Man wearing cap and apron carries seven unglazed pots with lids on a plank on his head.
A man carrying a plank of dishes on his head at the Royal Albert Pottery, Parsonage Street, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Photographed 1966-1968 © Historic England Archive. DES01/04/0639 More photos by Eileen Deste
A man carrying a plank of dishes on his head at the Royal Albert Pottery, Parsonage Street, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Photographed 1966-1968 © Historic England Archive. DES01/04/0639 More photos by Eileen Deste

'The Colour Room' Filmed in Stoke-on-Trent Historic Potteries

A new film, 'The Colour Room', follows the journey of celebrated ceramicist Clarice Cliff as she defies class and gender restrictions to design the unprecedented Art Deco ‘Bizarre’ range for the Stoke-on-Trent pottery A J Wilkinson.

Historic sites used as filming location

The film was shot on location in and around Middleport Pottery and the Gladstone Museum – the A J Wilkinson site demolished long ago – and depicts working life at the time of Cliff's apprenticeship. What a wonderful excuse then to dig into Historic England's archives of images from the potteries' heyday.

Factory life

A J Wilkinson Ltd operated two potworks in the Newport area of Stoke-on-Trent – the Mersey Pottery and the Newport Pottery. The factories were positioned next door to each other on the eastern bank of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Unfortunately, we do not have images of the actual premises where Cliff produced her pioneering pieces, but below is a selection that documents similar buildings that Cliff would have worked in.

Cliff was ambitious from the time she started work, aged 13 years old, as a gilder. Unlike many other girls at the time, she frequently changed apprenticeships in order to master a range of skills. She also studied evening classes in art and sculpture to improve her career opportunities.

Art revolution

In 1930, Cliff was appointed art director to Newport Pottery and A J Wilkinson, the two adjoining factories that produced her wares.

She not only introduced new designs but also supported new ways of marketing goods. She encouraged the setting up of ‘marketing moments’ by raising the profile of the young female workers that assisted her, calling them the ‘Bizarre Girls’.

Cliff continued to work closely with Colley Shorter. Eventually, they married but his death in 1963 led Cliff to sell the factory to the firm Midwinter in 1964 and she retired, becoming somewhat of a recluse.