THE HISTORY OF WEDGWOOD - A JOURNEY THROUGH THE CERAMIC AGES
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011
The Wedgwood Museum, located in the heart of the pottery district in Stoke-on-Trent, offers a fascinating insight into the forward-thinking entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood I. At the museum, you are taken on a journey into the past with a glimpse of the company Josiah founded over 200 years ago. You delve into the social history of the era, look at how he impacted the course of the industrial revolution through his role as a reformer, and obtain an understanding of the skills, artistry and ingenuity pioneered by the man himself.
The changing face of pottery
In the 1740’s/50’s, earthenware was common in the rural regions outside London, but pre-Wedgwood it was still very basic. Fast forward a decade or so - and with the advent of Josiah Wedgwood - we start to see style and design coming to the forefront of ceramics.
Josiah became known for his glazes; he often took weeks trying to achieve the exact colour and it was this attention to detail that began to distinguish his work from anything else out there on the market. Josiah developed techniques such as ‘transfer printing,’ which included placing multiple prints on ceramics, leading to the birth of the dinner service. Later, Josiah’s cream-coloured earthenware was also given royal approval by the Queen and renamed ‘Queen’s Ware.’ He cleverly used this association as a selling point for the more basic day-to-day line, similar to diffusion lines of today.
In time, Josiah’s experimentation with glazes, colours and enamels became more sophisticated and he was able to respond to decorative trends. He was moving pottery away from the functional and into the sophisticated. Josiah was also developing relationships with designers and artists who produced collections for him, a similar ethos to the Jasper Conran at Wedgwood collection of today. He also produced jewellery such as necklaces, bracelets, hairpins and cameos brooches.
Wedgwood the trailblazer:
A modern day business Ceramics started out as a household industry, but Josiah brought it out of the home and into purpose-built locations or factories. After opening a factory called ‘Etruria Works’ in Stoke-on-Trent in the late 1760’s and as a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal – a key part of the industrial revolution - Josiah was credited with the industrialization of the manufacture of pottery. Josiah’s business partnership with Thomas Bentley also became one of the most important partnerships of the industrial revolution.
Josiah was a self-made man and had the skills and ability to create a product. Thomas was the society man; he knew people and understood how to sell a product and where to place it. Thomas spearheaded the opening of a showroom in London, oversaw selling into international markets and advertised the brand in national newspapers. Wedgwood was a new type of company and the duo were decades ahead of their time.
Wedgwood in the modern day
In the early 1800’s ceramic moved into fine bone china, noticeable for its brilliant white colour and delicate but sturdy appearance. Josiah Spode originally developed the material in the late 1700’s, but bone china quickly proved to be highly popular leading to other pottery manufacturers introducing it. Fine bone china remains the calling card for the Wedgwood ceramics business today.
Top 5 Wedgwood Facts:
• Josiah Wedgwood I was the Grandfather of scientist Charles Darwin.
• Josiah Wedgwood I re-created the iconic ‘Portland Vase’ after four years of painstaking work.
• During the industrial revolution main meals moved from lunchtime to evening and the dinner table was lit by candle light. Plates and crockery were given a thin metallic edge to light-up the dinner service, a style that is still used today.
• Josiah Wedgwood’s son John was the founder of the Royal Horticultural Society.
• Today, The Wedgwood Museum contains over 15,000 historical pieces. Jasper Conran at Wedgwood Collection