02 November 2011

Spode and the 'Spode Saga'

Cover and contents page, 1954 edition

The 'Spode Saga' - intrigue, scandal, feud? No, the name of the Spode in-house magazine produced in the 1950s.

Whilst working as curator at the Spode museum I salvaged a few dog-eared copies of this magazine from old workshops on the factory and catalogued them into the archive. Recently I was delighted to find copies for sale at a local fleamarket.

These magazines were produced a few years after World War II when rationing was still in place and the factory was struggling to find its place in the 'new world' which had emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Spode archive records and minute books show the discussions and difficulties at this time with the urge to modernise the factory; and to embrace the new generation of Copeland family coming on board as young directors, yet faced with falling demand and recession, particularly in overseas markets.

The cover and contents page of the 1954 edition are illustrated together here. The design on the contents page is the border of a pattern called Spode's Byron. More about this pattern is on my Spode ABC under S.
Happy Birthday 'Cordie'
The 'Spode Saga' magazines are perhaps a surprise to outsiders. They are a fantastic snapshot of life at a pottery manufactory embracing the whole range of events and stories of people connected with the world famous company. They have input from the Copeland family who owned the company, and heads of departments, as well as a big participation from the workforce. Many family groups worked at Spode from its earliest days until the end of production in 2009 and this was very much the case in the 1950s. So we see births, birthdays, marriages, retirements and deaths recorded. These include recollections of long-serving employees such as Mary Cordwell, known as Cordie, celebrating her 80th birthday in 1954 in an article 'I remember...No5 Miss Mary Cordwell'. It seems she was still working and she tells her story of working at Spode from 1914 mentioning a royal visit by King George V and Queen Mary to the factory and being taught how to curtsy by Lady Swettenham (Mr Ronald Copeland's sister).
Inside the 1954 edition
Reports of new innovations at Spode and new designs rub shoulders with reports of factory outings, sports and social clubs. Specialist clubs for photography and the new-fangled TV along with the famous Spode choir are all active at this period. Royal visits and those of other VIPS are detailed. A series of studies on Staffordshire churches runs through a few of the magazines and, in 1953, there is a feature on beautiful Hawkesyard Priory, once the home of Josiah Spode IV.
Saggar Makers Bottom Knocker
There are portraits of current employees at work and a report of a 'Belle of the North' beauty contest; long service awards with gold watches awarded to those of over 50 years' service including Frank Simpson (I think he was a fireman?) having served 64 years.

Jokes, puzzles, cartoons (click the caption to the Saggar Makers Bottom Knocker cartoon for more information about this skill) and games are scattered through the pages. If you want to know about life at the Spode factory in the 1950s the 'Spode Sagas' are a delightful and informative study.

Three extracts I love from 'Spode Saga' in July 1952 are:
  1. 'It has been noted that the new electric truck still requires a convoy of three able bodied men, whereas Herbert still pushes the old wooden one around without help'. (The factory site was about 10 acres and rails probably still exist under the current tarmac used from the 1830s to transport goods around the site pulled by a horse. They are shown on a site plan of 1833).
  2. Also on the subject of transport there is an appeal to buy Nobby the Railway horse 'who has been coming to the factory for many years with Arthur Royce. Nobby is a celebrity in his own right because he has won numerous medals at shows....'  The article continues with an appeal for money to buy the horse 'so that he may have a peaceful retirement'. 
  3. WANTED: New members for the Spode T.V. Society..... This slowly increasing group has now established itself as the elite organisation on the factory. Any unfortunate visitor not, of course being a proud possessor, is very soon made aware of his shortcomings and is, of necessity of course, quite speechless. At today's meeting it was proposed, seconded and unanimously agreed that in the occasions when the picture fails (which apparently happens at the most dramatic moments) T.V. loses most of its attraction.