A visit to Moorcroft Pottery

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A couple of weeks ago we drove over to Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent for a visit to the Moorcroft Heritage Visitor Centre. Moorcroft are one of the few remaining British pottery companies based in the city (or cluster of towns) which was originally the centre of pottery production. Moorcroft specialise in the production of hand made art pottery using traditional craft techniques. Their distinctive “tube lined” Art Nouveau and Art Deco inspired pieces have a loyal following and some designs can fetch high prices.

One of my Christmas presents last year was a “factory tour” and we’d finally got around to organising a date to visit. The Visitor centre is located on a former manufacturing site and the first thing you see when you arrive is the Grade II Listed Bottle Oven, the last remaining one of several that used to be used for firing the pottery made here.

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These traditional kilns were fired with coal and were very polluting, belching out smoke, carbon dioxide and other gases, so were replaced with cleaner electric kilns following the 1956 Clean Air Act. Moorcroft’s production now takes place in a more modern factory a short distance away, but this site is used for research and development of new pieces as well as hosting factory tours. There’s also a small museum of Moorcroft pieces and a shop.

We started off by looking round the display of photographs showing the history of the site and the traditional production process. And we were able to peek inside the Bottle Oven.

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This is where “ware” twas fired. The individual pieces were initially put into fireclay boxes called “saggars” which were then stacked inside the oven ready for firing at a temperature between 1000° C and 1250° C , usually for two or three days.

We then had a look around the small museum with it’s extensive collection of Moorcroft pieces covering the company’s history.

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I particularly liked this large pot with pictures of pottery workers

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There were also some pieces from the Blackwell collection which had featured in an exhibition at the Arts and Crafts house near Bowness (which we visit regularly) a few years ago

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Then it was time for the tour. The guide, Corrie, was very knowledgeable and took us through each step in the production process which included by demonstrations by the highly skilled workers.

These days the pots are cast using the slip casting technique, so the initial step is the production of the pattern which is then used to manufacture the moulds. A liquid slurry of clay is prepared which is poured into the mould. Water is absorbed from the “slip” leaving a solid layer in contact with the mould. The excess slip is poured off and the mould disassembled leaving behind the cast pot. We’d had a go at this ourselves a couple of year ago during a visit to Tate Modern (of all places!)

The casting is then cleaned up, initially on a lathe and then by “sponge fettling” (a great term!) before the design is traced onto the pot and the tube lining applied. Liquid colour is then applied inside the areas created by the lining. All these process are carried out manually and require enormous skill. And the hand made approach means that each piece, even of the same design, are all slightly different.

The pots are then given an initial firing, coated with glaze and then re-fired to complete the piece. The firing process is where the real “magic” (or, possibly, alchemy) occurs, as the colours are transformed.

No photographs are allowed during the tour, but the following video provides a potted version of the process

and it’s summarised with some good photos on their website.

We finished our visit by looking round the shop. The pieces may seem expensive for pots, but having seen the process, the skill involved and the time it takes to produce the pieces, they seemed well-priced. We were tempted to shell out but we’ve nowhere to display ceramics properly in our mess of a house (perhaps I should stop going out so much and stop home and get it sorted) and, perhaps more importantly, we’d be terrified of knocking it over and breaking it!. However, we decided to buy a plaque we could hang on the wall, selecting a design based on the work of Charles Rennie-Mackintosh, partly influenced by the exhibition we’d visited in Liverpool the previous Saturday. The price was similar to what I’d expect to pay for a limited edition print by an established artist, so not unreasonable for what, in effect, is a ceramic equivalent – and having paid for the factory tour we received a modest discount.

I really enjoyed the visit, being able to see skilled workers in action. (I had to stop myself concentrating on the health risks, mind!). And I can now really appreciate the individual nature of what are really works of art.

An autumn day at the YSP

A few photos taken during our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last Saturday.

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Black Mound (2013) by David Nash
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Large Two Forms by Henry Moore, in the distance
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Wilsis (2016) by Jaume Plensa
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Square with Two Circles  by Barbara Hepworth
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Albero folgorato by Giuseppe Penone
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A new work by Peter Randall Page Envelope of Pulsation (For Leo) 2017
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Square with Two Circles at sunset

Colin’s Magical Mystery Tour

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We spent last Saturday on a tour of Beatles related sites in Liverpool organised by our friend Colin. He’s a really keen Beatles fan and spent quite a bit of time organising the tour, researching and scouting out locations. So on Saturday morning we drove over to his house where, together with a bunch of Colin’s family and friends boarded a mini bus ready for the relatively short drive over to Liverpool.

First stop was Huyton Village Cemetery

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Where Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles’ original bassist, is buried.

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Then on to the Jewish cemetery, to visit Brian Epstein’s resting place

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Then on to Penny Lane

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Look closely and you can see Macca’s autograph

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In my first year at University, I lived in Student Halls, just at the bottom of this famous street, so it brought back some memories.  I used to go to the chippy half way down the street.

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The Beatles song really describes the shops on Smithdown Square at the top of Penny Lane. This is where there’s a bus terminus where buses from the centre of the city with the named destination stop.

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Here’s the bus stop

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and the barber’s shop

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We popped into the pub across the road from the chippy for half an hour and then, suitably refreshed set off for our next destination, Strawberry Field (note that Field is singular).

