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          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
          Worcester, prestigious
          china makers since 175t,
          when, following a 1976
          merger with Spode and
          the onslaught of
          competition, production
          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
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                                 Saggars stacked up inside a bottle kiln in
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After she'd gone, all            the 1920s.Saggars are containers made                                                                                                                                 Recording Your Past
these journalists came           of high fire clay used to enclose pots                                                                                                                                  For The Future
and asked us how                 needing special treatment in the kiln,
                                                                                                                                                                                                     Heyford   Park House,              Heyford         Park,
they could get to the            protecting specialised glazes from open                                                                                       www.boundblograpli1~tmr
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BESTOF BRITISH  - January        2009                                                                      WWW. bestofb                            ritish    m ag. co. u k                                                                                                35

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