Thomas Whieldon (September 1719 in Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent – March 1795) was a significant English potter who played a leading role in the development of Staffordshire pottery.
Penkhull is a township within Stoke-upon-Trent in the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the English county of Staffordshire. The township is part of the Penkhull and Stoke electoral ward, and the Stoke Central parliamentary constituency.
Stoke-on-Trent is a city and unitary authority area in Staffordshire, England, with an area of 36 square miles (93 km2). Together with the neighbouring boroughs of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Staffordshire Moorlands, it is part of North Staffordshire. In 2016, the city had a population of 261,302.
Pottery is the process of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard, durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made by a potter is also called a pottery. The definition of pottery used by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), is "all fired ceramic wares that contain clay when formed, except technical, structural, and refractory products." In archaeology, especially of ancient and prehistoric periods, "pottery" often means vessels only, and figures etc. of the same material are called "terracottas". Clay as a part of the materials used is required by some definitions of pottery, but this is dubious.
The attribution of actual pieces to his factory has long been uncertain, and terms such as "Whieldon-type" are now often used for a variety of different types of wares. Other terms reflecting the lack of certainty are "Whieldon ware" as a type, and "Astbury-Whieldon", used for early Staffordshire figures, where the two were pioneers. He worked in earthenware and stoneware, using a variety of types of body and ceramic glazes. He is especially associated with agate ware and tortoiseshell ware; in both cases Whieldon refined the techniques used, and made the types more popular.
John Astbury (1688–1743) was an English potter credited with innovations and improvements in earthenware associated with Staffordshire figures.
Staffordshire figures are a type of popular pottery figurine made in England from the 18th century onward. Most Staffordshire figures from 1740 to 1900 were produced by small potteries and makers' marks are generally absent. Most Victorian figures were designed to stand on a shelf or mantlepiece and are therefore only modelled and decorated where visible from the front and sides. These are known as 'flatbacks'.
Earthenware is glazed or unglazed nonvitreous pottery that has normally been fired below 1200 °C. Porcelain, bone china, and stoneware, all fired at high enough temperatures to vitrify, are the main other important types of pottery.
Whieldon is first recorded as a potter in 1744 when he married Anne Shaw at Barlaston Church. Little is known about his early career and it is not known where he served his apprenticeship.Anne died in 1757 and in 1758 Whieldon married Alice Parrot, the daughter of a notable family from Newcastle-under-Lyme. Josiah Wedgwood recorded how Alice later died very suddenly at church one Sunday night in 1772. Whieldon married a third time in 1776, wedding Sarah Turner, who was from London society, although there was a family connection, as yet unknown, with one John Turner of Lane End, Staffordshire, a potter. James Christie, founder of the auctioneering house of Pall Mall, St James's, was a signatory to the marriage settlement.
There were six children from the marriage to Sarah Turner including one daughter and five sons.
Whieldon's Account Book provides much information for his business during the period 1749 to 1762 and from 1754 to 1759 when he was in partnership with Josiah Wedgwood, but beyond that there is little documentary evidence of his family or his life save for the normal run of parish records and occasional mentions in the private correspondence of Josiah Wedgwood and others.
Thomas Whieldon became very wealthy as a result of his business acumen but preferred to live next door to his Fenton Vivian factory, at Whieldon Grove, a fine house from which he was able to see his works. He continued to live there after his retirement in 1780, when he demolished his factory and planted an ornamental garden on the site, as none of his children wished to take on the business. In 1786 he was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire, underlining his social position, and in 1789 he was granted a coat of arms.
This is a list of the sheriffs and high sheriffs of Staffordshire.
A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which in its whole consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to an individual person, family, state, organization or corporation.
He died in 1795, surviving his former partner Josiah Wedgwood by just a few weeks, and was buried in Stoke churchyard.
