On our first full day in Birmingham we spent very little time in Birmingham. Our hotel is right next to the New Street station and the Bullring so there is an incredible number of stores we could of drained our pockets at, and it is part of the second largest con-urban in the UK, second only to London, but we had other plans.
Standing about 3 feet tall, this incredible piece is several thousand pounds – and well worth the price, I think.
Instead, I had my eye on a smaller city about an hour and a half to the north-west called Stoke-on-Trent. One of the city’s nicknames is “The Potteries” and it is considered a world capital of ceramics as some of the world’s most respected companies create their wares there. Among them are Wedgwood and Royal Daulton, Portmeiron, Royal Stafford, Gladstone, and the place I wanted to go – Moorcroft.
Some years ago Mrs Crow and I came across this little show that’s not seen in the US called Bargain Hunt. We were hooked immediately. It’s huge here in the UK and it pits two pairs of players against each other to gather three items at antique shops and boot sales and make the most cash selling them at auction. Well, every once in a while someone would pick up a very small vase or bowl to find that it was outside their 300 quid budget.
Hard to see, but these vases are done in the rare ‘Flambe’ firing technique originally done in the middle of the last century. Very striking and incredibly beautiful!
It was always a striking piece, quite unlike the porcelain and pottery my mother collects. The colors were unusual and vibrant, and there was an edged beading between the colors creating an almost a cloisonne effect. I collect glass and never really looked at potteries, but this stuff was special.
So off Mrs Crow and I flew, training it out to Stoke-on-Trent to the Moorcroft manufactory. Walking through the shop for me was a near sacred experience. The colors were intense yet restrained, the designs were of every kind – from simple to detailed scenes. Did I mention the colors?
One of the shop ladies was kind enough to show us a short film on the creation and manufacturing process guided by Eric Knowles who we know from Bargain Hunt and Antiques Roadshow. It was truly an entrancing experience for me. We ended up buying two rather small items and spent a few hundred pounds for them, but just having two Moorcroft pieces is indescribable.
Hidden Dreams Frog Model designed by Emma Bossons in 2005
From there we began a walk up towards the Royal Doulton outlet, but as we hadn’t had more than coffee and a doughnut for breakfast, we neeeded fuel and chanced across a small fish and chips diner a half block off our route and took the opportunity for a quick sit-down.
I love diners. I see them as little windows into the local culture and this one was no exception. The sign noted that it was ‘award winning’ although didn’t mention what award that was. Inside was a take-away counter and several booths and tables that were half filled with local folks and families. Very working class, just like us. It looked as if we were noticed right away as ‘not from around here’, but everyone was nice, or at least tolerant of our presence. Mrs Crow was kind of pedestrian in choosing the cod and chips, but me, being the rebel that I am, went for the haddock.
Topped up, we made it up to the Royal Doulton shop. There were stacks of pattterned dinnerware for some incredible prices! You could probably put together a full 8-piece dinner set for less than 200 pounds! There was also an area where, I presume, school kids could paint their own pottery and get it fired. I ended up with just a mug, but it had an octopus on it, which my mother collects (yeah, she collects a lot of things) and it is surprisingly difficult to find octopus themed items. In Royal Doulton ware it was a real coup in my thinking.
Keep It Real by Banksy
Walking out of the shop we prepared to call a car to take us back to the train station, but there was a little gallery nearby I wanted to peer in it’s window so we wandered over that-a-way. I’ve mentioned that Mrs Crow and I have come across some wonderfully unexpected things when we just wander and this was one such time. Getting around the side of the building we found a small bit of street art on the wall next to the gallery – Banksy’s Keep it Real. From what I gather, the design has had several incarnations on various media, but Stoke does count him as one of it’s own, so it’s quite possible it’s genuine. Nonetheless, it did make for a wonderous capper to our visit to this city of clay-makers.
Observations from day…uh…today…and maybe yesterday too: I use the term ‘city block’ frequently but it has no meaning here.
We have yet to see a washcloth-sized towel.