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II. Josiah Wedgwood and Factory Discipline1

  • Neil McKendrick (a1)

Extract

It is a text-book commonplace that Josiah Wedgwood was amongst the pioneers of English factory organization—the discipline of workers, the division of labour, and the systematization of production—but his work in these fields has never been examined in detail. Sixty thousand Wedgwood manuscripts, organized on a geographical basis for the sake of modern area advertisement rather than for the convenience of the historian, perhaps explain this neglect. The papers have not been ignored, but they have been sifted rather than studied in detail. Certain generalizations have emerged from this hit-or-miss investigation. In the articles of three visiting North American historians, Hower, Bladen and Schofield, and in the work of Thomas (essentially concerned with the history of the whole of the Potteries), the embryonic and incomplete skeleton of Wedgwood's methods has been laid bare, but much of the flesh has been discarded in the process.

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2 Hower, Ralph M., ‘The Wedgwoods—Ten Generations of Potters’, J. Econ. Business Hist, iv, no. 2 (1932), 281313, and iv, no. 4 (1932), 665–90.

3 Bladen, V. W., ‘The Potteries in the Industrial Revolution’, Econ. Hist, (supplement to the Econ. J.), no. 1 (1926), 117–30, and ‘The Association of the Manufacturers of Earthenware (1784–86)’, Econ. Hist, (supplement to the Econ. J.), no. 3 (1928), 356–67.

4 Schofield, Robert E., ‘Josiah Wedgwood and a proposed 18th Century Industrial Research Organisation’, Isis, 47, pt. 1, 147 (1956), 1619.

5 Thomas, John, ‘The Economic Development of the North Staffordshire Potteries since 1730, with special reference to the Industrial Revolution’, an unpublished Ph.D. thesis presented to London University in 1934, and also Thomas, J., ‘The Pottery Industry and the Industrial Revolution’, Econ. Hist, (supplement to the Econ. J.) (1937), 399414; and John, Thomas, ‘Pottery in England in the Industrial Revolution’, J. R. Soc. Arts, no. 4349 (1936), lxxxiv, 521–46.

6 Farrer, K. E., The Letters of Josiah Wedgwood, 1762–94, 3 vols. (19031905).

7 For some discussion of the economic development of the Potteries, cf. R. T. Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society (1903), chs. I–III, and J. Thomas, op. cit. ch. v.

8 WMSS. E. 18680–25. J.W. to T.B. 5 July 1776.

9 WMSS. E. 18277–25. 17 Dec. 1767; E. 18181–25. 24 Dec. 1767; E. 18191–25. 3 March 1768.

10 WMSS. E. 18248–25. J.W. to T.B. 29 July 1769.

11 WMSS. E. 18177–25. J.W. to T.B. 17 Dec. 1767.

12 Arnold, Bennett, Anna of the Five Towns (1902), reprinted 1954, p. 116.

13 WMSS. E. 18549–25. J.W. to T.B. 25 July 1774. A ‘wood room’ was provided for the fuel.

14 WMSS. E. 18407–35. J.W. to T.B. 19 Sept. 1772.

15 WMSS. E. 18299–25. J.W. to T.B. 12 May 1770.

16 WMSS. E. 18271–25. J.W. to T.B. 1 Dec. 1769.

17 WMSS. E. 18788–25. J.W. to T.B. Endorsed 27 Oct. 1777.

18 Ibid. This document shows that although the occasional move was made to meet changing demand—‘George Barnet & his boy are taken from vases to make Jasper bassreliefs’, for example—the majority of the skilled workers specialized in one particular branch. ‘Ra, Moreton has constant employment upon usefull things...as a handler, & must continue in this line’; ‘Keeling makes all such things as are made in mo(u)lds’; Bedson was employed solely ‘in middling things which he does very well’; Massey is levelling all our cyphers’; and ‘Hollinshead makes all the black heads & bassreliefs’.

19 WMSS. E. 18356–25. J.W. to T.B. 7 March 1772.

20 For the importance of taste and fashion in production, cf. Neil McKendrick, ‘Josiah Wedgwood: An Eighteenth Century Entrepreneur in Salesmanship and Marketing Technique’, Econ. Hist. Rev. XII, no. 3 (1960), 408–33.