At some time between 1742 and 1747 Whieldon became a tenant at Fenton Vivianand in 1748 he bought the freehold. He was to remain at this site throughout his career. By 1750 he had bought an additional pottery factory at Fenton Low but this was let to tenants and there is no evidence he ever used the factory at Fenton Low himself. Archaeological finds of pottery shards at Fenton Low cannot be taken as evidence of Whieldon's early production therefore.
Whieldon's high reputation enabled him to attract into his employment some of the most important figures in the early history of Staffordshire pottery. These included Aaron Wood, the most prominent ceramic block-cutter or modeller of the day; Josiah Spode, who went on to found his own renowned ceramics factory and William Greatbatch, another prominent figure. From 1754 to 1759 Whieldon enjoyed a partnership with the young Josiah Wedgwood.
Thomas Whieldon was recognised by his contemporaries as one of the most successful potters in Britain and one author has suggested that, aside from Wedgwood's family members who were already established in business, "there was probably no one who could have taught him so much about the innovative techniques that were already changing an ancient craft into a substantial industry."
Other writers have pointed to a possible lack of innovation, on the contrary: according to Brian Dolan, Whieldon's production appears to have altered little between 1759, when Wedgwood left him, and 1780 when he retired.
Robin Hildyard has said, less generously, that Whieldon lacked creative ambition and "was content to mass-produce unadventurous wares for general consumption", providing Wedgwood only with "an object-lesson in how to acquire wealth with a minimum of risk."
It is indisputable that Whieldon was a highly successful businessman but was necessarily a more conservative potter than Wedgwood, whose exceptional achievements cannot be matched.
Thomas Whieldon took Josiah Wedgwood into partnership at his factory at Fenton Vivian in 1754. By then Whieldon was 35 years old and had already achieved financial success and a considerable reputation whilst Wedgwood was just 24 years old − Whieldon had clearly recognised his great potential.
Whieldon's pottery production is described by Josiah Wedgwood in his contemporary Experiment Book where there is a wealth of manuscript material on the partnership.Here Wedgwood explains that by 1759 there was an urgent need to improve the quality of lead-glazed creamware which was the principle ware being produced by Whieldon at the time. Prices for this type of ware were rapidly declining and the quality of production was suffering as a result.
It is likely that Wedgwood's work with Whieldon was largely experimental and concerned with improving the factory's wares and looking to the future. This set Wedgwood on a course of experimentation that was to guarantee his future fame.
"These considerations induced me to try for some more solid improvement, as well in the Body, as the Glazes, the Colours, & the Forms, of the articles of our manufacture."
Wedgwood was brought into partnership to address these problems and was mainly engaged in improving the lead glazes for creamware. Creamware at that time had already achieved an acceptable white body but no one had succeeded in producing a transparent lead glaze.By 1759, when Wedgwood decided to leave and set up his own independent business, he had already made his first successful experimental glazes.
Even after Wedgwood had established his own business, he continued to buy-in wares from Whieldon – usually biscuit-fired wares for later colouring and glazing – to meet demand, when needed. He also frequently bought wares from William Greatbatch, whom he knew from his time with Whieldon.
Archaeological excavations at the Fenton Vivian site conducted by Arnold Mountford on behalf of Stoke City Museum between 1968 and 1970found evidence of salt-glazed stoneware, tortoiseshell ware, agateware, red stoneware, glazed red earthenware, blackware and a small amount of plain creamware, all dating from the time of Whieldon's partnership with Wedgwood. There were also a few fragments of painted creamware, depicting Chinese-inspired figures and flowers, of a type rarely associated with Whieldon.
Whieldon kept an Account and Memorandum Bookand his records for 1749–53 show a wide range of pottery goods produced, including coffeepots, teapots, punch pots, bowls, ewers, sugar dishes, plates, tureens and ‘toys’ or trinkets. There is evidence of a range of figures being produced but not in great quantities. Forms were sometimes based on contemporary silver and pewter shapes and were both press-moulded and slip-cast.
