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Beyond Preservation – endangered ceramic skills symposium

Beyond Preservation – endangered ceramic skills symposium

This symposium is organised by the Heritage Crafts Association and Ceramic Cultures, Practices and Debates Research Group at Staffordshire University. It is funded by The Pilgrim Trust and supported by Staffordshire University, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, and British Ceramics Biennial.

When: Saturday 16 October 2021, 9am to 5pm
Where: Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Bethesda Street, Hanley Stoke-on-Trent ST1 3DW

Speakers (in-person and remote) to include:

  • Dr Neil Brownsword, Professor of Ceramics, Staffordshire University
  • Mary Lewis, Endangered Crafts Manager, Heritage Crafts Association
  • Emily Johnson, Founder and Director of 1882
  • Dr Ezra Shales, Professor of Art History, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
  • Professor Xiaoping Yu, Professor, Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute
  • Dr Geoffrey Gowlland, Research Fellow at the Section of Educational Sciences, University of Geneva
  • Dr Laura Breen, Independent arts & museums researcher, Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Vicki McGarvey, doctoral research student, Staffordshire University

Global economics and advances in automation technology have radically transformed the landscape of the UK’s ceramic industry in recent decades. Whilst these transitions have facilitated greater productivity, once commonplace skills associated with ceramic manufacture have now been displaced, threatening the continuation of much traditional knowledge. Should such practices, deemed outmoded or economically unviable for contemporary ceramic production be simply relegated to history or the trails of heritage tourism? What value is there in safeguarding this knowledge for the future? How can traditional practices be revived through new modes of thinking and creativity in a digital age?

This symposium builds upon these questions, and highlights specialist skills at significant risk of being lost from the industry, surveyed through recent research for the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts. Making particular reference to North Staffordshire’s intangible cultural heritage, scholars together with former employees and current representatives from the ceramics industry, will explore a variety of perspectives concerning a re-evaluation of the industrial crafts and their revitalisation through contemporary exchange and adaptation.

Although the symposium will be taking place within a cultural event, it will discuss ways to connect with the local community beyond cultural institutions, so that they can develop, engage and participate in ‘their’ intangible heritage. It is hoped that this event will introduce new ways of valuing industrial ceramics skills that are not influenced by the immutable heritage discourse of experts, by facilitating those that were and are still involved in the industry to articulate the value of their own heritage.

Findings will feed into a future edition of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts and inform its advocacy work with UK government agencies and funding bodies.

The event is free to attend, and attendees must register via Eventbrite


President’s Award for Endangered Crafts finalists announced

Paul Jacobs with master putter-togetherers Cliff Denton and Eric Stones of Ernest Wright scissor makers. Photo by Carl Whitham.

Paul Jacobs with master putter-togetherers Cliff Denton and Eric Stones of Ernest Wright scissor makers. Photo by Carl Whitham.

A scissor maker, a paper maker and an industrial ceramics practitioner have been selected as the three finalists from a shortlist of eight, as part of the inaugural President’s Award for Endangered Crafts, established by HRH The Prince of Wales, President of the Heritage Crafts Association.

A judging panel featuring Patrick Grant (Great British Sewing Bee / Norton & Sons / Community Clothing), Mark Hedges (Country Life), Kate Hobhouse (Fortnum & Mason), Simon Sadinsky (Prince’s Foundation) and Patricia Lovett MBE (Heritage Crafts Association) made the final selection from a strong field of applicants that not only testified to the excellence of British craftsmanship but also provided a snapshot of the precarious state of endangered craft skills in the UK today.

Jim Patterson and apprentice Zoe Collis of Two Rivers Paper. Photo by Sarah Ward.

Jim Patterson and apprentice Zoe Collis of Two Rivers Paper. Photo by Sarah Ward.

The Heritage Crafts Association published the latest edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts last year, which revealed that there are 107 endangered crafts in the UK. Included were the eight crafts featured in the shortlist: scissor making, commercial handmade paper making, industrial pottery skills, oak swill basket making, wheelwrighting, kishie basket making, sail making and neon sign making.

The three finalists are:

  • Paul Jacobs – Ernest Wright scissor makers, Sheffield
  • Jim Patterson – Two Rivers Paper, Somerset
  • Helen Johannessen – industrial ceramics practitioner, London
Helen Johannessen

Helen Johannessen

The other five shortlisted candidates were:

  • Phill Gregson – wheelwright, Lancashire
  • James Hartley – Ratsey & Lapthorn sail makers, Isle of Wight
  • Lorna Singleton – oak swill basket maker, Cumbria
  • Lois Walpole – kishie basket maker, Shetland Islands
  • Richard Wheater – neon sign maker, West Yorkshire

The three finalists’ applications will now be presented to HRH The Prince of Wales for his selection, with the winner to be honoured at a special reception at Dumfries House, home of The Prince’s Foundation, as well as at a prestigious winners’ reception at the Houses of Parliament. The winner will also receive £3,000 to help ensure that their craft skills are passed on to the next generation.

