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Grandad's Mural

Last October I decided to paint a mural in Stoke on Trent city centre of a 100 year old photo which has been treasured by my family since the early 1920's.

The idea had been in my mind for a while as the photo, for as long as I can remember has sat proudly on the wall of my Nan and Grandad's house as you enter the front door. It has always intrigued me and I would find myself staring at it every time I would visit my Grandparents. Of course, this interest led to me being told lots of stories behind the photo and many other related stories of family and local history.

The photo is of a scene inside 'The Placers Shop' at H Aynsley's Pot Bank, Commerce Street Longton. My Great Grandad and Great Great Grandad are seen working, placing the ware ready for firing into saggars. The doorway you see in the back of the photo is a doorway straight into the bottle kiln. The saggars full of ware the men are handling would have been passed straight next door for the other men to stack in the kiln.

The second to closest man to the front is my Great Grandad William Simpson, seen placing some ware from the shelves into a Saggar. Further back to the left of the stacked saggars, with the white shirt and black apron, is my Great Great Grandad William 'Bill' Simpson. He looks as if he could be waiting for the men at the bench to fill a saggar for him to pass on to the men stood in the doorway.

The mural. I chose to crop the image and highlight William and Bill in my signature green to emphasise them.

Bill's son William also had the responsibility of 'Fireman' which meant starting the fire in the bottle oven and monitoring the fire's progress constantly, with little to no rest through the night over the entire weekend. This was all done without thermometers and mostly by eye.

Trial pieces of clay would be slid out of the middle of the kiln during different stages of the firing to see what change in size and colour had occurred so far, which would indicate if the temperature inside was right. These trials were hugely skilful in themselves. The Fireman would have to reach in through small holes into the bricked up kiln, that was burning inside, with a long iron poker to retrieve the trial pieces without disturbing any of the other ware.

My Grandad John Recalls his Dad William staying at work over the weekend and on a Friday night, at the start of the long shift ahead John would be sent by his Mum Elsie down the hill from Dresden to the Pot Bank in Longton to deliver his Dad's Tea on a plate as quick as possible to keep it warm.

In the photos above you can see my Mum and Grandad John stood in front of the mural and me and my Grandad stood in front of what remains of H Aynsley's factory in Longton. We had a day out Up 'Anley and Longton to show my Grandad the mural and to visit sites such as H Aynsley's, the street he grew up on in Dresden and his old local pub The Park Inn, Dresden.

However, the pub seen in the picture above was just a pit stop on the way back through Hanley 'The Golden Cup' recently restored to pristine 1960's spec as it once was. This stop was a must to check out the amazing restoration and grab one last pint. A highly recommended pub if you're in Hanley!

A good read if you're interested in learning more about the old fashioned techniques they used to make pottery in Bottle Kilns in Stoke.

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