The Age of Wedgwood Ceramics: A Fragile History


The Age of Wedgwood

The series continues with the rags to riches-to-rags epic of Stoke-on-Trent, a city built on clay and the heart of Britain's once world-beating ceramics empire.


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Transcript


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This is a ruined empire.

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Not Rome or Athens...

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..but Stoke-on-Trent.

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For over 200 years,

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this was the heart of ceramic industrial production...

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..for not just Britain, but much of the world.

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What had been a humble peasant craft

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exploded in the 18th century

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into a lucrative cutting-edge industry.

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It changed the way we saw pottery.

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But it also transformed the way we worked.

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Stoke, in its heyday, made the best industrial ceramics in the world.

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The ceramic goods produced in Stoke-on-Trent

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were more than just the products of an industry.

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They were, at their best, an art form unlike any other.

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They were functional art.

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And at their peak, the factories of Stoke-on-Trent

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were unsurpassed in bringing together artistry and craftsmanship.

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Yet the Stoke-on-Trent story is about more than just factories.

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It's about people.

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The pioneering men and women

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who made some of the most beautiful objects ever created

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within these shores.

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And the armies of unsung workers

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whose craftsmanship made Stoke-on-Trent a name

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known across the globe.

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Stoke-on-Trent is one of our great,

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inspiring sources of art.

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Wherever the British went, they took their pottery.

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You can find Staffordshire pottery from Alaska

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to the Falkland Islands, and every point in between.

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Staffordshire wares were the standard

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that other potters aspired to.

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But in the late 20th century,

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something went terribly wrong.

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The story of Stoke-on-Trent is a rags-to-riches epic.

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It's a massive romp through the Industrial Revolution,

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ending in a crumbling post-industrial ruin.

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Today, this once-great industrial heartland

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lives with the ghosts of its former glories.

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And one of our greatest traditions is now one of the most threatened.

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Makes you wonder what happened.

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Something's gone wrong somewhere.

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Only a few decades ago,

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Stoke-on-Trent was a place of national pride.

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A byword for creativity and industry.

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Over there is the city of Stoke-on-Trent.

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Stoke-ON-Trent, mind you, not Stoke-UPON-Trent.

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Me? Well, I'm Eric Ball,

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and this year, this city of mine is celebrating its anniversary.

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Come and take a closer look at our city.

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That was 1960.

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This is now.

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Nothing epitomises the rapid decline of Stoke-on-Trent's fortunes

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like Spode.

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Spode was once one of the largest producers of ceramics in the world.

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Today, only one employee is left at its former works.

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I've worked at Spode for nine years. Nine very good years at Spode.

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I was employed as a security officer,

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which we did right up until the administrators moved in, in 2008.

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Production used to run 24/7,

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but obviously, as the factory was closed down,

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and all the machinery was ripped out, it became more of a graveyard.

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If you dropped a pin, you could hear a pin drop on the floor,

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and you couldn't hear that when it was up and running.

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Josiah Spode, who built the factory,

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he walked these very grounds.

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But I'll never forget all those who worked here.

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And I think I feel better

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knowing that I'm keeping a place tidy which they loved.

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They loved to work here.

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There are jobs I can still do myself,

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like cutting the grass at the front. If there's weeds,

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pull the weeds out, it doesn't hurt, and I've got a bit of time.

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I don't sit down. There's a lot for me to do.

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But I shall continue to do it, you know.

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The story of Spode is echoed right across Stoke-on-Trent.

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In just the last few years, nearly all the great factories have closed.

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But to understand the fall of this mighty city,

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you need to go right back, before its heyday,

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into the mists of time.

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The story of Stoke-on-Trent begins with the very ground

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on which it stands.

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NEWSREEL: 'These were the villages.

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'Under the fields was clay, and under the clay, coal.

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'They mined the coal and dug the clay and the villages grew.'

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The ceramic industry developed in North Staffordshire primarily

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because of wonderful coal.

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In fact, you need ten times more coal than clay in proportion,

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therefore it was very much easier to bring clay to the coal.

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But similarly, there were seams of relatively good red and yellow clay in this area

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that were suitable for making crude domestic earthenwares.

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Neil Brownsword is a local artist.

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After completing an apprenticeship as a modeller

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at the Wedgwood factory,

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he went to art school.

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Like everyone from Stoke,

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he grew up aware of the rich resource all around the city.

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This is what the city of Stoke-on-Trent is built on.

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The clay here is known as Etruria Marl,

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and it spreads throughout North Staffordshire.

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You can see it here, quite granular.

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Again, you get further down into the quarry and it's more liquid.

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The site's got a lot of personal resonance.

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We used to play here as children.

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Quite a dangerous site, I know,

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but I suppose it was my first contact with clay as a material.

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Handling it, modelling with it, even getting stuck in it here,

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so, I've got a lot of affection for this place.

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But clay on its own doesn't make an industry.

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Local potteries had used it since the Middle Ages,

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to make crude but sturdy earthenware like this 17th-century butter pot.

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It took an innovation at the end of the 17th century

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to launch the potteries nationally.

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And it came from a misunderstanding.

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This is Bradwell Hall.

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Today, it's a retirement home.

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But in 1690, it was the showy,

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new residence of two Dutch entrepreneurs,

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the Elers brothers.

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The 17th century saw Britain spreading its wings

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on the world stage,

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emerging as a powerful naval force and trading capital.

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And one phenomenon above all

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epitomised the change in Britain's status.

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Tea.

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Tea was imported all the way from China.

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Drinking it was a sign of wealth,

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of sophistication, of open-mindedness.

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And with the tea came teapots,

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the likes of which had never been seen before.

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Chinese teapots were the unintended consequence

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of the new vogue for tea.

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The tea clippers that were coming back from the East

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with cargoes of tea,

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the merchants used to pack a bit of china into the hold

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cos it was heavy and acted as ballast.