None of Whieldon's pottery was marked, making attribution difficult. The shards excavated at the Fenton Vivian site are a vital source of information allowing some attribution by typology. It was common practice for factories in the 18th century to share or copy designs, or to buy and sell ceramic block-moulds, so care has to be taken in ascribing particular pots to particular factories in the absence of any other supporting evidence. Finishes such as spouts, handles and knops can provide vital clues.
For this reason it is difficult to point to any particular style of ware that was exclusively Whieldon's – this is striking when speaking of such an important figure.
Tortoiseshell ware is effectively an earthenware, often creamware, that is decorated with a limited, rather dark, palette to imitate tortoiseshell, as fashionable material in the period. It was made before Whieldon, by William Greatbatch and many others in Staffordshire and also Liverpool and Leeds. The original technique was to sprinkle the un-fired ("green") wares with "powdered lead oxide and calcined flint with a trace of manganese oxide". This produced the colour effect within the glaze.
Whieldon's innovation, about 1750, was his "first important contribution to the pottery trade".The pigments were applied under the glaze by painting or sponging with metallic oxides, and then a transparent glaze was applied. During the glost firing, the colours flow to produce the tortoiseshell effect.
Tortoiseshell wares were first mentioned by Thomas Whieldon in his Account and Memorandum Book of 1749.In his Experiment Book, Josiah Wedgwood states that in 1759 tortoiseshell ware was the second most important ware at the Whieldon factory, but the market was declining:
“[…] But as no improvement had been made in this branch for several years, the country was grown weary of it; and though the price had been lowered from time to time, in order to increase the sale, the expedient did not answer, and something new was wanted, to give a little spirit to the business."
Historically, tortoiseshell wares have come to be associated almost exclusively with Thomas Whieldon, however, ceramics expert Pat Halfpenny warns that:
“The ‘Whieldon’ label has inhibited scholarly research and limited our understanding of the pottery production dates in North Staffordshire.”
In his 1991 study of William Greatbatch, David Barker also concluded:
"Many of the wares manufactured by Whieldon are of types now known to have been made by Greatbatch and have been found on the Greatbatch site. Whieldon ware, or Whieldon-type ware are terms which are widely accepted in describing a variety of ceramics, particularly tortoiseshell wares, but which lead to problems in any objective research into the pottery of the period."
In the absence of any supporting information, caution is therefore needed in ascribing any particular tortoiseshell wares to Thomas Whieldon.
In the 18th century it was usual for whole families, including children, to be working in pottery manufacture. Workers were engaged, for example, as specialist potters, painters or ‘oven’ (or kiln) men. Whieldon had an exceptionally large workforce for the period and expected ‘scrupulous obedience, respectful behaviour and strict punctuality’. Workers were organised into teams and well paid, with skilled workers’ pay being linked to productivity.
Whieldon was remarkable for being the first employer in the potteries to offer rented accommodation for his workers, which he did as early as 1750, providing eight dwelling houses for rental.Later, Josiah Wedgwood was to take up the idea of a community for his workforce at the Etruria works when he founded Etruria Village in 1769, consisting of 42 dwellings and an inn.
A Turnpike Petition dated 1763 revealed that at that time there were 150 separate pottery businesses operating in the Staffordshire Potteries employing as many as 7,000 people.
Potters working with lead glazes were exposed to lead poisoning and the dangers of serious health problems.
As the markets for Staffordshire pottery grew during the 18th century, the need for improved transportation links became more pressing. In the early part of the 18th century, goods were generally sold locally and transported by 'crate-men' who carried goods in large panniers on their backs. Mules were sometimes used instead. Local roads were so poor that mules and men were likely to stumble with their heavy loads into potholes – literally, large holes left in the highway after quantities of clay had been removed by local people to make simple pots for their household use. Some of these potholes were two feet deep or more and were hazardous to life.
Originally, all the main routes by which goods might leave the Potteries involved a combination of road and river transport out to the ports and the coastal trade routes. Road journeys by these routes varied between 20 and 40 miles in length and progress was slow. Because roads were in a poor state before the introduction of turnpikes, many of the finished goods were broken in transit, substantially reducing the profitability of pottery production.
