British Ceramics Biennial launch night

I’ve got to be honest, being invited along to spend a Friday evening in a disused factory would not normally sound like the most appealing start to my weekend. But this was not any disused factory, this was the original Spode factory – the birthplace of English fine bone china, and this was not any ordinary Friday evening event, this was the launch night of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) – a six week festival showcasing a celebration of ceramics right in the heart of the World Capital of Ceramics between 28 September to 10 November 2013.

Our evening began however, not at the original Spode factory, but at another BCB venue, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in the City Centre, to see the preview of BCB’s Award 2013. Award 2013 showcases a broad range of work currently being produced by some of the UK’s finest ceramicists. This year, 22 artists have been selected from over 170 applications in a bid to be awarded the £10,000 winners prize, and I don’t envy whoever has the impossible task of picking a winner from this magnificently unique collection of pieces.

Award 2013

Award 2013

Having been wowed by the genius on display in the Award 2013 exhibition, we made the short journey down through the University Quarter to the original Spode factory in Stoke, which, from the moment we stepped foot into the factory grounds, displayed a magical energetic rebirth as we were transported into a magenta-lit ceramicists dream. Inside the original Spode factory in the vast China Hall space, the magic continued with breathtakingly creative displays and installations and innovative ideas.

The Original Spode Factory

The Original Spode Factory

Inside the Original Spode Factory

Inside the Original Spode Factory

Throughout the six-week festival, the original Spode factory hosts a number of exhibitions, installation and projects.

Fresh 2013 looks at the work of new graduates breaking through as they make the transition from learning to earning.

Fresh 2013

Fresh 2013

The Pavilions are four temporary structures that create unique spaces within which the public can engage with the artist’ response to their experience of the ceramic industry.

The Pavilions

The Pavilions

Explore 2013 has challenged four artists and one group of nine artists to make responses to the Spode site and Stoke-on-Trent itself. These range from an archaeological dig, through ceramic slip graffiti and the re-utilising of discarded moulds, to a poet’s lyric narrative.

BCB Design: Tableware is a strand of the festival that looks at limited edition and bespoke table-ware, created specifically to cater for a special dining experience. Case studies provide illustration of trends and trials that are currently underway and indicate one direction of travel for the ceramic industry, the creation and the capture of niche markets.

BCB Design: Tableware

BCB Design: Tableware

A particular highlight to me was the thought-provoking Made in China by Clare Twomey which comprises eighty red porcelain vases each 1.5m tall produced in Jingdezhen in China. Seventy nine have been decorated at the Chinese factory using transfers, one has been decorated at Royal Crown Derby using 18-carat gold. The latter took longer to complete than the 21 days it took to complete and deliver the seventy-nine. This placement unpicks “some of the issues faced by globalisation and outsourcing of production, and questioning the way in which value is assigned. The work also examines what else is lost, over and above jobs and knowledge, and where there might be the possibility of complementarity as opposed to opposition.”

Made in China

Made in China

One of the great things about BCB is that it is not a festival that is dominated by the “Please do not touch” sign. There are lots of opportunities throughout the six weeks for visitors to have a go, get messy, have fun, and get creative through various workshops and the BCB Family Weekenders.

Have a go!

Have a go!

The free festival is also really easy to get around with the main venues being in three locations – the original Spode factory in Stoke, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Airspace Gallery in the City Centre, and Burslem for the Burslem Weekend in mid-October. The main Stoke-on-Trent railway station is 5 minutes’ walk from the original Spode factory site, and regular buses link it with the City Centre.

There simply was not enough time to take in all of the offerings on Friday evening and so it will be with great pleasure that I will have to return to this historic pottery site once again to see it all. And I urge you to join me – you will not be disappointed!

For more information about the British Ceramics Biennial visit http://www.visitstoke.co.uk/bcb.aspx

Embark on the Remarkable Ceramics Trail

Wedgwood-140

Famous for being known worldwide as “The Potteries”, the history and heritage of Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery industry dates back to at least the 17th Century. Today the city is officially recognised as “The World Capital of Ceramics”. The likes of Wedgwood, Moorcroft, Aynsley, Burleigh, Dudson, Emma Bridgewater, Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Doulton and Royal Stafford are just a few of the leading brands you will find in the city. Each brand is unique as they range from traditional designs by Wedgwood to more modern pieces by Emma Bridgewater.

Wedg flowers

I discovered the fascinating story of the Potteries by experiencing The Ceramics Trail. The trail lets you collect stamps at each ceramic attraction that you visit and when you make a purchase in a factory shop. When you have collected 5 stamps, you can claim a brilliant Ceramics Trail gift from participating outlets, which was definitely worth collecting all of my stamps for!

