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Tilsley's Almanack for Burslem & District - 1875

 

 

 

Advert from Tilsley's Commercial Advertiser for Burslem - 1875
Advert from Tilsley's Commercial Advertiser for Burslem - 1875

George Lander, Tallow Chandler, Massey's Square, Burslem
Frank Tilsley, Bookseller, Stationer, Printer and Music Dealer, Market Place, Burslem

 


 

 article from the 1875 'Tilsley's Commercial Advertiser for Burslem'.....

 

JOSIAH WEDGWOOD.

A Century and a half ago, Burslem, which now reckons its population by thousands, was a village from which all traces of rustic life had not yet disappeared. The Maypole then stood where now stands the Town Hall. The village then lay in the centre of the district known as the Staffordshire Potteries, and even then turned out Pottery excellent in form and workmanship for the period.

Amongst the local worthies of Burslem, living by the joint fruits of the soil and of manufactures, were the Wedgwoods. They originally came from Wedgwood, in the parish of Wolstanton, the same village,' it may be remarked, where Brindley the engineer was married and buried. Mention is found of the family as Wedgwood or Weggewood, in the reign of Edward 3rd, and later, (but it is uncertain when) they became possessed of considerable property at Burslem by the marriage of Gilbert Wedgwood with Margaret, daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Burslem, of that place.

JOSIAH WEDGWOOD, the subject of this short biography, was a descendant of this marriage, being born at Burslem in 1780, the youngest of thirteen children of Thomas and Mary Wedgwood Already the name was well known in connection with the art of pottery, and one branch of the family had settled at Yearsley, in Yorkshire, where they were famed for the excellency of their wares, and the name is still not extinct in that district; but it is with the Staffordshire Potteries that the name of Wedgwood will for ever be connected.

The young Josiah was born at the pot works of his father, adjoining the churchyard of Burslem, but the house in which the family resided has long since been removed to make way for buildings of more modern date. While young, we are told, he was sent to a school at Newcastle, kept by a Mr. Blunt, having previously learnt his letters and a little preparatory knowledge at a dame's school nearer home. There he had the character of being intelligent and thoughtful, fonder of reading and more inclined to reflection than indulgence in the noisy games of his school-mates. At nine years of age he had the misfortune to lose his father, and at fourteen we find him apprenticed to his brother Thomas, who had succeeded to his father's business: it will thus be seen that it is but a popular fallacy which relates that Josiah's father was but a poor potter, barely able to make a living at his trade. 

Previously to his apprenticeship he had been employed at his brother's works, and at the age of twelve could " throw " sufficiently well to take an active share in that department of the work. About tins time he was struck down by a severe attack of small pox, from which he only recovered to find his right knee so stiffened and numbed that he had to walk on crutches, and it was not for some time that he was enabled to dispense with them. For some time after his apprenticeship expired he was obliged to sit at his work with his leg on a stool before him. At last, when he was 38 years of age, he had his leg amputated, for the small pox had left a humour in it; and after this operation he enjoyed a tolerable amount of physical strength and activity. The mouths during which he was confined to his bed, and to his room, he had not failed to turn to good account, and make subservient to his future career. His illness had necessarily tended to drive his mind inwards, and led him to reflect deeply upon the secrets of his art, on which he had doubtless the (inner mental hold from the fact that his hands were unemployed. 

Before his apprenticeship expired he had to abandon his thrower's bench, and turn his attention to other branches of the trade, and this led to important consequences in his after career. His apprenticeship expired in 1749, and after remaining for some time with his brother, who appears to have been neither anxious nor willing to take him into business, Josiah "began life" at Stoke-on-Trent on his own account with a capital of some twenty pounds to start with. For two or three years he confined his attention chiefly to making knife handles of mottled earthenware, which he sold to the manufacturers of Birmingham and Sheffield, but in 1752 he entered into partnership with John Harrison, of Stoke. Harrison was a potter with some capital, and the alliance seemed to augur well for both, the one finding money, the other brains to conduct their business. 

The chief productions of the new firm seem to have been agate and other knife hafts, and the ordinary kind of ware then most in demand. Two years later there was an addition to the firm in the person of Thomas Wheeldon, the most eminent potter of the day, with whom Wedgwood remained in partnership live years, Harrison having in the meantime retired. Wedgwood now commenced to work at Fenton Low in conjunction with Wheeldon. One of his first productions was a new green ware, which had the smoothness and brilliancy of glass, and was soon extensively used for dessert services, &c. These goods were generally admired both for their beauty and their cheapness. Indeed the manufactures of the firm during the five years of the alliance were remarkably good both in quality and form, and being now very scarce are highly prized by collectors. 

At the expiration of the term of partnership agreed upon, namely five years, Mr. Wheeldon, who did not care to embark in the "new-Fangled'' improvements of his enterprising partner, withdrew from the concern, and Josiah Wedgwood returned to Burslem, where at the age of twenty-nine he established himself in business on his own account, occupying the "Ivy House" which he rented for 10 a year, from his cousins John and Thomas Wedgwood. Here, altogether untrammelled, and at liberty to work out his own views, he set himself earnestly to carry out those improvements which he had so long had at heart, lie was so rapidly successful that he found it necessary to extend his operations, and he entered on another pot works, known as the " Bell " Bank, from the work people being summoned to work by the sounding of a bell. He now married and brought to the Brick House Works his future friend and companion for life.

