WHEN Middleport Pottery first opened for business, British industry was awash with optimism.
Back in 1888, the British empire was at its zenith and Middleport was soon firing on all cylinders, as it satisfied the growing market for sophisticated consumer goods.
Today, it is the last working Victorian pottery of its kind in Britain.
It’s being saved from the ravages of time by a Yorkshire-based firm that specialises in preserving historic buildings.
The Prince’s Regeneration Trust has appointed William Anelay to carry out a £4.2m contract to restore Middleport.
York-based William Anelay has been restoring the sacred and secular since it was established in 1747. The restoration and refurbishment of Middleport, which is based in Stoke-on-Trent, is due to last 18 months.
Tony Townend, William Anelay’s managing director, said yesterday: “We are delighted to be involved in this refurbishment project, which will prolong the lifespan of the site and raise the profile of our industrial heritage, as well as providing a wide range of facilities for the local community.” Funding for the scheme has come from the Regional Growth Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the European Regional Growth Fund and several private donors, including the Stoke-on-Trent-based entrepreneur and philanthropist, John Caudwell. Middleport is famous for producing Burleigh pottery which is still manufactured using rare, traditional techniques.
The Prince’s Regeneration Trust works with communities to ensure that historic buildings, facing demolition or decay, are rescued and reused. It stepped in to save the Middleport Pottery site in June 2011.
The project will involve extensive conservation and restoration work on the roofs and brickwork. Victorian sash windows will be repaired and re-glazed, and new conservation roof lights will also be installed. Some of the space is being adapted to create accommodation for workshops, a gallery, a community space, a visitor centre and a café.
Ros Kerslake, the chief executive of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, said: “We are restoring the site in a way that saves and celebrates its wonderful heritage, but also develops it in a way that means it can be used by residents and visitors today.”
William Anelay has helped to preserve many of Britain’s best known architectural landmarks, as well as undertaking commercial and residential projects across the UK and Europe.
Based in York and Manchester, the company employs around 100 staff and has a turnover of £23m. At its peak it had 140 staff.
Mr Townend said: “Like most businesses, we’ve felt the effects of the recession, which has meant reducing the numbers of people we directly employ.
“It’s not a position that the directors of the company welcomed, but the harsh reality meant business costs had to be managed.”
According to Mr Townend, William Anelay responded to the recession by managing overheads and cashflow, and focusing on its strengths. The company had “accepted that it’s tough for everyone” and was rolling up its sleeves and looking for opportunities, Mr Townend added.
“The economy looks to be sluggish over the next year or two,’’ Mr Townend said. “It will be interesting to see whether or not the ‘Funding for Lending’ scheme instigated by the Bank of England will help to give private enterprise the kick start it needs to grow the economy.
“We’re less reliant on public sector work than we were, say, five years ago which certainly helped when local authority budgets were being pruned back. There will always be a need to maintain and refurbish listed and historic buildings and although tender prices remain tight, there is still a demand for the type of work we specialise in.”
Wakefield Cathedral has appointed William Anelay to carry out works to improve the building’s energy efficiency, lighting and sound systems. Supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is due to be completed in Spring 2013.