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The online catalogue does not include details of all our collections. Contact us for further information on collections not yet featured online.
The Thomas Twyford Bequest of Ceramics
We are often asked what the stories are behind some of the ceramic pieces in our collections, but few people ask about who generously gave or bequeathed them to the museum. People donate items to us for all sorts of reasons, and most people only give one or two pieces, but we do have some large and important groups of pottery given to us by collectors who, in some cases, had spent years searching out special pieces to acquire.
In the 19th and early 20th century many of our donors were well-known Staffordshire pottery manufacturers, local businessmen, or were simply wealthy collectors. They donated their collections because they wanted other people to enjoy them, as much as they themselves had enjoyed collecting them.
One of the most important ceramics collections at PMAG is the Thomas Twyford Collection of almost 600 pieces of English pottery from the 17th and 18th century, which was bequeathed to the Hanley Museum, precursor of the present-day Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, on his death in 1921.
The Twyford name is known world-wide today as one of the leading manufacturers of sanitary ware, toilets, washbasins, etc., but comparatively few people know about Thomas Twyford (1849-1921), whose energy and business acumen created the largest sanitary ware business in the world – and even fewer know about him as an important collector of 17th and 18th century Staffordshire ceramics.
Thomas Twyford was born in Shelton in 1849. His father was a pottery manufacturer who produced sanitary wares, advertising his firm as making “water-closet basins, plug basins, urinals, etc.”. In 1872 Thomas’s father died and his 23-year old son took over the business.
Under his management the firm expanded rapidly until Twyford’s was the largest sanitary ware producer in the world. Thomas introduced many improved models of water closets which won awards, but in 1884 he introduced and patented the ‘Unitas’ one-piece pedestal closet, which became a best-seller and for which he is best known.
By his 30s Thomas was a wealthy man. He moved to the countryside, commuting into work each day, and in 1887 he built a new model factory at Cliffe Vale, Shelton, chosen because for its good transport links as it lies between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the North Staffordshire. Although production there ceased in the 1990s, the façade of his factory survives to this day with the building converted into apartments.
From the 1890s Twyford and his family lived at Whitmore Hall, Staffordshire, filling it with his collections of pictures, books – and pottery. He was involved in local politics and philanthropy, was a magistrate and became firstly, Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire, and then High Sheriff. From 1896 until his death he was Chairman of the local newspaper, the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel.
The Twyford family had been potters in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, since the 17th century, and so Thomas collected 17th and 18th century pottery, buying the best pieces that he could. These ranged from slipwares, including a number of named and dated pieces, to salt-glazed stonewares, painted creamwares and figures.
Although, sadly, his collection does not include any pieces that that can be attributed to his Twyford ancestors, many of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous potters are represented in his collection. On his death Thomas donated his collection to what was then Hanley Museum, so that local people could enjoy it as much as he had done.
Vlog: Meet Miranda Goodby, Ceramics Curator
What is your name and job title?
I’m Miranda Goodby and I am the Senior Curator of Ceramics.
What is in the Ceramics Collection and What do you do as a Curator?
Here at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery the Ceramics Collection includes pottery and porcelain from around the world, and it ranges in age from Ancient Egypt through to the present day.
In many museums, ceramics from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome would be included in archaeology or ethnography collections because of their age or country of origin, but here they are included in the Ceramic collection because of their material – clay.
We also have ceramics from the Near & Far East, as well as from Europe, but great majority of our pieces are from England, especially Staffordshire. We have the largest collection of Staffordshire ceramics in the world – approximately 30,000 pieces–and that doesn’t include all the thousands of sherds of excavated pottery from Stoke-on-Trent that are cared for in the Archaeology collection.
There are several reasons that this museum has such an amazing collection of pottery. Firstly, we are based in Stoke-on-Trent, the home of the British pottery industry for over 300 years. Secondly, there have been museums in Stoke-on-Trent collecting pottery for nearly 200 years. You can do a lot of collecting in that time!
Many of the Victorian pottery manufacturers were also collectors of pottery. People such as Thomas Twyford, who owned the largest sanitary ware factory in the world, bequeathed his collection to what was then called Hanley Museum. Thomas Hulme, who is a less well-known manufacturer but who was responsible for the founding of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute, donated his collection during his lifetime. The Minton family of Stoke-upon-Trent gave examples of their “modern” productions – which are now over 150 years old – and so on. And of course, we have been given many, many other gifts and bequests over the years, including the Keiller family’s famous cow cream jug collection.
