Etruria Village

The village that Josiah had envisaged for his workforce was constructed between 1769 and 1770.

Although Josiah Wedgwood was not the first potter to provide housing for his employees, he was the first to make provision for such a large number of people, building housing which would accommodate 300.

Wedgwood’s Victorian biographers translate this action as one of benevolent philanthropy. It is more likely to reflect on his belief that a healthier workforce would yield better returns. Under such a paternalistic master, they would be less likely to misbehave within or even outside work hours for fear of eviction.

Building the new factory and a mansion for his family’s habitation, Josiah had made a public affirmation of his success. Taking his workforce away from Burslem, the hub of manufacture in the north Staffordshire Potteries, Wedgwood was in effect redeveloping the area quite considerably. In confirmation of this, he had even rechristened the site occupied by these three different elements of his ‘realm’, Etruria.

Asking his employees (who by now would have developed skills peculiar to the production of Wedgwood’s ware) to relocate to new works without the incentive of new homes might well have split his workforce. Even more perturbing they may have taken those skills elsewhere.

Instead, Wedgwood did not only offer them accommodation, he offered them housing which was even superior to Victorian artisan housing. The first 76 houses were built on both sides of the turnpike road between the canal bridge and Fowlea brook at an average cost of £45. This became known as Lord Street. Rents of between 2 and 3 pounds were paid annually. Archival records indicate that repairs were carried out by the factory’s ‘oddmen’.

By 1843 when the whole of the Wedgwood estate came up for auction, there were 203 houses including a number of dwellings by the factory itself. Not all of the houses were inhabited by Wedgwood employees and not all of the tenants were potters. As the steel industry encroached, so iron founders were attracted from elsewhere including a large part of one street in Wales.

Most of the houses consisted of two rooms and a scullery on the ground floor with two upstairs rooms. At the end of the garden were shared pumps and privies, a bath-house originally provided on the works for bargees was also made available to employees. Significantly, the houses were not built ‘back-to-back’ as had been the solution in to working class housing in other parts of the country, although a small number were three-storeyed. The village also had a communal bakehouse where for a small fee, families could bake their own bread.

While Wedgwood had invited his workforce to live in this unpolluted rural environment, time would make these individuals neighbours who now lived closely together but largely apart from other communities. This strengthened familial ties and the workers’ family dynasties could echo those of the Wedgwoods themselves.

The villagers became ‘Etruscans’ and with the same defining lines of delineation as a cockney (born within the sound of Bow Bells ) a true Etruscan came from within the boundaries of Fowlea brook and the canal bridge.

As a community they socialised together. As early as 1787, a bowling green in the grounds of Etruria Hall was made available to the employees. As time progressed there would be churches and choirs, a library and in the 20th century, amateur dramatics and tennis. 

In addition there were two public houses which not only offered recreation to Etruria’s inhabitants but also supplied refreshments for visitors to the factory. Indeed, when the entire workforce was taken to London to see the Great Exhibition in 1851, one of the hostelries provided packed lunches.

A school was opened in the early years of the 19th century.  Later, members of the Wedgwood family, including Clement (1840-1889) carried out lessons on the works for the younger employees. There was also a library on the works for the use of employees.

During the time of Josiah Wedgwood l, a sick club scheme was launched whereby each employee paid a very small amount from their weekly wages, to form a fund which could be used in the event of any employee having to absent themselves from work through ill-health or accident.

Wedgwood’s own position on the cusp of the rural and industrial worlds often led to him use agricultural terms to describe his ventures in the world of ceramics. However, his claim that he “saw the field was spacious and the soil so rich as to promise ample recompense for those who would labour diligently in its cultivation” does not only reflect on manufacture or clay. It can also refer to the Etruscans who cultivated this unique part of the Potteries.

archive folder
  • Archive showing the expenses of building workers housing at Etruria. c.1770, © Wedgwood Museum

    Archive showing the expenses of building workers housing at Etruria. c.1770

  • Archive showing Improvements made to Etruria village housing, © Wedgwood Museum

    Archive showing Improvements made to Etruria village housing

  • Archive extract from 'Rent Account Book 1796-1811', E43-28683, © Wedgwood Museum

    Archive extract from 'Rent Account Book 1796-1811'

  • Archive showing husbandry records for the Etruria village c.1770, © Wedgwood Museum

    Archive showing husbandry records for the Etruria village c.1770

  • Map showing Etruria village c.1850, © Wedgwood Museum

    Map showing Etruria village c.1850

  • Map showing Etruria village and factory c.1860, © Wedgwood Museum

    Map showing Etruria village and factory c.1860

  • Map showing Etruria village and factory c.1865, © Wedgwood Museum

    Map showing Etruria village and factory c.1865

  • Map showing Etruria c.1881, © Wedgwood Museum

    Map showing Etruria c.1881

  • Plan of Wedgwood Workers Housing within Etruria Village c.1769, © Wedgwood Museum

    Plan of Wedgwood Workers Housing within Etruria Village c.1769

  • Plan of No 6 Lord Street, Etruria village, © Wedgwood Museum

    Plan of No 6 Lord Street, Etruria village

  • Plan showing a number of gardens with Etruria village c.1831, © Wedgwood Museum

    Plan showing a number of gardens with Etruria village c.1831

  • OS Map showing the Etruria site in 1942, © Wedgwood Museum

    OS Map showing the Etruria site in 1942

  • Aerial View of Etruria  taken in 1949 showing the village, philharmonic hall, and school., © Wedgwood Museum

    Aerial View of Etruria taken in 1949 showing the village, philharmonic hall, and school.

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