Our Visit to Steelite

We are absolutely shattered, but what an interesting day we have had with Steelite up here in Stoke-on-Trent. We got up at just after 6am this morning and were on the road for 7am for the arduous 5 hour drive up North. Ultimately the traffic made us nearly an late for our 11am appointment but the guys at Steelite were very understanding.

Steelite are, by some margin, the UK’s largest ceramics manufacturer. They export all over the world and employ close to 700 people in Stoke-on-Trent. All that being said, you may be forgiven for not being overly familiar with the name. This is because historically they have specialised in supplying crockery to the hospitality trade and have a superb reputation within professional circles. So, while you may not have a Steelite dinner service in your home, chances are that you have eaten off it many times at your favourite restaurant, hotel or gastro-pub.

Anyway, we arrive ashamedly late but were welcomed by Heather, Head of Marketing at Steelite. Unfortunately, because of health and safety Lucan was unable to join us in the factory tour which also meant that one of us had to sit-it-out with him… Emily drew the short straw.

Tommy Dawkins MBE

I was introduced to, the one and only, Tommy Dawkins MBE whose company I would have the pleasure of for the next hour. Tommy is a salt-of-the-earth union man who has held almost every position at the Steelite factory in his 36 year tenure. After all this time you might expect such a man to be marred by complacency about working in the ceramics industry but his obvious passion and enthusiasm for the subject is both entraining and contagious.

What makes Steelite’s crockey different is the clay they use… or should I say the secret list of ingredients added to the clay. Not even Tommy is party to this industry secret but this recipe means that a Steelite plate is significantly stronger that your standard. So much so that everything they sell comes with a lifetime chip free guarantee. I wonder, if their plates are as unbreakable as they say, whether they export much to Greek restaurants!?! Anyway, Tommy showed me with large underground tankers that hold the clay slip before it is then either extruded into long logs of what you would recognise as raw clay or used in liquid form for their hollow moulded items.

Walking around the factory we saw endless rows of work stations all containing a small number, of workers who have a specific role to play in the birth on a new item of crockery. For instance I spoke to a guy operating a machine spinning plates. He will produce upwards of 2000 pieces a day. This is hard to imagine unless you see it but the workers are so practised and expert at their given process that it is difficult to see where the man ends and the machine begins. Totally mesmerising to watch!

Tommy lead me through many large rooms of similarly set up work stations and showed me the many kilns that operate on site. Each part of the process is entirely fascinating and rather than me spend my evening explaining the whole process I urge you to contact Steelite and take a tour with Tommy.

Emily & Lucan 017While I was being shown the factory floor Emily and Lucan were being occupied by the painting ladies who were letting them deface a number of plates with their own design. At the end of my tour I also painted my own plate and we have been assured that they will be sent on to us. I personally feel that between the three of us we are however, unlikely to have come up with a new paint design for the factory to put into production. Once we receive the finished products I will take a picture and you can decide for yourself.

After a brief lunch we headed off to Trenthan Gardens and Shopping Villlage where Steelite have just opened a retail store called Perfect Settings. I mentioned right at the top of this post that Steelite are known for supplying trade but as of November last year they began supplying retail too, through this shop. The reason behind this was that they would be inundated by calls from Joe Public asking where they can buy their stuff and it is easy to see why. Apart from being almost bomb proof, which offers its own advantages in a domestic setting, they also make some interesting and unusual shapes that you are unlikely to find elsewhere. We were particularly taken with the Craft range and will likely order some select pieces of this for ourselves.

After a quick interview with BBC Radio Stoke and the local Stoke Sentinel newspaper it was time to say goodbye to Heather, who had been a fantastic host to us for the whole day. Thank you Steelite for inviting us to visit and your hospitality during our stay.

Tomorrow, as Lucan has been a good boy… for most of the day, we are taking him to Drayton Manor to go and see Thomas the Tank Engine. As the worlds biggest Thomas fan, I cannot wait to see his face!

– James




  1. Pity that Perfect Settings doesn’t have a website. Maybe James that could be your new job? Setting up a company that specializes in British ware that can’t currently be bought via the web. You have the contacts, a good database of ‘fans’ and all that sourcing you’ve done as a family…

  2. Watch this space – The Perfect Setting website is currently under construction and will be available very soon to purchase the most amazing British made ceramics direct for your home. Exciting!

  3. Great article, once again highlighting a manufacturer I had never heard of. Sadly, once again, there is no mention of being made in the UK on their website. I have noticed this on many of the sites I have visited because of your campaign and wonder why they don’t make more of the fact. Any ideas?

  4. I agree that so many British designers/makers/manufacturers don’t shout out enough about the fact they are ‘made in Britain’! We deal with many British designers/makers, and I am surprised at how many of them don’t market this fact! We sell only British designed and made products – and it can be hard to find them! But when we do find them, their work is always fabulous – in looks and quality – and their passion! Let’s keep flying the flag!

    • Completely agree Liz (love your website btw).

      When I was building up the Kimwetu directory I searched for UK-made products and then double-checked that it explicitly said that the products were made in the UK. Many were “based in the UK” or “designed in the UK” but manufactured abroad. However, just as many manufactured in the UK but I had to dig really deep within the website to find a statement to that effect. I had to email some companies and was surprised by the number that did manufacture in the UK but didn’t think to mention it! I’ve spent a lot of time living abroad and noticed that countries in Europe really do promote their own-made products better than we do.

      Regarding the ceramics industry – Sue Pryke on the Make it British website has written an excellent article on the re-emergence of this industry in the UK.

  5. You can buy Steelite crockery through Nisbets, a catering supplier. Prices are before VAT as they supply wholesale but will sell to everyone. Just remember they will add VAT to the price quoted :


    I have bought some good value cookery equipment from them over the years.

  6. Steelite International products are 100% Made in Britain and something we are extremely proud of. However as we are very British we also forget to shout this from the rooftops and agree that is it a missed opportunity. Thank you all for your comments and we will look to rectify this via our websites for both commerical and domestic use.

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