Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance
August 24, 2018
The grey clouds are spitting ever so gently as we hurry through the throngs of people gathered in the forecourt of the railway station. We quickly locate our platform and enter the train. Finding available seats, which are facing forward, is already a challenge as this train is fairly crowded, despite it being an 'off-peak' service.
A mere thirty-five minutes later, we emerge from our destination station. Quickly finding a cab, we give him the address. Already it is warming up, the sky is clearing and friendly, white fluffy clouds are puffing. I'm glad that I opt to dress for the predicted 23 degrees Celsius.
A short time later we cross a railway line. I grin at the memory of the day Helene and I ran as fast as we could, just to see the disappearing back end of the train as we puffed our way onto the platform. In the middle of winter, in the middle of nowhere, we had a long two hour wait for the next train.
But now I'm a bit disappointed. After driving across the railway lines, I realise that the beautiful parkland, which was here thirty-eight years ago, has been recently subdivided and replaced with cheap, ugly houses. They are in different stages of construction. Just beside the road is a large earthmover, which is busily moving earth, levelling it, and patting it down, in preparation for even more houses. I'm glad that I had visited this once beautiful place in 1981, so the romance of the place is still firmly implanted in my memory.
From the time I was a young child of about ten, I had been fascinated by Wedgwood jasperware. For some reason, every time we visited the china department of Myer, I had been drawn to the blue and green ware adorned with white classical figures. Owning just one small piece of this special ware had been one of my childish ultimate goals. Despite this, it would take eleven years before I would own my very first piece of Wedgwood jasperware, and it was in this very place that I made my first Wedgwood jasper purchase.
We enter the Wedgwood reception area, but there is absolutely nothing here that is familiar. The pottery, this iconic factory seems to be much smaller than I remember. The refurbished buildings no longer remind me of the oldest working pottery in England. They may be modern and functional, but they are stark and have lost their soul; Josiah Wedgwood's soul. We enter, pay for a factory tour, and start with the museum.
Founded in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood, the pottery had been run by the family for over 150 years. It is hard to believe that exquisite cream-coloured tea and coffee services had been made for royalty even before Captain Cook embarked on his voyage of discovery down the east coast of Australia. Wedgwood had been a man way ahead of his time, experimenting and applying different elements to clay to produce different colours and styles. He also documented and kept all of his experiments, and even his failures. Wedgwood had been responsible for developing and perfecting jasperware, and to this day, the recipe is a carefully guarded secret.
In 2009, the Wedgwood company had gone into receivership, and that there had been a real fear that the items, carefully collected over 250 years would be split and sold. Within 33 days, with the assistance of a Heritage Lottery and other donations, enough money was raised to save the collection, which was donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They, in turn, gifted it back to the museum in Barlaston in perpetuity. I can now almost accept the sale and subdivision of the surrounding land. To think that this collection could have easily been divided up between museums and private collections would be a disaster. I wish that we had a Heritage Lottery in Australia, which could be used to raise money for special purchases, such buildings or collections that are culturally important to the country. The museum is vast, and I think it would be more beneficial to me to join a tour of the museum later in the day. I am reminded of my meetings with The Lord Wedgwood in more recent years until his untimely death in 2014. They are made more meaningful now when viewing this enormous collection. He had been so proud of his heritage, but the downfall of this and other potteries in England was probably catastrophic to the family. The exhibits here at the factory are an important part of England's social and cultural history. It chronicles the fads and fashions over a two-hundred-and-fifty year period, and again, I am so pleased that the implementation of the Heritage Lottery was used to save these magnificent items.
We gather for the factory tour. We are not allowed to take any photos inside the factory. We follow Julia, the guide, who takes us through the different stages of the making of bone china items. I recall our time here in 1981, where we wandered amongst the artists and we the opportunity to watch them at work. We had seen a piece of the Florentine patterned dinnerware progress from clay through to hand-painting the details between the transferred pattern. Today we stand on gantries above the factory floor and watch the artists from above. When we eventually reach the floor, we find the artists have their backs to us, making it impossible to see them at work. Perhaps they don't like being 'on show' like exhibits in a zoo, or maybe the constant stream of tourists is too disruptive to their work.
I'm looking forward to seeing the jasperware part of the tour, but it is too rushed and Julia seems to be impatient to finish up. We decide to do the museum tour and quickly make our way into the museum, where we join the group. The tour is good because despite seeing many of the exhibits earlier under our own steam, the guide was able to progress through the 250 year history by showing specific historically significant pieces.
The sad thing about Wedgwood ware is that many pieces are no longer being made in England, although jasperware is still and always will be made in Barlaston.
We spend almost an entire day here at the factory and museum. Although I'm sad that the factory and lands have changed irreparably over the past years, I'm glad that the collection had been deemed to be important enough to save, and that it is on display in a place that is in every way, Wedgwood.
My own collection is now vast, after that first purchase in 1981. Today, I no longer add to it, but I'm glad we have the opportunity to visit this special place, and to be able to reminisce to our visit in 1981. It's also nice to recognise some special that are now museum pieces, including the special connections that the Wedgwood family had with Australia.
Title Quote: Josiah Wedgwood
Accommodation: Premier Inn Manchester City Centre, Piccadilly.
72 Dale St, Manchester M1 2HR, UK