After visiting Chester, we headed towards Ashbourne (lots of antique stores), but first, stopped in at the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.
Maybe, a pottery museum wouldn’t make the top ten lists of the average English tourist. But, we have a collection of early British pottery and are members of the Transferware Collectors Club, so it’s been on our bucket list for several years.
Stoke-on-Trent is south of Manchester in the heart of industrial England. It was here that Enoch Wood and Josiah Wedgwood started potteries to compete with the influx of china from the Far East in the 1700s. Several towns make up the Stoke-on-Trent area, also known as The Potteries. On the back of historic china and pearlware, you’ll find the names of Tunstall, Burselem, Stoke, Fenton, Longton, and Hanley. We’re sure you’ve heard of Staffordshire, an English county and a term used to loosely group different types of pottery.
The Gladstone Pottery Museum is preserved as the last complete Victorian Pottery factory. In the 19th century, hundreds of factories existed in the area, where the natural resources of coal, sand, lead, and clay were available. Thousands of bottle ovens dotted the landscapes, since most factories had several. The Gladstone is an important industrial heritage site and an interesting museum devoted to sharing the story of the process and the workers who risked their lives to provide the world with pottery, china and tiles.
Gladstone was a small pottery that made household bone china and they had five bottle ovens. They employed men, women and children and was typical of the hundreds of factories in Staffordshire. We explored the exhibits, watched live demonstrations and climbed into the bottle ovens.
The ovens were the most interesting. The bottle shape that you see was the outer wall of the kiln. Inside was the actual oven. It would be stacked with thousands of pieces of china then fired. The kiln fireman would stand inside the outer shell and keep the fires stoked with coal for 2 days. The heat must have been extreme, to say the least! The air thick with coal smoke.
There was an unbelievable amount of work that went into making a plate or cup. Every step required an expert skilled worker and several support staff. And there were many, many steps. On the lives of all these people, the world got its dishes. The Gladstone Museum does a fine job of giving us a glimpse into the lives of the workers and the Industrial Revolution.
Up next, our visit to Belton House. Thanks for reading!