On Sunday the family and I headed to Spode Works, an old pot bank in Stoke-on-Trent. This building is part of the original working compound. Unfortunately half of the site has already been demolished and it is possible that much of what is still there will be heading the same way. Luckily some of the building has been listed so there will always remain some of what we have seen today. The reason for the visit was to see the exhibition ‘Topographies of The Obsolete – Vociferous Void’, part of the events held there for the British Ceramics Biennial. As I have discussed earlier in my blog, Stoke-on-Trent is an area built on industry, in the same way Manchester was textiles, Stoke was pottery.
The exhibition offers a real sense of what has been lost within this community, for these were not just jobs they were more than that. Pot bank workers were creative, hard working and a family – some times quite literally as generations of the same family worked under the same roof.
The exhibition pieces were made from materials found in the factory, discarded items turned in to art. Other pieces opened a dialogue with the building, was it a ruin?
‘The Man who builds a factory builds a temple; the man who works there worships there.’
Calvin Coolidge (US President 1923-29)
If all Stoke-on-Trent’s factories are now ruins and industry has left, where does the faith of a generation lost lie? Volunteers on the day were ex-Spode workers, when asked about the demise of the factory and viewing it in this state it was with sadness that they accepted its inevitability. Investment in the area has been lacking for a long time. Their acceptance was almost blase, there was nothing to be done. One used this next display to demonstrate to us, the plates had been turned long before the factory closed.
So pottery workers retired, re-trained, or became unemployed. Their children who would have once followed in their footsteps, into a career in pottery, are left with nothing. There was no middle class movement in Stoke-on-Trent, the layout of the city did not promote gentrification of the centre. As industry left the job marked stagnated, investment was little.The exhibition symbolises the emptiness that is left, not only within the factory building but the community as a whole.