Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95)

Born at the Churchyard Works, Burslem, Wedgwood commenced work as an independent potter, renting the Ivy House Works from his kinsmen (Thomas and John Wedgwood of the Big House, also in Burslem) from May Day 1759. Through the perfection of his cream coloured earthenware body, he came to the attention of Her Majesty Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, manufacturing for her a tea and coffee service in his newly perfected ceramic body. After this she not only allowed Wedgwood to style himself 'Potter to Her Majesty', but to call his newly developed cream ware body, 'Queen's Ware', a name by which it is still known today. On 13 June 1769 Wedgwood threw 6 so-called First Day’s Vases in order to celebrate the opening of his new 'Etruria' factory. The man who was to become his Ornamental Ware partner in the business, Thomas Bentley, turned the potter's wheel.

The motto of the factory was 'Artes Etruriae Renascuntur' - 'The Arts of Etruria are reborn', and appeared on the First Day's Vases. The period of the Wedgwood and Bentley Ornamental Ware Partnership witnessed the introduction of the revolutionary new stoneware body which Wedgwood was to christen Jasper, which was probably the most significant innovation in ceramic history since the Chinese discovery of Porcelain nearly one thousand years earlier. Jasper proved to be well-suited to the neo-classical style of ornamentation. Josiah employed many notable artists including George Stubbs, John Flaxman jnr and William Hackwood to model and design bas-reliefs for use on this new ceramic body.

Josiah was also noted for being a competent scientist. His invention of the pyrometer to measure the higher degrees of heat firing in the bottle kilns earned him the title of Fellow of the Royal Society (January 1783). In March 1786 he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in October of the same year a Fellow of the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. He was also noted as a great philanthropist, and produced many copies of the small size so-called Slave Medallion. The kneeling manacled figure of a slave, surmounted by a legend 'Am I not a man and a brother?' formed the seal of the Abolition of Slavery Movement. Josiah's interpretation in Jasper in the form of a small sized medallion was freely distributed world-wide to his fellow supporters.

In 1789 Wedgwood produced his first perfect copy of the renowned Portland or Barberini vase in the Jasper body. In 1790 Wedgwood took his three sons John, Josiah II and Thomas, and his nephew Thomas Byerley into partnership. John and Tom resigned their partnerships in 1793.

Following a short illness Josiah Wedgwood I died on 3 January 1795, and was buried at the Church of St Peter ad Vincula in Stoke on Trent. His marble memorial sculpted by John Flaxman jnr was erected at this Parish church in 1802, and can still be viewed there. A most fitting tribute to this multi-talented individual was given in 1863 by William Ewart Gladstone, who was also a collector of Wedgwood ware. He said of Josiah I - '……that he was the greatest man who ever, in any age or country, applied himself to the important work of uniting art with industry'. On Josiah's own monument another tribute states - 'He converted a rude and inconsiderable Manufactory into an elegant Art and an important part of the National Commerce'.

For further information on the life of Josiah Wedgwood I, see the Lives of the Wedgwoods Discovery Pack.


Josiah Wedgwood I, © Wedgwood Museum

Josiah Wedgwood I
© Wedgwood Museum