Wanderer at Large: The Potteries

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the West Midlands including Birmingham and the Black Country, Warwickshire & Staffordshire.

Wedgwood Factory, From Trent-Mersey Canal by Brian Deegan. CC license BY-SA 2.0

The Potteries
The Pottery industry took off in the UK at the end of the 18th century. Up to that point, the trade was mainly based on European imports of China porcelain imitations developed in Delft in Holland, Meissen in Germany and Sevres in France. The influence of neo-classical style vases imported via the Grand Tours of upper-class gentleman started a trend called Vasemania. Then the discovery of kaolin in Cornwall in 1768 saw a series of British firms established such as Spode (1776), Wedgwood (1782) and Minton (1793).

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) was the Stoke-born entrepreneur of the influential Darwin-Wedgwood family. He helped to put Stoke on the map. As a Lunar Society member, he understood the science and technology of production. In 1777, he commissioned James Brindley to build the Trent-Mersey Canal to bring coal to his factory. Five years later, it was the first fully steam-powered factory in Britain.

With pottery-making generally, the clay is moulded into shape, takes about two hours to dry, then can be decorated before being baked for around 30 hours. Wedgwood pioneered modern manufacturing. He got his workers to concentrate on one aspect of assembly, effectively creating a production line.  

Wedgwood was also a visionary marketeer. He understood that new wealth, meant more leisure time (especially afternoon tea) and new goods. He exploited the souvenir market. He named his new Stoke factory Etruria after the Etruscan vases. 5,000 were employed to make copies of the famous Portland Vase producing one every 20 minutes. He wanted his goods to be indispensable and available to all. We think of the “You need this and you can have it now” mantra as part of our modern internet shopping experience, but Wedgwood was doing it 250 years ago. He marketed himself as ‘potter to his majesty’ to give his product a distinct status. He pioneered direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, self-service, free delivery, buy-one-get-one-free, and illustrated catalogues.

A behind the scenes tour at Wedgwood is a real insight. The skilled craftspeople there will often talk to you about what they are doing. You can also visit some of the other great pottery manufacturers of the world nearby, such as Emma Bridgewater, Burleigh, and Moorcroft. Why not indulge in the quintessential English tradition of afternoon tea at one of these places? Served on Stoke-on-Trent crockery, of course! If you can, try some Staffordshire Oatcakes with your tea, a local delicacy.

Potteries Museum
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery offers a range of amazing exhibits including the famous Staffordshire Hoard: in 2009, local man Terry Herbert armed with a customized metal-detector, discovered an Anglo-Saxon hoard of nearly 1,400 pieces on a farm near Lichfield. Dating from around 670AD, 11lbs of 75% pure 18-carat gold was found in all. Herbert shared his £3.2m treasure trove with the farmer. In 2013, the Potteries Museum set up the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia Exhibition to set the Staffordshire Hoard in the context of everyday Anglo-Saxon life and death. Visitors are able to experience the atmosphere of a mead-hall, watch an animated film, The Last Dragonslayer and see an imposing nine-feet-tall sculpture of an Anglo Saxon warrior.

The Potteries– a wonderful place to potter about.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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