“Made in Stoke-on-Trent”: the backstamp that says it all

The return of one of the UK’s biggest cultural events of the year offers another opportunity to explore the claim that Stoke-on-Trent is a world capital of ceramics.

The latest British Ceramics Biennial runs from September 11 to October 17, and features a vibrant five-week festival of new artist commissions, exhibitions and hands-on events that celebrate the life, character and creativity that ceramics bring to the spiritual home of British pottery.

Staged at locations across the city, its main venue for 2021 will be The Goods Yard – a 19th century former warehouse in the heart of Stoke.

Further details can be found online at https://bit.ly/2Xbf992.

But it takes much more than one event every other year to achieve “world class” status… So what else is there in Stoke-on-Trent which truly places it on the international stage?

First, there’s the history – and the heritage – which not only provides this city with its affectionate nickname of “The Potteries”, but also provides it with a universal backstamp that any destination in the world would be proud to possess: “Made in Stoke-on-Trent”.

That’s why this post-industrial city still regularly punches way above its weight; why it’s still such a big-hitter on the small screen; why it’s about to be seen in a new movie on the big screen; why so many books are written about it; and why so many “famous names” – both past, and present – are household names around the globe.

Much of its DNA is housed within The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; but more evidence can be found in other award-winning heritage attractions, including Middleport Pottery, the Moorcroft factory and the Gladstone Pottery Museum – not to mention a self-guided Tile Trail around the city, Emma Bridgewater’s canalside factory and, arguably the most famous name of all, The World of Wedgwood.

It’s here, at the “factory in a field”, that many of today’s visitors to Stoke-on-Trent are surprised to find an outpost of the V&A…

Quite simply one of the most important industrial exhibitions in the world, the V&A Wedgwood Collection is a permanent record of over 260 years of British ceramic production. Now owned and curated by the V&A following a successful fundraising campaign spearheaded by Art Fund, it is on display at the Wedgwood HQ in Barlaston, in Stoke-on-Trent.

Wedgwood was founded in 1759 by British potter and entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood, who helped transform English pottery from a cottage craft into an art form and international industry. A Wedgwood Museum has existed since 1906, first at the Etruria Factory site and then from 1952 at Barlaston. A newly designed museum opened here in 2008, winning the Art Fund Museum of the Year prize in 2009.

The V&A Wedgwood Collection comprises over 165,000 works of art, ceramics, manuscripts and photographs charting the factory’s history, designs and ceramic production.

Around 3,500 of those artefacts are on display in the modern, purpose-built museum in Stoke-on-Trent, showcasing the commercial and aesthetic history of Wedgwood ceramics from iconic jasperware and black basalt vases and ornaments, to bone china tea-sets and classic 20th-century designs.

Highlights from the Collection (https://bit.ly/3CC9xoi) include Josiah Wedgwood’s early creamware and jasperware experiments, his copy of the Portland Vase, the Wedgwood family portrait of 1780 by George Stubbs, a John Singer Sargent portrait and early examples of the medallion Wedgwood produced to support the Abolitionist cause. The museum charts the Wedgwood story through changing fashions alongside examples of Wedgwood’s pioneering collaborations with artists and designers from John Flaxman to Eduardo Paolozzi.

For a break from the ceramics, it’s just a five-minute drive from World of Wedgwood to The Trentham Estate, featuring world class award-winning gardens and the UK’s one and only Monkey Forest.

Constantly used by production companies as the backdrop for a host of television shows, including ever-popular Great Pottery Throw Down, Stoke-on-Trent is also featured in the second series of the BBC’s popular Secrets of the Museum programme which, in general terms, reveals the design treasures tucked away in the V&A museum’s vast collection and, more specifically, includes nuggets from the V&A Collection at Wedgwood. Find Episode 6 on BBC iPlayer and you can see Josiah Wedgwood’s masterpiece, the Portland Vase, being prepared for display in the museum for the first time (https://bit.ly/3lPS1Y0).

At the same time, the Director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, has launched a new book Josiah Wedgwood: The Radical Potter, in which he aims to present Wedgwood as the radical that he was, not just for his designs but in his mind and politics.

One final impression of Stoke-on-Trent, past-present-and-future, meanwhile, can be found in the plans which are currently on the drawing board for The Goods Yard, which hosts this year’s British Ceramics Biennial.

Manchester-based developer Capital & Centric announced in March that it wants to redevelop the site, which is close to Stoke Railway Station, and transform it into a new urban hub. In a project expected to cost around £75m, the regeneration scheme would result in 180 new homes, a 150-bed hotel, 25,000 square feet of workspace and 10,000 square feet of retail and leisure space – along with a restaurant and bar, and a water taxi service which would help to transport passengers to Stoke City FC’s bet365 stadium.

For more information on Stoke-on-Trent as a destination, see www.visitstoke.co.uk

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    The V&A Wedgwood Collection at the World of Wedgwood

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    Burghleigh ware