Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Wedgwood Spirit

Text from a piece by Alison Wedgwood for The Staffordshire Sentinel:

Darwin's and Stoke – Our Heritage


A wonderful new book  Darwin's Sacred Cause (Adrian Desmond and James Moore) gives a fascinating incite into the relationship between the Darwin's and the Wedgwood's.  The book reveals that the Wedgwood/Darwin family played an enormous role over 70 years, fighting for the abolition of slavery and suggests that this had a profound influence on Charles Darwin's thinking. The Wedgwood/Darwin grandparents, aunts, uncles and his wife were his "moral anchorage". Charles Darwin, Josiah's grandson, spent many happy years growing up with the Wedgwood cousins at Maer Hall.   He watched Uncle Jos Wedgwood sell the London Wedgwood showroom and give the proceeds to the abolition cause; he knew that Aunty Sarah Wedgwood gave more to anti-slavery causes than any other female. He grew up within an anti-slavery axis stretching from Shrewsbury to the Wedgwood's in Staffordshire"


Darwin's thesis on evolution traced all life to one common ancestor. Darwin detested slavery, the slavers desire to "make the black man sub-human", he believed in racial unity and brotherhood. Josiah Wedgwood was one of the first on the Committee for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in 1787. He produced the iconic slave medallion, "Am I not a Man and a Brother". It was produced in its thousands at Josiah's expense, it wasn't for sale, but became a must have item, worn as hair pins, broaches, mounted on snuff boxes. The medallions are generally seen as instrumental in the swing of popular feeling against slavery and in favour of the Abolition movement. They were an 18th century version of the campaign bracelets worn today, Josiah funded the leaflets which led to the global consumer boycott of slave plantation sugar.  Josiah funded Thomas Clarkson and worked closely with Wilberforce who described the Wedgwood's as "a fine, sensible, spirited family, intelligent and manly in behaviour". Interesting.


As suggested in the many book reviews of "Darwin's Sacred Cause" the Darwin's and the Wedgwood's did spend generations interbreeding. I am happy to report that although I come from Stoke on Trent, my meeting and subsequent marriage to Tom Wedgwood (direct descendant) was purely coincidental, we were not related, although I believe my husband was related to his Grandmother Sally Wedgwood in three different ways. We met at University and our shared passion for skiing was the starting point. We also share a passion for pottery and for ensuring manufacturing of the iconic and ethical brand stays in Stoke On Trent, England. We are working hard to save Wedgwood from those who believe it can be produced in Indonesia and back-stamped with Wedgwood. Consumers in Asia, the US and Europe are not gullible. They will only buy Wedgwood fine bone china if it's made in England. Wedgwood cannot continue it's slow death,  lost in the reaches of Indonesia, to inept design, manufacturing and marketing by people who are not passionate about the original values set out by its founder.


The Wedgwood family come from a long line of freethinking, spirited, individuals and we're not giving up – it's a David and Goliath battle against big US private equity firms – but our sense of passion for a cause that drove the Wedgwood's to fight for 70 years against slavery is the driving force behind our battle to keep Wedgwood alive.  Tom hasn't had a day off since the 5th January. Wedgwood must be made in England, it must represent exquisite design, exemplary manufacturing and a modern ethical brand that consumers aspire to. Something that will last another 250 years.


Alison Wedgwood

Stoke on Trent


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