The Rural Life

Emma Bridgewater: The Queen of Dots and Hearts

Is there nothing better than a slice of cake on a plate dotted with hearts? Probably not! Thanks to Emma Bridgewater, our breakfast, lunches, dinners, treats and tea are made happier served with a piece of her world famous pottery.

My “addiction” to Emma Bridgewater pottery started around twelve years ago. I was killing time browsing around a gift shop before I had to pick my husband up from an appointment. I came across shelves full of pottery and kitchenware adorned with hearts, dots and the now famous word design ‘Toast & Marmalade”. It just looked so cheery and endearing making aligned shelves of traditional Portmeirion and Denby look a touch lacklustre. I decided to buy the Toast & Marmalade biscuit tin which looked just at home brightening up my kitchen.

Nothing better than breakfast served in a Toast egg cup!

From that day on, treating myself to mugs, plates and anything with these lovely designs became a passion. My dresser soon become festooned with a mix match look with no formality at all. But that is what I loved. Among my Emma Bridgewater pieces, sat much loved heirlooms, cards from friends, books and bills to pay but all sitting very relaxed alongside each other. My cupboards heaved with Emma Bridgewater mugs and plates and after inheriting a family heirloom of another dresser when I lost my lovely mum, this became packed with hearts and dotty artefacts too!

My favourite personalised Emma Bridgewater vase

Emma Bridgewater pottery is also loved by many friends of mine, which has been great for gift buying over the years. I don’t know many people who would not be cheered by a personalised heart mug or a pink pansy vase filled with flowers. A very best friend of mine chatted last year about how a trip to Stoke on Trent to visit the Emma Bridgewater factory would be a fantastic thing to do, especially celebrating the fact we were both heading towards our half centuries.

So last week in the balmy September sun, we travelled north to the UK pottery capital. We arrived at the cast iron gates to the Emma Bridgewater factory which was a delightful Victorian building on the banks of Caldon Canal. We had booked the experience day which kicked off in the morning with the factory tour. From the offset, our guide Rosetta was enthusiastic and friendly, showing genuine love for the company she worked for. As we walked through the bright and colourful working areas, the potters and painters were very happy to stop and chat with us explaining the process from start to finish, which I found fascinating. Machinery was decorated in famous EB designs and union jack bunting took away the darkness industrial areas can sometimes feel.

Clay making in the dot design!

Their skill and dedication to this brand were all too clear to see and drinking out of my mugs again has brought a whole new appreciation now knowing the ten processes it takes to get to a finished product. The kiln room was baking hot where thousands of pieces of pottery ware were all lined up to be “cooked”. Quality control was at its best with the tiniest of defects being thrown back in the recycling bins. The company ethos is very eco-friendly with everything being reused like sponges from the stamps as filling.

One of the many kilns
Ready for inspection and painting
Our fab guide, the lovely Rosetta

We were treated to seeing new designs, limited edition prints and Christmas products that were just being shipped out to hit the high street and online shelves. I loved the painting room as it felt a very calm and relaxing place to work. However, please do not think sponging hearts and stars on to mugs and plates is an easy feat! As I discovered later in the design studio painting my own piece, my patience would have resulted in a bucket load of clay in the recycling bin…The designs have set patterns and numbers, so the painters were wearing headphones to aid concentration and keep the second’s pile to a minimum.

The 2019 Emma Bridgewater Backstamp

We also learned that on the base of the pottery the year it was produced is depicted with a picture backstamp. This changes every year and you can refer to their archive to see how old your piece of Emma Bridgewater pottery is.

One of my favourite mug designs
Getting ready for Christmas

With the tour concluded we headed to the Emma Bridgewater café which was cleverly designed with a farmhouse kitchen feel with mismatched crockery and a polka dot Aga. The cream tea was amazing and I couldn’t finish the Eton Mess and three bits of cake which is of unheard for me. It was a delicious spread but don’t worry I made light work of the sandwiches and cream scones washed down with tea from, of course, a large EB teapot. With an hour spare, we headed to the factory shop with its organised line upon line of pottery and homeware. All reduced and cheaper than you would buy normally.

The most gorgeous Aga
Happy 50th Birthday Rhonda! This post is dedicated to you x
Cream tea of dreams
Before I motored through the plate….

The main shop was full of current and latest designs. My favourite had to be the new Game Bird collection which would look just at home in any countryside kitchen. With a long train journey ahead, they were happy to parcel our shopping home which made the assault on my purse an even bigger one!

Another favourite design with all these lovely dogs
My latest purchase has been from the Game Bird collection
You can never have too many chickens…

The final part of the Emma Bridgewater experience was a few hours spent designing and painting your own piece of pottery. From eggs cups to large serving bowls, you were given free rein to paint and sponge to your heart’s delight. I decided on a large dog bowl and after some tips from a talented member of staff, I armed myself with sponge stamps and bottles of paint.

Ready and armed with my sponge and paint!

Let me tell you now, I will never look at a sponged heart or star on a piece again with other than complete admiration that it has not blotted or doubled in size! It was so difficult to get right… And actually I discovered that I am very heavy-handed and have limited patience! Although my family would probably wholeheartedly agree. After two hours, my masterpiece was completed and ready for firing. I am certain that the design team will be giving me a call to invite me to work for them in my dream job.. or perhaps not. I am looking forward to receiving my hand designed bowl and hope my three terriers appreciate the hard work involved when they drink out of it.

Ok, perhaps the Emma Bridgewater Design Team will not be ringing…

With our weary legs, we headed back to the train station on the long journey back home but with smiles on our faces looking back on a very enjoyable day. I cannot recommend enough a trip to the Emma Bridgewater Factory and the “experience” package is exceptionally good value. So if you are a fan, I urge you to put this trip on your bucket list. I definitely will make a visit again, if only it is to improve my sponging technique!

by Samantha Hobden

Emma Bridgewater began in 1984, when Emma was working in London soon after leaving university. One day, she was hunting for a birthday present for her Mum. When nothing appealed she decided that she wanted to start making china herself in a colourful, mismatched style. A casual conversation with a friend about her new business venture pointed her in the direction of Stoke-on-Trent, the home of pottery. And so, Emma Bridgewater, the classic modern pottery brand, was born. Over the last three decades, the designs have kept to the spirit of Emma’s original, inspirational moment and the necessity of getting the thought and design absolutely right.  Emma Bridgewater believes everyday kitchen china sits right at the heart of our lives, and that each cup, bowl, jug, and plate holds personal stories, reflecting shared moments, particularly when we eat and drink together.

In recent years, Emma Bridgewater has expanded beyond pottery. You can now enjoy their designs on glass, tins, picnicware, stationery, wallpaper and fabrics, as well as their own collection of candles and home fragrances. The conversation Emma had in her head with her mother back in 1984 goes on. Only now we can enjoy these designs and this very British iconic pottery too.

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Toast & Marmalade Book by Emma Bridgewater