1987: Moorland Pottery…

WExpMoorl3At its industrial height, the skyline of Stoke-on-Trent (a.k.a. ‘The Potteries’) looked like this. Today, most of these potbanks are long gone. This is great news for Stoke’s airspace, but it also means that sadly the city has lost most of its signature industry over the years.

However, there’s still a handful of local pottery firms around today, keeping alive Stoke’s hard-earned reputation as the home of ceramics! One of the most successful of these brands is Moorland Pottery…

Moorland Pottery today…

WExpMoorl2Moorland Pottery is a relatively new company that started producing ceramics in the late 1980s. The building that their products are made and designed in, however, is much older – 72 Moorland Road is a historic listed building that has housed pottery manufacturers since the 1880s.

WExpMoorlToday, Moorland Pottery is famous for producing a wide range of products – from mugs to coasters to tea towels – featuring quirky, fun, local slogans.

Almost ten years ago, the brand established its celebrated ‘Stokieware’ range, featuring such well-known local phrases as “Ow At Oraight” and “Ay Up Duck”. Since then, as the company has grown, they have branched out and released many new ranges, from ‘Yorkieware’ to ‘Scouserware’!

Their products are now sold all over the UK, and here at Cooks we’ve had customers buying Moorland products to send as gifts as far afield as New Zealand and Australia!

Here’s a short video, filmed in and around the Moorland Pottery works, that shows how their ceramics are designed and made…

Keeping the Stokie dialect alive…

What sets Moorland Pottery apart from other local pottery companies is the fact that, as well as continuing Stoke’s heritage as a ceramics town, it also works to keep alive the city’s distinctive and historic dialect.

Since of the decline of Stoke’s pottery and mining sectors throughout the twentieth century, traditional Potters speak has been used less and less in day-to-day life. However, there have been a few cultural efforts over the years to make sure that this important part of the region’s heritage is not forgotten.

WExpMoorl4Aside from Moorland Pottery’s ‘Stokieware’ range, the dialect has been immortalised in the ‘May Un Mar Lady’ comic strips that have been published in the Sentinel newspaper since the 1980s; in Alan Povey’s ‘Owd Grandad Piggott’ stories that first started to be aired on BBC Radio Stoke in 1970; and even in the works of local street artist Professor Pigment! (Anyone for an oatcake, duck?)

By designing products with slogans like “Cost kick a bo agen a wo and yed it till it bosts”, and “They cost tak the Bloke ite a Stoke but thay costnd tak Stoke ite a the Bloke”, Moorland Pottery therefore take part in a cultural preservation movement that has been ongoing since the 1970s.

That is why Stokieware has so been so successful in the local area. By having one of these dialect-inspired products, people can proudly own something that both celebrates the history and identity of the Potteries, and something that actively keeps owd Potters speak alive, remembered and celebrated for years to come.

Moorland Pottery have grown more and more succesful and expanded their business over the years, but they have always kept to the same local, small business values. As Jon Plant, co-founder of Moorland Pottery, said…WExpMoorl5

For further information, duck…

  • To find out more about Moorland Pottery, and especially to see the wide range of products that they sell today, check out their official website. There’s also a great article about the beginnings of the company in In Contact Magazine (pages 8-9), and there are a few videos about the firm on YouTube (just do a search for Moorland Pottery!)
  • You can read more about the historic 72 Moorland Road building here and here.
  • To find owt more abowt Stokie dialect, duck, ye’ sen cost watch this great documentree on YouTube: May Un Mar Language.
  • You can read about Owt Grandad Piggott here, and check out Professor Pigment’s street art here (or alternatively, keep an eye out when you’re out and about in Stoke!)
  • As always, feel free to come and speak to us at Cooks if you have any questions about Moorland Pottery products today; you can contact us on Twitter and Facebook, give us a call, or come and speak to us in the shop.

And that concludes The Histories Behind the Brands! Thank you to everyone who has read, shared and commented on my blog posts over the past couple of months. I hope that you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed making it!  –  Susannah

1961: Robert Welch…

WExp RW 1

Take a look at these places: Canterbury Cathedral; The Mirage Casino and Hotel (Las Vegas); 10 Downing Street; The Eurostar; and The University of Birmingham. You wouldn’t think that all of these vastly different spaces have anything in common. They are all linked together, however, by the fact that they have all been customers of Robert Welch!

