A Family of Potters - Ill-health a Blessing in Disguise - Wedgwood's First Essays in China Manufacturing - Tortoiseshell and Cauliflower Ware - "Pie-Crust" Ware - Queen's Ware and its Popularity - The Trent and Mersey Canal Inaugurated by Wedgwood's Efforts - Etruria, its
Josiah Wedgwood came of a race of potters, a fact to which a puzzle-jug preserved in the South Kensington Museum bears testimony.
This jug is signed "John Wedg-wood,". and is dated 1691. It was made by one John Wedgwood, great-uncle of Josiah and grandson of Gilbert Wedgwood, who was established as a potter in Burslem early in the seventeenth century.
The youngest of a family of thirteen, Josiah was born in 1730, and in 1739, upon the death of his father, he left school at the tender age of nine. He was then apprenticed for five years to his brother, as a " thrower," at the Churchyard Pottery, and continued this hard and laborious work until the age of fourteen, when he had an attack of that terrible scourge, smallpox.
This illness altered the course of Wedgwood's life, for, as Mr. Gladstone has told us, "the dregs of the disease settling in his leg," he was no longer fit for hard, manual labour, and the change from this to more sedentary occupation during many years of suffering enabled him to turn his mind to the more artistic possibilities of his trade.
Indeed, it was to his sufferings that in after life Wedgwood attributed much of his success. From the time of his illness until the limb was amputated twenty years later, he was barely free from pain, but he made use of periods of enforced inaction to solve problems and devise new bodies and forms of decoration, and by his patience and dogged perseverance, built for himself a monument of enduring fame.
Under his father's will a sum of £20 was paid to Wedgwood when he came of age, and with this he started as a potter on his own account at Stoke-upon-trent. At first he seems to have manufactured many of the wares made by most of the Staffordshire potters of the day, mottled ware and tortoise-shell ware being the best known. These he used for teapots, plates and dishes, jugs, sauceboats, etc., and for knife and fork handles, which he made for the cutlers of Birmingham and Sheffield, and shaped in various rustic devices. The colour was a mottling of green, brown, yellow, and a brownish purple, and knives and forks with these handles may still be picked up in country districts.
From the South Kensington Museum
After two years, Wedgwood became a partner with Thomas Whieldon, a man who had already made a reputation for himself as a potter, and about whom there will be more to be said in a later article. There are still in existence some amusing records of this partnership. It seems that the workmen employed were engaged from " Martimas to
Martimas." Wedgwood and Whieldon did not tie themselves down to mere money payments for wages, and it is recorded that a workman whose wages amounted to two shillings a week received in addition "an old pair of stockings, or something." Stockings would seem to have been a favourite addition, but it is not recorded that these were ever new.
Another employee was given "a shirt at sixteen pence a yard." The great Josiah Spode, head and founder of the world-renowned firm of that name, worked for Wedgwood as a young man at a wage of "two shillings threepence" the week, and "two shillings sixpence if he deserves it!"
In 1759 Josiah Wedgwood established a business for himself in premises belonging to his cousins, John and Thomas Wedgwood. This, of course, was on a very small scale, but the beauty and quality of his wares soon secured for them popularity, and in nine years he had amassed a sufficient fortune to enable him to found a large factory, and to build for himself a mansion which, even in these days, standing as it does in the dingy surroundings of a smoke-begrimed atmosphere, has an air of faded magnificence.
Very few specimens of Wedgwood's early wares can be identified to-day. Amongst these were tiles in relief for fireplaces, and agate and tortoiseshell ware, and we have his own authority for the statement that the and Whieldon made salt-glaze ware. In 1754 he had invented a ware covered with a fine green enamel, which brought him fame. It was used for many years for dessert services, in which the decoration took the form of fruit, leaves, and flowers, moulded in low relief, and entirely covered with the enamel.
