Visit to Emma Bridgewater Factory 10th October 2016
In 1985 Emma Bridgewater wanted to give her mother a special cup and saucer for her birthday, but could not find anything suitable. It was out of this desire that the stylish and practical pottery we know today as Emma Bridgewater was born. Her solution was to make one herself. This led to manufacturing in a small way, before acquiring the Victorian building on the banks of the Caldon Canal in Stoke on Trent in 1966; originally the Meakin Brothers works. From small beginnings the company now employs over two hundred and seventy people.
Karen, our guide, walked and talked us round the factory floor where we had the opportunity to observe several processes all of which require the individual attention of a skilled workforce: namely jiggers, jolliers, fettlers, casters and decorators to transform a piece of clay into a finished item of pottery. Each piece is touched by thirty pairs of hands and goes through two firing processes, with scrap clay being recycled up to the “biscuit firing” stage.
“Cylindricalware” is made using specially made moulds, a highly skilled part of the process. Slip, the consistency of custard, is poured in and allowed to dry naturally before being turned out and sponged down by fettlers to remove any rough edges; all part of quality control.
Three of our group had the opportunity to try their hand at forming a piece of “flatware” by throwing a flat slice of clay onto a metal disc, as had the Duchess of Cambridge when she visited the factory in 2015.
The decorating workshop was particularly interesting, as we were able to watch how the “sponge designs” are sculpted by overlaying an acetate template, which is then burnt with a specially adapted soldering iron to etch the design into a foam block, a bit like a potato cut. All the decorators need to be competent in eighteen to twenty-four patterns and adapt to the demands of production. Apparently very few mistakes are made and therefore the factory shop is often short of seconds!
The final process is the application of glaze and which is tinted to ensure the entire surface is covered enabling any overrun to be detected and sponged away prior to firing (the tint burns off in the firing kiln). The kilns are opened slowly to ensure the finished ware is adequately cooled.
Security is taken very seriously, and to prevent the manufacture of “fake copies” all pieces bear the factory mark, have a year stamp, and are initialled by the artist prior to firing.
The tour provided a wonderful insight into the creation of this very British product, and the chance to have lunch in the café surrounded by examples of work displayed in cabinets and picture frames. Indeed a cup of tea, sandwiches and cakes were all served on Emma Bridgewater ware! A great day out and very much enjoyed.
Mayfield Mill and The Terrace – A talk by Mr Pat Smith on 14th March 2016
Pat gave a very interesting and informative talk, guiding us through the manufacturing and social history of the Mill and the Terrace, illustrated with a wide range of resources photocopied from his collection of archive material.
The origins of Mayfield Mill can be traced back to the 14th Century, and described in 1371 as a corn mill, under the auspices of Tutbury Abbey. Following the dissolution of the monasteries, ownership passed through a number of hands, being converted to enable the production of cotton textiles.
The Simpson Brothers acquired the premises in 1874 and invested a sizeable sum in re-equipping the Mill for continued cotton production and building housing for their workforce in The Terrace and Conygree Lane. Sunnyside, now demolished, and Field Head were constructed for the Simpsons to take up residence in the village. Sadly, the business was liquidated in 1930 and the Mill premises and housing were advertised for sale. William Tatton of Leek purchased the business.
Having worked at the Mill from 1951 for a period of 10 years Pat was able to recall personal memories of the workforce, the lifestyle experienced by the residents of The Terrace, the progress in manufacturing innovation, and advancements in the power supply. Initially, this was water from the River Dove, followed by the in-house production of coal gas and generation of electricity, and eventual connection to the National Grid in 1952. During the period he was employed, nylon production was introduced. The legacy of synthetic fibre production continues today, under the management of Mayfield Yarns, part of the Allied Textile Group, which specialises in the manufacture of synthetic polyester technical textiles, working twenty-four hours across five days and employing a hundred people.
We were fortunate to have some of the mill management in the audience, as well as former employees, and residents of The Terrace, who were able to add their own experiences to make the evening a very enjoyable event. Cakes and refreshments were served to complete the evening’s entertainment.
Many thanks to Pat for sharing his knowledge with the Mayfield Heritage Group and friends.
Smedley Factory Visit – 24th November 2015
Twenty members of the Mayfield Heritage Group, plus friends, went to the historic Smedley Factory in the Derwent Valley on 24 November 2015 to visit the reputed oldest continuous working factory in the world. The factory was founded in 1784 by Peter Nightingale (a relation of Florence Nightingale) and John Smedley.
On a cold day, we were given a very warm welcome by the John Smedley team which included a fascinating talk and visual presentation on the history of the Smedley Factory and what the company is now doing to research its history. We were reminded of the importance of the Derwent Valley in promoting the Industrial revolution and the Smedley family’s role not just in developing the factory at Lea but also other investments in the area such as the hydrotherapy hotel, called Smedley’s Hydro, at Matlock (now the home of Derbyshire County Council).
The tour of the factory itself was fascinating seeing the way in which modern and highly specialised knitting machines mechanisation was blended with the individual skills of workers who, for example, were hand working garments to finish off the final quality product. It was emphasised on several occasions during the visit that only perfect products will be sold and this quality philosophy of the Smedley factory was evident on the way we were treated by all staff. Special thanks go to Jeannette Chorley at Smedley’s for arranging our visit and making us so welcome.
The visit to Smedley was a reminder of the wonderful heritage we have in our local area which in the case of the Derwent Valley is recognised in its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation received in 2001.
Friday 9th October: Talk on antique agricultural and horticultural hand tools by Graham and Judy White (Church Rooms at 7.30 pm)
Graham and Judy with their antique agricultural tools
Monday 21st September: 7.30 pm. Illustrated talk about Ashbourne Railway and its connection with Mayfield
Review: On Monday, September 21st Mayfield Heritage group hosted a delightful talk on the old Ashbourne Railway by Mark Tyack. The talk was beautifully illustrated with photos that brought back to life the past glory days when Ashbourne had a railway. One particularly interesting item was the tunnel under Church Street and how the road was raised to accommodate this. Mark spent much of his childhood hanging around the station and talking to the very friendly staff. Often he was able to ride on the footplate which left him with many happy memories and an abiding love for this particular form of transport. The audience had their memories too, which they were pleased to exchange with Mark. After the talk, we all enjoyed tea and cakes which rounded off a very pleasant evening.
Monday 10th August: An afternoon visit to the NGS ‘Colour Mill’ garden at Winkhill with afternoon tea.