We continue to collect as well. The Museum has a Collecting Policy to help guide us in what to acquire, and we collect contemporary ceramics as well as historic pieces. After all, those ‘contemporary’ pieces will be historic themselves one day.
As a Curator my job is to care for the collections and to make them accessible for the public. This can be through exhibitions and displays here at PMAG, but we also lend piece to other museums in the UK – and around the world – for special exhibitions. And through social and traditional media we also make them accessible for an even wider audience
Our collections are also used for research. Researchers, writers, artists and students all use the collections for inspiration and education. An important part of my job therefore is to make sure that the information that we have about our pieces is correct and up-to-date, and that all the pieces not currently on display are carefully stored by type, date or manufacturer so that they can easily be located when needed.
How long have you worked at the museum?
I have been Ceramics Curator here at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery for nearly 25 years now!
What’s your favourite thing about working here?
It’s got to be the collection. With over 35,000 pieces in total to look after there is always something new to learn about them. The marvellous thing about working here in Stoke-on-Trent is that you are immersed in the subject. Not only do we have the pottery here, the pieces that people made and decorated, and that other people bought and used, but we also have information about how those things were made.
The archaeology of Stoke-on-Trent is the archaeology of the pottery industry and is primary evidence for how they were made, the technology that was used – and the things that went wrong in making pottery 1, 2, and 3 hundred years ago.
We also have masses of documentary and photographic evidence for the pottery industry, with factory records, pattern books, trade catalogues etc. When you put all those together you can get a real sense of the importance of the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent. It wasn’t just about pretty pots, it was about technological innovation, design, marketing, social and economic change, people lives and livelihoods – and pretty pots.
Now for some questions that have been sent in via Facebook.
Carl wants to know which piece of ceramics in the collection needed the most restoration.
Well, we don’t have any conservators or restorers here at the museum and so we try to not accept pottery that is going to need extensive restoration work as it can be quite expensive to have a lot of restoration work done – and over time the work tends to discolour and then has to be redone. We do however, have a number of pieces in the collection that came to us already restored. And a 17th century slipware dish that was given to us in 1944, is probably the most heavily restored piece that we have. It depicts a man smoking a pipe, has the name Thomas Toft on the rim and the inscription ‘Smoke your nose’. It was badly broken and restored before it was given to the museum and the restoration is so extensive that we can’t be sure which elements of the design are original and which are not.
Pat wants to know if we have any Beswick on display as she hasn’t spotted any when visiting.
Yes, we do have some Beswick on display at present – this cruet set with circus horses in the 1950s case and we have more pieces that aren’t currently on show, including some of the animal figures that Beswick is famous for. Although we have over 5,000 pieces on display in the main ceramics gallery we don’t have space to show everything that we have. So our temporary exhibitions are an opportunity for us to bring out pieces that aren’t usually on show.
And finally, Gary want to know what is my favourite museum object
It impossible to say. I’m afraid it changes depending on what I’m working on at the time. I do have some favourites though. The rolled clay figures made in the 1930s by William Ruscoe are incredibly engaging and charming because of their simplicity. The Green Tea teapot, made at William Greatbatch’s factory in the 1770s, is a favourite because we not only have the excavated material from his site, but because whoever did the inscription was almost certainly illiterate – each ‘e’ in ‘Green Tea’ is drawn differently: you would never do that it you could write, And the many tools that we have for making and shaping pottery. Throwers’ and plate makers’ tools are often inscribed with the name and date of their owner, and that is often the only record of their working lives that they have left. When you hold them in your hand you can’t help but wonder who they worked for, what their lives were like and if we have any of their pots here at the museum.
Our ceramic collections include the finest collection of Staffordshire ceramics anywhere in the world, reflecting the City’s heritage as the centre of the English ceramics industry. It also includes the most comprehensive collection of British 20th century studio ceramics. As well as British ceramics, we have significant collections of ceramics from all over the world and ranging from the Neolithic to the present day.
The collection is internationally renowned and includes a large collection of Staffordshire and salt-glazed stonewares. The 18th and 19th centuries are very well represented with collections of the major Staffordshire factories such as Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and less well known factories such as that of William Greatbatch. The museum also has significant collections of figures, including the Elizabeth Marianne Wood Collection of 18th and 19th century figures and the Pugh Collection of Victorian Staffordshire portrait figures.
