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Shared Experiences

Some of your have been kind enough to share your experiences of the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Some of these will be retained in the archives for future generations.

My Experience of Coronavirus Lockdown 2020

Submitted by anonymous

At the age of 73 years I did not expect there to be many things I would be doing for the first time. However, when we were placed in lockdown on March 23rd due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, that proved to be the case.

There had been feelings of unease over several weeks as the BBC kept us informed of the virus spreading out of China and advancing ever nearer. I remember going on Sunday March 22nd for a walk on Keele campus, not only to exercise ourselves and the dog but also to inspect the progress of the cherry blossoms that adorn the campus. That was the first time I became aware that I was viewing other walkers warily and physically distancing myself when they came into view.

The following day it was official. We were told to socially distance ourselves keeping two metres apart when outdoors, to stay indoors leaving only to exercise, work or shop. I live with my husband aged 78 years, a dog who requires exercise and an elderly cat who only requires food and sleep. Being retired our concerns were simply to shop for food and get our daily exercise. As we are both over 70, we are deemed to be in a high risk category, my husband has high blood pressure and I have a chronic chest condition.

So, I suppose at the early stage my main feeling was one of fear. Every day the news showed many more deaths from this virus which seemed to be spreading as fast as the Australian bush fires of a few months ago! When told you are “high risk” it certainly ensures you keep to the rules because you think “If I get this virus, its likely it’ll kill me.” Both my husband and I sat down and wrote instructions about what we wanted to happen if we died, where we wish to be buried etc. We should have done this years ago, but being faced with such a deadly virus does focus the mind. I checked regularly online to see how many cases were in Stoke but, was relieved to see it remained relatively low.

In March it was my birthday. It felt strange not to leave the house all day but I had many phone calls, emails and post to keep me occupied and in a celebratory mood. We are fortunate to have a garden and the sun shone that day – as it has many days since – as we had a very select tea party outside with just the two of us.

I belong to a correspondence magazine. There are nine of us all over the UK and we have been exchanging monthly letters for over forty years. We decided early on in lockdown that, to prevent journeys to the post office, we would send our letters by email and print and post them to the one member (aged 92) who is not on email. In addition, we would chat using Zoom – a new experience for a 73 year old!

Each Friday now at 2p.m. we have forty minutes to see each other, check we are all well, say what we have been up to and generally make each other feel better for the contact. I am telephoning the member not online each week to update her.

Zoom has also proved valuable for the shared reading that I do as a Stoke libraries volunteer. These sessions have, obviously been cancelled which is very sad as I know they are helpful for the benefits gained from meeting others.       I feel sorry for the group members and wonder when it will be deemed safe enough for the group to resume.

Meanwhile, members of shared reading groups in Tunstall and Longton libraries have started a Zoom group and we now “meet” each Monday morning to share a short story and poem. This is particularly beneficial for those living alone, it helps to talk and to share our thoughts on what we have read. We are not limited to forty minutes and usually 6 or 7 of us talk for about an hour and a half.

On May 11th it was my granddaughter’s 9th birthday but she lives in London. We had filmed a short video of us singing Happy Birthday which featured us together with dog and cat and this was sent to her by WhatsApp first thing on 11th. At 4pm that day we connected with the family using Zoom along with her other grandparents who are in Plymouth. She chatted with us all, showed us some of her presents, asked to see the dog and shared some of the questions she and her friends had been asked when they linked up to do a Zoom quiz together at 2p.m. There were no moans from her about her unusual birthday but I felt it was sad we could not physically give her a hug. Her six year old brother was most concerned about his ever lengthening hair, it reached the stage when his sight was blocked by his fringe so his parents gave in and he now has something we used to call a crew cut!

So, what will I remember of this time in lockdown?

I will remember the feeling of community and offers of help. When out walking with dog, most people now greet me and there is a feeling of all being a community together facing this adversity. The local group on Facebook has had a mixture of posts, some have been quite nasty and paranoid while one person asked for stories in large print and I was able to lend some of mine which felt good. It was also FB that alerted me to the trend of placing teddies in upstairs windows for children to look for when out on their daily exercise.

