A hidden time capsule from the industrial age has been uncovered for the first time in decades at a unique Potteries visitor attraction.
The unique forgotten gem, a workers’ washroom – possibly the only one of its kind – was buried and forgotten after over 120 years of development had left it below ground level at Middleport Pottery.
Now the hidden underground complex of historic washrooms are set to be restored and opened to the public for the first time ever.
The bathroom facilities are believed to be part of the original factory design from 1888.
It is thought that Middleport was the only ceramic factory to contain such facilities and the planned opening of the rooms will create a completely unique visitor experience.
The three-room suite contains a space with eight ceramic sinks, another room with a large oversized bath and an additional area of unknown previous use.
The subterranean site now lies below the factory floor as the ground level has been raised over decades.
The popular attraction is about to apply for planning permission to create a new public entrance and steps down to the site with plans to have the whole area open to visitors by the end of summer.
Director John Lowther said: “The wash house was almost part of folklore. Some of our older volunteers had remote memories of it so we decided to explore more. There was huge anticipation about what we would find.
“We weren’t disappointed. It is a unique survivor from when the factory was first built. They are an important part of Middleport’s story. This pottery was built as a model Victorian factory, not only showcasing the very latest ceramic techniques of the time but also leading the country in ways to look after a workforce and care for the surrounding community. The fixtures and fittings are quite ornate and we believe they were possibly deliberately designed this way as part of the concept of creating the perfect pottery.
“To be able to open the washrooms will give visitors a unique insight into Middleport Pottery and the community working there.”
As well as a new entrance, the Middleport team will be turning the empty room into an interpretation space with information panels about the washrooms. Significant work will also be undertaken to make the floor safe which has suffered from large scale leakages of clay and glaze – believed to be from an historic leak from a burst pipe on the glazing floor above.
It is believed the washrooms may have been in use until the 1960s, but very little is known about them. While the restoration work begins, the factory is also appealing to locals to come forward with any family stories about using the space.
Hayley Underwood, Heritage and Operations Manager said: “The opening of the washrooms is just a small part of the exciting developments we are about to undertake on the site and is the forerunner to our much larger developments on Harper Street which will see new additions to the tourist attraction, space for local artists and areas for community use.
“They provide an exciting insight into the social history of Middleport life and demonstrate the value that Burgess and Leigh as employers placed on their workers. We will be urging anyone who recalls the wash rooms in active use to come forward and help us to piece together yet another part of the Middleport story”