By the 1750s there was a strong London market for goods and some trade with Europe. Whieldon, Spode and Wedgwood were amongst those who subscribed to the first turnpike roads in the neighbourhood. Josiah Wedgwood went on to revolutionise transportation within the Potteries by commissioning the first canals from 1766.
Because of the popularity of Whieldon-style tortoiseshell wares and of historic Staffordshire pottery in general, and the high prices they fetch on the market, there has long been a problem of forgery. In more modern times, forgery of Whieldon wares dates back at least until the 1920s when his work commanded high prices.
In 1991 a lawsuit brought a forgery to light when the authenticity of a Whieldon-type candelabrum was called into question. This piece had been vetted by experts before being bought from an English dealer on behalf of a renowned American collector. However, the use of thermoluminescence dating showed that it was modern.This is just one of many such cases.
Thermoluminescence is prohibitively expensive and therefore cannot be used to test all pottery. Buyers must continue to rely on their own knowledge and judgment.
Thomas Whieldon's works have been treasured by potters and collectors alike and have realised high prices for at least the past century. In 2011, Edmund de Waal selected a Thomas Whieldon teapot of 1760 for his celebration of the potter's art.
British Museum, London
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, UK: Well represented but online catalogue appears to be under development.
The Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, holds the only known portrait of Thomas Whieldon.
Josiah Wedgwood was an English potter and entrepreneur. He founded the Wedgwood company. He is credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery; "it was by intensifying the division of labour that Wedgwood brought about the reduction of cost which enabled his pottery to find markets in all parts of Britain, and also of Europe and America." The renewed classical enthusiasms of the late 1760s and early 1770s were of major importance to his sales promotion. His expensive goods were in much demand from the nobility, while he used emulation effects to market cheaper sets to the rest of society. Every new invention that Wedgwood produced – green glaze, creamware, black basalt and jasper – was quickly copied. Having once achieved perfection in production, he achieved perfection in sales and distribution. His showrooms in London gave the public the chance to see his complete range of tableware.
Faience or faïence is the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed pottery on a buff earthenware body, at least when there is no more usual English name for the type concerned. The invention of a white pottery glaze suitable for painted decoration, by the addition of an oxide of tin to the slip of a lead glaze, was a major advance in the history of pottery. The invention seems to have been made in Iran or the Middle East before the ninth century. A kiln capable of producing temperatures exceeding 1,000 °C (1,830 °F) was required to achieve this result, the result of millennia of refined pottery-making traditions. The term is now used for a wide variety of pottery from several parts of the world, including many types of European painted wares, often produced as cheaper versions of porcelain styles.
Josiah Spode was an English potter and the founder of the English Spode pottery works which became famous for the high quality of its wares. He is often credited with the establishment of blue underglaze transfer printing in Staffordshire in 1781–84, and with the definition and introduction in c. 1789–91 of the improved formula for bone china which thereafter remained the standard for all English wares of this kind.
Spode is an English brand of pottery and homewares produced by the company of the same name, which is based in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Spode was founded by Josiah Spode (1733–1797) in 1770, and was responsible for perfecting two extremely important techniques that were crucial to the worldwide success of the English pottery industry in the century to follow.
The Staffordshire Potteries is the industrial area encompassing the six towns, Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton that now make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England. North Staffordshire became a centre of ceramic production in the early 17th century, due to the local availability of clay, salt, lead and coal.
Creamware is a cream-coloured, refined earthenware with a lead glaze over a pale body, known in France as faïence fine, in Germany as Engels porselein and Italy as terraglia inglese. It was created about 1750 by the potters of Staffordshire, England, who refined the materials and techniques of salt-glazed earthenware towards a finer, thinner, whiter body with a brilliant glassy lead glaze, which proved so ideal for domestic ware that it supplanted white salt-glaze wares by about 1780. It was popular until the 1840s.
Transfer printing is a method of decorating pottery or other materials using an engraved copper or steel plate from which a monochrome print on paper is taken which is then transferred by pressing onto the ceramic piece. Pottery decorated using the technique is known as transferware or transfer ware.