I will remember having to make lists of any shopping we need, not being able to just pop to Sainsbury’s as usual, having to be more organised. We were lucky to have kind neighbours shopping for us but there were many days when I looked in the fridge and wondered “what I can make into a meal!”

It was frustrating and scary but I have a great deal to be grateful for. We have enjoyed our garden, I have been posting photos of new blooms each week on Facebook, my husband has taken advantage of free time to work in the greenhouse and tackle some overdue weeding. I have read more books than usual; there is time each morning when the Guardian arrives to sit down and read it at leisure and attempt the crossword and we have also used Amazon Prime and Netflix to watch films on TV.

But I do crave a decent cappuccino and I wonder how long my hair will grow before I am allowed to visit a hairdresser!

Time with Pets

Many of us are spending more time with our pets during lock down. So we shared this painting by the Italian painter and photographer Eugenio Zampighi (1859–1944). He specialised in creating cheerful and idyllic images of Italian rural life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We asked you to share your own pictures and stories of your pets.

Kieran and Co-Co

My little boy Kieran age 6 has been asking for a pet for a while. So during lockdown we’ve allowed him to have a pet hamster. He adores her and really looks after her better than we ever imagined. Her name is Co-Co. She now comes to the cage door for her daily cuddles. Luckily she wakes up at the end of what would be a school day so when he goes school again she will be awake when he comes home. 

Lisa & Hector

Hector is a big dog trapped in a little cat’s body. He likes to play stick and carry his favourite toy ‘Chilli’ around in his mouth. I’m under no impression that I am head of the house – merely a live-in P.A. I get the impression that Hector is enjoying lockdown. The first couple of weeks I was bestowed with ‘gifts’ for my commitment to constant door-opening. Door-opening is usually a thankless task. He considers it more a disciplinary process – like the ‘pick-your-jacket-up’ scene in Karate Kid (2010). Hector is Jackie Chan. Open the door. Sit down. Stand Up. Open the door. Sit down. Stand up. Open the door. Sit down…Nevertheless, he’s my valued lockdown buddy, the reason to get out of bed in the morning. Mainly because he’s a complete and utter nuisance until I get up. Open the door. Sit down. Stand up.

Oliver & Nikko

This is Nikko and our son. They are inseparable!  Nikko is nearly 2 years old and is a white German Shepherd. We have had him from a puppy from a rescue centre. Since having Nikko Oliver has always said he is his bestest buddy but since the lock down he has relied on his canine friend even more. He often talks to him about what is happening in his day and they both let of steam during walks, chasing each other and playing in the garden.

Tourists to the Potteries 1698-1933

Henry Lark Pratt; View of Stoke upon Trent c.1840,
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

We think of tourism as something that developed in the 20th century with the widespread adoption of rail, motor and air travel but for from the 17th century onward, those that had the money and leisure to do so, travelled around Britain, often keeping journals of where they visited and what they saw.

Unlike other parts of the country, such as the Lake District or Wales, North Staffordshire was not celebrated for its scenery, but some of the major roads running north-south and east-west passed very close to modern-day Stoke-on-Trent, bringing a variety to travellers to the area.

The majority of these travellers commented on the most distinctive feature of the area: the pottery industry, while others remarked on the state of the roads, the smoke arising from pottery making, or gave their opinions on the population.

One of the earliest visitors was Lady Celia Fiennes (1662-1702) who travelled extensively through England between 1698 and 1702. In the summer of 1698 she came to north Staffordshire passing by Trentham Hall, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to visit the pottery works of the Elers Brothers at Bradwell, near Newcastle-under-Lyme, just off what is now the A34, before complaining about the state of the road to Betley (now the A531).

Trentham Hall, Staffordshire

 “..and then to Trentum, [sic]and passed by a great house of Mr Leveson Gore, and went on the side of a high hill below which the River Trent ran and turn’d its silver stream forward and backward into S’s which Looked very pleasant Circling about ye fine meadows in their flourishing tyme bedecked with hay almost Ripe and flowers. 6 mile more to NewCastle under Line [sic].

