CAPITAL IN OTHER INDUSTRIES : Potteries and Wedgewood

It is impossible in this last half of the eighteenth century to speak of an industry without also mentioning the name of the man whose energy made it successful. This may perhaps be unfair, as undoubtedly all these pioneer captains of industry owed more to the steady piling up of foundations by their predecessors, many of whom became insolvent in their efforts,1than has been acknowledged.

When Josiah Wedgwood completed his apprenticeship, in 1749, the pottery industry of Stafford shire was a small scale production, and though it was free from the rules of mediaeval organization, nevertheless, its status was that of an industry in the Middle Ages. Small potters produced small quantities of pottery for very limited markets.

However, the industry was already rapidly developing, while the mineral treasures of Staffordshire, which were to give the county its importance in the expansion that was to come, were already being actively worked. When he was still quite young, Josiah Wedgwood became a journeyman in his brother's potworks, and upon reaching twenty-one, was paid the sum of 20, which his father had left him. In 1752 he entered into partner ship with one Harrison, who had been an ordinary tradesman In Newcastle-llnder-Lynle, and supplied the capital. But as Harrison desired to appropriate the larger share of the profits, this arrangement soon ended, and Harrison was replaced by Thomas Whieldon.

From 1754-9 Wedgwood & Whieldon conducted a very profitable business, into which Wedgwood Introduced many improvements. The expansion of the business and the increase of capital was gradual when compared with the increase of Boulton & Watt. In 1753 the debts of the earlier firm, in London, were only 291 12s. 7d., yet the balance sheets, which exist for the year 1757, show a steady increase of business.2

After five years' partnership, Whieldon retired from the pottery manufacture with a considerable fortune, and Wedgwood set up on his own account.3 His capital must have been small, and consisted principally of the money he had amassed while Whieldon's partner, and the amount left him by his father and a Mrs. Egerton, both of whom mentioned Wedgwood in their wills.4

At first, Wedgwood restricted his manufacture to small articles of an ornamental kind. His chief difficulty was labour rather than capital. The workmanship of the potters, when Wedgwood started business, was slovenly and rude, and he had to educate his men to work with his improved materials on delicate pieces of ware.5

In 1761 Wedgwood extended his business by the very simple operation of hiring some more hovels and working sheds, and adding to his body of work men. Then he began to insist upon specialization and the division of labour among his workpeople.6 In 1762, while Wedgwood's business was still rapidly and steadily growing-for growth rather than expansion describes the development of Wedg wood's potteries--he was introduced to a Manchester warehouseman, called Eentley.7 Bentley lived in Liverpool, and had gradually developed into a general merchant. It was customary for people, even though they were not merchants, to take " a venture " in out-going ships, and to speculate in articles which were put up to auction by those who had imported them. Dick Whittington is a celebrated case in point. It was natural, therefore, for a man like Bentley engaged in trade at sea-ports, such as Liverpool, Bristol, Great Yarmouth, or Hull, to drift almost unconsciously into the character of a general merchant.8

Bentley became Wedgwood's constant adviser and agent, first in Liverpool and later in London, which the expansion of the business soon made the most important centre for Wedgwood's trade. Wedgwood took out no patents for, as he said himself, a patent would have limited the public utility of his improvements.9 He was soon restricted by the size of his works, and began to attempt addition and extension, but the neighbouring land lords declined to allow him more land. Therefore he was compelled to move his works to a spot two miles from Burslem, and near to the course of the projected Grand Trunk Canal. Wedgwood, who had always delighted to revive the forms of ancient vases and intensely admired the art of Roman and Greek pottery, called his new works Etruria,10

Bentley, who gave his advice on the new works, became a partner of Wedgwood's in 1766. 11Latterly Bentley had been occupied almost entirely with earthenware, importing clay from Dorsetshire, Cornwall, and Devonshire, and exporting Wedgwood's productions to America and other countries. While the works at Etruria were in the course of construction, Wedgwood, whose business had almost inevitably expanded, had many conversations with Boulton on the subject of business organization.

