported hundreds of manufacturers and has
been the home of such great names as Aynsley, Doulton, Minton , Spode ,
Twyford and Wedgwood.
The skyline would have once been dominated by more than 4,000 bottle kilns that once stood during the heyday of the Potteries. You can still see the unique profile of bottle kilns at places like Gladstone Pottery Museum . Now home to the only complete Victorian pottery factory still in existence, Gladstone's famous bottle ovens are a legacy of Stoke-on-Trent's industrial past. At the museum you can learn how the kilns were prepared for firing and see the skills needed to ensure the ware was in perfect condition when it emerged from the heat. The Doctor’s House at the museum is preserved to tell the tale of the hazards faced by those working with pottery and coal. In the waiting room today you can learn about diseases such as potters’ rot before exploring the doctor’s consulting rooms and private kitchen. The museum boasts some amazing collections, including one titled: Flushed With Pride. This is a remarkable gallery dedicated to the history of the toilet. The display includes a magnificent collection of decorative Victorian toilets as well as a 1970s avocado bathroom suite. There’s even an area designed to give you an idea of the sights, sounds and smells of a Victorian slum. The museum is open every day from 10am to 5pm, except over the christmas period. The attraction appeals to both children and adults alike and bills itself as the place to start any visit to Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery history. There’s a busy calendar of organised activities for kids there, including half term spooky pottery painting days and skull hunts around the museum. Adults aren’t neglected, with the likes of haunted tours and Christmas lunches on the menu! Groups are well catered for with organised tours and even workshops in subjects such as bone china flower making and art deco pottery painting. The Gladstone Tea Room serves a range of refreshments and even offers a pre-booking service so you can avoid queuing for your food.
Gladstone Pottery Museum is on the A50 trunk road just to south-west of Stoke-on-Trent’s town centre. An ideal place to stay overnight when visiting the museum would be the George Hotel in Burslem, in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent. The George has a wealth of history behind it and a restaurant is on hand there to relax in after a busy day. In nearby Basford, Haydon House Hotel is an independent family run hotel that offers three star accommodation. Complete with an award-winning AA Rosette Restaurant, Haydon House is another ideal base for a short tour of Staffordshire .
Finding places to explore and learn more about the rich history of Staffordshire Pottery isn’t going to be the difficult part of planning your trip, it’s deciding which to choose that is the tough part. Staffordshire is rich with attractions for the pottery lover and those interested in antiques and Victorian history, but venues such as the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery still manage to stand out. At the Potteries Museum you’ll find what is billed as the world’s greatest collection of Staffordshire ceramics. Perhaps not what you’d expect to find next to all that pottery is the museum’s display of a fabulous Castle Bromwich -built Spitfire. The World War II fighter isn’t the only non-pottery treasure at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery though. The museum is also home to the world famous Staffordshire Hoard, the largest ever find of Anglo-Saxon gold that was valued at over £3million. The museum is of course complete with a place to relax and refresh, the café Museum, as well as a foyer shop for picking up some mementos.
A visit to the potteries wouldn’t be complete without taking in the Wedgwood Museum , the home of one of the most interesting ceramic collections in the world. The museum’s galleries tell the story of Josiah Wedgwood , his family, and the company he founded two-and-a-half centuries ago. The museum is home to the Wedgwood Museum Trust collections. These are unique in that they include not just ceramics but a huge range of manuscripts, documentation, correspondence, factory equipment, trials and original models. This is all in addition to the collection of fine art and, of course, ceramics. The museum claims that no other collection has the diversity and depth possessed by their collections. The Wedgwood Museum works hard to operate a full learning program including museum visits, education workshops, museum loan kits, assembly talks, teacher previews, downloadable resources and activities and archive and research facilities.
Aynsley China is one of the best-known names in the Staffordshire Potteries, with a history reaching back to 1775. You can take a tour around the factory and witness one of the last bone china factories in England still working. Aynsley has supplied specially commissioned tableware to Royalty, governments and companies all over the world and the factory in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent should be on your list of places to visit during your short break in Staffordshire’s Potteries .
If access to the internet back at your hotel is high on your priorities then the North Stafford Hotel on Station Road in Stoke-on-Trent is worth considering as a place to stay. It offers free Wi-Fi in the public lounge as well as on-site parking. The hotel features Jacobean-style architecture and well-equipped en suite rooms. If you prefer to play it safe and go for a well known hotel chain then check in at the comfortable and informal Express by Holiday Inn on Sir Stanley Mathews Way. It offers modern facilities in a convenient location and there’s satellite TV in all rooms.
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