Our Art Pottery collection is extensive, with masterpieces from Doulton, Bernard Moore, Ruskin, Pilkington and Bullers, amongst others.
Studio pottery is one of our greatest strengths, with superb collections of the pioneer studio potters Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji and Michael Cardew amongst others. These collections are complemented by our collections of world ceramics, which include East Asian ceramics, Italian Renaissance maiolica and Islamic pottery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ceramic Information Sheets
The gallery includes a technical section illustrating the production techniques of pottery and also includes more unusual collections, such as the Keiller collection of 667 cow creamer jugs and the Marjorie Davies collection of nearly 300 frog mugs.
The museum will be re-opening on Monday 28 September.
In order to safeguard the public and staff we have introduced a few changes to the museum to ensure that we provide a Covid-secure environment.
To comply with social distancing measures and help us manage the number of visitors on-site at any one time we will be asking people to book their visit in advance.
All visitors can pre-book a free timed entry by calling 01782 232323. New admission spaces will be released every Monday.
Please only visit with members of your household or support bubble with no more than 6 in a group.
We ask that you arrive ten minutes before your admission time in order to check your booking. You may have to queue outside briefly while your booking is checked. Please have your booking number ready to show our staff at a distance.
You will find hand-sanitising stations throughout the building, which we encourage you to use.
It is a mandatory requirement that all visitors wear a face covering unless exempt, except in our café. Please observe government guidance on social distancing and follow the signage in the museum. We have in place a one-way system and ask that people stick to the left through walkways, on stairways, and in the galleries. Our friendly staff will be on hand to help with any questions you may have.
Hand sanitiser will be available when entering and leaving the museum, on our galleries and within our café area. All toilets and surfaces will be regularly cleaned throughout the day.
On entry to the museum you will be greeted by one of our friendly Front of House team who will be able to help you with any enquiries and ensure that you have a wonderful experience while you are with us.
All our indoor galleries will be open to the public but please state in advance if you would like to view the Fine Art, Design and Ceramics Galleries on the First Floor.
All our interactives have been taken off display, but there’s still a lot for families to do with trails and interactive family activity bags that bring the collections to life and create a fun adventure around the museum. Explore the galleries with Ozzy taking you on a trail of discovery around the museum. This new range of packs include exciting trails, puzzles, quizzes an activity to make at home, coloured pencils and a badge for £5. Our popular Ozzy Owl Trail will still be available for £1.50.
Pushchairs and buggies will need to stay with you on your visit please. The museum is fully accessible for prams and buggies and there is a lift available for you to use in your family bubble.
We have temporarily relocated the café to the old Spitfire Gallery on the Ground Floor. Social distancing measures are in place and we will be operating an at-table service. We have a revised seasonal menu that can be found here and we are offering a take-away service. To call and collect please ring 01782 232572 to place your order in advance. Our café staff will then prepare your food and bring to the Foyer area at the time you requested. If possible, we would prefer contactless payment in our café and retail shop. We request that visitors do not eat food in the museum galleries.
If you require a wheelchair please stipulate this when booking. All wheelchairs will be thoroughly sanitised after use.
Like many other attractions, our forced closure has had a big impact on the museum. Visiting the museum is a huge support – but if you’d like to help further why not consider making a donation when you visit. We have a donations box which takes cash and contactless contributions.
NHS Test and Trace
Our Foyer toilets will be open with restricted access. They include accessible and baby changing facilities in both male and female toilets. They will be regularly cleaned and sanitised throughout the day.
Please don’t visit the museum if you’re feeling unwell, have a high temperature, persistent cough, loss of taste or smell or awaiting a Covid test result. Face coverings will be mandatory on our galleries unless exempt and protective screens are in place on the main reception desk and café.
Minton Hollins mosaic: The Birth of the Virgin
When the new museum in Hanley opened in 1956, one of the most prominent features was the huge mosaic panel by the firm of Minton Hollins depicting the Birth of the Virgin which was installed, in pride of place on the main staircase.
Since then the museum has had not one, but two, extensions but the panel is still in its original position. Underneath the mosaic is a small brass panel with the inscription “Presented to the Stoke-on-Trent Museums in memory of their father Col. Michael Daintry Hollins DL, of Staffordshire, by J Constance Hollins, Executrix, and her sisters Catherine Gwinilda Hollins and Lucy Blanche Hollins August 22nd 1917“. Thousands of people pass it every year but perhaps one in a hundred people read the inscription and wonder who Colonel Hollins was, and how the panel came to be in the museum.
