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Typical wedgwood blue plate with white decor
Kutani Crane by Wedgwood
Kutani Crane by Wedgwood (back)

Wedgwood, strictly Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, is a British pottery firm, founded on May 1 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood, which in 1987 merged with Waterford Crystal, creating Waterford Wedgwood, the Ireland-based luxury brands group. The company still exists as a subsidiary within the group, with its own board of directors and management team. Wedgwood is also used as a general term to describe the company's main products.

In January 2009, following years of financial problems at group level, and after a share placement failed during the global financial crisis of 2008, Wedgwood was placed into administration. Three months later in March KPS Capital Partners announced it would invest €100m and move jobs to Asia to cut costs and return the firm to profit.

The family and company history

Josiah Wedgwood worked with an established potter, Thomas Whieldon, until 1759, when relatives leased him the Ivy House in Burslemmarker to allow him to start his own pottery business. The launch of the business was helped by his marriage to a remote cousin, Sarah (also Wedgwood), and her sizeable dowry.

In 1765, Wedgwood created a new earthenware form which impressed the then English Queen, who gave permission to call it "Queen's Ware"; this new form sold extremely well across Europe. Then, in 1766, Wedgwood bought Etruriamarker, a large Staffordshire estate, as both home and factory site. Wedgwood developed a number of further industrial innovations for his company, notably a way of measuring kiln temperatures accurately and new ware types Black Basalt and Jasper Ware (the first colour was the Poland Blue and for its innovation Josiah Wedgwood experimented with more than three-thousand samples). In recognition of the importance of his pyrometer, Josiah Wedgwood was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1783. Today, the Wedgwood Prestige collection provides customers with the opportunity to purchase replicas of some of the original designs, as well as modern neo-classical style jasper ware.

The main themes on the company's jasper ware have all been taken from ancient mythologies: Roman, Greek or Egyptian. The initial decision to have antiquity designs was probably that as Britain entered an age of great industrialization, the demand for luxurious goods subsequently exploded. Meanwhile, the archeological fever caught the imagination of many artists. Nothing could have been more suitable to satisfy this huge business demand than to produce replicas of artefacts.

Wedgwood had increasing success with hard paste porcelain attempting to imitate the whiteness of tea-ware imported from China, which was extremely popular with high society. The high transportation costs and the vigorous long journey from the Far East meant that the supply of china could not keep up with the increasingly high demand. Towards the end of the eighteenth century other Staffordshire manufacturers introduced bone china as an alternative to translucent and delicate Chinese porcelain. In 1812 Wedgwood produced their own bone china. Though not a commercial success at first, Wedgwood's English Fine Bone China eventually became an important part of an extremely profitable business.

Josiah Wedgwood was also the patriarch of the Darwin — Wedgwood family. Many of his descendants were closely involved in the management of the company down to the time of the merger with the Waterford Company:

  • John Wedgwood , eldest son of Josiah I, partner in the firm from 1790 to 1793 and again from 1800 to 1812.
  • Josiah Wedgwood II (1769-1843), second son of Josiah I, succeeded his father as proprietor in 1795 and introduced the production by the Wedgwood company of bone china.
  • In 1815, during Josiah II's time as proprietor, the great English Romantic poet William Blake (1757-1827) spent some time engraving for Wedgwood's china catalogues.
  • Josiah Wedgwood III (1795-1880), son of Josiah II, he was a partner in the firm from 1825 until he retired in 1842.
  • Francis Wedgwood , son of Josiah II, he was a partner in the firm from 1827 and sole proprietor following his father's death until joined by his own sons. Financial difficulties caused him to offer for sale soon after taking over the firm's factory at Etruria and the family home Etruria Hallmarker, but in the event and fortunately for the company only the hall was sold. He continued as senior partner until his retirement to Barlaston Hallmarker in 1876.
  • Godfrey Wedgwood (1833-1905), son of Francis Wedgwood, partner in the firm from 1859 to 1891. He and his brothers were responsible for the reintroduction of bone china c.1876 and the employment of the artists Thomas Allen and Emile Lessore.
  • Clement Wedgwood (1840-1889), son of Francis Wedgwood, partner.
  • Laurence Wedgwood (1844-1913), son of Francis Wedgwood, partner.
  • Major Cecil Wedgwood DSO (1863-1916), son of Godfrey Wedgwood, partner from 1884, first Mayor of the federated County Borough of Stoke-on-Trentmarker (1910-1911). He was chairman and managing director of Wedgwood until his death in battle in 1916.
  • Kennard Laurence Wedgwood (1873-1949), son of Laurence Wedgwood, partner. In 1906 he went to the United States and set up the firm's New York office, which became Josiah Wedgwood and Sons USA, an incorporated subsidiary, in 1919.
  • Francis Hamilton Wedgwood (1867-1930), eldest son of Clement Wedgwood, chairman and managing director from 1916 until his sudden death in 1930.
  • Josiah Wedgwood, 1st Baron Wedgwood (Josiah Wedgwood IV), (1872-1943), son of Clement Wedgwood. He was a distinguished Labour Party politician and Member of Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lymemarker for 36 years until elevated to a seat on the Labour benches in the House of Lords by Winston Churchill in 1942.
  • Josiah Wedgwood V (1899-1968) son of Josiah Wedgwood IV, the Managing Director of the firm from 1930 until 1968 and credited with turning the company's fortunes around. He was responsible for the enlightened decision to move production to a modern purpose built factory in a rural setting at Barlastonmarker. It was designed by Keith Murray in 1936 and built between 1938 and 1940. He was succeeded as managing director by Arthur Bryan (later Sir Arthur) who was the first non-member of the Wedgwood family to run the firm.

