Travel review: World of Wedgwood, Stoke-on-Trent
Welcome to arts and crafts on a giant scale – welcome to the World of Wedgwood.
Steeped in history, dating back to the 16th century – when the Wedgwood dynasty first formed – the museum and factory of today is filled with fascinating facts, a restaurant selling top quality food and, perhaps most importantly, the chance to try your hand at pot throwing, plate painting and see first hand how the masters of create their stunning pieces.
Arriving with my wife Kelly and our three-year-old daughter, Annabelle, we were greeted by very friendly staff and decided to enjoy a two-course lunch because traffic meant we walked through the doors at 1pm.
The dining hall is spacious and the glass exterior means you can take in the lovely grounds, which include a water feature – we kept having to explain to Annabelle it wasn’t a water park – the outdoor play area that features giant interactive pottery-themed willow installations, designed by artist Tom Hare.
For starters, I opted for the ham hock terrine – pressed slow-cooked ham hocks, with a spiced pineapple concasse – and Kelly ordered the soup of the day, which tasted like parsnip and apple.
Both were delicious and quite ample, mine coming in two burger-shaped balls, filled with tasty onions, peppers and served with a sour dough crouton and mustard vinaigrette.
Annabelle was given a bowl of watermelon and strawberries to get stuck in to and then we ordered our mains, Kelly and I both being drawn to the Staffordshire Lobby, a traditional dish from the Potteries of slow-cooked beef steak with root vegetables and onions, in a rich beef gravy, served with buttered mash.
The meal was the perfect size and meant we weren’t overly full later on while taking part in the activities. The meat melted in the mouth and the potatoes beautifully creamy.
Annabelle wolfed down her mac ‘n’ cheese and then it was time to explore the World of Wedgwood.
First up was plate throwing – not like the Greek style of plate smashing – where we were invited to make our own pots. Not being the most artistic person in the world, I was worried the clay would end up on the ceiling, walls and all over my clothes.
However, the friendly staff were again on hand to guide us and soon we were up and running, including Annabelle, who was probably better than me.
Once we’d grasped the speed of the wheel and how to control the clay, we had to choose our pots and were taught how to shape them to our liking. We did get quite a bit of help but we were all very pleased with the finished results, which will be sent to our home address after being fired in the kiln.
After getting cleaned up, it was time to decorate some plates and pots. This was where Annabelle and Kelly really came into their own.
The staff encourage the children to create their own pieces freehand, rather than simply using prints or stencils.
There’s no pressure, but it was lovely to see the concentration on Annabelle’s face as she got to grips with the paintbrush and was then let loose on her pots.
Once we had all finished, Annabelle was handed a tiny pot to paint at home for ‘being so good’, which was another nice touch. Time was flying by, so we decided to take in the museum. Annabelle was also handed an activity pack to fill in, which kept her interested while taking in the exhibits, paintings and videos.
The Pottery Spotters Museum Trail is free for every child with a prize for every completed activity sheet – yes, another little pot, which she loved.
I knew a little about the pottery industry, the Wedgwood name and its links to Staffordshire, but after a half-hour walk around the museum I was completely blown away by the scale, intricate designs, different types of clay used through the years, how the company was passed down through the generations, how one of the Wedgwoods would eventually marry Sir Charles Darwin – talk about a family dynasty – and, most importantly, the sheer vision and will of the Wedgwoods to make Staffordshire global home of the pottery industry.
Factory tours are also available and we ran out of time to try the nature trail, managed by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, but as Kelly put it, ‘the place was just lovely and the way the staff were showed they were clearly really happy to have children interested in what they did. We were looked after so well’.
However, it’s not just for young families, as couples, tourists and even a hen party were enjoying the facilities the same day as us. We then made the short trip to Stafford to stay at The Swan Hotel, in Greengate Street, a quaint and busy venue, with a very nice beer garden. The huge king-sized bed was superb – especially as Annabelle inevitably joined us in it – there was plenty of milk for the tea and coffee, which particularly pleased Kelly, and the breakfast was sublime.
The full English ticked all the boxes, Kelly’s skinny breakfast was perfect for a smaller appetite and Annabelle really enjoyed her omelette (as well as the fruit, cereal, toast and yoghurt).
Full up and content, we headed home filled with great memories of a wonderful family short-break.