HCA Chair Patricia Lovett said:

“We received a large number of very high-quality entries for this award, so being shortlisted was a huge achievement. The fact that we are blessed to have such highly skilled craftspeople in the UK should not allow us to forget the fact that, without more people taking up these crafts and the infrastructure and funding to support them, these skills could soon be consigned to history, in what would be a terrible loss to British cultural life.”

Judge Patrick Grant said:

“It was a joy to judge… I find myself wanting to do all of these things!”


Industrial pottery

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts


Industrial pottery


The skilled hand processes required at various stages of the pottery industry (see also studio pottery and clay pipe making)


Status Critically endangered
Craft category Clay
Historic area of significance Stoke-on-Trent, Shropshire
Area currently practised Stoke-on-Trent, Shropshire, Wales, Derby
Origin in the UK 17th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) See below
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



The Staffordshire Potteries is the industrial area encompassing the six towns – Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton – that now make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent. The Potteries became a centre of ceramic production in the early 18th century, due to the regional availability of clay, and coal with nearby deposits of lead and salt used for glazing.

Alongside pioneers of the industrial revolution such as Josiah Wedgwood and Spode, the Staffordshire potteries in the late 19th c comprised of hundreds of relatively small factories with more than 2,000 kilns firing millions of products a year. By 1938 half the workforce of Stoke-on-Trent worked in pottery factories with employment peaking in 1948 to an estimated 79000 people. Other centres of production emerged in Shropshire, Derby and South Wales but Staffordshire remained a key centre of global production way into the 20th Century.

The Staffordshire Potteries still remain a centre of UK ceramic production despite its reduction due to the impact of global economics. Outsourcing and new technologies have displaced many traditional crafts practiced in the industry. However, some historic processes, such as flower making, china painting and clay pipe making, are carried out within heritage settings in Stoke, Shropshire and Wales.



The techniques used in industrial pottery are varied and highly specialised. They range from historic hand skills to mechanised and semi-mechanised processes. See ‘Sub-crafts’ and ‘Issues affecting the viability of the craft’ below.


Local forms





  • ‘Hand-fitting’ and ‘styling-up’


  • Tableware
  • Figurine
  • Relief

Mould making

  • Blockers/casers
  • Production mould makers

Production – making (plastic clay)

  • Throwers
  • Turners
  • Flatware pressers
  • Hand jiggering
  • Hollow Ware pressing
  • Hand Jolleying

Production – hand casting

  • Bench casters

Production – Automated (personnel manning machines)

  • Machine casting
  • Pressure casting
  • Dust pressing

Decoration (clay)

  • Agate, thrown/laid
  • Slip decoration (Marbling/trailing/dipped)
  • Scraffito
  • Pate-sur-Pate
  • Flower makers
  • Figure makers – (sprig maker)
  • Ornamentors (sprig application)
  • Engine-turned decoration (including dicing and rouletting)
  • Piercing
  • Tubelining
  • Tubeline decorator/ painter

Decoration (underglaze)

  • Copperplate engraving
  • Printing (flat/roller engravings)
  • Tissue transferrers
  • Painting
  • Banding/lining
  • Lithography

Decoration (on glaze)

  • Gilding – including raised paste and jewelling
  • Painting (enamel)
  • Banding/lining
  • Ground laying
  • Acid etching

Historic processes

  • Saggar making
  • Clay pipe making

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

Endangered Industrial Pottery Skills Research – INITIAL FINDINGS

Research is currently being carried out by the Heritage Crafts Association in partnership with Staffordshire University. The aim of the project is to survey existing skills and knowledge and then to develop a series of recommendations to preserve and promote these skills as embedded within our intangible cultural heritage. The first stage of the research is to survey the sector and this will be followed up with a skills symposium at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery during the British Ceramics Biennial in October 2021. This research is ongoing but at the time of writing (May 2021), 20 practising ceramicists and ceramics businesses had participated in the research.


For the purposes of this research, these skills are distinct from those of studio pottery, which is a thriving craft.


Process Personnel still practising

(These figures include practitioners in the surveyed businesses and estimated numbers based on industry expertise)

Issues affecting the viability/sustainability of the craft in the UK industry e.g. market issues, training and recruitment issues, shortages of raw materials, lack of demand for products/skills etc.
Design ‘Hand-fitting’ and ‘styling-up’ 20
  • Decline in skills and material understanding
  • Lack of training opportunities and work experience within industrial settings
  • Reduction in higher education courses that specialise in industrial design.
Modelling: tableware, figurine, relief