The panel was originally installed in the old Hanley museum in Pall Mall, having been presented by the daughters of Michael Daintry Hollins, owner of the largest and best-known tile manufactory in Staffordshire: Minton Hollins. When the new museum was erected the panel came too and was built into the staircase wall as a permanent fixture.
The subject is the Birth of the Virgin Mary. It is a copy of one of six mosaics depicting the life of the Virgin in the apse of the basilica church of Santa Maria Trastevere, Rome. The church is one of the oldest in the city, with evidence of a church on the site from the early 3rd century. The mosaics, which were designed by the Roman artist Pietro Cavallini (c.1250-c.1330), date from the 1290s and were commissioned by the Italian Cardinal, Bertoldo Stefaneschi.
The mosaic shows an elaborate bedchamber with St Anne lying in bed while midwives bathe the infant Mary and two servants bring a meal of two loaves of bread on the table, and wine in a jug. Latin texts on the bedframe identify St Anne and the Virgin Mary as “Mother of God”. The longer Latin inscription can be translated as “Creator of mankind, who hast ordained pardon for the fallen, take away the stains of old tarnish from the Silver! Let there be for Thee the chamber where the virgin lies in splendour.”
So how did a copy of a 13th century Italian mosaic come to be made in Stoke-on-Trent and installed in the Hanley Museum?
In the 1860s the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) was planning a grand new extension. It was to be built of terracotta in the Renaissance style and embellished with sculpture, ironwork, tiling, frescos – and mosaic panels.
Minton Hollins had recently been responsible for the mosaic work on the Royal Albert Hall at Hyde Park and, according to the company, as a result, the Director of the V&A, Sir Henry Cole, had asked Michael Daintry Hollins “whether the firm could produce any mosaic work of sufficient merit to warrant its preservation in the national collection. As an outcome of this question, Col Hollins had this particular mosaic panel prepared, at very great cost, nothing was spared in its production…… It was submitted to the authorities and as a result, Messrs Minton Hollins & Co were requested to put in the panels, which they could now see in the Victoria & Albert Museum.”
The mosaic had then been displayed at Minton Hollins’ London showroom at 50 Conduit Street, Mayfair, where it remained, the property of the Hollins family, until 1917. In that year, Alfred J Caddie, the Curator of Stoke-on-Trent Museums, obtained the panel as a gift to the City. According to Caddie he was travelling to London on business. As he said, “It would be the business of begging or borrowing something no doubt… because one of the duties of the Curator of a provincial museum was to obtain gifts for the museum.”
Travelling in the same railway carriage was John Henry Marlow, the general manager at the Minton Hollins & Co. tile factory. As they were passed Rugby, Marlow, knowing of Caddie’s interest in ceramics, asked him if he had ever seen the mosaic panel displayed in the company’s London showroom. When Caddie replied that he had not, Marlow gave him a long and interesting description of the panel. According to Caddie: “When we had reached Bletchley, I ventured to suggest that it would be very nice if the panel could be presented to our Museum. The look on Mr Marlow’s face for a moment suggested the coolness of my remark – it seemed to do it, at any rate.”
Nonetheless Marlow agreed to help Caddie pursue the idea of the panel being presented to the Stoke Museums. Caddie visited the company showrooms the next day where the manager of the showroom also agreed that the panel would be an appropriate gift to the City – if the Hollins family approved. Later that day, according to Caddie, as he was walking to a lunch appointment with Mr Thomas Twyford, the sanitary ware manufacturer, he “was wondering how he should commence to obtain the panel as a gift for the Museums” when he realised that “ Mr Twyford must know the Hollins family and….mentioned the matter to him… Mr Twyford… became very keen about the idea and he promised to do his best.” Twyford was as good as his word. Within a few days, Caddie had an invitation to call on Miss Hollins and shortly thereafter it was agreed that the panel should be presented to the Museum.
The panel was carefully removed from the London showroom and installed in Hanley Museum. A grand unveiling ceremony was held on 22nd August 1917 with many local worthies in attendance and was fully reported in the local paper.
As almost everyone attending the unveiling had known Col. Hollins, few details of his life were outlined among the many speeches but, over 120 years since his death, the name of his tile company is rather better known than that of the man himself, although he made an important contribution to the industrial, economic and social life of Stoke-on-Trent and the frontage of his factory building still stands.
