Day out: Stoke-on-Trent potteries tour

20 Mar

This trip happened quite a few weeks ago, timed to match up with the semi-annual sales offered by the Stoke-on-Trent potteries.  If you’re saying “Stoke on who did what now?” —  read up about these famous English potteries here and maybe here.

Our first stop was the Royal Stafford Factory Shop.  To my admittedly untrained eye, this was not an encouraging start to the day.  The lone person in charge of the store seemed a bit overwhelmed by our arrival — a bus full of bargain shoppers and dilettantes breaking down her door first thing in the morning — and the product was laid out haphazardly and shown dusty.  However, coffee for a pound and a detailed booklet about different traditions of local pottery making gave me a good start on the rest of the day.

And who doesn’t love a nice jubilee egg cup?

An hour later, we entered the Burleigh factory shop.  Burleigh I knew a little about already, and I was excited to see as much for the history of the place — the oldest operating Victorian pottery — as for the pottery itself.  The shop had an aged-in-place feeling, along with a small fireplace, free coffee and biscuits, and the piles and piles of traditional patterns that left me a bit giggly.  What I really wanted was a tour of the factory, but instead I got a creamer in the shape of a cow, and a better knowledge of the traditional Burleigh patterns.

To my eye: classy, classic, and sweet.

Wedgwood was our next stop.   This very modern outlet store reminded me of the hundreds of identical outlet stores you might find on the Eastern shore, or in Pennsylvania or New Jersey or Kansas or anywhere in the US.  Not very exciting.  That aside, some of the Wedgwood pieces were pretty cool.

Dear Napoleon, why are you a pottery head?  Though I love you dearly, I cannot justify spending even your ‘bargain’ price of 80 pounds.  Hope you find a home, someday.

Among the more expert shoppers on the trip (that would be just about everyone but me) this was the place to find bargains and spend money — one travelling companion filled a large grocery cart (!) with her finds.

I brought home a small dish done in this style.  Exactly like this, really, except one thousand, five hundred and twenty-one pounds cheaper.

Emma Bridgewater – the spotty stop — was next.  Emma Bridgewater and Burleigh were the reasons I signed up for the trip in the first place.  The Emma Bridgewater shop does not disappoint.  The factory shop is split in to two sections, separated by a very comfortable cafe.  One side of the store is for ‘firsts’ and new patterns, and the other for seconds and some deep discounts.

Have OCD?  There’s a pattern for that.  And I looooooooove it.

I ended up tickled to find some items in a Union Jack pattern that I’ve been drooling over since the week we first arrived here in the UK, and that I’ve since shown in some of my other posts.  I love it when I find something truly great.

Our penultimate stop was Portmeirion.  To be honest by this point I was ready to call it a day — how much shopping can any one person do?  Always more, apparently.  There’s a variety of names that fall under Portmeirion, including the classic Spode.  

Need 20 gallons of water?  Here’s your pitcher.

I found in a corner a stack of Diamond Jubilee numbered limited edition plates which I eagerly snagged, only to be told by the salesfolk that they were not for sale.  I was ready to throw down, when I remembered this was England, not the Jersey Shore.  I didn’t buy anything at Portmeirion, out of revenge. Taught them a lesson, didn’t I?

No problem, Portmeirion.

One of the bargain-hunters on the trip caught scent of a discount pottery across the street from Portmeirion, so several of us defied traffic to check it out.  I was disappointed in what turned out to be a shack full of obvious fakes, forgeries, and knock-offs.  Yes, it’s a teapot that looks like a Burleigh for only 3 pounds, but who cares?  A knock-off is still a knock-off, and it takes money away from the artists and workers who labor honestly to make a quality product.

I have a Gucci bag I’d like to sell you.

Aynsley was our last stop and truly I could have laid down here and died.  Not because I was particularly fond of the pottery, but because it was so freaking hot in the upstairs of the store, and so deadly cold in the basement, and I was so tired after hours and hours of shopping. The basement was a lot of fun, containing random pieces of old patterns and some legitimate finds — for the knowledgeable shopper, which I sadly am not.

Something about hundreds of china flowers all together has a hypnotic effect. This is something my grandmother would have liked, and it would have no place in my home whatsoever, and yet … Seen in a mass, they somehow become desirable.  But, since I couldn’t buy 200 faux flower pots, I didn’t get any.

There’s a certain sense of achievement in visiting six (and a half, if you count the knockoff hut) potteries in one day.  Boarding a bus before dawn, the seemingly endless rows of flowers, bugs, patterns, swirls, handles, lids, bells, platters, plates, and boxes, the exhausting ride home and the reveal of the small treasures found during the day — a unique experience for me.  But next time I go to Stoke-on-Trent, I want to see more of the history of the place, the museums, and see at least one or two factories behind-the-scenes, not just on the sales floor.

Small treasures.

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7 Responses to “Day out: Stoke-on-Trent potteries tour”

  1. Jenny March 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    I have been wanting a cow shaped creamer for ages and that Black Toast pattern is my very favourite. What a fun day you had!

    • Monique March 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      It was a looooong day, but fun, yes. Short of a shock and awe pottery tour.

  2. Zazzy March 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I sort of collect cow creamers. I haven’t had a new one in a while but I’d happily add that one to my collection – except my collection is packed away at the moment. I’m not sure I see the point of a shop tour. I really would have wanted to see the workings of the factories. Oh, and very beautiful flowers that I have no idea what I would actually do with if I bought one!

    • Monique March 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

      They’re tempting aren’t they, those pretty flowers? I just can’t imagine where they’d go in a house. There were cow creamers a-plenty. The “tour” was less informational (what I expected) and more ninja bargain attack, which was still very interesting, but not my thing, so much.

  3. satnavandcider March 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I love your cow-shaped creamer! I want one, too! (But not enough to go on that tour…I’m exhausted just reading about it.) Thank you for this informative and colorful blog post. I learned some new things, such as a tea cup and saucer costing GBP1532 actually exists in this universe. Who knew?

    • Monique March 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      I did not know the cow creamers were such a thing! To be fair I think that Wedgwood price is for a tea *set* not just the cup & saucer. And did you see full price? Three thousand pounds. A bargain indeed, ha ha.

      • satnavandcider March 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

        Gulp! I want to have so much money that I can buy a $4,800 tea set and not feel the urge to kill anyone who might break a handle or chip a lip. And my husband thinks my current tea set is “frivolous clutter.” Can you imagine the look on his face…”Honey, look what I bought!”

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