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So, you know, they weren't really all that interested in it.

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But it was quite a useful way of filling up the ship.

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But then, people began to see it, love it, want it, acquire it.

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And then, over time,

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British people began to try to copy these items,

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which was difficult for them.

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A red stoneware teapot like this, from Yixing, was both delicate

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and ornate, decorated with vines and foraging squirrels.

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And tea was supposed to taste better from it, too.

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The Yixing clay was highly prized

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for its ability to absorb traces of the tea,

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giving it a deeper flavour.

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Back in Stoke-on-Trent,

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the ingenious Elers brothers spotted a gap in the market.

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They decided to manufacture affordable tea ware

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using a very fine red clay they had discovered near their home.

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But there was one problem.

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They were silversmiths.

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They had no idea how to throw a pot.

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This is a surviving teapot by the Elers brothers.

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Like the Yixing version, it's red stoneware

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with moulded decorations.

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This time, sprays of prunus blossoms.

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It was a serious rival to the Chinese tea ware...

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..and it was local.

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Somehow, the Elers brothers

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had managed to overcome their ignorance of pot-making.

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And more than that,

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they sparked a manufacturing revolution.

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This is a classic Elers production,

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and the curious thing is that it's completely round.

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And it's the sort of thing that any sensible potter

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would have thrown on a wheel.

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But they chose to cast their products in plaster moulds

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and it may be that that is because they weren't practising potters,

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so they didn't know what they were doing.

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And through ignorance, they introduced this method,

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which succeeding generations of potters did exploit.

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This mug, slipcast and lathe-turned, has a band of silver

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mounted on its lip,

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a reminder of the Elers' old profession as silversmiths.

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But it's the slipcasting method of manufacture

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that marks it out as special.

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Pouring liquid clay, known as slip,

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into plaster moulds, became instrumental

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in allowing potters to produce complex shapes in bulk -

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the beginnings of mass production in Britain.

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If Stoke-on-Trent had the clay,

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the Elers had brought a new quality -

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ingenuity.

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But they lacked something crucial to the success of the potteries -

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an understanding of the area or the market.

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The stage was now set, though, for a man who would put pottery

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at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

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An innovator, an industrialist, but most importantly,

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Josiah Wedgwood was a man who understood people as well as pots.

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And he was confident that Britain could make pots

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as exquisite as any in the world.

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As a young man, all he could see around him was opportunity,

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as he was later to recall.

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I saw the field was spacious,

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and the soil so good, as to promise an ample recompense

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to anyone who should labour diligently in its cultivation.

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Josiah Wedgwood was born in 1730 in Burslem,

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one of the six historic towns that later joined

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to become Stoke-on-Trent.

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The youngest of 12 children,

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he came from five generations of local potters.

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Josiah Wedgwood came on the scene at precisely the right time

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because between 1710 and 1760, the potteries had industrialised,

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a whole new range of pottery types and wares were being made,

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export markets were in place, transport networks were opening up,

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but what was being made was not ambitious,

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and ambitious pottery is what Wedgwood wanted to make.

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By the age of nine, he was already showing a flair for pottery.

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However, a bout of smallpox left him with a weakened right leg,

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meaning he couldn't use a kick wheel.

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So instead, he threw himself into developing new bodies and glazes.

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Wedgwood quickly marked himself out as a tireless experimenter

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with a brilliant, restless mind.

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He filled up countless notebooks

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with details of his scientific investigations

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into new forms and glazes.

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This coffee pot is one of his earliest creations,

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the result of a series of trials during his apprenticeship

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to a local master potter.

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Nothing had been seen like it before.

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A green glaze made up of white lead, calcined flint and copper

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was matched to a wonderful translucency.

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It became known as "Mr Wedgwood's Green".

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With it, the young Wedgwood showed a precocious mastery

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of shape and colour.

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More importantly,

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it shows he had picked up on a new spirit emerging in British society.

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As you get more and more products,

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you need to find a new way of marking yourself out,

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rather than just having a lot of things,

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or having really expensive things.

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That was the determinate of good taste in the Tudor period.

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It was the richest, the most luxurious,

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the best that money could buy.

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In the 18th century, that's not enough to mark yourself out.

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Something else enters the equation and that is taste.

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The idea that your education, your travel,

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your sort of innate gentility of your mind,

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will help you choose more tasteful things

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than the same person with the same amount of money

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but a worse education would do.

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In 1759, Wedgwood set up his first pottery,

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known as Ivy House Works.

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He put everything he had into it.

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He was determined not to make the same mistake

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many of his contemporaries had made trying to emulate Chinese porcelain.

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What the English porcelain factories were trying to produce

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was an imitation of Chinese hard-paste porcelain.

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They could see the finished product.

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That was all around them, imported by the East India Company.

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What they didn't know was how it was made.

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They knew it was white and translucent.

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How do you get that effect?

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So, each of the factories would come up with their own recipe.

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Some were more successful than others.

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They'd use china clay, ball clays, soapstone, glass,

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anything that they could think of in the mix,

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anything that would give a white body

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that would hopefully be translucent when fired.

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A few factories would run

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for perhaps five or six years, maybe a decade,

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but ultimately, most failed.

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Rather than succumbing to the siren song of porcelain,

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Wedgwood perfected his own version of the local earthenware product

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known as creamware.

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Made from English clay and calcined flint,

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Wedgwood improved it by adding cobalt blue to the lead glaze

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to whiten it even more and make it attractive and affordable.

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It was a brilliant solution.

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Creamware would become one of Britain's key contributions to ceramics,

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a material that worked well and could be beautiful.

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I'm certain that having seen so many factories suffer financially

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in the production of porcelain,

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which, in the 18th century, was notoriously difficult,

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Wedgwood chose to make earthenware which was stable

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and which he was confident of

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and which was producing a suitable material for the table.