Robert Welch today…

Many kitchenware and homeware companies claim to produce products with a universal appeal, and to have a worldwide customer base; with Robert Welch, that claim is definitely impossible to deny.

In just over fifty years, Robert Welch Designs Limited has designed and produced over three thousand new kitchenware and homeware products (both for the consumer market, and on individual commissions), and sold around 50 million items around the world.

WExp RW 3Last week I wrote about Alessi, and how a lot of their products are produced through collaborations with famous designers from around the world. Robert Welch have taken the opposite approach to design: all of the company’s products are designed by a close, in-house team. This team works together in Chipping Campden, in the same Old Silk Mill where the business was first set up half a century ago.

From a student at the Royal College of Art, to a world-renowned designer…

WExp RW 5So far when I’ve talked about ‘Robert Welch’, I’ve mostly been referring to the company as a whole. The company’s name, however, comes from its founder Mr Robert Welch – a man who was described by The Guardian in his obituary in 2000 as “one of the star designers of his period who defined the British ‘contemporary’ style”.

After serving in the RAF in the Second World War, Welch enrolled into the prestigious Royal College of Art to study Goldsmithing, Silversmithing and Jewellery. During his studies he visited Scandinavia, and was inspired by the silver and stainless steel designs produced there. After his degree, he worked with tableware manufacturer Old Hall, where he helped to introduced the Scandinavian satin finish to the British tableware industry.

In the 50s and 60s, Welch won various design awards from the British Council of Industrial Design, including awards for his famous Campden coffee set and iconic Alveston cutlery range (you can still buy sets of the latter from the Robert Welch company today)! He also won an impressive commission from the Orient Line in 1958, being asked to make tableware for the Oriana ocean liner.

By the time Robert Welch decided to set up Robert Welch Designs Limited in 1961, he had truly made a name for himself as a talented designer. A short Pathe film was even made about him…

Welch continued to go from strength to strength throughout the rest of the twentieth century, fulfilling commissions for American firm Lauffer, German company Carl Prinz, the Victoria & Albert Museum, The British Museum and many more organisations. Many of his designs still remain iconic today – the Lumitron Lamp and Chantry Knife Sharpener, for example, are seen as real design classics.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, his children Rupert and Alice helped to run the Robert Welch design studio and the stores in Campden and Warwick; his younger son William Welch followed in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the Royal College of Art and starting up a successful cutlery company of his own.

Upon the passing of Robert Welch in 2000, Rupert and Alice Welch have been responsible for the direction of the company. They continue to stick by their father’s winning approach to design. In the words of Rupert Welch…

WExp RW 2

For further information…

Next time, I’ll be writing about Moorland Pottery: a company that has been making ceramics in The Potteries since the 1980s. See you next week!

1921: Alessi…

WExpAlessi3In 1921, Giovanni Alessi started a metalwork tableware company, which described itself in 1920s Milan trade fairs as a “workshop with foundry specialising in working brass and nickel silver sheets”. Since then, the brand has evolved from one that produces simple, practical metal products, to one that concentrates as much on style, and on pushing the boundaries of design, as it does on substance.

Alessi today…

WExpAlessi1Like most of the brands that I’ve written about on this blog so far, Alessi has really diversified and expanded its product range over time. The brand has lent its name to an Alessi Fiat Panda (see the images to the right!); an Alessi watch range; and even an ‘AlessiPhone’ wireless telephone for the home.

Today, the business produces products in production facilities across the globe, and has a worldwide following of loyal brand fans! Since 2006, the brand has produced homeware products in three main collections: A di Alessi (colourful, affordable and popular products), Alessi (mid-price range products, combining quality and design) and Officina Alessi (exclusive, experimental and limited edition products).

