Today I visited the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton. I was expecting a standard museum, showing the usual artefacts and then having written displays about them, along with a few interactive buttons to press or videos to watch. Not here! If you’re looking for an authentic trip back in time which is fun and very interesting yet educational, then this is the place for you. This museum enables you to discover what it was like in Stoke-on-Trent in the midst of the thriving pottery industry. Although it was not one of the world famous pottery names, it is accurately reminiscent of a typical pottery factory in the Stoke-on-Trent area. The only complete Victorian Pottery Factory in Stoke-on-Trent to remain; this amazing museum shows what working conditions were like for the men, women and children working in a factory, complete with bottle kilns and a cobbled yard.
The museum was a short drive from the city centre, and was easy to find due to the brown and white signs leading up to it. There is a huge car park to the museum which is free although you have to obtain a coin from inside the museum in order to get out again. The museum is easily accessible by public transport, as it is just approximately a 10 minute walk from Longton Train Station. The bus service 6 and 6A also run every 20 minutes.
When I had parked, the entrance to the museum was a short walk from the car park but this is easily sign posted and is only about 1 or 2 minutes. Upon entering in the reception area and paying your admission, you are given an orange sticker to wear and a map detailing all of the sights in the museum, so you can plan your walk around. Before you go outside into the museum, you can watch a short video clip so I had to wait for a few minutes until the previous group had viewed the video. This gave me time to browse through the gift shop which is located in the reception area. There are a variety of things which you can buy, and most being souvenirs from your Stoke-on-Trent visit. Products sold include things such as mugs, t-shirts, stationary, key rings and games for children.
When it was time to go through, you enter a small room where there is plenty of seating, to watch a short film detailing the history of Stoke-on-Trent and Gladstone. I found both the clip and the room very interesting, as dotted around there were old newspaper clippings and posters about pottery and manufacturers on the walls from old times. I then went through to the actual museum, which is located in the cobbled courtyard, surrounded by bottle kilns and various rooms showcasing different things. First I saw a room which displayed an old machine used in the pottery industry to make clay. Normally, in a museum you would see a replica or the actual machine itself but it would not be working. But in Gladstone, the machines were actually working and you could see the whole process. All of the rooms in Gladstone are a display of what working conditions were like, so naturally, although as clean as they could be, they were not sparkly and represented a realistic view of working life which is what I think makes this museum one of the best I have ever been to, and one which you should definitely include in your visit.
Other things you could see were actual workshops which would be used by potbank workers such as clay workshops. What I found great about the museum especially, was that every room had a sign explaining what each room was used for, and who worked there and I was surprised to find how many rooms had children working there instead of adults. I found out that children mostly did the jobs which involved a lot of running about and lifting and carrying. On the signs, there were also descriptions of jobs by actual pottery industry workers, which really captured how hard working was in those days.
You can also go inside actual bottle kilns, and see what conditions were like inside. I found this particularly interesting, as it explains what these famous objects were used for. I was surprised to find that someone actually worked inside these to fire the clay; I can only imagine how hot it must be for people to work in there all day. What made the museum original as well was the fact that there were plenty of different smells and sounds included, to show you the typical smells and sounds you would encounter in a factory. The museum also involves you, as I noticed there are again your usual TV screens, buttons to press and some questions for children. I even learnt what a Saggar Maker’s Bottom Knocker is!
At this point, I found the map that we had been given at reception very helpful, as it enables me to tick off the attractions that I’d seen – and what I had left to see. Next, I went to the Doctor’s House, which is a replica of what a Doctors surgery would have looked like in the 1890’s. I thought this was very interesting and very unique to all of the other museums I have visited. This part of the museum showed what common illnesses were common amongst factory workers in the past, and how the Doctors were not able to cure the disease, they would just give the patient something to cure their symptoms. Something else which was interesting in the Doctor’s House was that the Doctor’s surgery was usually located inside their house. At Gladstone, you are able to see the surgery, the waiting room and the Doctor’s private kitchen, although you weren’t allowed upstairs to the living quarters. In the waiting room, there was a variety of comical posters on the walls giving people particularly bizarre health advice and there was a TV screen which showed period actors acting out a typical scene in the Doctor’s surgery.
Next I visited the Tile Gallery, which shows a selection of decorative tile collections, from gothic revival to art deco. I then went up the stairs in The Tile Gallery to the toilet exhibition ‘Flushed with Pride’. If, like me, you think Stoke-on-Trent has nothing to do with the evolution of the toilet, then you couldn’t be more wrong! I know what you’re thinking: “An exhibition about toilets? Boring!” but no, the Gladstone Pottery Museum makes this fun and interesting, with various sounds and even smells to make this more interactive. However, before you enter the ‘Flushed with Pride’ exhibition, you step into what can only be described as a farm yard type scene, with uneven ground and a smell replicating what a Victorian slum would smell like in those times. I must admit the museum did a very good job of creating this, as even when I got back I could still smell it!
Various demonstrations were taking place at the museum, from pot throwing to flower making. As I have already experienced throwing a pot at Wedgwood, I opted out of doing it again as I was bad enough at it the first time! So instead I made a flower and took it home with me, you can also take the pot you have thrown home with you too. To have a go at anything and take it home with you at the Gladstone Pottery Museum, there is a small fee in addition to your admission price, but this is very small and not very expensive. I found that everything in the museum is signposted, and it is easy to find your way out and to common facilities like the toilets.
After I had explored the museum to its full extent, I then decided to go into the tea room. This is an old fashioned little tea room offering a selection of snacks and cakes and the local Stoke-on-Trent delicacy – Oatcakes! If you’re visiting Stoke-on-Trent, you would be silly to leave without trying an Oatcake! The tea room in the Gladstone Museum is also open to non-museum visitors too.
I would highly recommend this museum to anyone, either adults or children. This is one of the best museums I have ever been to, and is a far cry from your usual boring museum with no interactivity and just standard artefacts and then a standard display explaining them. So if you’re looking for something which captures the lives of people living within the pottery industry, then this is the perfect museum for you.
Admission to the Gladstone Pottery Museum is £7.25 for adults, £5.14 for children ages 4 to 16 years and £5 for concessions. Family tickets can also be purchased for £21 and this includes a family of 2 adults and 2 children. The Pottery Museum has seasonal opening times. From October to March it is open 7 days a week from 10am until 4pm, and from April to September it is open from 10am until 5pm.
For more information about this unique museum, visit our website on www.visitstoke.co.uk