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He chose to go down the route of something that would give him profit

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rather than drive him into any form of financial insecurity.

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Creamware would become the biggest-selling product

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of the potteries in the 18th century.

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It was a fantastic product and it remained in fashion

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for an enormous span of time because it fulfilled so many needs.

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It looked clean and hygienic.

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Unlike salt-glaze stoneware,

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it didn't have the gritty surface, so you could wash it.

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You could decorate it in any number of ways.

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You could sell it plain to the bottom end of the market,

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or you could sell it with armorials

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or neoclassical decoration to those at the top.

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This is Leeds Pottery in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent,

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one of the last surviving manufacturers of creamware,

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as Wedgwood would have known it.

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For the people working here, making pots is a family trade.

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My mum and dad used to work on a pot bank when they were 15.

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My dad used to be a placer.

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My mum was a cup handler, fettler, sponger.

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She done a bit of everything, really - decorating.

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I enjoy it.

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It's nice to keep it going round here,

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instead of doing everything abroad, like they do.

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The use of moulds filled with slip, pioneered by the Elers brothers,

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was one major advance in mass manufacturing of pots.

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But there was another breakthrough that would revolutionise pottery production.

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Transfer-printing allowed pots to be decorated quickly

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and to a uniform high standard.

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One early printer boasted they could transfer-print

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1,200 tiles in a single day.

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This was a huge leap forward, a perfect union of art and technology.

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The Burleigh Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent is the last today

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still using an old method of underglaze transfer-printing on tissue paper.

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Designs? There's hundreds.

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I have a roller room downstairs and it's absolutely...

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There must be... maybe thousands in it.

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And the colours - blues, blacks, pinks, brown, green,

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different shades of blues, different shades of greens.

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I think most of my family have worked on here.

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My dad was a placer, my sister was the boss and my daughter worked on doing transferring.

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Yeah, and a lot of friends as well.

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When it comes off perfect, it is quite satisfying.

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Which they do, 99% of the time.

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Along with mould casting,

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transfer-printing modernised production in the potteries.

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For the very first time, whole services were decorated with the same design.

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And it's interesting - from that point onwards,

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you start to get orders saying, tea services must be the same pattern.

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And you start to get this desire to have identically designed pieces,

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rather than the more random, freehand-painted services available prior to that point.

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The potteries of Stoke-on-Trent were expanding rapidly

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to meet public demand for products that were increasingly sophisticated.

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Wedgwood was leading the way,

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but he had yet to truly mark himself out ahead of his competitors.

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This he would manage in one well-calculated, ingenious move.

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Josiah Wedgwood was a very clever man,

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not just as an innovator, and producing new types of china,

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but in marketing them as well.

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And one of the secrets of his success was

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when he invented this new cream-coloured tableware,

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the reason that it caught on and captured the market

0:23:140:23:17

was because he very cleverly went down to London,

0:23:170:23:19

offered a set to Queen Charlotte,

0:23:190:23:22

and she said, "Yes, I'll have this,"

0:23:220:23:24

and from that point onwards he called it the Queen's Ware.

0:23:240:23:28

And, of course, everyone wanted this Royal seal of approval.

0:23:380:23:41

It was excellent product placement on his behalf, I think.

0:23:410:23:45

The gentry around Stoke thought, "Oh, I'll have some of that."

0:23:480:23:52

Then they could say, "Made by the potter to Her Majesty."

0:23:520:23:55

With business booming,

0:23:570:23:59

Wedgwood built a new factory on a large site that he called Etruria.

0:23:590:24:03

His workers were rewarded with onsite housing

0:24:060:24:08

and even received sickness benefits,

0:24:080:24:11

a standard of living unheard of at the time.

0:24:110:24:14

Etruria became the model for factories across Britain,

0:24:170:24:20

and Wedgwood marked its opening in 1765 by personally throwing

0:24:200:24:25

six commemorative First Day Vases.

0:24:250:24:28

And before the arrival of the railways,

0:24:310:24:34

Wedgwood was instrumental in the construction

0:24:340:24:36

of the Grand Trunk Canal, which meant all the potters of Stoke

0:24:360:24:40

could ship their wares to Liverpool and Hull,

0:24:400:24:43

for export around the globe.

0:24:430:24:45

But Wedgwood also knew the importance of the domestic market,

0:24:490:24:53

and with his business partner Thomas Bentley,

0:24:530:24:56

he set up smart showrooms in London.

0:24:560:24:59

If Wedgwood's designs and methods have revolutionised ceramic production,

0:25:000:25:05

his showrooms transformed British shopping habits.

0:25:050:25:08

They weren't a shop. The word "showroom" is important -

0:25:110:25:15

they were places where you would go and admire,

0:25:150:25:17

and you didn't have to buy, but of course, you probably did.

0:25:170:25:21

You probably placed quite substantial commissions.

0:25:210:25:24

And he knew that women were very important in this market,

0:25:240:25:29

because it's a domestic market, the buying of dinner services, whatever.

0:25:290:25:35

He actually said he wanted a large room,

0:25:360:25:39

not just to show his ware, but a large room for the ladies to gather.

0:25:390:25:45

And there were sort of swags and drapes,

0:25:450:25:47

and you came into one room where you could meet and chat,

0:25:470:25:50

and then you went into the other great room which was like an inner sanctum,

0:25:500:25:56

where Mr Wedgwood would show you his very best things.

0:25:560:26:00

So, it was a whole day out!

0:26:000:26:02

It seemed Wedgwood couldn't put a foot wrong.

0:26:080:26:10

But in his mind, his real work was only beginning.

0:26:100:26:15

At last he had the reputation and resources

0:26:160:26:19

to make what he had always wanted...

0:26:190:26:21

top-end, exquisite ornamental wares.

0:26:210:26:25

There was the cool, austere black basalt,

0:26:400:26:44

a hard stoneware named after volcanic rock

0:26:440:26:48

and intended to appeal to the nobility and very wealthy.

