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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.

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.

Browse the ceramics collections

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

A range of links and resources to help answer some of our most frequently asked ceramics questions.
Ceramic Information Sheets

Ceramic Information Sheets

Information sheets compiled by the Ceramics Section of the museum and provide useful information on a variety of topics.
Ceramics Videos

Ceramics Videos

The story of the Willow Pattern. An animated video telling the story of one of the world's most well known ceramics designs. Produced for the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Supported by the Art Fund.


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.

Talking Treasures: An Early Acquisition

Grab a cuppa and join Senior Curator of ceramics Miranda Goodby for ‘An Early Acquisition’.

Talking Treasures: New Hall Tea Service

Join Miranda Goody, our Senior Curator of Ceramics, for the fifth in our series of Talking Treasures films – New Hall Tea Service.

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Tragic lovers in pottery

Tragic love, where one or both lovers die, has been a popular theme in literature and art. Traditionally, if the female partner survived they were supposed to be inconsolable, forever mourning their lost love, and giving artists the opportunity to depict grieving young women in a variety of ways.

Many tragic lovers were drawn from classical mythology or history, and in the 18th century it was accepted that a well-educated person would be familiar with both the stories from Greek and Roman mythology and the history of those two civilisations. As a result, the fine and decorative arts, including ceramics, drew heavily on these themes for their inspiration.

The Fall of Troy

The story of the siege and fall of the City of Troy was told in The Iliad. Several hundred years later the Roman poet Virgil set his poem about the founding of the Roman Republic, The Aeneid, in the aftermath the Trojan War. The relates the adventures of its eponymous hero, Aeneas. Within these two poems, as well as descriptions of battles and manly heroism, are many stories of tragic heroines, some of whom can be found on pottery in our collection.

The story of the Trojan War starts with a competition. The goddesses Hera, Athene and Aphrodite quarrelled as to who was the most beautiful and should receive the prize of a golden apple. Since none of the gods would judge, it was decided that a mortal should do so. The three goddesses appeared before Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, and each offered him a different inducement to influence him. Hera, offered to make him the greatest ruler the world had ever known: Athene to make him the wisest of men – and Aphrodite? She offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, recently married to the king of Sparta. Paris gave the golden apple to Aphrodite and, in seeking the love of Helen, kidnapped her from Sparta, taking her back with him to Troy. This set in motion a ten years’ siege of Troy by the Greeks, ending in the city’s destruction and the death of Paris himself.

Earthenware plaque from the late 18th century depicts the moment that Paris gives the apple to Aphrodite. Decorated in a limited palette of underglaze colours, it is by an unknown maker.

Andromache morning the ashes of Hector

The older brother of Paris was the great warrior Hector. When the Greek army laid siege to Troy it was Hector who led the Trojan forces and often fought in single combat with the Greek heroes.  In the tenth year of the war he killed Patroclus, the friend of the hero Achilles, and Achilles swore revenge.

On the day of his death Hector’s devoted wife, Andromache, had a foreboding that he would die and begged him not to fight that day. Hector explained that it was his duty to fight and went out to face the Greek forces. Hector was killed in single combat with Achilles, whereupon Achilles tied his body to the back of his chariot, dragging it around the walls of Troy, until it was ransomed for gold by his father, King Priam. When Troy fell to the Greeks Andromache was taken captive with the other Trojan women to become a slave, mourning Hector’s death for the rest of her life.

Late 18th century earthenware figure shows Andromache standing next to the urn containing the ashes of Hector. Decorated in overglaze enamels it is by an unknown maker.

Dido & Aeneas

At the fall of Troy Prince Aeneas, another of the sons of King Priam, fled the city with some of his followers. In Virgil’s poem, The Aeneid, Aeneas arrives at Carthage, a Phoenician city in north Africa ruled over by Queen Dido. The goddess Aphrodite caused Dido to fall in love with Aeneas and for a while all seemed well, but then Aphrodite told Aeneas that he must leave Carthage and follow his destiny, which was to found the city of Rome. Despite Dido’s pleas for him to stay, Aeneas sailed for Italy. Overcome with grief at being abandoned, Dido built a funeral pyre and stabbed herself with Aeneas’s sword.

