The Potteries School of Design was Stoke-on-Trent’s first art school. Opened on January 25th, 1847, the school held evening classes in Hanley, Stoke and Longton. Students were taught elementary drawing, basic design, freehand painting and modelling.
Its first headmaster, John Murdock, and his successor, John Charles Robinson, made the school a centre of excellence. The students won national prizes and were awarded scholarships enabling them to continue their studies at the Government School of Design in London. Pottery they designed impressed everyone who visited the Great Exhibition in 1851 and plans were made to open more art schools in North Staffordshire.
The scheme was made public at a meeting held in the Wesleyan Schoolroom, Burslem on January 19th, 1853. Ambitious and progressive, it involved creating a regional College of Art and Technology, with University status, at Shelton and building branch art schools in Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Longton and Newcastle. North Staffordshire’s most generous philanthropist, Smith Child, and leading pottery manufacturer Herbert Minton offered to help finance the project. Civic leaders and industrialists refused to support the venture which was abandoned.
Shortly afterwards two small design schools were established – one in Newcastle, the other in Burslem. Monthly fees for students attending classes at the Burslem school were 1/9d (9p) for men and 1/6d (7.5p) for women. The headmaster was William Jabez Mückley. Born at Audnam in Worcestershire and educated at Stourbridge, he was a fruit and flower painter whose work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. Classes were held in the assembly room at the Legs of Man, an old coaching inn frequented by thieves and prostitutes.
Despite the venue, William was a popular teacher whose personality could attract and retain students. His classes were always oversubscribed and he was forced to turn students away. Although the school gave Burslem well trained pottery designers and skilled crafts persons, neither the board of health, which governed the town, nor local manufacturers were willing to help it find new premises. The school closed in 1858 when William was appointed headmaster of Wolverhampton Art School.
(Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010)