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PUBLISHED earlier this year, this is the story of the Middleport Pottery, one of the most astonishing gems of Victorian industrial architecture in the country and a gem that needs help.

Grade II listed, it is like stepping onto a film set for a Dickens book, with cobbled alleys the width of a mews leading down to the Mersey and Trent Canal, the giant old listed fissured bottle oven built into the factory walls, the directors’ office left totally intact with its two sloping desks and a cupboard full of dozens of notebooks describing in fine handwriting all the coloured glazes ever used by Burleigh and sheaves of handpainted designs.

Burleigh’s priceless collection of copperplate engravings going back to the founding of the factory in 1862 as Burgess & Leigh are also there, and most sensationally the mould room, with 15,000 master moulds of every piece of earthenware made by the factory since the 19th century.

And it is still an independent working factory, bought by William and Rosemary Dorling in 1999, a remarkable entrepreneurial couple who put up everything they owned to save the Middleport factory from receivership, and who have renamed the firm Burgess, Dorling & Leigh.

Four years on, Rosemary and William have good order books, particularly in the export market, as customers now want a traditional English product and are tired of Far Eastern imports, so their under-glaze transfer printing is now giving them a strength in the market place. But four years on also, grant aid for work to the factory buildings is minimal and there is a possibility of a Save the Burleigh Roof Campaign, a
project with a potentially vast cost. As Jeremy Milln, a National Trust archaeologist, said: “What makes Middleport special is that it has kept its history. It has not, like most others, thrown it all out in a zeal of comprehensive modernisation. On the other hand, neither has it tried to create a museum or pastiche of itself out of heritage sentimentality. History comes at a price, however. There are formidable technical and financial challenges of repairing the buildings and conserving the collections properly. There is also a price of continued responsibility.”