WExpAlessi2Despite having a more diverse product range than ever, Alessi maintains its reputation for great designs that are quirky, fun, stylish and sophisticated. It has kept this reputation through its work with leading designers from around the world…

Turning point: The 1970s…

Before the 1970s, Alessi products focused on practicality and functionality. It was a quality brand, but it was nevertheless quite different from the designer-driven Alessi that we know today! You can really see the evolution of the brand’s products, from functional to designer, through its advertisements over the years…

So when did Alessi change from focusing on the practical to focusing on aesthetics, and why? Well, it was Alessi’s current owner Alberto Alessi who joined the company in the 1970s and drove it in a new direction. Under his leadership, the company began to use something called ‘the formula’ as part of the design and manufacturing process; products started to be thought about by the brand not only in terms of their “Price” and “Function”, but also how much they excite “Sensation, Memory [and] Imagination”, and how much they inspire “Communication & Language”.

WExpAlessi4Alberto Alessi has always been passionate about art and design; in 2011-2012, he even led an exhibition alongside designer Martí Guixé called ‘Dream Factories. Men, Ideas, Businesses and Paradoxes of Italian Design’ (see one of the exhibits on the image to the right). Over the last forty years, Alberto Alessi has led his company to collaborate with a wide range of renowned designers, including Alessandro Mendini in the late 1970s (he created the famous ‘Anna G.’ corkscrew design), Achille Castiglioni in the early 1980s (he designed Alessi’s first cutlery line), and Philippe Starck in the mid-1980s (he made the iconic ‘Juicy Salif’ citrus-squeezer design that you can see in the first image on this post)! In the 1990s, the Alessi Study Centre was opened, and since then the company has not only worked with established designers, but with new, young, emerging designers too.

Alessi may be a brand that creates experimental, creative, modern products, but it nonetheless continues to look back to its rich past as a company. Here is an extract from Alessi’s mission statement:

WExpAlessi5

For further information…

Next time, I’ll be writing all about Robert Welch – a company that has over fifty years’ experience designing and producing kitchenware and homeware products. See you next week!

1919: KitchenAid…

WExp Kitchen Aid Img7In Ohio, USA, 1919, the Troy Metal Products Company trialled their new stand mixer, the ‘H-5’, by giving prototypes out to the wives of company executives. Upon testing out an H-5, one of these women exclaimed “It’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had!”, and accidentally created a brand that is still with us today! The mixer was promptly renamed with a more memorable moniker – KitchenAid – and the rest is history…

KitchenAid today…

WExp Kitchen Aid Img3Today, KitchenAid is a vast, international kitchenware enterprise, selling a large range of products including: toasters, food processors, kettles, fridges, ovens, blenders, and basically everything else you might need for your kitchen! Their most famous product, however, is – and always has been – their iconic KitchenAid stand mixer.

WExp Kitchen Aid Img2Even if you haven’t heard of a ‘KitchenAid mixer’ before, you probably will have seen one in action. As well as being found in kitchens all over the world, you can see the mixers in The Great British Bake Off – click here to see Mary Berry using one to make butter!

How the iconic KitchenAid stand mixer came to be…

WExp Kitchen Aid Img5The sleek, stylish KitchenAid that we use today originally started out as a product for professional kitchens. In 1908, engineer Herbert Johnson was watching a baker mix dough by hand, and thought that there must be a much more efficient, consistent and modern way to do the job! The answer that he thought up was the electro-mechanical stand mixer.

Johnson’s invention was so popular that even the US Navy caught on to its labour-saving and time-saving potential; by 1917, the stand mixer was standard equipment on all of the Navy’s ships!

When normal manufacturing operations resumed in America after the end of the First World War, the Troy Metal Products Company started to think about selling their stand mixers not just to professionals and to the military, but to regular consumers. It was then, in 1919, that the H-5 model mixer was introduced and quickly renamed the KitchenAid. It was extremely popular, selling 20,000 units in the space of three years!WExp Kitchen Aid Img6

However, this KitchenAid still did not look much like those that we can see today. The iconic KitchenAid silhouette was brought about with the design expertise of the world-famous Egmont Arens in 1936. With Arens’s help, the KitchenAid became not just a practical product, but an incredibly stylish one too!

The Arens-designed KitchenAid can be seen on the 1930s advertisements that I’ve included in this blog post. As you can tell, in the eighty years since this new model was introduced, KitchenAids have kept to the same style and silhouette. In the 1930s Arens’s design would have been ‘modern’; today, we call it ‘retro’; but over the past eighty years it has remained just as popular.

