I am becoming more and more of a fan and collector of Emma Bridgewater as the years go by. It all started on my 21st Birthday when I was gifted a Emma Bridgewater picnic hamper for two from my Mum. I hadn’t heard of Emma Bridgewater at that stage, but instantly I fell in love with the design on the pottery contained within my leather buckled wicker hamper.
We finally arrived at around 12:15pm after what was a bloody long drive up from Devon over 4 hours in fact, but boy was it worth it!
We had a little look around to get our bearings and decided that our tummies were crying to loudly for lunch so headed straight to the cafe. There was an arrary of handmade cakes, sandwiches, daily specials and drinks on offer. In the end we settled on an afternoon tea for two! How very British! Presented on a Emma Bridgewater cake stand, we were spoilt with 4 different sandwiches, a mini cream and raspberry dessert, very rich chocolate brownie, fruit scone with clotted cream & strawberry jam and a slice of coffee and walnut cake. Plus a signature 1/2 pint Emma Bridgewater mug of tea to wash it all down with. How much? £12.50 pp, which I thought was quite good. Only criticism, was that the scone was tiny, the size of the small jam pot, but tasty none the less.
After spending nearly an hour making our way through the afternoon tea, we met at the tour meeting point in the ‘Seconds Shop’ for the Factory Tour.
The Factory Tour lasted nearly 90mins and cost just £2.50. I would of happily paid 10 times that price. The lovely lady that showed us around the factory was informative and all the staff we bumped into were more than happy to answer questions or show us what they were up to.
I won’t spoil it all for you by giving you a minute by minute blog of what is shown to vistors on the Factory tour, but I will tell you all about the bits that really stood out for me.
We started right at the beginning at the courtyard of the Factory. The Factory was built in the 1800’s and Emma moved in at some point during 1996. When opening there was only 45 members of staff employed and now there is 280. My slight concern with her huge growth is that her pottery will loose its value. What I mean is, when Cath Kidston started, it all felt quite exclusive if you owned a piece, where as now, it feels like everyone has a Cath Kidston item and it dosen’t feel like it has that “ohh you’ve got a Cath Kidston item” reaction. With Emma Bridgewater pottery becoming more and more available, I worry that it won’t be as exclusive to own as it once was.
Anyway, back to the Tour. Right from the word go of producing the pottery, everything is handmade and waste is recycled. The moulds that the clay is poured into are made by two guys in one area of the Factory. The moulds only last 5/6 weeks and then are broken down to recycle into new moulds. Once the clay is set in the mould there is a long line of staff taking each item out of its mould by hand and placing them on a drying rack. Any slight meeting lines from the mould that are left on the pottery is then removed by skimming and sponging, by hand.
Now those of you that have or like Emma Bridgewater will know that her pottery is known to be hand painted. Take the current design Rose and Bee, the flowers and bees are all painted on with a sponge with the design cut out on it. Similar to when you were a child and you would paint with a potato your Mum had cut a design out of, dip it in paint and dab it on the paper. I always wondered how they got such intricate designs sponged onto the pottery, I assumed a stencil. Not it is sponge. And yes there are two ladies sat with a soldering iron cutting the sponge to make the designs.
The sponges only last 5 days so again this is a constant job. Back to the Rose and Bee design, so the flowers and bees are painted on with the sponge, but the ribbons are painted on by hand with a paint brush. So when they say everything is hand painted, Emma is not lying. This also makes no two items identical.
I was amazed to find out that when the pottery is finally ready for sale, at least 25 people have touched your pottery item and checked it along its journey.
After our tour we made our way to the Seconds Shop, where as you can imagine there are some bargains to be had. Second items are reduced by about 35% of the original price, so if you can find a good second, quids in! All the second pottery has been marked with a removable pen showing you where the imperfection is. There is also a First shop too if you don’t want to purchase a second item.
There is a Design Studio, where you can design your own pottery if you desire. We didn’t make our way into the design studio as looked quite busy.
I loved our visit to the Emma Bridgewater Factory and now fully understand why her pottery is a little bit more expensive than your normal cup or plate you can pick up.