Stoke on Trent art gallery turns out to be rather more impressive than I’d expected. I’m mostly visiting to look at Stoke’s allotment of the Staffordshire hoard, some of which has been cleaned for the recent Papal visit. While the items are all made of gold and garnets the decorative styles vary between spiral patterns in gold and more elaborate knotwork designs. A strip of gold carries lettering from the Bible that seems to have doubled as a curse for entering into battle. I’m actually more taken with a beautiful Roman copper bowl, incised with the name of Draco and various forts from Hadrian’s wall. There’s also a ‘face pot’ used for burying remains and a pair of gold torcs found at Alrewas. More recently there are some of the stone tombs from Hulston Abbey. The art section is based on an individual bequest and is accordingly rather small, but it does have paintings by Laura Knight, Duncan Grant and Graham Sutherland. There’s a particularly good impressionist painting of Alton Castle. The paintings of Dolly by John Currie are rather sinister with the knowledge that he was to murder her not long after. Inevitably, ceramics features rather prominently, with a display beginning with slipware (typified by an owl jug and a Queen Anne plate), progressing onto Delftware and stoneware before the arrival of Wedgewood and Spode’s adaptation of Chinese porcelain. Minton also have pride of place (a large ceramic peacock being probably the most striking exhibit) alongside a large William De Morgan vase. Finally, the twentieth century yields up work by Bernard Leach and Clarice Cliff. A side gallery has a competing display of Iznik pottery while there’s also a good collection of Japanese art; portable shrines, Ivory boats and chessmen, Kuanyin wood carvings and silk kimonos.
On the way to Stoke, we visit the church of All Saints in Leigh; renovated by Pugin, it combines Minton tiling with Burne Jones stained glass. One medieval tomb remains and a small medieval design of a bird in stained glass. Returning from the Midlands, I call in at Aldworth, a small and rather inocuous building, except for its collection of stone funerary effigies of Knights dating from the reign of Edward the First to Edward the Third.