Monday, 2 September 2013

Middleport Victorian Pottery

Monday 2nd September, 2013 at Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent.
The return journey from home to Stoke was even faster than the trip down! A train within five minutes at Redhill, ditto East Croydon and Euston. We caught the 10:10 from Redhill and we were in Stoke by 12:20! We have been blessed with swift, trouble free train travel all summer - it can't last!
Back on MM, we set off for the short cruise to the Middleport Potteries, where we moored up at their own moorings for our "factory tour".
The factory makes Burleigh chinaware and Poole Pottery (since Poole closed down). The buildings are being renovated by the Prince's Regeneration Trust, who will open it as a multi-functional community centre but Burleigh will continue to operate in the buildings as a commercial concern. It is the last pottery still making china in the old-fashioned Victorian way. It is said that each piece of Burleigh-ware passes through 25 hands during manufacture.
Our tour was first class and incorporated all the processes.  We were able to see the people working on each stage, talk to them and touch the products. It was truly fascinating to see the Victorian methods and machinery in full use. 
The processes included mould making - they have over 19,000 moulds, some as dating back to the start of Burleigh in 1889. Then creating the items from the moulds.
Once the pieces have been dried and fired for the first time they have to be "fettled" to remove mould marks and check they are perfect. One test is to check that each piece "rings" when tapped. The products are carried around by workers on a long tray over their shoulders (see the lady on the left).
One process is an "under-glaze" pattern that is applied by hand from a tissue on which the pattern is printed.
A group of skilled ladies cut out the sections of the pattern and sponge them into position by eye. Painstaking work!
Once the pattern is applied, the tissue is washed off in a washing machine, leaving the coloured glaze on the china.
Finally the item is glazed, again by hand, and then stacked on trolleys ready for the final firing.

Another method of manufacture was "Jiggering and Jolleying" to make round items like plates. In the picture, the round clay blocks on the right are flattened into discs (a bit like a pizza dough) by the machine in the middle, then thrown on to an inverted plate mould on the left and the bottom profile of the plate is shaped by a second machine.
The mould and shaped plate is then stacked to dry and the whole process repeated. Hard physical labour. The man doing it said that he could make about 400 plates in a day.
Up until 1960, the whole plant was run by a steam engine. Unfortunately the steam boiler is no longer safe, and so sadly the engine cannot be used, although it is still in perfect working order. There are plans to replace the boiler, but cost is a major issue.
Outside the one remaining "bottle kiln" is being refurbished and will hopefully be open to the public next year. It is very unusual as it sill has all its internal structures and furnace intact.  The rectangular building on the left (with the scaffolding) is called a "mangle tower" and was used for drying.
After the tour, we had tea and coffe in the factory shop - in Burleigh's own cups and saucers of course! We took a look around the wonderfully old fashioned showroom, by which time the workers were "clocking off" - but no longer by putting a card into a stamping machine.  Nowadays, even here at Burleigh, it's done with a swipe card!!!
After signing the visitors' book and completing a "feed-back" form, we returned to MM and cruised on down to Etruria, where we moored up and walked over to Morrison's for the usual "few bits" and obligatory stop at Costa!
Today: 2 miles, 0 locks and 4.8 hours (mainly power).
Trip: 331 miles, 258 locks and 271.3 hours.

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