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The Middleport Pottery: The 'Model Pottery' of Staffordshire

Middleport Pottery situated on the Trent and Mersey Canal in Stoke-on-Trent, was built by Burgess and Leigh in 1888. It is the home of Burleigh Pottery.

The town of Stoke-on-Trent itself is affectionately known as The Potteries and is officially recognised as the World Capital of Ceramics. Burslem is called the "Mother Town" of The Potteries and Middleport Pottery, in the heart of Burslem, has made its famous Burleigh pottery since 1889. It was described as a "Model Pottery" of the Staffordshire industry because it was so cleverly designed to streamline the production process. Middleport was much more efficient than traditional potteries and improved conditions for the workforce with simple details like the passageways being designed for the easy movement of workers and pottery- they are the perfect width for a cart to get through. Finished pottery was placed straight onto barges on the Trent and Mersey Canal waiting to take the ceramics out to the coast for international export. It is now the last working Victorian "model pottery" of its kind.

Why here? The gradual financial collapse of Davenports had brought about the sale in 1886 of Pickford's Wharf, a piece of land previously used for its saggar works and crate yard. Situated in Middleport, a developing area away from Burslem town centre, the main advantage of this site was its excellent communications: the adjacent Trent and Meney Canal provided cheap and efficient transport to the major ports of Liverpool and Manchester in the northwest whilst the proximity of Longport Station on the North Staffordshire railway line gave further links to Britain's cities and ports including Hull in the northeast. Recognising the potential of the site, Burgess & Leigh lost no time in acquiring it for their new factory

Who designed the building?
The architect entrusted with the design of the new works was Absalom Reade Wood (1851-1922), Edmund's school friend and fellow Methodist, who had qualified under the Stoke-on-Trent architect Robert Scrivener before setting up his own business in 1874 in Tunstall. By the late 1880s, A.R. Wood had several ecclesiastical, domestic and civic commissions to his name, most of which were known to the founders. They would have been particularly interested in the building of the Town Hall in Tunstall, their birthplace, and of St Andrew's Church in Porthill, where both lived for some time. It is interesting that A.R. Wood had never before designed an industrial building and would have readily accepted the commission for pottery, eager to make a name for himself in a new area. In consultation with the company partners, he therefore set about producing a building which, five years after work commenced in 1888, was still being described as 'the "Model Pottery" of Staffordshire.

In April of 1888, The Pottery Gazette wrote that 'Messrs Burgess & Leigh's new factory, on the Trent and Mersey Canal, is being pushed forward. By June it was first noted that the pottery was to be called Middleport Pottery' and that its owners hoped to take possession and commence operations about March next. This has been a gigantic undertaking but the factory when finished will be replete with all modern machinery and drying appliances." Commenting on its advantageous canal-side situation, it reported Taking into consideration the cost of carting clays up and goods down from the factory, a considerable item will thus be saved on a twelve months' trade.' In December the factory was
at last 'nearing completion. 1st April 1889 came the announcement that 'Messrs Burgess & Leigh vacated Hill Pottery on 25th March and are rapidly settling down to work at Middleport Pottery.

In architectural style, the Middleport modern Pottery was far from radical. The simple red brick, tiled-roofed building exemplified the Protestant work ethic values of both its owner and its architect....

From the "BURLEIGH, THE STORY OF A POTTERY" by Julie McKeown (2003), Published by Richard Dennis.


Middleport Pottery is described as the "Model Pottery" because it was so cleverly designed to streamline the production process.

Raw materials required for pottery manufacture; clay, flint and feldspar came in via the wharf area, by narrowboat, on the southern end of the canal.

And, at the northern side of the building, finished goods were packed, loaded and distributed... more on that to follow.


When installed back in 1888, the purpose-built William Boulton steam engine was cutting edge technology and the heart of the factory.

This engine drove shafts which then turned the blungers in the Slip Room, powered the pumps to transport slip and turned the cogs to drive the Paternoster Lift. This lift ran between floors and transported wares from casting to the biscuit kilns.

Residual heat from the Lancashire Boiler also warmed the pipes to dry the 'green ware' (wet, slipcasted ware).


We have nearly 19,000 block and case moulds in our collection. Some of these date back to 1851.


It's no mistake as to why the pottery factory is located next to the canal. When Middleport Pottery was built in 1888 the canal was the highway of its day.

The canal provided a secure and smooth way to transport wares and, at the time, an easy route to access the UK's major ports, Liverpool to the west and Hull to the east.

Today, Burleigh's Factory Shop stocks the largest collection of Burleigh ware. And, we're proud to say that all the products are made, by hand, just metres from the shop's entrance.