Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Spode Pottery Factory

Grade II listed group of factory warehouses forming the Spode Factory. National and internationally renowned Spode/Copeland firm, one of the world's leading potteries.
A cohesive survival of buildings used in continuous unbroken production from 1751 until 2008 when the firm went into administration.

Josiah Spode purchased the factory from Jeremiah Smith in 1776. He perfected the technique of transfer printing on earthen ware made from hand-engraved copper plates vital to the huge growth of the English table ware industry. Famous as a commercial enterprise Spode won high acclaim for design and innovation in the ceramic industry, the blue willow pattern one of its most famous designs. Spode won Royal warrants the last as Manufacturers of China to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II in 1971.

Factory buildings still house a unique collection of moulds in original store houses and an extensive archive, now housed in the city archive, Hanley.


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Eisenhower's ears

Photoshoot diary by Mary Wardle

27/01/09 SPODE WORKS

Standing outside the closed door - Art Deco staircase and landing.
The director's secretary, steps out of the office carrying a tray of cups with the dregs of the meeting's coffee drinking staining the bottom of the white china. Pamela smiles as she bumps into us standing poised at the top of the stairs, our dayglow jackets jarring against the faded elegance of the scene. We are a too terrible reminder of the business of the day. We greet and move on. The door shuts, the long brass handle still with polish on its surface, shifts light down its length as it moves to close.

"He's in there fighting for the company" - Alan's quiet voice, sad in the knowledge that he might not have a job at Spode by the end of the week. The company is under administration. No china is being produced.

A designer greeted us in the design studio a little earlier explaining that her job now was to archive all Spode designs, collect together all samples of pieces made at the factory.

Alan continues with the tour, clearly delighted that he can show people what Spode once was. "I used to cut the grass too. If you look up there, at the end of the roof - see where that patch is - lightning struck it one night when I was on duty. Took out everything. Really frightening it was. They didn't tell me how to deal with that one!" Alan smiled, taking a moment to revel in a memory that constituted just a small section of a library of stories of one of the world's greatest pot banks.

Alan is the Keeper of the Keys. He knows what keys open which doors and has open doors onto astounding scenes for us all morning.

The Returns office and Export Warehouse - keys 59, 60, 61. Spaces filled with the remnants of that business - boxes, full and empty, china ready to be moved out of the factory.

The Old Mould Stores - 51/10 upstairs, key 74 downstairs. Dark - no lights. The only light coming in from dull dusty windows. Narrow wooden shelves, floor to ceiling, floor to apex of roof - full! Every shelf full of moulds! All labelled. Names of designs hand painted on the shelf fronts. Moulds of dishes a metre in diameter, moulds of figures, fruits vegetables, handles, spouts, lids, teapots, cups, tureens, - commemoratory pieces - Eisenhower from 1970.

The moulds up at the apex of the roof must have gone back many years. Had to move very carefully for fear of knocking something over. Move carefully - floor so heavily laden it might collapse with the weight. Move carefully in awe at the skill, industry, history, people, filling this building. Too much! Too much. It's not enough to open the door and take photographs. But that is what we are here for today - to survey and record what we can.

Alan explained that there had been an American collector select and remove some of the moulds. You couldn't see where he had been other than disposable gloves left on the dusty wooden floor, so full are the shelves stacked. And every where the patina of black dust - thick black dust covering the white chalk of the moulds.

Alan was a very patient man, a very observant and sensitive man. Witnessing us astounded by the sight of this room, building full of moulds, he told us that this was just a small part of the collection, that there were tunnels full of moulds, and a wine cellar too. The tunnels connected the many buildings that make up Spode.

The Long Room, Mould Stock Area 2, tunnels and wine cellar.
We visited one of the tunnels later. It was beneath another building stacked floor to ceiling with more moulds - and a story:
"It was late evening. He had gone into the building and saw smoke right down the end there, just by that shelf next to the window. He went down to see what was happening and when he got to the smoke it grabbed hold of his arm! You've never seen anyone runs so fast! And he's a big, tough bloke too. Not someone to get scared easily. Glad it wasn't me."
Alan told us that there were several ghosts wandering around, but he had seen none of them, only witnessed his colleague's experience in the mould room.

Site Stores - key 75.
A good exhibition space - open and light. Delivery notes. Blunger slip rotator. Cardboard for packing. Stair handrail, once turquoise, polished wood grain by all the hands that have slid along it.

Main Factory Complex - immense!

The lining was a pale cream and looked soft - I didn't touch it so I don't know whether it was or not. The lined object was the size of a small shipping container - free-standing. To the centre and at the base of one of the walls was a roughly hewn hole. "That's were the fox has made its home, inside this kiln."

Alan showed us other kilns, one of which resembled a free- standing brick tunnel that ran the length of the factory floor - about 200metres. "It's just been left in this state" Alan said as he took us round to one end of the giant kiln. The bricks are valuable and an attempt at dismantling the kiln had failed - too difficult to pull a part in any ordered fashion. We had seen remnants of bottle-kilns as red-brown stains on the ground of empty spaces within and around the towns. The brick from this kiln, their modern counterpart, looked set to join the dust in land-fill too.

Flat shop - where plates were made. Boxes of finished pieces - made in China, finished in Stoke. Long room store - two printing presses - museum pieces. Hole-in-the-wall - moulds.

Scorpian Alley- ware storage.

Jupiter biscuit kiln
Jubilee kiln area - more kilns with names.

Gloss kiln man's mess room - cups still on the tables.

The prestige ware we had seen being made and painted last year now stood unfinished and abandoned in the last working section of the factory. "It will get thrown out probably." How could we leave it? Not quite finished. Not painted - but stunning in its cream gloss coat.

The Blue Room.
A long room, oak tables, oak dressers, oak plate stands - blue Delft Ware, from when the factory began making it.
Huge platters, tureens, coddling pots, plates, figures, cups, pot-pouri dishes. An inner sanctum, a holy of holies - laden with history and a tradition that was being hard fought for in the director's office next door.
Museum too. Portrait of Mr Copeland. Grand piano. Packed crates of museum pieces. Plate from the Titanic. Cases full of priceless pieces made in the factory through the centuries of its operation.
Glass panelled ceiling letting in the daylight but barely keeping out the pigeons that were pattering around on its upper surface.

Thank you, Alan, for being our escort; for you knowledge; for you patience; for your sensitivity; for giving so generously of your time, for sharing with us your stories.


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