Introduction

  • The Barlaston factory archive
  • The Barlaston factory archive

Barlaston Papers

Introduction

 

A graphic account of Wedgwood’s Etruria manufactory, first opened in June 1769, occurs in a letter from H.G. Wells (1866-1946), the author, to his father dated 29th April 1888.

 

‘Considering the great reputation of the firm, I was rather surprised at the ramshackle state of their works, which are, with extensions & innumerable patchy alterations, the same that the immortal Josiah erected a century ago;  they consist of big hive shaped ovens and barn like but many storied buildings where the potters and painters work.  Standing towards each other at all angles, with queer narrow passages & archways penetrating them, with flimsy wooden staircases outside the buildings, and with innumerable windows opaque with dirt and crusted like bottles of ancestral wine with cobwebs and mouldy matter.’

 

The Wedgwood Company had weathered the world economic crisis of the late 1920s and early 1930s looked for a new direction for the firm.  It became clear that Etruria itself, whose name and traditions were still central to the Wedgwood image, was standing in the way of the full exploitation of the opportunities which lay ahead.  The initial problem was simply one of space but the Etruria Works were also now contaminated with extensive pollution from the adjacent Shelton Bar steel works.  Another difficulty was due to subsidence, the whole site had sunk several feet beneath the level of the Trent & Mersey Canal.  During the 1930s the temporary extensions and modifications at Etruria had proved unsatisfactory and inadequate, and the growing industrialisation of the area forced the consideration to move the works.

 

It is hardly surprising therefore that the Wedgwood family discussed in detail moving their manufactory to new and modern premises.  The momentous decision to leave the Etruria site and to construct an up to date modern factory complex, four miles south of Stoke-on-Trent, in order to utilise the tremendous advances made in technology, and create near perfect working conditions as possible, was the brain child of Josiah Wedgwood V (1899-1968).  The next step to be taken was the selection of a site for the new factory.  Given the patchwork development of the Potteries conurbation, there were a variety of possible locations between or adjacent to the townships.  Serious consideration was given to sites at Knutton and Meir, but these were rejected on the grounds that there would remain problems of pollution, and that there would be insufficient space for the kind of factory community which was being contemplated.  The  Keele Hall Estate, (now the home of Keele University), and Park Hall Estate, Longton were also investigated, before the choice eventually fell on a 381 acre site, four and a half miles south of Etruria, at Barlaston, situated on the banks of the Trent and Mersey Canal, and with good access to the London to Manchester railway line.  Here it was unlikely that any other industry would again encroach on the factory and the model village.  The quality of the factory’s output and the health of its employees would be secured by the unspoilt rural surroundings.

The Wedgwood Museum’s Barlaston archive collection houses a unique record of the development and construction of a new ceramic manufactory built during the early years of World War II.

The archive accumulation contains not only documentation relating to the construction of the new Wedgwood works but also an immense amount of material relating to the working conditions, war time restrictions and unrivalled details relating to both social and working conditions. The manuscripts provide a unique opportunity to evaluate the importance of the factory construction much of which was greatly influenced by the impending hostilities of World War II.

This archive collection contains not only paper records but an extraordinary pictorial views, with watercolours and oil paintings, as well as an extensive photographic record of the development phases, of the entire factory construction and the ultimate equipping of the various manufacturing areas.  A considerable number of plans and blue prints also survive providing an amazing insight into the human effort which went into creating this twentieth century, ‘Factory in a Garden’.

The Barlaston papers relate specifically to the post 1930 period of Wedgwood management and production amid the dramatically changing industrial landscape of ‘The Potteries’.  By the mid 1930’s the Wedgwood family, led by Josiah Wedgwood V, were forced to take the momentous decision to acquire a Greenfield site away from the main pottery conurbation. The old works at Etruria had become outmoded and obsolete and had suffered from significant land subsidence as well as contamination from the encroaching Shelton Iron and Steel Works. The 20th century archive documents the search for a suitable new location to build an ultra-modern, all electric factory, the first of its type in Britain.

The concept of the new Barlaston works was the brain child of Josiah Wedgwood V, (1899- 1968), who played a crucial part in the new factory enterprise through his understanding of the artistic, technical and managerial requirements of such a factory. The surviving manuscripts clearly show the importance of the forward looking men who worked with him to assist in the building of the new factory and garden village at Barlaston. The foundation stone was laid on 10th September 1938 and the building progressed rapidly despite the crisis in Europe and the threat of war.

This unique collection of manuscripts provide an unrivalled opportunity for research and those wishing to pursue specific aspects of the building, production and life styles during World War II are encouraged to visit the collection  where the material not yet digitised may be examined.

The digitisation of the Barlaston manuscript accumulation and the opportunity to make this archive publically accessible on the Wedgwood museum’s website has been made possible through the generous support of English Heritage and the dedicated work of a team of volunteers from NADFAS, (The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies), who undertook the task of sorting and cataloguing the accumulation.

The Factory in a Garden, a book written by Sharon Gater and David Vincent to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston on September 10, 1938, is available from the Wedgwood Museum priced at £3.95.

A copy of the Barlaston Archive Collection Catalogue is provided as a PDF to provide additional information and details of this collection.