A Collection-level Description for the Wedgwood Manuscripts

Scope and Content

The Wedgwood papers form a vital primary source for research into the history of the Josiah Wedgwood and Sons firm, their famous wares, the manufacture of pottery and the Wedgwood family and their associates, forming a uniquely rich archive of the pottery industry. However, the material ranges far beyond the subject of the production of pottery. The commercial success of Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) made him a national figure and he and his children numbered many distinguished people among their circle including their relations the Darwin family, artists (George Stubbs, John Flaxman, Joseph Wright of Derby), writers (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Harriet Martineau, Mrs. Gaskell), scientists and Lunar Society Members (Joseph Priestley, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Humphrey Davy, Erasmus Darwin, Sir Joseph Banks, Lavoisier, John Whitehurst) and intellectuals such as Sir James Mackintosh. Many of their letters are included in the accumulation, in one or two cases the largest quantities known to survive in one place.

The single most important element of the Wedgwood accumulation is the voluminous correspondence of Josiah Wedgwood with his partner and mentor, Thomas Bentley (1730-1780). Approximately 900 letters survive from Wedgwood to Bentley covering a wide range of subjects. Close details of the day-to-day running of the factory and business affairs jostle with local and national politics, the arts, science and family matters. Here is to be found material on such much matters as the Duke of Bridgewater's scheme for the Trent and Mersey Canal in which Wedgwood was actively involved, on humanitarian movements, American independence, questions of finance, medical treatment and friendly societies. Josiah I was a committee mamber of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and material relating to his involvement survives. The archive contains a wealth of information for the economic and business historian being rich in order books, vouchers, ledgers, material concerned with the workforce and its organisation, scientific and technical information and business correspondence.

The Mosley Collection: Named after the late Mrs William E Mosley who preserved the papers together with her father Godfrey Wedgwood. The records relate to the family and firm and date from the mid 18th century to the early 20th century. The family papers include correspondence, accounts, deeds, legal papers, probate records, papers relation to private and public office, charity, political papers, estate administration, printed materials and maps, household management, manorial records, ecclesiastical other than the Church of England, miscellaneous. The Business records include correspondence and related papers, accounts, estate administration, deeds, legal papers, welfare, printed materials, and miscellaneous papers.

The Etruria and Liverpool Collections: The collections demonstrate the evolution of the business from family to factory. The Etruria part represents those manuscripts which have remained on familiar territory (residences, factories, showrooms). It includes many original out-letters, some from Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) which have been returned to the collection. The Liverpool part was reunited with Etruria in 1973 and retains its separate identity and references. The family papers include personal correspondence, diaries, personal accounts, household accounts, financial arrangements, probate records. The family/factory papers include evidence of title, articles of partnership, legal papers, estate administration, experimentation (scientific work). The factory papers include personnel records, business correspondence, catalogues, internal circulars, production, services, distribution, celebrated works, visitors to the factory, political papers, private and public office, parish, charities, the postal service, maps and plans, and printed materials.

Administrative / Biographical History

When Josiah Wedgwood I died in 1795, his sons Josiah II, John Wedgwood and nephew Tom Byerley formed the partnership of Wedgwood & Byerley, as the company was then known. Despite excellent performance at the beginning of the century, the trade which Josiah and Bentley had built up with Europe and America began to suffer from past and imminent wars and revolution. Matters were not helped by the financial profligacy of John Wedgwood. An innovation for the company was underglaze blue printed ware, including a pattern called Ferrara. However, Wedgwood was tending to follow in others' footsteps and the factory did not make consistent profits until the 1830s.

In the early 1840s both Josiah Wedgwood II and Josiah III retired, leaving Josiah IIIs son Frank in sole control of the company. In 1850 Frank passed ownership of Wedgwood to his three sons - Godfrey, Clement and Laurence. This period was to see the company flourish once again. The trio concentrated on producing Jasper and some of the other bodies developed by Josiah Wedgwood, reintroduced bone china, added Majolica and worked to increase their exports to America. They also employed the artist Emile Lessore to decorate their wares and recruited Thomas Allen who was to head the design studio. In 1878, Wedgwood first used the Portland Vase mark in backstamps. Towards the end of the century, Godfrey, Clement and Laurence retired, passing their shares in the business to their sons - Cecil, Francis Hamilton and Kennard.

