1964 A germ of an idea

In October 1964 Reginald G. Haggar wrote to the Pottery Gazette and Glass Trade Review with his visionary thoughts about preserving a traditional old  potbank for the benefit of future generations.

The editor of the Gazette wrote in ‘Topics’ on page 1083   ‘In our news pages Mr Reginald Haggar, well-known author and artist, makes an impassioned plea for preservation of the historical Potteries in the form of bottle ovens (“beautiful”) and even a whole factory as a complete industrial museum. Those of us who love the area with all its character and idiosyncrasies would back his plea, and hope that something can be done to preserve the old, whilst acknowledging the benefit of modern methods in present-day production of the Six Towns.’

Reginald G. Haggar

A letter to The Pottery Gazette and Glass Trade Review - PRESERVING POTTERIES HISTORY

"Sir — The Potteries, as some of us knew it 30 years ago, is fast disappearing. The distinctive architecture of the Potteries towns, the bottle oven, is almost a thing of the past. The two or three thousand which existed then are now reduced to a couple of hundred or less, and, of these, not more than a score are still in operation.

It does not seem to be realised what beautiful things these bottle ovens were, the astonishing variety of contour, the queer and unusual bulges that resulted from the excess of heat, the varied manner of construction, the shaping of the neck and the almost battlemented edge. Some were heavily corseted, others still graceful spinsterish affairs which seemed so virginal as never to have trafficked with clay or fire.

You might come across a large nest of them at a street corner, or perhaps a lone slender cone at the end of a backyard. Now most of these have gone and the atmosphere is the cleaner and healthier for it.

For many years some of us have been urging the preservation not merely of an oven or two but of a whole factory which might be renovated and transformed into a live Potteries industrial museum and in which it might be possible for future generations to see how pots were made and decorated and fired in the days of Astbury and Whieldon and Wedgwood and Spode.

There they would see some of the original machines and tools and equipment. They would see also the astonishing variety of Potteries products, for in such a museum with its original warehouses it would be possible to display on a generous scale the prototypes of industry, moulds, models and machinery, and unusual pieces. One room might be used to house one example of every article made in this so diversified an industry.

Gladstone Works - Moulds in the mould makers shop

Familiar things like the vessels comprised by dinner, breakfast and tea services would be there (and they run into thousands) but so too would many unfamiliar objects: the bell pulls, doorplates, key escutcheons and door knobs made by specialists in door furniture, the trinket sets that formerly adorned the dressing table and the toilet services for the obsolescent wash-tables, galley pots, whose name take us back to foreign trade in medieval times, creel steps and shuttle eyes made for Manchester cotton spinners. marbles and taws for children and parlour bowls for Victorian grown ups, nest eggs for poultry farmers, porcelain teeth, ceramic buttons, and a thousand other things.

At such a museum it would be possible to trace the history of tea drinking and all the weird and wonderful patents for brewing tea in a teapot, or the evolution of electrical equipment or the development of the water closet.

Gladstone Works - Reginald G Haggar, watercolour

An old factory transformed into a live museum, that is the idea and year by year one sees the disappearance of desirable factories. Some have gone almost overnight: the factory at Longport with its original Georgian house; the Victoria works at Fenton which was worked by Miles Mason when he abandoned trade as a Chinaman and the adjoining house where he lived; the great ovens and workshops of the old Bedford Works at Shelton where, if it had been preserved, it might have been possible to moor a long boat gay with castles and roses and all its equipment; the factory at Greenhead, Burslem; and so on.

One great factory still survives more or less intact as far as its façade is concerned, although. I believe the ovens are no more, the factory which Josiah Wedgwood built by the canal in the valley between Burslem, Hanley and Newcastle. The scene today is grim: then, with its village of workers’ houses, its little inn and the master's house it must have been rather fine, a prototype for an industrial settlement.

At Etruria, industrial and social history are enshrined. There is another eighteenth century factory at Cobridge, a smaller but not less attractive one, with its original bell turret and many surviving old workshops.

At Longton there is a derelict factory of great age, the Pelican works I believe it is called, which holds the eye because of its diminutive scale. It stands at the end of Sutherland Road and its original entrance was at the corner where a draper’s shop now stands. A long low building on shelving ground so that from one side it scans even lower than it is, and above the roofs poke the broad mouths of the hungry ovens. Broken windows afford glimpses of decay and dereliction which the imagination changes into a flurry of human activity.

Gladstone China 1972, pre museum

Further along are the great bastilles of the Industrial Revolution, the great gaunt factories built on shordrucks, and above them higher still the lordly ovens flaunting their curves over the rooftops. Longton is still relatively full of history.

It is still not too late, therefore, to preserve something of the history of this great industry for future generations. Cannot something be done about it before the landmarks of the Industrial Revolution disappear or decay beyond repair?" Reginald G. Haggar,  October 1964

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Reginald Haggar, water colour. Sutherland Road, Longton
Private Collection

Reginald George Haggar (1905–1988) R.I., A.R.C.A., F.R.S.A. was a significant British ceramic designer. He was born in Ipswich and studied at Ipswich School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1929, he became assistant designer at Minton's pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, rising to art director six months later, a post he held until 1939. Working in water colours and ceramics, his designs reflected both the radical and lyrical elements of the Art Deco style.

