Pottery firms: Still innovating and still the key employers locally

Ceramics 2013 logo.

Some people would have you believe we don’t make stuff in this country anymore.

It’s certainly true that manufacturing in the UK has changed beyond all recognition in the past 30 years or so.

No-one views us as the ‘Workshop of the World’ anymore – that’s for sure.

Great industries like coal-mining and steel production have all but disappeared and my native North Staffordshire still bears the scars.

Shelton Bar, which once lit up the night sky and where my great-grandfather was a foreman, is no more.

The pits where other members of my family dug for black gold are now but a memory.

But what of the industry after which this area is named?

They still call us the Potteries but is it a fair reflection on the Stoke-on-Trent of 2013. Is it even applicable anymore?

In recent years some civic leaders have stated that we should drop the name altogether – arguing that the label is neither helpful nor relevant to our city today.

The problem is, of course, that they had no clue what to replace it with. There was no alternative: No big idea on which the city could hang its hat.

Perhaps that’s no bad thing because the reality is that the industry for which we are renowned is still very much alive and kicking – despite what some would have us think.

Here, in what is often described as the ‘world capital of ceramics’, you will – of course – find the derelicts, the ruined hulks and the former factories.

Drive around the city and you’ll see the former Spode site and the mess that is Nile Street in Burslem where the behemoth that was Royal Doulton’s premier factory used to stand – now sadly reduced to rubble.

Then there are the smaller potbanks – too numerous to mention here – which are boarded-up, roofless and weed-choked.

But that’s only half the story.

The pottery industry may have shrunk considerably since its hey-day but it remains THE key employer locally.

More to the point, whisper it quietly but many of our foremost ceramics firms are doing rather well, of late.

As well as still being home for long-established family names like Dudson and Wedgwood, our neck of the woods still boasts brands such as Johnson Tiles, Steelite International, Churchill, Wade Ceramics, Portmeirion as well as relative newcomer Emma Bridgewater who are all world and market leaders in their fields – still innovating, still producing millions of crocks and still proudly employing hundreds of people here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Add to these dozens of smaller pottery firms operating across The Sentinel’s patch and you start to build up a very different picture of the area and its core industry.

That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t challenges to be faced.

The global economic downturn has done manufacturing businesses no favours whatsoever – and suggestions of a recovery at this stage should be viewed with extreme caution.

As well as the continuing battle to underline the importance of the Made in England/UK backstamp, pottery firms are also wrestling with the problem of ensuring they have a plentiful supply of cheap energy – while trying to satisfy various green agendas.

So while there are many reasons for optimism surrounding the ceramics industry, challenges remain.

No doubt they will be discussed on Thursday at the Centre for Refurbishment Excellence (CoRE) in Longton when it hosts Ceramics 2013.

This event will bring together manufacturers large and small, as well as their suppliers, to showcase the very best this resurgent industry has to offer.

The fact that it is being held here in Stoke-on-Trent is no coincidence and the list of attendees and exhibitors is dominated by names we plate-turners know and love.

I’m chuffed to say that yours truly will be hosting a question and answer session with top industry names (at which all are welcome).

However, rest assured Thursday is far from a navel-gazing exercise on the part of pottery firms.

You’ll find students, artists, graphic designers and all manner of creative industries represented at this event – and members of the public are very welcome too.

With designer Wayne Hemingway MBE – founder of fashion brand Red or Dead – as its guest speaker, Ceramics 2013 is looking to the future and viewing our core local industry as a design-led, British success story.

It’s a story that I, for one, am only too happy to help tell.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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Veteran newsman Chris recalls his role in a slice of Potteries history

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I first met Chris Ellis when he was working as a reporter for BBC Radio Stoke in 1989. A proper, old-fashioned hack, Chris broke, among many exclusives, the ‘Pindown’ story which uncovered widespread abuse of children in care across Staffordshire.

Always keen to listen, always sniffing for his next big story, Chris was a pleasure to work with back then and later when he joined me as a sub-editor here at The Sentinel.

Little did I know it at the time but there was more to BBC Radio Stoke’s veteran newsman than met the eyes.

Born in Leek, Chris was a member of local rock bands Hunter and Demon.

He was also one of the key players in arguably the most important piece of regeneration work to take place in the Potteries to date.

Now retired and living in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia, he’s returned to his first love – playing rock, blues and jazz music.