The dawn of the 20th century brought with it the Boer War, which took both Frank (Francis) and Cecil away from the business. Kennard left to set up a sales branch in the United States, so these were hard years. Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd benefited from a revival of neo-classicism in the early 1910s, which brought its elegant, unfussy tableware designs, Jasper and Black Basalt back into favour. An important ovation before the outbreak of the First World War was the development of ' powder' blue grounds, still used today. Under the design direction of John Goodwin, who replaced Thomas Allen in 1904, the factory fostered the talents of some very gifted paintresses at Etruria. Among these were Millicent Taplin, Star Wedgwood and Daisy Makeig-Jones. It was just before the Great War that the first Wedgwood lustre ware appeared, developed by William Burton. It was this new development which was to prove the forte of the paintress and designer, Makeig-Jones. Her ' Fairyland Lustre' and ' Dragon Lustre' fine bone china proved immensely popular right up to the early 1930s, and these striking ornamental pieces are now highly collectable.

Josiah V undertook a wide-ranging review of the pottery industry as a result of which he instigated a major modernisation programme to raise standards even higher, and recruited Victor Skellern to replace John Goodwin, who retired in 1934. Goodwin had sought out several artists and designers, including Keith Murray and John Skeaping, who were to produce exceptional designs for the company. Victor Skellern maintained this tradition. During his three decades with Wedgwood, he introduced such celebrated artists as Whistler, Clare Leighton, Laura Knight, Bawden and Ravilious. Etruria had been steadily sinking due to mining subsidence, and it was clear that the factory's days were numbered. In 1930, the decision was taken to purchase an estate at Barlaston where a brand new factory could be built. Production began to move to Barlaston in 1940. Since Britain was again at war, innovation in the factory's wares had to be restricted to humble crockery for the armed forces and, later, ' utility' ware. When peace came, building at Barlaston could continue and, by 1950, all production had been transferred to Barlaston. The results of the move were all that could be hoped for. Production was more efficient and, most important of all, the quality of the ware coming out of the new factory was exceptional.

Throughout the 1950-60s, Wedgwood became increasingly successful both at home and abroad. The company expanded, opened many ' Wedgwood Rooms' within retail stores, and added a Canadian and Australian company to its other overseas subsidiary in America. (Another overseas subsidiary would later be created in Tokyo.) In 1961, Josiah V stepped down as Managing Director though he remained Chairman. His place was taken by Norman Wilson and Maitland Wright, both members of the extended Wedgwood family. Over the next decades, the foundations of Wedgwood as we know it today were being laid. Most notably, famous ceramics manufacturers such as Johnson Brothers, Mason's Ironstone and Coalport came into the Wedgwood Group.

Reference: Wedgwood.com: History (http://www.wedgwood.com/wedgwood_default.asp). Accessed January 2002.


The papers are arranged in three main parts according to their provenance: Liverpool, Etruria and Mosley.

Access Information

To view the papers, a written application for a Reader's Ticket should be directed to the archivist, Kevin Salt at The Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST12 9ES Tel: 01782 371906 (archives); 371900 (museum)


Published by: The Wedgwood Museum Trust

Other Finding Aids

Eight bound volumes of printed item level catalogues to the Etruria and Liverpool collections. One bound volume of printed item level catalogue to the Mosley collection.

An authority record exists for Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd (GB 152 AAR1996).Related Units of Description

Archivist's Note

Published by: The Wedgwood Museum Trust

Kevin Salt
The Wedgwood Museum Trust
Staffordshire – ST12 9ES
Tel: 01782 371906
Email: kevin.salt@wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk

Conditions Governing Use

Application for copies will be considered by The Wedgwood Museum.


Further deposits will be notified on the Wedgwood Museum’s website.

Location of Originals

Wedgwood/Bentley Letters: Correspondence of Josiah Wedgwood with his partner and mentor, Thomas Bentley (1730-1780), and other correspondents. The original manuscript letters appear throughout the Etruria, Liverpool and Mosley collections and so are listed at various points in the catalogues to the manuscripts. Due to their importance, these letters were transcribed, microfilmed in date order, and separately indexed in greater detail to prodce what is referred to as the Wedgwood/Bentley letters. These microfilms also include some letters that have never been part of the Wedgwood manuscripts, but were loaned to the Wedgwood Museum for filming. Approximately 900 letters survive from Wedgwood to Bentley covering a wide range of subjects. Close details of the day-to-day running of the factory and business affairs jostle with local and national politics, the arts, science and family matters. Material includes such matters as the Duke of Bridgewater's scheme for the Trent and Mersey Canal in which Wedgwood was actively involved, on humanitarian movements, American independence, questions of finance, medical treatment and friendly societies. The Letters of Josiah Wedgwood 1762-1794 are available, published by Moreton, Manchester, 1973.


Reference: Keynes, R., Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Evolution (London, Fourth Estate, 2001).

Reference: Reilly, R., Wedgwood (London, Macmillan, 1989).

Geographical Names