Inside the factory: Emma Bridgewater tour

Explore how the iconic Emma Bridgewater mugs are made

Unglazed Emma Bridgewater mugs
(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater)

An icon in so many homes and kitchens, Emma Bridgewater's mugs and tableware are a pillar of British design, created in the heart of Stoke-On-Trent.  

With a pottery heritage that spans as far back as the 1650s, Stoke-On-Trent’s natural abundance of clay, water and coal led to the cultivation of local skills in pot throwing, sculpting and hand decorated designs, all of which are still practised today and can be seen in the many factory tours on offer across the potteries but none have a story as unique as Emma Bridgewater's.

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Emma Bridgewater standing at factory entrance

Emma Bridgewater standing at the factory entrance

(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater Factory)

If you look at the base of your favourite Emma Bridgewater mug, you will see the words ‘Made in Stoke-on-Trent, England’ proudly emblazoned on it. Originally from Oxford, Emma was led by a friend to select Stoke as the home for her classically modern pottery brand. Yet her choice to remain in the city, even after the global explosion of the company, is not based on nostalgia, but on the fact that it is still the best place in the world to make earthenware and ceramics. It’s the same reason the brand’s glassware is produced in Poland – to create the best products possible. 

Base of Emma Bridgewater mug

Below the 'Made in Stoke-On-Trent' is the backstamp. It changes every year and can be used to date the piece and range it belongs too. 

(Image credit: Daisy & Park)

Each year, approximately 45,000 handcrafted half-pint mugs pass through the restored Victorian factory, which was purchased in a state of ruin, boarded up and destined for destruction. Restored to its original glory and given new life, it has not been modernised and filled with machines as one would imagine that a multi-million pound business would do.

emma bridgewater daffodil mugs with floral fabric

An Emma Bridgewater mug will pass through 30 hands on its journey through the factory 

(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater)

Instead, it is filled with people; extremely skilled and creative workers who do everything by hand, from creating the moulds, pouring and casting, to decorating each piece with traditional spongeware techniques.

man moulding pots emma bridgewater factory

Each mug starts its life as clay, hand-cast in a custom made mould. The mould lasts about six weeks before it is recycled on-site to create a make new ones.

(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater)

The only real machines used in the process are a jolley (which removes excess clay to create deeper pieces, such as bowls and dishes) and a jigger (a process of throwing clay over the mould to create flatware), which were discovered inside the abandoned factory before being restored. Both date back to the 1940s and are still used to shape every single Emma Bridgewater plate. Since they are no longer manufactured, each has to be carefully maintained.

Man with mugs Emma Bridgewater factory

The moulds are left to set for 24 hours. The factory produces 30,000 pieces of pottery a week.

(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater)

Get two free Emma Bridgewater mnugs when you subscribe to Period Living

(Image credit: Future)

Save 25% on a subscription to Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, and get two beautiful Emma Bridgewater mugs worth £39.95 completely free

When we're out of lockdown you can take a tour of the factory yourself. It is usually open Monday to Friday, with tours operating at regular intervals so you can see the factory operating in all its glory. 

Begin at the start of the process, with the clay coming into the building, and finish by watching the final product checks before the items are distributed around the world. Tickets are free but your factory tour must be booked in advance

Plus, if you are looking to invest in pottery, there’s only one place to go. Offering greatly reduced prices, limited editions, discontinued lines and seconds (slightly to significantly imperfect ceramics and earthenware), factory outlet shops let you get the pottery you love at a reduced price. Emma Bridgewater is no exception with two stores, one featuring their latest designs and the other outlet store, featuring reduced prices and limited editions. 

Hand painted Emma Bridgewater mugs

There is no computers or laser printing in this factory. Each mug is hand-painted with special sponges to create the iconic designs. More than 40 full-time decorators work for Emma Bridgewater and sign the base of each mug they work on.

(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater)

Emma Bridgewater on display

 Avid Emma Bridgewater collectors aim to get a set of mugs by the same decorator by sourcing their signature on the base of different pottery.

(Image credit: Emma Bridgewater)


Holly Reaney
Holly is Sub-editor and Features Writer for Period Living. She is busy putting her stamp on a pre-furnished flat by making cushions and upcycling second-hand finds.