After leaving Minton, he became Master-in-Charge of the Stoke School of Art to 1941 and then of Burslem School of Art until 1945. He was an  artist and lecturer in the Potteries area. He painted many pictures of North Staffordshire.

Reginald Haggar, pencil and wash. Locketts Lane, Longton 1970
Reginald G Haggar, pencil and wash.
Locketts Lane, Longton 1970

1963 Talking Potteries Blues

Great short song written and sung by D Barton with wonderful insight into The Potteries and "The Kremlin on the Hill."  Worth a listen, on YouTube.

1971 How Gladstone Museum became a reality

Personal recollections of  David Malkin  - Up to the opening

During the 1960s a group of enthusiasts, of which the late Robert Copeland was one, formed a Trust to save what is now known as the Cheddleton Flint Mill. At the same time they also considered restoring a complete Victorian pottery works. Of four that were possibilities the Gladstone Works [in Longton] was the most suitable. It had closed its doors in 1960.

In the event an outline plan was prepared and sent to Stoke-on-Trent City Council for comments. Unfortunately, at that time there was no real feeling for preserving the past and the idea was shelved.

Sometime during the early 1970s I was shown this plan. At the time, I was working with H&R Johnson Richards Tiles with whom my company Malkin Tiles had merged in 1968. My interest has always been with the history of the pottery industry and particularly ceramic tiles.

It so happened that in the spring of 1971 I was at the home of the late Derek Johnson, Chairman and Managing Director of Johnson Richards, and we were discussing the possibility of creating a tile museum at the factory.

The local paper, the Evening Sentinel, had just been delivered with the headline ‘No hope of saving the Gladstone pottery, bulldozers arrive tomorrow’.

I think it was Derek who suggested that we might step in and save the building and perhaps turn it into a museum for all sections of our industry. We had no idea who owned it, but the late Christopher Campbell and I were sent to Longton to find out more about it and if the price was within a budget set by Mr Johnson, we were to make an offer for it. The price asked by the sellers was well within our budget: we stopped the bulldozers just in time.

The late Derek Johnson, Chairman and Managing Director, Johnson Richards Tiles. 
Photo: Brian and Maureen Colclough Collection  Date: 24 April 1975

We took Derek to see what he had bought and we were all appalled at the state of the buildings, although there were four magnificent bottle ovens in reasonable condition. We set about forming a trust with several well-known pottery manufacturers as members. We also needed a figurehead as chairman and I was asked to contact the late Lord Aberconway, at that time Chairman of English China Clays, a major supplier to our industry. He said he would take the chair for one year if we changed the title of our trust, which was the Staffordshire Pottery Industry Trust. He said that spells SPIT. So we changed its name to Staffordshire Pottery Industry Preservation Trust. Derek Johnson became Vice Chairman and I was one of the original trustees.

Shortly after we decided to separate the organising of the Museum from fundraising, and I resigned as a trustee and became Director of the Gladstone Pottery Development Trust. Our initial target was to raise £100,000 and which was soon raised to £250,000. Derek said that when we reached this figure he would give the deeds of Gladstone to the Preservation Trust.

Our next task was to advertise for a director who would be responsible for planning and running the Museum. Of the many applicants interviewed the most outstanding was David Sekers who was not only a ceramic enthusiast but also very interested in industrial archaeology.

The progress he made working on our basic plan was astonishing and the Museum opened for a trial period during the 1974 August Bank Holiday. Our first visitors were children representing many schools in the district. Their obvious enjoyment and interest assured us that we were creating a very useful additional attraction to North Staffordshire.   more>
David Malkin 

1974 - 5 April 1974

H&R Johnsons loaned the Gladstone Pottery Museum Development Trust the sum of £20,000 (Record in the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives Ref:SD1269/A/1)

1976 Derek Johnson

From Gladstone's Annual report 1976/7. Following his death.

'Benefactors as original, generous and far sighted as Derek Johnson are rare. He was, in fact, the man most responsible for the realisation of the Museum, and at the time of his death was a Trustee of both the Preservation Trust and the Development Trust. It was apparent that he wished to see Gladstone succeed and ultimately stand on its own feet. The support of Derek Johnson in the future will be sorely missed, but his incentive will be long remembered.'

The late Derek Johnson, Chairman and Managing Director, Johnson Richards Tiles. 
Photo: Brian and Maureen Colclough Collection  Date: 24 April 1975

1971 Firing Enthusiasm

One of the first leaflets

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story

1972 Building renovations begin

Alan Walker and his partner John Nicklin trading as Trent Builders and Property Developers had the contract to turn Gladstone Works from dereliction to something that then became the  museum. Alan Walker was from Meir and was a bricklayer. John Nicklin was from Blurton and was a joiner. They held many maintenance contracts with local potbanks.  Information from Carl Walker, son of Alan, January 2018

1973 Getting the Show on the Road

Personal recollections of David Sekers, the museum's first Director  

I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the potbank yard at Gladstone. With its towering bottle ovens, functional cluster of workshops, and its brick and cobble textures, it was an image that encapsulated an industry.

