01.The Arrival of Wedgwood and the Establishment of the Community

Most large pottery manufacturers were directly responsible for changes in the local landscape during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was caused not only by the erection of the factories themselves, but also through the establishment of a range of ancillary buildings including houses and pubs. Many manufacturers were also associated with improvements to transport systems, either through being members of turnpike trusts or investors in canal companies. Yet no manufacturer changed the face of the landscape as much as Josiah Wedgwood. Not only did he build the factory known as Etruria, he also created the village of that name. Without Wedgwood that community would never have existed.

The conception of Etruria dates from 1766, when Wedgwood, who then operated from the Brick House Works in Burslem, became aware of the need for a larger, purpose-built complex in which production could be maximised. In December he had purchased a plot of land consisting of 265 acres two miles east of Burslem known as the Ridge House estate. The terrain was rough gorse, containing only a couple of farms, and through which ran the main Leek to Newcastle-under-Lyme turnpike road.

A plan of the Ridge House estate sketched by Wedgwood in a letter to Thomas Bentley[i] reveals that the southern boundary of the estate was the turnpike road. The land south of this when the estate was purchased belonged to a Mr Egerton of Tatton. Wedgwood also purchased this land primarily to stop others becoming disagreeable neighbours, and so that the wharf could be built further away from the planned site for the family home, Etruria Hall, Wedgwood already having expressed concerns over the possibility of noise. The sketch also shows what is probably a group of houses along the north side of the road, suggesting that the intention of providing workers’ houses and their location was initially planned from the beginning.[ii]

The new factory, although not complete, opened on June 13th 1769 and sat on the junction of the turnpike road and the Trent and Mersey canal. Although the canal was not completed until 1777 Wedgwood was well aware of the route it would be taking. This was of vital importance for both importing raw materials and exporting finished goods. Six years earlier Wedgwood had complained about the local roads being in ‘a very bad condition, narrow in some parts, and in the winter season impassable in many places’.[iii] The canal meant a safer and more cost-effective method of transportation, finished goods having previously been despatched by mules or packhorses.

The façade of the factory, rather than facing the main road, ran alongside the length of the canal – an unusual concept adopted so that important visitors received at the Hall would have a view of the factory before being taken around it. Within view of the Hall’s windows the canal was specially widened to form an ornamental sheet of water before the northern end of the works. In the centre of this miniature lake was a small piece of triangular land still adjoined to the mainland on which Wedgwood planted trees and shrubs to form a retreat.[iv]

The Wedgwood family moved into their newly completed Hall in November 1769, almost six months after the opening of the factory. It comprised of thirty-four rooms, in addition to the cellars reputedly used by Wedgwood to conduct his ceramic experiments. Outbuildings included coach houses and stables, and the ground was landscaped to include gardens, meadowland and pools. During harsh winters these would freeze, as would the canal, and many people would skate on the ice as far as Kidsgrove or Trentham. The two wings that flanked the Hall were added later in 1780, which included a chamber for Alexander Chisholm, Wedgwood’s secretary and amanuensis, a billiard room, schoolroom, a new drawing room measuring 20ft by 30ft, and bedchambers for Wedgwood’s children. In June 1787 a bowling green was laid out in the grounds for the use of neighbours and employees.[v] During the initial layout of the estate Bank House, occasionally referred to as ‘Little Etruria’, was built near to the Hall for Wedgwood’s business partner Thomas Bentley, although never occupied by him. Bentley died in 1780, and apart from being briefly tenanted by Josiah Wedgwood II, Bank House remained largely unoccupied and fell into disrepair. It was taken down during the 1820s.[vi]

Because the factory was set in a rural location Wedgwood needed to provide homes for his workers, and manufacturers were beginning to see the benefits of owning houses. By 1777 Thomas Whieldon had around fifty and although his factory predated Etruria it is uncertain whether these were built at the same time or were a later addition. Of the forty-seven potters who took out insurance policies over a twenty-year period between 1789 and 1809 nineteen owned workers’ houses, ranging from a single cottage to twenty-nine terraced houses.[vii] The rapid growth of the pottery industry had resulted in a shortage of housing and the provision of accommodation acted as an incentive to lure those with the necessary skills. From the manufacturers’ point of view it offered social control. The threat of eviction for an employee who behaved badly outside working hours meant that control was not confined to the factory premises.