Here’s what KitchenAid have to say about their rich heritage as a brand…

Wexp Kitchen Aid Img1

For further information…

  • KitchenAid have a timeline of their history on their official website here; while you’re there, you can explore that site if you would like to find out more about the KitchenAid brand and their products today!
  • You can also read more about the history of KitchenAid on the website of one of their American Trade Partners here, and by reading this handy 3-page pdf: ‘The KitchenAid Stand Mixer: Ninety Years of Quality’.
  • The advertisements that I used on this post were from 1939 issues of LIFE magazine. They can be found here and here.
  • While researching for this article, I also looked at a book called ‘The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products’ by Peter Boatwright et al., which talks a bit about the KitchenAid brand and products.
  • As always, feel free to come and speak to us at Cooks if you have any questions about KitchenAid products today; you can contact us on Twitter and Facebook, give us a call, or come and speak to us in the shop.

Next time I’ll be writing all about the famous Italian kitchenware and homeware brand Alessi. See you next week!

1867: Wesco…

Wesco4Almost 150 years ago, a housewares company called Westermann & Co. was established in the Sauerland region of Germany (only around 50 miles away from Wüsthof in Solingen!). Today, the company still exists in the same part of Germany, albeit under the shorter, snappier name ‘Wesco’. It has maintained its reputation for quality German design and manufacturing, but the products that it produces have undergone big changes over the last 30 years…

Wesco today…

Today, Wesco is all about combining colourful, funky and retro designs with the kind of manufacturing experience and expertise that can uniquely be offered by such a long-standing German company.

This combination has proved to be a winning one – today, Wesco boasts a large, state-of-the-art factory in Germany; an extremely wide product range spanning kitchenware products, homeware products and furniture; and even its own German villa-showroom that fans of the brand can visit!

Wesco6

German products; American designs…

Wesco’s history may span almost 150 years, but the product range that we know and love today was a product of the 1980s, when managing director Egbert Neuhaus decided to effect a move from traditional, German floral designs to a retro American focus.Wesco1

The style of design that the company championed in the 1980s – and continues to champion to this day – is related to a ’50s and ’60s American aesthetic called ‘Googie’.

You may not have heard of Googie before, but you will definitely be familiar with the way it looks. Just think of ’50s American coffee shops, gas stations and motels; the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada’ sign; and The Jetsons: these places and creations were all part of the Googie movement!

Wesco3

Googie was the aesthetic of an age of optimism: its bold use of colour was related to the postwar consumer boom in which all kinds of new and exciting products were available; it incorporated references to space to relate to the incredibly exciting and pioneering Space Race; and its preoccupation with ‘the future’ was the product of a generation which saw itself as living in the optimistic, utopian world that was promised to the nation during wartime.

Wesco, then, have taken on this exciting and colourful Googie spirit in their products. All of their sleek, futuristic homeware products are available in a wide range of colours, and the company even has a Space Race inspired ‘Metal Space’ range, featuring such intergalactic-themed items as a rocket-shaped trash can!

Wesco may share the ’50s and ’60s preoccupation with the future with their metallic, intergalactic and futuristic product designs, but nevertheless, the company’s long brand history still remains important to them. As they say in their 2014/15 brochure…

Wesco5

For more information…

  • Wesco have produced a great video talking about their company history, and especially about the move to American retro design styles in the 1980s. Click here to see The Story of Wesco!
  • To see the Wesco product range and read about their company history and brand philosophy, check out their official website, and their 2014/15 brochure.
  • Information on the Wesco furniture range can be found here, and you can read all about their exciting German villa-showroom here. Both of these websites are in German, however, so you might need to do some Google Translating!
  • There are lots of great articles about Googie architecture and design that I read when researching the style for this article. They include: ‘Googie: Architecture of the Space Age’ by Matt Novak, ‘Googie Architecture: Futurism Through Modernism’ by Greg LeMaire, and ‘From Modernism to McDonalds: Ideology, Controversy, and the Movement to Preserve the Recent Past’ by Kelli Shapiro (published in the Journal of Architectural Education).
  • As always, feel free to come and speak to us at Cooks if you have any questions about Wesco products today; you can contact us on Twitter and Facebook, give us a call, or come and speak to us in the shop.

