“Toast & Marmalade And Other Stories” by Emma Bridgewater

There is hardly a home in Britain that does not have one or several of Emma Bridgewater’s colourful, country-style pottery pieces in their kitchen or dining room. Like Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely, Laura Ashley and Cabbages & Roses, the Bridgewater brand stands for a cosy, comfortable lifestyle and homely, timeless housewares that are passed on from one generation to the next. But unlike many of her contemporaries in the homeware industries, Emma Bridgewater decided to manufacture her mug, plate and bowl collections in Britain, in the abandoned, redundant potteries of Stoke-on-Trent, where, once-upon-a-time, most of the world’s china was produced. Providing much-needed employment and for nearly two hundred people, there are now four Emma Bridgewater shops, turning over millions of pounds selling quirky goods with an {almost} recession-proof, aspirational appeal.

“Toast & Marmalade And Other Stories”, published by Saltyard Books, is Bridgewater’s memoir-recipe~business book, quite similar in style to “Coming Up Roses”, Cath Kidston’s account of her passion for all things fabric, pattern and interiors, which have propelled her into fame, fortune and plastic fantastic private-equity-fuelled global expansion.

Saltyard’s approach to the book is quite different from Kidston’s publishers, Quadrille, however, and, like everything which comes from the former’s stable, it is thoughtfully structured, beautifully photographed and elegantly designed. There is no ghost writer, no shareholders to please, no pressure to sell the brand and all its accoutrements ~ it is a heartfelt and poignant work.

Bridgewater is a skilful storyteller, patchwork weaving the story of her upbringing with tales of her early years in London, her design ideas, relationships with adventurous siblings, bringing up a young family, obsessive china collecting, driving across Britain and travelling in foreign lands to sell her wares. The reader is transported across memories of textiles that inspired her, gardens that fed her, recipes that comforted her, workers that supported or disappointed her, business deals won and money and confidence lost. It is a rollercoaster of vicissitudes, luck, hard work, creativity and perseverance, all of it told in a style that is open, honest, human and humble.

Most heart-warming of all is a chapter entitled “To the Memory of Charlotte”, where Staffordshire’s position at the helm of world production for commemorative ware is told with engaging charm. It is in this niche that Emma Bridgewater, the company and brand, holds a very strong position, with brightly emblazoned cups that herald high days, holidays, Royal births, world events and historic achievements. When her mother suffered a tragic accident that marked the end of all their familial serenity, the author writes:

“But the pain of losing her is still raw, and it often springs out to ambush me from something of hers – a song, a scarf, or a plate can detonate a landmine., any day. From the very beginning my designs were inspired by her, and since that frightful day, really all of my work has been To the Memory of Charlotte.”

This book is a joy to own and to read, at times scholarly and at other times domestic, funny and motherly. British china collectors may feel a patriotic longing for the history and heritage described in A.N. Wilson’s “A Potter’s Hand”, the story of Josiah Wedgwood’s ascendancy in the world of the ceramic industry in the 18th Century, when Britannia ruled the waves, the map was red and everything stopped for tea. Photographer Andrew Montgomery captures Bridgewater’s scones, Yorkshire parkin and marmalade ginger cake, surrounded by escarpments of heart and flower shaped china and the detritus of rural family life, and it makes you stop and think. How very proud Josiah would have been of the girl from Oxford, who, 30 years ago, went in search of some lovely china for her Mom’s birthday, and decided instead, against all the odds, that she would make her own. The girl stuck at it and done good. The rest, as they say, is history.

Emma Bridgewater: www.emmabridgewater.co.uk

Saltyard Books: www.saltyardbooks.co.uk

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