If you are thinking blue porcelain with white motifs when you think of Wedgwood then its time to think again. There is just so much more to know!
Josiah Wedgwood – what of the man?
Josiah Wedgwood (1730 to 1795) was not the first potter in his family but he was the most successful. He was innovative, diligent, an incredibly successful businessman and probably a bit of a perfectionist.
Josiah also had a clear social conscience. He understood that in treating his workers well, they would repay him with loyalty and hard work. Both he and his business partner, Thomas Bentley, were against slavery and used their pottery to actively campaign against it
Wedgwood invented the pyrometer, a device used for measuring the temperature inside a kiln, an accomplishment that earned him an invitation to The Royal Society
He was a very astute businessman, creating efficiencies within the factory that allowed costs to be cut and effectively led to the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery
He was also a marketing genius of his time, pioneering direct mail, money back guarantees, illustrated catalogues and travelling salesmen, free delivery and ‘buy one get one free’.
His early customers included Queen Charlotte, queen to George III which sealed his reputation as a producer of the highest quality porcelain. What he did so well, though, was to also produce a cheaper version that he could sell to the aspiring middle classes.
Wedgwood and some of his business friends commissioned the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal. Having inside knowledge as to its route, Wedgwood then built his factory right alongside it. There were certainly fewer breakages when transporting the goods by water rather than by packhorse!
Not only was Josiah Wedgwood a remarkable individual but his heirs include some amazing characters too;
His youngest son, Thomas, was a scientist and, arguably, has a right to be called the first photographer. Thomas discovered how light reacts with certain chemicals to create an image. Unfortunately, he never learned how to ‘fix’ the image;
Wedgwood’s eldest son, John, was very interested in botany and founded what was to later become the Royal Horticultural Society;
Josiah’s daughter, Susannah, married Robert Darwin. Their son was Charles Darwin!
The great-granddaughter of Josiah and niece of Charles Darwin gave birth to Ralph Vaughan Williams, the composer.
Wedgwood remained a family run business for more than 200 years, until the late 1960s.
What a family!
We cannot talk about Wedgwood without a brief encounter with jasperware, that iconic unglazed, coloured stoneware with white figures in relief, pressed on to its surface.
It took three thousand experiments before Wedgwood was, at last, happy with his efforts to perfect the porcelain. You can see just a few of the attempts, meticulously catalogued, in the Museum today.
Jasperware is named after the natural stone jasper, which it resembles in its hardness after firing. The blue actually comes from cobalt oxide and the colour only comes out after firing.
Wandering around the Museum, you see very little of the famous jasperware. At this point, you realise how diverse the product ranges have been over the years.
The company’s fortunes have fluctuated in recent decades but are now assured. By selling off part of the estate for housing, £34m has been invested in the business, new museum and visitors centre. The future looks rosy.
Since the 18th century, the Wedgwood family have been collecting samples of their work and lives. The collection of 80,000 works of art, ceramics, manuscripts, letters and photographs are now owned by the V&A and on long-term loan to the site near Stoke-on-Trent. A small part of the collection is beautifully displayed in the Museum. Entry to the museum is free.
At the fabulous new visitors’ centre, you are also able to take a factory tour and talk to the people who work there. It’s also possible to have a go at ‘throwing’ a pot (great fun!). You can create a design for an item of porcelain (which can be transferred on to the real thing and posted home to you).
There’s also a fabulous shop which is inspirational to browse around, a factory outlet and restaurant. Don’t miss out the beautiful tea room and conservatory, which serves the most delicious afternoon teas (all served on stunning Wedgwood china, of course).
A fun, informative and very indulgent day out!
Approx 33 miles from the cottages, an hours drive
World of Wedgwood