I went to this NewCastle in Staffordshire to see the makeing of ye fine tea potts. Cups and saucers of ye fine red Earth in imitation and as Curious as yt wch Comes from China, but was defeated in my design, they. Comeing to an End of their Clay they made use of for yt sort of ware, and therefore was remov’d to some other place where they were not settled at their work so Could not see it; therefore I went on to Beteby [Betley] 6 miles farther and went by a Ruinated Castle ye walls still remaining called Healy Castle-this was [a] deep Clay way.

Over fifty years later, in 1750, Dr Richard Pococke (1704-1765) was travelling in north Staffordshire. Unlike Celia Fiennes he was able to visit several potteries after leaving Newcastle-under-Lyme:

William Yates’ 1775 map of north Staffordshire showing Dr Pococke’s route from Newcastle-under-Lyme through the Potteries. Tunstall, which is not shown lies just to the north of Burslem

“On the 6th [July] I went to see the Pottery villages and first rid [sic] two miles to the east to Stoke where they mostly make the white stone. I then went a mile north to Shefly [Shelton] where they are famous for the red china; then to Andley Green [Hanley] a mile further north, where they make all sorts, and then a mile west to Bozlam [Burslem] where they make the best white and many other sorts, and lastly a mile further west to Tonstall [Tunstall], where they make all sorts too, and are famous for the best bricks and tiles; all this is an uneven, most beautiful, well-improved country, and this manufacture brings in great wealth to it; and there is so much civility and obliging behaviour, as they look on all that come among them as customers, that it makes it one of the most agreeable scene I ever saw, and made me think that probably it resembles that part of China where they make their famous ware.”

It’s often said that Stoke-on-Trent people are friendly and approachable and it clearly always been true, with almost 270 years ago the local population being described as civil and obliging. I’m not sure about the area looking like China though.

A few years later the Swedish industrial spy RR Angerstein visited England and reported on the state of various industries in England. On visiting the Potteries, he described the making of salt-glazed stoneware and then continued

“When, as it sometimes happens, many kilns are glazing with salt at the same time, there is such a thick smoke of salt in these manufacturing towns, that people in the streets cannot see 6 feet ahead, which, however, does not cause any difficulties. On the contrary the smoke is considered so healthy that people who are ill come here from far away to breathe it.”

RR Angerstein’s drawing of Hanley, showing a windlass and mineshaft in the foreground and bottle ovens in the background, c.1755

Oh, how tourism has changed! Some things don’t change however and Angerstein bought a quantity of pottery from at least two of the factories that he visited, making him one of the earliest known visitors to a factory shop.

The preacher John Wesley (1703-1791), visited the Potteries many times between 1760-1790 on his preaching tours and mentioned Burslem several times in his diaries.

John Wesley preaching

1760, March 8th – Went from Wolverhampton to BURSLEM, (near Newcastle under Lyme), a scattered town on the top of a hill, inhabited almost entirely by Potters; a multitude of whom assembled at five in the evening.

1781, March 8th – I returned to Burslem. How is the whole face of this country changes in about twenty years! Since which, inhabitants have continually flowed in from every side. Hence the wilderness is literally become a fruitful field. Houses, villages, towns, have sprung up: and the country is not more improved than the people.

Wesley’s legacy in the area is clear with many Methodist chapels while the most famous portrait bust is that modelled by Burslem potter Enoch Wood, which was widely agreed at the time to be the most accurate portrait of the preacher

Portrait of John Wesley, originally modelled by Enoch Wood and widely reproduced.
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

In 1795 Dr John Aiken (1747-1822), physician and author, published his A description of the country from thirty to forty miles around Manchester.

Dr John Aiken, author of A description of the country from thirty to forty miles around Manchester.

By this time north Staffordshire had changed considerably since Pococke’s visit in 1750 with the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal, the turnpiking of roads and, as Aiken writes, the building of new roads.

Stoke-upon-Trent is the parish town…. It has like most other parts of the pottery improved much since the Staffordshire [Trent & Mersey] canal was cut. It contains some handsome buildings, and from its contiguity to a wharf upon the canal, it is conveniently situated for trade…. The river Trent passes here, and at times with rapidity, nevertheless the brick arches which carry the navigation above the river do not seem to have sustained much injury…. A new road has lately been cut from this place to join the London road between Newcastle and Trentham. …From this place to Newcastle… the prospects are extremely beautiful and near at the midway, a view so populous, and at the same time so picturesque is seldom met with.”