Michael Daintry Hollins was born in 1815, the fourth son of Thomas Hollins, a Manchester merchant. Hollins qualified as a doctor and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons but never practised. In 1839, at the age of 24, he joined the pottery factory of his maternal uncle, Herbert Minton, and was soon in charge of supervising the manufacturing side of the business. By the early 1840s the production of tiles was becoming an increasingly important part of the Minton company’s output and Hollins became a partner in the new firm of Minton, Hollins & Co., set up solely to produce tiles under the Minton name. Following Herbert Minton’s death in 1858, Hollins and his cousin, Colin Minton Campbell, continued to run the pottery between them until 1868. Following a disagreement between the cousins, Hollins moved tile production to a newly-built factory at Cliffe Vale where production continued until the 1970s.
Hollins was active in local life. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1861 and was Chief Bailiff, (equivalent to a modern mayor) for Stoke-upon-Trent in 1866, as well as serving on Staffordshire County Council for three years and becoming Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire. He was chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years and took a leading role in founding the important Staffordshire Potteries Board of Arbitration and Conciliation, serving as President in 1868. One of the causes closest to his heart was the local Volunteer force. He was the first Captain of the Stoke Company in 1859, and subsequently Major of what became the Volunteer Battalion of the 1st Staffordshire Regiment, rising to the position of Colonel, a post he held for 25 years.
Hollins married Elizabeth Mackenzie in 1844 and had nine children. All his sons and one daughter predeceased him. His three unmarried daughters jointly gave the panel to Stoke Museums in memory of their father.
Frank Scott Collection of Rolled Pipe Clay Figures.
In 2016 The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s ceramics department acquired their very own wine butler, shepherd, gardener, conjuror, two strongmen and a drunk! These welcomed additions to the department are of course rolled clay figures and not a new intake of staff members. To be exact the museum was fortunate enough to acquire the Frank Scott Collection of 26 rolled pipe clay figures made by William Ruscoe and students of the Burslem School of Art (BSA) during the 1930s.
William Ruscoe was born at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England on June 20th 1904, the son of William Ruscoe, potter. After studying art at Stoke-on-Trent under Gordon M. Forsyth he worked as an assistant at the BSA (1938–1942), serving as tutor in the practical side of pottery at the Royal College of Art, London (1939–1940). He then became master-in-charge at Stoke School of Art (1942–1944). He married and moved to Devon in 1944, where he took up a post as assistant master under William Green, A.R.C.A. at the Exeter School of Art to teach drawing and painting and to set up the Ceramics Department. He worked at the college for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1969. He died at Exeter on September 11th, 1990.
Inspired by salt-glazed stoneware pew groups of the eighteenth century, he brought the art of making rolled clay figures to a new level of skill and subtlety. Using both earthenware and porcelain William Ruscoe and other student at the BSA created a wonderful assortment of figures that are naive in design and considerable in their appeal. The rolled clay figures were exhibited at a number of large exhibitions both nationally and internationally highlighting the fact that the figures were appreciated as the work of skilled potters despite their often amusing appearance.
William Ruscoe’s talents extended well beyond rolled clay figures including the creation of many pieces of studio pottery. He was especially interest in glazing techniques, a topic on which he published a book titled Glazes for the Potter in 1974 and which led to the creation of some wonderful and colourful finishes to his pottery.
The collection of figures was gifted to the museum by the niece of Mr Frank Scott. Frank Scott was a potter who trained at the Burslem School of Art during the 1930s and worked alongside William Ruscoe. Scott’s and Ruscoe’s association continued until the outbreak of WWII when Frank joined the army and Ruscoe moved to Devon. Frank Scott was himself an accomplished potter and was offered the opportunity to work as a designer at Royal Worcester, an offer he declined as he wished to remain in Newcastle-under-Lyme. After WWII Mr Scott chose to leave the pottery industry and instead pursued a career in sales. The collection of rolled clay figures were no doubt a wonderful reminder of Mr Scott’s time as at the Burslem School of Art.
At the outbreak of war in September 1939 pottery production was being scaled back. Many pottery workers were being called up into the forces, or had volunteered, while others left to do war work at the local munition factories and engineering works. While export orders declined rapidly, the British government was placing large orders to supply its civilian and military canteens. These were usually stamped with the date of production and ‘GR VI’ to show that they were government property.
In 1942 official Utility restrictions were placed on what the pottery industry could make for the home market, including a complete ban on decorated ware, but until then factories were able to accept orders, and a small number produced some patriotic designs, usually only made in small numbers.
