Forget all the jokes about throwing pots in frustration, I reckon that the master craftspeople who let visitors ‘have a go’ at the Wedgwood Visitor Centre in Stoke on Trent have patience of saints.

Not only do they have to contend with contrary kids who keep changing their minds about the shape of pots they’re moulding, they also have to put up with cackhanded customers like me who make a complete mess of their creations.

Take Judith, the enameller, who urges my daughter Sophie, 13, to help her finish the intricate Florentine Turquoise pattern on a porcelain plate. “Isn’t she marvellous?” Judith coos. Then it’s my turn. I fail to warn Judith that I have such an impatient streak that my dad banned me from anything requiring dexterity because of the arguments it caused.

Judith is wearing a white blouse with a pattern of almost the same shade as that dangling off the end of my brush. Surely a few more swirls on it won’t be noticeable?

“This is quite therapeutic, isn’t it?” enthuses Judith. Well, it’s certainly engaging to the point where everything else going on in this room full of demonstrations and have-a-go opportunities becomes a blur. As does the pattern. “Hmmm, you’ve painted this,” says Judith. “I can see the brush strokes. Don’t paint, you glide the colour off the tip on to the plate. We call it floating.”

Judith tells Sophie that she’s going to wait until I’m around the corner before she wipes off my attempts. She’s already cleaning the splodgy effect off her worktable.

John, the thrower, is another paragon of patience as Sophie decides to change the pot she’s almost finished to a taller and shapelier model. He confides that, on the factory floor, he’d be making a new pot every five minutes. Sophie’s clay masterpiece is lined up for firing before being packed up and posted off to our home.

There’s lots for all ages to do; from painting egg cups and animal figures to using lithographic transfers and designing plates. The museum next door is a whirl of Wedgwood. Shiny displays enclose you in its history, stories of patterns, fashions, founding fathers and philanthropy – and spectacular porcelain. It’s part of Wedgwood’s rural estate where even the factory is concealed by trees.

The Gladstone Pottery Museum, four miles away, bears no comparison. This is the nitty-gritty; the only complete Victorian factory left from an industry which once employed half the local population. It’s virtually unchanged since 1856.

I lose Sophie in a warren of workshops and giant kilns. I find her turning over hundreds of decorative moulds, left as if the workers have just clocked off. On the walls are stories of their jobs and the dangers and occupational killers many of them faced. We’re engrossed. I never knew the story of a pot could be so fascinating. And yes, there really is such a thing as a saggar maker’s bottom knocker!


A wide range of events and activities aimed at encouraging kids and families to have a go at making their own ceramic creations is included in The British Ceramics Biennial festival in Stoke. Until November 10.

For details and ideas, go to;, wedgwoodvisitorcentre. com and