Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Middleport Pottery - Burleigh

Grade II listed site. Burgess Dorling & Leigh. Established in 1851. Situated on the Trent & Mersey Canal. Brick and terracotta with plain tiled roofs. Printing shops, offices and showrooms.

It was built as a new complex for an established company and was seen as a model factory with a logical production plan. This pottery celebrates being 'England's last working Victorian pottery.' Rosemary and William Dorling took over the ailing company of Dorling & Leigh in 1999 to continue running production true to Victorian techniques using underglaze transfer printing. Retains its original steam engine - in use until the latter end of the C20th. Cobbled courtyards, slip house with dryer with other C19th machinery. 1920s Savoy Hotel ware.

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'Seven Oven Works' is the local name for the Middleport Pottery. It springs from the existence at one time of 7 bottle ovens. Today only one remains, but the factory still produces entirely English made pottery.

Currently owned by the Dorling family, the company has existed since 1851 established by Hulme and Booth at the Central Pottery in Burslem. In 1862 William Leigh and Frederick Rathbone Burgess took over this pottery but then moved to Hill Pottery in 1867 taking space vacated by Samuel Alcock & Co. Along with the premises Burgess and Leigh took on Alcock's beehive trade mark design and many of his moulds and patterns, some of which continue to be produced today.

In 1877 the partnership formally became Burgess & Leigh. The company flourished and in 1889 they moved to their specially built model works at Middleport on the banks of the Trent & Mersey canal.

The Middleport works were held up as an example of efficient production, designed to improve all stages of the production process, and greatly improved conditions for the employees. The need to improve factory working conditions in 19th century England was great. The industrial revolution made England the 'workshop of the world' but at a terrible cost to the workers; long working hours, low wages, child labour and often unhealthy and dangerous conditions at work. However there did exist a desire to improve working conditions.

A series of Acts of Parliament began to moderate conditions and slowly things began to change. In 1819 the need was perceived, and acted upon, to prohibit children from working more than 12 hours a day. In 1833 children under the age of 9 were prohibited from working in the textile industry. Acts in 1844 and 1847 capped the working day at 10 hours for females and 6 and a half hours for children under the age of 13.

While Parliament set down the minimum standards, some philanthropic industrialists were busy pushing them up. In the 1850's Sir Titus Salt moved his textile mills out of Bradford and established Saltair - a model town for his workers, and in 1880's the Cadbury family built Bourneville. A momentum was building for better standards in factories across the country. The new Middleport factory not only streamlined processes, making production more efficient, but considered and responded to the needs of its workers.

William Leigh died in 1889, his partner survived until 1898, and the company moved to the control of their sons Edmund Leigh and Richard Samuel Burgess. The various skills of this next generation built considerably on the company's success. Richard Burgess was an engineer and enthusiastic photographer. He designed and manufactured equipment to be used in the factory and also made and sold photographic products. Edmund Leigh spent much time travelling to expand their market visiting North America, Australia and New Zealand and South Africa. He developed agencies in New York 1897, South Africa in 1912, Montreal in 1927 and Holland in 1928. Perhaps the most lasting of relationships was formed with Thomas Wood Heath in 1905. Heath's grandsons continued to represent the company in Australia throughout the 1990's.

Edmund Leigh continued to campaign for reform in the industry, for better pay and conditions. He was instrumental in the formation of the British Pottery Manufacturers Federation and the National Liberal Club.

The company continued to flourish, switching to the manufacture of sanitary ware during the first World War, and then experiencing a boom by utilizing the designs of well known artists in the mid-war years making brightly coloured on glaze decoration. After the restrictions of the second World War the company returned to making traditional underglaze printing, and the traditional patterns became popular again. In the 1990's following decline in the industry the company was sold by descendents of the Leigh family to William and Rosemary Dorling, and the company trades today as Burgess, Dorling and Leigh in the Middleport 'Seven Oven' works.

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