Stoke-on-Trent’s first art school, The Potteries School of Design, was opened on January 25th, 1847. It held evening classes in Hanley, Stoke and Longton. Students were taught elementary drawing, basic design, freehand painting and modelling.
The school’s first headmaster, John Murdock, and his successor, John Charles Robinson, made it a centre of excellence. Students won national prizes and were awarded scholarships enabling them to continue their studies at the Government School of Design in London.
During 1851, pottery designed by students from North Staffordshire was exhibited at the Great Exhibition, held at the Crystal Palace* in Hyde Park. Their designs impressed Prince Albert who had helped to organise the exhibition. He persuaded the government to devise a scheme to build a regional College of Art and Technology in Hanley which would have university status and branch schools in Tunstall, Burslem, Longton and Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The government’s proposal to build a regional college in Hanley was made public at a meeting held at the Wesleyan School in Burslem on January 19th, 1853.
During the meeting, Smith Child, who was North Staffordshire’s most generous philanthropist, and leading pottery manufacturer Herbert Minton offered to help finance the college. The scheme was rejected by civic leaders and pottery manufacturers who wanted each town to have its own art school. Prince Albert’s attempt to bring higher education to The Potteries had failed.
Shortly afterwards, small design schools were established in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Burslem.
Monthly fees for students attending classes at the Burslem school were 1/9d (9p) for men and 1/6d (7.5p) for women. The school’s headmaster was William Jabez Mückley, an artist whose work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. It held classes in the assembly room at the Legs of Man, an old coaching inn frequented by thieves and prostitutes. Despite the venue, William was a popular teacher who attracted and retained students. Although the school gave Burslem well-trained pottery designers and skilled crafts persons, local firms refused to help it find more suitable premises.
The school closed when William left Burslem in 1858.
*The illustration shows The Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust, September 2010