Dudson Pottery, Stoke on Trent - Summer 2019
Dudson is a British company that manufactured fine china. It was one of the oldest china companies in England, founded in 1800. It was one of the first of the pottery companies to identify a need for products specifically to serve the hospitality market and soon after its launch began exclusively making products for this market. In 1891 it developed a stronger type of vitrified china for this market and is believed to be one of the first globally to do so. Dudson went into administration on 4 April 2019. PWC cited "A deterioration in sales and increased costs" as a reason for the closure. However, local pottery company Churchill China bought the rights to the brand and two of its most popular ranges - Harvest and Evo in April 2019 and began manufacturing immediately in its own factory. On 6 June 2019 Churchill relaunched the Dudson brand with the Harvest and Evo collections already in stock.
The big run of pottery firms going pop during the 2000's was prior to when I had started exploring in any serious sort of way. It had always really annoyed me that I had missed out on most of what the likes of Spode and Doulton had to offer, both vast complexes that charted hundreds of years of pottery production. Nevertheless I'd still spent countless hours noseing around the various left over bits of those and the countless other small pottery works that litter the city in various states of disrepair.
Whilst it almost seemed inevitable that another of the big pottery firms would go at some point, I really didn't expect Dudson to be that firm as they always seemed to be doing fairly well. Obviously though 2019 was to be the last year for a company that had operated through generations of the Dudson family for over 200 years. They have occupied many different factories across the city historically (the oldest has been restored and now contains the excellent Dudson museum, well worth a visit), but more recently they had consolidated all of their manufacturing facilities onto a single site, with a factory shop occupying part of one of their previous sites nearby.
Mainly a producer of tableware their biggest market was the catering and hotel industry. Another local pottery company that works heavily in this sector Churchill China have bought the rights and machinery to continue the production of some of the more popular Dudson ranges. Of course the closure of the company was a big blow to an already struggling city, with over 300 workers losing their jobs. The pottery industry in Stoke remains to be quite a close knit thing, with many of the suppliers and equipment manufacturers also being located in the area, so when one of the big firms goes under it of course has an impact across the whole supply chain. However whilst the big manufacturers have tended to disappear many smaller companies have cropped and keep the local industry very much alive.
Of course the minute I heard the news that they had gone into administration plans started to be formulated to have a poke around. Over a series of visits over the Summer we've managed to have a fair go at the place. The majority of the equipment is tagged up and a lot has already been sold at auction to various pottery firms, so it is slowly being dismantled and shipped out. I would expect that over the next few months there will end up being a lot less to see. It is a fairly modern pottery factory, so it doesn't quite have the charm of some of the older works but nevertheless it still gives you a great oversight of the pottery industry as it stands today with examples of most of the equipment that is in current use and ruck loads of unfinished product to have a look at. The collection of moulds is also very extensive, taking up quite a chunk of space towards one side of the factory.
Having previously spent nearly a decade working for a company that had at a time been the UK's largest kiln manufacturer it was nice to see a number of their tunnel kilns still in place. I always think it's hard not to really enjoy explore something local and familiar, a place like Stoke does always seem to have something worth looking at, I don't know whether that's a good thing or not?
I may have gone overboard with the quantity of photos, but never mind. I've made some attempts to note the location/function of the things shown in the photos, I'm no expert though.
Biscuit Warehouse - Biscuit fired products that are awaiting decoration.
Cup Shop - Various machines for the making of cup type products include it's own dryers and kiln.
Mould Store - Mould used for slip casting.
Up and Over Dryers - Used to dry the ware prior to biscuit firing.
Casting / Flat Shop - The benches are ware moulds would be filled with slip to "cast" the various products, workers "fettlers" would work at the benches with extractors to trim off the excess that would be created during the casting process.
Sliphouse / Raw Materials - Silos in the background contain the products needed to produce the slip used in the factory. The components of this are shown in the bowls.
Flat Ware Dryer
Decorating - Machines for the application of lithographs on to dried pottery.
Kiln Furniture - Various types, used to stack the ware on the kiln cars.
Various Kilns - There are both biscuit kilns and glost kilns; glost kilns are used to fire the ware after it has been decorated. There are a mixture of tunnel kilns and also several shuttle type kilns.
Kiln Cars (One set are empty, the other are stacked full)
Unfinished Ware - More stacks of biscuit.