What it means to be Made in Britain

In 2008 I turned my hobby business into a proper business. For the previous 8 years I had been working with English bone china. It wasn’t easy but I was determined to find out everything about this historical product which had so fascinated me since childhood when I developed a passion and utter insistence on owning my own English bone china tea cup and saucer.

made in britain

I had spent the previous 8 years investigating Stoke, visiting china makers, mould makers, trying to understand what made English bone china so special. It was a difficult task because I didn’t know Stoke and many of the china makers and producers worked in small factory units in a rabbit Warren of backstreets which to this day still remains reminiscent of stepping back in time. An old creaky door would open, and an old cobbled courtyard would appear. The minute I started my investigation and understanding of Stoke I knew it would be my mission to always use English bone china whenever possible. I developed a greater understanding and a deep respect for this heritage product – a product that had really come to prominence during the industrial revolution and a product that had rightly earnt a place on the world stage.

It became apparent that most people in Stoke had a vast knowledge of the whole pottery industry; even the lovely girls who make the oatcakes had once worked in Wedgwood. Many of those I met had been trained, and subsequently worked for, some of the great china makers and designers once such familiar household names like Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Spode, Paragon, Ainsley. It is a sad fact of life that as we turned our back on our knowledge and skill within British manufacturing, in the last 20 years many of these businesses shut their doors for the last time. So few of those great names are left which is another reason why I have always believed that knowledge and skill, which has been passed from one generation to another, should not be lost forever. I felt it was a sad day when we forgot some of the things that made us stand out with our manufacturing. We forgot about sustainability and we seemed a bit embarrassed by some of our past successes. English bone china lasts a lifetime and it’s incredibly strong because of the ground bone ash used in the recipe. A recipe which incidentally has been used since Josiah Spode refined it during the late 18th century. It soon became apparent that many believed it was ridiculous to buy British and better to buy the cheaper machine-made imported ware and decorate this in Stoke. I have often been met with the derisory comment –

“Oh, you make British made china, but who wants that? Do people really care? Wouldn’t it be better to offer a cheaper product after all in business no one wants to be a busy fool and don’t forget, no one is really interested in where a product is produced as long as it’s affordable?”

made in britain

This statement I have never been able to agree with and have found myself arguing against it and standing up for what I believe on more than one occasion. I have never wavered from my belief that English bone china is a superior product and I have never wavered from my belief that it’s madness to throw away & ignore knowledge that has been passed from one generation to another. To work with people who have this amount of skill and understanding of something that we all use most days in some form or another, is an honour and a privilege. I believe it is up to those of us who work in industry such as myself to encourage a greater understanding and respect for English bone china. After all, wouldn’t everyone rather give a personalised present that might last a lifetime, a present that has some thought in the design and execution, rather than a something that has a short “shelf life”?

After one memorable visit to Sandhurst, I persuaded The Army Sergeant Major to stand on 2 of our Sandhurst mugs. After much teasing and begging, this very senior army officer reluctantly stood on both mugs with good grace not withstanding much banter from the onlooking officers, and was very surprised to realise both mugs took his not inconsiderable weight (he is well over 6 foot tall)! To me this was another point of proof in our product and my utter belief that there would of course be no problem in the ultimate mug test when it came to the strength of our English bone china.

The last 12 months have been turbulent for all small businesses both politically and socially because of the referendum and coronavirus. Our USP (unique selling point) is and remains English bone china but my greatest hope is that the market has room for both cheaper imports and a better quality product which will enable the customer to create a sustainable personalised gift that will last for many years, will gather momentum and gain a place in the shopping basket. I have been selling online for many years, but we still have connections to our customers. We don’t mind picking up the phone and discussing their requirements and most of all we make no apologies for being A Very British company. This week we were accepted into the Made in Britain group of companies and we were really excited to think this small creative company is part of a growing appreciation for all aspects of British manufacturing. Even our packaging is made in the UK. So for those of you who have supported us over many years, I say thank you, and to those of you who have never bought a personalised piece of English bone china for a gift, please take a moment to reconsider a sustainable and long lasting gift which is makes no apology for being utterly British!

Over the years I have grown to love Stoke, the kindness of the people I meet, the enthusiasm and love they have for their industry, but more importantly what I have learnt from working in this fascinating city. My biggest dream is that for small creative British business like ours, there is only one direction, and I believe that way is up into a bright new future!