Chris is currently on tour with singer/song-writer Leanne Tennant and says has no intention of returning to the UK because it’s ‘far too cold’.
However, he was happy to reminisce about his role in making the 1986 National Garden Festival here in Stoke-on-Trent a roaring success…

Chris wrote:

‘May 8, 1986. A date I’ll never forget, and the culmination of months of planning, dramas, nerves, and, for me at least, sailing an unknown ship into unchartered waters. It was the day the Queen opened the National Garden Festival at Etruria, billed as “The Greatest Event In Europe”.

If there was ever a team effort, this was it. An unlikely mix of people had come together to transform the old Shelton steelworks into 180 acres of gardens, shops, events and other attractions, to breathe new life into a site that had been left derelict and an eyesore after 2,000 workers were made redundant when the factory closed.

Various cities had competed for funding to hold garden festivals. Liverpool held the first, the International Garden Festival in 1984, and Stoke successfully bid for the second, in a campaign spearheaded by the former trade union leader Ted Smith, and Ron Southern, who was leader of the city council at the time.

On the day the steelworks had closed, I remember Ted vowing to see those lost jobs replaced before he died. He succeeded, and lived to see the results of his efforts after the festival closed, and new businesses moved on to what’s now known as Festival Park.

I was brought into the team as the events manager. I’m not sure what qualified me for the role, apart from my previous experience of organising various musical events, my reputation as a musician and broadcaster, and perhaps friends in the right places.

I joined a team of designers, architects, marketing and business experts faced with the daunting task of making Ted’s vision a reality.

Many were leaders in their field, others, like me, were going to have to play it by ear.

In late 1984 I reported for work at Etruria Hall. I certainly recall a great sense of pride as I sat in my new office in what had been Josiah Wedgwood’s home. Through one window I could see what had been the old rolling mill of the steelworks, where the marina was under construction, along with a number of “show homes” and the China Garden pub.

Through the other I could see piles of rubble from the old works being piled into a huge mound, eventually to be covered in topsoil and saplings. This would become the “Woodland Ridge”.

On my office wall was pinned the “Master Plan”; a designer’s vision of what the site would look like – which changed on an almost weekly basis, depending on which consultants thought what was appropriate, and what ever-changing budgets would allow).

To tell the full story of the festival would take a book, but for the purpose of this article I only have space for what I feel the festival achieved.

Despite the constant battle with the weather, especially the ever-present wind which swept across the site, construction somehow continued on schedule, sponsored gardens were constructed, and compromises were reached.

There were many compromises, among them the choice between spending money on horticultural and design aspirations, and the real aim of the festival, which was to rejuvenate the land for commercial and community use.

If I have a personal regret, it was losing the argument to build a bridge at Cobridge lights, to relieve the constant traffic congestion; a problem which remains to this day.

We had the money to build it; maybe those of us who were “locals” didn’t have the fortitude to hold out for it.

It’s the old story though, we had the money to build it then but didn’t; today the cost of such an endeavour would be unthinkable.

Now back to the things we did achieve: We created a place of beauty out of industrial waste. We brought thousands of people to Stoke-on-Trent who would never have come for any other reason.

We created hundreds of temporary jobs, on the old Community Programme scheme, even convincing the powers-that-be to allow us to employ musicians to provide entertainment.

This wasn’t easy, especially when the local Musicians’ Union got involved. The musicians we employed were from various backgrounds, but did a fantastic job entertaining the crowds, and many are still playing today, probably most noticeably members of “Boneshaker”, who were formed especially for the event.

Many visitors will remember the sight of “Rob the Bones”, always with his “bones” clicking away and a smile on his face, despite the days of wind and rain. While we didn’t create permanent jobs at the festival, what we did do is get people back into the workforce, albeit temporarily, and I think we gave some people self-respect that had been lost either when the steelworks closed, or during the decline of the many other manufacturing industries in the city.

We employed some pretty interesting people; former factory managers, supervisors and labourers, all with their own ideas about how the festival should be operated, how the festival should look, and how our anticipated visitors should enjoy the festival “experience”.

To cut a very long story very short, there’s no doubt that the festival succeeded on many fronts.

The majority of visitors enjoyed their time on the site, and we certainly gave many people a great day out.

Apart from the Queen’s visit, a highlight was the parade of the Royal Tournament, which had never been held outside London before.

The logistics of bringing hundreds of soldiers, their uniforms and even cannons to the festival were challenging to say the least, and the flypast by a Hercules plane at low level will live with me forever.

Every day there was a crisis of some sort, but we got through it.

As the Queen’s limousine was leaving the railway station for the festival site we were still making last-minute changes. Only 15 minutes before her arrival a road sweeper was cleaning the entrance. It demolished a lamppost.