Henry Lark Pratt; View of Stoke upon Tent c.1840, showing the new road mentioned by Aiken
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Despite, or perhaps because, of improvements in the transport system, few 19th century travellers published their impressions of Stoke-on-Trent. It was left to the author JB Priestley to give a long account of his impressions of the Potteries, when he visited in 1933, and which was subsequently published in his English Journey.

“After federation into one city had been first suggested, the inhabitants of these towns [Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, Fenton and Longton] argued and quarrelled most bitterly for years. Finally, the obvious advantages of federation carried the day and there appeared on paper, the mythical city of Stoke-on-Trent. But when you go there, you still see the six towns, looking like six separate towns. Unless you are wiser than I was, you will never be quite sure which of the six you are in at any given time.”

Visitors to Stoke-on-Trent today often find it difficult to distinguish where one town ends and the next starts. One thing has changed dramatically since Priestley’s day however – the industrial pollution:

View of Longton

“There was more smoke than I had ever seen before, so that if you looked down upon any one of these towns the drift over it was so thick that you searched for the outbreak of fire, there were no tall chimneys, no factory buildings frowning above the streets; but only a fantastic collection of narrow-necked jars or bottles, peeping above the housetops on every side, looking as if giant biblical characters, after a search for oil or wine had popped them there among the dwarf streets. These, of course, are the pottery kilns and ovens, which are usually tall enough to be easily seen above the rows of cottage houses. I never got used to their odd appearance, never quite recovered from my first wild impression of them as some monstrous Oriental intrusion upon an English industrial area. But without these great bottles of heat, there would be no Potteries.”

Stoke-on-Trent has changed hugely since these accounts were written and some of the most significant changes have taken place in the last century. JB Priestly, writing in the 1930s would have seen sights that would not have been so very different from those that John Wesley saw in the 1780s – but neither of them would recognise Stoke-on-Trent today with its modern pottery factories, extensive green spaces reclaimed from old industrial sites and its much, much cleaner air.

Potty Gardening Club: Flowers

Hello again Potty Gardeners,

Spring is well and truly with us! The plants are growing and flowers are beginning to bloom. People love growing flowers. We plant flowers in our gardens for colour and scent. But there is more to a flower than that. Flowers are a special part of the plant. They contain the reproductive parts that produce pollen and seeds. Insects are attracted to flowers to drink nectar, a sugary fluid secreted within flowers to encourage pollination by insects and other animals. There are two types of garden plants, annuals and perennials.

Annual plants grow, bloom, and die all in one year. Perennial plants survive for many years flowering many times. They bloom at about the same time each year, which helps when planning your garden.

We do not only grow flowers for colour and scent, we also eat some. Broccoli, cauliflower and artichoke are all flower vegetables. Flowers from chrysanthemums, nasturtiums and carnations can also be added to food. Crocus flowers that grow in the garden produce the most expensive spice called saffron. Other spices such as cloves and capers come from flowers. Beer has hops flowers added into the brewing to add flavor and dandelions can be made into wine or pop. Bees collect nectar from flowers and turn it into honey. Flowers can also be made into different teas using dried flowers of chrysanthemum, roses, jasmine and chamomile. All of these flowers and many more can be grown in your garden. If you have not got a garden some can be grown in pots on a window sill or in hanging baskets.

Here are some pictures of flowers growing in my garden. Why not grow some yourself?

Some of the easiest flowers to grow in pots are the nasturtium and the sunflower. Just follow the instructions on the packet, plant just one seed into a small pot. Water and put them on a saucer in the window and keep them warm. Check them every few days.

Flowers encourage insects and animals into your garden. Can you find them in this picture? [PDF Link]. You can also colour in the flowers making your garden as bright as you like.

If you are feeling adventurous you can have a go at making an origami flower, following these instructions [PDF Link].

Happy gardening Potty Gardeners!

Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Wartime Pottery

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.

Nightlight in the form of an Anderson shelter Shorter & Son, Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, c.1940 Collection, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

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.

“Liberty and Freedom” teapot made for Dyson & Horsfall, Preston
A.G. Richardson, Tunstall, Staffordshire, 1940
Collection, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

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.

