A Small Brief History Concerning Josiah Wedgwood
Josiah Wedgwood who was born in 1730 and died in 1795 came from a long line of potters, he himself was the 12th child of potter Thomas Wedgwood, whose own father and grand father were potters also.
At the age of 6 Josiah would walk 7 miles to school every day as his mother was determined that he would have a good education, but at the age of 9 his father died and he left school to become an apprentice at the family business under his brother Thomas.
Then at the age of 12 he contracted smallpox’s which unfortunately led to him being confined to his bed for months and during this time he spent a lot of it reading and improving his mind. Due to the smallpox Josiah was left with a weakened knee and this meant he was unable to operate the potter’s wheel used for throwing the pots and instead he spent his time improving his skills in relation to modeling the clay used.
By his early 20’s Josiah formed a partnership with one of the most influential English potters of the time, Thomas Whieldon. With Whieldon’s help Josiah was able to practice learning how to use glazing, bodies, shapes and colours in his work. Then in 1759 his dream came true when 2 relatives of his leased him a property called Ivy House and where he was able to start his own pottery business. However, he was lucky to marry a distant cousin, Sarah Wedgwood which gave a large boost to his business because of the size of the dowry presented by her father at their wedding.
Unfortunately as the years went by the knee which had been weakened by smallpox became ever more troublesome and Josiah was eventually forced to have it amputated without anesthetic. Then in 1766 he moved his family to Etruria in Staffordshire and made this the base for his factory and new home.
In 1782 because Josiah was a keen thinker, scientist and innovator he perfected an instrument that was able to the measure the heat in the kilns used by potters and on the basis of this work he was elected as a member of the Royal Society in 1783.
One of the first major innovations that Wedgwood introduced was his development of Queen’s Ware (he presented a tea service to Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III made from this new material and she gave him permission to call it Queen’s Ware). Queen’s Ware is a cream coloured lead glazed earthenware and this durable china is made from a mixture of flint and white clay. After gaining permission from Queen Charlotte to name this product Queen’s Ware he began to style himself as “Potter to Her Majesty” and Queen’s Ware became such an enormous success and the name of Wedgwood was spread across all of Europe.
Then in 1768 Josiah came up with his second innovation in the pottery field and he developed a new fine black porcelain which he named Black Basalt. He found that by using this fine grained stoneware he was able to produce copies of the Etruscan pottery that have recently been excavated in Italy and yet again as with the Queen’s Ware this new innovation proved to be a huge commercial success. You will find that Black Basalt surface is smooth and lustrous and comes with a purple-black sheen to it. In fact the Wedgwood factory was finding it very difficult to keep up with the demand for all things made from this material such as candlesticks, medallions, tableware and vases.
The third real major innovation with which Josiah Wedgwood will probably be most remembered for is the production of Jasper Ware and which has been described in the ceramics and pottery world as one of the most important inventions in the history of ceramics since the discovery of porcelain. It took Wedgwood many years of experimenting to perfect the design of this unglazed stoneware which has the ability to be both delicate and durable and is able to take colours evenly across its surface. In fact you will find that Jasper Ware can be made from almost any colour, however the most famous ones are both pale or dark blue and white. With this new material the Wedgwood Factory was able to produce an astonishing amount of objects from the smallest tea cup to of all things a grand piano. A good piece of Jasper Ware will usually have a bas relief applied to the sides, which are often in imitation of the classical Greek motifs you seen on early pieces of Greek pottery.
It certainly seems that Josiah Wedgwood got it right when he designed the Jasper Ware as it has now been in production for over 200 years and the methods used to produce have hardly changed in all that time.