World of Wedgwood
Newly reopened in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent
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No matter how beautiful or
desirable a product may be, touring the factory where it’s made can sometimes
be an underwhelming experience. We know
we ought to find the process interesting, but a close-up view of staff in white
coats and pieces of ingenious machinery so often fail to excite.
But package the factory tour up
with a tempting retail space and an atmospheric tea room, a world-class museum
and interactive opportunities, and all of a sudden you have a tourist
attraction that really delivers. You
have World of Wedgwood.
If you’ve already visited the
factory at Barlaston in the leafy outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent, let me tempt you
back. The attraction closed to the
public in December 2014 ahead of a major revamp under new owners, international
interiors company, Fiskars. World of
Wedgwood reopened in July this year as a tourist attraction capable of holding
its own with the best and, just as important, a tourist attraction that reflects
the quality of one of the world’s most famous brands.
Visitors now pass lawns and
fountains instead of car parks to reach the main entrance where Josiah
Wedgwood’s kindly face looks down from the wall of the Atrium, a portrait made
up of 1100 plates in 18 different colour glazes. It sets the tone perfectly for an attraction
that puts a contemporary slant on British art and heritage.
The different elements of the
attraction can be taken in any order and a full-day ticket (adults from £15)
will give you access to all of them. Alternatively if time is short, you can buy a ticket just for the
Factory Tour or the Wedgwood Museum, but you’d be missing out.
After Wedgwood’s much publicised
financial troubles, the 80,000 artefacts that belong to the Wedgwood Museum
risked being split up and sold off in lots.
But thanks to the Art Fund charity, which generates money for arts
causes, a public appeal raised enough money to enable the V&A to acquire
the collection and subsequently loan it back to the Museum. Significantly enlarged, it features more than
I spent an hour in the Museum -
entrance free to Art Fund members - and barely scratched the surface. A handy icon guide leads visitors to key
items in the collection but everyone has their favourites. I particularly loved the family portrait of
Josiah Wedgwood and his family with their horses by equestrian artist George
Stubbs and the vases personally thrown by Josiah to mark the opening of his
Etruria factory in 1769. But what’s really
overwhelming is the variety of styles and artefacts - letters, machines and
colour charts as well as ceramics - that span the history of the company.
You can watch today’s craftsmen and
women making ceramics on the self-guided factory tour, which finishes up with
the chance to watch a master potter at work. For a small extra charge, you can even have a go yourself - an
opportunity I couldn’t resist. With no
tools other than a plastic apron and my two hands, I turned - literally - a
piece of clay into a very creditable small vase to be fired, glazed and posted
to my home. A talking point for my next
Visitors can also pay to get hands-on
in the Decorating Studio. One young man
apparently brought his girlfriend to a session where he inscribed ‘Will you
marry me?’ on a plate. Another gentleman
wanted a set of ceramics bearing a sketch of his house. The possibilities - with expert help - really
are limitless. Short of
inspiration? Take a look in the Design
Studio to see how the in-house creative team go about it, or browse the Design
Worlds gallery with its four themed collections.
Factory visits always imply the
chance to do some shopping, but if you’re expecting lots of cut price
Wedgwood, think again. The Wedgwood
Flagship Store here at Barlaston is the largest Wedgwood retail space in the
UK and the choice of styles, colours and prices is overwhelming, but Wedgwood
don’t sell anything other than first quality so expect retail prices. You may however pick up discounted end-of-line
pieces from one of their prestige ranges in the Outlet Store.
If all this shopping makes you
hungry, The Dining Hall is a great new informal eating place modelled on the
original workers’ canteen and decorated with archive photographs. Open all day, it serves locally-sourced
produce in a family-friendly environment.
But my favourite stands across the courtyard next to the shop.
More than 50 World of Wedgwood teas are now on
sale here in the Tea Emporium, where you can sample various brews as well as
sit down to a quick cuppa and a cake. But for something extra special, I recommend the elegant Wedgwood Tea
Room next door, model for a franchise which will span the globe within a few
Choose from a selection of dainty
sandwiches with tea of your choice (£10) or - my indulgence - the full
Afternoon Tea with sandwiches, warm scones, mini cakes and tarts like wonderfully
decadent dolls’ house food (£25). All
served, of course, on delicate Wedgwood china. English tradition at its very best!
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