We were honoured to welcome war heroes from across Stoke-on-Trent to our factory for a closer look at the thousands of poppies being hand-made for a spectacular tribute at the Tower of London.
Members of the local branch of the Normandy Veterans Association visited our Tunstall headquarters to see the process that goes into manufacturing the ceramic flowers and meet some of the makers behind the extraordinary work.
The veterans will also embark on a special trip on the Virgin Hero ‘Poppy’ train from Stoke-on-Trent to London later this week, where they will see the incredible display at the Tower and plant their own poppies, as well as attend a special Normandy memorial ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
The evolving art installation is called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, and will fill the Tower of London’s famous moat with 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for every fallen hero from the First World War. Derby-based ceramic artist Paul Cummins, the man behind the unique tribute, enlisted the help of skilled workers at Johnson Tiles to assist with making the poppies to ensure that each one is finished and in place before Remembrance Day on 11 November.
Win Haddrell, Secretary and Treasurer of the Stoke branch of the Normandy Veterans Association, said: “When I was told about the poppies project I thought, ‘what a lovely idea’. I asked if we could visit to see the poppies being made before we go to London to see the end result, so that we will have seen the beginning and the end.
“We were delighted with the way we were treated on our visit to the factory, everything went absolutely superbly. It was lovely to meet the makers, they were very friendly and helpful, and talked us through the process.
“I was even allowed to make a poppy, but I don’t know how it will turn out!”
Harry Foster, Specialist Products Manager at Johnson Tiles, said it was an honour to welcome local veterans and show them how the poppies were made.
“It’s a very traditional, skilled method of making, mirroring the processes that would have been used during the First World War. We have a great team here within Johnson Tiles, all working hard to make this a success.
“Each and every poppy made is unique, every maker creates each poppy differently with complete individuality, which is wonderful because of what each poppy represents.
“We are truly honoured to be involved in this project, each and every one of us is proud to be making such a significant contribution to the installation.”
A team of 50 ceramic specialists has been crafting tens of thousands of poppies at the Johnson Tiles factory over the past few months.
Making the poppies is a three-day, labour-intensive process, which begins with clay processing to produce slabs. Flower templates are then cut from the slab, with the two layers formed into the poppy shape. Each poppy is dried for a minimum of six hours in a cabinet dryer and then fired in the kiln. The poppies are ‘biscuit fired’ and then hand-dipped and re-fired to high temperature before being dispatched to Paul Cummins’ studio in Derby.
You can view more of our photos from the Normandy veterans visit to our Tunstall factory on our Facebook page here.