Staffordshire 9 - Stoke on Trent/Middleport Pottery, the bottle ovens and the weeping poppies /Lest we forget

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September 18th 2018
Published: September 20th 2018
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1914 breakout of the First World War. The war to end all wars. The war that would be over by Christmas or so they said. The war that heralded fighting in the mud filled trenches and introduced modern warfare to the unsuspecting world. The war of tanks and of the Battle of the Somme. 1918 - 100 years since that war ended, The world was never going to be the same again. A generation of young men lost to the carnage of war . Did we learn our lessons? No we certainly did not. Confucious reminded us that "Learning without thought is labour lost, thought without learning is perilous". When I think of the Great War I feel that we have never learned a thing. We continue to make mistakes. As we stood in front of a blackened bottle oven our thoughts were far away.

But I have gone ahead of myself. Gabby is not with us. In fact, I am not sure she would have driven down the hill to the car park. The steep ramp would have struck on Gabbys low slung steps. We paid our £3 to park on old disused scrapyard turned over the poppies event. Perhaps in the future the area might be regenerated. It needs an entrepreneur or a philantropist to buy the land and build a model village on the site. A Saltaire , a Bournville or a Port Sunlight in the heart of the Potteries. Houses fit for purpose, small neat front gardens and allotments, doctors surgery and village schools and shops. Good transport links using the local canal to get into the city for work. Fantasy dreams perhaps but the old blackened buildings did lend themselves to bijou appartments with waterside locations.

Rewind back and we have left SMC, flushed with success, a new fly screen fitted and are driving down the M1 towards Tibshelf services in search of LPG. Of course they have some don't they? What if they don't have any? Not a problem - there is always a garage in Sheffield or the last service station close to the Tunnel. They didn't have any. Perhaps they will sell it on the other side of the road. Luckily they did as we spied the fat stubby little tank wedged between the diesel pumps. The last time we filled up was way back in 2012 when it cost £22 to fill two tanks . Prices probably have increased over that time and we need a tank and three quarters. £5 filled up quickly followed by £10 and finally the fill completed at £23. Gabby is good to go now with plenty of LPG for cooking and for heating. All we need now it to take her to the weigh bridge before we leave for Spain.

So why are we walking along the footpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal. We were heading for Middleport Pottery in Burslem. Built in 1889 it is a rare example of a site that still produced pottery using traditional methods. The site was purchased in 2011 by the Princes Regeneration Trust who rebuilt the spaces to provide workshops, a visitor centre and a cafe. We were here to see Poppies.

Way back in 2014 888,246 blood red ceramic poppies were designed by Tom Piper and produced by Chesterfield artist Paul Cummin. They were used as part of a display Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red a display suspended from the walls and towers of the Tower of London. Since 2015 the display was partially sold off and the remaining poppies made up into two displays Wave and Weeping Window which have travelled the country. The venues different in character and design from the great cathedrals of St Magnus in Kirkwall to Hereford, from the Castles of Caernarfon to the modern glass Senedd building in Cardiff. From the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to Hull the city of culture. From the Silk Mill at Derby to the Middleport Pottery bottle ovens. We had tried to see them but managed at each time to miss them. Middleport pottery was our last shot.

The factory site was packed with young and old, grandparents with young children and schoolchildren all concentrating on the cascade of blood red poppies pouring out of the top of the bottle shaped chimney. Why did the display come to Stoke on Trent. It came because Stoke is the capital of the ceramics world. During World War 1 ceramic goods were in demand , tableware needed for hospitals, homes and the military. Propaganda ware and plates. Women took on a bigger role as pottery decorators and designers. We stood in front of the display. Words wouldn't come. It was beautiful, poignant and thought provoking. We were so glad we had the opportunity to see them.

How apt the words from the unknown Chesterfield soldier - "The blood swept lands and seas of red, Where angels dare to tread.


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