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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.
Stoke-on-Trent School of Art and Apprentice Ceramics: Talking Treasures
Did you know that once upon a time each of Stoke-on-Trent’s six towns boasted its own school of art? Assistant Curator of Ceramics Ben Miller introduces us to those schools with a selection of student and apprentice pieces.
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.
Historic England Heritage Schools Programme
Heritage Schools and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery developed and delivered an online training package to teachers. The training was based around some key individuals who all came from areas of ceramic excellence in Europe to work in Stoke-on-Trent. We looked at their stories, their work, impact and significance on local industry and culture. The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s Senior Curator in Ceramics provided an overview of some of their work in the museum’s collection.
The second part of the training was based around a pre-recorded workshop demonstrating an artistic technique for teachers to trial with their pupils. Here is some of the artwork the schools have produced as a result of the training.
“We looked specifically at Grete Marks, an overview of her history and some of her works. We then used the plasticine artwork guidelines to practise using the plasticine in this new, artist way, with the Derbyshire landscape by Grete. The children were so engaged with this, loved learning the history of Grete and making connections with their previous learning about WWII, and then creating their own pieces of art around important buildings in Stoke on Trent. We choose our school, bottle kilns and then we chose Trentham Gardens, too”. Mrs. Goodwin
Year 4 pupils at Etruscan Primary School studied Leon Arnoux and his journey. They looked at his impact on the industry and our area. The pupils used mixed media art to create a timeline of his life.
The Shelley display: Talking Exhibitions
An introduction to the Shelley display at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery by Assistant Curator of Ceramics Ben Miller.
At The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery we have the Government guidelines in place to keep our visitors and staff safe during the pandemic – Find out more here.
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery is fully wheelchair and push chair accessible, as we are a step-free site.
Nearest parking can be found using Google Maps [External Link]
During the building works for the Spitfire Gallery we recommend blue badge holders use spaces in Albion Street (ST1 1QF), where there is a disabled bay and on-street bays which are free to badge holders. There are also bays in Bethesda Street (ST1 3BP).
The Museum is sectioned into 3 floor levels. You can view a floorplan of the Museum here [PDF]
Manual wheelchairs are available on request which visitors may borrow during their visit. Please note that due to current government guidelines this option may not be available.
The Museum supports and accepts all guide dogs with water bowls available from the café on request.
The main entrance is located on ground floor which leads to The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia Gallery following through to Natural Science, Archaeology and Local History Galleries.
The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia Gallery, which contains the Staffordshire Hoard, has a small stage area with seating and a display fire pit. This can be accessed via an accessible ramp.
The Ceramics Gallery, Design Gallery and Art Gallery are located on the first floor which can be accessed via wheelchair/pushchair friendly elevator that is found on the right-hand side of the foyer next to the stairs. (Dimensions of elevator-H200cm W79cm)
The Café and School Space are located on the lower ground floor which is also accessible via the same elevator.
Our temporary Café is located on the ground floor. (Dimensions of counter- H91cm)
The Museum’s reception area has a fully function hearing loop as well as the theatre when in use.
All three floors have automated doors as well as adequate seating right the way through. (Dimensions of automated doors- H199cm W130cm)
Baby changing facilities are available inside the Museum on both the ground and lower ground floors.
The nearest Changing Places toilet is at Hanley Bus Station. These are fully accessible toilets designed with generous space and equipment.
Accessible toilets can be found on both the ground floor and lower ground floor. The toilets require a radar key however; the Museum also has a set of radar keys that can be used in emergencies.
We have a very friendly front of house team who are happy to answer any questions and provide information.
If you are looking for a quieter time to visit the Museum we suggest a term time weekday or Sunday afternoon. Please feel free to call the Museum on the day of your visit where we can update you on how busy the Museum is and if we have any coach parties or school groups visiting.
At the Museum our Natural Science Gallery is also a sensory gallery. An immersive soundscape flows through the Gallery, bringing our Moorland, Woodland and Wetland areas to life with the sounds of rustling leaves, babbling water and birdsong. There are games and activities for children to play and even the chance to find out what a fox smells like!
As well as areas within the galleries, we have a Secret Garden where visitors can sit and enjoy the garden space which includes locally crafted works of art.
If you would like to familiarise yourself before a visit to the Museum have a look at our Virtual Gallery Tour.
Here are some visual images of the Museum to familiarise yourself with before your visit.
The William Brammer Jug: Talking Treasures
Join Assistant Curator of Ceramics Ben Miller for a tale of research and reinterpretation, in ‘The William Brammer Jug’.
Talking Treasures: Stoke-on-Trent Hospitality Wares
Join Assistant Curator of Ceramics Ben Miller for an insight into hospitality wares made in Stoke-on-Trent.