In spite of far from the best of health, he made it now a rule to superintend personally the production of almost every article, and leaving to others the manufacture of the ordinary wares, he resolved to devote himself to a more ornamental class of productions, such as flower and other vases, with gilt and coloured foliage, mouldings and handles, medallions and similar articles. He also designed some tea services, in which the different pieces were formed and coloured to represent various fruits and vegetables, and these novelties took so well, that he soon had for them an abundant sale. 

He had no idea of protecting himself by patents, and consequently these designs and inventions like all his others were speedily caught up by the other potters of the place, and became part of the trade of the district. At the Ivy House and Bell Works Wedgwood devoted himself to the improvement of the cream ware which was up to the time the chief product of the district; what was wanted was a superior description of goods suited to the tables of the upper classes, and which should subsequently reach those of the middle classes. In his attempts to attain this object, kiln after kiln was pulled down to remedy some defect or effect some improvement, and from this cause and the destruction of spoiled ware his losses at this period were very heavy. He often spent the whole day beside his men, and instructed them individually, and frequently made the first pattern of each original piece himself. In addition to these labours he gave considerably of his time to the improvement of green glazed ware, agate knife handles, snuff boxes, streaked and perforated dessert ware, and other substitutes for the foreign manufactures then largely imported by the East India Company, and at length, after repeated failures, he produced as perfect an imitation of oriental porcelain as had ever been attained by the Delft Potters.

He had many difficulties to contend against, and his whole life would seem to have been one continual process of initiation. It was not enough for him that he must tread the old paths of his predecessors. He must create new wants, and having created them, must supply them. He had to open up new markets for new goods, and to supply these markets had to turn his attention to the construction of new roads and canals for transport. In this latter agitation, he had met with much opposition from the inhabitants of the towns through which the old routes lay, but knowing that what he wanted must come about, he held to his position and was successful. This is the secret of his connection with the proposal of his friend and partner, Bentley, to join the rivers Trent and Mersey by a navigable canal. 

As an inland manufacturer, Wedgwood foresaw that such scheme would cheapen the transit of both raw material and manufactured goods, and Bentley, as a member of the Liverpool Corporation, was equally impressed with the importance of such a plan for increasing the trade of his native town. They accordingly took into their confidence Brindley and Smeaton, the Engineers, and subsequently published a pamphlet advocating their scheme, and urging its necessity, and it was happily warmly taken up by Lord Gower and other influential people. After a long and patient struggle, the scheme was taken up by the Duke of Bridgwater, and the Bill for uniting the Grand Trunk and Bridgwater Canals became law. From then, the fortunes of the Staffordshire Potteries, aw such, were made. Aided by the internal water communication, the wares could now be sent to a ready market, safely and cheaply, and without the vexatious delays and frequent accidents which would often occur as they were carried on the backs of pack horses along the old bridle paths. In this consequent success, Wedgwood had of course a large share, and he now bought for some 3000, an estate near Burslem, which he named Etruria, in acknowledgment of the debt due from modern potters to those of ancient Tuscany. As is well known, Etruria has since become a large, thriving and important district, contributing largely to the prosperity of the trades of this part of the country. 

As Wedgwood grew on to old age, he was honored and respected, not only by his own family, but throughout the whole of the country, and even abroad his worth was known and recognized. Down to nearly the last few months of his busy life, he was active in the discharge of his duties, and few men could look back to a life spent more usefully, or more honourably, lie was seized with his last illness at the close of the year 1794, and died on the 3rd of January, in the following year, at the age of 64.

The works of such men as Josiah Wedgwood live after them, pointing us to imitate them. As a modern writer says "There is nothing for which we pay so dearly as our victories and acquisitions by the sword ; but the man who takes the clay from under our feet, and makes out of it a means, not of destruction, but of existence for thousands of his fellow creatures, is a benefactor to his race, about whom there can be no manner of doubt. . .A new province, even if times permitted such an acquisition, might well be less important than a new trade, and to develop the internal resources of a country is a work of more real and actual importance than any mere addition to her wealth and extent."

We have not had space to follow Wedgwood through all the gradations by which he rose to fame, and made his name literally a household word. We will close this short memoir with an anecdote, illustrative in part of the character of the man. On one occasion he was summoned to Buckingham Palace, and arriving there on a sunny spring morning, he was ushered into the royal presence. 

The Queen with her attendants sat beneath an unshaded window, and the " Queen's Potter " advancing, made obeisance and displayed the ware he had brought. But as her Majesty stood examining some exquisite specimens of art, the sun's power increased, and its rays, falling on her face, caused obvious annoyance. The possible etiquette was to have mentioned the matter to one of the unobservant ladies in attendance, who in return would have summoned a page or footman. But Wedgwood thought only of removing the intruding glare, and that he did speedily. He simply walked to the window and drew down the blind. The Queen, aware in an instant of the relief and its cause, looked up from the object she was examining and thanked him, remarking to her ladies, "Mr. Wedgwood, you see, is an accomplished courtier." This was a courtesy learnt in the school of nature, where he had so often studied, and he would have shown it as much to the peasant as to the Queen, his patron.

1875

 


 


contents: 2010 adverts