I've been meaning to visit for years.
Stoke-on-Trent is actually six towns: Hanley, Burslem, Stoke, Fenton, Longton and Tunstall. Arnold Bennett reduced them to five. He thought "the five towns" sounded better. And why should geography or history be allowed to interfere with an artist's work?
Memo to self: must read Bennett.
We went to the Gladstone Pottery Museum. It's got so many ghosts they filmed an episode of Most Haunted here. The manager of the tea-room says he hears them banging about, mainly in the mornings and evenings, before and after the tourists arrive.
Life in the Potteries was hell. You were on piece work, you got drunk at night and turned up in the morning- every morning- wiith a hangover. The factory owner docked your pay for the slightest thing and you passed it on down by beating up on your apprentice (who was just a kid). And all against a backdrop of flame and smoke and Primitive Methodism.
19th century Stoke was the kind of ecological disaster area you'd have to travel to China to experience today.
And out of this hell came all those pretty things.
The Gladstone is the only complete Victorian pottery still in existence. It oughtn't to be beautiful, but it is- all that weathered brick- and the bottle shaped kilns show how architecture can achieve perfection without really trying when form follows function.
Then we went to The Wedgewood factory. Wedgewood moved to the country in the 1930s to escape the pollution and the flooding. I think Josiah Wedgewood was a hero but I'm not entirely sure. He was an abolitionist (and that goes a long way) and also- of course- an artist and a scientist and an entrepreneur of genius. "Fashion" he said, "is infinitely superior to merit." I'm still trying to work out what this means- and whether or not he was joking.
So I've spent two days looking at pots. I've seen where they make them, I've seen how they make them, I've seen cases full of famous ones and racks full of factory seconds and- Ailz loved this- a gallery dedicated to the history of toilets.