21 WMSS. E. 28409–39. Commonplace Book, 1790–4, pp. 7–17.

22 Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor space in this paper to deal with Wedgwood’s wage policy, although evidence is not lacking in the WMSS.

23 Op. cit. p. 115. Also cf. Church, A. H., Josiah Wedgwood (new edn. revised and enlarged, London, 1903), pp. 1516.

24 WMSS. E. 18455–25. J.W. to T.B. 9. April 1773.

25 WMSS. E. 18265–25. J.W. to T.B. 9 Oct. (1769).

26 WMSS. E. 18301–25. J.W. to T.B. 19 May 1770.

27 Only accepted such men because of strict necessity. He feared both the loss of secrets and the introduction of lax methods. Later he was very loath to accept such men, writing to Bentley on 8 Jan. 1775 (WMSS. E. 18582–25): ‘No—I shall not ingag(e) the Man from Derby.—We have a very good sett of hands, & I shall be very careful not to take in a rotten Sheep if I can avoid it.’ (My italics.)

28 WMSS. E. 18301–25. J.W. to T.B. 19 May 1770.

29 WMSS. E. 18304–25. J.W. to T.B. 28 May 1770.

30 WMSS. E. 18260–25. J.W. to T.B. 19 Nov. 1769.

31 Ibid. This was Thomas Simcock who was skilled enough to earn 31s. 6d per week by 1774.

32 WMSS. E. 18310–25. J.W. to T.B. Postmark 20 June (1770). These were Barret and Thos. Glover.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 WMSS. E. 18455–25. J.W. to T.B. 9 April 1773.

36 Ibid.

37 WMSS. E. 18269–25. J.W. to T.B. 19 Nov. 1769.

38 WMSS. E. 18302–25. J.W. to T.B. 23 May 1773.

39 Ibid.

40 WMSS. L.H.P. J.W. toT.B. 4 Nov. 1780. Mention of work ‘under Mr Stubs's (sic) directions’.

41 WMSS. E. 18552–25. J.W. to T.B. Postmark 16 Aug. (1774). Mention of ‘paying Mr Barrat (sic) for some instruction to our People’.

42 WMSS. E. 28409–39. Commonplace Book, p. 17.

43 It is worth remembering, too, that unlike Meissen, Vincennes and Sèvres, Wedgwood had to make a profit to survive. He did not receive like them the royal subsidies that made their patronage of artists possible and cushioned them against financial losses.

44 Cf. McKendrick, Neil, ‘Josiah Wedgwood and George Stubbs’, History Today, vii, no. 8 (1957), 513–14. Cf. also Wolf Mankowitz, Wedgwood (1953), the 1787 Catalogue, 267–70, and the 1779 Catalogue, 236.

45 WMSS. E. 18237–25. J.W. to T.B. 9 April 1769.

46 WMSS. E. 18668–25. J.W. to T.B. 12 May 1776.

47 WMSS. E. 18621–25. J.W. to T.B. 28 Oct. 1775.

48 WMSS. E. 1330–2 to 1340–2. These are typical receipts from John Flaxman to J.W. for payment, e.g. E. 1336–2, 7 and 19 July 1784, ‘A Bust of Hercules £2: 12:6’. This was the usual method of payment for artists. Flaxman received £188 4s. 2d. in this way between 11 July 1783 and 10 Aug. 1787. Webber, who was on an annual salary of £250 for submitting everything he did to J.W., was an exception.

49 W. G. Constable, John Flaxman (1937), 9, and also ch. 11 passim for an excellent discussion of Wedgwood’s relations with Flaxman.

50 WMSS. E. 18278–25. J.W. to T.B. 28 Dec. 1769, and E. 18523–25. J.W. to T.B. 13 March 1774.

51 Carol Macht, Classical Wedgwood Designs (1957), passim, and J.W. to Joseph Wright of Derby, WMSS. E. 672–1, and many others. Wedgwood was by no means consistent on this point, and I hope to deal with it more fully elsewhere.