Factory image

As part of my Ceramics experience, I went on a factory tour at Emma Bridgewater. I really enjoyed the tour as it gave me a behind the scenes glimpse of the factory and an insight into all the hard work that goes into creating their beautiful pieces – my favourite has got to be their classic polka-dot designs!

Emma Bridgewater - Summer Flowers

I also learnt a lot from the tour guide who was very knowledgeable of the production of Emma Bridgewater’s pottery. Visitors from Eccleshall and Nantwich who were on the same tour as me also enjoyed their factory tour experience too as they were very impressed with how the pottery is made and learnt a lot during the tour.

Wedgwood-017

The Ceramics Trail is definitely a must do! I thought it was a brilliant way of experiencing and learning about the extraordinary history and heritage of The Potteries. Visit our website at www.ceramicstrail.co.uk for inspiration on how to make the most of your Ceramic experience!

CT Logo Solid D_Blue

Welcome to the Backstamp Club

BACKSTAMP CLUB_LOGO

Today I became a member of the Backstamp Club. The Backstamp Club is built solidly on pride and the roots of the Club go as far back as the turn of the century when local author Arnold Bennett was an international celebrity. Something me and my family have always done no matter where we are holidaying is turnover our plates to check not only whether it was “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” but also the name of the manufacturer on its backstamp – This always makes us feel very proud of coming from The Potteries!

Membership for the Backstamp Club is both free and open to anyone in the world. It entitles you to the freedom to turn over cups, plates, saucers wherever you are in the world. When joining the Backstamp Club, all members receive their own personal Backstamp Club card. The Backstamp Club is also useful as it keeps you up-to-date with regular eshots on what is happening in the Club and you can enter a range of competitions throughout the year with chances to win some fantastic prizes.

Overall, I highly recommend the Backstamp Club to anyone. If you are interesting in becoming a member or want more details about our offers and competitions for club members, visit our Backstamp Club page at http://www.visitstoke.co.uk/backstampclub or check out our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BackstampClub and make sure you like us!

Explore and Experience Animal Magic at Trentham Monkey Forest

Jon and his familly on path with monkey on rail

Unique to the UK and open seasonably from March until November, today I visited Trentham Monkey Forest. Set within 60 acres of beautiful Staffordshire woodland and meadows where 140 monkeys live in total freedom, Trentham Monkey Forest is a fantastic day out for animal lovers of all ages.

The actual forest is a 3/4 mile winding path that takes you through the splendid forest of the Trentham Estate woodlands where the monkeys live. Throughout walking around the forest, I embarked into the fascinating world of the Barbary macaques. It was certainly an interesting and unique experience as the monkeys were roaming freely around me and they were walking across the path in front of me, you are so close to them. The forest has just had some new arrivals and I was lucky to see the new babies – they are so cute!

Trentham Monkey Forest

Trentham Monkey Forest has a good range of facilities. There is ample free parking in front of the entrance to the site. When entering the Monkey Forest, you will find the banana café that serves a selection of drinks, baguettes, soups, jacket potatoes and daily specials. If you want something to remember your unforgettable day out, the jungle shop sells shelf upon shelf of monkey memorabilia. Lastly, for those warm summer days there is a picnic area and two adventure playgrounds, which is great fun for children.

The Monkey Forest sits within the grounds of the Trentham Estate and is easily accessible by car, bus and train. For more information on how to get here and other useful information, visit Stoke website. Admission prices are also very reasonable at £7.50 for an adult, and £7.00 for a concession. For children between the ages of 3 and 14, admission is just £5.50 and children under the age of 3 get in for free.

On the whole, I would recommend Trentham Monkey Forest to anybody who is seeking a memorable day out that is fun and educational for all ages. For more information about this brilliant attraction and others in the area, visit our website on www.visitstoke.co.uk.

Trentham Monkey Forest Details:

Opening Times – Open every day in 2013 from the 23rd March – 3rd November including all bank holiday weekends.
23rd March to the 19th July – 10am to 5pm – last entry 4pm.
20th July to the 1st September – 10am to 6pm – last entry at 5pm.
2nd September to the 26th October – 10am to 5pm – last entry at 4pm.
27th October to the 3rd November – 10am to 4pm – last entry at 3pm.
Open 9th and 10th November – 10am to 4pm – last entry 3pm.

Telephone – 01782 659 845

Website – http://www.trentham-monkey-forest.com

Enjoy a magical day out at The Trentham Estate

Italian Garden Summer from above

Famous for its gardens in particular and open all year round, today I visited The Trentham Estate. Boasting not just beautiful and scenic gardens, I found this attraction a fun place with many activities and things to do for the whole family. Whether you’re a shopper, a gardener, an active person or someone who just wants a fun day out with the kids in either summer or winter – The Trentham Estate has it all.

