Shards

An ongoing project to disseminate the state of the city of Stoke-on-Trent, through the collection and documentation of shards of pottery found in the earth. Many thanks to a-n for bursary funding to begin this work. If you would like to catalogue your own collection, you can download and print the worksheet below and get in touch with your results.

Burslem Market

S41111-U2011-ST6/W3

When I moved to Burslem in 2009 there was a ghostly presence of a recent death being mourned by the community. Burslem had been a formalised market town for at least 250 years and informally for many hundreds of years before that. The manufacture of crude butter pots from local course clay by Burslem farm workers had been the genesis of pottery manufacture in what would later become the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Since these times there had been various indoor and outdoor markets held regularly within the town. The street market traders packed away for the last time on Queen Street less than a year after the Global Financial Crash of 2008. 

29th May 2019.

Today was a momentous day. The wind and rain battered the canopies of 10 market stalls arranged in a single strip on Market Place. Local musician, Merrym’n, was positioned in the centre of the strip, belting out original songs with guitar and mouth organ, in an unexpected battle of spirits against the wintery late May conditions. As I approached the first stall holder we greeted each other with mirror image facial expressions ‘bloody typical eh?’. It was 10 minutes into the first Burslem market for 10 years, and I was one of only 7 or so visitors so far. Having worked on Clough Street Market myself as a teenager, I slipped right back into the patter, the endless speculation that goes on between traders- the weather, half term, the time- all potential reasons for any number of fluctuations in customer attendance. Though chilled to the bone all of the traders were optimistic- they had already signed up for a month, it was going to get better, the weather would improve, and people would come.

The sound of Burslem’s first market in 10 years.

Lower down this cellar where
We met this happy feller
Playing cake-walks on his guitar
All night long
His pickin’ sounded scratchy
But his music was so catchy
That we all got up and joined him
And we sang this song

Down Waterloo Road
Down Waterloo Road
Friday night Saturday
Any night or any day
You’ll find what you’re looking for
Down Waterloo Road

Half an hour previous I was 200 yards Southeast of the market, skirting around an abandoned plot of land next to the now closed down Heaven and Hell night Club, opposite Burslem Oatcakes on the busy Waterloo Road. I’d made my way up via the Royal Doulton Factory site, in use from 1815 to 2005, which was soon to be cleared and treated for contamination in anticipation of a new housing development. Next to that was the Dudson Factory Outlet, another pottery firm that had operated since 1800, which had collapsed into administration only 6 weeks earlier.

As I bent over to scan the ground for shards I was getting peeped at by men in vans as they passed by me at the side of the road. ‘An occupational hazard’ I thought, and wondered if my continued shard searching activities would illuminate the misogyny that women are socially conditioned to avoid. This wasn’t simply an issue of misogyny, though, it concerned the social effects of behaving differently in public. You only notice how strong the force of expectation is when you begin to push against it.

Walking down the street today
I saw a girl across the way
I asked her where she’s going
And she said, “Come with me”
She took me down this avenue
Where I met the folks she knew
And there we stopped and chatted
And passed the time away

Down Waterloo Road
Down Waterloo Road
Friday night Saturday
Any night or any day
You’ll find what you’re looking for
Down Waterloo Road

Three years earlier I was working for The United Kingdom Heritage Building Preservation Trust on a consultation about the future of the The Wedgwood Institute- a former workers educational facility and library on Queen Street, and probably the most beautiful building in the city. It had been closed to the public in the year after the market stopped. I spoke to hundreds of local people over several months and the same answer kept coming- the building should be a new indoor market. Some said a traditional market like the one formerly housed in the now derelict purpose-built indoor market hall 50 yards up the street, some saying it could be more like Manchester’s Affleck’s Palace- a dense maze of craft and boutique sellers. I paid great attention to why people wanted the market back, and it never seemed to be about the goods on sale. People wanted the hubbub- the people, the opportunity to leave the kids in the library while parents did the shopping, the feeling of thriving, something to do in the day, opportunities for work, pride.

Up at Market Square I had reach the Our Burslem stall, held by June Cartwright, the leader of the community group that had fought long and hard with the City Council to get the market back. “I could be at home wrapped up warm, but I’m sat here in the freezing cold trying to save Burslem” she said as the rain channelled off the canopy above in dozens of tiny waterfalls. I understood her disappointment. It’s hard to break out of a downward spiral, it takes many hands pulling together to claw out of it. I did my best to communicate my admiration and appreciation for what she and the community were doing. The force of expectation is strong, and many have come to expect failure.

Down Waterloo Road, I found what I was looking for.

A finely decorated shard of porcelain nestled in a bed of creeping moss just beyond the herras fence that cordoned off the derelict land beyond. The shard gives me a tantalising glimpse of what the full pattern might have been- still water with three promontories of land meeting it on the right- the first two, dark and dense, the third more distant, rounder and softer. I imagine the idyllic scene that the shard was part of- trees, land, birds, boats maybe. Morning sun glinting off the water – a bright, calm new day.

Now the birds are cheeping
And we all feel kind of sleepy
The morning tide is rising
And the moon has gone
But still the feeling lingers
And still I hear the singers
As I walk along the avenue
And I sing this song

Down Waterloo Road
Down Waterloo Road
Friday night Saturday
Any night any day
You’ll find what you’re looking for
Down Waterloo Road

1 minute 30 at the find location.

I excavated the 3-inch square section of moss that surrounded the shard and slipped it in one pleasing piece into a clear plastic sample bag. Half way home I began to notice condensation gathering on the inside of the bag- misty at first, then coalescing into shiny droplets of water that hung like a firmament over the mossy landscape. I placed the bag on my desk and was away from home for the following week. On my return, to my delight, I found that little shoots had sprouted from the moss, encouraged and protected by the warm, wet atmosphere inside the bag. Although secluded from the rest of the world, this small square of life was growing. I thought about the market place, Our Burslem, and the Burslem Community, and thought about the tiny 10-stall market- the first shoots of community regrowth in an area of growing isolation.    

Down Waterloo Road
Down Waterloo Road
Friday night Saturday
Any night any day
You’ll find what you’re looking for
Down Waterloo Road

Lyrics from Waterloo Road (1968) by Jason Crest. Written about Burslem’s Waterloo Road.