Middleport Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent

In June 2011, we stepped in to save the Victorian pottery site from closure and to ensure Burleigh stays in Burslem.

This historic pottery was constructed in 1888 for a well-known local ceramics company, Burgess & Leigh Limited, nestled in the heart of Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, the world-renowned centre of ceramics. The Grade II* listed site is a red-brick maze, containing historic machinery, archives and collections in every corner.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, called the site a 'national treasure'.

Middleport Pottery produces beautiful Burleigh pottery – each piece is touched by 25 pairs of hands. The production process is extensive, careful and the skills used are extremely rare. Many of the workforce have been there for decades; often their families worked in ceramics, passing down local craftsmanship through the generations.

A few years ago, the site was at serious risk of closure, the historic fabric was in a state of disrepair and it seemed Burleigh might move out of Burslem, losing a precious piece of British industry. Much-needed local jobs would have been lost, buildings possibly abandoned and Stoke-on-Trent would have suffered another huge blow to its proud industrial heritage. 

In June 2011, we saved the site. We put together a private and public funding package that allowed us to acquire the site and embark on an ambitious restoration and regeneration project. 

The restoration work included a varied and extensive programme of training and educational activities to support the local community in skills provision with an emphasis on traditional British craftsmanship.

The restoration has meant that Burleigh has remained on-site, saving local jobs and craftsmanship. The unused buildings have been developed to provide attractive accommodation for workshops, enterprise space, craft and community areas, a cafe, a gallery and a heritage visitor centre. The new visitor experience at Middleport Pottery includes tours of the Burleigh factory, where visitors can see the handcraft techniques that have been used there since the 1800s. Visitors can also step inside the industrial bottle kiln, which has sights and sounds from the Pottery's past, and can see the mould collection, which is the largest in Europe. The restored Victorian offices also display a collection of Burleigh ceramics from across the years.   

The restored Pottery opened to the public in July 2014 following the three-year, £9 million regeneration. It has resulted in the safeguarding of 50 local jobs and the creation of 66 more. The Pottery is now a successful visitor destination with rising visitor numbers, while a growing number of businesses are based at the site. The Old Packing House has been refurbished to become the new Prince of Wales Studios that is now open for business as a home for craftspeople to work and exhibit their products.

Since it opened, the Pottery has won eight awards: a RIBA National Award for architectural excellence; three RIBA West Midlands Awards; a Europa Nostra Award for heritage; a Civic Trust AABC Conservation Award for building conservation; a Placemaking Award for heritage; and a Heritage Open Days’ Community Champions Award.

Ros Kerslake, our Chief Executive, says: 'We believe that to create a truly sustainable and viable regeneration project, we must work with an area's unique character and community, often locked in its heritage. This is a working, authentic, busy Victorian pottery – it is living, breathing, industrial heritage that still very much has an active future within the community.'

The site is not a relic to be viewed at from behind a red rope, but instead is a traditional British pottery being developed to restore pride, create possibility and unlock the area's potential for growth.

The restoration project was made possible through funding from several public and private sources, including English Heritage (£1.2m), the Heritage Lottery Fund (£1.5m), the Regional Growth Fund (£1.7m), and the European Regional Development Fund (£1.2m). 

Click here to see a short film on the revival of Middleport Pottery and here to see a video explaining the restoration in more detail.

To learn more about Middleport Pottery, or to arrange a visit, please go to www.middleportpottery.co.uk