Middleport Pottery Visit

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The Audlem History Society's July trip was to the Middleport Pottery in Burslem

Rescued from closure and oblivion, in part by the Prince's Trust, it opened to visitors in 2014. It has been brought to a wider audience since 2015 as the location for the BBC's 'The Great Pottery Throw Down'. Middleport Pottery is now a thriving heritage centre but also, the working factory for Burleigh ware and home to a number of other craft and artisan businesses. 

Middleport Pottery stands next to the Trent and Mersey Canal and many of the original 1880s buildings survive, including one of the distinctive bottle ovens. 

The first part of our visit was a tour of the factory, where the production of Burleigh ware is little changed since the works first opened. At the time it was considered a model pottery, its advanced production-line system years ahead of Henry Ford, as our knowledgeable and only slightly biased guide explained! We marvelled at the craftsmanship, including the now unique tissue transfer printing process, which takes up to seven years to master. 

In the afternoon, after a good lunch, most of the group chose to take up the option of a guided Heritage tour, which was an excellent choice, as we were shown how the Pottery would have functioned latterly in contrast to the present day. The highlight for most was going inside a bottle oven to see the grand scale of it and the dire working conditions. The tour also included the Bath House, where all 500 plus employees were able to enjoy a weekly bath, thanks to the benevolence of the factory owners, and also included the steam engine that used to power the whole site, and which occasionally is still fired up (but unfortunately not during our visit).

There was still time at the end to do a bit of retail therapy in the shop and the specialist units situated within the confines of the pottery. A very satisfactory ending to a very satisfactory and interesting day out.

Jeremy Nicholls.

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