"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Gladstone Pottery Museum - Stoke on Trent

Having read about the Gladstone Pottery Museum in BBC History magazine D was keen to visit so we made the trip to Stoke on Trent last Saturday. Thankfully, this time the M6 North behaved itself!

Old Aerial view of the Potteries around the Gladstone Works

When we arrived it was raining so we opted for an early lunch in the tearoom. Cheese and tomato on Staffordshire Oatcake which was very tasty.


By the time we got outside it was still damp but the rain had more or less stopped so it was time for Timothy to emerge from his travel bag!

The Gladstone China works are now preserved as the last complete Victorian Pottery factory in the country. The museum's aim is to preserve and show the way of life of pottery workers in Stoke and the surrounding area. The works were typical of hundreds of similar factories in the area making ceramic items to sell. At one time there were over 2000 bottle ovens in the Potteries but today only 47 remain, 5 of which are at Gladstone. For over two centuries men, women and children worked long hours in hazardous conditions and many died by the time they were 40. Stoke is still the world capital of the ceramic industry and today production methods are safer and cleaner.


Pottery has been made in this country for several thousand years and it was only around 1680 that North Staffordshire became famous for its potteries and by 1800 it was the national centre for the industry due to clay, coal and water being found locally. In the latter part of the 17th century the potters began to improve their decorative work as coloured slips (liquid clays), coloured stoneware, relief decoration and salt glazing became available. In the 18th century the craft became a full-scale industry and the Potteries expanded rapidly. The excavation of the Trent and Mersey canal in 1777 proved a boon for transporting raw materials and the finished product. Famous potteries included Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode. With the 19th century came the introduction of machinery. By the end of Victorian times the N. Staffs potteries produced 90% of Britain's pottery including ornamental and household goods, sanitary ware and garden ware. The works at Gladstone were operating until the 1960's.

In the early 1970's the Gladstone Works were sadly on the verge of being demolished but they were saved and the Staffs Pottery Industry Preservation Group restored the ovens and workshops. It is now owned and managed by Stoke on Trent City Council.


Places in the museum that you can visit and/or where there are demonstrations and exhibitions include The Lodge, Engine House, Slip House, Working Life, Saggar making, Jiggering and Jolleying, Dipping House, Biscuit Bottle Oven, Glass Bottle Oven, Glost Placing, Mould Maker's Workshop, Colour Gallery, 1910 office, Dr's House, Enamel Kiln, Tile Gallery and Flushed with Pride exhibition with sanitaryware. We watched a potter using his wheel to make a bowl, a lady making pottery from moulds and another volunteer creating pottery flowers.


Inside one of the bottle ovens



Statue of a man stacking saggars which protected pottery during firing.



The Engine House

The Slip House where clay was prepared.

The Decorating Shop - it was lovely to watch a lady at work in here - she was so talented.

Exhibition of decoration and colouring

New colours were formulated in this room.

There was such a lot to see and do at the museum and frankly we ran out of time so I missed visiting the Flushed with Pride Exhibition and the Doctor's House.

The Tile Gallery

There was so much to see here and I was annoyed with myself that I had left this to the end and only had about 15 minutes to whizz round. The Tile Gallery has one of the best collections of tiles in the country and shows how ceramic tiles have developed over the centuries.

Medieval Tiles

Islamic Tiles

Dutch Tiles including "Delft ware". Tile making was a major craft based industry in the Netherlands from the 17th to 19th century.

19th century manufacturers used printing for decorating their mass produced tiles.

Building Tiles

Encaustic tiles were decorated floor tiles with contrasting coloured clay patterns. These were first made commercially in the late 1830's and early 1840's. Victorian encaustic tiles differed from medieval ones due to production being mechanised.

15th century tile on the left made by hand and embossed with a wooden stamp. 1840's tile on the right made by a mechanical press.

Pugin Tiles

Minton Tiles

Gothic Revival Tiles from Worcester

The history of tiles continued with displays right up until the current day including Arts and Craft Designs and Art Noveau.


Timothy saying goodbye

There was just time for a quick look round the shop.


The museum really was excellent and well worth visiting if you are ever in the area. The displays and information boards were superb and it is without doubt one of the most informative museums I have visited. Note for Rosie - I am sure you must know this museum well :)

*D Photos taken by my son with the Canon SX50HS bridge camera
Rest of photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera

Reference: "Gladstone Pottery Museum - The Way of Life of the North Staffordshire Pottery Worker"


Rosie said...

You were about 25mins walk away from where we live. Know the Gladstone Museum well, used to volunteer there for a while, a few years ago now, until I got a full time job and couldn't do it anymore, we used to dress in Edwardian costume and 'live' in 1910, usually in the old office area beyond the colour workshop. I'm not sure if that is still open or if people still do costumed talks, I think perhaps they do in the Doctor's surgery. I love the tile exhibition, so many beautiful patterns. Have a lovely weekend:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks so much. I thought of you the whole visit. What a lovely place to volunteer. There were about 4 demonstrations but I didn't see anyone in Edwardian costume although I did see the old office. It could be that they still do talks but perhaps not when we were there? I loved the tile museum - I could have spent a lot longer in there! Have a lovely weekend too :)

Glasgow Birder said...

Staffordshire Oatcakes are lovely. Tasted them for the first time when i went down to visit my eldest daughter earlier this year :)

Rustic Pumpkin said...

What an amazing museum to visit. I love those bottle kilns and would have struggled in the shop not to buy yet another dust collector as a keepsake. The tile collection is just amazing. Some mediaeval tiles survive in the cathedral, although most are badly damaged as Cromwell stabled his horses at the High Altar. I have only had a Derbyshire oatcake once and it was so delicious, your Staffordshire oatcake sandwich looks utterly yummy. I may have to investigate and winkle out a recipe. I have never thought to use something like that for a sandwich, but I guess it's a version of a wrap or pasty.

Ragged Robin said...

Glasgow Birder - Thanks Dean and yes they are tasty. My son has bought them in the past as they sell them in the local supermarket :)

Rustic Pumpkin - Thanks - it was a fantastic place - totally different from any other museum I have visited. Good to hear some medieval tiles survive at St David's - shame on Cromwell!!! :( I do have a bit of a "thing" at the moment on tiles!

As mentioned above my son has bought Staffordshire oatcakes in the past but we have never thought of filling them - it was a tasty idea. I will look for a recipe too - would be nicer than bought ones!

Bovey Belle said...

What a super day out -SO much to see. Considering you didn't have long to look at the tiles, you did amazingly recording so much in photos.

Perhaps when we move we may be near enough to visit . . .

Ragged Robin said...

Bovey Belle - Thank you - I did snap snap at the tiles which was a shame really as I didn't really taken them in. Another place to return to :)

Would be fairly easy to get to from Herefordshire once you reached M5 and then M6.

Midmarsh John said...

Another interesting place with plenty to see. I used to dabble, in a very small way, with pottery when I was at training college. Any students were allowed free reign of the workshop in the evenings.

Ragged Robin said...

Midmarsh John - Thanks so much. Dabbling with pottery must have been so interesting. I couldn't believe how easy the man behind the potter's wheel at the museum made it look - because I would imagine it is difficult!

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie, Toffeeapple and Pam

Huge apologies - I thought I had published your comments but they appear to have disappeared. I am not sure if I accidentally pressed delete or whether blogger is playing up.

I am just hoping they re-appear but in the meantime please accept my apologies.