Photography at Middleport Pottery

We are delighted to be working with Staffs Uni on our project at Middleport Pottery. We are working with students from a range of subjects.

Here, third year Photography student, Kelsie Irvine, talks about her first day on site. 

"My name is Kelsie Irvine. I'm a final year Photojournalism student at Staffordshire University, and I am helping The Prince’s Regeneration Trust document the regeneration of Middleport Pottery.

As you will know, Middleport was saved by The Prince's Regeneration Trust in order for it to be for its future to be secured and of wider benefit to the community, saving local jobs and skills. Being the only working Victorian pottery factory left in the UK gives Middleport an important role in reminding us where 'the Potteries' comes from. The regeneration will include community spaces where people can come to learn about Stoke-on-Trent's unique history, all down to the once booming pottery industry.

As a photojournalist, I was intrigued by this story and grabbed the opportunity to work with The Prince's Regeneration Trust with both hands. Originally from Stone I have been coming into Stoke-on-Trent for years, never really knowing of the impact of the pottery industry's decline on the city. This project has given me the chance to understand and see on a first hand basis how it is being revitalised.

I had never been to Burslem before, and never heard of Middleport, so it was a pleasant surprise to pull up outside for the first time, and almost be transported back in time. It is tucked away, backing onto the canal, but looking at the beautiful Victorian building, it is hard not to be in awe.

I met Naomi (the onsite project asssitant) for the first time and she gave me a tour all around the factory, I took my camera with me, but for the first time I wanted to absorb it all myself.

The factory is huge, I was hoping to have free reign of the place, but the pure size of the site would mean I'd be lost in a matter of minutes! There are doors, stairs and rooms everywhere. When you think you've reached a dead end, there’s a door that you thought was just part of the wall, leading to the rest of the factory.

As you walk round everyone is friendly and smiley and happy to talk. They must be bombarded with people asking about their jobs and their roles in the factory on a daily basis, but each person you run into seems pleased that you're interested in their trade, and happy to explain and answer questions from the likes of me!

It's a real treat to be able to walk around a working factory, and to see machinery and techniques that have been used for well over 100 years. I have been for a tour around Spode and it has such an air of emptiness and desolation. Middleport is completely different. Aside from the constant hum of machinery, the songs from the radio and the buzz of chatter, you can feel the energy of the people working there, and the satisfaction they get from working in a place they love every day.

I have been back a few times since, and this electricity is felt nowhere better than the Transfer Printing room. This is where 10-20 women spend the days putting transfer print onto pottery, for it to be glazed on later. Middleport is one of the last potteries in the UK that uses this highly skilled technique, keeping to its traditions.

It is the atmosphere in the Transfer Printing room that helped me decide on which angle I wanted to take with the project. I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to choose however I like to document the regeneration, allowing me to take into consideration my personal interests.

My interest in the factory is concentrated on the women who work there. Like the factory, their roles have had to change and develop over time, and this is what I would like to research & photograph. The pottery industry has always hired women, their delicacy, intricacy and deftness when handling pottery, hand painting, or applying transfers has meant it has always been one of the only factory-run industries that relies on the work of women. For this project I will be talking to the women who work at Middleport today, about their jobs, their roles. I want to then compare and contrast to how this may have changed since the factory first began, and how it's similar in ways. I will also want to investigate into the history of the women workers - if any of the workers today have ancestral ties with previous employees, how they got into the industry and if it was the same for their mothers and fathers.

For my work at university I will need to produce an essay that coincides with the images I take a Middleport, this is where I will look into the history of women in the factory industry in general, looking at times such as World War II when women were required to take up dangerous works in the Munitions factories, while the men fought on the front line. Also looking at incidents when women went on strike in order to protest for equal pay for men and women, this will help me shape an idea of how the role of women in the factory has changed over the decades, and where that leaves us today."

To see Kelsie's first few snaps - please have a look at our Facebook album