Palace puts pot factory in spin

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ROYAL frenzy has gripped an old bottle factory in Stoke-on- Trent since Buckingham Palace was opened to tourists, writes Marianne Macdonald.

The building, headquarters of a tiny Staffordshire pottery, Royal Crown Duchy, has been humming with activity since the company won an order worth pounds 200,000 for souvenirs for the palace gift-shop.

The 14-strong staff of lithographers, gilders, packers and office workers are producing 25,000 china pieces, priced between pounds 8 and pounds 35, all decorated with a pattern inspired by brocade in the white drawing room of Buckingham Palace.

The unexpected success of sales is expected to mean a second order for the four-year-old firm. 'At the end of the first day the Palace opened, it was clear they had been very conservative in their order. The following day we had phone calls almost hourly,' said Caroline Milne, the sales director.

Activity is concentrated in a small room where an all-

woman team churns out 50 pill-boxes, 40 mugs, 12 cache- pots (flowerpot containers) and 10 cups and saucers an hour, applying transfers and gilding to each piece by hand as the local radio station blares pop music.

Debbie Leigh, 28, of Stoke, is the 'selector', checking the quality of each piece. 'We produced commemorative ware for the Queen's 40th anniversary, but when we got the Buckingham Palace order we couldn't believe it. We thought it would go to a bigger firm,' she said. 'We've been coming in from 6am and we may start working Sundays.'

More than 40,000 people visited Buckingham Palace in the first week after it opened on 7 August. They spent pounds 269,000 on souvenirs - an average of pounds 6.72 each.

(Photograph omitted)