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Discovering the History of Beautiful Pottery
The World of Wedgwood blew me away. If you love pottery and ceramics you'll be overwhelmed as well.
This wonderful new Stoke-on-Trent attraction is simply fascinating. Built within the Wedgwood factory site in Barlaston on the edge of the Potteries, it features a national collection covering more than 250 years of ceramic production.
But it is much more than a museum of historic interpretation, pretty things, and dusty objects. The center, that opened in the summer of 2015, includes:
- A tour of a working Wedgwood factory
- Several workshops where you can watch artists at work or have a go yourself.
- Opportunities to buy china, factory seconds and tea
- A tea shop to sample Wedgwood's own blends
- A restaurant in the former worker's canteen.
The Portland Vase
The Wedgwood copy of the Portland Vase, pictured above and housed in the Wedgwood Museum, is one of Josiah Wedgwood's most iconic achievements. The Roman original, a glass vase dating from the 1st century B.C., was owned by the Dowager Duchess of Portland when it was loaned to Wedgwood to copy in 1786. He and his artists spent three years perfecting the manufacture of the copy, only succeeding in 1789. The Roman original was subsequently smashed while on loan to the British Museum in 1846. Josiah Wedgwood's copy was used to guide the painstaking work of the glass restorers.
Did you Know?
Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire is actually a federation of six towns historically associated with pottery and china making in England. Stoke-on-Trent, Hanley, Burslem Tunstall, Longton and Fenton are collectively known as The Potteries. Barlaston, the site of the World of Wedgwood, is a suburb.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
02 of 06
The Wedgwood Museum - A Must for Enthusiasts and Collectors
The Wedgwood Museum, part of the World of Wedgwood, contains an English ceramic collection of world-class importance with pieces pre-dating the innovations of Josiah Wedgwood and extending well into the 21st century.
Besides being packed with hundreds of examples and styles of pottery, stoneware, and china, covering 250 years of England's industrial and design heritage, the well designed and award-winning museum is also a feast for information nerds like me. It's all thoughtfully displayed and dramatically lit.
While browsing the collection, some of the interesting details I learned included the facts that:
- Cream-colored earthenware, invented by Josiah Wedgwood, was one of his most important contributions to the industry. Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III (who lost the American colonies in the Revolutionary War), liked it so much that she ordered an elaborate and difficult to make service. It was renamed Queen's Ware in her honor and is still made to the same formula.
- Jasper, the familiar blue stoneware with cameo-style decoration in white, is a unique Wedgwood invention. It is made of dense white stoneware, stained with mineral oxides. It is fired at very high temperatures so that it's impervious to water without being glazed.Wedgwood experimented with a variety of minerals and firing temperatures to come up with it. At the museum, you can see his tray of trials, tablets of fired clay in different colors.
- Catherine the Great of Russia was such a good customer that Wedgwood referred to her as "My Great Patroness in the North,"
- Josiah Wedgwood was a cross between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Besides being a potter and factory owner he was a scientist, an inventor and a pioneer in fair employment practices. Like Ford, he was a key contributor to the development of mass production and like Thomas Edison, his inventions were often built on the work of others, made better and more commercial by his innovations.
Did You Know?
This entire collection was nearly sold into private hands and lost from public view. When the then owners of Wedgwood went bankrupt, the courts agreed to allow the museum collection to be broken up and sold to pay debts. The Art Fund, a national fundraising charity for art, stepped in. They acquired the collection for The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London who agreed that it should be on permanent loan to the World of Wedgwood. If the current owners have other plans for the Staffordshire site, the entire collection will return to the V&A in London.Continue to 3 of 6 below.
03 of 06
How Do They Do That?
Have you ever wondered how they attach those tiny little handles to china teacups? On the Wedgwood Factory Tour you can find that out, as well as how much hand work still goes into the process.
Wedgwood's prestige ranges of china and stoneware are still made at the (circa 1940) Barlaston factory. So when you tour you won't be seeing something laid on just for the tourists but a real working environment where the company's top ranges are still shaped, fired and hand decorated.
The tour, on an elevated gangway above the kilns and more sensitive areas and then on a marked path on the factory floor, takes you through all the processes from casting, figure making, pattern decorating and hand painting to ornamentation and gilding. I particularly enjoyed watching the sure hand and speed of an artist, working with a tiny brush, as she applied 22K gold to the rims of delicately painted teacups. The amount of handwork that goes into each piece is impressive.
Guided tours take place several times a day and can be booked with your admission ticket. Or you can take a self-guided tour. Large graphics on the walls, models, and samples you can touch and well-signed, inactive, machinery along the route explains it all.