0:26:480:26:52

Black basalt as a new material was almost revolutionary.

0:26:590:27:03

It was high-fired, impervious to liquid without the necessity of a glaze,

0:27:030:27:08

and could be used for both ornamental and useful wares.

0:27:080:27:11

But more importantly, the ladies loved it

0:27:110:27:14

because in the 18th century, ladies wanted to show

0:27:140:27:17

they had servants to do every menial task by having snow-white hands.

0:27:170:27:20

You've got this wonderful juxtaposition of black tea ware.

0:27:200:27:25

But even black basalt would be trumped by the body

0:27:300:27:34

for which Wedgwood would become most famous...

0:27:340:27:37

..jasperware,

0:27:380:27:40

inspired by the classical pots being dug up in and around Rome.

0:27:400:27:44

It took three years of experimentation to get jasperware right.

0:27:530:27:58

These trials show how obsessed Wedgwood became with perfecting it,

0:27:580:28:03

passing daily from delight to despair.

0:28:030:28:05

White in its natural state,

0:28:070:28:09

the jasper is then dyed with metallic oxides to give it colour.

0:28:090:28:13

Then intricately moulded decorations were applied

0:28:130:28:16

to give the neoclassical look so popular at the time.

0:28:160:28:20

And it could take the oddest forms.

0:28:210:28:24

But these were not just vases -

0:28:270:28:31

they were works of art.

0:28:310:28:33

And it was now that Wedgwood revealed his deepest, most outrageous ambition...

0:28:460:28:52

..to prove British craftsmanship was not just better than anywhere else in the world,

0:28:540:28:59

but as good as any other time in history too.

0:28:590:29:02

The Portland Vase was a Roman cameo glass vase

0:29:100:29:13

produced around the time of the birth of Christ.

0:29:130:29:17

It took two years to make,

0:29:170:29:19

such was its painstaking level of craftsmanship.

0:29:190:29:23

In 1786, it was on public display in London...

0:29:240:29:27

..and among those who saw it was Wedgwood.

0:29:280:29:32

Wedgwood set himself the task of creating a copy

0:29:320:29:35

made of jasperware, as delicate and fine as the original.

0:29:350:29:40

Time and again, disasters occurred in the firing.

0:29:420:29:46

This early effort, still preserved, blistered in the kiln.

0:29:460:29:51

But in 1789, Wedgwood announced his work complete.

0:29:560:30:01

Wedgwood's Portland Vase is unsurpassed in refinement.

0:30:030:30:08

The white relief's thinner

0:30:080:30:10

and more intricate than anything else produced at the time.

0:30:100:30:14

Wedgwood showed his first edition Portland Vases in London

0:30:200:30:24

in the showrooms, by ticket invitation only,

0:30:240:30:28

before sending it off with his son

0:30:280:30:30

and one of his top modellers on a European tour.

0:30:300:30:33

Josiah Wedgwood's Portland Vase was sold as a limited numbered edition of 30,

0:30:350:30:41

priced at £30 each, nearly £2,000 today.

0:30:410:30:45

It encapsulated everything that made him great -

0:30:480:30:51

experimentation, craftsmanship

0:30:510:30:55

and a sharp eye for publicity.

0:30:550:30:57

This painting, made towards the end of his life,

0:31:020:31:05

shows Wedgwood at the height of his fame.

0:31:050:31:08

He is surrounded by his wife and children.

0:31:090:31:12

And in case he should ever forget the source of this contentment and wealth,

0:31:190:31:24

the Erturia Works can just be made out smoking away in the distance.

0:31:240:31:28

Wedgwood had achieved so much,

0:31:330:31:36

but he had done so by sidestepping the greatest manufacturing mystery of the age.

0:31:360:31:42

At the time of his death in 1795,

0:31:470:31:50

one local rival had just hit upon a solution

0:31:500:31:54

and it would transform the potteries beyond all recognition.

0:31:540:31:58

NEWSREEL: 'It wasn't until the opening up of the great trade routes in the 17th century,

0:32:050:32:09

'that porcelain and other luxuries from the fabled East began to reach England.

0:32:090:32:14

'The lovely porcelain in particular became immensely popular

0:32:140:32:17

'and all over Europe, potters tried to emulate

0:32:170:32:20

'this fascinating Oriental material.

0:32:200:32:23

'But in the little English village of Stoke-on-Trent,

0:32:230:32:26

'a young potter, Josiah Spode,

0:32:260:32:29

'had already begun the experiments which were to make him famous.'

0:32:290:32:34

Like Wedgwood, Josiah Spode was born in the Potteries.

0:32:350:32:40

He was the son of a pauper and was orphaned when only six years old.

0:32:400:32:45

He completed his apprenticeship alongside Josiah Wedgwood,

0:32:460:32:50

and went on to found one of the most successful factories in the region,

0:32:500:32:54

producing creamware to rival his illustrious competitor.

0:32:540:32:58

But while Wedgwood simply ignored the age-old dream of a viable alternative to porcelain,

0:33:010:33:06

Spode made it his life's work.

0:33:060:33:09

He was 60 by the time he cracked it.

0:33:130:33:16

And like all great formulas, it seems remarkably simple.

0:33:180:33:23

It included china stone and china clay from Cornwall.

0:33:240:33:28

But for the rest,

0:33:300:33:31

Spode's formula was simply the ash of burnt animal bones.

0:33:310:33:35

For this reason, it became known as "bone china".

0:33:390:33:44

A product not just as good as Chinese porcelain...

0:33:440:33:48

'Does the cup ring true?'

0:33:480:33:49

..but even better.

0:33:490:33:51

PING!

0:33:510:33:52

'Fine china speaks for itself.'

0:33:520:33:54

The body itself is a brilliant white,

0:34:080:34:10

so any painting or gilding on it shows up fantastically well.