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Strawberry Field, which isn’t far from where John Lennon grew up, used to be a Salvation Army children’s home.  According to Wikipedia, he

would often scale the walls of Strawberry Field to play with the children in the Salvation Army home. The proprietors complained to his school about his antics but to no avail. Finally, they took him to his Aunt Mimi with whom John was living. She told him if he continued to do this, they would hang him. He continued anyway. Thus, the line in the song, “Nothing to get hung about, Strawberry Fields forever”

Construction work is taking place at the moment, so we were only able to take a look at the gates, which are actually replicas of the originals,  installed May 2011.

Next stop was Mendips, on Menlove Avenue, where John Lennon lived with his Auntie “Mimi”

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Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes are owned by the National Trust and it’s possible to visit them and go inside on a National Trust tour. We’d done that some years ago. But on Saturday we could only look at the outside.

Then on to Woolton Village, to see the hall where John and Paul first met

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and then into the churchyard

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to see Elanor Rigby

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and also to pay homage to the great Liverpool football manager, Bob Paisley.

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Back on the bus and on to another cemetery, the final one of the day, to visit the very modest, but beautiful, grave of Julia Lennon (John’s mother)

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Cilla Black is also buried in the cemetery so we had a look at her headstone too. Not as simple and modest as Julia’s.

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Then back on the bus and on to Paul’s childhood home at 20 Forthlin Road

img_9158img_9159 We then drove into Liverpool city centre and stopped for refreshments in the Jacaranda Club on Slater Street

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The club was founded by Alan Williams, the Beatles first manager, and they used to perform here in their early days.

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I loved the old Juke box

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In the upstairs bar they have a record shop selling new and second hand vinyl discs, together with several turntables where you can listen to them (the second hand ones, anyway)

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This Pete Best’s drum kit (the Beatles’ original drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr)

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Then it was back on the bus and down to the Pier Head to take a look at the statue dedicated to the Fab Four and pose for pictures

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We had someone take a group photo, which is at the top of this post. I don’t normally post personal pictures but you’ll have to guess which one of the group is me!

A short drive from there and we were dropped off on Matthew Street

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I used to hang out here and drink in some of the pubs in my student days. It was quite different then, much quieter, before it became a tourist attraction.

We called into the Cavern Pub for a drink and watched the band for a while – they were VERY loud

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Before crossing the road and paying our £2-50 apiece to descend into the Cavern Club itself

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There was a band on playing Beatles tunes

The Club opened on 16 January 1957 as a jazz club, but later became a centre of the rock and roll scene in Liverpool in the 1960s.  It  closed in March 1973, a few years before I went to Liverpool University and was filled in during construction work on the Merseyrail underground rail loop. It was excavated and reopened on 26 April 1984 to become a major tourist attraction (although the original entrance is long gone, replaced by an electrical substation.

We stayed the rest of the evening in the area, eating in a nearby restaurant. After the group split up with some choosing to sample the local pubs. We went with a smaller group for a drink in the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. Around 11 we all got back together to take the minibus back down the M58 to Wigan.

It was a good day out. Colin had done a great job pulling together the itinerary and keeping us entertained with quizzes and a commentary while we were on the bus. Well done Colin!

Back to Borough Market

A few days after our short break in the Peak District I was down in Dartford with work. I’d travelled down by train via London so we decided to combine work with pleasure and the other half travelled down on the Friday morning and met me in London for a short stay. We were staying in a Premier Inn at Southwark near Borough Market. It’s a really “buzzing” area during the evening with plenty of places to eat and lots of pubs and bars, all of which were busy on an autumn evening. The terrorist attack by zealots who don’t like people having fun only a few weeks ago doesn’t seem to have stopped people getting out and enjoying themselves – and that’s the way it should be.

We had a rather nice contemporary style Leabanese meal at a busy Arabica , a restaurant under the railway arches on Rochester Walk near the market

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followed by a stroll along the South Bank before turning in

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The next day, after breakfast we went for a wander around the market.

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Wembley

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These days, the Saturday of the August Bank Holiday is the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final Day. This year Wigan, despite a rather mediocre season,  managed to book a place in the final to face Hull FC. So early morning, tickets in hand, we boarded the coach that would take us to Wembley. A long journey. The journey home seemed even longer as, consistent with their form Wigan didn’t play brilliantly and with Hull having done their homework, playing to Wigan’s weaknesses,  Hull took the cup home with them. It was close. Both teams scored the same number of tries but Wigan missed two conversions. And, controversially,  they had a try chalked off by the video ref.  Wigan didn’t disgrace themselves and kept on battling to the end, having a try disallowed for a forward pass in the dying seconds. But it was a fair result as overall Hull were the better team on the day.

Ah well, you can’t always win! 😦

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to recover from the disappointment, but, other than the result, it was an enjoyable day. Here’s a few photos I snapped.

 

 

Kendal Castle

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After our visit to Abbot Hall to see the Julian Cooper exhibition we had a wander round the town centre and then, as it had turned into a pleasant afternoon, we decided to walk up to Kendal Castle. The Castle was built in the early 12th Century on a glacial hill left behind from the last ice age, to the east of the town. It was more of a fortified manor house  for the local barons, than a military stronghold, but it would have dominated the town, looking over it from it’s prominent high position. And it would have been a potent symbol of their wealth and power.

Crossing the River Kent near to Abbot Hall, it’s a short walk to Castle Hill.

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It’s then a short, if steep, climb up to the castle.

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I didn’t have my camera with me, but the good light meant I was able to get some decent shots using my phone.

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Visibility was good so there were great views over to Red Screes and the Kentmere fells.

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We could clearly see Yoke and Ill Bell that we’d climber only a few weeks before.

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We had a quick look round the interior of the ruined castle

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