Faced with the prospect of the Queen’s initial impression of the festival being a heap of rubble, our unflappable operations manager, Mark Michelmore, ordered that the offending lamp be hastily removed, and a team of volunteers covered over the stump and created an improvised floral display which was, quite literally, fit for a Queen.

Looking back now, 26 years later, from the other side of the world, I still have mixed emotions about the festival. I don’t think we got it right; I don’t think we got it wrong either.

I think we just did what we thought was best at the time, and did what was needed to restore some pride into a city which still had things to be proud of, but had suffered at the hands of people who didn’t understand the need for recognition of a city’s heritage or proud past.

We did what we could to restore that pride. Whether we succeeded is not for me to judge but I know many people of the city go there every day today, either to work, shop or be entertained.
I don’t think we did too badly in the end.’

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel for 12 pages of nostalgia

A blast from the past with steel man Ray’s memories of Shelton Bar

Anyone who visits Festival Park to watch a film, enjoy a meal or do some shopping could be forgiven for not having a clue that they are mingling with the ghosts of generations of Potters who worked at the renowned Shelton Bar.

Indeed, there is very little evidence remaining of the enormous steelworks which, at its height, employed 10,000 men and was once a prime target for the Luftwaffe’s night-raid bombers.

Shelton Bar was a 400-acre plant which dominated the landscape around Etruria, and in its heyday, boasted five coal mines and its own railway system.

Iron and steel produced and rolled at Shelton went all over the world and was used in the making of everything from car tyres and railway lines to bridges.

Iron and steel production began on the site in the 1830s and continued for around 150 years.

But after a long and bitter struggle, iron and steel making at Etruria ceased in 1978 and with it went almost 2,000 jobs.

One of those who survived the cull was 75-year-old Ray Withington, who lives in Porthill.

Ray had begun his working life at Shelton Bar in 1953 and didn’t retire until 1992 with a title of shift manager in the rolling mill.

During that time Shelton Bar was nationalised, denationalised and nationalised again by various governments.

But it is the fight to save iron and steel making in the Potteries which Ray remembers vividly.

He said: “Being part of the management, I would be asked every day by the lads: ‘Have you heard anything, Ray?’.

“It felt as though the threat of closure was hanging over us constantly.

“I’ve said many times that if someone had treated a dog like they treated Shelton Bar workers then they would be sent to prison for cruelty.”

The closure of the main works left around 600 men working in the half-mile long rolling mill building.

Around 200 acres on the east of the site was reclaimed and landscaped as part of the 1986 National Garden Festival – the most successful of its kind and the biggest event in Europe that year.

Ray looks back on the late Seventies and Eighties as the period when Shelton was British Steel’s ‘lab’.

He said: “We used to do all sorts of research at Shelton into different types of rolling and casting.

“When all the jobs went in ’78 there was a real fear for what was left because we didn’t know how it would work with having steel brought down to us from Teeside.

“Then one day 18 lorries turned up carrying tonnes of steel and we unloaded it and got to work on it in about 45 minutes.

“That was proof to everyone that we could do it. In fact, the rolling mill was always extremely busy and profitable.”

But what was it like to work there during the Eighties?

Ray said: “Even though it was a great big site with people stretched right across it there was still a real sense of camaraderie because all the men would meet up in the same mess hall.

“Even in the rolling mill the conditions could be tough. You had hot steel going through at 1,100 or 1,200 degrees in some areas and then in the winter the water being used as a coolant would freeze in places and we’d have huge, great icicles a foot long inside the building.”

After Ray retired Shelton Bar was taken over by Anglo-Dutch firm Corus who shut the rolling mill in June 2000.

To this day its employees insist the plant was profitable and that the decision to close it down was purely political.

Ray was recently invited on a VIP tour of a steel plant in Scunthorpe.

He said: “It was 60 minutes of bliss and all of the memories came flooding back.

“When you’ve worked in a steelworks then you do find yourself going round places and pointing out things and saying: ‘We used to make them’.