I found this attraction one of the easiest to get to due to it’s easy to spot location on a main road and due to it being frequently signposted on brown and white signs throughout the city. There is ample free parking for visitors on site, and if you are arriving by public transport there are various bus links which you can use. The 101 runs every 20 minutes, along with the X1 every 60 minutes, and is a short drive by taxi or bus from Stoke-on-Trent station if you are arriving via train.

When I entered the Estate, I instantly noticed there was a Premier Inn on site which makes this an ideal location if you are looking to stay overnight in Stoke-on-Trent. There is also a Frankie and Bennys restaurant if the unlikely event occurs that you do not fancy anything to eat at one of the many high quality cafés that the Trentham Estate has!

Prior to visiting the gardens, I decided to visit the Shopping Village, as this (along with the Garden Centre) is one of the first attractions you see upon entry. When you hear the phrase ‘Shopping Village’, like me, you might Trentham Retailinstantly think that this is just a variation of the name ‘Shopping Centre’ to make it stand out and seem more unique. However, a ‘village’ is exactly what this shopping venue is. Hosting a variety of shops in around 60 timber Lodges, you are sure to find an array of brands, from big names like Bench and Superdry to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Thorntons, to much smaller names. As this is Stoke-on-Trent, no retail experience would be complete without a range of famous pottery industry names! The Trentham Estate has various pottery stores for famous names such as Aynsley China, Portmeirion, Spode and Royal Worcester.

One of the best features I found in The Trentham Shopping Village were the eclectic range of stores selling a wide range of products, from pet products right through to stores selling knitted fabric products. Other stores in the Shopping Village are Holland and Barrett and a Brown andTrenthamShoppingVillageAug11Bench Green, selling a variety of quality produce, from Artisan and ethical, right through to locally produced food and drink. Carrying on with the food and drink theme, there is also a massive sweet shop and even a Whiskey Shop! In my opinion, The Trentham Shopping Village is a foodie heaven! The Shopping Village also has a variety of cafés and restaurants if you’re looking for somewhere to relax after all of that shopping. You’re sure to find something you fancy, as I saw there were venues to cater for any meal – if it’s a light snack, breakfast, a dinner or a family lunch. There are big names from Pieminister all the way to a traditional Fish and Chip Shop.

Next, I decided to take a trip to the gigantic Garden Centre. To be honest, I’ve been to quite a few garden centres in the past but so far I’ve seen none as big or versatile as this one. A haven for all gardeners, or even house proud people, you are sure to find a purchase. From indoor and outdoor products, there is plenty to keep you occupied and browsing for at least an hour. Not only does the centre sell typical garden centre products like plants and flowers, it also sells a range of outdoor and indoor decoration for your home, along with clothes and games, books and DVDs for children. To keep the kids occupied, there is also a children’s play area for them too.

If you have enough of shopping and want somewhere to relax and have a bite to eat, the Garden Centre also gives you a variety of options of where to eat and drink. There is largely an Italian theme throughout the centre, and this is reflected by the types of restaurants and cafés they have. There are two restaurants in total, one called the Terrazzo del Giardino, and the largest restaurant, the Six Arches. The former serves a large variety of Italian food and wine overlooking the Italian Garden with space to sit outside on the terrace. The latter is the largest restaurant serving a variety of food for breakfast, lunch and in the afternoons, home-baked cakes and cream tea. There is also a café, which I visited, called Café Bello. Again, this is Italian themed, serving a selection of delicious Italian snacks, including bruschetta, Panini’s and pastries, along with a selection of hot and cold drinks.

Now that I had visited both the Shopping Village and the Garden Centre, next it was time to visit arguably the main attraction – Trentham Gardens. I must admit, when I visited the weather wasn’t very good (surprise, surprise – British weather!) however it was still spectacular, and I imagine even more spectacular in the summer when the weather is a lot warmer and the sun is shining! I think this part of the Estate is the most family friendly, with an array of activities to keep the children entertained. With so many activities to fill a whole day, this attraction is certainly value for money.

sept 08 005

I accessed the Gardens through the Shopping Village, and they were easily signposted. I firstly visited the Italian Garden, which is apparently the largest perennial plantings garden in Europe. This stunning garden made from Chelsea Flower show Gold medalist Tom Stuart-Smith, is definitely worth a look and in my opinion, one of the highlights of the attraction and should definitely not be missed.

