Josiah Wedgwood V (1899-1968)

Josiah Wedgwood V was born on 20 October 1899, the son of Josiah Clement Wedgwood IV MP (later Lord Wedgwood) and his wife Ethel. Josiah V married a former school-friend, Dorothy Winser, in 1919. He was a brilliant economist when he joined the family firm in 1927, having written a PhD thesis ‘The Economics of Inheritance’ in which he attacked the principle of inherited wealth. Ironically when Josiah V became Chairman and Managing Director in 1930, he had inherited a firm which had once been at the forefront of the pottery industry, but which had lost its way. Josiah realised that if its position was to be regained, it was time to start building for the future as had happened in the firms past.

The Wedgwood firm struggled to rebuild home and export markets in the uncertain world of the 1920s, particularly in the USA. Many firms depended on export trade to USA. The effects of the In an attempt to counter the effects of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, in 1930 the company held an elaborate pageant to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Josiah I.

Josiah V wrote: 'The pottery industry today is facing a real crisis. To hope that a revival in world trade coupled with protection of the home market is going to solve the industry’s troubles, is in my opinion misplaced optimism'.

Josiah V had realised that the market itself had been saturated. With the decline in the export trade by 40% between 1929 and 1933, the bigger firms had turned their attention to the home market. Josiah was to comment: 'It is anachronism today to have some 200 independent firms with a total turnover under £10 millions continually undercutting one another and competing in the same class of trade….A mere association aiming at the control of prices without the ability to regulate production, is bound to fail and has failed.’

He was to add to this that the majority of firms have: 'no individuality in design and [are] unable to claim any substantial difference in style or quality'.

In 1933 he commented that: 'if it comes by the process of intermittent warfare, it is not only the unfit that will go to the wall, and everyone will suffer.' He felt that '…the financial amalgamation of two or more go ahead firms, whose interests aims and organisation are closely similar, and is surely worth practical consideration - as a first step'. Shortly afterwards he added: 'What are the serious objections to a financial amalgamation of Wedgwood and Copelands? The state of the industry is too serious for mere sentiment and personal considerations to stand in the way'.

A year later in 1934 'Siah appointed Victor Skellern as Art Director after John Goodwin had retired. Although reminiscent of the past with the first Josiah's employment of John Flaxman artists like Eric Ravilious and Rex Whistler in the 1930s signalled a new philosophy in design trends for Wedgwood in the 20th Century. Josiah V began looking with increasing interest at design and the benefits it would provide for Wedgwood's business opportunities. As a result, he became one of the founder members of the Council of Industrial Design. Throughout Europe there was a new emphasis emerging on form and function, and Josiah said: 'The successful manufacturer of the future is the one who will be able to combine excellence of quality and design with the cheapness of production'.

Josiah recognised the limitations of the ageing factories such as Etruria. He wrote that there was 'no table ware factory operating today that has been built since 1900'. Josiah confirmed his view of the need for modernisation in production processes: 'The reason is not merely that trade is depressed, funds are depleted, and capital hard to raise for extension to an industry that is working only at about half capacity.'

By 1936, Wedgwood was again leading the field in investment and innovation as the land at Barlaston was surveyed and purchased in 1937. Josiah V, in one of his self confessed greatest moments, wrote out a cheque for £30.000 which he knew was the financial limit of the company, saying '…a modern plant would be erected sufficient to producing their present requirements, and capable of extension to meet expansion of trade'.

The Barlaston site was in green open fields away from the six towns just as Etruria had been 170 years before. By the 1930s, the old Etruria factory had been suffering from subsidence for many years. Another problem was that the ware being ruined whilst firing through pollution from Shelton Iron and Steel works, as well as atmospheric pollution from the Potteries. Keith Murray, together with his architectural partner C.S.White, was put in charge of building the new factory which was, and still is, the jewel in the crown of the pottery industry. The machinery to equip the factory was left to Tom Wedgwood and Norman Wilson, Production Director. Ultimately Barlaston would be the first all electrically-fired pottery factory in this country, a great step towards ridding the Potteries of the thick black smoke from the bottle ovens.

