The idea to combine the need
for a Burslem School of Art and the desire to provide a
permanent memorial to Josiah Wedgwood was first proposed at
a Public Meeting on 24 January 1859 by Joseph Walker, who
had been a student at the former Burslem School of Design.
Upon the purchase of a plot of land in 1860, the
Building Committee was formed and an architectural
competition held for designs for the Institute. Despite
prizes being awarded, neither the first or second prize
designs were thought suitable.
A second competition was
arranged and the design of George Benjamin Nichols was
selected. When applying for funding the Committee had
consulted with the designer Henry Cole (1808-1882) and the
architect Francis Fowke (1823-1865), both of the Department
of Science and Art at South Kensington (now the Victoria and
Albert Museum). This was the beginning of a long term
involvement with the Institute building by the South
Kensington Museum. However due to a poor local economy in
Staffordshire the next stage of building the Institute did
not take place for nearly three years.
In 1863, the new MP
for Stoke, Alexander Beresford Hope (1820-1887) held a
conference to reawaken interest in building the institute,
and to promote further donations to the Building Fund. At
this meeting, he reminded his audience that:
manufacturers had developed ceramic art to a very wonderful
extent: vases, statuettes, and the like were produced in the
Potteries with a perfection which made Europe aghast and
envious, but there was another more solid and more eternal
sort of pottery he should like to see taken up in this
district and that was architectural pottery'.
He then went
on to tell the local potters about the beautiful mouldings
in terracotta on the hospital in Milan, and the specimens of
Della Robbia in the South Kensington Museum. After referring
to the hardwearing qualities of terracotta, he went on to
say that there was surely a strong case for using terracotta
for the decoration of the fašade of a building dedicated to
the memory of a great potter.
He suggested another
competition to design a decorative fašade upon Nichols'
original architectural design, offering a prize of ú25
for the best coloured sketch. The designs were to be in
ceramic materials and were to be structural as opposed to
purely decorative. Hope intended that the building should
demonstrate the qualities of ceramics and act as promotion
of the material. Due to worries over accelerating costs the
Committee stated that they were not bound to carry out the
The winning design was by Robert Edgar and
John Lockwood Kipling, who had been working on terracotta
pieces for the fašade of the South Kensington Museum. The
details of the design were reported in The Builder, 28
November 1863. This differed significantly from the design
of the fašade as it appears today. [winning
The second design:
and Kipling therefore submitted a second design
to the judges, Beresford Hope and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt,
which received their approval.
Their designs for the upper
storey included the series of 'month' panels with moulded
frames, the zodiac mosaics, and the panels between the two
storeys depicting pottery manufacture.
However, there are
two major differences between it and the design as executed.
The panels showing the process of pottery manufacture were
originally to be coloured, as in Della Robbia ware, and the
spaces within the arched windows on the ground floor to
contain circular plaques of eminent potters of ancient and
In the event, only three small medallion
portraits of Bentley, Flaxman and Priestley were produced
for the frieze over the porch.
The statue of Josiah Wedgwood
was not added until 1873.
Kipling left England for India
soon after winning the competition, which left Edgar to take
much of the credit for their designs.
Laying the foundation stone:
On 26 October 1863 The
Rt. Hon. William . E. Gladstone MP, Her Majesty's Chancellor
of the Exchequer(1809-1898) laid the foundation stone of the
Institute. The ceremony was accompanied by a banquet held at
Burslem Town Hall. The principle speaker was the Rt. Hon.
Earl of Granville KG, President of the Building Committee.
The expense of the fašade remained a major problem,
particularly in view of a contemporary recession in the
Potteries. At one stage, the Committee almost decided to
shelve the whole project, but Beresford Hope was determined
that the fašade should be created and suggested they
approached Henry Cole for assistance.
In 1864 Cole offered
the facilities at the South Kensington Museum Department of
Science and Art for the construction of the terracotta
panels, his offer included provision of most of the wages
for the modellers. The Committee decided that the modellers
should come from the Potteries Schools of Art and should
preferably be from Burslem.
Rowland James Morris and William
Wright arrived in South Kensington in May 1865, at Morris'
request for help to keep up with the large amount of work,
they were joined by J.F. Marsh at the end of 1866. It
seems that Morris had much of the control over the design of
the 'month' panels, he also modelled the statue of Wedgwood,
the 'process' panels were designed by Matthew Elden, a
member of the Department of Science and Art. The 'month'
panels, statue, and many of the smaller decorative features
were fired by Blanchard & Co. of Blackfriars, the 'process'
panels were fired by Blashfield of Stamford.
Signor Salviati executed the zodiac mosaics.
The amount of people
involved in the work has led to some confusion in sources
such as Pevsner and the Victoria County History over
who exactly was responsible for the works. Further confusion
is added by the fact that different panels bear different
names: Blashfield's, Morris' and Elden's names
appear on different panels.
The building was officially
opened on 23rd April 1869 by the Earl de Grey and Ripon, the
Lord President of the Privy Council. However the
terracotta work was not completed until September 1872. The
statue was finally unveiled by Sir Smith Child MP. The newly
finished institute incorporated a School of Art and Science
and a Free Library. The Wedgwood Institute is currently a
library and is currently undergoing a feasibility study with
the intention being to turn it into a combination of
Library, Arts Centre, and retail outlet.