Boulton explained to Wedgwood his book-keeping, his method of finance, his agencies, his system of accounts, and all the other points of business organization that were developing his rapidly expanding business.12

But even Wedgwood needed more capital than he possessed- the cost of the new works exceeding the estimates by £3,ooo. The sum was so small, and the business so sure and so unspeculative, that the other money was easily obtained-and to a large extent from friends of Wedgwood, without recourse to the public credit of the banks. The pottery so far manufactured in Staffordshire was soft earthenware, the secret of making hard porcelain had been for ages confined to China. However, in 1707, a Saxon, called Bottgher, discovered the method of making it, and the Elector of Saxony seized him and kept him strictly guarded in order to organize a royal porcelain manufactory.13 Great care was taken to preserve the secret, but without success, and by 1755 royal works were established in Vienna (1722), Berlin, St. Petersburg, Munich, and Sevres (1755).

China clay was first discovered in England, in 1768, at Tregonnin Hill, in Cornwall. The discoverer of this deposit was William Cookworthy, who joined with Lord Camelford in a porcelain works. They were immediately confronted with the difficulty of obtaining coal for their ovens, and had to use wood. This was very expensive, and after obtaining a patent, in 1768, and spending over £3000 on the works, they transferred the under taking to Richard Champion, of Bristol. Cookworthy's patent was extended, in 1775, for a period of fourteen years. This extension was granted in spite of the opposition of the Staffordshire potters, chiefly through the influence of Burke. It is curious to find Burke on two different sides with regard to this patent extension and that of Watt the cases seem exactly parallel. Smiles states that Burke was again influenced by his electors, a doubtful assertion to make about Burke14However, two years later, Champion dosed his works, and sold his patent right to a company of Staffordshire potters.

Wedgwood's objections to this restriction by the patent were very strong. He did not believe in monopolies and never patented a single one of his inventions. In 1775 he managed to get hold of some china clay, to use for other purposes than porcelain, and a few years later he offered the King of Saxony £3ooo per year for the right of running the royal factory at Meissen, which was then making a loss. His offer was refused. Wedgwood made several journeys into Cornwall in his efforts to discover the best clays, and, if possible, to obtain control of the raw material of his industry.15 He made journeys for this purpose in 1775 and 1781 ; on the latter occasion spending some time with Watt, who was then working in Cornwall.16

The pottery industry, given its initial impulse by Wedgwood, rapidly Increased in size and wealth. The output of the Staffordshire potteries, in 1725, was under 15000 in value, whereas, in 1777, it had increased fivefold, and, in 1785, there were 200 master manufacturers employing 20,000 persons, engaged in the industry. This development was largely due to the presence of coal and clay near together, and to the existence of a man like Wedgwood capable of developing a large manufacture. He introduced specialization and a hitherto unheard of division of labour. For a long time he combined the functions of employer and merchant and fore man, and he represents the intermediate stage of paternal employer between the gild master and the pure capitalist.

The difficulties of the period and the unknown depths of economic organization, had their effects upon the potteries. Wedgwood's efforts to obtain control of the raw material and his improvement in transport to his markets, show how afraid the manufacturers were of the increasing distance that separated the raw material from the consumer.

The state of the iron trade immediately previous to the introduction of smelting with coal was one of decay.

In 1740 the three hundred blast furnaces mentioned by Dud Dudley, it they had ever existed, were certainly cold. The total production from all the fifty-nine furnaces then in blast was, at that date, only 17,350 tons.17 Recourse was had to foreign markets for the necessary supply of iron, and the immense annual importations from Russia and Sweden may be said to date from this period. The imports rose from an average of 15,642 tons, in 1718, to 34.072 tons, in 1755.18 However, the developments of improved blast, and the example of Dr. Roebuck, at Carron19 and the Darbys, at Coalbrookdale, in using coal to smelt with, altered the position. The iron trade rapidly revived and the assistance of the double acting steam-engine made coal-smelting a matter of great ease. The general use of pit-coal unquestionably occasioned an earlier relinquishment of many of the charcoal works than would otherwise have been the case, but the manufacture has so immensely increased, as to render this a matter of slight importance.

