Monday, 29 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood No 10: Four noteworthy potters

Four of the key names of the Stoke on Trent potteries in the late eighteenth century were Thomas Whieldon,  Josiah Wedgwood, William Greatbatch and Josiah Spode.  All four worked together at  different times, and were all innovators in various respects, yet  only the two Josiahs -- Wedgwood and Spode -- went on to become household names.

Green lead glazed teapot, probably Josiah Wedgwood, c. 1759-66.
© Fitzwilliam  Museum

Wedgwood was a partner of Thomas Whieldon from 1754 to 1759, working on improving existing glazes and bodies.  He began systematically recording his experiments in February 1759,  perfecting this vivid green glaze soon after.  He set up his own works in May 1759, keen to strike out in new ways.

Whieldon was highly respected with high standards of workmanship, but concentrated on already popular wares for a wide market, which made him wealthy.  In 1780 he retired, demolished his factory,  building an ornamental garden on the site, and enjoyed his position as gentleman and Sheriff of the county.

'Apple' teapot, earthenware with splashed lead glazes, attributed to Thomas Whieldon c. 1760
© V&A Museum

Moulded creamware sugar bowl, by William Greatbatch, c. 1765-70
© V& A Museum

William Greatbatch also worked for Thomas Whieldon in the 1750s,  and was known for his modelling and block-making skills,  needed for making the moulded and slip-cast pieces which were so much quicker to produce in large numbers.  He supplied Whieldon and Wedgwood from his own pottery works (1762 onwards) but went bankrupt in 1782, and worked for Wedgwood after this.   His designs show an individual, imaginative flair.

'Aurora' teapot,  William Greatbatch, c. 1770-82, leadglazed, transfer printed earthenware painted with overglaze enamels. This image of the heavens reflects the period's growing interest in science.  © Victoria & Albert Museum

Josiah Spode had just finished his apprenticeship with Thomas Whieldon, and was well paid as a skilled workman, at the time Wedgwood joined the firm as a partner.  He too benefited from Whieldon's methods, but left to make his own way in 1762. Without Wedgwood's capital, he aimed for the mass market, perfecting blue underglaze transfer printing by 1784, which replaced the costly and time-consuming painting skills of Wedgwood's workers.

Underglaze blue transfer-printed earthenware tea wares, by Josiah Spode, c. 1800
© V& A Museum

This  1760s tea canister and bowl represent the collaboration of these potters whose careers overlapped: Wedgwood's improved clear green glaze, Greatbatch's pineapple design moulds, Whieldon's high standards, and the skills of their workmen, such as young Josiah Spode.

Tea bowl and canister, lead glazed earthenware, Whieldon or Wedgwood, c. 1760-65 
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Wedgwood defined the factors of a potter's success as "professional knowledge, sufficient capital, and a real acquaintance with the materials he was working upon".  Both Wedgwood and Spode also relied on a mass market product, efficient factory organisation, and the early use of steam powered engines.

and see English Pottery 1620-1840  by Robin Hildyard, on the development of the pottery industry.

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