History of the Wedgwood factory
The Wedgwood story began in 1759, when Josiah Wedgwood, aged just twenty-nine, started as an independent potter in Burslem, Staffordshire, England. He began to experiment avidly with clay, exploring its many possibilities.
During his lifetime he invented and produced three of Wedgwood’s most famous ceramic bodies – Queen’s Ware (1762), Black Basalt (1768) and Jasper (1774). These remain famous to this day.
Creative, energetic, an astute business man and patron of the arts, he quickly became Britain’s most inspired and successful ceramics pioneer. His genius led English pottery from a cottage craft to an art form and international industry.
He is today remembered as the “Father of English Potters”. His pioneer spirit, his vigorous design policy, his commitment to exacting standards of quality and his efforts to create affordable luxury products remain the values at the heart of the brand today.
In 1762, Josiah met Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant who had travelled widely on the Continent and possessed a sound knowledge of classical and Renaissance art. With Bentley, he formed an intimate friendship and partnership, which was to last until Bentley’s death. The years of the partnership with Bentley were probably Josiah’s happiest and most prosperous, with his inventing, perfecting and capturing the fashion of the time for the neo-classical style.
Wedgwood’s enduring appeal among the world’s Royal Families and Heads of State began with Queen Charlotte, who ordered a set of cream-coloured earthenware that pleased her so much that Josiah Wedgwood was granted permission to style himself ‘Potter to Her Majesty’ and call his innovative cream ware ‘Queen’s Ware’. A few years later the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia ordered a service in Queen’s Ware for fifty people, which consisted of of 952 hand-painted pieces of gardens and English scenery. Today this service is kept in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Throughout its history, Wedgwood has collaborated with the most famous artists of the day. In the twentieth century, Rex Whistler, John Skeaping, Eric Ravilious, Keith Murray, Arnold Machin, Richard Guyatt, Eduardo Paolozzi and David Gentleman have all designed for Wedgwood; reflecting Josiah’s policy of commissioning work from John Flaxman, George Stubbs, Matthew Bolton and other celebrated artists of the late eighteenth century.
Today, the Wedgwood collections are designed in England by the Wedgwood Design Studio. Jasper Conran, one of the UK’s leading fashion designers, and Vera Wang, the acclaimed authority in bridal elegance, also created distinguished collections for Wedgwood, whilst Beatrix Potter’s original watercolours adorn Peter Rabbit collections.
Arnold Machin (1911-99)
Arnold Machin RA was a sculptor, modeller and designer. He was born locally in Stoke-on-Trent and studied at the Stoke and Derby Schools of Art and at the Royal College of Art (1937-40). He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1940 and was elected a member in 1956. He was probably best remembered for the designing of the new coin effigies in 1964 and 1967 (decimal coinage) and the definitive issue of postage stamps in 1967. For the Wedgwood Company he produced not only a wide range of portrait medallions but also a number of extremely humorous models and figure groups.