1778 the production of charcoal pig-iron in England was 13,100 tons, while that of coke pig iron was 48,300 tons. The output of Shropshire alone, by the latter method, was 23,100 tons.20very rapid increase is, to a large extent, due to the efforts of John Wilkinson and, in a lesser degree, to the Reynolds and Darbys, of Coalbrookdale.

Wilkinson was well on the way to success before his connexion with Boulton & Watt and the steam- engine, but this association was the most important fact in his career. The steam-engine was first applied to his iron-works, and the rapid and increased effects of this application were soon felt in most of the iron districts. The produce of the furnaces was greatly increased as to the quantity of metal, and as the proprietors of the existing works became more prosperous, other capitalists were induced to engage in similar undertakings.

ugh in some cases foreign iron was preferred, yet the high price of it and the difficulties made by the Russians, who thought we were quite dependent upon them for our supply of iron, restricted the demand for imported iron. New works were rapidly erected, and between 1788 and 1796, the production of pig-iron was doubled. In 1796 the production of iron was 125,079 tons, and the furnaces numbered 124, while in 1806 a parliamentary return gives the output of 161 furnaces as 243.851tons. The production having again doubled in ten years.21

This was, beyond doubt, due to an increase in demand and an improvement in supply. Both of these can be summed up in one word, " steam- power." Steam-power made coal-getting easy, and provided an adequate blast for smelting with coal, while, on the other hand, steam-power created a large demand for iron, for the manufacture of engines, and machinery of all sorts. In both these fields of expansion Wilkinson played a great part. In 1796 the produce of his Iron-works alone was 15,274 ; about an eighth of the total output of the country. The Reynolds' and the South Wales iron masters followed In his footsteps.

It was an industry that, in the first place, could be easily developed by an energetic man. When Wilkinson found it, the iron industry consisted in a number of scattered furnaces depending upon a supply of fuel that was decreasing rapidly in quantity. The small iron-works which he controlled were easily developed without the help of credit agencies or outside capital. The scale of the industry was gradually increased by the improvements which he introduced, and the developed demand for iron.

1 H. W. Dickinson,John Wilkinson, Ironmaster, p. 8

2. Smiles, Life of Wedgwood, p. 34. The profits for January, 1757. are £ 16s.. 7d., for May, £28, and for October, £36.

3. Ib., p. 39.

4. Meteyard, Life of Wedgwood, Vol. I, p. 250

5. Smiles, Wedgwood, p. 45.

' Meteyard, Wedgwood, Vol. I, p. 260.

6 Ib., Vol. I, p. 313.

7.Ib. Boardman, Bentleyana, Liverpool, 1851, pp. 7, 10. Bentley was one of the early opponents of the slave trade in Liverpool. His name first occurs in the directory of that city in1766 as a Manchester warehouseman.

8.Smiles, Wedgwood, pp. 76-80.

9. Ib., p. 86.

10. Ib., p. 88. " We are every day finding out some ingenious man or curious piece of workmanship ; all which we endeavour to make subservient to the improvement of our taste or the perfection of our manufacture." Boardman, op. cit., p. l5.

11. Smiles, Wedgwood, p. 134 Boulton to Wedgwood, July 10. 1767. Tew MSS.

12. Smiles, op. cit., p. 173.

13.Smilm, op. cit., p. 179.

14. Smiles, op. cit., p. 190. " Having now completed our bwi- aeas in Cornwall by having got a firm and secure hold of the raw materials upon reasonable terms, we left Mr. Griffiths, our Agent, to conduct the business" This was in 1775.

15.Watt to Boulton, October I8, 1781. " Mr. Wedgwood has been here in this country some days hunting clays and soap rocks, cobalts, etc." Tew MSS.

16. Scrivenor, History of the Iron Trade, p. 57.

17.Ib., p. 58.

18.Vide supra, pp. 77-9.

19. R. Meade, Coal and Iron Resources, p. 831

. 20 Ib., pp. 832-3.

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