Staffordshire is a microcosm representative of pockets of industry throughout the United Kingdom. During the nineteenth century these industrious towns up and down the country flourished on coal, textiles, ceramics and so on, yet as the industrial revolution died down and production slowly moved abroad for cheaper labour and land, these towns became all but inhabited by ghosts. Stoke on Trent in Staffordshire is a prime example of this – originally a cluster of smaller villages that overlapped during expansion, the town was rendered with high unemployment after the number of potteries went from two thousand to twenty-something in a matter of decades. All the big British names, who had hand crafted their world-famous wares in this area headed to the far east in search of higher profit margins to counteract falling demand – all but one who stuck steadfast to their guns, or potter’s wheels – Burleigh Pottery.
Burleigh is known the world over as proprietors of the highest quality handmade earthenware – they are now the bastion of the British pottery industry. Known for their traditional shapes, hand applied classic designs and perfective quality, Burleigh are an iconic British brand that graces the kitchens and dining rooms of the good, the great and the tasteful throughout the world.
The pottery is located in a Grade II listed factory next to the Trent and Mersey Canal – it appears exactly as one would imagine – a kind of Willy Wonka-esque factory of labyrinthine stair cases and doors, each leading to something more fascinating than the last. There are rooms full of archived moulds stretching as far as the eye can see, along with master skilled craftsmen etching copper rolls with traditional patterns and rows of people applying the patterns to the wares.
Burleigh has been perfecting its ceramics here for over 160 years since its foundation in Stoke on Trent in 1851. Still using the same traditional techniques, its patterns such as “Asiatic Pheasents” are what have carried them through the generations – it’s a respect for the art and the craft, that flows towards the company from all angles. The sympathetic company bosses know that to change production styles or techniques would only detract from its core values. And the proof is in the pudding dishes – Burleigh is the choice pottery for Fortnum & Mason, Liberty’s, Chiltern Fire House, Ralph Lauren, Soho House Group, Heals – and the list goes on.
The Prince of Wales stepped in to help in 2011 when the company was facing finance issues to due to the Middleport Factory needing emergency repair works – his charity, HRH The Princes Regeneration Trust, offered the £9 million support they needed to keep production going. The company has recently put in place a new team to run the show – including Creative Director Steven Moore, resident ceramics expert on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. Moore remains highly respectful of the brand’s important heritage, understanding that the legacy is both what got the company where it is, and what will carry it forward. Yet he also knows that any brand must keep up with the times and innovate. In true Burleigh fashion, this innovation comes in the form of rejuvenation – Moore has carefully curated the archives to re-issue Burleigh classics that fit the modern consumer – such as a mug with built in moustache guard to the discerning gent. Every piece is still hand made in the same factory since 1899, using the same processes, such as the tissue transfer of patterns – Burleigh is the only pottery in the world to still do this, and there are no plans for it change. The Heritage oozes from every object. It’s timeless and unhurried – pieces feel iconic and a true English tradition.
The addition of a visitor centre and café to the site, as well as an extensive shop, are helping to bolster the company. Ranges are constantly being revisited, updated and added, yet it is Burleigh’s resiliency that have helped it maintain its prominence. It proves that classic is what lasts, and quality always wins – from generations past, present and no doubt, in the future.
By Harry Seymour