On this day in history: 1st May 1759 – English potter and entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood founds the Wedgwood pottery company – quickly becoming one of the leading manufacturers of Staffordshire pottery….

Josiah Wedgwood by Joseph Priestley – Public domain

Josiah, often described as ‘the Father of English Potters’, was born in 1730 the youngest of eleven children, in Burslem, Staffordshire – the heart of English pottery country…. He served an apprenticeship under his brother Thomas – but after suffering smallpox he was left with an extremely weak knee, making it nigh-on impossible for him to operate a potter’s wheel effectively…. Matters were not helped when his brother denied him a partnership in the business….

Undeterred, at the age of 29 Josiah set up his own business, initially renting the Ivy House works, Burslem, from his cousins John and Thomas Wedgwood…. He began to experiment in different techniques with clay….

In 1762 he met Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant who had travelled extensively across the continent and had a vast knowledge of classical and Renaissance art…. A partnership was formed, one that would last until Bentley’s death in 1780….

Wedgwood ice bucket circa 1770 Queen’s Ware – Daderot own work – Public domain

It was also in 1762 that Josiah was called on to produce a tea and coffee service for Queen Charlotte – the wife of King George III…. She permitted him to call this new cream coloured fine china he had produced ‘Queen’s Ware’…. A few years later the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia commissioned 50 place settings comprising of 952 pieces – all hand-painted with English scenery…. Wedgwood would go on to grace the tables of royalty and heads of state across the world….

Plate from service for Catherine II of Russia – Public domain

Josiah purchased the Ridge House Estate, 350 acres of land with a factory upon it…. This led to the opening in 1769 of the new Wedgwood factory at Etruria near Stoke-on-Trent…. Attached to the factory was a village which provided homes for the workers and their families – it was ensured that they had a good standard of living….

Another of Josiah’s well-known inventions is Jasperware…. After years of experimentation with Barium Sulphate the unglazed vitreous stoneware appeared in 1774…. It is instantly recognisable, with its delicate, moulded, relief-work set on a background of blue, green, yellow, lilac, black or white….

Josiah made everyday pottery into an art form…. In 1783 he was elected to The Royal Society….

After Bentley’s death Josiah was to go into another successful partnership, this time with his friend Erasmus Darwin…. The two families were to become even more entwined when Erasmus Darwin’s son married Josiah’s daughter – and they became parents to none other than evolution theorist Charles Darwin….

Josiah died in 1795; management of the business passed to company partners Josiah II (his son) and Thomas Byerley….

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