The building of the Barlaston factory was the greatest achievement for the company this century, and on a par with the building and opening of the Etruria works by Josiah I in 1769. Barlaston went into production in 1940. Wartime production for the export market was allowed, and in addition the hand painting department at Barlaston manufactured aircraft rivets for the war effort. The 1000 workers at the new factory were also safe from Luftwaffe raids on the Potteries.

The new factory used modern materials in its construction. Steel and glass provided an ideal Modernists' working environment, giving air, space and light to Wedgwood’s employees. Keith Murray and C S White had: 'In contrast to the jumble of small workshops and the exterior staircases to be found at Etruria, devised a simple building which allowed for the continuous and uninterrupted flow of materials from raw materials to finished product delivered at the railway sidings to the lorries at the other end'.

Josiah's interest in design and the poor state of British design post war led him to become a founder member of the Council of Industrial Design. Established in 1944, it is now known as the Design Council. In 1946 the Council for Industrial Design was responsible for the Britain Can Make It exhibition. Wedgwood was the largest exhibitor of ceramic ware. The original intention for the exhibition was to revive the post-war public morale demonstrating the strength and capabilities of Britain’s manufacturers and 'show the world at large that Britain despite her great war effort, in no way lags behind in the matter of design'.

In 1951 the Festival of Britain was designed as a tonic for a nation still gripped by post-war austerity. Wartime restrictions were still imposed on decorated ware for the home market. Josiah V was extremely proud that within the list of exhibitors in the July 1951 issue of the Pottery and Glass Gazette both the old and the new Etruria, Barlaston, were mentioned. It read: 'Founded by Josiah Wedgwood F.R.S. in 1759. In 1769 the model factory at Etruria was opened. Today the Barlaston factory is the most modern pottery in the industry.'

In the 18th Century Josiah I had developed a new strategy of selling his product. In 1774 he rented Portland House in Greek Street, London to act as a showroom where the now world famous Frog Service for Catherine the Great of Russia had been displayed. Josiah V's brain child was the Wedgwood Room, the first of which was opened at Marshall and Snelgrove in 1953. Josiah V wrote: 'Unquestionably the future of retail distribution of china and glass for the mass of the people lies with the chain stores….with more attention paid to display and design, they will attract an increasingly large proportion of the middle class.'

Josiah V retired as Managing Director in 1961, but thereafter he could still be found walking the floor of the factory which he and the other young Wedgwood's had spent so much time and enthusiasm planning. He was easily recognisable always carrying a black umbrella, and remained extremely popular amongst all levels of staff at the factory. Towards the end of his life Josiah V was not a well man, but still took a great interest in the business, economics and was always proud that he had been Director of the Bank of England from 1942 to 1946. He had also been a member of the Monopolies Commission, Director of the District Bank since 1948 and Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Royal College of Art (becoming one of the six Senior Fellows). He read widely, played the piano and enjoyed walking in the Lake District and Wales. It must have been extremely satisfying for him to see Wedgwood acquire its first subsidiary company, William Adams closely followed by R.H&S.L. Plant and Susie Cooper in 1966, thirty three years after he had written about an amalgamation with Copelands. He finally retired as Chairman in 1968.

The Board awarded him the speciall-created honorary appointment of Life President, and were preparing a document for Parliament stating how influential the fifth Josiah had been to the industry and nominated him for a Knighthood. Arthur Bryan said '….His impact at Wedgwood is in my view, almost as great as that of the founder….' Unfortunately, the knighthood was never to be. On 18 May 1968 Josiah Wedgwood V, the last family member to hold the position of Managing Director and saviour of the company, died at the age of 68. A service was held at the local Parish Church in Barlaston and he was buried over looking the factory and skilled workforce of which he had been so proud.

Images

Josiah Wedgwood V, © Wedgwood Museum

Josiah Wedgwood V
© Wedgwood Museum