A Young Historian's Dream: Witnessing the Time Team Excavation at Burslem in 1999

· 4 min read
A Young Historian's Dream: Witnessing the Time Team Excavation at Burslem in 1999
Me aged 12, having the absolute time of my life!

As a self-professed local history nerd, some of my fondest childhood memories are intertwined with explorations of local history. One such unforgettable experience was in 1999 when the acclaimed Time Team arrived in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, to unearth the secrets of Josiah Wedgwood's first factory. At just 12 years old, I had the thrilling opportunity to witness this historical excavation first-hand and see the people I watched every week on the TV up close in my city! A memory that has stayed with me ever since.

Watch the full episode of Time Team in Burslem here

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Josiah Wedgwood, a name synonymous with fine British pottery, began his illustrious career in the late 18th century. The focus of Time Team's Season 6 Episode 1, titled "Wedgwood's First Factory," was the very site where Wedgwood's ceramic empire took root. The episode, first aired on January 3, 1999, presented Tony Robinson and the Time Team delving into the remains of this early factory. Their mission was to piece together the story of the pottery produced there and to understand the site's historical significance.

I was so excited as I stood among the team, camera in hand, ready to capture this momentous event. The photos I took that day, including one with the iconic Time Team Land Rover Discovery and a cherished shot of Phil Harding, my favourite team member, are treasured mementoes of that adventure.

My photo of Phil. He was lovely to talk to!

The excavation site was next to the Town Hall, at a place known as the Ivy House Works. Initially owned by John and Thomas Wedgwood, Josiah's cousins. This site was rented to Josiah when he was 29 years old. The Time Team's excavation was a meticulous process. They referred to historical maps and documents to pinpoint the factory's location, systematically dividing the site into trenches to explore different areas.

The dig revealed a fascinating array of pottery artefacts, dating from the 17th century to Josiah Wedgwood's era. While definitive evidence of Wedgwood's specific pottery pieces remained elusive, the team uncovered a kiln stretcher indicative of an older kiln, potentially linked to Wedgwood's tenure at the Ivy House Works.

This excavation not only highlighted the diversity of pottery styles and techniques prevalent in the 18th century but also underscored the evolution of the pottery industry during that period. Even though the team didn’t find conclusive evidence of Wedgwood’s specific works, the findings provided invaluable insights into the broader context of pottery production in the era, emphasizing Wedgwood's significant role in the history of the area.

For me, this expedition was more than just an excavation; it was a journey through time, connecting me to the rich history of my hometown and the legacy of a world-renowned potter. It ignited in me a lifelong passion for history and archaeology, a flame that continues to burn brightly to this day.

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