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In the North Stafford Hotel's restaurant, diners turn over their plates to note the manufacturer's name and design. Display cases in the hotel lobby and hallways are filled with the finest china, crystal and porcelain. Soap dishes and toiletries tray in my bedroom are Royal Doulton, while below my window a larger-than-life statue is of Josiah Wedgwood, generally acknowledged as "father of English potters."

Welcome to Stoke-on-Trent, where some of Britain's most respected names in chinaware originated, and pottery tours are now big business ...

Now, Burslem, Longton, Tunstall, Stoke, Hanley and Fenton are merged as Stoke-on-Trent, a modern city in which visitors are invited to "Do China in a Day," to "Get all fired up in our town," and "save pots of money by shopping locally."

Nineteenth-century potbanks, as the potteries were then known, disappeared along with child labour. Today's factories are modern, well lit and dust free. Several conduct tours for groups and individuals. Wedgwood's Exhibition Centre has artists demonstrating their work, a film presentation and a museum displaying some of the company's earliest wares.

The Royal Doulton Group has 13 factories, of which five offer public tours. I spent the best part of a day in their Minton and Royal Doulton plants. Next day I hopped over to Barlaston where Wedgwood occupies a park-like estate. I left Stoke feeling I knew my china ...

Royal Doulton's museum has samples of the company's many lines, from early ginger beer bottles and sanitary wares that provided funding for more frivolous and decorative pieces. Noke's character jugs here are in different sizes. Since the 1800s, designs for children and commemorative wares which celebrate royal events have been immensely popular. Collectors are so keen an international club and a quarterly magazine offers special items to add to their collections.

IF YOU GO: Stoke-on-Trent is 158 miles (255km) north of London via M1 and M6. In Stoke a hop-on-and-off bus service called the China Link service operates between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Saturday, with stops at all the area's places of interest It operates from Easter to Christmas.

TRAVELLER'S TIPS: Some factory tours do not accept children under 14 years. Because these are working factories you will be walking on uneven floors and climbing stairs, so sturdy shoes are essential. Discontinued lines are well priced at factory shops. VAT rebate on a set of dishes usually pays packing and shipping costs.