China in your hand

by
18 January 2013

By Sue Dobson

Where?
SIX distinct towns make up the Staffordshire city of Stoke-on-Trent: Hanley (the city centre), Tunstall, Burslem, Stoke, Fenton, and Longton. Together, they form The Potteries, a linear city almost 12 miles long, packed with myriad attractions for visitors.

Why?
They have been making pottery in Stoke-on-Trent since Roman times. In the 18th century, the area was believed to be the biggest centre of pottery production in the world, and today it leads the world in ceramic research and design.

In 1769, Josiah Wedgwood built one of Britain's first big factories in Etruria, the village he established for his potters on the outskirts of his birthplace, Burslem. At the Wedgwood Visitor Centre, surrounded by beautiful countryside, you can admire the exhibition of Wedgwood treasures, from the original 18th- century designs of the master potter himself to the latest tableware. You can even throw your own pot.

The Burleigh Factory Shop is heaven for lovers of country-style blue-and-white earthenware. It is a real, working, Victorian factory, with highly skilled craftsmen and women who hand-make all their pottery, and use a 200-year-old decorating process. The bottle oven and mangle tower are original. The renovated steam engine dates from 1881.

Must-see museums
The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in Hanley, tells the story of pottery production. From its Anglo-Saxon and Roman past to the local-history exhibits and fine-art collection, every room stops you in your tracks.

The Gladstone Pottery Museum, housed in a Victorian factory with its original workshops, cobbled yard, and kilns, is a fascinating place. Traditional skills are revealed alongside old machinery, a gallery of decorative ceramic tiles, and a tribute to the lavatory, Flushed with Pride. You can try your hand at making pots and bone-china flowers; and there is a tea-room.

Near by
Just south of the city, the hugely successful restoration of the historic 750-acre Trentham Estate has made it one of Britain's top attractions. Splendid formal Italian gardens stretch down to a lake edged by wooded hills, there is a shopping village and vast garden centre, and monkeys roam free in their own forest. The gardens are a picture, and, with 100,000 bulbs in place, spring should be spectacular.

The Monkey Forest is brilliant. As you walk among the 60 acres of oak and beech trees, home to 140 Barbary macaques, the monkeys swing from the branches. It is the only park of its kind in the UK, and is dedicated to the conservation of this endangered species from the mountains of North Africa. Guides are on hand to tell you all about the monkeys' habits and lifestyle.

The woodland walks, swathed with bluebells and rhododendrons, are lovely, too. It is a magical place.

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