Wedgwood, first incorporated in 1895 as Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd, is a fine china, porcelain, and luxury accessories manufacturer that was founded on 1 May 1759 by the English potter and entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood. It was rapidly successful and was soon one of the largest manufacturers of Staffordshire pottery, "a firm that has done more to spread the knowledge and enhance the reputation of British ceramic art than any other manufacturer", exporting across Europe as far as Russia, and to the Americas. It was especially successful at producing fine earthenware and stonewares that were accepted as equivalent in quality to porcelain but were considerably cheaper.
Mintons was a major company in Staffordshire pottery, "Europe's leading ceramic factory during the Victorian era", an independent business from 1793 to 1968. It was a leader in ceramic design, working in a number of different ceramic bodies, decorative techniques, and "a glorious pot-pourri of styles - Rococo shapes with Oriental motifs, Classical shapes with Medieval designs and Art Nouveau borders were among the many wonderful concoctions". As well as pottery vessels and sculptures, the firm was a leading manufacturer of tiles and other architectural ceramics, producing work for both the Houses of Parliament and United States Capitol.
Sprigging or sprigged decoration is a technique for decorating pottery with low relief shapes made separately from the main body and applied to it before firing. Usually thin press moulded shapes are applied to greenware or bisque. The resulting pottery is termed sprigged ware, and the added piece is a "sprig". The technique may also be described by terms such as "applied relief decoration", especially in non-European pottery.
The Herculaneum Pottery was based in Toxteth, Liverpool, England. between 1793/94 and 1841. They made creamware and pearlware pottery as well as bone china porcelain.
Creil-Montereau faience is a faïence fine, a lead-glazed earthenware on a white body originating in the French communes of Creil, Oise and of Montereau, Seine-et-Marne, but carried forward under a unified direction since 1819. Emulating the creamware perfected by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1770s, and under the artistic and technical direction of native English potter entrepreneurs, the faience of Creil-Montereau introduced the industrial technique of transfer printing on pottery in France and raised it to a high state of perfection during its peak years in the 19th century..
A potbank is a colloquial name for a pottery factory in North Staffordshire used to make bone china, earthenware and sanitaryware.
Ceramic art is art made from ceramic materials, including clay. It may take forms including artistic pottery, including tableware, tiles, figurines and other sculpture. Ceramic art is one of the arts, particularly the visual arts. Of these, it is one of the plastic arts. While some ceramics are considered fine art, as pottery or sculpture, some are considered to be decorative, industrial or applied art objects. Ceramics may also be considered artefacts in archaeology. Ceramic art can be made by one person or by a group of people. In a pottery or ceramic factory, a group of people design, manufacture and decorate the art ware. Products from a pottery are sometimes referred to as "art pottery". In a one-person pottery studio, ceramists or potters produce studio pottery.
The Wood family was an English family of Staffordshire potters. Among its members were Ralph Wood I (1715–1772), the "miller of Burslem," his son Ralph Wood II (1748–1795), and his grandson Ralph Wood III (1774–1801). Ralph I was the brother of Aaron Wood, father of Enoch Wood. Through his mother, Ralph Wood II was related to Josiah Wedgwood.
William Greatbatch was a noted potter at Fenton, Staffordshire, from the mid-eighteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Fenton was one of the six towns of the Staffordshire Potteries, which were joined in the early 20th century to become the city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England.
The original Castleford Pottery operated from c. 1793 to 1820 in Castleford in Yorkshire. It was owned by David Dunderdale, and is especially known for making "a smear-glazed, finely moulded, white stoneware". This included feldspar, giving it a degree of opacity unusual in a stoneware. The designs typically included relief elements, and edges of the main shape and the panels into which the body was divided were often highlighted with blue overglaze enamel. Most pieces were teapots or accompanying milk jugs, sugar bowls and "slop bowls", and the shapes often derived from those used in contemporary silversmithing.
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