Among the pieces at PMAG we have a nightlight from the Stoke-upon-Trent firm of Shorter & Son. Made in cream earthenware in the form of a corrugated iron Anderson Shelter it has the letters A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) in the roof. In a period when many homes still did not have gas or electrical light, candle night lights were common, particularly in bedrooms. A tealight would have been placed inside the Anderson shelter and the light would have been filtered through the letters. At such a time of uncertainty there is an irony that a nightlight, intended to reassure, should have been produced in a shape associated with air raids.
The Preston firm of Dyson & Horsfall were a mail order firm that ran a very successful national Christmas Club scheme. In a period before the internet, local organisers would deliver the mail-order catalogues, take and forward the customers’ orders, and then collect the purchase money, in weekly instalments. The company gave presents to its successful local agents, usually a chrome-plated teapot but in 1940 Dyson & Horsfall commissioned the Tunstall firm of AG Richardson to produce this teapot for its organisers.
Printed and painted with the flags of the Allies it has, to one side ,“Liberty and Freedom”, and to the other “War against Hitlerism. This souvenir Teapot was made for Dyson & Horsfall of Preston to replace ALUMINIUM STOCKS taken over for ALLIED ARMAMENTS 1939. That Right Shall Prevail”
Despite the reference to 1939 in the inscription this piece was almost certainly made for distribution at Christmas 1940. The inscription refers to “France Western Colonies” and “France Eastern Colonies” but not to mainland France, which had fallen to the Germans in June 1940.
In August 1939, in advance of the declaration of war, the London Clearing Banks moved their cheque-clearing operations to Trentham Hall, with most of its staff based in the Ballroom.
Hundreds of bank staff were billeted with local families in and around Trentham, and many local people were recruited to work alongside them. The London staff, far from their homes and families, referred to themselves as “The Outcasts” and even started a staff magazine “The Outcasts Observer”.
In August 1940, to mark the first anniversary of the evacuation from London, these mugs were commissioned from the firm of T Lawrence, Longton, and were presented to staff by the Controller of the Central Clearing House, Percy S. Quick.
In 1941 the staff were given a commemorative Outcasts ashtray made by Crown Devon, Stoke, – but by 1942 the Utility restrictions on the production of decorative pottery meant that another commemorative piece could not be commissioned. Although we have a couple of Outcasts mugs we don’t have an ashtray. So, if you have one in good condition that you would like to donate, please contact us.
The Utility restrictions on what pottery could be made for the home market were gradually lifted after 1945, but the emphasis was on winning back export orders, and it was not until 1952 that production for the domestic market was back to normal. Consequently we do not have any ceramics made in 1945 to commemorate the end of the war – although many have been produced over subsequent decades to mark the significant anniversaries
The Potteries: The Clue is in the Crest.
Stoke-on-Trent is known far and wide as the ceramics capital of the world earning itself the title of ‘The Potteries’. To this day the name remains in use despite the huge changes in both the economy and landscape of the six towns that make up the City of Stoke-on-Trent.
Few obvious signs of the locality’s celebrated industrial past remain, although, there are plenty of clues around the place that hint at the intrinsic importance of the ceramics industry as part of the city’s past.
One glorious example is that of the City of Stoke-on-Trent’s coat of arms.
As with most coat of arms the design and imagery includes features synonymous with the family, organisation, profession, or locality they represent. In 1912 the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent was granted its coat of arms. Two years prior Stoke-on-Trent had been constituted as a County Borough on the Federation of six former local authorities: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. The country borough was elevated to the status of city in 1925 and has kept the same coat of arms to this day.
Before the Federation of the six town in 1910 each of the towns existed as proudly independent authorities, each with their own crest. These crests represented the unique heritage of each of the towns, including important families, local dignitaries, and local industry. The central arms of the new County Borough looked to incorporate aspects from all six towns.
Starting at the top, the Stafford knot emblem is taken from the Tunstall arms. Tunstall are the only town to have adopted the knot which has been a widely used symbol throughout the county of Staffordshire for centuries. Additional imagery on the Tunstall arms is a clear nod to its pottery industry with three vases and two bottle ovens.
