Josiah Wedgwood was lucky to marry his cousin, Sarah Wedgwood for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it meant she didn’t have to change her name, so little in the way of pesky paperwork to fill in, and secondly, she had rather a large inheritance tucked away which allowed Josiah to indulge in his passion – experimenting with different pottery designs and techniques.
The Wedgwood family were also in bed, both literally and figuratively, with the Darwin family. This resulted in Josiah being the Grandfather of Charles Darwin. In fact, the bond between the two families was so close, there were 25 marriages between them, 5 of which were between very close relatives. Whilst this ensured the huge wealth they’d amassed stayed in the family, it may also (according to the New Scientist) have contributed to the dynasty’s rather poor health.
Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that we’ve been left with some rather fine ceramics and a piece of work that you may just have heard of as a result, called The Origin of Species.
It was the former however that took us just 30 minutes away to the rather splendid World of Wedgwood the other day,
Having splashed out 34 million quid on updating the place, the new and shiney Visitor Centre includes a Flagship Store, Dining Hall, Tea Emporium, Museum, Factory Outlet Store, Decorating/Mastercraft Studios and Tea Room.
Having never knowingly visited anywhere without stopping for tea and cake, there seemed no reason we could find not to indulge in their rather convivial afternoon tea.
As you can see below, the Tea Room is decorated in a very fetching blue wall paper and funky spherical lights. The afternoon tea is served up on the obligatory three tier thingy with the crusts cut off the sarnies.
Although we didn’t visit the Tea Emporium, it’s clear they have quite a few varieties available, five of which were on offer for us to sample. I went for the Darjeeling, a very weak, slightly aromatic number, whilst Helen selected the Strawberry and Kiwi, which smelled like a milkshake, but strangely enough tasted like fruity tea. Who’d have thought?
As we’d arrived without booking anything in advance, we were slightly concerned that some of the activities on offer may not be available. However, on speaking with the extremely friendly and helpful lady on reception, we found ourselves booked on a factory tour, followed by a session in the Mastercraft Studio.
There are various versions of the Factory Tour – some are guided and some self-guided. We had the latter, which meant observing most of the factory from an elevated walkway. This had a good number of exhibits and explanatory boards showing how the various ceramic creation processes are carried out.
I don’t know about you, but we can’t help wondering who the first person was that decided it would be a really good idea to pop a chunk of clay into a 1,200 degree oven, with the express desire of making some kind of pot.
The last part of the tour allows you to get up close and personal with the ‘workers’. These are the talented folk who create what it is that you’re actually buying. With a bewildering array of different shaped brushes, numerous layers and colours of glaze are applied by hand to their very high-end ware. These really are works of art.
The less expensive stuff has the design printed on a transfer. This is applied by hand, just like the RAF roundels you used to pick up from a saucer of water and slide onto the wings and tail of your Airfix Spitfire model as a child. Not that we’re suggesting this is an easy option. Watching the ladies applying and trimming the designs with their scalpels showed just how delicate this kind of work really is.
Unfortunately, as you’re not allowed to take any photos during the tour, you’ll have to forgive us for not including any.
Ever since they used to show The Potter’s Wheel on TV we’ve been keen to try our hand at throwing a pot. If you’re not aufait with the televisual experience that was The Potter’s Wheel, it was shown as an interlude in black and white during the 50s and 60s. Yep, that’s when TV programmes actually finished some time in the late evening, which meant you had to get off your backside, and actually walk to the TV to turn it off. The picture would then promptly disappear into a small dot in the middle of the tiny 16″ screen.
By ‘eck we knew how to have fun in them days!
Anyhow, with the assistance of our very helpful instructor, we were bedecked in plastic aprons and stood in front of a real wet and spinning potter’s wheel.
Having been shown the relevant techniques we were allowed to chuck our lump of clay at the centre(ish) of the wheel and start creating our masterpieces.
As you can see from the look of concentration on our faces, we were taking this just as seriously as if we were on the next series of The Great Pottery Throwdown, either that or we’re just so competitive we both wanted to make the best pot!
We’ll let you judge who created the best piece of Wedgwood, but you can see the results of our creative effort below ?
Having created our masterpieces and ticked off another activity from our ‘bucket list’, we retired to the Factory Outlet. You may have noticed that we skipped past the Flagship Store as, although there was some very nice stuff in there, it was probably going to be outside our price range given that we have to buy 30 of everything to replace our current Staffordshire crockery!
So there you have it. The World of Wedgwood – it’s a great place to spend some time if you’re staying at The Laurels.