The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery is part of Stoke-on-Trent Museums Service. The museums service was established in 1911 with the Federation of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent. The largest museum in the service, the Hanley Museum & Art Gallery, became the Stoke-on-Trent City Museum & Art Gallery when it moved to new premises in 1956, and the museum underwent major expansion in the late 1970s, winning the ‘Museum of the Year’ award in 1982. In 1998 the museum was rebranded as The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery (PMAG).
The museum’s collection of Staffordshire pottery is widely acknowledged as the finest in the world and other collections of fine and decorative arts, natural history,social history and archaeology have local, regional and national significance. The museum is fully accredited and all the collections, totalling more than 650,000 individual objects, are Designated collections. The museum is also now home to a number of artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard, which PMAG bought along with Birmingham Museums in 2010.
The natural history gallery is very popular, particularly with children, who make up a third of all visitors to the museum. The permanent gallery depicts the geology and wildlife found in the different habitats in and around the Potteries area. The museum runs educational events and workshops with handling objects from the natural science collections on a range of topics from minibeasts to rocks and fossils.
In total the natural history collections (plants, animals, rocks and fossils) number in the region of 130,000 specimens. The first collections were donated by members of the North Staffordshire Field Club (NSFC), established in 1865. These formed the basis of the North Staffordshire Natural History Museum, which opened in 1908 in conjunction with the Hanley Corporation Museum.
At the opening of the Museum it was noted that: “The Committee [of the NSFC] came to the wise decision that the museum should mainly comprise exhibits relative to Staffordshire, and that it should be made as representative as possible of the flora, fauna, and geology of the County.” This policy to develop the regional significance of the collections has been continued to the present day to give the current Museum the most comprehensive collection of Staffordshire natural history material anywhere in the world.
- Botany The botany collections comprise around 15,000 specimens, including over 10,000 flowering plants, 2000 fungi, 1100 mosses and liverworts, and 350 ferns, the vast majority of which were collected in Staffordshire. Important collections include around 6,000 specimens from Eric Edees, the author of the 1972 ‘Flora of Staffordshire’ and over 2700 specimens collected by Reverend Henry P. Reader in the early 1900s mainly around Armitage, near Rugeley, which reflect the flora of South Staffordshire at the time. The new ‘Flora of Staffordshire’ (Hawksford & Hopkins, 2011) also frequently refers to specimens from the herbarium.
- Zoology The zoology collections cover most of the animal kingdom from tiny invertebrates to larger mammals, and in total number over 100,000 animal specimens. The majority of the species represented can be found in and around the Potteries. Invertebrates include 22,000 land and freshwater molluscs, 6,500 diptera (flies), 18,000 lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and 23,000 coleoptera (beetles). 5,000 bird eggs and around 1850 mounted bird specimens and study skins are also held. PMAG also houses a collection of butterflies collected by J.T. Wattison in Portugal in the early 20th century.
In total there are over 12,000 rocks, minerals and fossils in the geology collections. The collections focus in particular on the Carboniferous and Triassic horizons of the local area. Highlights include around 900 Carboniferous Coal Measure fossils, collected by John Ward in the late 1800s from around Stoke-on-Trent. Another important collection of around 1,000 minerals was collected by W.A.S. Sarjeant from the north Midlands in 1953-70. The museum has also recently taken on around 2000 geological specimens from Staffordshire University after the closure of the university’s geology department.
- Wallaby People are often surprised to see a wallaby on display alongside species from the Staffordshire moorlands in the natural history gallery. Red-necked wallabies were released from the menagerie of Captain Courtney Brocklehurst, a Fellow of the Zoological Society, of Roche House near Leek, for their safety before the outbreak of World War II and found a haven amongst the moorlands and crags of The Roaches. A small colony of wallabies was established but these very timid, elusive and secretive animals were rarely seen. The wallabies were sensitive to the changing environment which had seen the influx of walkers and ‘backpackers’ in many thousands disturbing their habitat to an extent that sadly no wallaby has been sighted for a number of years and it is assumed that these extraordinary creatures have died out.
- Red squirrel A mount of an adult red squirrel was prepared by local taxidermist Rob Marshall and is on display in the natural history gallery. The squirrel was found dead from unknown causes on Cannock Chase in 1983. Cannock Chase had red squirrels until the late 1990s but they now appear to be extinct in Staffordshire.
- Auroch The sub-fossilised skull of an auroch was found in 1877, buried 16 feet down in black clay, whilst making alterations to the course of the Foulhay Brook near Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent (view by appointment).
- John Ward fossils John Ward (1837-1906) was a prolific fossil collector who amassed a considerable collection of coal measure fossils from the Fenton and Longton areas of Stoke-on-Trent. His high quality and expertly prepared finds, with detailed records of collection locality and horizon, were important in determining the site of coal and ironstone seams and today continue to contribute to our understanding of the Carboniferous Coal Measure period. The collection at PMAG is mostly made up of fossil fishes, several of which are on permanent display in the natural history gallery.
Only a very small proportion of our collection is on permanent display but all can be used for scientific, educational and artistic purposes. To view items in store please contact the Collections team at the Museum to arrange an appointment.
In 2009, PMAG obtained a grant from the Esmée Fairburn Foundation to develop and strengthen the stewardship of natural science collections in the West Midlands, with particular focus on geology collections. The Regional Geology Stewardship project is now in its final year and so far more than 25 collections across the region have been visited and assessed, with training and advice given to members of staff charged with caring for these collections. The project has focused on providing support to those organisations that do not have a dedicated geology or natural sciences specialist on staff. A grant from the Geologists Association Curry fund for materials and equipment has also facilitated the provision of on-site training in the curation of geological specimens and improvement of collections storage at museums where collections were previously at risk.
Don Steward, Collections Officer (Natural History)
t: 01782 232323 e: email@example.com