Antiques are everywhere in England, the place is going to sink if there’s any more antiques! Maybe though that’s just the perception you get after seeing the tv schedule inundated with antique auction programmes presented by dandy like characters. Anyway as this is Tamworth Timehikes, I started thinking about if there were any antiques manufactured in Tamworth?
I knew about Glascote based Canns and Gibbing the famous terracotta makers largely responsible for introducing terracotta into architecture in England and covering such famous landmarks as the natural History museum and Albert Hall London. Their story is well researched and presented on Alan and Angella´s page. What I didn´t know about though was George Skey´s Wilnecote ceramic works.
George Skey started in 1860 his enterprise and ended up making pretty much anything from clay from the site, from gas ovens to ginger beer bottles. It rapidly expanded and became one of the most important pottery works in the country. Anyway don´t let me tell you, take a look below at the extract from The ceramic art of Great Britain, 1878 by LLewellynn Jewit on Wilnecote works. All the details and praise are there and saves me the trouble of typing it.
It starts off with “The Wilnecote Works, near Tamworth which rank among the……. (continued below, click to view larger or in the original link on http://www.archive.org)
A quick search for George Skey on google images and it brings up what looks like a hastily made online museum on some of the fine products made. Click on the image to go direct to the search.
Most of what´s found on the internet apart from a few terracotta pieces in posh places like Christies are pottery flagons, beer bottles, jugs, packaging basically. A good example is this flagon below taken from ebay(click on image to go to the site) I like the flagon (not making a bid, maybe I should go for a cut for doing promotion!) and other vintage packing, storage found like medicine bottles, beer bottles, etc, etc
It turns out though I´m not the only person who likes them, theres people out there who are crazy for them and digging them up. Called dump diggers, the ideas to look for old Victorian refuse dumps and dig up vintage bottles, from poison to medicine, some of them still unopened! I can understand the attraction. It’s that same thrill of the chase, a main reason for people s reasons for doing activities like archaeology, metal detecting, mushroom collecting, the list goes on.
For a few examples of dump diggers there´s diggers diary in the Uk and the bottle digging forum in the UK, but what I really love is the dump diggers diary from Canada. I love the effort and unashamedness about what they do, check out the bottle diggers convention(not sure about name) on one of their posts. Theres nothing furtive about it, they´re dump diggers and you know what its cool!
George Skey´s Wilnecote Works
The manufacturing place itself would have been the mecca for bottle collectors and dump diggers around the world. Wilnecote works was a huge place and functioned from 1860 till 1936 when it was taken over by Doulton. The buildings were finally demolished in 1981. That´s the excavators going in below(click on image to go to home of photo, Staffordshire Past track)
I couldn´t write about Wilnecote works without an honourable mention of the people who actually worked there. Below a great photo of some of George Skeys workers 1909-1915, taken from Staffordshire Past track. Wilnecote works employed up to 600 people in its heyday. That´s huge by todays standards but remembering that the pre-war population of Tamworth was around 7,000 people that´s a hefty chunk of the town´s population.
Below another evocative photo from Staffspt titled Mr Kinson and his horse ´tut´ in George Skeys workyard, 1936 . He worked for George Skey as a general carter depositing the broken pots in the spoil heap behind.
Aerial views of the works
Below again from Staffs past tracks, the 1899- 1903 ordnance map showing the extent of Wilnecote works served with its own tramway. The place was surrounded and built on coal mines.
The same area back in 2007. The area is partially covered by Tame Valley Industrial estate. The rest of the area is wasteland. This was a bottle diggers paradise I imagine. In the centre are some dilapidated industrial buildings were any of them old wilnecote works buildings?
Too late, this post 2007 birds eye image from http://www.multimap.com shows the industrial buildings gone and another housing estate going up. To those bottle diggers from Canada and Australia who´ve just turned up a George Skey ceramic bottle this is what the place that made them looks like now. Maybe its just me but could have been a good idea to make a reference and tribute to what was there before, give it some sense of place and history. I feel the area really needs this, to be anchored to the area not just another estate floating in a sea of housing estates.