A visit to Moorcroft Pottery


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.

Image result for moorcroft factory historical photos

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.


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.


I particularly liked this large pot with pictures of pottery workers


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


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.

Emilie Taylor at Blackwell


The Lakeland Arts Trusts regularly features ceramic themed exhibitions at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Windermere, They also sell contemporary ceramics in the shop there. One of the current exhibitions in the house features the work of Emilie Taylor, a young potter from South Yorkshire who produces works that reflect her social concerns and interests.

As an emerging artist Emilie has had considerable recognition as a ceramic artist thus far; she is currently completing an artist residency at Chatsworth in Derbyshire and has had commissions from Grizedale Arts and Sheffield Museums and Galleries. She has had three small solo exhibitions, two in Sheffield and one at the Snug Gallery in London, and so Blackwell is in the unique position to offer Emilie her first high profile exhibition. (Blackwell website)

The majority of the works on display were large, cylindrical, earthenware pots with a two-tone glaze. At the top of the pots there was a floral type pattern like a flock wallpaper, based on a design by William Morris. The lower half has images of young residents of the Manor and Castle estate in Sheffield. They are portrayed in their everyday dress but represent mythical and religious figures.

Emilie Taylor - 7

Bus Stop Madonnas I and II


Emilie Taylor - 1 (1)

Blinded by the light

There were also examples of her Harvest food Jugs and others from her Hymn to Persephone produced during a residency at Chatsworth last Autumn. We’d seen them on display during our visit in October. They rather reminded me of some of the works of Bernard Leach that I’ve seen


In the smaller of the two rooms there was some information, including two videos, about her work and a commission for Grizedale Arts, Soup Run, six bowls she had created, which had images

‘Soup Run’ Detail 4 of 6 Bowls

‘Soup Run’ Detail (Red Ken) 1 of 6 Bowls

The inside of the bowls depict scenes from the ‘Soup Summit’ of 2008. The end of a three year period of wrangling between Westminster Council, the Church and London Voluntary Sector Organistaions as Westminster Council tried to amend byelaws that would mean soup runs, or providing food to the homeless, would become illegal. The summit, (with all organisations represented), met at Tate Britain in 2008 to set up a Soup Steering Group to take the matter forward. Scenes from this period of political history have been drawn simply using scraffitto, resulting in naive or cartoon images and quotes the viewer can piece together in their own reading of the events.

Lots of Pots

One of the exhibitions showing at the Hepworth Wakefield is an installation by Matthew Darbyshire feauturing pottery selected from the collection of the late W A Ismay, an avid collector of ceramics who hailed from Wakefield. A librarian who lived in a terraced house, not far from where the Hepworth is located, acccumulated 3,600 items, by 500 potters from 1955 until his death in 20001. His collection, which includes significant works by major artists, is now owned by The Yorkshire Museum in York.
The installation is a “recreation” of the downstairs of Ismay’s house showing how he stored and “displayed” them. The artist has included some modern appliances as a contrast to the pots but other furnishings are from Ismay’s home. The display includes only 20% of the collection.
Helen Walsh, a leading scholar in the field of ceramics and Curator at York Art Gallery has devised a selection process for the ceramics included in the exhibition. This reflects Ismay’s own collecting methodologies with every potter in his collection being represented in this installtion (Ismay successfully collected myriad potters from A-Z with the exception of the troublesome X).
It was fascinating. Although not all the pieces were to my taste, there were some excellent examples of “studio” pottery and ceramics, mainly by British artists but also included pieces by potters from as far afield as Japan.
The exhibition included some short films where various potters and museum staff talk about him that were showing that were very interesting and offered some insights into this “potty” eccentric. Here’s a couple of them

The others can be viewed on Youtube here.