Wedgwood (Josiah Wedgwood (& Sons Ltd)) c.1759–1989 (2008)
Josiah Wedgwood began pottery manufacture in his own right in 1759, renting the Ivy
House Works, Burslem from his cousins John and Thomas Wedgwood. The Brick House (subsequently
named the Bell Works) was leased in 1764 and in 1766 Wedgwood acquired the Ridge
House estate of 350 acres where he constructed the Etruria Works opened in 1769.
‘Etruria’ included a modern factory intended for ornamental wares, houses for Wedgwood
and his partner in the venture, Thomas Bentley, and housing for the workers employed
at the Manufactury. Wedgwood had met Bentley, a Liverpool merchant, in 1762 and at
Wedgwood’s urging Bentley became a partner in the Etruria venture intended to manufacture
ornamental wares. Bentley also managed the Wedgwood London showrooms from about 1769
until his death in 1780.
Josiah Wedgwood’s sons John, Thomas and Josiah II (and nephew Thomas Byerley) were
admitted to the partnership in 1790, and on Wedgwood’s death in 1795, management
of the business passed to the remaining partners Josiah II and Thomas Byerley (John
and Thomas Wedgwood left the partnership in 1793). In 1895 the business was incorporated
as a private company, ‘Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd’. The Barlaston Hall estate was
purchased in 1937 and construction of a new factory and village commenced in 1938.
Construction was halted by the war, but resumed in 1945 and the factory commenced
full production in 1950. It remained the company’s major manufacturing base in the
United Kingdom until 2008. Etruria, home of the Wedgwood businesses for 180 years
was demolished in 1966.
Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd became a public company in July 1940 as part of a restructure
of the company’s share capital to fund the completion of the Barlaston factory. The
capital raising of £350,000 in new one pound shares was subscribed by the existing
family shareholders numbering approximately 150 and control of the company remained
firmly in the hands of the Wedgwood family.
See Wedgwood proprietors for more information on the role of Josiah Wedgwood’s decendants
in the management of the business.
Wedgwood (Josiah Wedgwood Ltd) 1966-?
In 1966, following the acquisition of William Adams and Tuscan China Holdings Ltd
the company was restructured: Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd was renamed Josiah Wedgwood
Ltd, to act as a holding company for the various businesses within the Wedgwood Group.
Confusingly, a new trading subsidiary ‘Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd’ was formed to
continue the manufacturing and trading activities of the original company. The new
holding company, Josiah Wedgwood Ltd, listed as a public company (although still
controlled by the Wedgwood family) on the London Stock Exchange in May 1967 allowing
the public, for the first time, to purchase shares in the company. Appropriately,
the Chairman of the new company was Josiah Wedgwood, the great-great-great grandson
of the founder.
Following the pottery industry consolidation in the 1960s and early 1970s, in addition
to Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd, other trading subsidiaries included William Adams
& Sons (Potters) Ltd, Tuscan China Holdings Ltd, R. H. & S. L. Plant Ltd, Susie Cooper
Ltd and New Chelsea China Co. Ltd. Further Wedgwood acquisitions in the late-1960s
and 1970s included Coalport China Ltd (1967), Johnson Bros (1968), J. & G. Meakin
Ltd and W. R. Midwinter Ltd (1970), and Mason’s Ironstone China Ltd (1973). The acquisition
of Johnson Bros and its five earthenware factories in 1968 alone doubled Wedgwood’s
size. Through these acquisitions Wedgwood acquired the rights to the Adams, Tuscan,
Royal Tuscan, Susie Cooper, Coalport, Foley, Johnson Bros, Meakin, Midwinter, Shorter,
Clarice Cliff and Mason names. Enoch Wedgwood (Tunstall) Ltd was acquired in 1980
adding the Enoch Wedgwood, Crown Ducal and Furnivals brands. The Wedgwood, Adams,
Coalport and Johnson Bros names have been continued as core Waterford Wedgwood brands
to the present day.