Most manufacturers such as Spode, acquired or built groups of houses piecemeal. Wedgwood’s original ‘village’ however was built in one phase between the summer of 1769 and the early months of 1770.[viii] This consisted of seventy-six houses[ix] that stretched along both sides of the turnpike road forming a linear settlement between the canal bridge and Fowlea Brook. Most of these had been built at an average cost of £45 each under a team of at least twelve men,[x] supervised by Edward Bourne who had also overseen the construction of the Hall. A document between Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Shaw dated May 30th 1769, reveals that Wedgwood employed Shaw to complete two dwelling houses by the end of August for an agreed estimate of £65. Wedgwood stipulated that if these were not completed to schedule then Shaw would receive £60 rather than £65, while at the same time emphasising the quality of workmanship required.[xi] Shaw’s work must have been satisfactory as he was still engaged in building workers houses the following year.[xii]

The majority of the houses originally had two downstairs rooms, a living room and a kitchen scullery, with two bedrooms above.[xiii] They had earth floors[xiv], plain board doors, and brick and lintel sills with casement windows of small panes of green leaded glass, some showing the bull’s eye formed when being made. The living room was the only room with a fireplace and therefore would have been the focal point of family life, with cooking, eating and entertaining all taking place in this room. The kitchen scullery was considerably smaller, housing a dogleg staircase to access the bedrooms above. Most of the dwellings opened out directly onto the street with a long yard at the rear.

When new, these houses were by far a huge improvement on most peoples’ homes at that time. The original occupiers had probably moved from Burslem, where the majority of houses in the town during the middle of the eighteenth century would still have been of thatch and timber. The arrangement of a large living room with a smaller kitchen behind appears to have been the standard design for many working class houses over the next seventy-five years. The dwellings in St Mark’s Street, Hanley, built around 1840, mirrored the design of those properties at Etruria both internally and externally.[xv] Multiplying these seventy-six houses by five to represent average household size produces a population estimate of 380 for Etruria during the 1770s. Whether Wedgwood owned workers’ houses before Etruria is open to conjecture. An undated letter and receipt to Wedgwood from James Brown mentions slating a house in Burslem Churchyard and the erection of a dwelling house on a piece of land known as the Cross Hill near to Burslem Church.[xvi]

Annual rents varied from between £2 to £3, although a few anomalies existed such as the rent of Richard Greaves at £6 and John Hackwood at £7. William Hackwood commenced his employment at Wedgwood in September 1767, possibly occupying one of the new houses from the date of his marriage in 1774.[xvii] Three years later the renewal of his hiring agreement revealed that in addition to his salary, the £10 annual rent of his house, ‘Dwelling House number 4’[xviii], was also waived. Until the early part of the nineteenth century the majority of these properties appeared to be occupied by Wedgwood employees, with a proportion of the rent being deducted directly from their wages. Additions or improvements were made as early as May 1790 to some of the properties, which then numbered eighty-seven, such as that occupied by Ralph Moreton, resulting in an increase in annual rent of £2, and that of Widow Bedson in 1798 which increased her rent by £1 4s.[xix] Commercial premises such as the house and shop occupied by crate-maker Thomas Chesworth were let at higher rents than private dwellings. By this time Navigation House had also been built near to the wharf for the canal engineer, as well as a bath house for the use of the bargees.[xx]

During a thirteen-year period between 1797 and 1810, 154 of the 174 tenants listed were male. The four female heads that were recorded were presumed to be single or separated as the sixteen widows were listed separately. These accounted for almost 10% of the total number of tenants. There appeared to be no subsidy in rents for widows, although they were allowed to remain in the property after the death of their spouse. Timothy Oldcott was listed as tenant of house number four in 1797, but five years later it was in the occupancy of ‘Widow Oldcott’.

Of these eighty-seven properties between 1797 and 1810 their occupancy remained fairly stable, with 42.5% of the properties remaining in the hands of the same tenant for the duration of those thirteen years, while 32% of the properties only changed hands once. Only a quarter of the properties had three or more occupiers during that period. However, these figures also include the four properties whose tenancy appeared to pass from father to son, as well as the eleven tenants who simply moved to another Wedgwood property in the street. The numerous reoccurrences of surnames suggests a settled community in which the majority had some form of kin resident in the neighbourhood. Multiplying these eighty-seven houses by five suggests the population had risen to 435.

By June 1790 the Wedgwood workforce numbered 278 men, women and boys.[xxi] The diversity of ware resulting in a range of occupations had produced a hierarchical structure of employees. This was reflected in the wage rates, from Fanny Lownds, a ‘painter of pins’ earning 1s a week to a well-respected modeller like William Hackwood earning 42s a week.[xxii] Dividing the figure of the workforce (278) by the number of houses (87) and assuming that both the husband, wife and one child or other household member were employed at Wedgwood it would seem therefore that the majority of these properties were tenanted by employees.

As well as the houses the village also contained the Etruria Inn, a blacksmiths’ shop and several bakehouses and ovens.[xxiii] The inn not only satisfied the workers needs, but also those of visitors and travellers, many of whom would have unloaded raw materials at the busy wharf. The wage books[xxiv] reveal that the method of payment to each potter also included an allowance for his ancillary workers, whom he paid directly from his ammount, usually after five o’clock on Saturdays.[xxv] In a rural environment such as Etruria the inn may have been the only place where money could have been exchanged.