0:34:100:34:15

And it has more of a glow to it than the Chinese porcelains.

0:34:150:34:19

It's got the great advantage that it's tolerant of quite a range of temperatures in the kiln,

0:34:200:34:24

so you have fewer wasters, and so within a very few years,

0:34:240:34:28

everybody in Stoke-on-Trent who wants to make porcelain is using that body.

0:34:280:34:32

NEWSREEL: 'This gay oriental vase is one of Josiah Spode's early designs

0:34:320:34:36

'in the new bone china.

0:34:360:34:38

'So is this rather more formal sugar box,

0:34:390:34:42

'a charming example of fine English gilding.

0:34:420:34:45

'Yet another delightful 18th-century museum piece, Maritime Rose.'

0:34:450:34:49

Spode's bone china was a true ceramic innovation

0:34:520:34:56

and uniquely English.

0:34:560:34:58

It was to revolutionise production of fine tea wares in Stoke-on-Trent.

0:34:580:35:03

And the recipe was quickly imitated,

0:35:030:35:06

with other potteries desperate to create bone china goods for a hungry market.

0:35:060:35:12

By the mid-19th century, Stoke-on-Trent led the world

0:35:130:35:17

in terms of output and technical accomplishment.

0:35:170:35:21

And the perfect platforms for its command of technique and artistry

0:35:210:35:25

were the great exhibitions springing up across Europe.

0:35:250:35:28

The 1851 Great Exhibition in London displayed to the world

0:35:300:35:34

the finest British pots produced by Stoke-on-Trent.

0:35:340:35:38

This lavishly decorated earthenware vase

0:35:400:35:43

was made by Minton for the Paris Exhibition of 1867.

0:35:430:35:46

It shows scenes on the bowl taken from the works of Rubens.

0:35:510:35:55

On its lid lies Prometheus, punished for stealing fire from the Gods,

0:35:590:36:04

an image copied from the Italian Renaissance models.

0:36:040:36:08

The message was clear -

0:36:140:36:16

Stoke-on-Trent was positioning itself at the very pinnacle

0:36:160:36:19

of art pottery production.

0:36:190:36:22

These were virtuoso vases to be gasped at.

0:36:220:36:26

By the end of the 19th century, there were 2,000 kilns in Stoke-on-Trent,

0:36:340:36:39

firing millions of objects a year.

0:36:390:36:42

But the very success of the potteries brought a new challenge.

0:36:430:36:47

In the past, the great discoveries and innovations had come from within the factories.

0:36:510:36:56

But now the potters who had once led the production line

0:36:580:37:02

were in danger of becoming slaves to it.

0:37:020:37:05

The people of Stoke, as ever, attempted a solution to their own problems.

0:37:070:37:12

In 1869, work was completed on a large,

0:37:220:37:26

elaborately decorated building at the heart of the Potteries.

0:37:260:37:29

This is the Wedgwood Institute,

0:37:310:37:34

dedicated to preserving the creative spirit of Josiah Wedgwood.

0:37:340:37:38

And it was funded by the people of Stoke themselves.

0:37:410:37:45

All around it were terracotta friezes

0:37:470:37:49

celebrating the greatest figures of the Potteries

0:37:490:37:52

as an inspiration to all who passed.

0:37:520:37:56

The Institute's art school proved so popular that new premises had to be built across the road.

0:37:570:38:04

This is Burslem School of Art.

0:38:040:38:06

And in the years following the First World War,

0:38:060:38:09

it was young artists who would re-invigorate the Potteries with designs fit for the new century.

0:38:090:38:15

The 1920s and later

0:38:210:38:24

sees one important change,

0:38:240:38:26

and that is the appearance in the back stamp of a piece of pottery,

0:38:260:38:30

of not just the name of the factory, but the name of the designer.

0:38:300:38:34

There's always been designers in the pottery industry.

0:38:340:38:37

You can't decide the shape of a teapot, handle or surface pattern without a designer.

0:38:370:38:41

But those designers were anonymous.

0:38:410:38:43

But from the 1920s onwards, you get quite a movement

0:38:430:38:48

towards putting the designer's name on the back.

0:38:480:38:51

These days, when you see a piece of pottery is by Jasper Conran for Wedgwood,

0:38:510:38:55

you're not surprised, but in the 1920s it would have been quite a revelation.

0:38:550:39:00

Women had been employed in the factories from the very start,

0:39:020:39:06

but mostly in service to male managers and designers.

0:39:060:39:10

But in the changing world of the 20th century,

0:39:120:39:15

it was two women in particular who re-energised the Potteries

0:39:150:39:19

and captured the imagination of the buying public.

0:39:190:39:23

Susie Cooper was born in 1902, in Burslem,

0:39:250:39:29

a true daughter of the Potteries.

0:39:290:39:31

After attending Burslem School of Art,

0:39:330:39:36

Cooper joined Gray's Pottery to gain experience

0:39:360:39:39

as way to get into the Royal College of Art in London.

0:39:390:39:43

But she was never to leave the pottery trade.

0:39:430:39:45

Within a few years, she was producing her own distinctive range

0:39:470:39:51

of elegant hand-painted designs that captured the spirit of the age.

0:39:510:39:56

I wanted to do things for people who had taste but didn't necessarily

0:40:050:40:11

have a deep pocket.

0:40:110:40:14

And I felt there was an opening there which should be...

0:40:140:40:20

which I'd like to fill.

0:40:200:40:21

Confident of her skills, in 1929, Susie Cooper set up her own pottery.

0:40:240:40:30

Her success lay in designing tableware

0:40:310:40:34

that wasn't just pleasing to the eye.

0:40:340:40:37

She also made sure it worked.

0:40:370:40:39

You thought about all the problems of teapot lids getting broken,

0:40:460:40:52

so you tried to correct those sort of little things like that.