Stoneware teapot from the Turner factory of Longton has an applied panel showing Dido begging Aeneas not to leave while Aphrodite urges him to follow his men to the departing ships

Anthony and Cleopatra

One of the best-known stories of lovers from antiquity is that of Anthony and Cleopatra, the last Queen of Egypt. In the civil war following the death of her former lover, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra joined forces with the Roman general, Mark Anthony, who became her lover and consort. Caesar’s heir, Octavian, later to become Emperor Augustus, declared war on Anthony and Cleopatra, defeating them at the Battle of Actium and invading Egypt. Anthony stabbed himself with his sword and was carried, dying, in to Cleopatra’s presence. In turn, she was said to have killed herself, by being bitten by an asp.

This pair of reclining figures, shows the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The figure of Cleopatra is based on a Roman statue of the sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican collection that, in the 18th century, was wrongly identified as the Egyptian queen, due to the snake bracelet coiled around her upper arm.

Agrippina mourning the ashes of Germanicus

Two generations later, Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, was, like Hector before him, a great general and warrior. Married to Agrippina, the grand-daughter of the Emperor Augustus, they were a devoted couple with nine children. Unlike many Roman wives, Agrippina accompanied her husband on his military postings, but in AD19 while in Syria, Germanicus died suddenly at the age of 34. Poisoning was suspected. Agrippina returned to Rome, accompanied by her children, and carrying an urn containing the ashes of Germanicus.

The Staffordshire potters used the same figure of a mourning woman embracing a funeral urn to depict Agrippina who was seen, like Andromache, as a model of wifely devotion.

Although classical literature inspired many depictions of tragic lovers whose fate was often controlled by the gods, the late 18th century also saw the Staffordshire potters turning to modern literature as sources for their work, with the authors’ emotional depictions of tragic, unrequited love, either as a result of death or desertion.

Werther and Charlotte

Pair of experimental jasper medallions by Enoch Wood, Burslem, c.1790.
Werther is show in an agony of indecision while Charlotte‘s hands are clasped in supplication.

In 1774 the German writer, Goethe, published the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. It was an instant success and was quickly translated into many languages, including English. It is the story of Werther, an artist, who loves the beautiful Charlotte, despite the fact that she is engaged to another. After her marriage, unable to bear seeing her happiness, Werther shoots himself, dying miserably. Charlotte visits his tomb and grieves for him, with the author suggesting that she, too, will soon die of a broken heart.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the depressing subject matter, The Sorrows of Young Werther was hugely popular. Young men dressed in the style and colour of clothing that Werther wore in the novel, and grew their hair long in imitation of their hero: there were reports of copycat suicides, inspired by the novel, and the book was consequently banned in some countries.

Jasper plaque of Charlotte at the tomb of Werther. William Adams, Tunstall, c.1800

In Staffordshire the pottery firms produced elegant jasper and stonewares inspired by the two lovers, but tending to concentrate on Charlotte’s grief following Werther’s death. The subject of her kneeling in tears before his tomb was very popular and produced by many potters, who copied Lady Templetown’s design for Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery. As Werther’s tomb included a memorial urn, some potters also re-issued the popular figure of Andromache/Agrippina as ‘Charlotte mourning at the tomb of Werther’.

Poor Maria

Detail from a jasper sugar box & cover, Josiah Spode, Stoke-upon-Trent, c.1800, after the design by Elizabeth, Lady Templetown.

For those customers who disapproved of the shocking themes of suicide and love for a married woman, the potters produced tableware and figures inspired by another popular author – Laurence Sterne whose Tristram Shandy had appeared in 1759-1761, with A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, published a few years later in 1768.

In both of these books the character of ‘Poor Maria’ appears. In the first book, deserted by her lover, Maria is overcome with melancholy and wanders through the countryside accompanied only by a pet goat, where she is met by Tristram Shandy. In A Sentimental Journey she is met with again, only this time even her goat has abandoned her and she is now accompanied by a small dog

“I discovered Poor Maria sitting under a poplar — she was sitting with her elbow in her lap, and her head leaning on one side within her hand….. Her goat had been as faithless as her lover; and she had got a little dog in lieu of him…which she had kept tied by a string to her girdle.”

Maria was the epitome of the passive female, whose heart, once broken remained so. Like the similarly broken-hearted Charlotte, Maria was based on Lady Templetown’s design for Josiah Wedgwood’s jasper ware. In an era with little copyright protection, however, this image, like that of Charlotte, was soon being used by a variety of pottery firms.

A trio of Marias: two teapots and covered sugar box, all by the firm of Turner, Longton, c.1800.

