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The Etruria Fire engine - 1783

The Fire Engine parked up at the Etruria works, ©  Wedgwood Museum
    The Fire Engine parked up at the Etruria works
    © Wedgwood Museum

The Etruria fire engine is a truly fascinating object. Ordered by Josiah Wedgwood I it was an essential piece of machinery in a factory with such a great fire risk. Documentary evidence tells us that the engine’s crew was drawn from the workforce – and that the vehicle was kept in good working order, especially as it would be annually checked by the factory inspector. The Engine is on permanent display in The Wedgwood Museum.

Nothing could devastate factory production, or risk the lives of employees, so much as fire on the works. Josiah I therefore ordered a ‘one-third’-size fire engine from Samuel Phillips, engine maker of New Surrey Street, Blackfriars, London, in October 1783. The total cost of the fire engine including fixtures, fittings and transport to the Etruria factory was £58 18 shillings and 3 pence.The fire engine was manned by factory workers. A photograph dating to August - September 1898 names the crew and shows them posing with the engine, which was still in use at the time. Each year the fire engine had to be tested by an inspector from the Board of Trade to ensure that – ‘…it will shoot a good jet [of water] over the highest building on the works’. A very impressive object, in 2001 the fire engine and its fitments underwent much-needed conservation after its long period of use at Etruria. The Engine is now on permanent display in The Wedgwood Museum.

  • Type of object: Manufacturing paraphernalia and miscellany/fire engine
  • Year produced: 1783
  • Material: wood
  • Accession number: 10431
  • Dimensions: 1700 mm (height), 2390 mm (width), 1260 mm (depth)

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Related people

  • Josiah Wedgwood I Owner

    Josiah Wedgwood I - Owner (1730 - 1795)

    Josiah was born in 1730, the youngest of twelve children born to Mary Wedgwood and her husband, Thomas. His father was a potter who lived and worked at the Churchyard Works, Burslem. This town was still connected by rough roads to the other five towns which made up the area of North Staffordshire known as the Potteries. By the time of his death, Josiah Wedgwood I not only improved the variety and quality of pottery produced, but he also opened up the area as an important centre of commerce with the rest of the world through his involvement in the development of canal and road networks. He went on to become one of the most influential ceramic manufacturers in the world, and earned the title 'The Father of English Potters'. His direct descendants are still involved in the factory which bears his name today.Much of Josiah's development as a successful businessman, philanthropist and potter can be accounted for by the ill fortunes he suffered. At the age of 9 when his father died and he had to abandon his formal school education in order to work in the family business. Then at around eleven years old he contracted smallpox and was left with a knee-infection which constricted his use of the kick-wheel on which the pottery shapes were formed. From that time onwards he focused on affecting the perfection and marketing of Burslem's main product.Another spur to Wedgwood’s success was his growing affection for his distant cousin, Sarah whom he had met at the home of his wealthy uncles, John and Thomas. Whereas Josiah came from a poor background, Richard, his future father-in-law, was a prosperous cheese-merchant from Cheshire who apparently insisted that the young potter achieved a certain level of wealth before he could marry his daughter. Wedgwood entered partnerships with other potters, most notably Thomas Whieldon, and established himself as an independent potter in 1759. He moved to superior premises at the Ivy House Works where he perfected his Queen’s ware body and then to the Brick House Works. His reputation was rapidly spreading farther afield and finally, Richard was convinced of his suitability as a husband for his daughter, Sarah.There is no doubt as to Josiah’s love for Sarah when, on the eve of their wedding in 1764 he wrote to his partner, Thomas Bentley: 'I yesterday prevailed upon my dear Girl to name the day, the blissful day! When she will reward all my faithfull services and take me to her Arms!'.

  • Samuel Phillips Maker

    Samuel Phillips - Maker

    Samuel Phillips started making fire engines in 1760 and was later to become Engine Maker to His Majesty’s Honourable Board of Ordnance.