As I mentioned previously, the Gardens are very children orientated with plenty of activities. First off is Trentham Lake, which is suitable for both adults and children alike. You can take part in boat rides, including chartering you own rowing boat! But if being on the water isn’t your thing and you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, there is also a pathway where you can take a walk around the lake. There are miniature train rides at OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcertain times of the year. The Lake and in fact the whole of the Gardens themselves are interactive with children, as it is encouraged to see if they can spot ‘The Trentham Fairies’. The Garden’s are also perfect if you are bird or nature lover, as Trentham is known for the wildlife that can be found there. Notably Badgers, Hedgehogs and Foxes are amongst the many wildlife creatures that reside there.

Next, I visited the Eastern Pleasure Ground and the Western Pleasure Ground. The Western Pleasure Ground I found was the most child orientated, as this is where there is an adventure playground perfect for the kids, parkland and an amphitheatre which doubles up as an ice rink in the winter months. This amphitheatre is also where Trentham host Hot Summer Saturday events through July and August. This is also the part of the gardens where the child friendly maze and the Barefoot Walk is located.

Children in Barfus

The Barefoot Walk is an exciting attraction which is fun for the whole family, as we all know kids love getting messy! As the title suggests, you take part barefoot, and go on a scenic walk over a variety of textures such as mud, bark, logs, hay, grass and pebbles.

Other activities for both adults and children alike is Aerial Extreme. A High ropes adventure course, perfect for family days out and anyone looking for a bit of adventure. This is a perfect family day out where no experience is needed.

Trentham Monkey Forest is one of the main attractions within the Estate, and enables you to see how they live in a natural environment and up close across acres of breathtaking Staffordshire woodland. This attraction is open seasonally everyday from the 23rd of March up until the 3rd of November, and opening times vary depending on the day.

I would recommend this attraction to anybody, whether you are an adult on your own or with children. With plenty of things to do, you could easily spend the whole day here, and even then you would struggle to see everything!

Admission into the Gardens is £8.50 for an adult, and £7.25 for a concession and a child between the ages of 5-15 years. Also, family tickets can be purchased for £29.50 or £22.00 depending on the amount of adults and children per family.

Admission prices for the Monkey Forest slightly vary at £7.50 for an adult, and £7.00 for a concession. For children between the ages of 3 and 14, admission is just £5.50 and children under the age of 3 get in for free.

Jon and his familly on path with monkey on rail

For more information about this great attraction and to see a full list of events held at The Trentham Estate, visit our website on www.visitstoke.co.uk

Middleport Pottery – the home of Burleigh

New Dresser Shot sqToday, I visited the Burleigh Factory Shop at Middleport Pottery, next to the Trent and Mersey Canal. Similar to Gladstone in charm and character, however this factory is the only working Victorian Pottery Factory still in existence and producing high quality pottery products today. Originally a family run business; this is now a part of Denby Holdings Ltd, which is a parent company of Denby Pottery.

This Victorian Factory, establised in 1851, has been manufacturing the highest quality pottery for 150 years now and is recognised around the world, mostly for its distinct Blue and White designs. Located in Burslem, this charming factory has 1 original biscuit oven left standing, and still uses traditional methods today, which is one of the reasons why it is so unique. Once a common process, the timeless decorating method of under glaze transfer printing from engravings is now extremely rare and can only be seen in practise at Burleigh.

Although Middleport Pottery is under development by the Princes Regeneration Trust to regenerate the factory whilst still keeping with its traditional values and processes, the factory shop is still open as usual. Selling an array of products (including factory seconds) – dinner sets, jugs, mugs, cups and saucers, bowls, plates, platters, kitchenware and bathroom ware can still be puchased. Other well-known pottery names can be purchased in the factory shop, namely Poole Pottery, and Leeds Pottery is due to be included soon. The shop is very cosy, offering a warm coal fire in the winter months and free coffee, tea and biscuits are provided to factory visitors.

Factory tours are available; however it is absolutely essential that these are booked in advance and prior to your arrival date. Factory tours are available on Monday and Wednesday’s at 2pm along with Friday’s at 10am. Unfortunately, the main car park to the site is closed during the developments, however this is compensated by a small car park being opened across the road from the factory entrance and there being unrestricted parking on the street which the factory is located on.

The Middleport Pottery Visitor Centre development is due to be completed in the spring of 2014, and from then on the factory will be holding more frequent factory tours. Also, a visitor and education centre and a café are expected to be built which will enhance the visitor experience and make this a great visitor attraction in the Stoke-on-Trent area.

The factory shop is open 7 days a week. 9am until 5pm on Monday to Saturday, and from 10am until 4pm on Sunday’s.

For more information about Burleigh and its home Middleport Pottery, visit www.visitstoke.co.uk

Discover Gladstone Pottery Museum

P1010324Today 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 clippingsP1010323 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 theP1010356 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 theP1010350 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