Monday, August 31, 2009

The Gladstone Pottery Museum - Part One

The Gladstone Pottery Museum is in Longton and is the site of the former Gladstone China Works. It is also about 20 minutes walk away from where I live. I first visited it in the early 1980s when I was on an Open University summer school at Keele University and we were taken to the museum on a coach. I never imagined as I wandered around that I would one day live nearby and even, for a short while, work there.

I find it a fascinating place to visit and even more so now that lots of new features and exhibitions have been added to the tour. It isn't a famous pottery works like Spode or Wedgwood but like many other factories working at the same time it produced every day items for the mass market. Above you can see the main courtyard with the bottle kilns or 'pot banks' as they are called in Stoke in the back ground and foreground.

I took this photo inside one of the bottle ovens - you can walk between the outer and inner layer of the structure. The outer layer is called the 'hovel' and acts as a chimney taking the smoke away and protecting the inner layer or 'kiln proper' from the weather. This walkway is where the fireman would stoke the fires under the inner kiln where all the pottery had been stacked in the protective saggers to fire the clay.

This was hot, dirty and back-breaking work. Everything depended on the fireman doing his job properly if the firing was stopped too early or carried on to long the china would be ruined. The doorway through which the saggars were inserted and then collected after firing was called a 'clammins' or 'wicket'. This was bricked up during firing.

The workers were made to go into the really red hot atmosphere to remove the fired china as soon as possible. The kilns were fired once a week and were supposed to be left for 48 hours to cool but many would open them up after 24 hours. The men who did this job would suffer ill health including burned skin and eventually many would die of heart attacks because of the intenseness of the heat endured whilst doing the job.

There are many other original workshops in the factory including one for the making of the saggars, the fire clay boxes used to hold the wares whilst they were being fired in the kilns. The saggar maker was a skilled man using his thumbs to join the sides and base of the saggar. His assistant, usually a young boy, was the 'saggar maker's bottom knocker'. He made the base of the saggar by knocking the fire clay into shape with a wooden mallet or 'mawl'.

Above is the mould making workshop full of the moulds for forming the china wares. Young boys would be employed as ' mould- runners' and spent their day running backwards and forwards at great speed with new moulds and fresh clay. This was exhausting work.

This is the clay throwing workshop. Here visitors can make a pot on the potter's wheel and have it boxed to take home.

A new addition to the Museum over the last couple of years has been The Doctor's House where factory workers would visit if they became ill, which they often did. Disease was rife as the potters worked in such a hot, smoky atmosphere. Silicosis and plumbism were the most hazardous conditions suffered by the workers. Silicosis affected the lungs and was caused by the fine particles of dust or silica which came from the dried, fired clay, this disease was known locally as 'Potter's Rot' and the 'fettlers' and 'scourers' were most prone to this.

Plumbism was caused by the lead in the glaze given to the pottery after its firing so the 'dippers' who were most likely to contract this were the highest paid workers in the factory - their life-expectancy was no more than 40 years.

The dipper's would take Epsom salts and drink milk to line their stomachs. Also at risk were the decorators, mostly women, known as 'paintresses' and especially the ones who worked with majolica wares where the lead content was almost 60% , as they would lick their brushes to straighten and fine the bristles. Eventually, towards the end of the 19th century various Factory Acts were brought in to tackle some of these problems by raising the age at which children could be employed in some of the more dangerous areas of the factory and introducing ventilation and exhaust fans to the factories.

I think that is enough for one post so there is more to come in part two.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Special Day

'tis my birthday today and I love flowers and cards more than anything on my birthday; I'm being taken out for the day but as yet we don't know where - of course it is going to rain- so that will have some influence on where we go but when we get to the end of the road which direction will the car go in? Your guess is as good as mine! I have my camera ready!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Walk in the Bollin Valley

One of the most difficult things we have had to do during our de-cluttering session a couple of weeks ago was to part with some of our books but we have had to be firm with ourselves and let some of them go. After all we still have four bookshelves full. I read in the local newspaper that the Englesea Brook Museum were wanting books for a huge fund-raising second hand book sale this coming weekend so we packed them in boxes, put them in the back of the car and off we went to deliver them.

Then it was on towards Lakeland at Wilmslow. This is always a treat as I love looking at all their wonderful kitchen wares and gadgets. We wanted jam labels and liners for cake and bread tins and they had those in abundance. I also noticed that already they had got displays for Halloween products and dare I say it - they were stocking up the shelves with things that looked a bit Christmasy, too!

We had packed a picnic lunch so after our visit to Lakeland we set off towards Styal Country Park and the Bollin Valley. After we'd eaten lunch we walked along by the River Bollin.

I thought this root formation was interesting.

The paths were quite busy with dog walkers and joggers. Families were enjoying picnics and children and dogs were splashing about in the shallow water of the river.

As we walked across the parkland which leads towards the outskirts of Wilmslow we saw these people doing Tai Chi - when we passed them on the way back they were doing another exercise similar to Tai Chi but with sticks or staves. It all looked very graceful.

We walked right up to the St Bartholomew's church on the outskirts of Wilmslow before turning back to retrace our footsteps to the river and then over the bridge and back to the car park on the opposite side.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

From Tree to Table

Some of the plums have started to ripen but they seem to be struggling this year. Last year we had loads and loads of fat juicy plums even though it was a fairly wet summer. This year, although it is just as wet, the plums are growing differently in that a lot of them are going bad before they are even ready to pick. Is it the weather, is it some sort of insect or is the whole tree diseased in some way? I'm going to have to find out!

Yesterday I managed to pick a colander full but not many are ripe enough to eat raw so I decided to make a plum crumble so I could soften and sweeten some of the less ripe fruit.

