The Potteries
saving our heritage  
The six towns of Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton are known as the Staffordshire Potteries.  

With raw materials, such as clay, coal and water locally available,  the area became the centre for pottery production in the early 17th century.  As transport systems improved with the introduction of canals and railways in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industry flourished. 

In 1956 the Clean Air Act forced the distinctive bottle ovens, belching black smoke across the area,  to be replaced by cleaner gas or electric fired ovens. Coupled with cheap imports from Asia, the potbanks struggled. Now many of the buildings associated with the industry lie abandoned.

There have however been some wonderful restoration programs, and the area is now truly on the "tourist map" with visitor centres and factory shops. Some buildings have been converted to other uses, such as small business units and workhops. But sadly many lie empty and derelict. 

Middleport Pottery

​​​Home of Burleigh pottery, the Middleport works faced closure in 2011. Constructed in 1888, the buildings were in a state of disrepair, and major investment was sought to save the company.

The Prince's Regeneration Trust took on the management of the project. After a three year and £9 million program, not only have the factory buildings been restored, but unused buildings have been reopened to provide workshops for local artisans, gallery space, and a cafe and visitor centre.

50 local jobs have been saved, and new ones created. Since it opened to the public in 2014 the site has won many awards.

Housing

​​Terraced houses were once home for the thousands of people working in the potteries.

Now some are being demolished. The children and teachers at St Lukes Primary School in Hanley have their say on how they would like the area they live in to look. 

Aynsley 

Aynsley China was founded in 1775  and the company was  highly successful.  In 1970 it was taken over by Waterford Glass, and then in 1997 by the Belleek Pottery Group. The factory closed in 2014, and now the shop is up for sale.

As I was photographing the site, I was approached by Ramtin, the new owner of the Aynsley factory buildings. He explained his plans to convert the buildings to small business units, and to build a hotel and heritage centre.  Just recently they have been used in the ITV series Homefires. "They are such beautiful buildings, I just had to do something to save them. It is a major project, but very exciting. " he says.

One of his new tenants is Beverley who makes specialist ceramic heating units. "it is a brilliant place to work - there are not many premises where I can get the space and the gas I need to fire the ovens."

Oatcakes

Nick Cook runs the Traditional Oatcake business in Stoke. He started the business with his father Tony 25 years ago, when they supplied most of the local potbanks and the old Michelin factory.

​Now they sell to restaurants as well to customers coming to the shop. "Oatcakes go with everything" says Nick. "Over the years we have modified the recipe a bit, and now lots of people freeze them and heat them up in a microwave."

With increasing costs of fuel and business rates, and competition from the supermarkets,  it is likely to be a tough time for many of these small businesses. 

Trent and Mersey Canal

In order to more safely transport their goods, the Trent and Mersey Canal was built. The 93 mile canal, with 70 locks and 5 tunnels, was opened in 1777. 

However with growing competition from the railways, and a fall in the carrying business, the canal was unprofitable and falling into disrepair. In 1968 the Government, seeing a growth in pleasure cruising, designated the canal as a "Cruiseway" and it is now one of the most popular stretches of the canal network.

Stokeboats have been building narrow boats for 35 years at their boatyard in Middleport.

Over that time they have built more than 200 boats, and also run a brokerage and provide moorings.
​The popularity of the canals has also created  business opportunities. Kay Mundy operates a business selling traditional Staffordshire oatcakes from her narrow boat, Que Sara Sara.

"It's a great life on the canals. I travel to where the various functions are. This Sunday Stoke are playing at home. The canal runs next to the football stadium, so I can just moor up and sell the oatcakes from the boat. People know I'll be there - it's always busy."
The Pack Horse Pub once had stabling for 11 horses. 

Now it hosts regular music nights to attract new customers.

Hanley

Hanley has become the main commercial and cultural town of the Potteries. Many of the old buildings have been demolished to make way for new offices, a shopping centre and leisure facilities.
Just outside the main area of redevelopment, The Dudson Group specialises in making durable tableware for the hospitality industry.

​One of their old bottle ovens has been converted to a museum and shop, and the surrounding buildings are used by small businesses and voluntary organisations. 

Steam Trains

 The railway network was vital to the success of the pottery industry. In 1848 Stoke station was completed and became the centre of the North Staffs Railway Company. Being a much faster and more efficient way of transporting goods, the canals were gradually superceded.

At nearby Cheddleton, Dave is one  of over 100 enthusiasts who help restore the steam engines and carriages that once provided frieght  and passenger links to the ports and commercial cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and London.


Managing the Future

Whilst it is essential for towns to develop to meet the needs of growing communities, it is equally essential that we do everything we can to protect our heritage.

Historians estimate that there were once some 2000 bottle ovens. Now there are less than 50. But these are now protected as listed buildings, and must be incorporated into any new development schemes. 

Another casualty are the beerhouses, pubs and hotels that proliferated with the success of the pottery industry. Many lie derelict. Some have been converted back to houses, and a few have been rescued. CoRE (Centre of Refurbishment Excellence) have restored  the America Hotel in Longton, and now use it as a training centre and office space. 

Factory shops give up the struggle and close,  the For Sale sign looking as forlorn as the building itself. Old colliery sites are cleared and new housing estates take their place.

With such a rich heritage, let us hope that there are enough peple with the dedication and enthusiasm to find funding to help preserve this very special area. 


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April 2016