Emma Bridgewater Factory Tour
After a coffee made on the polka dot AGA we set off to discover how our favourite pottery is made.
The machine that mixes the clay from Cornwall and Wales into the liquid ‘slip’ that forms the majority of the designs is rather gloriously known as a blunger. Very Harry Potter.
Bill, master plate maker, has been making plates in Stoke for nearly 50 years. He very kindly let Archie have a turn, and we’re very excited that Archie’s plate is going to end up in somebody’s kitchen one day.
After at least 12 hours, when the pieces are dry, there are loose, ragged pieces of clay which are carefully ‘fettled’ until the pieces are smooth, and ready to be fired for the first time at around 1000C.
(The saying ‘in fine fettle’ originates with this process. You learn something new every day round here.)
Emma Bridgewater pottery decorators don’t stick to just one sponge painting design, but become experts in all the patterns, from the simple and ultra popular Polka Dot to the incredibly complex Hellebore. Only one woman is the designated line-painter, and a steady-handed few are in charge of the personalised pieces.
The sponges for the designs are hand made by one (incredibly patient) woman. The designs are traced onto synthetic foam, then cut with a soldering iron; it’s an impossibly fiddly task, and each piece of foam only lasts a few days. It’s attention to detail like this which makes Bridgewater Pottery special.
After a tour of the newly planted vegetable garden (complete with hens, I’m happy to say) and a delicious lunch, including gorgeous spinach and goats’ cheese pies cooked in the AGA, it was time for us to have a turn at decorating a mug of our own. It’s a lot harder than it looks!
Jamie then took us to The Potteries Museum which is hosting a 25 year Emma Bridgewater retrospective. The walk up to the museum was a good chance to have a chat with Jamie. Because Emma and her husband Matthew are so involved of the daily running of the business, it’s a real family affair. Many of the factory workers have been there for 20 years or more. There’s a lovely atmosphere throughout the place which left us all feeling very calm and at one with the world.
We finished our day with a top secret trip into the design studio, but we don’t have any photos of that. Let’s just say I can see some gorgeous new pottery in my future.
The day ended, as all good days should, with a cup of tea by the AGA, a chat with new friends* and the promise that we’ll be back soon. Oh, and three new mugs. Well, it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it?
If you fancy a visit to the Emma Bridgewater factory, find them here. They’re open Monday to Saturday from 9:30am – 5:30pm and on Sundays from 10am – 4pm.
I’d recommend it to anyone – if a day there can hold the interest of my 8 year old boy, it’ll suit most children. And it’s so lovely to see just how small and intimate a company can be – once you’ve been there, you’ll never look at mass produced pottery in the same way.