I visited this museum l week or so ago having re-opened my languishing novel called ‘Breaking the Mould,’ needing to propel myself back into the 1900’s. The Gladstone museum is the last complete Victorian pottery factory in the country and was saved from being pulled down at the last minute. It is a fascinating insight to the working life of the average Potteries worker back in the day . Surprisingly, most of the report’s suggest that although the work was hard and unhealthy, (Potters Rot did away with many a Potteries worker) the general temperament was stoic and upbeat.
I lived in Stoke-on Trent until I was ten and remember the Potbanks and the Marl Hole’s (deep, dangerous holes left to fill up with water once the ‘marl’ had been excavated) There was an ‘oatcake’ shop at the end of our road (sold only oatcakes which were made while you waited) and my aunty Irene was a ‘cup handler’ which I always thought meant she handled cups for some reason, but actually just meant she glued the handles on cups with ‘slip.’ (watery clay) As kids we used to catch a bus to Stoke market where we’d buy broken biscuits from a stall which was overflowing with loose biscuits, and every other stall had ‘seconds’ pottery of some sort. It was an automatic action to turn a cup or saucer upside down to see the makers mark and if it was a ‘second’ or even a ‘third,’ which might have a tiny chip out of it, or a piece of dirt embedded in it, but had been glazed anyway. The accent was sometimes impenetrable in the heart of Stoke and the houses were set in row upon row of redbrick, with tiny front garden’s if you were lucky.
We lived in ‘Moseley Villa’ which was a big house with an apple orchard in James Street where the Industrialist’s used to live, away from the smoke and noise, although prior to that we lived in Newcastle- Under- Lyme in one of the many terraced houses until our family became too large!
My novel is set in Fenton, the town that Arnold Bennett ‘forgot’ when he wrote his ‘Anna of the Five Towns’ and is about Maddie, a working class Potteries girl who falls for a rich Industrialist’s son when he rescues her younger brother from drowning -in a marl hole! It’s a late Victorian/early Edwardian novel and I suppose it is a ‘rags to riches’ style story. Maddie is not considered good enough for Daniel, so determines to prove everyone wrong even though she thinks she has lost him to a more respectable woman. It was tricky to convey the accent without overdoing it, and also trying to get it right. I mean would you know that ‘atalrate’ means ‘are you all right?’ and ‘theesen’ is ‘yourself’ (as in ‘thee self’) See what I mean? Tricky!