Reverse of the “Liberty and Freedom” teapot made for Dyson & Horsfall, Preston
A.G. Richardson, Tunstall, Staffordshire, 1940
Collection, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

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.

The Ballroom at Trentham Gardens, the wartime home of the London Clearing Banks
Collection, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

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”.

“Outcasts” mug, made by T Lawrence, Longton, 1940
Collection, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

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.

Reverse of the “Outcasts” mug, made by T Lawrence, Longton, 1940
Collection, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

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.

“Outcasts” ashtray
Made by S Fielding “Crown Devon” ware, Stoke-upon-Trent, 1941

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 Thomas Twyford Bequest of Ceramics

Thomas William Twyford (1849-1921)

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.

Salt-glazed stoneware punch pot, painted with a portrait of Charles Edward Stuart – The Young Pretender – often called “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, Staffordshire, c.1750. Twyford Bequest

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.

Slipware dish with trailed and jewelled decoration of the Royal Coat of Arms and the name Thomas Toft, Staffordshire, c.1680. Twyford Bequest

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.

Twyford’s Cliffe Vale factory, built in 1887 and now 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.

Slipware posset pot with trailed and jewelled decoration and the inscription “The Best Is Not Too Good For You 1696”, Staffordshire, 1696. Twyford Bequest

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.

Teapot and cover painted with the goddess Aurora in her chariot. William Greatbatch, Fenton, Staffordshire, c.1770. Twyford Bequest

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.

Designing a gallery fit for warrior treasure…

‘Some earl forgotten, in ancient years, left the last of his lofty race, heedfully there had hidden away dearest treasure’ Beowulf

How do you begin to design an immersive, atmospheric gallery fit for the wonderful treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard – and on a limited budget?

Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia Gallery at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Well, the colour scheme, an easy choice, taking inspiration from the hoard itself, we painted the walls a beautiful rich red colour to complement the garnets which are in abundance on the treasure. Painting the ceiling black brought an air of mystery to the space.

The gallery itself – already an intimate space, low ceiling with supporting columns and a centre stage area which could not be removed – surely this would be a hindrance to the space? – Not for the team at PMAG, in fact, it became the perfect central focus for our design – An Anglo-Saxon Mead Hall.

Our Gallery text panel explains that ‘Wooden mead halls were at the heart of pagan Anglo-Saxon settlements. They were places of feasting, storytelling, lawgiving and oath-taking. Loyalties were forged over ale and mead, a drink made from honey. Some halls were decorated with carvings and tapestries. Warriors sat on benches around a firepit. Lords lived in their mead halls with their followers. The pagan kings of Mercia had no palaces but travelled across their kingdom from hall to hall, settling quarrels and giving gifts.’

Design inspiration was taken from reading translations of Beowulf an Old English epic poem, and also, (which I’m sure the curators will be horrified to hear me say) J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy setting of Middle-earth. However strange this may seem, if you are aware that Tolkien’s academic background was in Anglo-Saxon and medieval studies and, it is also considered that Meduseld Tolkien’s Golden Hall of the Kings of Rohan is based on the mead hall Heorot in Beowulf, perhaps it’s not so strange that we also drew inspiration from poems and stories as a starting point for creating our immersive gallery.

Tolkien’s description of Meduseld:
“The travellers entered. Inside it seemed dark and warm after the clear air upon the hill. The hall was long and wide and filled with shadows and half lights; mighty pillars upheld its lofty roof. But here and there bright sunbeams fell in glimmering shafts from the eastern windows, high under the deep eaves. Through the louver in the roof, above the thin wisps of issuing smoke, the sky showed pale and blue. As their eyes changed, the travellers perceived that the floor was paved with stones of many hues; branching runes and strange devices intertwined beneath their feet. They saw now that the pillars were richly carved, gleaming dully with gold and half-seen colours. Many woven cloths were hung upon the walls, and over their wide spaces marched figures of ancient legend, some dim with years, some darkling in the shade. But upon one form the sunlight fell: a young man upon a white horse. He was blowing a great horn, and his yellow hair was flying in the wind. The horse’s head was lifted, and its nostrils were wide and red as it neighed, smelling battle afar. Foaming water, green and white, rushed and curled about its knees.”
The Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers (1955) Chapter 6 The King of the Golden Hall.  © J.R.R.Tolkien, 1955

To ground the stories, we also spent time visiting the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village of West Stow, images of which later formed the backdrop to 2 areas of the gallery.

