The museum at Barlaston in the 1970s, © Wedgwood Museum

The museum at Barlaston in the 1970s
© Wedgwood Museum

History of the Museum

Josiah I

The Wedgwood Museum’s origins can be traced right back to the company’s founder, Josiah Wedgwood I. He raised the idea of the historical collection in a letter to his business partner, Thomas Bentley on the 3rd December 1774. 

‘I have often wish'd I had saved a single specimen of all the new articles I have made, & would now give twenty times the original value for such a collection. For ten years past I have omitted doing this, because I did not begin it ten years sooner. I am now, from thinking, and talking a little more upon this subject ... resolv'd to make a beginning.'

The first Museum

The discovery of a hoard of early trials and experimental pieces in a storeroom prompted the company to scour the factory for other pieces of historical interest.

The first museum was opened in 1906, and Wedgwood was amongst the first ceramic manufacturers to have it on a permanent site. It was on display for the public at the factory in Eturia until the outbreak of World War II when, like many other collections, it was packed away for safekeeping.

Move to Barlaston

Wedgwood moved its factory and production to Barlaston in 1940. However, the collection was not opened to the public until 1952 when it was housed in a specially built ‘Long Gallery' - which was over 100 yards long. This museum remained until 1975 when the idea of having a Visitor Centre was introduced.

The First Purpose-built Museum and Visitors Centre

The Visitor Centre complex included an art gallery, museum galleries, a cinema showing short documentaries and a demonstration hall where visitors viewed the skills of the craftsmen and the traditional methods of making ceramics.

The new build saw 5,500 square feet dedicated to the museum galleries. Cases were arranged in chronological order and were very much in keeping with the 1970s with display surfaces covered with fabrics in four shades of brown! Each area had related graphics and photographic material mounted behind the actual objects.

The Museum Expands

With the increasing interest in antiques and public awareness of the Trust's collections it was decided to expand and rebuild the Wedgwood Museum's galleries.

During the winter of 1984 construction work started, to double the floor space and to create a ‘living museum' concept. The aim was to provide the visitor with the impression not only of the company's history but an idea of the changes in style, form and design.

For the first time a specially created picture gallery allowed the public to view the collection of celebrated Wedgwood family paintings.

The Museum Trust won a Certificate of Distinction in the ‘Come to Britain' awards organised by the British Tourist Authority. The new museum also won the ‘Industrial and Social History Museum of the Year' in the National Heritage and London Illustrated News competition for 1984.  However, September 1999 Josiah Wedgwood & Sons decided to refurbish their visitor attraction. 

The Museum Today

The V&A Collection at World of Wedgwood (formerly the Wedgwood Museum) is one of the most important industrial collections in the world and a unique record of 260 years of British ceramic production. Owned by the V&A following a successful fundraising campaign spearheaded by Art Fund, it is on display at Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, celebrating the diversity, creativity and depth of the collection within its local context of North Staffordshire and the Potteries. Discover the story of Josiah Wedgwood and his lasting influence on the ceramics industry and society.