0:40:520:40:58

And the pouring aspect of pots.

0:40:580:41:02

I suppose I tended to make a feature of the spout,

0:41:020:41:08

and tried very hard to make it a good pourer.

0:41:080:41:11

Susie Cooper's own slogan was "elegance with utility"

0:41:130:41:16

and that really encapsulates what she was about.

0:41:160:41:20

And this was really her great ability,

0:41:200:41:23

was, I think, understanding what the modern consumer wanted.

0:41:230:41:27

Things, objects which were beautiful, practical,

0:41:270:41:31

affordable and would fit into modern lifestyles.

0:41:310:41:35

But Susie Cooper had a rival.

0:41:420:41:44

Clarice Cliff also quickly achieved renown

0:41:440:41:47

as a successful commercial designer.

0:41:470:41:50

Clarice Cliff was idiosyncratic.

0:41:530:41:57

She wanted to tie into Art Deco, or however you want to see it,

0:41:570:42:01

these abstracted designs.

0:42:010:42:04

To some people quite vulgar, brightly painted,

0:42:040:42:10

but when she produced them, they were stylish,

0:42:100:42:13

they were catching the mood of the time, wares like Bizarre.

0:42:130:42:17

Bizarre was Clarice Cliff's most famous range of tableware.

0:42:180:42:23

By the start of the 1930s,

0:42:230:42:25

she was commanding a staff of 150 paintresses.

0:42:250:42:30

They became known as the Bizarre Girls.

0:42:300:42:33

It was good.

0:42:340:42:35

Real good.

0:42:350:42:37

All the girls enjoyed it.

0:42:370:42:39

And we all were one team.

0:42:390:42:42

There was never anyone that you could say was wrong.

0:42:420:42:46

Everything was good.

0:42:460:42:48

And we used to have some fun.

0:42:480:42:50

We were known as the Bizarre Babes.

0:42:510:42:53

And we were locked in because they all wanted to come and see

0:42:530:42:57

what was going inside there.

0:42:570:42:59

No-one on the firm knew what we were doing in that room.

0:42:590:43:04

THEY ALL TALK AT ONCE

0:43:040:43:06

Happy girls are we

0:43:060:43:07

With dabs of paint we're decorating And for work we're always waiting.

0:43:070:43:13

Cliff worked tirelessly to keep her pottery in the public eye.

0:43:150:43:19

One of the things that she did was to have, allegedly,

0:43:230:43:26

the most attractive of her paintresses

0:43:260:43:28

go to department stores and carry out

0:43:280:43:31

demonstrations of painting her wares.

0:43:310:43:34

And so, actually, her paintresses were in the public eye.

0:43:340:43:38

What Clarice Cliff shared with Susie Cooper

0:43:400:43:42

was a lesson learned from Josiah Wedgwood.

0:43:420:43:46

That SHE was an important part of the product.

0:43:470:43:50

I think there's a clear sense that

0:43:540:43:56

to be successful in the business,

0:43:560:43:58

it's not just about making a good product,

0:43:580:44:01

but it's about branding, it's about identifying your wares as your own,

0:44:010:44:06

and giving them a kind of individuality.

0:44:060:44:09

That's one of the extraordinary things that applies both

0:44:090:44:12

to Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff -

0:44:120:44:14

they're immediately recognisable as brands.

0:44:140:44:16

Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff became two of the most famous

0:44:180:44:22

and celebrated ceramicists of the 20th century.

0:44:220:44:25

Yet they worked within industry.

0:44:250:44:28

It was a reminder that the spirit of the Potteries

0:44:280:44:31

had always been as much about artistry as about business.

0:44:310:44:35

And about people.

0:44:350:44:36

So it was that 200 years after the heyday of Josiah Wedgwood,

0:44:440:44:48

the Potteries were in rude health.

0:44:480:44:52

Still ahead of the game,

0:44:520:44:53

still a source of pride for those who worked there.

0:44:530:44:58

This is the world that writer AN Wilson remembers so vividly.

0:45:050:45:09

His father joined the Wedgwood company in 1927

0:45:100:45:14

and by 1961 was managing director.

0:45:140:45:17

All my forebears were potters, and they came to Staffordshire

0:45:190:45:23

because of Wedgwood.

0:45:230:45:24

I was a child of the factory.

0:45:270:45:30

And I think some of my very earliest memories at all are of this factory.

0:45:300:45:34

The smell of it - when you come in, even today,

0:45:340:45:36

it's got that smell of white clay.

0:45:360:45:39

Extraordinarily evocative for me

0:45:390:45:42

of a whole range of Proustian childhood recollections.

0:45:420:45:46

I used to come in, usually on a Saturday.

0:45:480:45:51

My father would drive in,

0:45:510:45:53

often wearing a suit rather like this, which is why I'm wearing one.

0:45:530:45:57

A sort of rather nice sort of sporty suit.

0:45:570:46:00

And then wander round, talking to people.

0:46:000:46:04

I ran about and felt perfectly happy here and played here.

0:46:060:46:09

And people would just look up and say, "I love my work,"

0:46:090:46:13

because they were skilled.

0:46:130:46:15

In those days, mothers taught daughters before they'd ever...

0:46:150:46:20

come for jobs here, how to paint a plate, how to paint a cup.

0:46:200:46:23

Each skill was handed down in families,

0:46:230:46:26

and if you're good at something, it's good for morale -

0:46:260:46:29

you're a happy person, basically.

0:46:290:46:31

And so that was my memory, really, and then I would be allowed,

0:46:310:46:34

as a treat, to decorate a plate or paint a mug,

0:46:340:46:38

and they gave me little lumps of clay to play with.

0:46:380:46:42

My brother and I often say our hands are the first Wilson hands

0:46:430:46:47

since about 1750 not to have been used for the manufacture of pottery.

