Middleport Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent

The Middleport project has made a significant contribution to the regeneration of the Burslem area. It has created jobs and stimulated new employment and visitors. It continues to grow and has helped change the perception of the area and created a renewed sense of place. This confidence was boosted when the BBC decided to film The Great Pottery Throw Down at Middleport.

Where: Port Street, Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent

Years on register: 1998 - 2014

A model for the pottery industry

The Grade II* listed Middleport Pottery was constructed in 1888 on a site next to the Trent and Mersey Canal for the firm of Burgess and Leigh. It was immediately recognised as a model for the pottery industry for its design, layout and workforce conditions. It's the last working Victorian pottery in the UK and survives in remarkably complete condition.

The pottery still produces the internationally acclaimed ‘Burleigh’ ware, using much of the original machinery and processes. Unique to ‘Burleigh’ is the process of underglaze tissue printing, creating patterns using hand-engraved copper rollers.

Saving the last bottle kiln

The Pottery was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register in 1998, at a time when the building was in a poor state of repair and the business was failing. Only one of the seven bottle kilns remained and although some urgent repairs had taken place, this was not enough and repair and refurbishment costs in 2006 were estimated at around £5 million.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Historic England worked tirelessly with the owners to try to find a solution and attract interest in the pottery works. The company was later sold to Denby Potteries and after detailed and protracted negotiations, in 2011, the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust acquired the site.

At a cost of £8.7 million, the Trust and Denby undertook a comprehensive project to regenerate the site. This was made possible with major funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Regional Growth Fund, Advantage West Midlands/European Regional Development Fund, and private donations. Historic England provided substantial grants totalling £1,924,544 and many years of technical expertise to help rescue Middleport Pottery

Repair works being undertaken to the buildings with the bottle kiln and surrounded by scaffolding
Repair works being undertaken to the buildings with the bottle kiln and surrounded by scaffolding © Historic England DP157649

Aspiring new potters learn traditional techniques

Middleport Pottery is a great place to visit and work. It's the last working Victorian pottery in the UK and survives in remarkably complete condition. The production of Burleigh-ware using traditional techniques continues and there is a growing market.

The remaining buildings are used for new businesses and at the visitor centre you can learn about the people and events that shaped this pottery industry. Within the complex, Clay College, Stoke has been established to train aspiring new potters in traditional ceramic techniques and factory tours allowing visitors to experience pottery being made using some handcraft methods dating from the 1880s.

The shop and café at Middleport are popular with visitors and locals alike. BBC2’s ‘Great Pottery Throw Down’ was filmed at Middleport Pottery and most recently the 14-18 November ‘poppies weeping window’ was exhibited cascading down the oven kiln.

A little girl stands in the entrance of the bottle kiln looking up in wonder
A little girl stands in the entrance of the bottle kiln looking up in wonder © UKHBPT / Middleport Pottery

A renewed identity, industry and community

The rescue of the Middleport factory saved 50 jobs and Denby created an additional 15 posts. It has stimulated new employment and visitors, becoming a vibrant and fascinating place to visit and work within. The whole scheme has changed the perception of Middleport as an area and now provides a focal hub for the community.

At the same time, historic terraced housing along Port Street by the factory has been restored with families moving back into the area. All of this is helping to foster a sense of place and a renewed identity for Middleport.

See Middleport Pottery on the National Heritage List

The success of the Middleport Pottery project is a great source of pride to Historic England. For many years we have been working in partnership to save this iconic pottery. To see it continue with its historic production techniques, while simultaneously becoming a popular place to visit, shop, work and learn, has been wonderful.

Veryan Heal, Planning Director West Midlands

How we made a difference

Historic England was able to provide guidance, financial support and the confidence to help all those involved throughout a long period of uncertainty for the pottery industry and the future of its listed buildings. This was also a case where City of Stoke-on-Trent Council were completely committed to finding a solution for the building.

Middleport Pottery – a view of the rear elevation fronting onto the canal
Middleport Pottery – a view of the rear elevation fronting onto the canal © UKHBPT / Middleport Pottery

Get involved

Volunteering at Middleport is an important part of Middleport’s story and engagement with the public. This summer volunteers helped with the Poppies: Weeping window exhibition by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper.

Volunteer with Middleport Pottery

20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register

This year we are celebrating 20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England’s tool for shining a light on the listed buildings and places in England that need the most help. Looking back over the last 20 years, huge progress has been made in saving our heritage and giving it new uses.

See more of our top 20 heritage rescues

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