Whether you’re a fan of beautiful ceramics, or want to occupy the kids in half term, discover the rich history and charm of the Potteries
From pot-throwing to shopping, discover the best of Stoke on Trent
Wedgwood, Burleigh, Emma Bridgewater, Spode: all internationally recognised brands that call Stoke-ontrent home. With a ceramics heritage going back to the 1650s, Stoke’s natural abundance of clay, water and coal led to the cultivation of local skills in pot throwing, sculpting and hand decorating. These methods can be seen in action today at one of the many factory tours on offer across the Potteries.
If you’re hoping for a more practical experience, then don’t miss the World of Wedgwood visitor centre, where you can try your hand at making earthenware. During the 30-minute Master Craft Studio workshop, £15, you will practise the art of pot throwing to create your own unique piece. This will be fired and posted out to you. For a less messy adventure, the decorating studio hosts painting workshops for £5 per pot, so you can still create your own masterpiece. To book, call 01782 282986.
At the peak of manufacturing, 4,000 bottle kilns stood proudly across the Stoke-on-trent skyline. Although many have since been removed following the Clean Air Act of 1956, 47 remain, all now listed buildings, which stand as testament to the city’s rich pottery heritage. Get up close to an original bottle kiln on the Burleigh factory tour, which allows visitors to stand inside and appreciate the vast scale of Stoke’s pottery production. Adults £9.50; visit burleigh.co.uk to book. For a more picturesque view, visit the kilns at Top Bridge Works in Longport, which are flanked by the
Trent and Mersey canal.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Stoke was an esteemed powerhouse of pottery. Yet, by the
end of the 1900s, production was in decline as companies found they could produce pottery abroad for significantly lower costs. Some of the leading names remained based in the city, but many of the old factories were abandoned and ultimately destroyed. However, one such factory became the home of Emma Bridgewater (see more overleaf), marking a key moment in the revival of Stoke’s pottery industry.
Where to eat
By day, a quaint and quirky café, by night a bistro restaurant, The Quarter, located on the edge of up-and-coming Hanley, is a mustvisit restaurant with a welcoming, homely atmosphere and lively décor. The bar boasts wines from around the world, bespoke beers and an imaginative cocktail menu. It is held in particularly high esteem for its gin and proseccobased offerings, a favourite being ‘Rosecoco’ – a floral combination of prosecco and rose syrup.
Quality food stands at the heart of this family restaurant, which offers a simple yet excellently executed menu, celebrating homemade, rustic cuisine. If you feel spoiled for choice, sample the menu’s variety with a platter. The ‘slider platter’ features three miniature burgers, served with a small side of chilli con carne, coleslaw and a salad. Evening booking is essential; call 01782 286008 or see thequartercafe.co.uk for more information.
Stoke’s regional delicacy, the oatcake, is not the stodgy bread that you’d expect. Instead, it is more akin to a savoury pancake made from oatmeal, flour and yeast. Dating back the 19th century, it was common for oatcakes to be sold out of windows of houses to customers on the street. Although this is no longer practiced, there are plenty of cafés that still serve oatcakes across the city.
The Station Kitchen, located in the former Churnet Valley Heritage Railway waiting room, bakes its oatcakes on an original gas baxton, a variation of the traditional bakestone. These are then paired with fillings including bacon, sausage and egg, to offer a truly authentic taste of Stoke.
For more visit staffordshireoatcakes.com. ➤
Set just across the road from the historic Stoke Minster, The Glebe is a beautiful Victorian pub offering a relaxing atmosphere. Although famous for its wide range of beers and ales on tap, it is the architecture and design that make The Glebe stand out, specifically the beautifully designed stained-glass window, attributed to William Morris, which casts a glow of colour across the pub. With a spacious front and back bar and large leather armchairs in front of roaring fires, it is the perfect place to end your evening.
Where to shop
If you are looking to invest in pottery, there’s only one place to go. Offering greatly reduced prices, limited editions, discontinued lines and seconds (slightly to significantly imperfect ceramics and earthenware), factory outlet shops let you get the pottery you love at a reduced price. Wedgwood,
Burleigh, Portmeirion and Emma Bridgewater all have outlet stores alongside their factories, which are the perfect places to grab a bargain or to add a much desired piece to your collection. Plus, they operate as stand-alone stores so you don’t need to worry if you haven’t got time to squeeze in every factory tour on offer.
