Friday, 3 October 2014

WEDGWOOD SAVED: 12: Forces acting in Harmony

Stop Press - Wedgwood Collection Saved

"Fire is an awe-inspiring, unaccountable element, and it is good that this wild partner should at times assert his share in the potter's work.  But then the human contribution, the shape and ornament of the pot, must be correspondingly robust.  When the two forces act in harmony, … the resulting wares have a power to stir the imagination…"
Style in Pottery  Arthur Lane (of the Victoria and Albert Museum) 1948

A view inside the kiln - at the Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton, Staffordshire
© All rights reserved, photographer Graham Davies

For centuries potters had to judge the firing of their kilns by experience, and rule of thumb; results could be badly affected by changing wind direction and quality of fuels. Wedgwood  had no proper instrument for measuring kiln temperature when he was firing his thousands of jasper samples; he would mark each sample according to its place in the kiln - TBO for 'top of biscuit oven', TTBO for 'tip-top', etc.

His friends and colleagues in the Lunar Society were searching for ways to standardize scientific measurements and Wedgwood was experimenting with a thermometer to withstand the high temperatures of the kilns.  From his first attempts which measured kiln heat by colour changes in the fired clay, he developed (helped by chemist Alexander Chisholm) his Pyrometer, which measured kiln heat by shrinkage of clay at particular temperatures.  For this invention he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1783.

Wedgwood's far-reaching associations with other entrepreneurs and scientists are fascinatingly portrayed in The Lunar Society by Jenny Uglow,  who based much of her research on contemporary correspondence in the Wedgwood Collection archives, which public donations have kept in its  UK home for the public, both British and overseas visitors. See

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