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:: Wedgwood China: Early Years ::

Josiah Wedgwood, who revolutionized pottery and the methods of its production, was born in Stoke, England, in 1730.  The last of 13 children, Wedgwood's early life was frought with difficulty.  His father was also a potter, and his factory, Church Yard Works, was located in nearby Burselm.  Although a Free School would open in Burselm in 1750, there was no public school near Wedgwood's childhood home, a "tenement" in Stoke.  After some very limited schooling at a nearby private school, Wedgwood's formal education would end by age 11, approximately 2 years after his father's death.  Church Yard Works was inherited by Wedgwood's older brother, Thomas.  At around the time that he was forced to leave school to work, Wedgwood was stricken with smallpox.  Although he survived, Wedgwood never fully recovered, and his right knee was plagued by osteomyelitis.  Having suffered incredibly with leg pain following his bout with smallpox, Wedgwood was finally forced to have his right leg amputated in 1768, when he was 38 years old.

Although he was only 11 years old when he began to work at Church Yard Works, Wedgwood was already a talented thrower.  By 14 he was apprenticed to his older brother for five years.  During the period of his apprenticeship, Wedgwood's beloved mother died.  Wedgwood was 18.  

When he turned 19, Wedgwood wanted to be a partner in the family business with his brother Thomas, but his older brother refused.  Perhaps it was Wedgwood's tender age that caused his brother to refuse Wedgwood's bid for partnership, but more likely it was Wedgwood's already unusual notions about how potteries, including Church Yard Works, might be run.  

Apparently unable to resolve the partnership question with his brother Thomas, Wedgwood struck out on his own in 1752.  With the money he inherited from his father and financial backing from a local business man, Wedgwood opened his own factory, Alders at Cliffe Bank, from 1752 until 1754.  The reasons for the relatively short run of Alders at Cliffe Bank has been lost to history, but some speculate that there were several possible factors that lead to its closing, including the withdrawal of financing and increasing difficulty with Wedgwood's leg.

Following the closure of Alders at Cliffe Bank, Wedgwood formed an extremely important , five year partnership with the preeminent Staffordshire potter of the day, Thomas Whieldon.  In some respects their partnership is surprising.  At the time that they partnered in 1754, Whieldon was already a talented and respected potter who also possessed a strong business sense.  His commercial acumen was evidenced by the scope of his market, which greatly exceeded the typical market of the time.  Moreover, Whieldon's apprentiices included some of the future giants of the field, including Josiah Spode, Aaron Wood and William Greatbatch.  To put it plainly, one wonders why Whieldon would choose to partner with the relatively young and somewhat untested Wedgwood, when Wedgwood's own brother appears to have rejected partnership with him a short two years before.  Perhaps their partnership is not only a testament to Wedgood's prodigious talents but also to Whieldon's perceptiveness and foresight.  

During Wedgwood's partnership with Whieldon, Fenton Hall (Whieldon's factory) produced its finest ware, both in color shape and overall quality.  Unlike Wedgwood's brother Thomas, who seemed to disapprove of his Wedgwood's experimental approach to both pottery and production, Whieldon seems to have embraced it and benefitted from it.  Although the relationship ended in 1759, there does not appear to have been any animousity between the partners.  

In 1760, Wedgwood opened the Ivy House factory and perfected both the yellow and green glaze that brought him his first significant recognition as a Master Potter.  The perfection of these two glazes enabled Wedgwood, and subsequently other Staffordshire potters who followed suit ,to create the cauliflower and pineapple lines that were the first pieces in the definitive Wedgwood style.  
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