West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village

So, on to design a gallery fit for treasure.

Armed with these stories and agreement that the Mead Hall should be the central focus, the design process began.

We already had the columns and stage area to start the mead hall structure. Chris Fern shared his preliminary research drawings reconstructed from the patterns of actual hoard items with us and we used them to create the artwork for the columns. Originally produced in gold vinyl, to refresh the gallery for the 10th Anniversary of the discovery of the hoard, we had the opportunity to clad the columns in wood complete with carved out the patterns as they would have been in Anglo-Saxon times. We designed hanging banners, again depicting traced patterns from the Staffordshire Hoard, and also designed with the rich colours of the hoard.

Chris Fern’s preliminary research drawings alongside corresponding pieces of the hoard

The wooden floor of the raised area stage was sanded down and stained to make it look more authentic and with the addition of a realistic fire pit surrounded by benches dressed with boar skins, lends itself perfectly as a space for storytelling. As Heorot, the name of the mead-hall in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, translates as hart or stag which is a male deer. With this in mind, we adorned the back wall of the mead-hall with antlers from out Natural Science collection.

The atmospheric mead-hall created, where do we now site the cases for our most treasured and star items of the gallery – the Staffordshire hoard?

Well, space in the gallery was limited, they needed to make an impact as people walked into the gallery, again the answer came from stories from Anglo-Saxon times – reading stories of the Anglo-Saxons leaving weaponry at the entrance to the mead hall we displayed the sword suites directly to the front of the stage as if they were left at the entrance to the hall, with the other cases surrounding the central case. The recent addition of the reconstructed helmet adds to the grandeur of the central case.

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Now to the entrance of the gallery, how do we entice visitors in?

Looking at images showing sentinels at the entrance to a mead hall, was perfect for drawing similarities between this and Katharine Morling’s mythological god figures, an artist’s response to the hoard. Two pieces of Katharine’s work were ideally placed as sentinels at the entrance to the gallery, guarding the treasures inside.

One of Katharine Morling’s mythological figures
The wall leading to the gallery. Art by Daniel Dociu
Copyright National Geographic Museum

The National Geographic commissioned Daniel Dociu image of the rider fitted in perfectly with the idea that a warrior would come riding from battle to the entrance of the mead hall. So, this was ideally positioned to the entrance of the gallery on the right-hand side.

To the left-hand side, we tell the story of the amazing discovery of the Staffordshire hoard.

Who were the Anglo-Saxons?

To put them into context, on one of the walls we added a very long timeline, showing what was happening nationally and locally around the Anglo-Saxon period and the time we believe the hoard was buried. A map on the wall shows the extent of the Kingdom of Mercia.

The Hoard is believed to be mainly warrior treasure, but what was life like for the everyday people? Around the gallery from left to right we tell the story of Anglo-Saxon Everyday Life and death, using objects from our collections.

Our younger visitors can dress up as an Anglo-Saxon and have their photo taken next to our popular mannequin (which the museum staff have affectionately nicknamed Sean Bean!) and find out how to train to become an Anglo-Saxon warrior. There is a replica of a grave excavated at Stapenhill on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border. The woman in it was buried with goods including beads, brooches and a spindle whorl, so she was probably quite wealthy.

Throughout the gallery there are a series of iPads and a touch table giving further information and short film clips about the hoard, and the exterior of the gallery also focuses on the ongoing conservation and research into the hoard.

Once again J. R. R. Tolkien takes inspiration from Beowulf in his novel The Hobbit, where both talk of a dragon guarding its hoard.

Finally, we continued this ideology on through a photographic image of the entrance to Thor’s Cave (in the Manifold Valley), where you can catch a glimpse of another of Katharine Morling’s mythological figures whilst watching a short film entitled ‘The Last Dragon Hunter’.

Made especially for the museum the film is a story about a young Saxon boy who runs away following his father’s death in battle, and embarks on an exciting journey filled with tales of warriors, gods and monsters.’