Charlotte it was called " Queen's Ware"
"Cauliflower" was another ware which enjoyed popularity. This consisted of pieces made in the form and colours of the cauliflower, and was used principally for tea-pots, jugs, covered bowls, and tureens. Silver, copper, and gold lustre were also in use at the factory, pieces of Wedgwood lustre being of lighter and finer texture than the majority of pieces made in those early days by other potters. Particularly pleasing are those specimens of silver and white lustre which bear his name, and which may be seen and admired in the museums of Hanley, Burslem, and Stoke-upon-trent.
The fashion for making articles for domestic use in the form of fruit and vegetables was very popular, and many pieces in the shape of apples, pears, melons, cauliflowers, bundles of asparagus, artichokes, etc., are still preserved in these museums. Perhaps the most interesting and deceiving imitation which has been handed down to us is Wedgwood's "pie-crust ware," which was copied and put to such good use by his successors. In the " Life of George Brummell," we may read that in July, 1800, "the scarcity was so great that the consumption of flour for pastry was prohibited in the Royal household, rice being used instead; the distillers left off malting, hackney coach fares were raised twenty-five per cent., and Wedgwood made dishes to represent pie-crust."
Three beautiful examples of the famous jasper ware for which Wedgwood is renowned. The two vases and covers are lilac in ground with reliefs in white. The amphora in the centre bears classical figures in white on a black ground
From the loan collection of Sir John Hippisley, Bart., in the South Kensington Museum
Josiah Wedgwood was not a great chemist in the ordinary acceptation of the term to-day, but, as his business increased, he spared no pains to improve his wares. He was indefatigable in experiment, trying all and every recipe gathered from many quarters for bodies, glazes and colours, and altering his own materials or modifying their proportions to suit one or another.
Thus, at length, in 1761, he perfected his well-known cream ware. This was very fine and extremely light in texture, and was covered with a cream-coloured glaze. So pleased was Wedgwood with his success that he ventured to make and present to Queen Charlotte a little bedroom breakfast set at the time of the birth of one of the Royal children.
The Queen was greatly delighted, and gave an order for a service, at the same time granting permission for the ware to be called "Queen's Ware." It is said that this ware was so thin and light and so beautifully modelled that many dozens of plates could be piled up, and these fitted one into another so perfectly that there was no fear of their falling.
Made alike for decorative and useful purposes, this beautiful faience became the rage not only in England but upon the Continent, where, we are told, it was imported in "hundreds of dozens and thousands of dozens." It bid fair to ruin the French and German potter, and a French traveller remarked that "from Calais to St. Petersburg one was served at every inn with Wedgwood ware."
The colour of the glaze varied from a cream to a delicate primrose tint, and the decoration took the form of painting, moulding and transfer printing. Borders of tiny flowers in wreaths or sprigs, used conventionally as borders or as covering for almost the entire surface, may be found upon this ware, also a pink lustre derived from gold.
Some pieces had moulded and pierced basket borders, and these were frequently used upon pieces decorated with transfer printing, which was a favourite form of ornamentation. Waggon-loads of Queen's Ware were sent every fortnight to Liverpool, there to be printed by Messrs. Sadler & Green, the colours used being black, puce, green, brown, and pink.
It is said that, owing to the bad state of the roads, hundreds of pieces were broken, and the loss thus sustained induced Wedgwood to turn his attention to the establishment of some better mode of transport, and it was largely owing to his efforts that the Trent and Mersey Canal was commenced, which so greatly facilitated transport between the Staffordshire potteries and the port of Liverpool. He was also a very strong advocate for the abolition of the slave trade, and interested himself in many of the great movements of his day.
In 1768, Wedgwood took into partnership Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant. Bentley was a man of great artistic taste, good education, and fine manners, and at first his. part of the business comprised only its ornamental side. The village and factory established by Wedgwood in 1769 was called by him Etruria, a name by which the works are still known, and a branch was established in London, where a large and growing business sprang up, and where Thomas Bentley eventually became manager.