Keep in mind when you book your tickets that the factory operates on a reduced schedule on the weekend.To get the full experience, try to visit on a weekday.
Oh, and how do they attach those tiny little handles to china teacups? By hand. Every single one.
Did You Know?
After being shaped, either on a potters wheel or through casting, the clay is allowed to dry to a leathery texture. While in this state it can be turned on a lathe to produce different finishes before it is fired. Some of Wedgwood's important ceremonial pieces - vases and urns in Jasper or Black Basalt for example - are worked in this way. Josiah Wedgwood introduced specialized machines in his factory in 1763. Called "eccentric rose engine turning lathes", they incised lines, produced fluting and surface effects. The same techniques are still used today and one of the original 1763 lathes is still at work in the Barlaston factory.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
04 of 06
If you've always wanted to try your hand at the potter's wheel or wondered how those delicate, cameo-like decorations are added to blue and white Wedgwood Jasper Ware, this is the place to do it.
In the Master Craft Studio, for a small fee, you can throw a small piece on the wheel, have it fired and sent home to you. Or at the ornamentation bench, you can create decorative shapes and use them to ornament a small box or dish. Once again, it can be fired and posted to you at home.
In the Decorating Studio decorate mugs, plates or dishes with crayons, digital printing, and other illustrating techniques. This is a particularly family-friendly activity, suitable for all ages.
Don't Get Too Cocky Though
One word of warning though, the Wedgwood artisan who helps you throw your pot on the wheel is trained to make it as easy as possible. The clay is properly prepared for you and he or she stands beside you instructing you on how to hold your hands and what to do every step of the way. After my happy World of Wedgwood experience, I signed up for a pottery class at home and I can tell you the real experience turned out to be a lot harder.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Sustenance and Retail Therapy
If you take advantage of all the experiences on offer, a visit to the World of Wedgwood can take the better part of a day. To make your stay a little longer (and of course spend a little more) you can:
Continue to 6 of 6 below.
- Shop in the company's flagship store, where a single, gilded dinner plate can set you back £1,500 and a miniature copy of the Portland Vase several thousand pounds. Don't worry, you can also pick up a nice cup and saucer for about £40 and there are frequent sales on selected lines. Or you can try your luck in the factory outlet store, also part of the center.
- Dine in the Dining Hall, an updated version of the employee canteen. It has been converted to a light-filled and spacious casual restaurant where hot and cold dishes, light meals and snacks are family-friendly and reasonably priced. An adjoining playroom for children is imaginatively decorated with illustrations inspired by Wedgwood's famous Fairyland Lustre, designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones.
- Taste and buy tea in the Tea Emporium, where light bites are served and a variety of specially blended teas are available to sample. In the Tea Room, lunches and full-on afternoon teas are served.
06 of 06
Essentials to Plan Your Visit
This key information will help you plan a visit
- What: The World of Wedgwood, a multi-experience attraction for pottery and ceramics enthusiasts as well as anyone interested in the industrial pioneer Josiah Wedgwood, his inventions, and his products.
- What's there: The attraction includes a world-class museum and ceramics collection, a tour of the working Wedgwood factory, creative experiences for all ages, several shops, dining and tea venues.
- Where: Wedgwood Drive, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST12 9ER
- Open: Every day, Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday to 4 p.m. The Dining Hall opens at 9:30 a.m. and the tea room at noon.
- Admission: Tickets for the factory tour and the museum can be purchased separately or combined in a "discovery experience" ticket for a small savings. Creative experiences in the Master Craft Studio and the Decorating Studio are separately priced. Reduced price tickets are available for children aged 6 to 16, students with a valid student ID and seniors. Family tickets for two adults and up to three children are also available. Check the website for current prices and to book online.
- Contact: Telephone +44 (0) 1782 282986 or email.
- How to Get There:
- By Car - 163 miles from London via the M40 and the M6 Toll Road. See on a map. If you are touring through the Midlands, it's also just under and hour North of Birmingham via the M6 and a little over an hour south of Manchester via the M56 and the M6
- By Train - Trains from London Euston to Stoke-on-Trent station take about 90 minutes and run regularly throughout the day. Check National Rail Enquiries for times, prices and booking links. The center is about 15 minutes by taxi from the station.
- By Plane - East Midlands Airport is about one hour away by car via the A50
Where to Stay
Stoke-on-Trent does not have an abundance of moderately priced or luxury hotels of reliable quality. Your best bet is to stick with national and international brands such as Best Western and Premier Inns where the standards are reasonably predictable. And, if you go out of season, book early because rooms may be closed for refurbishment during slow seasons.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.