Where to stay
Built in 1845 for Josiah Wedgwood’s grandson, The Upper House Hotel in Barlaston is steeped in local history. With 24 individually decorated rooms set in 10 acres of woodlands and landscaped gardens, the hotel is a great base for exploring everything Stoke-on-trent has to offer. Prices start at £75 per room; visit theupperhouse.com to book.
Where to visit
With glorious grounds framing 19th-century Italianate gardens, and a quaint timber lodge shopping village, Trentham Estate is an unspoilt idyll on the edge of Stoke. At the centre of the gardens is the mile-long ‘Capability’ Brown-designed Trentham Lake, which is flanked by meadow schemes and a floral labyrinth. The remains of once-majestic Trentham Hall, which stand in the north-eastern quarter, feature a haunting sculpture gallery, now covered in wisteria and enveloped into the gardens. Tickets to the gardens are £9.45, or £8.40 for concessions; for more information visit trentham.co.uk.
IN FOCUS: EMMA BRIDGEWATER FACTORY
If you look at the base of your favourite Emma Bridgewater mug, you will see the words ‘Made in Stoke-on-trent, England’ proudly emblazoned on it. Originally from Oxford, Emma was led by a friend to select Stoke as the home for her classically modern pottery brand. Yet her choice to remain in the city, even after the global explosion of the company, is not based on nostalgia, but on the fact that it is still the best place in the world to make earthenware and ceramics. It’s the same reason the brand’s glassware is produced in Poland – to create the best products possible.
Each year, approximately 45,000 handcrafted half-pint mugs pass through the restored Victorian factory, which was purchased in a state of ruin, boarded up and destined for destruction. Restored to its original glory and given new life, it has not been modernised and filled with machines as one would imagine that a multi-million pound business would do. Instead, it is filled with people; extremely skilled and creative workers who do everything by hand, from creating the moulds, pouring and casting, to decorating each piece with traditional spongeware techniques. The only real machines used in the process are a jolley (which removes excess clay to create deeper pieces, such as bowls and dishes) and a jigger (a process of throwing clay over the mould to create flatware), which were discovered inside the abandoned factory before being restored. Both date back to the 1940s and are still used to shape every single Emma Bridgewater plate. Since they are no longer manufactured, each has to be carefully maintained.
The factory is open Monday to Friday, so make a long weekend of your visit to Stoke, and see it operating in all its glory with a factory tour. Begin at the start of the process, with the clay coming into the building, and finish by watching the final product checks before the items are distributed around the world. The tour costs £2.50 per person, which can then be redeemed against a purchase in the shop, while entry for under-16s is free.
For a more creative experience, the decorating workshops, from £9.95, offer the opportunity to decorate your own Emma Bridgewater half-pint mug or plate using the iconic sponge designs, resulting in a personalised and unique memento. The decorating studio is open every day.
To expand your experience, the factory also offers experience days, from £30, including afternoon tea as well as the factory tour and a decorating workshop. For more information and to book, visit emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk.
Opposite: Stoke’s historic industrial skyline Above, left and below left:Wedgwood has been based in Stoke for nearly 260 yearsBelow: Historic bottle kilns flank the Mersey canalBottom: Visit The Quarter’s delicious deli for home-made local goodies
Clockwise fromtop left: The oatcake is a regional delicacy; the Station Kitchen Shop follows a traditional recipe to produce its authentic oatcakes; Emma Bridgewater stands proudly at the Worker’s Entrance to her Stoke factory; a Burleigh worker applies a pattern using the tissue printing method; designed by Henry Ward in 1834, The Glebe pub boasts many original period features
Above and left: The beautiful Trentham gardens are the perfect place to explore the winter countryside that Stoke has to offerBelow: An Emma Bridgewater mug will pass through 30 hands on its journey through the factoryRight: A worker decorates jugs by hand using a traditional stamping technique