Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) was a leading figure in Britain’s Industrial Revolution, a successful entrepreneur in the ceramics industry, a promoter of canals, and a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, the centre of Enlightenment thinking in the English Midlands.
Wedgwood established his rationally-planned pottery works at Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, alongside the Trent & Mersey Canal in 1769, and his company prospered under successive generations of his family. In 1938-40 production was moved to a garden setting at Barlaston, 8 km south of Etruria.
The Wedgwood Museum collection dates from the eighteenth century, and currently consists of 80,000 works of art, ceramic items, manuscripts, letters and pattern books. It was displayed to the public at Etruria from 1906, was closed when production on the site ceased, and re-opened at Barlaston in 1952. A new visitor centre was added in the mid-1970s, and further rebuilding took place in the 1980s. Another new museum building was opened in 2008. The future of the collection was threatened when it was declared to be an asset to set against pension debts when the Wedgwood company was declared bankrupt after a series of takeovers. In December 2014, after a five-year campaign, an agreement was reached between the current company, Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, under which the collection will not be sold and will remain at Barlaston. The museum re-opened in 2015 as part of the World of Wedgwood attraction which incorporates factory tours and dining experiences.