Pottery pottering

Cleddau’s trip along the western end of the Caldon Canal had been to allow a trip to the Emma Bridgewater Pottery.      It’s there in Hanley, side on to the canal.

Visitors from the canal first need to negotiate Stoke-on-Trent’s fast traffic as it speeds along the dead straight Lichfield Street..

This year The Cheshire One has developed a fondness for pottery painting: this was to be her fourth experience after visits to The Kiln in Bedford, to a pottery café in Altrincham and to the Gladstone Pottery in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent.

Within Victorian buildings the Emma Bridgewater factory is a fine example of a regenerated industry. Here ceramics are produced in a fresh and modern style. Who has not set eyes on a spotty item,      a very recognizable Emma Bridgewater style?  

The factory tours were fully booked last week but The Cheshire One’s eyes lit up at the prospect of some painting and sponging. A booked session in the studios (cost £2.95 per person) provides  90 minutes of decorating time on any choice of cream flat or hollow tableware.


The chosen pieces must then be paid for before decoration starts… There is a wide selection of paints, a huge range of shaped sponges to transfer patterns onto the pottery and a display of decorated wares as inspiration…    

Folk seemed happily engaged with their projects and the activity was obviously popular with all ages. Many participants seemed able to concentrate on their creations while also maintaining a constant flow of conversation. The Cheshire One remained engrossed on her pasta bowl throughout      while Boatwif felt inclined to sigh over her feebly decorated mug… At the end of the session the works were left for firing, to be either collected or mailed a couple of weeks later. Just how will those finished and fired items look…?

From the Emma Bridgewater factory and the landmark bottle kilns beside the Caldon Canal     it is just a few miles to another pottery, Middleport, beside the Trent and Mersey Canal.     The Cleddau crew had pulled up here in March, at the time of the BBC2 broadcasting of The Great Pottery Throwdown final. Though the heritage buildings     (the model pot bank,     typical Burleigh ware,       the manager’s office)    had some appeal for The Cheshire One it was the newly installed Great Exhibition that provided the real excitement.      Here, in the very upstairs room that the programme is recorded,

are laid out artefacts     made by the contestants.     Clocks, raku work, design sketches,     pit-fired pots (Click on Pit Firing text to read more easily)


  – and toilets.



Programme viewers will not have forgotten the challenge of a fully functioning decorated ceramic toilet… Names of competing potters were recognised. A walk back to the boat along the cobbled stones of the pot bank elicited quiet murmurings from The Cheshire One: “Just think, THEY walked along here, THEY walked here…” (The beginning of celebrity admiration…?)

Cleddau had been tied up outside Middleport (such a convenient way to arrive at a place of interest…)  A notice nearby informed of the imminent arrival of working boat Dane which will become a permanent exhibit. How unexpected it was, however, when a girl and her grandfather clambered aboard Cleddau’s front deck, assuming that this boat was yet another part of the heritage site!

Stoke-on-Trent has a history of reinventing itself, it would seem. Famously the site of the Shelton Bar steelworks (1830-1978) was reclaimed and it became the site of the Stoke-on-Trent National Garden Festival, the second of Britain’s National Garden Festivals which was held in the city from May to October, 1986.

After a night moored at Westport Lake the Captain proposed a walk up to Aldi. In June a lady with a shopping bag had revealed its existence and a grocery top up seemed a good plan. “It’s a steep hill,” the Captain warned. “Think Mow Cop steep…” (Surely not!)

It was about a ten minute walk up the hill, into Tunstall (another of the original six towns that federated to form the city).  Up the hill …turn left …carry on up the hill.

At a huge brownfield site old concrete was being broken up to form hardcore.      What the site had formerly been and what it would become was not obvious.

”There’s Aldi,” said the Captain, pointing at a tall sign across the road.     There was the sign – but where was the store? Bulldozed, gone!      A thriving shop in June, gone in August!  A new, bigger store, will replace it during 2018, apparently.

Like “never waste a green” at a pedestrian crossing, “never waste an up…” if you’ve climbed to the top of a hill. While up there a supermarket of sorts had to be found. It was a bleak area but there was a very large Asda not too much further on…

Back down at the boat at Westport Lake a southbound hire boater called out:

“That’s definitely a good name!”

Swiftly the Captain responded: “Named after a river in Pembrokeshire…”

Hire Boater: “I know, I live in Haarv’udwest and I was born in Pembroke Dock.”

Well, in the heart of the Potteries, that was a very fine Monkton Moment* !

Hanley (Caldon Canal) via Milton to Westport Lake (Trent and Mersey): 10¼ miles, 3 locks.

Monkton Moment* – a recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connection: 2.

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2 Responses

  1. Jennie says:

    The pottery decoration sounds like a great experience and we hope we see the finished results when you get them. Middlewich is definitely on our wish list – last time we passed we missed the last mooring by about 5 minutes! Jennie

  2. Sue/Boatwif says:

    I guess you mean MIDDLEPORT, Jennie, the Pottery place. It’s a fascinating site to visit whether just to do a self-guided tour or to do a factory tour. There were no factory tours last week as the factory staff were on Works Holiday. (Middlewich is further north, in salt country, where the Middlewich Arm branches off to the Shropshire Union ).

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