Next time, I will be writing all about KitchenAid: an American brand established in the 1910s that remains iconic to this day. See you next week!

1840: Kilner…

The year 1840 was full of interesting beginnings. It saw the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; the establishment of the Uniform Penny Post (a forerunner of the Royal Mail); the births of Thomas Hardy the novelist and the composer Tchaikovsky; and – last but not least – the establishment of a glassware company that was to take the world by storm: Kilner.

Kilner today…KilnerImage2

Kilner Jars can be found in shops all over the world, from the Cooks shop here at Trentham, to stores in the US and even Korea! The brand is owned today by The Rayware Group – a supplier which also stocks the Mason Cash and Typhoon brands that we sell at Cooks.

The Kilner company remains famous for its signature Kilner Jars, which preserve fruit and vegetables using a two-part vacuum seal. Indeed, the real effectiveness of Kilner preserving jars was confirmed last year, when a time capsule full of newspapers from 1913 was discovered; for over a hundred years the contents of the capsule had been perfectly preserved with a Kilner seal!

There is a lot more to the Kilner range than its preserving jars, however – the brand also produces a variety of glass bottles, kits to brew cider, lager and bitter at home, jam-making accessories and much more. In 2015 the company plans on expanding their product line even further, with soon-to-be-released products including a brand new Kilner butter-making range.

From John Kilner & Co. to The Rayware Group...

KilnerImage6The history of the Kilner brand is about as interesting and varied as its product range!

The company was established in 1840 by John Kilner, who you can see in the image to the right. He ran the business – then named John Kilner & Co. – for seventeen years before his four sons (William, Caleb, George and John) took over the company after he passed away in 1857. The enterprise then continued to grow significantly under the management of the Kilner brothers.

One particular highlight of the company’s history came in 1862, when the Kilners were awarded a medal at the Great International Exhibition in London for their innovations in glass manufacturing. The Great Exhibition was a huge phenomenon in Victorian culture. It was obsessed over by newspapers, who commented on everything from the colour of the exhibition halls’ decorations to the finer details of a variety of different exhibits, and it was visited by millions of people. It was basically Victorian industry’s answer to the Olympic Games! For the Kilners to have won the British Glass Bottle Makers award at this event, therefore, was a massive achievement.

KilnerImage4

The Kilner company continued to go from strength to strength in later decades of the Victorian period. In 1866 – just four years after winning the prestigious Great Exhibition medal – it expanded its operations by opening its second Yorkshire factory. It went on in the 1870s and 1880s to win yet more awards worldwide, and further expanded its product range.

KilnerImage1By 1893, the company was valued at around £305,000 – a staggering amount of money in that era – and its products were exported to countries all over the world, including Australia, The West Indies, South Africa, America and many more.

Sadly, this success was not to last in the 1900s. As a result of growing competition from larger glass-making businesses, and the increasing pressure to buy large, expensive machinery to compete in an age of mass production, the Kilner business dissolved. The design for the famous Kilner Jar was bought by another British business in 1937 – a conglomerate called United Glass Bottles (you can see one of their 1920s advertisements to the right).

Since then, the Kilner name and design passed through the hands of various companies, before being taken up by The Rayware Group in the 2000s. Today, under these new owners, Kilner products have seen a real resurgence, and it is safe to say that the brand has truly regained its former glory. It has warehouses in the US and in Asia; exports to a variety of countries across the globe; and is well-known everywhere for its long-established, good quality products.

As Kilner say on their website…KilnerImage3For more information…

  • Kilner have an official timeline that traces their company history at http://www.kilnerjar.co.uk/about-us, and their website is also really useful if you want to find out more about the Kilner products available today.
  • If you want to know more about the 1913 time capsule story, it has been written about here on the Kilner website!
  • The BBC made an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? back in 2007, delving into the family past of Jeremy Clarkson (who is a great-great-great grandson of John Kilner), and tracing the history of the Kilner company. It’s definitely worth a watch if you want to find out more about the Kilner brand!
  • To discover more about the Great International Exhibition of 1862, you can read all about it in various Victorian news publications such as The London Journal, The National Magazine and The Athenaeum. I accessed copies of these newspapers through the ProQuest Database.
  • As always, feel free to come and speak to us at Cooks if you have any questions about Kilner products today; you can contact us on Twitter and Facebook, give us a call, or come and speak to us in the shop.

