STOKE-ON-TRENT, United Kingdom, March 26, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - With an expert
flick of a gilt-covered paint brush, a craftswoman puts the finishing touches
to commemorative mugs marking the first coronation of a British monarch in 70
Just six weeks before King Charles III is crowned at Westminster Abbey on May
6, an historic English pottery is working flat out to meet demand for the
fine bone china souvenirs.
"You just feel so proud. There's been nothing like this since the queen's
coronation," said Gary Fraser, production manager at Duchess China 1888 in
the central English city of Stoke-on-Trent, home of the country's pottery
Fraser, 57, whose father and grandfather also worked in the potteries,
remembers them coming home with commemorative pieces from previous royal
occasions such as Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee marking her 25th year
on the throne in 1977.
"You get a sense of being part of history. People will pass these things on
to their grandkids," said Fraser.
Established in 1888 in Longton, one of the six towns that make up the city of
Stoke-on-Trent, Duchess China has been making fine bone china for over 130
The commemorative plates, mugs and other items Duchess China is making now
were inspired by items produced in 1937 for the coronation of his grandfather
King George VI.
The bold red, white and blue design incorporates the Tudor crown of English
monarchs from the time of Henry VIII with the words "God Save The King" in
large gold letters.
Prices range from o25 ($30) for a mug or o44.95 for a cup and saucer set.
Produced using meticulous techniques honed over generations, each piece will
go through the hands of over 20 craftspeople before it is finished.
- Time-honoured skills -
The factory is as busy as ever with three major royal events -- the queen's
platinum jubilee and her death last year, and now Charles's coronation -- all
in the space of less than 12 months.
"Obviously, a coronation year (is) something we've never experienced before
and something I don't think you can ever prepare for," said director Jason
Simms, who took over the struggling firm four years ago with business partner
The factory is currently producing its ceramics five days a week instead of
the usual two to three and has had to take on extra staff.
The sharp decline of the Stoke-based potteries in recent decades, with many
firms going bust or moving production overseas, however, has made recruiting
Fraser was working for Dudson, a firm that dated back to the very start of
the 19th century, when it closed down in 2019.
"Grown men were crying. Within 20 minutes all the machines were turned off,
the gates were locked, and we were escorted off the premises," he recalled.
With so many firms having moved their production out of the country due to
production costs, staff have retired or disappeared into different
industries, interrupting the time-honoured passing of skills from one
generation to the next.
"It is a tragedy to see the industry like this. Recruiting becomes difficult
because the skills are lost," Fraser added.
- 'The pots' -
For now, Duchess China is bucking the trend thanks to Simms and Tooth, who
share a passion for "the pots".
"If we had listened to what people said, we wouldn't ever have tried to do
this," said Simms.
Since taking over in February 2019, the pair have weathered successive
crises, from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic to the massive hike in energy
prices triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Just a handful of ceramics firms remain in Stoke and Duchess is the last
dating from the 19th century that still manufactures its products from start
to finish in the city.
Design expert Simms said the style of the commemorative coronation range was
meant to be "bold" and "impactful".
"We wanted it to look very British and very sort of traditional.... Hopefully
we've done something befitting of the king," he said.
Simms hopes the firm's royal collection will be the start of a new era for
An illustrious but rather forgotten history once saw the "much sought after"
Duchess China used in the Ritz Hotel in the 1920s and 30s before it fell by
the wayside in the face of competition from firms such as Wedgwood and Royal
Reversing the decline of the pottery industry in Stoke is impossible, said
But what might be possible however is to get Duchess "back where it belongs,
providing a really great British product and keeping the traditional skills
going for the generations to come".