“I felt privileged to work at Shelton and can’t believe there’s nothing left to show for all those years of work”.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Fond memories of my one encounter with the Queen

I remember the day quite clearly. It was Thursday, May 1, 1986 and yours truly, my mum, younger brother Matthew and my nan and grandad waited in the weak sunshine for the arrival of a very special visitor from Stoke Station.
I have to admit I wasn’t that keen on flowers and I certainly didn’t understand the term ‘regeneration’.
Nevertheless, we had just bought season tickets to the National Garden Festival which had transformed a 180-acre eyesore which had, until 1979, been the site of the Shelton Bar steelworks.
After five years of planning, earth-moving and landscaping and millions of pounds of Government funding, the Garden Festival – billed as a celebration of the best of British gardening – was ready to receive its Royal seal of approval.
I had never seen the Queen before and even 14-year-old me, besotted with football and Dungeons & Dragons, was excited as we stood in the drizzle with 14,000 other people waiting for Her Majesty to arrive.
I had never seen so many police officers and I remember grandad telling me they were worried about the threat of a terrorist attack.
We didn’t have a great spot in the crowd, if truth be told, and I remember craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the monarch as she stepped out of a shiny black Rolls-Royce.
She was wearing a vivid blue woollen coat and a black hat and seemed to have a fixed grin as we waved our Union Flags and Garden Festival carrier bags like things possessed – convinced that she was waving at us.
We listened to the opening ceremony during which the Queen said some very nice things about Stoke-on-Trent and told us she thought pottery pioneer Josiah Wedgwood would be proud of what had been achieved at Etruria.
Then she joined civic dignitaries for a one and a quarter mile train ride around the Garden Festival.
That’s when most people lost track of Her Majesty and, like us, went off to explore the remarkable site.
My brother had his picture taken with children’s telly witch Grotbags and I was chuffed to have met Central TV news presenter Bob Warman.
We marvelled at the strange waterfall made of Twyfords bathroom ware, enjoyed having a nosey around the new show homes and were thrilled to be taken on a cable car ride.
Then I remember great excitement as parachutists paid tribute to the Queen by dropping in, unexpected, on Festival-goers.
The Red Arrows also flew over the site and left a red, white and blue vapour trail which was pretty cool viewing to a teenager like me who was still harbouring dreams of joining the RAF when he left school.
After touring the festival site the Queen made her way over to the new Beth Johnson Housing Association complex in Etruria Locks – arriving in style aboard a red, white and blue narrowboat decorated with flowers.
As the boat went by, dozens of Sentinel employees could be seen waving from the newspaper’s new offices next to the Festival site.
This was the first and only time I laid eyes on the Queen and, having shared the occasion with my family, the memory is all the more special to me.
Since then I’ve been fortune enough to chat to Prince Edward, meet Prince Charles and Princess Anne and take photographs of the late Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry during a visit to Alton Towers.
However, I remain a great admirer of the Queen who, through all the trial and tribulations of the last two decades has remained a dignified and reliable ambassador for both the monarchy and Britain.
Whoever succeeds her certainly has big shoes to fill and I dare say we will never see the like again – both in terms of Her Majesty’s longevity and grace.

Ray of sunshine has been on the buses for 44 years…

Thirty years ago if you wanted to get around the Six Towns then most people hopped on the tried and trusted buses mainly operated by Potteries Motor Traction (PMT).

In the early Eighties, there were nowhere near as many cars on the road and public transport was the lifeblood of the local economy.

Buses ferrying workers to major employers such as Shelton Bar, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and the pits were crammed from 7am.

Hanley bus station – that huge, dirty, decaying carbuncle which is set for demolition – was a hive of activity as the main terminus for the Potteries.

My nan wouldn’t buy her bloomer loaves from anywhere else other than the bakery in the underpass where other businesses such as a dry cleaners, chemist and bookies were thriving.

This was a place Ray Newton knew very well.

In August of 1980 he passed his driving test not in a little car like the rest of us – but behind the wheel of a PMT bus.

Ray had begun his career on the buses on May 6, 1968, when – as a 21-year-old – he had swapped his job as a stores clerk for a firm in Newcastle for the better paid job of a conductor PMT operating out of its Clough Street depot.

Ray, aged 64, of Bentilee, said: “I started on a basic wage of £13 nine shillings – which was a big jump for me. And we could work overtime to earn some more.

“It was a great job and I really enjoyed it. There was wonderful camaraderie on the buses and the drivers became good mates – a big part of your life. As well as collecting the fairs, the conductor was responsible for ensuring the buses stuck to the timetable and arrived on time. It was an important job.

“Back then people were more friendly, polite and courteous. Lads would give up their seats for a lady if the bus was full and the drivers and conductors were treated with respect by customers.”

Ray’s working life came to a crossroads in August 1980 as conductors were being phased out in favour of single-operative vehicles.

He opted to re-train as a driver and during the interview we worked out that he must have ferried yours truly to Sixth Form College, Fenton, and home again to Sneyd Green in the late Eighties.