The inn also had a substantial amount of farmland attached to it,[xxvi] in addition to the Ridge House Farm situated in the north eastern part of the estate and Fowlea Farm to the west. These were the only two dwellings to have been in existence before the estate was purchased and therefore predate the village of Etruria. The account book for 1777[xxvii] records a series of payments under the term of husbandry including ploughing, harrowing, thrashing (sic) wheat, hedging in the Cow Pasture and clearing the plantation that lay in the grounds of the Hall along with the nurseries. The steady stream of payments concerning agriculture reveals that farm management was also an interest of Wedgwood the industrialist.

A number of wells were sunk and at least three pumps were installed to supply water for the village. One was situated at the foot of the canal bridge steps on the south side of the street. Another was halfway along the north side approximately where Forge Lane would later be built. The third was behind the houses on Fold Street,[xxviii] which was the only other street in existence at the time and contained six dwellings.

From the canal bridge down to Fowlea Brook the road along which the houses stood became known as Lord Street. Beyond Fowlea Brook at the bottom of Basford Bank stood a tollhouse. The gate took the form of a chain attached to the fifth house on the south side of the road.[xxix] On the north side lay Etruria Woods, a place of attraction with blackberries, raspberries and wild flowers until the arrival of the railway and the steelworks.[xxx] From the canal bridge and stretching up to Cobridge the road was known as ‘The Grove’. By the end of the eighteen century there were only five dwellings along its length – the Etruria Inn, Bank House, the lodge to Etruria Hall, another tollhouse with a triangular gate, and close to the top the White House, home of potter Ephraim Hobson[xxxi] also known as Cobridge Cottage.[xxxii] In 1774 Edward Ratcliffe spoke of Etruria as ‘that paradise’, while Jos Mayer commented upon ‘the delightful, salubrious situation, and beauty of the place’.[xxxiii] Twenty years later a person writing in The Gentleman’s Magazine described the whole community as ‘a colony newly-raised in a desert’.[xxxiv]

The earliest surviving map of Etruria appears to be a copy made in 1818 of a plan of the estate originally drawn in 1796.[xxxv] The houses lie on both sides of the main road with slightly more on the north, despite not beginning for some distance from the canal bridge. Fold Street can be seen at the western end of the village, and also visible is the Etruria Inn, a group of dwelling houses that adjoined the works,[xxxvi] and various sundry buildings, including the farm behind the houses on the north side of the street. Unfortunately the scale does not allow the precise number of dwellings to be calculated. Overall, the map portrays a rural environment, which it is not too difficult to imagine as being the setting of a Thomas Hardy novel.

The first painting of Etruria dates from about the end of the eighteenth century and confirms the rural environment that existed at this time. This is the only illustration that includes Bank House. The Hall and the works are also visible and in the background can be seen Hanley with its church and windmill. A slightly later painting portrays the field immediately behind the houses on the north side of Lord Street, which is screened by trees, and is the scene of haymaking. The west side of the field is bounded by Fowlea Brook, its course discernible from the trees that lined its banks. No bridge is visible suggesting that a ford existed. The pastoral scene is also reflected immediately south of the village. Beyond the neat rows of houses on both sides of Lord Street can be seen the Etruria Inn and Kirk’s Foundry, opposite which was the Wedgwood works, and above these the wooded area known as The Grove is shown.

Yet this new Eden was not without incidents of hardship and tragedy. 1783 was a year of food shortages throughout the Potteries caused by crop failure during the preceding harvest, with feelings intensified due to unemployment and inflation. In that year a narrowboat moored near to the Wedgwood factory with a cargo of flour and cheese intended for sale in the Potteries. The owners however instructed the crew to continue to Manchester. The shopkeepers of Hanley and Shelton related this news to their customers, who misinterpreted the incident as an attempt to increase demand and inflate prices. A large crowd pursued the vessel and apprehended it at Longport, forcing it to return to Etruria where the master had to sell the cargo at a reduced rate.[xxxvii]

Shortly afterwards, a similar incident occurred with another boat laden with provisions at Etruria Lock. This time the mob of several hundred became riotous, buildings were looted, and attempts were made to set fire to some of the houses belonging to wealthier landowners. At the Wedgwood factory the crate shop became a victim of arson and four men went up to the Hall demanding food and drink. As Josiah Wedgwood was away on business in London, his wife Sarah and his eldest son, seventeen-year-old John, gave them what they requested after attempting to reason with them.[xxxviii] Eventually the Militia were summoned to restore order and the two leaders, Joseph Boulton and Stephen Barlow, were taken to Stafford prison. Boulton managed to escape with a public flogging although Barlow was hanged for the offence.[xxxix] Punishments were sometimes severe. In 1800 a boy living at Etruria was convicted of stealing a sixpence and was condemned to be hanged, a sentence that was later carried out.[xl]

[i] Letter JW to TB, 24th Dec, 1767.

