Annette Ward, 2007

I worked at a number of potteries – Mason’s, Johnson’s, back to Mason’s again, and finally Dudson’s. When I first went to Mason’s, I would walk past the place they made ‘Old Betty Plant’ sweets. You could see the men in the yard, shovelling sugar. The wasps round there were enormous! My granny owned the sweet shop in Milton, right across from Milton Primary School on Leek Road. Every Friday night we went speedway racing with her.

I started work at Mason’s in 1967. I went in as a trainee transferer – someone who sticks transfer prints to cups and plates. This is how complex patterns used to be applied, but they do it differently now. The images were printed onto sheets of tissue paper. The tissue paper picked up ink from an etching plate, and while it was still wet you placed it on a cup or a plate by rubbing it with a stiff brush. You needed to position it accurately, or it made a mess.

All I did for the first three or four months was to cut out patterns for another transferer to apply – a woman called Dolly Syples. Once I knew what to do, I would rub down the ware to ensure the transfers were stuck properly. We used brushes and size for this. Size is like a horrible version of soap. If you don’t get it right, or you miss an area, then the size gets under the transfer and it tears.  It is a delicate balance, the transfer tears if you apply too much size, but it doesn’t stick at all if you put on too little.  You could expect a real rollicking if you got it wrong. You needed to apply quite a lot of pressure.  It wasn’t something you could sit down to do. Well, you could sit for some jobs, like cups or eggcups, but if you were doing flatware – plates and so on -- it was impossible. We used hard brushes with long bristles, and the best kind of brush was one that was quite worn.

After you had applied the transfer, you put the ware on the belt, and it was taken down to the ‘washer-offers’. Eventually I couldn’t work rubbing on transfers any longer as I developed tenosynovitis in my wrist. This is a condition caused by repeated strain. I didn’t get it in the right wrist, which was the one I used for rubbing -- I got it in the hand that held the ware. I was doing some tall vase-like lamp bases, and suddenly my wrist gave way. Initially I was on sick pay, but they couldn’t find me a lighter job. I was given the holiday pay I was due, and they made me redundant. By the time I left I had done all the jobs in the transferring department – cutting out, rubbing on, washing off and print mending. Print mending is self-explanatory – it is repairing faults in the application of transfers.

I worked for Johnson’s Eastwood in Lichfield Street. They wouldn’t let you on the factory if you were drunk. I went to the pub with some friends one lunchtime, and they smuggled me through the lodge, but when I tried to clock on, I accidentally pulled the clock off the wall. I couldn’t even see the print on my card! We had great fun there, although after that incident I was moved to a bench in front of the boss’s office.

In 2000 I got a job at Dudson’s. I went back to transferring, but there wasn’t always transferring work – these days a lot of decoration is lithography – so I learned other skills. I learned how to machine-band, and how to burnish the ware. Machine banding is operating a machine that applies bands of colour (often gold) to the edge of the ware. Like many of the other jobs in the pottery industry, it is something that used to be done by hand. I was sent wherever I might be needed. Sometimes I would do cranking (putting the ware on pin-like supports for firing in the kiln) and sometimes I would take the ware off the belt.

I liked it very much at Dudson's but eventually, they wanted me to work flexible hours, and I wasn’t really willing to do it.  So it was last in, first out -- thirteen of us were made redundant. We could have stayed on and done the flexi-hours. There were a lot of Polish people at Dudson’s who were prepared to change, but I didn’t want to.

Alongside work, I have always loved performing. I was with the Potteries Theatre Company. We did lots of musicals: Carousel, Oliver, Annie, the Sound of Music – I was the flower-seller in Oliver.

My husband was a mechanic for PMT in Wood Street, Stoke. He used to clean buses at night, and if there were any breakdowns he would have to go and bring them back. We have one boy and two girls. I wouldn’t let them go into the “pots”.