Long before that, however, Ray had to pass his driving test.

He said: “It was terrifying, to be honest. My knees were knocking the first time I sat behind the wheel of a bus. I only had a provisional licence at the time and so I passed my test on a bus which I suppose is quite unusual.

“By the following year (1981) there were no conductors on PMT buses and the drivers were doing it all and so I had to learn to take the fares as well as getting my head around the mechanics of driving a big vehicle.”

Ray has no doubt why the number of people using the buses across North Staffordshire has fallen in recent years.

He said: “It’s the local economy. We just don’t have the companies and workplaces we had back then. Workers would fill our buses.

“It was standing room only at certain times of the day. They just aren’t there anymore.”

And the biggest change he has seen over the years?

Ray said: “Definitely the switch from a manual gearbox to an automatic. That was a really big deal for all of the drivers and totally changed the job.”

Of course, you can’t work on the buses with the public for forty-odd years and not have a few stories.

Ray has seen it all – including one elderly passenger he picked up near Cobridge Traffic Lights expiring in his seat.

But one story which still tickles Ray is from his time as a conductor in the seventies.

He laughed: “Our bus came to a stop in Highfield Road, Blurton, and I told one of our passengers – a blind man – I would get off and help him cross the road. Just as we got to the other side I heard the ‘ding-ding’ of the bell on the bus and off she went. The driver drove off without me.

“Some comedian had obviously seen what I was doing and pretended to be me, rung the bell, and left me stranded. To be fair, the driver did come back for me. Eventually.”

On May 5, Ray will finish his shift at First Bus, hand in his keys at the depot in Adderley Green, and head off to a well-deserved retirement – just one day shy of 44 years on the buses.

He’s had a long and distinguished career and admits he has enjoyed it.

So how will he fill his retirement?

Ray said: “I love making things. Doll’s house furniture and the like. That’ll keep me busy.”

With seven grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, three great grandchildren (and another on the way) he won’t be short of takers for those hand-made toys.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

You know you’re a Potteries child of the Eighties when…

The end of my first year of 80s nostalgia columns has prompted me to consider what it means to be a child of the Eighties.

I guess there are some general criteria, such as understanding the profound meaning of the phrase ‘Wax on/ Wax off’, knowing the words to the original McDonald’s advert off-by-heart and remembering when Betamax was the cutting edge of technology.

Alternatively, there’s being at school at the same time as Tucker and ‘Gripper’ Stebson, knowing what YUPPIE stands for and still owning a few cassette tapes.

Of course, these could apply to any children in the UK who grew up in the decade of decadence.

However, if – like me – you were raised in North Staffordshire during those years, here’s my somewhat localised list which defines you as a child of the Eighties:

*You were annually enrolled on the Staffordshire Police Activities and Community Enterprise (SPACE) scheme which kept you out of mischief during the summer holidays

*Your were dragged to the 1986 Garden Festival several times in all weathers because your family had bought a season ticket and the thought of the Twyfords ‘cascade’ still makes you laugh

*You remember the brown and cream Sammy Turner’s buses but more often caught buses run by PMT (Potteries Motor Traction) and thought nothing of the connotations of the acronym

*You can’t remember what was on the site of the Potteries Shopping Centre before it opened its doors in 1988

*You viewed it a badge of honour to have survived a ride on The Corkscrew at Alton Towers

*You either went to Rhyl or Blackpool for your holidays during Potters’ Fortnight and ate cold toast on the journey

*You remember the city centre having two cinemas on the same street – The Odeon (now The Regent Theatre) vying for business with the cheap and cheerful ABC down the road

*You considered Fantasy World and Lotus Records the coolest places in Hanley and knew Bratt & Dyke as that posh shop your mum took you to when the sales were on or you needed a winter coat

*You bought a 10 pence mix from ‘The Outdoor’, including Black Jacks and Fruits Salads, and remember some of the sweets costing a tiny half a pence

*Your drank Alpine pop in a variety of radioactive colours delivered by the milkman

*You remember when our Spitfire was displayed in a big greenhouse outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the best thing inside the building was THAT skeleton

*You recall Stoke City changing their manager more often than their socks and poor relations Port Vale earning a reputation as FA Cup giant killers

*You viewed Eric ‘Crafty Cockney’ Bristow and Ray Reardon as local celebrities – even though neither of them were actually from the Potteries

*You were amazed when a newsagent from Cobridge won an Olympic gold medal in Seoul – mainly because you thought hockey was for girls

*You partied at The Place, attempted break-dancing at Regimes, fell in love with Indie music at Ritzy’s nightclub and should have known better than to have been seen dead in Chicos

*You remember people having jobs at Shelton Bar, Royal Doulton and ‘down the pits’ and being told during a careers fair at your school that a job at ‘The Mich’ was a job for life’

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Blame directors who never understood what they had for Wedgwood’s sad demise

The remains of Royal Doulton's Nile Street headquarters in Burslem.

