The Financial Times recently gave a welcome update to last year’s entry about manufacturers in the Potteries gaining ground after years of struggling to compete against cheap Asian imports. Some have developed clays that require less firing – reducing the potters’ energy bills – or worked with Ceram, a Stoke research organisation, to increase production efficiencies.
The FT reported that more of the manufacturing that had moved to Asia is being brought back to the Potteries, due largely to the rising price of labour in Asia and the fact that some companies are beginning to count the cost of less reliable quality. In Stoke today, there are about 8,000 people employed in the industry, mainly supplying the catering and hospitality industries.
To our earlier news about Portmeirion and Steelite potteries is now added the story of Middleport Pottery in Stoke, described as being ‘emblematic of a steady revival’ under way in the region.
A sale and leaseback agreement with the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which rescues and regenerates buildings of historic and architectural importance, has saved it from closure. About £9m has been spent on restoring the Middleport factory and from July 1st, visitors will be able to step inside the industrial bottle kiln to see the clay formed, fired and decorated.
The aim is to turn the factory into a creative hub for the entire area. Today, if the shop and offices are included, Middleport supports about 100 jobs, now employing more young people and aiming to attract others.
Middleport is the only factory left that still uses the 19th-century underglaze transfer printing method, which depends upon hand-engraving the patterns on to rollers. Under the brand name Burleigh, it is still making the famous Asiatic Pheasants, the Blue Calico and the Black Willow patterns, as well as the traditional plain cream moulds and kitchenware.
Ros Kerslake, chief executive of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, adds that Middleport Pottery is “a living and breathing part of British industrial history”. The project conserves much of the building’s industrial heritage, including the last remaining brick-built bottle kiln.
Meanwhile, the current interest in this craft has led to a number of small craft-based potteries moving into the area, probably the most famous being Emma Bridgewater, which employs about 250 people with an annual turnover of about £14m.