Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95)

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 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!' (JW-TB Burslem 23 January 1764).

Images

Josiah Wedgwood I, © Wedgwood Museum

Josiah Wedgwood I
© Wedgwood Museum