ABOUT THE FACTORY

Emma Bridgewater first came to Stoke-on-Trent in 1985  ago where a local pottery company helped to her to create her very first pieces.

In 1996 she and husband Matthew Rice moved production to the traditional Victorian pot bank alongside the Caldon Canal where every piece of pottery is still made by hand.

Around 185 people work at the Emma Bridgewater Factory on Lichfield Street in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, a site first opened by the Meakin brothers in 1883.

On a factory tour you will see the traditional skills and craftsmanship that goes into every piece of Emma Bridgewater pottery.

  • We produce 1.3 million pieces of pottery each year
  • In 2015 we made 45,000 personalised mugs
  • Each piece of pottery is touched by 30 pairs of hands before it reaches a customer
BOOK A FACTORY TOUR

How we make our pottery

Casting

Each half-pint mug begins its life as clay which is dug out of the ground in Devon, Cornwall, Wales or closer to home in Staffordshire. It is mixed into our unique secret recipe by two Potteries-based suppliers and then brought to the sliphouse where a machine called a blunger mixes it into a liquid called ‘slip’. From here it is pumped by pipe into the casting shop.

The casters are highly trained with years of experience and they make around 30,000 pieces of pottery a week. They fill the mug moulds with the ‘slip’ and ‘bit in’, or fill in, the top indent where the handle joins. You’ll have to come on the tour to find out why the bottom indent remains. The moulds are then left to dry for up to 24 hours and it is the skill of the caster to know when each piece is ready – depending on weather conditions, temperature and even the day of the week.

Sponging and Fettling

Once our mug is taken from the mould it leaves the casting shop to be fettled and sponged. The two halves of the mould leave a tiny seam in the clay where they have been joined and this seam is removed by hand by the fettlers. They will scrape away the tiny line of excess clay before passing it on to the spongers who make it perfectly smooth.

It requires a real lightness of touch and an excellent eye for detail and women tend to be much better at this job. Finally we have an overlooker who checks every single piece of ware before it moves on to the next stage.

Firing

Next we turn up the heat, quite literally. Our mug goes into the 950 degree heat of the biscuit kiln for its first firing.  Even here there’s great skill involved in the process. Our ‘placer’ fills a kiln truck full of ware but needs to know where each piece should be placed to ensure it doesn’t overheat and crack. It can take up to three hours to stack each truck before it’s wheeled into the kiln for 7 hours of firing.

Once the biscuit selector has inspected each piece it moves on to the decorating studio. But it hasn’t finished with firing yet…

Decorating and glazing

We have more than 40 full-time decorators with some of the steadiest and most creative hands in the business. All have undergone years of training to ensure they continue to do justice to Emma and Matthew’s original designs. Our mugs can be decorated in two different ways, through the historic sponge decorating or lithographing.

Our most famous sponge decorated ware is polka dot and hand cut sponges are dabbed into paint and applied by hand in each decorator’s chosen pattern before being glazed. Lithographing is the technique used to decorate our more intricate designs. A glaze is first applied to the biscuit and fired in the kiln once more before the lithograph – a patterned transfer – is carefully placed on the mug by hand, at which point it is glazed again. It is a mark of pride in their work that sees each decorator sign her work.

Final Selection

When our mug has been fired once more in the kiln it is ready for a rigorous inspection. The tiniest mark, the smallest crack even a little run on the glaze is spotted by our eagle-eyed selectors. Every single piece of ware is checked by hand. First quality ware then goes to the warehouse for careful packaging – and can be shipped worldwide or go closer to home to our hundreds of UK stockists or one of our own shops.

Any ware which doesn’t quite meet our exacting standards and has a mark which makes it just a little less than perfect, we sell as a second in the factory shop. And of course, that’s where our lovely mugs begin the next stage of their journey – to your homes.