Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On Queen Street

If you wander down Queen Street in Burslem (one of the six towns that make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire) you will come across two amazing buildings.  One still in use; one empty and neglected! The most ornate of the two buildings is the red-brick Wedgwood Memorial Institute built as a memorial to the great potter Josiah Wedgwood 1730-95. 


It stands on the site of the Brick House Pottery Works, owned by the Adams, another local pottery family and which Josiah Wedgwood rented from them during the years of 1762 to 1772.  It was also known as the Bell works because of the bell used to summon the workers to the factory each day.  It was at the Bell Factory that Wedgwood perfected his famous Black Basalt wares. 



A statue of Josiah Wedgwood stands over the impressive doorway.  I was trying to see if the statue showed Wedgwood with his wooden leg as the legs looked a bit awkward but couldn't tell from my photos.  Wedgwood had his right leg amputated in 1768 after it was weakened by an attack of smallpox in his childhood.


The Wedgwood Memorial Institute was established in 1869 as a centre for art and science, the foundation stone was laid by William Gladstone in 1863.   The facade is made up of sculptures, friezes and mosaics designed by many of the leading artists and architects of the day including John Lockwood Kipling father of the author Rudyard Kipling. 

The moulded medallions over the doorway show three of Josiah Wedgwood's famous contemporaries and associates - the scientist and fellow member of the Lunar Society Joseph Priestley, Thomas Bentley his partner in the Etruria pottery works and the artist John Flaxman.


With all its wonderful history and associations it is such a shame that this building is closed, neglected and falling into disrepair!  In 2010 The Victorian Society listed this building as one of its top ten most endangered buildings in England and Wales. According to their website in May last year The Prince's Trust unveiled plans to renovate the Wedgwood Institute to be used by small businesses - I do hope this happens!

So what is the other building I mentioned at the beginning of this post?  Well, exactly opposite the Wedgwood Institute stands the famous Burslem School of Art.  


It was opened in 1907 and designed by A R Wood who was architect of many of the important public buildings across Stoke-on-Trent which at this point was still three years away from having city status.  The six towns which made up the potteries still having their own identity - in fact they still do in many ways.  Burslem was and still is known as the Mother Town and it was the 'Bursley' of many of local author and writer Arnold Bennett's novels including 'Anna of the Five Towns' (I know - he missed one!) 'Old Wives Tales' and 'The Card'.

Many famous artists either attended or exhibited at the Art College including local pottery designers Susie Cooper, Charlotte Rhead and Clarice Cliff, David Hockney and Sir Clough Williams-Ellis founder of Portmeirion village in Wales.  Well known local artists like Reginald Haggar and Arthur Berry taught here as did the Scottish ceramic and stained glass designer Gordon Forsyth. 


The school of Art closed in the 1970s when all art studies were centralised at Staffordshire University.  It was opened again in 2000 as a cultural centre.  I love those large studio windows letting in as much light as possible for the students to work in.

32 comments:

  1. What beautiful and interesting buildings, they both deserve to be buzzing with life and activity.

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    1. It would be lovely if they were both buildings that the public could use - we went into the art school as there was an exhibition in there, I'd love to see inside the Institure:)

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  2. A pair of remarkable examples of Victorian architecture which should not be allowed to crumble. I enjoyed reading your historical notes which put them beautifully into context.

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    1. Thanks, John I do hope they can both be preserved and put into use - it is amazing to see two such interesting and historic buildings so close together on an otherwise ordinary if not scruffy street:)

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  3. How lovely to see these buildings recognised here. When Mr K was studying art at Staffs Uni (then Stoke Poly!) we used to visit artist friends who had studios there and I was always struck by how the grand buildings stood in stark contrast to the Burslem of today. Oh to have been there in it's heyday! I so hope that the Wedgwood Institute is rejuvenated - such a lot of our heritage is so easily lost through neglect. Thank you for the history - really interesting x Jane

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    1. The art school must have been amazing in the 20s and 30s. I've only lived in this area since the late 90s so don't have memories of the buildings and what their former uses were so it is nice to hear some of their more recent history:)

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  4. Interesting post, Rosie - wonderful buildings. As you say, it's to be hoped the Wedgewood Institute can be saved. Abby x

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    1. Thanks, Abby - it would be a shame to lose it:)

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  5. Just around the corner is what used to be Royal Doulton. I could cry for Stoke-on-Trent! At least Middleport Factory is safe, the only ray of sunshine on a very bleak horizon.

