Visit Britain Martin Brent

The Pottery Tour

If you fancy a cruise to a city that changed history – well, the history of your tableware – then take a look at a canal boat holiday in Staffordshire.

The English city of Stoke-on-Trent has been shaped by the pottery industry for over 300 years and is affectionately known the world over as ‘The Potteries’.

The Trent and Mersey Canal and the Caldon Canal allowed the development of some of the most famous names in pottery and a tour along both these waterways will give you an incredible insight into this fascinating history.

Emma Bridgewater

Staffordshire became a centre of ceramic production in the early 17th century.   This was because there was an abundance of potters clay and coal substitute to fire the ovens.  Plus there were plenty of other raw materials necessary for potting close by: lead in Derbyshire, salt in Cheshire, and fine sand in Mow Cop.

Shopping Image © Juliet White / VisitBritain

Hundreds of companies produced decorative or industrial items. By 1800 the pottery industry was well established and expanding, with over 300 potworks in north Staffordshire.

Perhaps the most famous name in pottery is Wedgwood.  This name comes from its founder, Josiah Wedgwood, an independent potter who became Britain’s most successful ceramics pioneer, leading English pottery from a cottage craft to an art form and international industry.

Did you know?

  • Wedgwood was a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal dug between the River Trent and River Mersey.
  • Wedgwood is credited as the inventor of modern marketing, specifically direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.
  • He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

The Caldon Canal joins the Trent and Mersey at Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, and was built to carry minerals from the uplands of the Peak District to the Potteries. Reminders of the Industrial Revolution along its banks include the remains of lime kilns, ironstone workings and ironworks.

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Image © Martin Brent / VisitBritain

Did you know?

  • Most of the roads in the Potteries were in a poor state in the 16th and 17th century, and this was not helped by the habit of some of the potters of digging their clay pits in the roads – a practice that gave rise to the term “potholes”
  • You can discover the somewhat gruesome history behind the origins of the term ‘bone china’ at Bone Mill at Etruria.

The industry has remained in the area thanks to the skills of the local people and Stoke-on-Trent is still famous for its quality ware which is sold all over the world.  Wedgwood, Moorcroft, Aynsley, Burleigh, Dudson, Emma Bridgewater, Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Doulton, and Royal Stafford are just a few of the leading brands you will find in the city.

Potteries to visit:

  • Throw a pot, paint a plate or mug, or have a go at turning, lithography, or ornamenting at the Wedgwood Visitor Centre. Find out more about the Wedgewood visitor centre at www.wedgwoodvisitorcentre.com.
  • At Emma Bridgewater, choose a classic piece of Emma Bridgewater’s pottery and design and make a masterpiece of your own with the guidance of expert helpers.   For further details see www.emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk
  • Visitors to Gladstone Pottery Museum can take away a real souvenir of their visit by having a go at throwing a pot, making a bone china flower or decorating a piece of pottery.
  • The Ceramic Café at Royal Stafford is a place where you can create your own unique and colourful piece of tableware or giftware. There are a wide range of pieces to choose from including Plates, Cups, Mugs, Bowls, Teapots, Clowns and Teddy Bear Figurines.

You can visit Stoke-on-Trent from our Peak District base and our Acton Bridge base.

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