of the 15th century
Broken pieces of history under their feet
|By Sarah Chapman
Article from Sentinel Newspaper 16th May 2000.
When master potter William Moorcroft was learning his trade at the art school which became a haven for local talent, he little knew what antique treasures lay beneath his feet.
Despite Burslem School of Art's reputation as the training school for the finest designers, no one knew just how long pottery had been produced there.
Now archaeologists have discovered pots were being made in Stoke-on-Trent 300 years before Josiah Wedgwood began production.
Hundreds of pieces of Potteries' history have been unearthed at the Queen Street site where Moorcroft and many other famous ceramic artists were graduates.
While workmen have been busy restoring the college - where artists such as Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper learned their trade - to its former glory, a team of archaeologists have been seeking treasures from the Mother Town's past.
Large pottery bowls and jugs from the 1400s were uncovered when experts sifted through drains and trenches at the back of the school.
It is the first time such strong evidence of large-scale pottery manufacturing from as far back as the 15th century has been found in Burslem.
Historians have suspected pottery was being produced in Burslem a long time before it was officially documented– and they now have the proof in a find of pieces that were discarded at an ancient factory on the site.
Because of the way the jugs and bowls have been crafted, archaeologists have concluded that skilled workers carried out an organised manufacturing process and produced a considerable amount of pottery.
The experts do not yet know the
basic methods that would have been used by the 15th century potbank workers and
will continue their research.
Bill Klemperer, senior archaeologist at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Hanley, explained the importance of the find.
He said: ‘‘This is a very exciting discovery.
‘‘What we found was waste pottery, which shows us that production was taking place on a significant scale around the time of the Wars of the Roses.
‘‘We knew Burslem was built on hundreds of years of pottery work because of its clay and coal reserves, but we had never discovered that during Medieval times different types of clay were being used to create the sort of ware Josiah Wedgwood was to produce centuries later.
‘‘These pots and bowls give us a tantalising insight into how important the ceramic trade was back then. To put it into context, in Italy, the Renaissance was at its height and Christopher Columbus had not yet landed in America.
‘‘It is strange that the pieces have been found at the back of the School of Art, which has played a major role in 20th century pottery manufacture and art.
‘‘It is quite a romantic notion that all the time Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff were studying at the school, the first major pottery production area was just feet away.''
Burslem School of Art will re-open in September as an art college.
The School of Art Trust will take over the running of courses. It is a consortium of five enterprises which include Burslem Community Development Trust, Stoke-on-Trent College, Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Royal Doulton.
PICTURED: left — City Council Archaeologist Bill Klemperer and project officer Jonathan Goodwin with ancient pottery finds from the old Burslem Art College site; right — the School of Art at Burslem, which is currently being restored