Next time, I’ll be writing all about Wesco – a manufacturer of metal kitchen products that was established in 1867, and is still going strong to this day. See you next week!

1814: Wüsthof…

WusthofPostImage1EDWhen most people think of the year 1814, they think of it as the year in which Napoleon Bonaparte lost his power over France, and was banished to a sentence of sitting around and looking fed up on the island of Elba. (See the artist’s impression to the right!)

1814 may have been a rubbish year for Napoleon, but it was, on the other hand, a fantastic year for a particular entrepreneur from France’s next-door-neighbour Germany. It was in this year that Johan Wilhelm Wüsthof decided to start a shear-making business in the town of Solingen. Today, over two hundred years on, Johan’s business still exists, and it’s now a whole lot bigger than he probably ever would have imagined…

Wüsthof today…WusthofPostImage2VER3

The Wüsthof of today produces its world-renowned knives in three state-of-the-art production facilities, replacing the small 19th century ‘Kottens’ (metal grinding workshops) of Johan’s day.

It has a truly international reputation, selling to over ninety countries worldwide; working in partnership with prestigious French culinary organisation Le Cordon Bleu; and even supplying the German and Japanese national chef teams!

Wüsthof may have grown in size and reputation significantly over the past two hundred years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the town in which it is based: Solingen, Germany.

Solingen: ‘The City of Blades’…

WusthofPostImage4VER2

Solingen – nicknamed ‘The City of Blades’ – has long been one of the blade-making capitals of Europe.

By the time that Johan decided to start the Wüsthof knife brand in 1814, the town already had a centuries-old legacy for making world-class knives, scissors and swords. The town even had an indirect impact on world history, supplying swords to the French army during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815), and to American colonisers in the 18th century!

WusthofPostImage3Ver2By 1800, according to historian G.I.H. Lloyd, “there were in Solingen… 4,700 cutlery workers”, with 1,700 of that total being employed as knife makers. When Wüsthof was founded, it therefore quickly became part of this exciting, long-established local industry.

WusthofPostImage6

Under Johan’s leadership, Wüsthof was a successful yet humble shear-making business. It then branched out throughout the nineteenth century to produce pocket knives; the kitchen knives that it is famous for today; and a variety of other bladed products.

By 1869 – then being managed by a third generation of the Wüsthof family – its product range was bigger than ever. The company was documented as producing not only the shears that it had been making since 1814, but also a wide variety of “pocket knives, penknives, daggers, table knives and forks, bread knives, vegetable knives and butchering knives”.

The Wüsthof business has continued to go from strength to strength since the nineteenth century, constantly designing new, innovative products for both amateur and professional kitchens.

It also recently celebrated its 200th birthday, so happy birthday Wüsthof!

For more information…

  • The go-to source for any information about Wüsthof, past or present, is their fantastic website at http://www.wusthof.com.
  • Wüsthof have also produced a brilliant booklet called ‘The History of Wüsthof: Seven Generations – One Company’. It talks about the history of the company in detail, and includes lots of pictures and documents from the company archives. You can check that out by clicking here.
  • For more information on Solingen and its metalwork industry, some great sources include Rudolf Boch’s essay ‘The Rise and Decline of Flexible Production: The Cutlery Industry of Solingen Since the Eighteenth Century’; G.I.H. Lloyd’s article ‘Labour Organisation in the Cutlery Trade of Solingen’; The American Sword: 1775-1945 by Harold L. Peterson; and ‘History of the Solingen Cutlery Industry’ by Siegfried Rosenkaimer.
  • Feel free to come and speak to us at Cooks if you have any questions about Wüsthof products today; you can contact us on Twitter and Facebook, give us a call, or come and speak to us in the shop.

Next time, I’ll be writing all about Victorian Britain and the famous Kilner kitchenware brand. See you next week!