We hope you have enjoyed the insight into Designing a gallery Fit for warrior treasure and hope you will be able to visit us soon, where items from The Staffordshire Hoard remain on permanent display in our Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia Gallery.

Helen Cann, Design Services Officer,
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

CSI: The Scientific Legacy of WWI | 2018

Welcome to CSI: Stoke! Here you can learn all about our free World-War-One-inspired CSI event on Saturday 15th September.

Find out what activities will be going on both inside and outside – including talks from World War I experts – as well as how you can get involved by bringing your World War I ephemera to our Ask an Expert panel.

Working with Staffordshire and Keele Universities and Stoke-on-Trent Archaeology Service the museum will explore the scientific aspects of World War One. In a series of hands-on activities visitors can learn about trench archaeology, the chemical development of poison gas and have a go at making their own periscopes used to look over the top of trenches. Children can crawl through our replica tunnel to experience what life was like for soldiers underground.

There will be a medical display with leading military historian and author Andrew Robertshaw, which will include a range of real and replica items related to the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.

Visitors are also encouraged to bring family photographs, letters and other items to our panel of experts who will help to identify them and reveal what these items say about your relative’s military history.

Indoor Activities

Free screenings at 11am and 3.30pm. Including the first ever scenes of tanks in battle, the film also conveys, with power and artistry, the difficulties experienced by the British Army as it fought on over ground beset in a sea of mud. Over one hundred years later, this unique film from IWM’s collection, is being shown to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

©IWM still from The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (1917) © IWM 116

Explore the chemistry of explosives with our molecular model making

A medical display staffed by experts to show a range of real and replica items related to the Western Front.

Avoid getting shot by looking at a real WWI periscope and making your own periscope to take home.

Using the elasticity of rubber to explain the basic principles of gunfire

View the scourge of the common soldier on the battlefield through microscopes, lice, fleas and mosquitoes!

For the young adventurers – experience what it was like to work through tunnels mined under the Front itself!

Ask the Western Front Association (WFA) experts who will be able to source any relatives army records and print out memorial scrolls.

Staffed by WWI experts who will be pleased to identify and discuss any contemporary WWI items visitors bring along.

Outdoor Activities

‘Deborah II’ a replica WW1 tank on loan for the day from the Norfolk Tank Museum. Commissioned by TV presenter Guy Martin for a Channel 4 documentary this reproduction Mk IV was the first tank to see successful active duty in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. It was constructed at local engineering firm JCB in 2017 using state of the art computerised welding equipment to demonstrate modern technology.

Get young enthusiasts to use a metal detector to find and take home metallic relicts from the Great War.

See real archaeologists patiently excavating part of the ‘battlefield’ and associated artefacts – why not have a go?

Expert Talks

A multi-disciplinary investigation, 2pm
This unique environment marks the only site to have been blown up on two separate occasions marking the beginning and the end of the Battle of the Somme. The first mine explosion in July 1916, is the only one ever filmed. 100 years after the First World War, this world first is only now being investigated by a multidisciplinary team of historians and scientists.

CSI: The Science of the Great War | 2015

APRIL 2015

Welcome to CSI: Stoke! Here you can learn all about our free World-War-One-inspired CSI event.

Find out what activities will be going on both inside and outside – including talks from World War I experts – as well as how you can get involved by bringing your World War I ephemera to our Ask an Expert panel.

Working with Staffordshire and Keele Universities and Stoke-on-Trent Archaeology Service the museum will explore the scientific aspects of World War One. In a series of hands-on activities visitors can learn about trench archaeology, the chemical development of poison gas and have a go at making their own periscopes used to look over the top of trenches. Children can crawl through our replica tunnel to experience what life was like for soldiers underground.

There will be a medical display with leading military historian and author Andrew Robertshaw, which will include a range of real and replica items related to the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.

Visitors are also encouraged to bring family photographs, letters and other items to our panel of experts who will help to identify them and reveal what these items say about your relative’s military history.

Activities and Talks

  • ‘Bangs and Flashes’ repeated public lecture by Dr. Richard Darton (Keele University) on how explosives played an important role in the Great War.