I cooked them in a pan with a little water and some honey and then put the crumble topping over the softened plums.

Just half and hour in the oven and the crumble was ready to eat with some custard.

Today I made scones for afternoon tea. We will eat them with the plum jam that we made last year - we still have some jars left - perhaps next week this year's plums will be ripe enough to make some more.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Eccles Pike

We visited Eccles Pike a few weeks ago but I've only just got around to writing a post about it. We set out towards Leek and across the Roaches to Buxton then taking the A5004 towards Whaley Bridge. This road is also called Long Hill - and it certainly is! We turned just before Whaley Bridge towards Chapel-en-le-Frith and the little road up to Eccles Pike is off this road.

This is Combs Reservoir from the small car park at the foot of Eccles Pike. The hill in the background is Combs Moss. Castle Naze an ancient iron age Hill Fort lies to the far left of the hill.

Eccles Pike is cared for by the National Trust and it is free to walk to the summit - it isn't a long climb up and only takes about 5 minutes from the roadside.

We made friends with an old farm cat who came to see what we were doing sitting on the little bench near the gate - well we were eating our lunchtime picnic and he was more interested in that than us!

The views from the top are amazing even in the fine 'mizzle' that surrounded and dampened us.

Near the top and we can just see the topograph which gives a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding countryside.

It is made of bronze and was cast by Ted McAvoy of local firm Leander Architectural, in nearby Dove Holes, using motifs desgined by the children of Chaple-en-le-Frith Infants School

From the summit, on a clear day you can see the Peak District to the East and Manchester to the North as well as views across Cheshire and out towards Wales.

The name Pike means 'pointed hill' but no one knows why the hill was called Eccles - except that it may be something to do with Eccles near Manchester famous for its little currant cakes which, when we were children, were always called 'dead fly' cakes - much like Garibaldis were always 'dead fly' biscuits.

A last look at the views and then it was time to go back towards the car, this times we headed towards the wooded area at the base of the hill. It looked so inviting!

The Eccles Pike Fell Race, apparently one of the oldest established fell races in the country is held in August and as I write this post I've just found out that it is happening today Wednesday 19th August at 7.30p.m.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lots of Plums and Pots

The plums are nearly ready, they are almost there - just a little more sun is needed to complete the process; there are lots of them, the tree is laden with fruit.

On Saturday we took our neighbour up to Kidsgrove to visit her mother. After we'd dropped her off we came back via Westport Lake and took a look at the new visitor centre and then popped into the Burleigh Factory Shop which is next to the canal at Middleport.

This is a very interesting place and apparently, acording to their information leaflet, it is England's last working Victorian factory. It was saved from closure in 1999 by a couple from Hampshire and has been working to the same designs and techniques as it did when it first opened in 1851.

This is the main factory gate where the workers would have arrived for work. It was the rule at most factories that if you were late for work the gate would be closed and you would lose your shift and therefore your wage for that day.

I love the cobbled roadway and could image the workers walking along in their 'trashers' (working shoes) and carrying their 'snappin' (breakfast or lunch).

Above are some views around the entrance to the factory and below some views inside the factory shop
On this side of the factory the car park is right next to the canal.

Of course we couldn't leave without a small souvenir so we chose a mug each from their bargain basket mine was a blue and white pattern made especially for Crabtree and Evelyn and Paul's was brown and white with an oak leaf and acorn patterm made for Williams-Sonoma Home.

Well, we don't mind you going out and leaving us but you could have brought home new cat bowls instead of mugs!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We're back on-line......

......touch wood! and it didn't take as long as we thought it would. So what have we been doing whilst we've been off line? More painting and decorating and moving of furniture. Plus a lot of de-cluttering, re-cycling and boxing up and storing lots of things that we somehow don't want to part with but don't use very often. There have been trips to the local skip, B&Q and Ikea.

We've been working in the garden when possible but the rain has made it difficult to achieve very much!

There were lots of butterflies around on the sunny days

The Japanese anenomies are in flower - the pink ones always open first - the white ones are still in bud.

I've also been reading

Watching beautiful night skies

and the latest Harry Potter film - now showing at our city museum

Also trying, unsuccessfully, to repel gorgeous but unwanted visitors

Oh, Casper!

It's good to be back although I've got a lot to catch up on so I'll be popping along to visit everyone and reading about what you have been up to over the next few days.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Greetings from my local library - we have lost all Internet connection at home and it may be some time before it is sorted. Meanwhile I will miss writing posts, receiving your comments and visiting and commenting on all your lovely blogs, oh well - all the more to look forward to when I return.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On Mam Tor

Yesterday we walked to the top of Mam Tor. Today I ache all over but it was worth it - the views were spectacular.

Since I last walked up here - now here's an admission - over forty years ago, a crazy paving path has appeared. This makes the ascent a lot easier although I would think if the paving was wet it could be very slippy. I wouldn't have worried about that forty years ago!

Up and up we climbed, I could feel my legs working overtime but it felt good to be getting some exercise.

Mam Tor is the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort and you can see the defence ditch just beyond the information board.

To the left as we walked was Rushup Edge where hang gliders and model aeroplane enthusiasts were catching the breeze. I feel there is a slight irony in the name of this Edge as there is no way you are going to rush up there!

Onwards and upwards, nearly at the top, we've left the sun behind and the air up here is damp but not cold.

Yay we made it to the top - quite an achievement!

The views from the top are bright and clear but the mist is slowly coming down in the distance.

These sheep are far more used to all this hill walking than we are and can't see what all the fuss is about - they don't seem to mind sharing with all their visitors though.

We spent ages gazing at the surrounding countryside before returning down the same path to the car park.