Externalising the Archive

About this project

Externalising the Archive is a multimedia installation which re-evaluates ‘heritage at risk’ retained at the former Spode Works, Stoke-on-Trent.

Out of an estimated 70,000 production moulds, from c.1850 to 2008 - when the Spode factory ceased production, less than 5% are earmarked for retention. The vast majority of more recent moulds - generally regarded to have ‘little historic value,’ face impending disposal as the site undergoes regeneration. Such by-products are rarely valued or preserved for posterity; but with no inventory, these tools of mass production represent an ‘untapped’ archive that illuminates both technological developments and stylistic change. The project questioned established criteria and age as arbitrary determinants of cultural value, as these objects equally constitute an important aspect of industrial history.

On the site of Spode’s former Jubilee kiln a significant volume of contemporary moulds (c 2005-2008) were installed in the open environment. Exposed to the elements and potential theft, this deliberate provocation aimed to encourage discourse as regards their future protection. Archive film recorded at Spode c2004 flanked this architectonic installation, revealing the complexities of model, mould-making and casting, in a further attempt to valorise these heritage assets by exposing the human dexterity and material knowledge they embody. Alongside this, a feasibility study implemented the 3D scanning and photogrammetry of a selection mould typologies and shapes to create digital surrogates in the event of the disposal of this archive. Four mould environments themselves were also digitised, enabling the public to navigate previously inaccessible areas of the former factory through both touch screen and virtual reality technology to raise greater public awareness of the scale of the issue. Externalising the Archive has subsequently influenced Stoke-on-Trent City Archaeology Service’s perspective on the mould survey methodology.

Notably, our criteria for determining the significance of the moulds was modified to facilitate a broader appreciation of artistic value and to incorporate the notion that examples could represent aspects of ‘intangible’, cultural heritage. As a result of this shift in approach, we more than doubled the number of moulds that were earmarked for retention on site’.

You can read more on the British Ceramics Biennial website.

Lead researcher

Professor Neil Brownsword


Prof. Brownsword is an artist, researcher and educator. His research into the legacy of deindustrialisation in relation to North Staffordshire's ceramic industry, has had national and international cultural impact.

Neil's profile

Associated researcher

David Edwards

Course Director

Dave is an experienced technical artist and academic. He teaches on many of the earlier levels of the Games Art degree, using his expertise in 3D character and environment art, 3D scripting, and level design in the Unreal Engine.

David's profile

Collaborators and funding

In collaboration with the Spode Museum Trust, British Ceramics Biennial, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, m2 Gallery, University of Bergen and University of Brighton.

Funding support from Arts Council England.


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