Richard looked at their use in grenades, torpedoes and ammunition through to excavation and mining for vital resources.   Although the chemistry of military explosives has changed somewhat since WW1 the underlying principles are very much the same.  Richard took an interactive look at the fundamental science behind the explosives of World War 1; including their development, chemistry, uses and disasters.

  • ‘The Spanish Flu’ repeated public lecture by Dr. Pauline Gowland (Staffordshire University) on the deadly pandemic that broke out in January 1918.

This flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population —making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. The close quarters and massive troop movements of World War I hastened the pandemic and probably both increased transmission and augmented mutation; the war may also have increased the lethality of the virus. Some speculate the soldiers’ immune systems were weakened by malnourishment, as well as the stresses of combat and chemical attacks, increasing their susceptibility.

  • ‘Ask the Expert’ Panel, including Andy Robertshaw (ex-Time Team) to look at artefacts brought by the public
  • Walk through WW1 trench/dugout with learners  to experience what it was like for soldiers to live in the trenches
  • WW1 indoor ‘underground offensive mining tunnel’ for learners to experience what mining under the Western Front was like, complete with short talk about how soldiers from Stoke did it.
  • Talk about explosives development and demonstration of explosives in action
  • Use of metal detectors to find remnants of WW1 battlefield artefacts for learners to use (includes take-home WW1 coins)
  • Using battlefield archaeology to uncover the past, opportunity for learners to have a go at archaeology
  • WW1 Military First Aid post to talk about how they treated injuries and getting young learners involved
  • Making various molecules of poison gases used in WW1
  • Showing how periscopes work with contemporary one and letting learners make their own to take home

Download a range of activity sheets here.


The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery has installed an outdoor replica First World War trench system next to the museum. It is being created to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war in 1914 and will offer visitors an atmospheric, thought-provoking understanding of some of the conditions experienced by soldiers on the front line.

Engagement days are planned for both school-age young learners and adults, which will combine activities and displays with science demonstrations. Visitors will be able to learn about life in the trenches, artillery shells, how poison gas was made and even try their hand at making periscopes, which were used to spy on enemy positions.

The trench will be open daily from 11am – 3pm, weather permitting, and will be free to view.

CSI: The Staffordshire Hoard


Become a forensic detective at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and discover the secrets behind the Staffordshire Hoard. In partnership with Keele and Staffordshire Universities the event has been supported and funded by the RSC.

See how science and modern technology can examine historical artefacts and help shape our understanding of the past.

Students from Staffordshire and Keele University Forensic Departments will present a series of workshops which explore the discovery and research programme of the Staffordshire Hoard.

Pan for gold, look through a microscope to identify real semi-precious garnet minerals, have a go at making models of precious metals and gem stones using molecular modelling kits and discover the chemical analysis of metals and alloys using an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer.

Search for buried treasure using radar technology and watch trained archaeologists excavate a skeleton.

Indoor Activities

Steven Pollington presents a talk on the social context of warfare during the Anglo-Saxon period.

See how footprints can be used as forensic evidence at a crime scene.
Download the Footprints activity sheet

Use a microscope to identify the real semi-precious garnet minerals and take one home…
Download the Garnet fact sheet

Pan and sift through the sand to find a piece of Iron Pyrites – Fools Gold – and take it home…
Download the Gold fact sheet

Make models of precious metals and gem stones using molecular modelling kits.

Bring along anything made of metal & find out what it is made of within a few minutes.

Outdoor Activities

Regular demonstrations of period battles will be given throughout the day and illustrate typical battle wounds on clay mannikins.

Use metal detectors and radar to uncover buried period items and take them away with you…

Trained archaeologists will be uncovering period ‘artefacts’ throughout the day – why not get involved?
Find out more about the investigative techniques used when discovering the Staffordshire Hoard


The SciChem preview kits below were created especially for our CSI event and are designed to offer a taste of the range and quality of forensic science kits available from SciChem for use in schools. The main kits all come completely ready to use in the class with handbooks for students and pupils as well as for teachers and technicians, making them comprehensive and easy to use.

Download the Footprints activity sheet
Download the Invisible Fingerprints sheet
Download the My Fingerprints sheet

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