52 And whatever their reputation, they were expected to work hard. When Stubbs stayed at Etruria, for instance, he was kept ‘hard at it every night almost ‘till bedtime’, cf. Neil McKendrick, op. cit. p. 510.

53 WMSS. E. 18668–25. J.W. to T.B. 12 May 1776.

54 WMSS. E. 28409—39. Commonplace Book, 1790—4, pp. 5–6.

55 WMSS. E. 18785–25. J.W. to T.B. 18 Oct. 1777.

56 WMSS. E. 18784–25. J.W. to T.B. (Endorsed 17 October 1777.)

57 WMSS. E. 18786–25. J.W. to Cooper and Glover, 16 Oct. 1777 (Draft).

58 WMSS. E. 18791–25. J.W. to T.B. 4 Nov. 1777. ‘My girls are in your hands do to them, and with them as seemeth good unto you. If the little Virago will repent & mind her business it is a pity to part with her after so much time & expence bestow’d on them. They have cost me about 30 or 40 pounds apiece, & should be worth 50—But settle the matter just as you think best. If you think there is any possibility of her doing well when their passions are subsided, you may tell her mother she has cost me too much to part with for nothing, & if she does not chuse to do her duty I shall be in town soon & will endeavour to oblige. We shall certainly want all our hands soon as the season approaches.’

59 WMSS. L.H.P. J.W. to T.B. 4 Nov. 1780.

60 WMSS. E. 28409–25. Commonplace Book, 1790–4, pp. 5–17.

61 Ashton, T. S., The Industrial Revolution (1949), 120–1, and Rolt, L. T. C., George and Robert Stephenson (1960), 76.

62 WMSS. E. 18287–25. J.W. to T.B. 3 Feb. 1770.

63 WMSS. E. 18782–25. J.W. to T.B. 6 Oct. 1777.

64 WMSS. E. 18287–25. J.W. to T.B. 3 Feb. 1770.

65 Ibid.

66 WMSS. E. 18333–25. J.W. to T.B. 22 Dec. 1770, ‘things have gone pretty well in my absence’, and E. 18542–25. J.W. to T.B. 24 June 1774.

67 WMSS. E. 597–1. Hugh Ford to J.W. 13 March 1764. Ford hoped that delivery would soon begin again so that he could ‘drop all designs of setting up a Potwork’ himself.

68 WMSS. E. 18381–25. J.W. to T.B. Postmark 22 July (1772).

69 WMSS. E. 28409–25. Commonplace Book, 1790–4, pp. 7–17. He divided the responsibility and placed his trust in men like John Boulton, inspector of the turners, John Harrop, inspector of the biscuit house, Daniel Steel, inspector of the handlers, Jesse Bourne, superintendent and looker–out in the warehouse, Joseph Plant, looker–over in the slip house and Henry Hulme in the gloss oven.

