Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Wedgwood Institute Burslem

1869 Brick with highly decorated terracotta facade. Built as a library and school for arts and sciences. Brick with terracotta dressings under plain tiled roof. Rich ornamented facade depicting the months of the year, above, mosaic signs of the zodiac. 10 terracotta bass reliefs depict processes in manufacture of pottery designed by M.H. Blanchard or Rowland Morris. Arched entrance surmounted by a bust of Josiah Wedgwood.

Josiah Wedgwood, 'The Father of English Potters' was born on 12th July 1730, in Burslem. He was the youngest of thirteen children of the potter Thomas Wedgwood who died in 1737 (or 1739). When Josiah was nine he left school and was apprenticed to an older brother to be a "thrower and handler" at the family pottery at Churchyard Works. The thrower's skill was considered to be the most highly rated of all the potters' and only those apprentices expected to become master potters would be taken on.

At the age of eleven Josiah suffered from smallpox, and unable to work he instead read and researched the craft of pottery. This fired his imagination to the possibilities ahead.


Photoshoot diary

His elder brother refused Josiah a partnership so he went first to John Harrison and then in 1754 into partnership with Thomas Whieldon in Fenton. Here he was encouraged to experiment with all aspects of pottery. On 1st May 1759 he started his own business at Ivy Works in Burslem leased to him by two relatives and then at the Brick House Works (later demolished and currently the site of the Wedgwood Institute). In 1764 Josiah married Sarah (Sally) a distant cousin and daughter of a prosperous cheese merchant. With her sizable dowry he was able to expand the business. Their's was a happy marriage. They had eight children, and the first child, Susannah, became the mother of Charles Darwin.

In 1768 as a result of his childhood smallpox, Wedgwood had a leg amputated.

Wedgwood invented what was later known as green glaze. He also patented the cream coloured pottery known as Queen's Ware due to its popularity with the then Queen Charlotte. (He was to have many important customers, for example Empress Catherine II of Russia ordered 952 pieces in 1774, known as the Frog Service).

Along with his friend Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood began producing ornamental vases in 1767. Bentley was a travelled, cultured and well connected man and is credited with influencing the products in terms of fashion and taste. Wedgwood bought the Ridgehouse Estate in 1766 for about £3000. This land lay directly on the projected path of the Trent and Mersey Canal. On one side of the canal he built his family a large house, Etruria Hall, and on the other a model factory which opened in 1769. His architect was Joseph Pickford and the motto of the works was Artes Etruriae Renascuntur (the arts of Etruria are reborn). Etruria was the area in west central Italy where the early Etruscan civilization grew between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. The Etruscans made highly refined arts and crafts; valuable Etruscan pottery was often black or red with black figures. Wedgwood is said to have been influenced by the ancient pottery collected by Sir William Hamilton in Italy, and Bentley had completed a Grand Tour when he was younger.

In the factory all stages of production were split up and each part was allocated to a specialist worker. Wedgwood also built a 'village' where the workers and their families lived in relatively good conditions, and work conditions in the factory compared very favourably to anywhere in Europe at that time. He also instigated a form of sick benefit scheme.

Many famous artists worked for Wedgwood and Bentley, including William Blake, George Stubbs and John Flaxman.

In 1775 Wedgwood perfected the world famous Jasper ware.

Wedgwood also became the first English firm to perfect fine bone china, which was to be extremely profitable.

Another product of Wedgwood's forward thinking was the Trent and Mersey Canal. He realised how important canal transport was to develop the industry; transporting pots by road led to significant losses. Together with the Duke of Bridgewater and the engineer James Brindley it was completed in 1777. Wedgwood was now able to bring Cornish clay to Etruria, and to take the finished goods to Liverpool or Hull. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society 1783 mainly for inventing a 'pyrometer' to measure oven temperatures.

Concerned with political and social reform Wedgwood became a Unitarian and supported universal male suffrage, parliamentary reform and the abolition of slavery.

In 1780 when Bentley died, Wedgwood asked another friend, Erasmus Darwin to help him. Darwin's son would marry Susannah, Wedgwood's eldest daughter.

Josiah Wedgwood died on 3rd January 1795 having achieved much. A man of great foresight, and an outstanding scientist, artist and engineer, it was nevertheless his phenomenal commercial skills that meant he left behind a thriving business and having amassed a fortune for his children. His descendants have also been prolific in making significant contributions to a host of fields. Apart from Charles Darwin, there was John Wedgwood (1766-1884) one of the founders of the Royal Horticultural Society, at least ten Fellows of the Royal Society, several artists and poets including composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The works at Etruria suffered from subsidence due to mining and most of the factory was demolished. The Hall, in 2009, remains as part of the Moat House Hotel.

Cultural MasterplanExhibitionBlank for nowCivic Works

© Copyright 2009