18th Century Ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent

Josiah Wedgwood

By 1700 many of the potteries elsewhere in the Midlands had ceased production. Since Stoke-on-Trent's supply of pots exceeded the demand of nearby markets, potters here developed a network of merchants who distributed and sold their wares over a large area.

 

Low wages and living costs meant that pots could be produced more cheaply than in other areas. Of the pottery-making centres in the country, Stoke-on-Trent alone continued its growth to become the only industrial area in Britain to become known by the name of its principal trade - The Potteries.

 

By 1740, the pottery industry was truly established in Stoke-on-Trent, but the local clays that could be found in the area were not favoured by potters because they fired red - potters wanted white clays that were as similar as possible to the china from the Far East.

 

The raw materials of the craft were sought further and further afield to supply the pottery industry. White burning clays from Dorset had begun to be brought into Stoke-on-Trent around 1720 and shipmets from Devon followed in the next 20 years, but it was not until after 1796 that china clay and Cornish Stone came into the Potteries in any quantity.

 

The industry was now so firmly rooted - with its fuel and common clays mined locally and the wealth of skilled craftspeople composing at least half the population - that the idea of moving the industry to south-west England would never be considered seriously. About 7-10 tons of coal were needed to fire one ton of earthenware, and as much as 17 tons were needed for bone china. There is no coal in Devon and Cornwall.

 

To begin with these raw materials were transported to The Potteries by sea and river as far as Winsford in Cheshire or Willington in Derbyshire, and then continued the journey by packhorse along the appalling trackways that passed for roads in the Potteries. The pottery industry's growth was aided by the opening, in 1777, of the Grand Trunk Canal (now the Trent and Mersey Canal), which provided an outlet to the ports at Hull and Liverpool in order to transport raw materials and finished products in and out of the area. The Trent and Mersey Canal placed the Potteries at the centre of an international trade.

 

The industry was changed constantly as new materials and ideas were introduced. Most pottery companies had a short life but some companies still in existence today were founded by master potters. Two of the most famous names from this period are Wedgwood and Spode.

 

It was Josiah Wedgwood's business acumen which placed him at the forefront of marketing men. He introduced a system of controlling his mixtures and firing his ovens based on scientific principles. He worked tirelessly to make sure the new canal would serve the pottery towns, and he understood the market's needs, building his business by satisfying customers with an excellent product.

 

Discover the complete story of Josiah Wedgwood, his family, and the company he founded two-and-a-half centuries ago at the Wedgwood Visitor Centre & Museum

 

In 1769 Wedgwood himself built of Britain's first large factories, in Etruria, the village he established on the outskirts of Burslem, his birthplace. His work, and that of other famous 18th-century Staffordshire potters, such as Josiah Spode I, Thomas Minton, the Wood family, and Thomas Whieldon, helped make the area synonymous with ceramics.  

 

Josiah Spode, father and son, founded a business which developed techniques of ceramic manufacture that became the mainstay of the industry. He perfected the method of blue-printing in 1780 and led the world in this decorative treatment. Before 1800 his son developed a fine bone china (porcelain containing bone ash) that was cheap to produce and eminently marketable. His success ensured the Potteries domination in subsequent porcelain production.

 

To find out more about Spode, visit the Spode Works Visitor Centre, which is a two-year exhibition based at the former Spode factory. The visitor centre tells the stories of the Spode factory, the workers, the everyday and amazing things they made, and the collection and archive of the Spode Museum Trust.

 

Information courtesy of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Steven Birks at  www.thepotteries.org

 

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Discover more about the history of ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent by visiting our fantastic museums:

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Stoke-on-Trent

Discover the world famous Staffordshire Hoard along with the history of the Potteries, including the world's greatest collection of Staffordshire Ceramics. See a Spitfire and all sorts of art and craft.

 
 
 
The Works

Stoke-on-Trent

Described as the worlds best kept secret, a visit will reveal Moorcroft's unique handcrafted, quality, collectable art pottery. Factory tours, shopping, museum and bottle oven come together creating an unforgettable experience.

 
 
 
The Dudson Museum

Stoke-on-Trent

Discover the 213 year history of the oldest surviving family business in the ceramic tableware industry. Explore the original Dudson factory courtyard and bottle oven housing a wonderful collection of Dudson pottery.

 
 
 
World of Wedgwood

Stoke-on-Trent

10% off admission and purchases

The World of Wedgwood, a unique visitor experience celebrating the very best of British industrial and design heritage. Experience Wedgwood for the day through shopping, food and visitor tours.

 
 
 
Gladstone Pottery Museum

Stoke-on-Trent

The only complete Victorian pottery factory with original workshops, huge bottle ovens, cobbled yard, tile gallery, Doctor's House and Flushed with Pride - the story of the toilet. Visit the gift shop for handmade pottery,books and gifts.

 
 
 
Spode Works Visitor Centre

Stoke-on-Trent

A fascinating exhibition at Josiah Spode's former pottery, the birthplace of bone china, in the setting of a historic building. There are films, activities, stories of the factory, the workers and the everyday and amazing things they made

 
 
The Ceramics Trail