New Spode History Centre to open in Stoke on Trent for Spring 2012

By Josh Barrie | 21 November 2011
a photo of highly decorated Spode ware
A group of bone china items in the Spode Museum Trust's collection. C1806.© Courtesy Spode Museum Trust
An important aspect of the ceramic heritage of Stoke-on-Trent is to be preserved after the Spode Museum Trust revealed ambitious Lottery-backed plans to open a visitor centre at the city’s former Spode Factory site. 

With the factory’s closure in 2008 a vast archive of documents and a collection of ceramics dating back to the 18th century - one of the largest and most important in the world - were moved into storage elsewhere.

Now the Spode Museum Trust has revealed its plans to open a two-year exhibition commencing in spring 2012 on the historic factory site as part of its wider plans to establish a new Spode History Centre that celebrates the company’s long and proud heritage.

Josiah Spode acquired his factory in Stoke-on-Trent in 1776, and the Spode brand went on to create and manufacture some of the most important British ceramics to date.

For over two centuries Spode’s products were of the highest quality and exported all over the world. The factory was a principal employer in the area, and remains of great importance to Stoke’s social and economic history.

Up until 2008, the factory – on its original site – was still producing ceramic wares such as the famous ‘Italian’ range (first launched in 1816); which were at the heart of innovation in the industry.

Spode was also at the forefront of technological advances, and pioneered the manufacture of bone china in Britain – still a favourite style of pottery today.  Spode products are still in production today through new brand owners Portmeirion Group.

a photo of the spode works factory gates
The gates of the Spode Factory.© Courtsey Spode Museum Trust
The new history centre display will tell the story of the factory, its importance to the local community, the working conditions during the industrial revolution and the high level of skill required to produce such elegant pottery.  

The news comes on the back of the recent British Ceramics Biennial, a pottery festival in Stoke, much of which was hosted at the Spode factory site. The festival reminded the public that pottery still has an industry, and that despite some high profile factory closures, Stoke is now leading the way in the industry's growing revival. 

“Of all the things that Stoke can be really proud of, Spode, its history and its marvellous museum collection are among the most important,” said John Democratis, Chairman of the Spode Museum Trust.

“By creating a living history exhibition, this is a great opportunity for local people of all ages to explore and celebrate their heritage and we will be looking to recruit volunteers from the local community to work with us.”

The Centre will be part of the old factory site, and the Trust anticipates that it will be a rich “educational source”, inspiring new generations in telling the remarkable story of a pivotal part of the town’s heritage.

The redevelopment of the factory itself too, could not be more important: the Spode Museum Trust hopes that when the former factory is fully renovated, it will be able to maintain a larger permanent presence, and showcase its fine ceramics collection to attract visitors from all over the world for many years to come.

The development of the Centre also comes with the support of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, who bought the site in 2010 with a view to developing a rejuvenation policy that will see the city return to strength and prosperity.

Although now closed, the Spode factory is the last remaining site of the “great” ceramics sites of the industrial revolution: Wedgwood’s factory at Etruria and the original Derby and Worcester factories are all but gone.

Unfortunately, the contents the excellent Wedgewood Museum are reportedly subject to a bizarre test case that could see some of its collection sold to fund a shortfall in the pensions of former Wedgwood factory employees.

More reason then to celebrate the good news for Spode and the wider heritage of ceramics in Stoke on Trent.

  • Spode Museum Trust is looking for volunteers to work with them and would love to hear from anyone interested in part time work at the new History Centre or who would simply like to learn more about Spode. Contact them by email at contact@spodemuseumtrust.org
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