Primary History

British History: Wedgwood plate

  • Why the Potteries developed?

    This Wedgwood plate was made in Staffordshire. There are many reasons why Staffordshire became the centre of the pottery industry in Britain:

    1. The raw materials of different types of clay, salt and fine sand that are used in making the pots could all be easily acquired.

    2. Coal could be sourced easily to fire the ovens in which the pots were baked.

    3. There was a suitable workforce. Some farmers had begun to make pots, tobacco pipes and large butterpots to make extra money because they made so little money farming and this soon became their main business. Other farm workers also left the fields to work at the potteries.

    4. Pottery was cheap to make because these workers were paid low wages and had cheaper living conditions than elsewhere in the country.

    5. There were a number of famous businessmen who had clever ideas about how to improve pottery making and transport it safely throughout Britain and the world.

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  • Wedgwood

    Josiah Wedgwood had to go to work at 9 years old when his father died. He worked as a thrower. He would throw (place) a piece of clay onto a flat wheel which was turned by a piece of string and as it turned he moulded the shapes of things such as a teapot, cup and handles.

    However, he had to give it up because he caught smallpox which weakened one of his legs so he couldn't turn the wheel. But this made him experiment with pot design, including shape, decoration and glazes.

    He improved the rough clumsy pottery of the day to make smooth, durable and simple crockery. His cream coloured earthenware was called 'Queen's ware' after Queen Charlotte, who appointed him the 'Queen's Potter'.

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  • The Plate

    Wedgwood had become so famous that Empress Catherine II (the Great) of Russia asked him to make her a 952 piece dinner and dessert service for a Russian Palace called The Froggery. Each piece of pottery had a frog emblem. A new shape was modeled for the set called the 'Catherine' shape.

    The plate was made 1773/74. It was the first dessert plate decorated. However, the artist made a mistake and painted an oak border which was only painted on dinner plates. It should have had an Ivy border. The picture in the middle is Castle Acre, Norfolk. To make the plate, white clay was mixed with flint which increased the whiteness and made the clay stronger. It was then glazed with a clear lead glaze.

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Fun Facts
  • Wedgwood was the grandfather of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma and without Wedgwood's money Darwin may not have been able to undertake his scientific investigations on evolution.

  • The smallpox he had as a child meant that he had to have his leg amputated in later life.

  • He fell in love with his cousin. Her father, a rich cheese maker, told Wedgwood he had to make more money before he would allow them to get married.

  • He insisted his workers wore the correct clothes to work, arrived on time and he would fine them if they were untidy at work.

  • The Wedgwood business still exists and has designed commemorative pottery for the 2012 Olympics including a cream mug with a black design.

  • Wedgwood made a medallion with the motto 'Am I not man and a brother' in order to campaign for the abolition of slavery.

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