Waterford Wedgwood plc 1986 (1989)–2008
In 1986 Wedgwood was the subject of a hostile takeover bid from the London International
Group, the owners of Royal Worcester and Spode at the time. The LIG bid was rejected
by Wedgwood, but to safeguard the company’s future, its Chairman, Sir Arthur Bryan,
negotiated a friendly takeover by the Irish glassware manufacturer Waterford Crystal
Ltd. The takeover, which valued Wedgwood at £252.6 million, was completed in 1986
although formation of the new holding company, Waterford Wedgwood plc did not occur
In the late-1980s the new conglomerate faced increasing production costs combined
with recession in its key North American markets and in 1988 private investors led
by Irish businessman J. F. O'Reilly, offered a company buyout. Although initially
refused, O'Reilly and his co-investors acquired 15% of Waterford Wedgwood in 1990
and under a new management team the company returned to profitability in 1992. In
1995 Waterford Wedgwood acquired Stuart & Sons Ltd, the UK's leading manufacturer
of crystal glassware. A 9% stake in Rosenthal A. G. of Selb, Germany, was acquired
in 1997 and this was increased to 85% in 1998. Further acquisitions included the
US cookware company All-Clad (May 1999) and Hutschenreuther, the German porcelain
and giftware brand in August 2000. Waterford Wedgwood now termed itself ‘...the world’s
leading luxury lifestyle group with four world class brands—Waterford Crystal, Wedgwood,
Rosenthal and All-Clad’. In addition to the Wedgwood, Rosenthal and Hutschenreuther
names, the group also produced ceramics under the Coalport, Mason’s, Johnson Bros,
Franciscan, Thomas and Waterford names.
In March 2003 Waterford Wedgwood announced a restructure of its earthenware operations
with the closure of its two Johnson Bros factories, the total outsourcing of Johnson
Bros earthenware production to Asia, and the concentration of Wedgwood fine earthenware
production at Barlaston. In November 1999 Waterford Wedgwood bought a 14.9% stake
in rival ceramics firm Royal Doulton plc, the interest was increased to 21% in mid-2003
and in April 2005 Waterford Wedgwood acquired the remaining 79% of Royal Doulton’s
share capital, thus acquiring the rights to the key Doulton, Mintons, and Royal Albert
Far from stabilizing the financial position of Waterford Wedgwood, the 2005 purchase
of Royal Doulton for £90 million, exacerbated its financial difficulties and by September
2008 the Group’s net debt had reached an unsustainable £377 million. A share issue
in September 2008 to raise £122 million to pay down debt raised only half the required
funds and on 2nd December 2008 the company announced that it had breached loan covenants
with its banks. Three extensions to the deadline for payment were negotiated, but
on 5th January 2009 Waterford Wedgwood plc was placed in the hands of administrators.
WWRD Holdings Ltd 2009–present
On the 27th February 2009 it was announced that most of Waterford Wedgwood’s assets
had been sold to the US private equity company KPS Capital Partners leaving approximately
£748 million in debt and pension liabilities in the hands of the receivers. The formation
of a new company WWRD Holding Ltd was announced on 26th March 2009 and involved the
purchase of certain Waterford, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton assets in the United Kingdom
and North America, the purchase of intellectual property in Ireland (but not the
Waterford factory) and the purchase of subsidiaries in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong,
Taiwan, Singapore and Australia. According to the statement released by KPS Capital
Partners, WWRD will continue to be a leading provider of luxury and lifestyle products
worldwide under the well recognised brands Waterford, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Royal
Albert, Minton and Johnson Bros.
The output of the Wedgwood factories has been vast and includes virtually every class
of ceramic. Josiah Wedgwood was not only an able and innovative potter, but a businessman
of exceptional acumen who exploited every opportunity to promote himself and his
products. He was one of the first to recognise that manufacturers must adapt to the
changing whims of the buying public; and also that meticulous attention to quality
paid dividends for the manufacturer.
Teapots and other wares slip cast in the form of fruit and vegetables were an important
product of the Whieldon-Wedgwood partnership (1754-59) and Wedgwood retained the
rights to his inventions, including the clear green glaze used on the ‘Cauliflower
Ware’ produced at his Ivy House and Bell Works. Wedgwood introduced creamware, an
attractive light cream-coloured earthenware, from c.1760 gradually improving the
body and glaze. Made into classical shapes and transfer printed (from c.1763) creamware,
(marketed as ‘Queen’s Ware’ from 1765) became a staple of the Wedgwood factories
for nearly 200 years. Pearl ware, jasper ware, and basaltes were other important
Wedgwood innovations. So fine were the products and so good the quality, that there
were avid collectors of Wedgwood’s wares in his own lifetime!
Although known primarily for earthenware, Wedgwood produced bone china in the period
1812-1829 and from 1878 to the present day. Prominent designers and artists for the
Wedgwood Group in the 20th century include designers Keith Murray and Eric Ravilious
and art directors John Goodwin and Victor Skellern.
Tradenames and backstamps
The Wedgwood trademark has been the one word 'WEDGWOOD' impressed on earthenware
and jasper. On bone china (manufactured from 1878) the mark has been the Wedgwood
name plus a representation of the Portland Vase.
The site of the new Wedgwood Museum adjacent to the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston.
The museum is run as a Charitable Trust and in addition to a large collection of
Wedgwood ceramics, holds manuscripts, documents correspondence and equipment covering
the history of Wedgwood.