Pottery memories

IMG_20140601_133829“I miss the company of the women in the potbanks. We had a good Union, good conditions, and we’d have a singsong in the afternoon.

I did piece work on the bench, on lithographic. When I started training at Spode, I was cutting prints first. Mrs Bolton was the forewoman, that’s what they called them. We learnt on easier patterns. Just before I finished the training, the law changed and they brought in a shorter week. We didn’t have to work Saturday mornings, I liked that.

After twelve months I was put on the bench. You had to be good. Everything at Spode had to be spot on. It was the best. We were all on piece work. We measured how hard we worked in money then – now it’s in minutes.

We started at 8 o’clock. We had breakfast at work, toast from the canteen and there was a boiler for tea. If you work in a shop, you have breakfast before, but we had it at work.

I started working in a shop first, a corner shop on London Road, for £3 10 shillings a week. But at Spode it was £10. At Woolworths it was £5, and nobody every left Woolies.

It was hard work. I was an underglaze sizer first. You had to put on two coats to make the print stick on when fired.

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The prints were all in the print safe, behind locked doors, kept at a certain temperature. Ten prints were stapled together to cut. We had a new German perforating machine once. The instructions were in German and they had to get someone over to show how to use it.

The work for the two ladies doing the Willow pattern was harder, bloody hard work. There were two women on that. It was below glaze work, and you had to work hard to rub the print through the glaze. It took a long time to get the print off. They earned their money.

Our work went to all four corners of the world, and we had visitors from all over. We had to be quiet when they came, no singing. Soon as they went we all started nattering again.

I left Spode when an American company took over. They moved everything around. People were unsettled.

I worked at Sadler’s after, up in Burslem. I thought the Greek Key pattern was Portmeirion, but it wasn’t, it was Sadler’s. The money at Sadler’s was not good and I left to have a baby.

I went back to Spode to learn on glaze lithography. But then Spode wanted to drop my money so I left. It was easy then, you could just walk into another potbank. Except Mintons – I’d have loved to work there but nobody ever left unless they died. I reckon Minton’s was good if you could get on there. And Doulton’s, up Burslem.

I went to Portmeirion. Everything was mustard and green, dark colours. The only white ware were rolling pins and those things you put under the bed, then. Susie Cooper took over and it went up. But Portmeirion was low paid and there was a bad atmosphere. I didn’t know the women there.

So I went to Crown Staffs, in Fenton. They brought in conveyor belts. You did your work, lithographed it, and put it on the conveyor belt and it went to the end of the line to be checked. It was really good there.

But I went back to Portmeirion. It had picked right up, with the Botanic Garden. I was working there aged 55.

It all seemed like hard work at the time, but it was all good in the 60s, with hindsight. I have happy memories from the potbanks, looking back – good times.

Working for potbanks, I still look for patterns everywhere.”

Memories of working in Stoke’s potteries (in local dialect, ‘potbanks’). In the big industrial manufacturers – Spode, Portmeirion, Sadlers – the women were the highest earners, skilled in finishing and decorating the pottery made.

This story has been collected from an anonymous lady who worked in the potbanks, as part of London Road, a year long project commissioned by Appetite with SWOCA and Second Look Stoke.

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