70 WMSS. E. 29110–45. J.W.’s Commonplace Book, p. 244.

71 WMSS. E. 19114–26. ‘J.W.’s Experiments, Potters’ Instructions Etc. 1780.’

72 WMSS. E. 4045–5. Endorsed’Regulations Mfy. 1810. R. Rhead.’

73 WMSS. E. 19114–26, p. 74.

74 Ibid.

75 The Story of Wedgwood (1930), revised edn. 1953, p. 17.

76 WMSS.E. 28408–39. J.W. Commonplace Book, 1, 179–182 (undated).

77 WMSS. E. 19114–26, p. 27.

78 Ashton, T. S., An Economic History of England: The 18th Century (1955), 214.

79 Ibid. 212.

80 WMSS. E. 28408–39, p. 180.

81 Ibid.

82 WMSS. E. 4045–5. Rule 6.

83 Ibid. Rule 7.

84 WMSS. E. 4325–6 to 4247–6. B. Mather to J.W. and P. Swift, 1774–5.

85 WMSS. E. 18381–25. J.W. to T.B. Postmark 22 July (1772).

86 Arnold, Bennett, Anna of the Five Towns (1902), reprinted 1954, p. 116.

87 Ibid.

88 WMSS. E. 4045–5. Rule 2.

89 Ibid. Rule 3.

90 WMSS. E. 18271–25. J.W. to T.B. 1 Dec. 1769.

91 WMSS. E. 19114–26. ‘J.W.’s Experiments, Potters’ Instructions Etc. 1780’, p. 19.

92 Ibid. 20.

93 Ibid.

94 Ibid.

95 Ibid. 30.

96 Ibid. 56.

97 Ibid. 62.

98 Ibid. 64.

99 Ibid. 50.

100 Ibid. 46.

101 Ibid. 20.

102 Ibid.

103 Ibid. 70.

104 Ibid. 60.

105 Ibid. 74.

106 The indirect evidence supports it for he was never afraid to criticize or turn down work. For example, he wrote to Bentley about Sadler of Liverpool’s work ‘He has just completed a sett of Landskips for the inside of dishes &c, with childish, scrawling sprigs of flowers for the rims, all of which he thinks very clever, but they will not do for us’ (my italics). WMSS. E. 18299–25. J.W. to T.B. 12 May 1770.

107 WMSS. E. 18453–25. J.W. to T.B. 3 April 1773.

108 WMSS. E. 18913–25. J.W. to T.B. 2 August 1779.

109 WMSS. E. 18479–25. J.W. to T.B. (July 1773): ‘I have broke some which were to have been sent to you.’

110 WMSS. L.H.P. J.W. to T.B. 24 April 1771.

111 WMSS. E. 18752–25. J.W. to T.B. 26 April 1777.

112 WMSS. E. 18647–25. J.W. to T.B. 27 Jan. 1776.

113 WMSS. E. 18690–25. J.W. to T.B. 10 Sept. 1776.

114 WMSS. E. 18700–25. J.W. to T.B. 28 Sept. 1776.

115 WMSS. L.H.P. J.W. to T.B. 24 April 1771.

116 WMSS. E. 18743–25. J.W. to T.B. 8 April 1777.

117 WMSS. E. 19114–26. Op. cit. 64.

118 Ibid. 64.

119 Ibid. 40.

120 WMSS. E. 4045–5.

121 WMSS. E. 18631–25. J.W. to T.B. 6 Dec. 1775.

122 WMSS. E. 18579–25. J.W. to T.B. 1 Jan. 1775 (‘Part the 2nd’).

123 WMSS. E. 4046–5. Unfortunately undated.

124 Ibid.

125 Ashton, T. S., The Industrial Revolution (1949). 123.

126 Ashton, T. S., The Industrial Revolution (1949), 23.

127 WMSS. L.H.P. J.W. to T.B. 10 Aug. 1771.

128 WMSS. E. 18382–25. J.W. to T.B. 25 July 1772.

129 WMSS. E. 18431–25. J.W. to T.B. 28 Dec. 1772. This is quoted by T. S. Ashton, An Economic History of England: The 18th Century (1955), p. 212, but is incorrectly dated, and has some minor errors of transcription.

130 WMSS. E. 18680–25. J.W. to T.B. 5 July 1776.

131 Leon, Radzinowicz, A History of English Criminal Law (1956). iii, 191.

132 WMSS. E. 18089–25. J.W. to John Wedgwood, 7 Aug. 1765.

133 WMSS. E. 18582–25. J.W. to T.B. 8 Jan. 1775.

134 WMSS. E. 18265–25. J.W. to T.B. 9 Oct. (1769).

135 ‘One of the more remarkable aspects of 18th century porcelain manufacture on the Continent was the rise of the wandering arcanist’—men who bartered their claimed knowledge of ceramic secrets for employment, and, too often, stole the secrets of their new employer in return. Cf. George Savage, ‘The Influence of Wedgwood on Continental Pottery and Porcelain’, The Third Annual Wedgwood International Seminar (Boston,. April 1958), 96.

136 V. W. Bladen, op. cit. 366.

137 Ibid.

138 WMSS. E. 18959–26. ‘Some hints respecting the means of preventing, the emtgration of our Workmen, into the Service of Foreign Manufacturers.’ 24 April 1784.

