THE HISTORIC SPODE FACTORY IN STOKE

China Terrace today

Below the China Terrace today, where C. F. Hurten’s studio was located with the remains of a bottle oven in the foreground. The windows are positioned to get the best natural light for china painting. Clay for china making was stored in the basement and the hoist to higher floors remains. The basement storerooms are ‘wallpapered’ with Copeland tiles from the Victorian period.

A few of the thousands of discarded shards found buried all over the historic Spode site.

A few of the thousands of discarded shards found buried all over the historic Spode site. These date from Josiah II’s time, but others of earlier date have been found and it is believed that future excavations will identify previously unrecognised pieces made by Josiah I and very early pieces made on the site before Josiah I acquired it.

A few of the thousands of discarded shards found buried all over the historic Spode site.

A few of the thousands of discarded shards found buried all over the historic Spode site.

The tall Engine House chimney dates to 1810

A few of the thousands of discarded shards found buried all over the historic Spode site.

Remains of the last bottle oven at Spode, which collapsed in the 1970s during refurbishment

A few of the thousands of discarded shards found buried all over the historic Spode site.

Stairs to the circular Georgian Counting House. Workers would climb these to receive their wages in cash and descend down a similar staircase on the other side of the building. As recently as the 1950s their wages were transported from the bank in a strong box mounted in a wheelbarrow.

Josiah Spode’s Original Factory

Josiah Spode l acquired the site in what is now Church Street, Stoke in 1776 and Spode wares were made there continuously until 2008. In the 19th Century it was one of the two largest potteries in Staffordshire, boasting some 22 bottle ovens and employing around a thousand people. Its story is in some ways typical of many factories in the Potteries – wealthy owners, successive generations of families working there, heavy pollution, child labour, industrial diseases, low life expectancy. Paradoxically, some of the most beautiful ceramic objects ever produced were made there, and were recognised as such throughout the world.

A view through the factory gates showing some of the Georgian buildings behind

Drawing of the Spode site as it was in 1834, taken from an over 100 piece scale model of the Spode factory made in that year in ceramic. This astonishing model is one of the Spode Museum’s rarest possessions, we know of no other similar model anywhere. The China Terrace above can be seen on the left of the drawing just in front of two bottle ovens. The remains of the left hand oven can be seen in the photograph.

The historic Spode factory is, along with the Coalport works at Ironbridge and the Davenport Works at Longport, one of the last two remaining “great name” ceramics factories from the Industrial Revolution—Wedgwood’s Etruria is all but gone, Minton at Stoke was demolished in recent years and a super-market now stands on the site, the early Worcester and Derby factories are long gone.

The Spode site is also still rich in historic buildings from Josiah ll’s time (1797-1828), including the china terrace, the mould stores and the building which housed a Boulton and Watt beam engine from 1810. Many of these have changed little since they were built and features such as clay lifts, mould stores, china painters’ studios and the counting house can still be seen in more or less their original forms. The unaltered condition of the interiors of some of the buildings since the 19th century adds to the uniqueness of the site.

The site is likely to offer an archaeological feast. Various small excavations in past decades have unearthed thousands of shards and wasters from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but little from Josiah I’s time or earlier (the site had been a potworks since the 1740s). It is a paradox that although Josiah I died a very rich man after twenty years of production at his factory, to this day very little of what he produced has been positively identified – whatever shards might be found beneath the Spode site could provide the basis for identifying much more.

Despite its historic importance and its unique features, the site is in serious danger. With much unoccupied since 2008, the condition of the historic buildings is deteriorating. With very limited funds available at a time of severe Government cutback, its present owner, Stoke on Trent Council, has completed restoration work on the Church St. frontage, but much of the main part of the site is in a poor state and every year the situation continues, the more expensive conservation work will become.

The longer this situation continues, the listed historic buildings will become more vulnerable both to structural collapse and to unsympathetic change of use as the only perceived option for saving them (or perhaps only their frontages).

The town of Stoke was built around Spode. Many of its streets (which still survive in part) were built by Josiah II and the early Copelands to house their workers. The Spode site is not just of National historical importance, but the centrepiece of Stoke Town’s heritage.

The unusual vaulted ceiling to a cellar in one of the historic buildings c.1810.