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    1. I know what you mean, good old Stoke council :( Thanks Rosie for keeping the history alive, lets hope more people take notice who have the power to save these buildings. At least the buildings in Longton/Normacot were saved and put to good use as a training centre for youngsters. Theres hope yet.

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    2. Valerie, I remember doing a factory tour at Royal Doulton on Nile Street when I first came to live here and it was buzzing and so fascinating - under 20 years later it's all gone! Such a shame:)

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    3. Amanda, I was up photographing around the area you mentioned in Longton a few weeks ago and had intended to write about that too and how it had been saved - they hope to open the bottle oven this year I think so I may wait for that. I did a post a few years ago about how run down it was so it was good to see what had been done:)

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  6. What fantastic buildings. I have driven through Burslem but I haven't ever really looked at it and I've never seen those buildings - great history!

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    1. Thanks Louise, you wouldn't see the buildings on driving through the centre as they are just off the street past the main square where the town hall is. Worth having a look at one day:)

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  7. The Institute was the home of the public lending library of course. Adult library on the left hand side, children's on the right. I spent half my childhood in there, during the 60's and 70's. I had no idea it had fallen into disuse and disrepair :-(

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    1. Thanks Wanda - I think I had read somewhere that the building had been a library - such a shame it isn't still used for that purpose - it would have made a great building for the local archives perhaps instead of up at the top of the library in Hanley. I hope they sort it out soon:)

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  8. What a beautiful building. It really is unique. x

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    1. Thanks, Jo it is a special building:)

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  9. These buildings are beautiful and I learned so much Rosie. I love Wedgewood china - it is what we have for our dinner service that we got for our wedding! - but I never knew all of the things you shared about Josiah Wedgwood, that he had a wooden leg and so on! It is fascinating, so thank you so much for sharing this. I really hope too that the building gets renovated and used as it would be such a shame for such an historic building to be lost. Brilliant post! xx

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    1. Thanks, Amy. I think Josiah Wedgwood is such a fascinating character and love to read about him. If you like Wedgwood you would enjoy visiting the Wedgwood Museum which isn't far from here at Barlaston - it is very interesting:)

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  10. Such beautiful architecture should be celebrated especially considering the historical significance. Let's hope the former Wedgwood Institute can be renovated and put to good use. In fact all these buildings should be appreciated as part of our heritage.

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    1. I hope so too, Linda - so many buildings just disappear and all that history is lost:)

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  11. I'm glad these impressive buildings are still standing, what fantastic local history. I hope the former Wedgwood Memorial Institute finds a use soon so it can continue to stand for many years yet.

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    1. It is something that they are still standing and that at least one of them is in use and accessible to people - I hope the same can be done for the Institute because it is such a fine building - I'd love to see inside:)

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  12. I can't believe that the first beautiful building is closed! It truly is a work of art. x

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    1. I know! It should be open as a public building for locals and visitors to access but I'd even rather it be in private hands and looked after than for it to deteriorate and gradually fall down which is happening to the 'Big House' which is the Wedgwood family home in the same town centre:)

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  13. Lovely post Rosie and so many interesting facts on local history as well as that of Josiah Wedgwood. I once visited the Wedgwood factory on a school trip (many years ago) and have loved the china ever since. The architecture on the buildings is just beautiful. Have a lovely weekend.
    Patricia x

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    1. Thanks, Patricia. The factory has altered such a lot over the last few years as many wares are now made abroad - such a shame but the Museum at the factory is fascinating and well worth a visit:)

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  14. What fantastic buildings and a great post. I would love to see these in real life. What great artists passed through those doors. I would love to stand on that street back in time xx

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    1. Thanks, Diane - tourist guide here should you want a visit one day:)

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  15. What a wonderful building, in fact they both are. What history is within those walls. Maryx

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    1. There certainly is! thanks Mary:)

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