139 WMSS. E. 18960–26. ‘Proposed as a part of a plan to prevent emigration’, 1784.

140 WMSS. E. 18959–26. Ibid.

141 Foreword to An Address to the Workmen in the Pottery on the Subject of Entering into the Service of Foreign Manufacturers by J.W. (Newcastle, 1783).

142 Ibid. 4–5.

143 Ibid. 6–7.

144 Ibid. 7.

145 Ibid. 7.

146 Ibid. 8.

147 Ibid. 9.

148 Ibid.

149 Ibid. 15.

150 Ibid. 12.

151 Ibid. 15.

152 Ibid.

153 Ibid. 17–18.

154 Ibid. 18.

155 WMSS. E. 18261–25. J.W. to T.B. 27 Sept. 1769.

156 V. W. Bladen, op. cit. 366.

157 For a discussion of their attitudes, cf. Neil, McKendrick, ‘Wedgwood and his Friends’, Horizon, 1, 5 (1959), 8897 and 128–30, and also Bronowski, J. and Bruce, Mazlish, The Western Intellectual Tradition (1960), ch. 18.

158 L. T. C. Rolt, IsambardKingdom Brunel (1957), 75. ‘Between ourselves it is harder work than I like. I am rarely much under twenty hours a day at it.’

159 The House of Whitbread, vol. 1.

160 Eliza, Meteyard, The Life of Josiah Wedgwood (18651866), 1, 503–4.

161 L. T. C. Rolt, op. cit. 110.

162 WMSS. E. 18357–25. J.W. to T.B. (March 1772).

163 I shall deal elsewhere with how Wedgwood coped with this lack.

164 WMSS. E. 18102–25. J.W. to T.B. (Nov. 1765).

165 WMSS. E. 18286–25. J.W. to T.B. 24 Jan. 1770. Also E. 18282–25. J.W. to T.B. 6 Jan. 1770.

166 WMSS. E. 18284–25. J.W. to T.B. 15 Jan. 1770.

167 The riot arose from the shortage of corn after the shocking harvest of 1782 which affected the whole country—cf. Ashton, T. S., Economic Fluctuations in England, 1700–1800 (1959), 164—and was sparked off by the arrival of a boat of provisions at Etruria wharf which was bound for Manchester. It should be realized that the conditions were general to the whole of the Potteries and by no means confined to Etruria.

168 Etruria, 27 March 1783.

169 Ibid. 21ff.

170 WMSS. E. 4225–6 to E. 4247–6. Benjamin Mather to J.W. and Peter Swift. July 1774 to May 1775.

171 WMSS. E. 1136–2. Edmund Radcliffe to J.W. 24 July 1774.

172 WMSS. E. 27820–36. Jos Mayer to J.W. 27 July 1776.

173 WMSS. E. 18685–25. J.W. to Jos Mayer (Draft). July 1776.

174 Oliver, Goldsmith, Deserted Village (1769).

175 WMSS. E. 19113. J.W.’s Notes and Experiments, Section F.

176 Samuel, Smiles, Lives of the Engineers (1861), 1, 448.

177 Quoted, ibid.

178 Quoted by White, R. J., Waterloo to Peterloo (1957), 22–3.

179 Ashton, T. S., An Economic History of England: The 18th Century (1955), 212.

1 This article is a revised and slightly extended version of a paper given to the Cambridge Historical Society, on 24 November 1959, at Newnham College, Cambridge. I should like to record here my thanks to Dr J. H. Plumb and Mr C. H. Wilson for having read this article and made many helpful suggestions. I am also greatly indebted to Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, for permission to quote from the manuscripts in the Wedgwood Museum (subsequently referred to as WMSS), and to Mr William Billington, the curator, for his generous help. The manuscripts have been collected from different sources and are catalogued accordingly. I have adopted the following abbreviations—E. for Etruria, L. for Liverpool, and L.H.P. for Leith Hill Place (this last collection is uncatalogued). The Mosley papers, also at Barlaston, I refer to in full (they are also uncatalogued). Dubious dates or dates relying on internal evidence are given in parentheses.

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