Friday, 4 June 2010

Save the Wedgwood Museum - Urgent Call for Action

An appeal from Dr Alan Wedgwood, Thomas D Wedgwood and Alison Wedgwood

The origins of the modern Wedgwood Museum can be traced to Josiah himself. On 3rd September 1774, he wrote:

‘I have often wish'd I had saved a single specimen of all the new articles I have made, & would now give twenty times the original value for such a collection. For ten years past I have omitted doing this, because I did not begin it ten years sooner. I am now, from thinking, and talking a little more upon this subject ... resolv'd to make a beginning.'

That beginning saw the gradual formation of a large informal collection of wares and other historic items which was finally organised into an official museum in 1906. Wedgwood managers of the 20th century kept remarkably few of the wares they produced or inherited, preferring prestige pieces to be held by the museum so that they could be shared with the public.

The Museum was made into a trust in 1962, specifically to prevent it being used as a realisable asset by any future predator. Josiah Wedgwood and Sons became a listed company four years later.

In 1986 when Waterford took over Wedgwood the enthusiasts around the world were reassured that the Museum was protected by the force of law and could not be lost. With this reassurance, many people continued to donate generously with both cash and collectors' items. When the Museum gained Charitable Trust status in 1998, its long term future seemed absolutely guaranteed. And it was on this basis that an ambitious plan to create a new building to house the collection received financial support from all sides. The Millennium Lottery Fund contributed £5m, and a further £4m came from other granting bodies, businesses and individuals. This resulted in a magnificent new museum which opened to the public in 2008 and in 2009 won the Art Fund Prize for Best Museum.

However, what the Museum Trustees were not aware of was that in 2005 a new pension law was slipped in, with little fanfare, resulting in the Museum being held responsible for the £134m deficit of the Wedgwood Pension Plan simply because five of the museum's staff are among the 7000 members of the original Wedgwood pension fund. This law had the laudable objective of preventing companies from concealing assets. It was not intended for charities – but charities are suffering the unintended consequences.

The Wedgwood Museum is now under administration. It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that this is simply the result of the 2005 legislation and for no other reason. In October, there is to be a court case to decide whether or not the assets of the Museum Trust can be appropriated by the Pension Protection Fund. If the ruling goes against the Wedgwood Museum the unthinkable would happen. The Wedgwood collection would be auctioned off and scattered around the globe – this would be a national tragedy.

The museum collection houses evidence of a significant part of England’s great social history. It is not just about ceramics, but science, engineering, craftsmanship, social and political evolution - the birth of the industrial revolution. A story of canal building and inventions, of the Lunar Society, of grand artists such as Reynolds and Stubbs, of Catherine of Russia, Coleridge and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Intimate letters from Charles Darwin to his Wedgwood wife, Aunties and Uncles; between Erasmus Darwin and his friend Josiah. A story of liberal traditions, of the anti-slavery movement; of supporting Thomas Clarkson; dining with Wilberforce, of political crusades, the Reform Bill, of MPs and Lord Mayors and of hard working folk in the Potteries.

Selling off this collection would not help the Pension Protection Fund. Pensioners will receive a statutory amount and will receive no more if the museum is sold off. The managers of the PPF are only following the letter of the law by placing the museum in administration but they know, as we do, that it is all simply bad legislation.

We urge the new Government to amend the shoddy legislation immediately and thus protect the museum and other charities which have suffered from its enforcement. It is not reasonable to use the Wedgwood Museum as a test case in law – this approach risks the whole Wedgwood collection if the Judge is forced to rule against the Museum because of a poorly written law. Supporters of the museum from all around the world, and members of the family who have invested so much in it, appeal to the Government to take action.

What you can do:

Write to your MP:

Search for your MP here:

Write to the Ministers:

Ed Vaizey Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.



House of Commons

Steve Webb, Minister for Pensions


House of Commons

Support the Wedgwood Museum by visiting or becoming a friend:

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