How the story of a traditional British
porcelain manufacturer is being told
through the memories of its workers
ow do you adjust
H to the loss of your
past after ten,
twenty, maybe thirty
years? This was the
challenge facing former
workers of Royal
china makers since 175t,
when, following a 1976
merger with Spode and
the onslaught of
was moved to other sites
in the UK and abroad.
Following the merger,
the few staff that . ..IU \.~\
remained in Worcester focused on The Worcester Porcelain recordings with former workers problem. "They put the heating
one-off or special orders. Museum holds a wealth of and managers, are even more on as we got there to work. It was
Out of the remnants of the wonderful examples of the important. too cold and we hated it. Once
former factory came a new company's output from more The project focused, not just on we found a way of getting the
beginning - Worcester Porcelain than 250 years of production. the skills, but on the whole heating on earlier. We knew that
Museum's oral history project: The experience that was Royal aniseed froze at a reasonably cold
Workers' Story, an archive of what you actually made, and Worcester. Many staff, like Elaine temperature and we put it out on
memories and experiences from celebrate it, and that's very much Rice, worked for the company for the window ledge with a metal
people who have worked at Royal what's happened during the decades, even though she didn't knife in there so it would freeze.
Worcester over the years. project. " plan it that way.
"There was a sad feeling A further blow was struck in late "1wasn't coming here for a job
amongst the workers that the 2008, when the company - which at all; I was on my way for an
factory was closing," explains Julia has a Royal Warrant to supply the interview down at Securicor,
Letts, Oral History Producer for The Queen and also produces which is on past the gates. As 1
Workers' Story. "We wanted to crockery for the chef Jamie Oliver was walking down 1thought, I
turn that round and say hey, let's - went into receivership due to wonder if they've got any jobs
look at what you achieved there, stresses of the current economic here, and I came in through the
these extraordinary skills that were climate. With such an uncertain gates and never ever went down
further. Initially, they offered me a
passed on through the factory, future ahead, the project's
through the generations, and achievements, over fifty hours of job as a sticker-up, which was
sticking on handles, and when I
came in on the starting date he
said: 'We don't want you to do
that, we want you to work in the
office'. So I took that one. For the
first fortnight 1 hated it. I thought,
s no, I shallhave to look for another
~ job, but it lasted 36 years."
~ Depending on where you
"ii worked, conditions could vary
~ considerably. Works Engineer
~ Mick Braddock remembers: "Parts
~ of the factorywere very dirty, we
~ still had bottle kilns. You used to Master craftsman George
§ get covered in soot, and the clay
'~ dust. It was always warm, Owen cut more than 5,000
§ sometimestoo warm, and the
individual holes in this
ii: smell of the aniseed in the paints pierced vase - one of several
Many people who worked at Royal Worcester had a job for is something that lives with me." he made for the Chicago
life. Harry Meyrick, photographed in 1968, worked in the cup Painter Mick Morris, on the Exhibition of 1893, where it
making shop for 51 years. other hand, remembers a different was priced at £126.
34 WWW.bestofb ri ti sh ma g. co. u k BESTOF BRITISH- January 2009
we told them a roundabout route. Right: Handles for
How long it took them to get out cups were hand-cast in
there, I don't know!" plaster of Paris moulds.
The visit was a source of great
pride. "We had to wear our best to listento. Itwas lovely
clothes, we had to be tidy," says to see people coming
Freda Griffiths. "We had to keep together again after all
our benches spotless, we must not that time and being
look up when she came through thrilled to see that what
the door, we must keep our heads they thought was quite
down, we must be absolutely ordinary, was now
dedicated to our work, and only being celebrated and
speak or look up if she spoke to was quite
us. Unfortunately, she never got extraordinary. "
anywhere near me because I was Some interviewees,
I- at the back of the room, but she according to Julia,
Special hand-painted did speak to one or two of the were at first reluctant
commissions were still juniors. I looked up when she to be interviewed and
produced at Royal came through the room... and she were persuaded by
Worcester's original factory came through these doors with former colleagues,
site until late 2008, and the the managing director, Joe but afterwards said:
future of the business now Gimson, who was about six foot "I'm so glad I did
hangs in the balance as a four, and the works manager. She that. I'm now focused on all the importance is not just in the
new buyer is sought. looked like a little child; she only wonderful times we had there information that comes out, but
came up to their elbows. She was and it's changed my perspective." what it gives to the person in
We then put it on our desk, and wearing the most beautiful shade "Everybody has something to feeling valued."fJ/J
couldn't paint because the of blue. We felt really chuffed to say," says Julia, "and the Ellie Stevenson
aniseed had to warm up first; think that she'd been in our
. The Museum of WorcesterPorcelain is independent and will
hence we got the heating on a bit department. "
sooner. " continue to preserve and display the history and heritage of the
Encouraging people to share
company. As well as the Workers'Story, it presents an informative
As well as detailing the jobs their memories and reuniting old
audio tour featuring BBCTV'sAntiques Roadshow and Royal
and the very special skills that friends, including a groom and his
Worcesterexpert, Henry Sandon. The Museum is open Monday -
existed at Royal Worcester, the best man, has been a vital aspect
Saturday, 9-5.30pm, and Sundays, 1l-5pm. Call 01905 746000, or
project also highlighted the of the project. "We invited
strong sense of community. everyone back for an exhibition
Painter Freda Griffiths notes how that we put together on the
the female staff had a particular findings of the interviews so far,"
way of dressing. "It was cardigans,
dirndl skins, pretty skins, jumpers
says Julia Letts. "It was lovely
because some of these people
Writing Your Life Story?
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BESTOF BRITISH - January 2009 WWW. bestofb ritish m ag. co. u k 35