Thankfully, the experts have not left the building.
At the Transferware Collectors Club’s meeting in Seattle, we were one of the newbies at the annual meeting and so were Paul and Kath Holdway. Paul and Kath came to the Pacific Northwest from the West Midlands of England to ask for help. They are part of the Friends of Spode Museum and are dedicated to protecting the Spode story
Paul was one of the last engravers at the Spode Factory in Stoke-upon-Trent. For the last two centuries, men and women worked for the English potteries. In the midst of the Industrial Revolution, Englishmen decided to make the popular china from the Far East at home in England. It was in Straffordshire where most of the English pottery was produced. From here, the potteries exported to a brand-new market in the new United States of America in the 1800s. Founded by magnate Josiah Spode about 1770, Spode made pottery, porcelain and bone china by hand, beginning with the hand engraved copper plates.
Paul was present on the last day of manufacturing at the factory in 2008 and walked around taking photos and capturing the end of an era. He was the final witness as the last of the pottery was pulled from the line. Imagine, watching your trade die right before your eyes, knowing that you had knowledge to pass onto the next employee. But Paul didn’t get to teach his skills; he didn’t get to pass on generations of knowledge. Paul saw the factory close and the tools of the trade boxed up and placed into storage when the buildings sold. A trust was established for the Spode Museum, the owner of the 200 year archives. The Spode name leaves on as Pormeirion Spode, which produces some Spode designs, but not at the old factory.
So, what happens to the factory and archives now? Together, with other concerned enthusiasts, Paul and Kath are part of a movement to preserve the history of the potteries in the area and, in particular, the Spode process and production, so that future generations can learn what now has been replaced and outsourced. With a Lottery grant, the Friends of the Spode Museum have opened a two-year exhibition on the factory site. The Spode Works Visitors Center is a temporary solution to sharing the collection with the public. We are lucky that Paul and Kath haven’t given up; they’re working diligently to set up a permanent exhibition/museum that will tell the Spode production story and the stories of the workers who labored there.
We encourage you to visit the Spode Museum Trust websites for more information and, if you have a love of pottery, donate to their organization.
Oh and by the way, here’s a side note about the Spode Christmas Tree pattern. Paul’s father was the artist that created the Spode Christmas Tree, featured on the Spode Christmas Tree earthenware for the American market, beginning in 1938. The Christmas Tree pattern is still made today, but it’s made in China and Malaysia, not in England.