13 January 2022

Stoke's Ceramic Museums under Threat

Forgive me, this is not my usual style of post... but my passion for pots & museums drives me to write this.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is deleting ALL the posts at the multi-award winning Gladstone Pottery Museum

At the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery - acknowledged as 'the finest collection of Staffordshire ceramics in the world' - BOTH Ceramics Curator posts are being deleted.

***Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Here are links if you want to get involved...

There is also a lot going on in support of the staff and the museums on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

1.The PETITION: click UKChange if you would like to sign. At the time of writing (13 January 2022) nearly 20,000 people have signed the petition against the proposals. 

2.EMAIL ADDRESS for Stoke-on-Trent City Council if you would like to make a direct comment by email [email protected] 

3.COMMENT FORM for comments on the Budget 2022/2023 of Stoke-on-Trent City Council - click here>  First you will see that the top of the page currently displays 'Beat the Cold' but page down for the relevant section to fill in the form for your thoughts on the proposals. If you wish to read the budget document click here> and download Budget Book 2022/2023 as a pdf to open in your pdf reader (where it should be easier to search rather than opening online). Page 19 is particularly relevant.

For context, I have worked in 4 of Stoke-on-Trent's museums, in curatorial roles, at Gladstone Pottery Museum, Spode Museum, Ford Green Hall and Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum. For more click here>

Now here are some of my thoughts and comments:

***Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Decades of expertise in ceramics will be lost. 

Internationally important collections will be under threat.

Care, documentation and knowledge will be at risk.

Access will be limited.

Grants will be more difficult to get as Museum Accreditation may be under threat therefore limiting access to funding and other support.

Important national and international touring exhibitions which bring in admission income as well as visitors may not happen if specialist curators are not in place.

***Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
I am bewildered... these internationally important and award-winning museums are why people from all over the world come to Stoke. 

Stoke-on-Trent only exists because of its centuries old pottery industry. It has a unique heritage. It supplied the world. It deserves BOTH its different but complimentary pottery museums. 

Today's pottery manufacturers still choose to be based in Stoke.

Studio potters have their studios here.

Clay College is here.

Ceramic raw material suppliers are based here.

Past and future thrive and work together here. 

Council cuts may need to be made but this plan is clearly unimaginative. Targeting ceramics specifically, the very soul of the City, seems decidedly odd. Is it possible this is a weird vendetta against pots for some personal reason? There seems to be a big gap in understanding and logic. 

I understand that this is Councillor(s) driven. But consider. What do they drink from, eat from, use in the bathroom, see in their favourite films, watch on TV, walk on, live in... ceramics from the unique Stoke-on-Trent, The Potteries, from teapots to toilets to tiles.

***Gladstone Pottery Museum

***Gladstone Pottery Museum

***Gladstone Pottery Museum

***Gladstone Pottery Museum

Feel free to share any of my text, links and images as you wish.

*** I have purposely left the captions off images to emphasise the point that we would not know the detail of what they represent without the curators and researchers and conservators and interpreters and volunteers who have specialist expertise and dedication to their roles at these museums, built up over decades.

Written on request of Gladstone Pottery Museum as a volunteer project 2018

04 June 2021

Spode & the Royal Pavilion (Part 3): Jars for the King

'Jars for the King'
This blogpost follows 'Spode & the Royal Pavilion...' (Part 1 & Part 2). In the final part of this mini-series, I am paying homage to my colleague and Spode mentor Robert Copeland (1925-2010). Much of what follows is from his research* which is how I became interested in Spode's Royal Pavilion connections in the first place. I also love that his huge knowledge and experience of ceramic technology helped to unravel some of the mystery of the making of these jars.