Several potteries produced figures of Maria seated under a tree. The most popular version showed her accompanied by her dog, but a matching figure was also made, showing her with her faithless goat. Although not mentioned in the literary source, the figure of Maria and her goat shows her inscribing her lover’s name on an urn (which symbolically contains the ashes of her love).

This pair of figures of Poor Maria by an unknown maker, c.1790, are spill vases: the tree stumps at the back are hollow and could be used to display flowers or the decorative paper spills that were used to light candles.

The fashion, in both literature and art, for depicting tragic heroines mourning their one true love gradually went out of fashion during the 19th century but, while the subject matter might seem overly sentimental to modern eyes, it did inspire the potters to produce some very attractive designs.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872

17/10/2020 – 22/08/2021

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872
This exhibition displays images of China taken by the Scottish photographer John Thomson (1837-1921). Born in Edinburgh two years before the invention of the daguerreotype and the birth of photography, Thomson first travelled to Asia in 1862, where he set up a professional photographic studio. Fascinated by local cultures, Thomson returned in 1868 and settled in Hong Kong. Over the next four years he made extensive trips to Guangdong, Fujian, Beijing, China’s north-east and down the great river Yangzi. This exhibition is drawn from his time in these regions and also includes objects from the museum’s decorative arts and ceramic collections. By the time of Thomson’s travels, certain motifs and stories associated with long life had become well-established themes in the arts in China. Several of these themes are represented in the exhibition, including immortals and mythological figures inspired by Buddhism, Daoism and Chinese mythology.

Thomson’s ground-breaking work in China established him as a serious pioneer of photojournalism and one of the most influential photographers of his generation. This exhibition seeks to show the great diversity of the photographs that Thomson took in China. What marked his work as special was the desire to present a faithful account of China and its people. Thomson wanted to show his audience the human aspects of life in China through his extensive record of everyday street scenes – rarely captured by other photographers of that era.

A five minute tour of the exhibition, China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery from 17th October 2020 – 16th May 2021.

This internationally acclaimed touring exhibition of photographic prints made from the original 19th-century glass negatives from the renowned collections at the Wellcome Library, London has been seen by almost a million visitors in 24 cities around the world including Beijing, Hong Kong, Washington DC, Dublin, Stockholm. This 5 minute tour of the exhibition offers an overview of the beautiful and sensitive photography of the 19th-century pioneer Scottish photo-journalist, John Thomson (1837-1921). Thomson’s photographs are complemented by a display of Chinese artefacts selected from the museums’ own collections; these include 18th and 19th-century jade and ivory carvings, embroidered textiles and ceramics.

An introduction to the exhibition, China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 with Arts Curator, Samantha Howard.

Thomson’s photographs capture a rare moment in time and place – the long-lost world of 19th-century Imperial China. Thomson made extensive trips to Guangdong, Fujian, Beijing, China’s north-east and down the great river Yangzi. The exhibition is drawn from Thomson’s travels in these regions. People from all works of life, rarely captured by other photographers of that era, are represented here: the young and the old, from the street sellers and soldiers, to powerful Mandarin bureaucrats and shy brides, pose before backdrops of streets, back yards and gardens, palaces and pagodas.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 – symbolic themes in ivory and jade objects.

By the time of Thomson’s travels, certain motifs and stories associated with long life had become well-established themes in the arts in China. Several of these themes are represented in the exhibition, including immortals and mythological figures inspired by Buddhism, Daoism and Chinese mythology. Join Arts Curator, Samantha Howard, for a bite-size talk about the representation of Shou Xing, the Daoist God of Longevity.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 – Chinese ceramics in the exhibition with Ceramics Curator, Miranda Goodby

An introduction to some of the Chinese ceramics from the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s collection displayed in the exhibition, with a brief look at their impact on British pottery makers from the 18th century onwards. The Chinese wares include those made for export to the West as well as some examples made for the Chinese market.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 – Minton pottery in the exhibition with Ceramics Curator, Miranda Goodby

In the 1870s the Minton factory of Stoke-on-Trent produced a large number of decorative pieces inspired by Chinese metalwork, including cloisonné. This film looks at some of these pieces in the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s collection, several of which were made for the International Exhibitions of the period, and some of which were donated to the museum by the Minton firm.

23. Madonna and Child

The image of the Virgin Mary (or Madonna) and Christ child are central to traditional Christian imagery associated with Christmas. For his sculpture made in stoneware depicting the Madonna and Child, ceramics artist, Phil Eglin draws upon the devotional images of the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ often seen in Renaissance art.