Etruscan Breadwinners

In 1898, 15 years after the List of Hands on Works was compiled, Harry Barnard produced a fascinating photographic record of Wedgwood workers known as 'Etruscan Bread Winners 1898'. This 27 page album contains a series of extremely high quality photographs of each of the different departments taken by Barnard during July and August of that year. Furthermore, he also had the foresight to record the names of the individuals underneath each picture. The photographs reveal that most men wore caps, that manual workers typically had collarless shirts and waistcoats, not to mention the shirts and ties of the decorators, gilders and throwers and turners, and the suits of the warehousemen and office staff. The photographs emphasise the social hierarchy among employees.

In all probability a wash and brush-up and a change of clothes took place prior to being photographed. The majority of females all appear in their 'Sunday best', as evidenced on the photographs of printers and transferers, paintresses, warehouses and slip decorators. The tile makers - although suitably dressed in working clothes - appeared spotlessly clean, which also applied to the workers shown in the glost oven. The Jasper black basalt throwers and turners again appeared wearing clean aprons, but evidence of clay on the shoes and lower part of the trousers of the younger employees in the front row suggest a quick wash and brush-up. The one exception is the sliphouse and mill workers who appeared as if having taken a break during their shift, including the young Kennard Wedgwood in the front row. Likewise Francis Wedgwood also appeared on the photograph of the 'Oddest Men'.

What percentage of employees this 347 actually represents is impossible to determine with precise accuracy. Wage books do not exist for the turn of the 19th century, and no complete list survives from this period. The nearest contemporary account is the list of 723 names compiled by Cecil Wedgwood in 1883. If this figure was still accurate fifteen years later it is a mystery as to why as little as only half of the workforce was recorded.

Although the photographs obviously under-represent the total number of employees they still reveal something of the age and sex structure of the workshops. The sliphouse and mill, biscuit oven and warehouse, earthenware glost ovens and earthenware potters were all exclusively male. This obviously also applied to the oddmen and oddest men which included bricklayers, joiners and engineers, as also were the gilders. This was unusual as generally both men and women tended to be employed as gilders, while burnishing, which appears to have been omitted altogether, was generally a female occupation.

Predominately male workshops included the Jasper departments, such as throwers, turners, decorators and those at the Jasper oven, as well as the general warehouse and office staff. The thrower usually required two assistants, either females or boys, one to turn his wheel and the other to 'take off'. These departments usually included two or three females, as well as boys (as assistants) and male teenagers (as apprentices). A higher proportion of females existed among the china potters, the majolica department and tile makers, the latter where half the workforce appeared to be female, the majority being in their late teens or early to mid-twenties. Again it appears that young boys were also employed in these departments. Females far outnumbered males as printers and transferrers. Men would have printed the design onto tissue paper, with the younger girls working as paper cutters, cutting out the patterns for the women who transferred them onto the ware. The only departments to be exclusively female were the slip-decorators, paintresses and apprentice paintresses.

This section is drawn from 'The History of Etruria', by Kevin Salt, 2006 (available for purchase from the Wedgwood Museum).

Images

Etruscan Breadwinners: slip-houses and mill, © Wedgwood Museum

Etruscan Breadwinners: slip-houses and mill
© Wedgwood Museum