[ii] Eliza Meteyard, The Life of Josiah Wedgwood – From his private correspondence and family papers with an introductory sketch of the art of pottery in England (2 vols.). Hurst and Blackett, London, 1865. Limited edition facsimile, 1980., 495-7 (vol.1)

[iii] Examination of Josiah Wedgwood in 1763 on the state of the Newcastle Roads. Document source unrecorded in Staffordshire Roads 1700 – 1840. Local History Source Book G1, Staffordshire County Council Education Department.

[iv] Ernest J D Warrillow, History of Etruria, Staffordshire, England 1760 – 1951. Etruscan Publications, Hanley, (second edition, 1952), 63.

[v] Warrillow, Etruria, 47.

[vi] Bank House, along with Etruria Hall were both listed as being tenanted by G E Magnus in 1821. Rent Ledger 1816-1840, undocumented, Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston.

[vii] Diane Baker, Potworks – The Industrial Architecture of the Staffordshire Potteries.  Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1991, 33.

[viii] WMSS 28693-43 Account Book 1770; Letter JW to TB, 15th Jan, 1770.

[ix] WMSS 28642-43 An Account of Buildings and Improvements on Etruria Estates since the Purchase at Xmas 1787.

[x] WMSS 28693-43 Account Book 1770. Expenses of Building Dwelling Houses for Work Men.

[xi] Photograph of original document (negative ref. No. GL2821/2L) of an agreement between Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Shaw, May 30th, 1769 for the building of two dwelling houses at Etruria.

[xii] WMSS 28693-43 Account Book 1770. Expenses of Building Dwelling Houses for Work Men

[xiii]Arthur Moore, Etruria Approx 1925 Drawn from Memory in 1991, hand-drawn map with notation.

[xiv] Warrillow, Etruria, 23.

[xv] David Alan Gately, Housing in the Potteries website at http://www.staffs.ac.uk/schools/humanities_and_social_sciences/tours/hanhou81.htm, 20-12-2004.

[xvi] L113-21581 – 21581A. Letter and receipt from James Brown to JW.

[xvii] Brian Bates, William Hackwood, with suggestions/revisions by Woody Johnson for Ars Ceramica, June 2001.

[xviii] WMSS 28690-43 Account Book 1777, entries May 9th and 16th 1778. There does however appear to be some discrepancy over Hackwood’s address. The rent account book 1796-1811 (WMSS 28683-43) lists Hackwood’s address as ‘number 49’.

[xix] WMSS 28683-43 Rent Account Book 1796-1811.

[xx] WMSS28642-43 An Account of Buildings and Improvements on Etruria Estates since the Purchase at Xmas 1787.

[xxi] Neil McKendrick, Josiah Wedgwood and Factory Discipline. Reprinted from The Historical Journal IV, I (1961), p6.

[xxii] Neil McKendrick, Josiah Wedgwood and Factory Discipline, p6.

[xxiii] Warrillow, Etruria, 23.

[xxiv] Wedgwood Wage Books for O. W. Potters 1834-37, and 1837-41. Undocumented, Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston.

[xxv] WMSS 28997-44. John Finney, Sixty Years’ Recollections of An Etruscan, . J G Fenn, Stoke on Trent, 1902, 2.

[xxvi] WMSS28642-43 An Account of Buildings and Improvements on Etruria Estates since the Purchase at Xmas 1787.

[xxvii] WMSS 28690-43 Account Book 1777

[xxviii] Warrillow, Etruria, 23.

[xxix] Warrillow, Etruria, 145.

[xxx] John Finney, Etruscan, 2.

[xxxi] Warrillow, Etruria, 136.

[xxxii] Rent Ledger 1816-1840, undocumented, Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston.

[xxxiii] Neil McKendrick, Josiah Wedgwood and Factory Discipline, p26.

[xxxiv] Meteyard, The Life of Josiah Wedgwood, p129 (vol.2).

[xxxv] Etruria estate map 1796. Unknown cartographer. Copy made 1818. Undocumented, belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster papers, Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston.

[xxxvi] Etruria Estate Sale Catalogue 1844.

[xxxvii] Neville Malkin, A Grand Tour – A Personal View of The Potteries. Ironmarket Press, 1976, 100.

[xxxviii] Barbara & Hensleigh Wedgwood, The Wedgwood Circle. Four Generations of a Family and their Friends. Studio Vista/Cassell, 1980, 81.

[xxxix] Malkin, A Grand Tour, 100.

[xl] Ernest J D Warrillow, A Sociological History of the City of Stoke on Trent, Etruscan Publications, 1960, 75.

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