Stoke-on-Trent and its surrounding areas are known for many things, not least their strong links with the ceramics industry.

Affectionately known as The Potteries, the area has played a pivotal role in the evolution of the ceramics (and of course, pottery) industry over the past 300 years (wow, that’s a long time).

The Potteries’ rich ceramics heritage is present in every one of its six towns, with flecks of its industrial history woven deep into almost every street corner, vintage brick building or vacant pot bank.

Every true local (or ‘Stokie’) is proud of The Potteries’ rich ceramics heritage. Here we’re going to take a little trip down memory lane before exploring some of the factories, venues, and points of interest that have made The Potteries what it is and what it’s destined to be.

Let’s get started.


The rise of The Potteries: a bit of background

The Potteries is England’s main producer of ceramic items, China, and earthenware—supplying almost all of the UK as well as countries the world over.

As far back as the 1400s, Stoke-on-Trent and its surrounding areas have used their unique geographical landscape to create pottery creations that are stunning and practical in equal measures. The area’s abundance of coal and naturally coarse clay became the building blocks of a thriving industry—one that still endures today in all of its creative glory.

From the 1400s to the 1600s, The Potteries gradually grew and in 1670, the first-ever saggar (the a protective box that encloses ceramicware while it’s being fired) was introduced to the area’s ceramics factories, an innovation that accelerated the growth of the industry.

During the 1700s, the creation of the Trent & Mersey Canal (originally known as Grand Trunk Canal) gave local ceramics manufacturers a means of transporting and trading their goods in other regions of the country. 

This further growth led to the rise of Josiah Wedgewood (who gave the world Queen’s Ware in 1762) and his ceramics empire, closely followed by the likes of Josiah Spode.

The Potteries’ blossomed during the 1800s and by the 1900s, the area was firmly established as the epicentre of modern ceramics, spawning a wealth of names that are still in production today.

By 1958 (after the welcome introduction of the Clean Air Act), 70,158 people were actively employed in The Potteries ceramics industry. And, while that number has dwindled over the decades, many innovative pottery brands are creating unique works of ceramic art to keep the area’s heritage alive—we’re living in the midst of an exciting new chapter for The Potteries.

“Being creative is not a hobby. It’s a way of life.” – Proverb

A walk through Stoke-on-Trent’s Ceramics Trail

Now that you know a little about The Potteries’ rich ceramics history, let’s look at some of the enduring brands and manufacturers that are still in production today—iconic names with incredible legacies.

Inspired by Visit Stoke’s official Ceramics Trail, here are the Stoke-on-Trent-based ceramics manufacturers that you need to know about.

Middleport Pottery (Burleigh)

Based at Middleport Pottery—the host venue of Series one to three of TV’s ‘Great Pottery Showdown’—Burleigh is a local pottery icon with a commitment to crafting striking floral ceramics, mostly made by hand.

Established in 1851, Burleigh has earned a global reputation for its ever-growing range of earthenware—and you can learn all about the brand’s history by visiting Middleport Pottery.

Not many people know this, but Middleport Pottery is also home to ClayCollege Stoke: a creative educational hub committed to mentoring and nurturing the ceramics talent of the future.


Established in 1883, Steelite International is one of Burslem’s ceramics crown jewels (it now operates canalside near Middleport Pottery), renowned for its robust yet stylish table and hotelware. In fact, it supplies over 140 countries worldwide.

To get under the skin of this Stoke-on-Trent ceramics giant, you can enjoy Steelite’s fact-packed virtual factory tour.

Royal Doulton

Dating back to 1815, Royal Doulton began its legacy in Vauxhall, South London. After a short stint in Lambeth, the brand migrated north to the heart of the industry, setting up its new HQ in Burslem (Stoke-on-Trent’s Mothertown) in 1882.

The brand’s innovative approach to glazing and keen artistic eye saw it emerge as one of the world’s most popular producers of tableware, with its London and Potteries roots present in every one of its fine creations.

Emma Bridgewater

Emma Bridgewater is known for its striking polka dot designs and vibrant colours. Established in 1984 by Emma Bridgewater (naturally), the brand’s iconic image was first conjured up to represent image’s of the founder’s mother’s inviting Oxfordshire kitchen.

To realise her dream of creating an accessible modern ceramics empire, Emma Bridgewater moved to Stoke-on-Trent (naturally)—and now her works of ceramic art are proudly displayed in kitchens across The Potteries (and all over the world).


Last but certainly not least (not by a longshot), we arrive at Wedgwood. One of the world’s most celebrated ceramics brands, Wedgwood is synonymous with elegance, opulence, and fine dining.

This is one of The Potteries’ longest-standing ceramics brands and its commitment to experimentation, art, and staying true to its roots while moving with the times has kept Josiah Wedgwood’s legacy alive, kicking and screaming into the modern era.

You can get up close and personal with the brand by visiting the World of Wedgwood.

“Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense.”—Josiah Wedgwood

So there you have it: an introduction to The Potteries’ iconic ceramics heritage. From our short trip down memory lane, you can see just how influential The Potteries has been on the ceramics industry—and how the area is currently carving out a bright and prosperous future for this most legendary of trades.