The Spode Museum Trust was established by Spode in 1987 as an independent charitable trust, to which Spode donated all of its collection and archive, in order to protect them in perpetuity against possible future changes in its ownership or commercial fortunes. The collection and archive span over 200 years from the late 18th Century up to 2008, and includes some 40,000 ceramic items, over 25,000 engraved copper plates from which transfer prints were made for printed ceramic wares, antique factory tools and machines, furniture and moulds and ¼ million Spode and Copeland documents including watercolour paintings of some 70,000 ceramic patterns.
Because of its time span and its near-completeness, the archive enables unique insight into the history of a world famous factory from the Industrial Revolution to the present, its owners and employees and its relevance to the community in Stoke. The ceramics collection is of international importance, and includes many spectacular items made over the centuries for the very wealthy and a wide variety of more ordinary wares for domestic markets.
Spode ceased trading in 2008*. With many uncertainties concerning the future of the factory site, the Trust removed the entire collection and archive to secure storage away from the factory where it had accumulated over the centuries. Since then, and deprived of the regular financial support it received from the Spode company, the Trust has been working to raise finance and return the entire collection and archive back in its historical and social context to the Spode site. Two important landmarks have been achieved:
Firstly, in 2012, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Stoke on Trent City Council, the Trust set up a small Visitor Centre in a period building on the Spode site. The trustees have always regarded the combination of the collection, the evocative factory buildings, the archive and the social significance of Spode to Stoke, as adding up to far more than “just a museum.”
A good number of representative ceramic items have been returned from storage and visitors are also able to see displays showing the history of the factory, its processes and its people. Staffing is by volunteers including ex-Spode employees - ceramic painters, engravers and printers of the highest calibre, who regularly demonstrate their skills to visitors. The responses from the thousands of visitors who have come to the Centre have been overwhelmingly positive.
Secondly, in 2016, with continuing support from Stoke on Trent City Council and after receiving generous financial donations from both sides of the Atlantic, more space was obtained and the size of the Heritage Centre has been doubled. An important segment of the overall ceramics collection, the ‘Blue Room Collection’ comprising hundreds of blue transfer-printed pieces made between c.1790-1847 has been returned to the factory. This collection is almost certainly the largest and most important collection of Blue and White on public display in the world. Adjacent to this collection a conference facility, The Robert Copeland Conference Suite, has been established.
Substantial further additional space is now scheduled to be added to the Heritage Centre in 2017 providing improved visitor facilities and additional space for displays. The museum shop, selling antique and vintage items of Spode, and whose proceeds help to support the running of the Heritage Centre, will also be extended.
*The Spode brand was now been acquired by Portmeirion Group plc and Spode items and patterns continue to be made and used at its factory just up the road from Josiah Spode’s historic factory.