Monday, 17 May 2010
In Praise of the Wedgwood Museum – “The Guardian”
In praise of … the Wedgwood Museum
Josiah Wedgwood was one of the of the late 18th century, his life a model of industrial, political and intellectual progress Josiah Wedgwood was one of the remarkable men of the late 18th century, his life a model of industrial, political and intellectual progress. An anti-slavery campaigner, a member of the Lunar Society and founder of the factories that still produce fine ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent, his work is celebrated in a thriving museum that now faces the most unjust of threats to its future. The Wedgwood Museum in Stoke, which reopened in 2008 after a lottery-funded transformation, risks being dragged down by a legal quirk.
When the ceramics firm went bankrupt last year – and transferred to new owners – five members of the museum's staff remained in the pension fund. As an accidental result of a new law intended to protect pensioners, the museum has found itself liable for funding the pensions of 7,000 ex-Wedgwood factory employees and a £134m deficit, an impossible task. The museum trust was forced into administration last month as a result – though the museum remains open and as busy as ever.
Its administrators are waiting for a court ruling which may compel them to break up and auction off its extraordinary collection. Such vandalism is barely imaginable: the museum's contents trace 250 years of cultural and manufacturing history, including many pieces of global importance and immense value. The court could rule that the museum is not liable, but if the sale begins, no donor could ever be generous enough to rescue its contents from a forced sale to private collectors abroad.