  • Dr. John Wedgwood (1919-2007), elder son of Josiah Wedgwood V, was a noted British physician.

Enoch Wedgwood, a cousin of Josiah's, was also a potter. There were other Wedgwoods in British public life (in addition to those named here) who are mostly related to the extended family of Josiah Wedgwood.

The company from 1986

In 1986, Waterford Glass Group plc purchased Wedgwood plc for 360 million USD, with Wedgwood delivering a 38.7 million USD profit in 1998 (when Waterford itself lost 28.9 million USD), following which the group was renamed Waterford Wedgwood.

From early 1987 to early 1989, the CEO was Patrick Byrne, previously of Ford, who then became CEO of the whole group. During his time, he sold off non-core businesses, and reduced the range of Wedgwood patterns from over 400 to around 240.

In the late 1990s, the CEO was Brian Patterson. From 1 January 2001, the Deputy CEO was Tony O'Reilly, Junior, who was appointed CEO in November of the same year and resigned in September 2005, and had seen then succeeded by the then president of Wedgwood USA, Moira Gavin.

The company today incorporates Coalport, Mason's and Johnson Brothers wares, and its parent company, Waterford Wedgwood also owns crystal brands such as Waterford, Stuart and Edinburgh, as well as Royal Doulton. Wedgwood continues to be headquartered on a site in Barlastonmarker.

On 5 January 2009, following years of financial problems at group level, and after a share placement failed during the global financial crisis of 2008, Wedgwood was placed into administration on a "going concern" basis, with 1800 employees remaining.

On 27 February 2009, Waterford Wedgwood's receiver Deloitte announced that the New York-based private equity firm KPS Capital Partners had purchased "certain Irish and UK assets of Waterford Wedgwood and the assets of several of its Irish and UK subsidiaries" in a transaction expected to completed in March.

In March KPS Capital Partners announced that it had acquired group assets in a range of countries, including the UK, USA and Indonesia, would invest €100m, and move a number of jobs to Asia to cut costs and return the firm to profitability.

Wedgwood Museums and the Museum Trust

Wedgwood's founder wrote as early as 1774 that he wished he had preserved samples of all the company's works, and began to do so. The first formal museum was opened in May 1906, with a curator named Isaac Cooke, at the main (Etruria) works. The museum was stored for the duration of World War II, and relaunched in a gallery at the new Barlaston factory in 1952. A new purpose-built Visitor Centre and Museum was built in 1975, and remodelled in 1985, with pieces displayed near items from the old factory works, in cabinets of similar period. A video theatre was added, and a new gift shop, as well as an expanded demonstration area where visitors could watch pottery being made. A further renovation, costing 4.5 million pounds, was carried out in 2000, including access to the main factory itself, following which the Visitor Centre complex won multiple awards.

Adjacent to the museum and visitor centre are a restaurant and tea room, serving on Wedgwood ware. The museum, managed by a dedicated trust, closed in 2000 and in 2008 reopened in a new multi-million pound building. The new "state of the art" museum was opened on the 24th of October 2008.

In June 2009, Wedgwood Museum won a UK Art Fund Prize for Museums and Art Galleries, for its displays of Wedgewood pottery, skills, designs and artefacts.

The Minton Archive is a separate part of the collection. It comprises papers and drawings from 1793-1968) of the designs, manufacture and production of the pottery company, Minton and of the artistic and industial archives of Royal Doulton. The liquidation of Wedgewood places this collection under threat of break-up and sale.

Wedgwood locality

Wedgwood railway stationmarker was opened in the 1950s to serve the Wedgwood complex in Staffordshire, Englandmarker.

Notes and references

External links

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