Thursday, 6 August 2009


It takes a long time to get into Stoke, as the canal glides through wide fields and tidy suburbs but when you get there, it's fascinating. Relics of old industry are spread along the canalside - some of them obvious like the famous bottle kilns, others just enigmatic brick skeletons of what was once there.
You pass wonderful (to a southern jessie) names like 'Jones & Shufflebottom, Plumbers Merchants', a boatyard that has everything from chandlery to fishing bait, tacle (sic), airguns and even a 10 metre shooting range.
And then you reach Etruria and the fine Etruria Industrial Museum based around Jesse Shirley's Etruscan bone mill where cattle bones, flint and stone were ground by massive steam powered machinery for over 100 years until the 1970s to provide the basis for the 'bone china' the Potteries are famous for.
The scale of the machinery is stupendous - the huge beam engine that drives a system of cartwheel sized gears to turn the grinding mechanism, the boiler (still warm on Thursday after it had been run on Sunday). The scale and enterprise of it all takes your breath away.
But there's a sadness too. The smoke and stink that hung over the Potteries may have gone but so too have the mines, much of the industry and, above all, the inventiveness and farsightedness of men like Wedgwood, Shirley, Watt, Boulton, Priestley, Erasmus Darwin and the rest who created and spurred on the industrial revolution. And what are we left with? Wedgwood sold to an American firm that wants to "outsource" jobs from Barlaston to Indonesia, the car industry sold to India and China, no coal industry and us Brits shuffling imports around vast distribution warehouses or blagging a life in banking. And much of canalside Stoke literally flattened – razed to the ground in a vast rebuilding job. It's an impressive effort but what will the result be? Lines of look-alike canalside flats and grey, steel warehousing?
Grumpy old man speech over.
But do go to the Etruria Museum -- the best £2.50 you can spend outside of a pub!

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