The top image shows 'The Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion'** in 1826. You need to peer carefully to see the Spode connection! The rich blue and very tall oil-fuelled torchères, or standard lamps, down each side of the Banqueting Room had large components made by Spode. I'll help you out below, with a close up of 4 of the 8 made***
Four of the torchères
The above image shows detail from Nash's illustration giving a feel of the size of the torchères. Compare the men standing by them.
Spode's making record of the Jars (detail) and how they fit in the torchères
Jar is an old word for vase. In this case a 'jar' was a fundamental part of the each torchère. The image above shows the 'Upright Jar' with some of its making instructions from a shape book of c1820. Another document records that the jars were made in April 1818.

The shape book includes the note 'this jar is thrown in 4 parts'. **** The measurements you can see are instructions for the thrower. Also included were measurements for the turner, which were smaller, and the finished article would be smaller still after shrinkage in firing. All were carefully calculated by those expert potters. The record also notes that the jars were made from Spode's stone china.***** 

Robert Copeland explained that:
    'Down one side of the room [Banqueting  Room] the torchères were fitted into long side tables, whilst on the window side of the room they were free-standing; these were further embellished with carved and gilt wood dolphins at the base. These torchères consist of circular drums of wood carrying tall jars richly mounted in ormolu borders, top and bottoms with dragon handles, the tails supporting a ground glass painted lotus; the lamps are 9ft 9in high [approx. 300cm]. The jars and the drums are royal blue in colour and it is about the jars that I [Copeland] am interested because they were made by Spode, who not only held the Prince's Warrant but was also regarded as one of the leading porcelain manufacturers in Europe at the time.
    ...visitors to the Royal Pavilion may be overawed by the magnificence of the Banqueting Room and its extraordinary decoration. They may note the unusual lamps. But a potter will marvel not only at the size of the jars, which are 36 inches [approx. 91.5cm] tall, but especially at the evenness of blue over the whole surface. Cobalt blue tends to 'run' in the glaze and it is exceptionally difficult to apply evenly by hand-held brush. Ground-laying was the method which would have been the most likely to yield an even distribution but how did Josiah Spode II's craftsmen solve the problem?'

Following a chance find at Spode of a copper [plate] 'stipple punched all over, i.e. covered neatly with dots' ******, Copeland was curious as to its use. As he remarked it would have made a very dull pattern! It reminded him of a 'sheet pattern' and the closest I can find of something similarly dull is an engraved apprentice copper.
Apprentice copper plate (detail)
In his article Copeland states that he later found a reference in an old recipe book.
It reads:
Blue for Printing the upright
Jars 36in made Apl 1818
for the King
3 Banding Blue & 2 White Lead
for the first time over, when
Hardened printed again with
Common Blue

Many, many different blues******* were used at Spode

Copeland continued:
     'I believe that the stipple sheet copper was used to apply an even coating of blue to these great jars. The formula for Banding Blue was: 10lb Best Blue Calx, 2lb Flint Glass. Banding Blue was for the blue bands [on a pot] normally applied by pencil - the potters' name for a brush. This blue was also used for groundlaying. After transferring the stipple sheet the jars were hardened on in a kiln at about 650ᵒC. This firing was to fasten the colour to the pot.
    Then they were printed again with Common Blue (10lb of Blue Calx, 18lb Cornwall Stone), when the transfer paper could be placed over any joins which showed from the first printing. They [the jars] would have to be hardened on again before the glaze was applied and then fired at about 1050ᵒC to develop the rich blue colour of Cobalt silicate.
    After this some gilded ornamentation was added at the base to link up with the ormolu mounts. This gilding would require a decorating kiln fire of about 720ᵒC followed by burnishing to render the gold shiny'.
Burnishing tools can be seen at Staffordshire Past Track
For clarification, the 1050ᵒC firing was the glost firing. In total, the jars had at least 5 firings - biscuit, 2 hardening on, glost and decorating kiln - all it bottle ovens].+
Spode factory and bottle ovens c1800
Copeland then goes on to discuss the making of the jars:
    'The shaping of the jars was by throwing in four parts which were then joined carefully by the thrower; later they were turned and, because of their great size, I suppose they would have been turned in an upright position [the norm would have been to turn objects in a horizontal position - see image below]. The exact measurements to be observed by the thrower and the turner are recorded in two Shape Books. One of these gives turner's measurements for two different bodies, one of which is marked S China [Stone China]'.
Turning a cup at Spode c1975
Other parts of the torchères were made by other craftsmen including by Vulliamy who also worked on the oil lamps and pagodas mentioned in my previous two posts.

