Move to Barlaston

Subsidence began to occur in the old Etruria factory at the end of the 19th century as a result of extensive mining nearby. Photographic evidence from 1898 and 1931 suggests that the factory sank as much as eight feet in that time. This caused problems with drainage, and flooding was common. In addition, air pollution from the neighbouring iron works and railway were a constant source of ceramics being speckled and spoiled. As a result, the company decided to leave Etruria. The proposal to relocate was announced to the workforce on 14 May 1936 by Josiah Wedgwood V. Wedgwood had purchased an estate at Barlaston, and Josiah V described the ideal working conditions in a clean, electrically-powered modern factory, the sporting facilities and the new housing estate that would be built.

The announcement came as a complete surprise to the workforce. There was a sense that changes were in the air, but no-one conceived their scale. Reactions to the news were mixed, and many in the workforce did not share their employers’ enthusiasm to break with the site. Their main concern was the journey to work, as Barlaston – only a few miles from Etruria – was seen as a remote place for occasional excursions, and not a place to be visited every day! Older employees were concerned about the move, and the company showed compassion by allowing them to remain at the old factory after it had moved to the new site in 1940: indeed, china production remained at the old factory until 1947.

Whereas Josiah I had been one of the first philanthropic entrepreneurs to embrace the responsibility of constructing both a factory and the employees’ housing, Josiah V became one of the last of a long line of such philanthropic industrialists to use resources to transform both the living and working conditions of their employees and to provide a model for the future.

Images

Etruria after subsidence, © Wedgwood Museum

Etruria after subsidence
© Wedgwood Museum