Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Wedgwood Institute Burslem

1869 Brick with highly decorated terracotta facade. Built as a library and school for arts and sciences. Brick with terracotta dressings under plain tiled roof. Rich ornamented facade depicting the months of the year, above, mosaic signs of the zodiac. 10 terracotta bass reliefs depict processes in manufacture of pottery designed by M.H. Blanchard or Rowland Morris. Arched entrance surmounted by a bust of Josiah Wedgwood.

Josiah Wedgwood, 'The Father of English Potters' was born on 12th July 1730, in Burslem. He was the youngest of thirteen children of the potter Thomas Wedgwood who died in 1737 (or 1739). When Josiah was nine he left school and was apprenticed to an older brother to be a "thrower and handler" at the family pottery at Churchyard Works. The thrower's skill was considered to be the most highly rated of all the potters' and only those apprentices expected to become master potters would be taken on.

At the age of eleven Josiah suffered from smallpox, and unable to work he instead read and researched the craft of pottery. This fired his imagination to the possibilities ahead.


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Photoshoot diary by Mary Wardle


It's not going to shift! What about a screwdriver - that should get the worst out.
Nice colours. Rich moss green, pale sun-bleached sand - almost a pure white in places. Olive green too. Very friable - look at it piling up in little slag heaps.

Still not going to shift.
I'll soak them first. Perhaps that will soften it up a little.

A stiff brush, water.
Frozen fingers!

Feathers, bits of broken shell - a complete archaeology of an afternoon spent in the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem, running in rivulets down the garden path.

Just remember you volunteered for this job! Cleaning pigeon shit out of the chunky grooves of Dan's shoes - I really can't think why I'm doing it!

They fly at the windows to get in. Leave a building unattended, the pigeons quickly take up the opportunity of a fresh roost. Every surface, thick with their guano, extra deep under the strip lights and ceiling supports where it piles up in ridges making floors look like choppy seas.

Running in frozen streams down the surface of the black board in the lecture theatre. Thin coat covering the rails of the staircase as descends in an over-extended spiral from ceiling to the floor of an empty workshop.

Down a wooden staircase to a cellar dwelling that used to be accommodation for a caretaker - cast iron fireplace, by the side of which a hen sits on a nest made from the ashes of the last fire and rubble expelled from the flue. Burslem town manager serves her with an eviction notice - "next month, time's up for you, lady!" The Wedgwood Institute is to be purged of pigeons and cleaned in two months time.

Our masks fail to filter out the smell of ammonia which gets stronger the deeper we penetrate the building. In each room entered a panic of birds fly around our heads raising feathers and dust, stirring up the stench as they search out an exit or resettled themselves on a new perch.

'1969' - a graffiti note left by a student on the brown wall to remind the building that he had contributed to its patina record of use. A long black board brakes up the monotony of the plain brown walls. It still had notes in faded white chalk scribbled across its surface. The floor challenges the intruder to walk across it - wouldn't take jumping up and down on. Used as a chemistry lab. Bizarrely shaped glass ware, burners, stands, boxes of chemicals stopped in jars with corroded lids, chairs and desks piled up in corners.

Snickers bar revived a weary Dan -stood out in the street, mask on top of his head, sweat beaded on his cheeks, camera on tripod, foil film wrappers spilling from his jacket pocket - signs of hard, difficult work on his face.

Royal Stafford - employs 60 people. Pottery shop selling Royal Stafford ware and offers
pot painting sessions. A little girl was painting a dog she had chosen. I couldn't gain entry into the pot bank proper.

Moorland - employs 4 people. Bought mug that had 'Handmade in Stoke for Stokies' on it at Moorland because I felt guilty about dragging the lady who sold me this piece of craft, out of her warm workshop, into the cold sales room.

Lunch at the Leopard where I looked over the landlord's plans from 1909 for new works at the Leopard to include garages and chauffeurs' quarters.

Met a lecturer in performance arts from Stafford University. Her groups of students were working on a site-specific piece at the Leopard centred on their research of the Lunar Society to be performed in the Darwin room on 1st April. Look up - alternative tour guide.

Front elevation of the Sunday school attended by Arnold Bennetts', Clayhanger. Has been just the front elevation for decades. Windows bricked up. Stairs disintegrating. Pillars crumbling. Top of portico missing. Cars parked in what would have been the aisles.

Walking out of Burslem. At the dip in Furlong Street I found Furlong Mills - a flint works since 1842 with the main body of production still in the original building. Sound of flint tumbling in large drums drew me into the mill. 24hr production. Mill's raw material, flint, imported from Denmark. Slip supplies potteries throughout Britain.


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