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Clay & Graft

Middleport Pottery, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, is a must-see. Tucked away behind rows of back-to back factory workers’ Victorian terraces it quietly sits, a ghost of its former self, the days of bustle and toil long gone. Yet its fire still burns – if only part time, as it’s still a working pottery; one of very few.

This Grade II* listed Pottery has been the home of Burleigh since 1889, and is the UK’s last working Victorian pot bank in continuous production. It holds one of the last surviving beautifully sculptural bottle kilns – which recently provided the backdrop for an atmospheric scene in the tv drama Peaky Blinders.


For us the beauty here lies in the utilitarian and the Victorian factory aesthetic: from the municipal colours of the paint used on doors and window frames; the design of the brick built workshops; the arresting shelved corridors of pottery moulds; and the stunning bank of sinks and wall-to-wall white tiling of the worker’s washroom.

Nearby – back in the late 1920s – at Newport Potteries (now gone), Clarice Cliff was “mixing shades of memory with splashes of anticipation” in her daringly bright coloured jazz-age abstract designs, which were then applied by her “Bizarre girls” with bold brushstrokes to vases, plates and tea sets. Newport’s great success with Clarice’s Bizarre ranges, at a time when all the potteries were hit severely by the early 1930s depression, no doubt shone a light on the way forward, which Middleport then emulated in their Burleigh Ware boldly decorated jugs, and Charlotte Rhead’s floral tube-lined designs.

Middleport has been through the mill in recent years, falling into disrepair, and was rescued in 2010 by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust with 9m in funds from The National Lottery and English Heritage. It is now also the home of Denby Holdings Ltd, and of Poole pottery, and is owned and run by Re-Form Heritage.


For the visitor today it is a story of beautiful Victorian utilitarian brickwork and humble machinery, born from clay, smoke and hard graft.