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Gladstone Works Yard - Derelict before restoration 1971
Picture courtesy of Phil Rowley, original origin unknown

By the time I arrived, Trustees had bought the Gladstone site, and set out a vision for its conservation and for the displays it would contain. It also featured what at the time was a new idea: it should be a working museum where the skill of the various processes would be displayed by craftsmen and women. Credit for this idea must go to the late Robert Copeland (who had seen working museums in New England).

Robert Copeland 2001

He was a visionary industrial archaeologist whose volunteer corps had helped restore the Cheddleton Flint mill, and were soon to be invaluable at Gladstone.

So my job as Museum Director was to get the show on the road, and make the museum financially viable as quickly as possible. The priority was of course the conservation of the historic fabric, including the majestic bottle ovens. Then  (with John Bedford as designer) to plan and install displays.  In particular I was charged with establishing demonstrations of manufacturing processes, with a view to marketing the products as souvenirs.

We suffered unforeseen delays with the restoration work (the gable end of the warehouse block was unstable); and the three day week in the early months of 1974 added to initial difficulties; so the opening was delayed until August 20.

By then we had a new gas kiln and an agreement to make traditional Staffordshire figures under license. The site was transformed by the arrival of the pioneers teams of  volunteers; and the main attraction was watching the demonstrators, David Rooke, Hilda Morris, Mrs Goodwin and Mrs Birks. Largely due to them, visitors from the start seemed to enjoy learning about  the unique personality and character of the Potteries.

Gladstone soon played a part in attracting tourists to the area, but it took several seasons for visitor numbers to grow enough to balance the books.  The original supporters’ faith in the museum  project  seems to have been justified, particularly as the rich seems of social history that it represent have now receded so much further into the past, and are so much harder to  recognise in the changed city of today.  David Sekers

1974 Origins

From the Gladstone Souvenir Brochure published early in the life of The Gladstone Pottery Museum Story.  Full brochure here >

Gladstone Pottery Museum Story
Gladstone Souvenir Brochure from 1974 
The idea of making a Living Industrial Museum in the Potteries was given its major impetus by the circumstances which changed the face of Stoke-on-Trent within a decade. The enlightened policy of slum clearance, the reclamation of derelict land and major reconstruction has had the effect of changing the landscape of the City.

Bottle ovens, once the most characteristic feature of Stoke’s landscape, still numbered more than a thousand after the war. But by 1959 this figure was halved, and by 1964 only about two hundred were left, almost all disused. The adoption of clean fuels in place of coal, not only changed the air above Stoke; it sealed the fate of the City’s characteristic bottle ovens. Today rather less than fifty remain.

It was during the last decade that some City planners and Museum officials had the foresight to conduct surveys of some of the older remaining factory sites with a view to considering whether some of them could or should be conserved. There was no plan at this stage to create a Living Museum.

The Gladstone Works in Longton was high up on the list of conservable and characteristic potbanks; after the works were vacated and the site put up for sale, attention was focused on this particular Potbank but in March 1971 it became evident that the buildings were to be demolished and it was only at the eleventh hour, when the bulldozers were about to move in that the site was saved. For by this time a group of eminent pottery manufacturers had foreseen how such a potbank could be restored and put to use. An old potbank could be an ideal site in which to relate and record the history of the industry.

It was with these thoughts in mind that at the end of March 1971, H. & R. Johnson provided the money to buy the site; immediately thereafter the Trust was formed which was destined to plan and finance and administer the Living Museum on the site. In September 1972 the Title Deeds of the Gladstone Works were formally handed over to the Trust by H. & R. Johnson-Richards Tiles Ltd.

The plan was to restore the Gladstone Works so that future generations should come and see the old bottle ovens, and learn how this major industry developed here in Stoke-on-Trent. It would be a working museum, where methods of manufacturing pottery would be daily demonstrated to visitors. These two aspects would be combined with the unique opportunity of seeing an authentic old factory environment.

This plan was worked out in much detail; founders of the scheme were confident that it would evoke the interest not only of tourists and pottery enthusiasts from all over the country, but also that of local people. And more importantly it would be a basis for local industrialists to give their financial support to the fund raising appeal.

The Staffordshire Pottery Industry Preservation Trust launched its appeal at the end of 1971. Support was immediately forthcoming from some of the largest pottery companies in Britain, and from most sectors of the industry.

1974  Gladstone Pottery Museum's first Christmas event

1976 Fund Raising for Phases 2 & 3

Fund raising document published by The Gladstone Pottery Development Trust



Link to Gladstone Pottery Museum history  here>