0:46:470:46:51

Perhaps if left to its own devices,

0:46:570:46:59

Stoke would have continued to flourish.

0:46:590:47:02

But it was to be brought down by forces beyond its control.

0:47:030:47:07

By the early 1980s,

0:47:100:47:12

following a decade of economic decline,

0:47:120:47:16

Britain's traditional manufacturing industries reached crisis point.

0:47:160:47:20

In response, a new ethos emerged

0:47:220:47:26

which placed blunt, economic logic above all else.

0:47:260:47:29

Rate it down to five lots, working 20.

0:47:290:47:31

Texas buyer!

0:47:310:47:33

The label "Made in England" had once been a source of national pride.

0:47:340:47:39

But in this new, unsentimental age, there was little room

0:47:410:47:44

for an old-fashioned way of life and working.

0:47:440:47:47

NEWSREEL: 'One of the biggest names in British ceramics, Royal Worcester and Spode,

0:47:470:47:52

'has gone into administration.

0:47:520:47:53

'..388 people, gone into administration according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

0:47:530:47:57

'..around since 1751, very historic...

0:47:570:48:00

'The company had warned jobs were likely to be switched to Indonesia.

0:48:000:48:05

'China maker Waterford Wedgwood has called in the administrators.

0:48:050:48:09

'The latest blow to a region they're still proud to call the Potteries.'

0:48:090:48:13

Many of the big potteries failed to survive.

0:48:130:48:17

Those that did had to change their working methods

0:48:170:48:20

beyond all recognition.

0:48:200:48:22

While a Wedgwood factory remains in Stoke-on-Trent,

0:48:240:48:28

most of the output is made overseas where labour is cheaper.

0:48:280:48:32

Only in name is Wedgwood the same firm started by Stoke-on-Trent's

0:48:330:48:36

most famous son, 250 years ago.

0:48:360:48:40

Today, much of Stoke-on-Trent is an industrial wasteland.

0:48:430:48:47

In the 1970s,

0:48:490:48:51

there were 200 ceramic factories here.

0:48:510:48:53

Now, there are less than 30.

0:48:550:48:57

Among that handful, though,

0:49:020:49:04

is one of Stoke's true success stories of recent years.

0:49:040:49:08

Against all odds and advice,

0:49:090:49:11

Emma Bridgewater opened a pottery

0:49:110:49:14

in an old Victorian factory in Stoke-on-Trent in 1985.

0:49:140:49:18

It seemed a crazy thing to do.

0:49:210:49:23

Stoke in 1985 was just poised for its last great fall downwards.

0:49:250:49:30

It was producing things that people didn't want,

0:49:300:49:33

and it was poised for disaster.

0:49:330:49:34

It already looked like a ruin, though, even then.

0:49:340:49:38

In the decay, though, Emma Bridgewater and her husband, Matthew Rice,

0:49:390:49:44

saw something from the past to hold on to.

0:49:440:49:48

We produce a very domestic ware,

0:49:480:49:50

and I like the domestic scale of a 19th-century factory.

0:49:500:49:53

People talk to one another,

0:49:530:49:55

people stand in rows and talk across the desk.

0:49:550:49:58

I prefer that to the conveyor belt.

0:49:580:50:00

While embracing the city's industrial past,

0:50:020:50:05

the firm saw a vision for the future.

0:50:050:50:07

High-end, feel-good tableware.

0:50:070:50:11

It has proved highly successful.

0:50:130:50:16

Producing pottery as a commodity is a very difficult thing to do in Stoke.

0:50:180:50:23

That business has moved to the Far East,

0:50:230:50:25

it's moved to the low-wages economies parts of the world.

0:50:250:50:28

That doesn't mean that Stoke can't produce pottery.

0:50:280:50:31

It's not beyond redemption.

0:50:310:50:33

And we can still make stuff here -

0:50:330:50:35

we just need to make the right things.

0:50:350:50:37

This isn't new - Wedgwood knew that 250 years ago,

0:50:390:50:42

and it was on that attitude that his business's success was founded.

0:50:420:50:46

That's the future of manufacturing in England.

0:50:460:50:50

Small boutique firms can still turn a profit

0:50:510:50:55

if they display the qualities on which the Potteries were founded -

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innovation, pluck and knowing what makes people tick.

0:50:590:51:03

But for many of the people of Stoke-on-Trent,

0:51:110:51:13

making pots remains a thing of the past.

0:51:130:51:16

For artist Neil Brownsword, though,

0:51:180:51:20

that lost history forms the basis of his work.

0:51:200:51:23

He uses the industrial detritus of the region to create his art.

0:51:260:51:31

For him, these found objects are far more than junk -

0:51:350:51:39

but poignant relics of a people who took pride in their craft.

0:51:390:51:43

This is a local shraff tip.

0:51:440:51:48

"Shraff" is a term for spent pottery.

0:51:480:51:51

If you can imagine how much production was here,

0:51:510:51:54

you know, 19th century, early 20th century,

0:51:540:51:58

with the waste, there's got to be some places to locate it,

0:51:580:52:03

so here we have a mix of materials from broken saggars.

0:52:030:52:07

'First of all the cups are put in what we call saggars.

0:52:080:52:11

'It's how you arrange them that makes all the difference,

0:52:110:52:14

'when the clay is fired in the oven.'

0:52:140:52:16

These are bases of thimbles.

0:52:160:52:20

These are pinched by hand

0:52:200:52:22

and the thimble would sit in them, and then a series would stack,

0:52:220:52:26

to stack a flatware plate or saucer, in a saggar.

0:52:260:52:29

'There's not enough ovens in the Potteries to keep up with demand for our stuff,

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'so we're pretty busy.'

0:52:420:52:44

I'm not really interested in the objects themselves,

0:52:500:52:53

I'm interested in the by-products from production.

0:52:530:52:57

So, things which are redolent of human contact.

0:52:570:53:01

Great.

0:53:020:53:03

It's a handle mould, it's one half of a handle mould...

0:53:050:53:09

you can just see the pairs of handles, there.

0:53:090:53:12

And the centre, here, almost like a Polo mint,

0:53:120:53:14

where the slip would be poured.

0:53:140:53:17

'You know, handling clay in this stage is rather like managing a husband -

0:53:340:53:38

'you've got to know when to be firm, and when to go easy.'

0:53:380:53:42

These waste tips are quite symbolic, really,

0:53:450:53:47

because they almost represent these people

0:53:470:53:50

who were kind of expendable

0:53:500:53:52

when some of these factories closed, you know,

0:53:520:53:54

so they have got that association, really, with those people.

0:53:540:53:58

A whole way of life has been lost.

0:54:090:54:11

Not just factories

0:54:120:54:14

but communities, too.

0:54:140:54:16

I worked at Royal Doulton for 25 years.

0:54:250:54:28

I started as a boy straight from school in 1950,

0:54:280:54:33

and I trained to be a figurine painter

0:54:330:54:35

and I enjoyed my 25 years here.

0:54:350:54:39

There was a fantastic community spirit.

0:54:420:54:44

And we had all kinds of outings.

0:54:440:54:49

There was an art society here,

0:54:490:54:52

a Royal Doulton brass band,

0:54:520:54:53

a Royal Doulton choir,

0:54:530:54:56

a Royal Doulton cricket club. In fact, there was just so many

0:54:560:54:59

community things that one could get involved in.

0:54:590:55:01

It was almost like a home from home, really.

0:55:010:55:03

-WORKERS:

-# ..Travel the road

0:55:030:55:06

# Sharing our load

0:55:060:55:08

# Side by side

0:55:080:55:12

# Through all kinds of weather

0:55:120:55:17

# What if the sky should fall? #

0:55:170:55:21

I feel sad that it's all gone.

0:55:210:55:25

Those wonderful skills of the Potteries have now been lost.

0:55:250:55:28

And I think probably one of the reasons that it's all gone

0:55:280:55:32

was there was a policy of outsourcing.

0:55:320:55:35

People wanted things made in England

0:55:350:55:37

and when they weren't made in England any more, that made things worse, really.

0:55:370:55:41

They didn't want it as much... you know?

0:55:410:55:45

Somehow, "Made in China", "Made in Indonesia,"

0:55:450:55:49

didn't have the same ring underneath the back stamp as "Made in England".

0:55:490:55:52

It was always said that the potters had slip in their veins instead of blood.

0:55:540:55:59

That's what we were - we were potters.

0:56:010:56:03

The craftsmanship that once defined the Potteries is rapidly disappearing.

0:56:110:56:16

Soon, all that will be left to testify to Stoke's former glory

0:56:180:56:22

will be the factory ruins.

0:56:220:56:24

And in this, Stoke-on-Trent has become our Pompeii.

0:56:260:56:31

When you see the ruins of classical civilisation,

0:56:370:56:40

in a way you're deriving a kind of pleasure from that which

0:56:400:56:44

you wouldn't have derived if you'd seen Ephesus or Corinth in their heyday.

0:56:440:56:48

You'd probably have thought they were sordid, flashy places.

0:56:480:56:51

In ruins, there's a kind of beauty about them.

0:56:510:56:54

Similarly, if you were having to cough your way through the streets of Hanley or Stoke,

0:56:540:56:59

you wouldn't necessarily have seen what pure poetry there is

0:56:590:57:04

in this industry, as you see in the ruins.

0:57:040:57:07

There's physical buildings and gateways and lodges

0:57:100:57:15

and all the things that make up the factories,

0:57:150:57:19

are really what you can hang the city's cultural memory on.

0:57:190:57:24

There's been a very sad destruction, particularly in the last 20 years while we've been here,

0:57:240:57:28

of that inheritance.

0:57:280:57:31

No empire lasts for ever.

0:57:350:57:37

The world turns and new ones take its place.

0:57:370:57:41

And even as Stoke-on-Trent enjoyed its heyday,

0:57:420:57:45

there were those predicting its fall.

0:57:450:57:48

And if, in the revolutions of time,

0:57:500:57:52

the country should be found whose porcelain and earthenware

0:57:520:57:56

are vended on cheaper terms than those of the potteries of Britain,

0:57:560:58:00

thither will flock all the earthenware dealers

0:58:000:58:04

and neither fleets, nor armies, nor any other human power, would prevent

0:58:040:58:09

the present flourishing borough of Stoke-on-Trent sharing the fate

0:58:090:58:13

of its once proud predecessors in Phoenicia, in Greece and in Italy.

0:58:130:58:18

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:270:58:30

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:300:58:34

WORKERS: # Oh, we don't know what's coming tomorrow

0:58:370:58:42

# Maybe it's trouble and sorrow

0:58:420:58:47

# But we'll travel the road

0:58:470:58:50

# Sharing our load

0:58:500:58:52

# Side by side. #

0:58:520:58:55

This second film charts the rags to riches-to-rags epic of Stoke-on-Trent, a city built on clay and the heart of Britain's once world-beating ceramics empire. On the back of the 17th century phenomenon of tea, pottery in Britain exploded into a cutting-edge industry and a source of enormous national pride.

We meet the key characters responsible for putting British ceramic art on the map: from Josiah Wedgwood, innovator, artist and marketing genius, and Josiah Spode (who made it his life's work to invent a British version of Chinese porcelain and came up, aged 60, with bone china, which revolutionised the industry) to the great 20th century ceramicists Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper.

We see how demands for cheap labour since the 1980s have forced the closure of all but a handful of these great factories, leaving Stoke's crumbling overgrown ruins as our Pompeii.

Contributors include AN Wilson, Neil Brownsword, Lucy Worsley, Miranda Goodby, Emmanuel Cooper and Matthew Rice.


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