In between the two knots is a boars head taken from the Stoke-upon-Trent arms. The boars head is present on one of the three coats of arms that make up the right-hand side of the arms. The boars head is part of the Copeland family arms whilst the other two arms are that of the Keary and Minton families. The inclusion of the Copeland family arms, as part of the Stoke-upon-Trent arms, is not surprising and neither is that of the Minton arms; both of which represent the two most well-known and successful pottery companies in the town. The Keary arms relate to William Keary who, in 1874, became the first mayor of the newly incorporated Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent. As with the Tunstall arms, imagery relating to the towns main industry is on show with the inclusion of ceramic jugs, a bottle oven, and potters wheel.
Working clockwise, around the central shield section of the City’s arms, we start with the image of a camel. A peculiar image to be found on the arms of a city located in the middle of England; the camel is taken from the Hanley arms. The camel appears as the helm on the Hanley arms and is taken from the Ridgway family’s arms. The inclusion of the Ridgway insignia was perhaps an easy decision when it came to incorporating an aspect of the Hanley arms. The Ridgway family were the largest and most successful pottery dynasty across the Hanley and Shelton area throughout the 19th century. Furthermore, William Ridgway became the first Mayor after Hanley and Shelton were incorporated, becoming the Borough of Hanley in 1857. Again, the additional of jugs and bottle ovens allude to Hanley’s main industry.
Under the camel is the image of a scythe. Both the arms of Tunstall and Burslem contain the image of the scythe, and both for the same reason. The scythe is taken from the coat of arms of the Sneyd family. Landed gentry for over 500 years the Sneyd family owned large tracts of land in both the Burslem and Tunstall areas. The Sneyd family’s land was mined for both clay and coal and rented by generations of potting families.
Next is the image of an eagle, taken from the Longton arms. As with the camel of the Ridgway family the eagle is often present as the helm atop the Longton arms and relates to James Glover. In 1865 Longton and Lane End were incorporated as the borough of Longton and it was successful local mine and brewery owner, James Glover who became its first Mayor. Flanking the Longton arms are figures of a potter and a miner, representing the two main industries of the area.
Above the eagle is an image of, arguably, the most iconic piece of pottery to have ever come out of Stoke-on-Trent. The image of the Portland Vase is taken from the Burslem arms and is a reference to Burslem’s most famous son: Josiah Wedgwood. Burslem became a borough in 1871 and in 1878 was granted a Charter of Incorporation and the right to display arms. Interestingly, the other five towns had and displayed ‘unofficial’ arms but only Burslem (as the ‘Mother’ town) received a grant.
Lastly, dividing the four images within the central aspect of the Stoke-on-Trent arms is a Fretty Cross. Taken from the most often forgotten of the six towns, Fenton, the cross appears on its arms dividing it into four quarters. As with Tunstall, Hanley, and Stoke, the pottery industry is represented by a vase and bottle ovens. Additionally, the coal industry is represented by a pit-head wheel whilst a sheaf of corn in front of a plough signifies agriculture. The Fenton arms have a goat’s head as the helm which is taken from the arms of William Baker, the Chief Bailiff of Fenton in 1840 and a successful local pottery manufacturer.
Sitting atop of the Stoke-on-Trent coat of arms is the image of an Egyptian Potter at his throwing wheel; a symbol of the rich and important heritage of pottery making.
Back in 1912 the design of the county borough’s arms offered an opportunity to create new symbolism representing the areas new shared identity. I hope this closer study of the arms has provided a fascinating insight into the county borough’s bold new vision for itself as it moved into the 20th century. The new coat of arms was a symbolic bringing together of the six towns; a chance to reflection on what each of them had achieved in the past and the beginning of a future in which ‘United Strength is Stronger’.
Bonjour! My name is Pierre, Pierre Peacock. I am also known as the Minton Peacock because I was made at the Minton pottery factory. I have a French name because the man who created me was from France. He was very talented, don’t you think? Look at the beautiful, bright colours in my feathers. The pattern in my tail looks like lots of big eyes to scare away predators. There is also a peacock butterfly who uses the same pattern on their wings.
I am a life-sized peacock and stand very tall so I get a good bird’s eye view around the Ceramics Gallery. From up here, I can keep my eyes on the Minton Monkey. He can be rather cheeky and likes to swing from the ceiling and hide from his friends. Have you ever spotted him hiding in the gallery?
I’d better fly now. It’s almost time for The Bunnykins Oompah Band rehearsal. I love to listen to their music and strut my stuff. Next time you watch our film, strut like a peacock and shake your tail feathers when you see me. Au revoir!
If you haven’t already seen Ozzy and friends in action, check them out below!