The remains of Royal Doulton’s Nile Street headquarters in Burslem.

When I started work as a cub reporter 20 years ago, the industrial landscape of the Potteries was unrecognisable to the panorama which greets our bleary eyes on a cold Tuesday in March 2009.

Trentham Superpit, or Hem Heath Colliery as was, still employed more than 2,000 miners.

More than 300 people worked at the rolling mill that was once the mighty, glowing Shelton Bar steelworks where my great-grandfather had been a foreman.

An estimated 18,000 workers were employed at potbanks in Burslem alone – including 2,500 at Royal Doulton.

And Wedgwood, nestling proudly amid the lush fields of Barlaston, was the jewel in the crown of the pottery industry.

I reported on the closure of Trentham Superpit in 1993. I talked to the families and businesses affected by the decision. I saw the tears and heard the fears.

Those interviews have stayed with me.

For the first time, I properly appreciated the enormity of the challenges facing North Staffordshire’s economy and the tragic human cost of the decline of our traditional industries.

Similarly, I well remember being on The Sentinel’s newsdesk in 2000 when Shelton Bar closed down – bringing to an end 159 years of steel production on the site.

Certainly, I recall the sadness I felt one day in April four years ago when workers at Royal Doulton’s Nile Street factory clocked off for the last time.

I had always had a soft spot for Doulton because it was where my mum served her apprenticeship as a lithographer in the ’60s.

Now I read of the creditors’ meetings involving former employees of Wedgwood. These were people I interviewed at Barlaston for the company’s own newsletter in the early ’90s. People who talked of their pride at working for a world-renowned brand and spoke fondly of the camaraderie they enjoyed on the factory floor.

While the friendships doubtless remain, there wasn’t much pride this week. There was bitterness and resentment – and justifiably so.

Former workers were leaving the creditors’ meetings in a state of shock. Many are set to be short-changed to the tune of several thousand pounds in terms of their redundancy packages.

Take Bob Wilshaw, aged 58, of Abbey Hulton, who had worked for the Wedgwood group for 42 years.

Let me repeat that: 42 years.

Mr Wilshaw had expected to receive around £23,000 in settlement – yet he is likely to end up with just £10,000. Not much to show for a lifetime of service.

Staggering, isn’t it, how the questionable management of a company, a sheer lack of foresight and rush to embrace outsourcing can bring a global name to its knees in a few, short years?

It wasn’t so long ago that Wedgwood, in comparison to the basket case that was Royal Doulton, was being held up as a model business – an innovator and a beacon of hope.

Who could forget the Duchess of York promoting her own ‘Sarah’s Garden’ range to the Americans.

Of course, she soon bailed out when the storm clouds began to gather. What a shame Wedgwood’s management couldn’t read the runes as well as Fergie, eh?

I’m not naïve. I know the pottery industry was haemorrhaging jobs left, right and centre long before I knocked out my first story on a PC.

But I can’t help but feel that senior managers could have – and should have – done more to stave off the complete disintegration of the industry which placed this city on the world map.

Now we have the comforting thought of new owners KPS, the American private equity firm, underlining the fact that it is 85 per cent cheaper to produce pottery ware in the Far East and reportedly planning to “aggressively grow the hell out of…” (the Wedgwood brand). Charming.

Do they know we make fine bone china round here? Do the new owners realise that buyers aren’t daft and that, sooner rather than later, they will realise that the quaint old English quality backstamp that was Wedgwood ain’t quite what it used to be?

Of course they do. The truth is, they don’t care so long as they squeeze the pips out of the brand for their shareholders.

As Wedgwood crumbles, I have listened to ex-potters who have spoken eloquently of their frustrations with the role their union has played in recent years which, in their opinion, was akin to Nero fiddling as Rome burned.

Whatever the truth, I doubt whether or not Doulton’s former chief executive Wayne Nutbeen or former Waterford Wedgwood majority stakeholder Sir Anthony O’Reilly are sitting there this evening worrying about how they will pay their mortgages or what employment options are open to a man in his late fifties like Bob Wilshaw.

More’s the pity.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday