By 1777 the Trent and Mersey Canal aka Grand Trunk was complete. The brainchild of a number of the most influential industrialist of the age, the canal was to be a vital artery in the beating heart of the 18th century Midlands. Wedgwood’s personal involvement in the Trent and Mersey Canal was substantial. From early meetings with James Brindley to cutting the first section of sod at Middleport, Wedgwood was well aware of the benefits to his own business, as well as to the entire region, such a canal could make.
The first meeting of those men interested and involved with the new development was called on 10th June 1766 at The Crown, a coaching inn in Stone, Staffordshire. Over a year before the inaugural meeting Josiah had written to his brother John, on 3 April 1765, stating, 'This scheme of a Navigation is undoubtedly the best thing that could possibly be plan’d for this country & I hope there is a great degree of probability of its being carried into execution'. Wedgwood’s future business partner Thomas Bentley was also a strong advocate of the inland navigation system being proposed. Indeed, Bentley as a Liverpool based merchant had a vested business interest in a canal system which would link the Midlands to the port of Liverpool. Both men played there part in soliciting the various land owners, MPs and authorities in an attempt to gain a support base which would see their proposal as the one to back. In 1765 the Grand Trunk canal was not the only inland navigation scheme being proposed, it was therefore important that Josiah gained the support of those men capable of make his own vision come true.
Josiah’s involvement with the canal scheme was in large part altruistic, indeed, he offered his services as Treasurer as he states: 'at £000 Per ann. out of which he bears his own Expences'. Moreover, he was a signatory to a £10,000 indemnity. However, as stated previously, Josiah saw the canal as a valuable resource as his company grew in size and popularity. The financial benefits to be had from an improved system of transport for his bulky raw materials such as china clay and stone - which were shipped from Cornwall to Liverpool and then transported over land by pack horse – and his finished goods - which were susceptible to breakage on their overland journey to Liverpool – were great. The Bill for the Trent and Mersey Canal was presented to Parliament on 18 February 1766 and authorised on 14 May. The fact that Josiah had been in regular contact with the canals Surveyor General, James Bindley, ensured that he was privy to plans showing the exact route of the canal as it cut through the Potteries. This is why in July 1766 Josiah completed his purchase of the Ridge House Estate and it may come as no surprise then that the line of the canal was to pass straight through, what was then the Ridge House Estate but which was to become, Josiah’s new factory, Etruria.
As a self-made industrialist Josiah had built up sufficient finances to afford himself the trappings of the new middleclass. Josiah’s new family home, Etruria Hall was to built slightly to the North and within view of his factory. As with the mansions of the aristocracy across 18th century England no grand home was complete without the presence of water. The grandest of homes enjoyed ornamental lakes and snaking rivers amid exquisitely landscaped gardens. Josiah’s desire to have his new factory located directly alongside the canal may have been primarily driven by a cold business logic, nevertheless, Josiah saw an opportunity to incorporate the canal as a genteel landscape feature. Despite his involvement with the canal scheme and his close relationship with James Brindley, Josiah’s wishes were not automatically granted. In a letter to Thomas Bentley in 1767 Josiah writes about his meeting with Mr Henshall, Clerk of Works for the Canal Committee. Josiah explains that the canal’s route through his Etruria estate will be in a straight-line and that ‘I could not prevail on the inflexible vandal to give me one line of grace’, due to Mr Bindley’s instructions to go ‘the nearest, & best way’. It would seem, however, the Josiah got his way eventually as a number of late 18th century maps show a distinct curve to the canal just west of the factory as well as an island arboretum on a direct line of vision between the factory and Etruria Hall.
The canal was to prove most indispensible for Josiah Wedgwood and the Wedgwood Company for over 150 years as the main transport and distribution link. As with his ceramic products, with the canal Josiah was able to achieve a perfect blend of artistry and industry.