These, then, are just some of the items made for the Royal Pavilion by Spode. Copeland mentions that Spode also supplied '4 oval blue china vases for celerets'. These measured approx. 82cm wide by 56cm high and 56cm across. They were ordered on 5th Jan 1822 according to Copeland citing The Royal Pavilion Requisitions Book. 
'Oval blue china vase for celerets'
Copeland also mentions Spode panels with painted flowers on an Imperial yellow ground set into wooden pedestals on which Chinese figures holding banners stood.
Spode ceramic panels in wooden base
Acknowledgments and notes:

Taken from my lecture 'The Josiah Spodes: Pottery Pioneers'

*My huge thanks to Robert Copeland (1925-2010) who sparked my interest in and researched and wrote about this subject sharing his knowledge with me. In particular his work on this subject around the 1970s/1980s, culminating in his article 'Jars for the King', published in the Spode Society's 'Recorder'. Although a member of the family who owned Spode, Copeland served 3 years 'at the bench' gaining experience of all the processes of ceramic manufacture on the factory floor. Later this gave him an advantage as a ceramic historian to understand the techniques of pottery production. I continue to be deeply grateful to Copeland who generously shared his Spode researches with me. We often did a swap and amalgamation of finds! He would be thrilled, I know, to be a part of the blogosphere. See below for a selection of his publications and also look at my booklist HERE>

In his article Copeland gives his thanks to Jessica Rutherford, then Principal Keeper at the Royal Pavilion. His references include:

'The Making of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Designs and Drawings' by J. Morley, Sotheby, 1984

'The Royal Pavilion, Brighton' by John Dinkel, Philip Wilson 1983

** 'The Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion' from John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion 1826

*** @BrightonMuseums on Twitter; @brighton_museums on Instagram

****The majority of the pieces in the Spode shape books of this period are for items solely made by throwing and in bone china. So when there is an exception to this a note is usually included. The technical details included are for the Thrower (measurements on the left-hand page) and for the Turner (measurements on the right-hand page). Shape books can be seen online at Spode Exhibition Online.

***** More on the previous blogpost - click here

****** Pattern decoration could be applied by transfer printing method using hand engraved copper plates. The copper plates were simply referred to as coppers at the Spode factory.

******* For more on ceramic blues see: 'Spode's Willow Pattern & Other designs after the Chinese' 3rd edition, by Robert Copeland, Studio Vista, 1999 ISBN 0 289 80177-X Opposite page 70.

Other indispensable books by Robert Copeland: 

'Manufacturing Processes of Tableware during the Eighteenth & Nineteenth Centuries', Northern Ceramic Society, 2009 ISBN 978-0-9563159-0-8 [Much is illustrated from his photographs at Spode]

'Spode & Copeland Marks & Other Relevant Intelligence', Studio Vista, 2nd edition 1997 ISBN 0 289 80069 2

'Parian: Copeland's Statuary Porcelain', Antique Collectors' Club, 2007 ISBN 10: 1 85149 499 5, ISBN 13: 1 85149 499 6

The New Pocket Cyclopædia contains a report of the Prince's visit to Spode in 1806.

+ Please see Terry Woolliscroft's Potbank Dictionary for explanation of words associated with the Pottery Industry.

Thanks to Pat Halfpenny with whom I swapped notes, images, information and enthusiasm about this subject.

Royal Pavilion history - click HERE

Royal Pavilion objects in the Royal Collection Trust (RCT) - click HERE>

HM King George IV (1762-1830): Regent (1811-1820); King (1820-1830)
HM King George IV by Thomas Lawrence