If you get the chance do visit the Bridgewater factory in Stoke on Trent and arrange a factory tour. Its a fabulous day out, there’s a cafe, a gorgeous garden, and you can even have a go at decorating your own slipware, which they will glaze and send to you. Whilst I was there one lady was decorating a whole dinner service in fabulous abstract black designs.
Bridgewater pottery is ALL made in the UK. The clay is British from four locations, and everything is done in house. They say by the time a piece leaves the factory about 30 people will have handled it.
The moulds are all hand made there too – benches and benches of them all filled with the liquid clay or slip and drying out.
Most of the patterns are sponge ware, which involves ladies painstakingly cutting patterns into sponges for the decorators to dip into the colours and apply to the plain slipware.
When dry the slip wear is trimmed and taken for its first firing. Then the pieces goto the decorators – usually ladies, who are trained to be able to decorate in any of the patterns. One small bowl I watched a lady decorate involved the use of nine different sponges.
The pieces are then glazed, left to dry, then fired again.
If transfer patterns are also used that requires a second glaze application and a third firing.
Then each piece is inspected and passed for despatch. Its a fascinating insight into the care and attention to detail that is the Bridgewater production trademark. The 250 employees are like a big family, and there is a really happy atmosphere around the factory, where generations of the same family have worked for years.
It really made me appreciate why Bridgewater pottery costs as much as it does, and when you see the tremendous effort that goes into production of even a simple mug then the price is actually incredibly reasonable.
There is, of course, a shop, and also an irresistible seconds shop where there are great bargains to be had.
It’s a fascinating day out, and a rare opportunity to see what is probably Britain’s last commercial scale working pottery where the pieces are cast by hand – and yes, they still do throw clay to make the larger plates – and where pottery is still created with such passion and care.
For their online shop go to emmabridgewater