Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Johnson Pottery Buildings

Grade II listed site. Two free standing updraught bottle kiln ovens for flint calcining built late C19th adjacent to the Caldon Canal.

The Johnson Brothers had three factories along Eastwood Road, meeting the Caldon Canal; the Imperial, Hanley and Trent works. All have now been largely demolished with the notable exception of two bottle ovens on the former Trent works site. Johnson Brothers operated from 1883 until 2003 when production was moved to China. The company is now part of the Wedgwood group.

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Alfred, Frederick, Henry and Robert were sons of Robert Johnson, and grandsons of Alfred Meakin (indeed the Meakin, Johnson, Ridgway and Pearson families were all related and worked at various times with each other).

Alfred and Frederick began the company in 1883 at the Charles Street Works in Hanley which they bought auctioned in a bankruptcy sale. Beginning with production of a durable white ware which they called, White Granite, they were quickly successful and Henry joined them in 1888. They developed a type of "semi-porcelain" which became very popular for its good quality, durability and low cost. It was especially successful in America. By 1898 the fourth brother, Robert, had joined the others and moved to the USA to oversee the company's interests there.

By this time the company had five factories in Hanley and Tunstall, and it began acquiring interests in other pottery manufacturers in Canada, Germany and Australia. By the mid C20th it was arguably the largest pottery firm in the world.

Johnson Brothers survived both World Wars, and in the inter-war years began a new line: the "Dawn" range. New methods were used, and new shapes and patterns produced. The Dawn range of coloured bodies was again tremendously popular.

The Charles Street factory was closed in the early 1930's, and the company invested heavily in updating manufacturing processes at other plants, introducing electric brick-built tunnel ovens with wares being automatically propelled through. These innovations meant the firing processes became more accurate and fewer losses ensued.

The smog associated with coal fired ovens had long been a feature of the Potteries. The availability of coal was one of the crucial factors which enabled the industry to begin and then thrive, but coal burning had a cost for the health of those living in the area. Spode acted on this. when building his own home and homes for some of his workers he located them, not as was usual, close by the factory but further away and higher up at the Mount in Penkhull to take advantage of the cleaner air. A single bottle oven used on average 15 tons of coal per firing and were fired usually once a week. It is estimated that there were more than 2000 ovens in use in the Stoke area at any one time at its peak.

It was not until the Clean Air Act of 1956 signaled a major change and from the 1960's the sight of bottle ovens began to decline, now only 46 remain.

Johnson Brothers began to decline in the 1960's and in 1968 they became part of the Wedgwood Group. In 2003 they ceased all production in Britain. The sites along Eastwood Road are now being developed for housing and a waterside park.

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