Gold, pots and a plane but our museum shouldn’t stop there

It’s no great surprise to me that the most popular permanent exhibit at the Potteries Museum and Hanley is the Mk XVI Spitfire.
If you’ve never seen one up close then you’ve missed a treat.
Aside from being a deadly killing machine, the world’s most famous fighter plane is also a thing of rare beauty.
It is sleek and imperious and, like all iconic designs, it possesses that indefinable timeless quality.
But it is, of course, the aircraft’s remarkable history which captivates us even today – a full 70 years after its finest hour.
During the darkest days of the Second World War, the Spitfire came to symbolise Britain’s remarkable resilience against a seemingly insurmountable tide of evil.
It is easy in 2010 as the ‘war generation’ leaves us in ever greater numbers to throw around such adjectives.
However, it is absolutely true to say that through the summer and autumn of 1940 the only thing preventing the Nazi invasion of these shores was a small number of pilots and their fighter aircraft – the cream of which was the Spitfire.
It is estimated that there are less than 50 of these aircraft left in airworthy condition worldwide, although many museums have static examples on display.
We are lucky enough to have one – and so we ought to, given the fact that North Staffordshire was the birthplace of the man whose invention is credited with turning the tide in the Battle of Britain.
Yes, we have Reginald Mitchell Way, Spitfire Lane and Spitfire Way, all in Tunstall, and there’s a plaque in Butt Lane commemorating his birth in May 1895.
But the fact that we have one of Mitchell’s aircraft on display in Hanley is just as important because it is another opportunity to show visitors that the Potteries is about more than just pits and pots.
Recently a campaign was launched to raise £50,000 needed to help preserve our Spitfire for future generations.
The need is not desperate at present, but the aircraft’s condition will deteriorate over time unless ongoing maintenance and restoration work is carried out.
It strikes me that £50,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential benefits of having this piece of history as a key exhibit at our showpiece tourist attraction.
In my opinion, our Spitfire should be treated no differently than the artefacts like the magnificent Minton majolica peacock.
It has, in recent years, become unfashionable to praise anything connected to the war – presumably in case we offend someone, somewhere.
I think this attitude is, in itself, offensive to men like Reginald Mitchell and the pilots and crew who worked with his great invention.
The Spitfire restoration campaign deserves to succeed and will succeed here in Stoke-on-Trent because, thankfully, your average man or woman on the street doesn’t put up with such politically-correct nonsense.
Also, I believe the campaign comes at a good time because very soon the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery will be examining the implications of doing justice to a permanent exhibition of artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard.
That will involve looking at the layout of the venue and how best we can impress visitors.
This means making the most of the Hoard, our world-renowned pottery collection and local links to the Spitfire.
But why stop there? Are we not missing a trick, here?
Isn’t now the perfect time to be looking at the potential for capitalising on other names who have helped to put Stoke-on-Trent on the map.
For example, it has always struck me as rather odd that the city’s museum makes no great fuss of Captain Edward Smith – the man who skippered the Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage.
By the same token, what about a certain Robbie Williams esquire?
In the Robster we boast one of the world’s biggest pop stars and yet here in his home city we don’t even have a tourist trail or any evidence that the bloke was once of this parish.
By the same token there’s nothing to tell visitors that darts maestro Phil Taylor is from our neck of the woods either.
Imagine the pulling power the museum would have if it boasted 30 or 40 items of tour memorabilia from the Robster?
Or a collection of souvenirs donated by ‘The Power’.
In my opinion, museums shouldn’t be limited to collections from the past or involving people that are no longer with us.
It is an exciting time for the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
While we ponder the regenerative possibilities presented by the Staffordshire Hoard and consider how best to preserve our Spitfire we should also be thinking outside the box as to how best to sell the city to tourists of all ages who are interested in more than our proud industrial heritage.


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