  • CAD and 3d printing are now widely used in the production of models
  • The majority of modelling work is outsourced to a dwindling number of free-lance makers
  • Decline in skills and material understanding
  • Decline in the use of clay and other creative activities in schools leading to a loss of haptic skills and material understanding
Mould making: blockers/casers, production mould makers 17
  • These skills are industry led and it is difficult to find advanced training or learn the skills outside of an industrial pottery setting
  • Mould making is outsourced to a dwindling number of free-lance makers
  • As many mould makers are free-lance, it is less likely that skills are passed on to the next generation of makers
Production – making (plastic clay) Throwers 5
  • Many of these processes have been replaced by automated equipment
  • Some heritage companies are continuing the skills but in a very limited capacity
  • The majority of production now happens overseas


Turners 5
Flatware pressers 0
Hand jiggering 2
Hollow Ware pressing 1
Hand Jolleying 4
Production – hand casting

Bench casters



  • Most factories will still employ bench casters
  • ·Work can be repetitive and so some companies (e.g. Denby) are upskilling staff into different processes and ensuring they can work in other areas of the business


Production – Automated (personnel manning machines)

Machine casting

Pressure casting

Dust pressing

  • High investment in equipment and so needs a high volume of production to be viable
  • Most work will now be off-shored
Decoration (clay) Agate, thrown/laid 0
  • Many of these techniques are difficult to implement due to the increased cost, and so lower cost techniques are used
  • Many of these techniques are seen as niche and take time to learn and perfect
  • Could be seen as a non-contemporary aesthetic and less relevant for a younger generation
  • Some of these skills, such as slip decoration and scraffito, will be used more in a studio setting
Slip decoration (Marbling/trailing/


Scraffito 2
Pate-sur-Pate 1
Flower makers

(6 of these are in the heritage sector)

Figure makers – (sprig maker) 2
Ornamentors (sprig application) 5
Engine-turned decoration (including dicing and rouletting) 1
Piercing 2
Tubelining 3
Tubeline decorator/ painter 3
Decoration (underglaze) Copperplate engraving 2
  • Some of these skills, particularly knowledge of print, are built up over many years and are difficult to replace.
  • These are often high cost processes and are used for high-end products. As processes are streamlined the quality is gradually eroded.
  • Hand painting skills have largely been replaced with lower cost transfers
  • It is difficult to find trainees with the right aptitude for the job
  • The risk of losing these skills is high


Printing (flat/roller engravings) 1
Tissue transferrers 28

(66 of these are in one business)

Banding/lining 2
Pad printers 2
Decoration (on glaze) Gilding – including raised paste and jewelling 15
  • These are seen as highly skilled roles and it can be problematic to replace skills as makers retire
  • The techniques take time to perfect and learn with experienced makers
  • These are often high cost processes and are used for high-end, prestige products


Painting (enamel) 12
Banding/lining 9
Ground laying 1
Acid etching 0
Historic processes Saggar making 0 Saggar making is now obsolete
Clay pipe making 4


Key issues for the sector

  • Ageing practitioners – many are beyond retirement age.
  • Outsourcing of work to a dwindling pool of free-lance experts. As they are self-employed, these makers are unlikely to have the capacity or resources to train the next generation
  • Lack of training opportunities and work experience
  • Some of the potteries employ a token workforce to demonstrate the heritage of the skills while outsourcing the majority of their production to low-wage economies in other countries. This can give a misleading sense of the health of the crafts.
  • Some of the current practitioners have been kept on as demonstrators by heritage organisations such as the Gladstone Pottery Museum and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, keeping the skills alive but in a precarious state due to reliance on public funding in place of a sustainable market.
  • Rapid decline of the Staffordshire Potteries: The potteries have lost a number of companies and hundreds of jobs over recent years, posing a series threat to the legacy of industrial ceramics skills.


Support organisations

  • Clay College
  • Gladstone Pottery Museum
  • Spode Museum Trust Heritage Centre
  • Staffordshire University
  • Gladstone Pottery Museum
  • Middleport Pottery
  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust
  • Nant Garw China Works & Museum


Craftspeople currently known



N.B. These are all industrial ceramics but not all will be using hand skills and some will be outsourcing work to free-lance specialists.

  • Staffordshire Heritage Fine China
  • Denby
  • Nant Gawr China Works
  • Edwards and Locket
  • Moorland
  • Caverswall China
  • Heraldic
  • Emma Bridgewater
  • Brunswicks
  • Wades
  • Adderley Ceramics
  • Burgess and Leigh
  • Burslem Pottery
  • Cauldon Ceramics
  • Finsbury China
  • Heron Cross Pottery
  • Pollyana – Walpole Fine Bone china
  • 1882 Ltd
  • Royal Crown Derby
  • Wedgwood – Fiskars Corporation
  • Portmerion
  • Duchess
  • Ceramics by Design
  • Dunoon Mugs
  • Foley Pottery
  • Churchhill China
  • Moorcroft
  • Peregrin Pottery
  • Repeat Repeat – design
  • Johnson Tiles
  • Global Bisque
  • E. Smith
  • Milton China
  • Royal Stafford
  • Steelite
  • Topaz China
  • William Edwards
  • Ceramics 77 – mould making


Other information