Last week was extraordinary. A 3 day whistle-stop tour of the manufactories of Stoke-on-Trent, the heartland of British Ceramics. We got a unique perspective on the history, the heritage that still stands the test of time, current best practice and the future of our industry. Starting with Emma Bridgewater, who was amazingly generous in her candor, sharing her experience of setting up a hand-made ceramics empire in the dying industrial embers of Stoke-on-Trent over 30 years ago. Go Emma! To a tour of Endeka Ceramics, which has been producing clay for the industry on its present site since the industrial revolution. Endeka are kindly sponsoring our next project by providing the Second Year CSM students with their eco once-fired clay and glaze, to get us to think about reducing our carbon footprint in our production methods. This was followed by the impressive Wedgwood factory, museum, shop and design studio, plus Johnson’s Tiles – ceramic making on a gargantuan scale, and last but not least Armitage Shanks / Ideal Standard who are steadily robotising their factories and producing 100’s of thousands of ‘pans’ and sinks each week.


The numbers of people involved in Stoke’s production is dwindling. For the big boys,  robotisation is the only way to survive. Ideal Standard and Johnson’s tiles employ around 35 people to run their factory floors in any given shift, with the factory running 24 hrs a day 362 days of the year. While Emma Bridgewater’s USP is based on the handmade, and employs around 300 workers who run 3 shifts a day, manipulating the plaster casts and hand decorating the ware with hand-carved sponges to her English cottage-inspired style.

We got home exhausted but bubbling with ideas for Manufactoring and Materiality. Watch this space …. Looks like my project will be a rye challenge to Take-Away food culture, and reflect on the importance of sharing home cooked meal – all in ceramics of course.


  1. Dearest Joanna, Thanks for this fascinating account of your visit to ‘the heartland of British Ceramics’

    Sadly it ties in with our contemporary problems of human labour versus robotisation…what to do? Unemployment is a current angst. In the past we’ve always overcome this by creating new industries and the labour force has been gradually absorbed. But these changes now happen so FAST that its causing major economic dilemmas….have you heard of ‘universal monetary hand-outs? Scary!

    Am interested to know how our Joanna will respond to her eye-opening visit…! My love always,

    Mum xxxxx


  2. Thanks for the blog. Nice to see your mum had responded! Great YHA too. Don’t know what to think about robots making loos, guess I’m glad there is at least some ceramic industry in Stoke, I know it’s nothing compared to what used to be, but looks impressive in the photos. X Diane >


  3. Hi Jo,

    Nice post. I was going to make comments along the lines of Mum but she got there first. What a hip Mum we have! However, I disagree with Mum about universal monetary hand-outs being scary, rather such handouts might both be necessary and we might end up in a society in which most of us can be content. That said, almost everybody in society will find the prospect of almost nobody being employed and working as scary, it is such an alien concept to our past/current culture. In my view the sooner we transition to a society with universal abundance the better. We need to stop thinking of working on things that we do not enjoy doing as virtuous and morally upstanding. Since, such “work” is disappearing and with this disappearance the opportunity to feel morally justified and worthy (and better than lay-abouts) by working/suffering is disappearing. We should all start doing what we enjoying doing, which is not work, and some of us will do the things that produce the abundance that we can all live from.


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