In this extract from his book, ‘Conversations from Land’s End to John o’Groats’, Nick Hand meets Kevin Millward, a potter from Stoke-on-Trent
Map by Hannah Cousins
Journeyman is a term used for a trained worker who, after finishing an apprenticeship, would take to the road with their union card to look for work. It was these tradespeople, that carried out their trade by travelling from town to town on a bicycle, that inspired me to take to the road and cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats on a bicycle with a printing press on the back. Along the journey, I visited makers and craftspeople who work in towns known for making one thing.
“Stoke-on-Trent has been at the heart of the mass production of pottery for over 200 years. Many people think that the pottery industry is here because of clay but, in fact, it has got more to do with coal. The pottery industry was based on white firing clays that are found in Devon and Cornwall, but there was no coal there. You needed approximately three tons of coal to fire one ton of clay, so it was much easier to bring the clay to the coal, than it was to take the coal to the clay.
Over the years, things have changed. Stoke-on-Trent still has a large contingent of pottery manufactories but it’s a streamlined, more efficient industry now. It employs less people but the actual volume of production is probably greater than it used to be.
There’s a lot more to ceramics than just the industry. There’s the studio sector, the small-scale designer manufacturers as well as individuals like myself who make one-off small runs, design and develop product for industry, teach workshops and lecture. I think people are looking for something that isn’t mass produced. They realise that a pot that has been made by an individual has its own identity, it’s not one of millions. People are latching on to that. When people appreciate and understand how something is made and how complex it is, then they are willing to pay the money for it.
I think we are going into an exciting time where crafts, art and design are hopefully much more appreciated. But that clashes with the fact that schools, colleges and universities are getting rid of these courses. We’ve got to hang on and stick to it. And if it means getting together as groups of makers and designers and training the next generation, then that is what we’ve got to do.”
‘Conversations from Land’s End to John o’Groats’ is our now and available here, priced £16.00.
You can read Cally Callomon’s review of the book here.