a celebration of
100 years of federation

Cecil Wedgwood the first mayor after federation

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....

Cecil Wedgwood was born in 1863 and was 47 when he became the first mayor of the new Borough of Stoke-on-Trent in 1910. But why was he chosen – after all he seemed not to have much experience of civic office or even to have played a big part in the negotiations that led to federation. 

“It’s possible the name Wedgwood and the position he held as chairman of the Etruria pottery had something to with it,” explains Potteries historian Steve Birks. “You have to remember that Wedgwood was still a city-based company and a principal employer. On top of that most outsiders identified the region by the household names of Wedgwood, Doulton, Minton and Spode. Just being named Wedgwood would have made Cecil a recognisable figurehead. He was after all a direct descendent of Josiah through the eldest blood line as well as being a great nephew of Charles Darwin.”

There’s no trace of the Etruria factory these days except the roundhouse in the Sentinel’s courtyard. Wedgwood moved to Barlaston in 1938 where Kevin Salt is the archivist of its outstanding museum and visitor centre.

Round House at Wedgwood's Etruria works

photo: © Mr Clive Shenton   - Aug 2001


“Cecil Wedgwood was a special person,” he tells me. “He was adventurous, a veteran of the Boer War and a volunteer in the Great War; he hardly had time to settle down to civilian life and when he did he spent a lot of it at the works in Etruria where he was an active director.”

Was there any record as to the role he played in the drive toward federation? 

“Quite a lot but you have to search for it,” Kevin continues. “He was a retiring man; a councillor for Hanley in 1907 and president of the chamber of commerce. There’s some evidence he was involved in presenting the Federation Bill to the Lords’ committee as it entered parliament. For instance in correspondence in 1909 he recorded a visit to London on federation business. Cecil conducted his life quietly but effectively. Whatever part he played in the federation’s organization he’d let others stand in the limelight; he did what he had to do and made least fuss about it.”

Cecil Wedgwood was a striking man. His military deportment and fair Nordic features earned him the nickname The Viking. He was brought up at his grandfather’s house in Barlaston and at Caverswall Castle and was made a partner at Etruria when he was 21. In 1900 he and his cousin Frank went to South Africa to command three companies of the 4th Battalion North Stafford's where he was promoted to the rank of major, mentioned twice in dispatches and awarded the DSO.

 “It was after his return that he became involved in civic work,” says Steve. “He was soon caught up in the federation movement and became president of a committee representing the united traders of the entire district. In this position he doubtlessly made contributions to the final Bill agreed by the House of Commons Committee. As a leading Wedgwood family member people looked upon him with high opinion. They liked his quiet approach.”

In 1888 Cecil married Lucie Gibson from Ireland. As Lucie Wedgwood she became one of Stoke-on-Trent’s first women magistrates; a board director of Wedgwood she was the first woman to be made a freeman of the City.

The Lucie Wedgwood Gates were unveiled on Thursday 23rd July 1998 as part of the celebrations marking the 50th Anniversary of the National Health Service.


“When the time came to elect the first mayor of the new county borough there really were only two names to consider,” declares Steve. “Naturally Fred Geen was up there. But he had many detractors. Geen was forceful and was considered risky, after all it was a new ball game and nobody knew exactly how to play it. The other choice was steady Cecil Wedgwood. Here was a man at the head of an internationally renowned company; a war hero and a champion of trade and commerce. He was also a handsome young family man with a vivacious wife who was occupied with many charitable and health care projects. He was the most appropriate choice.”

Cecil Wedgwood
Cecil Wedgwood

And so it proved. In that first uncertain year Cecil was so popular he was elected unanimously for a second term. But the Great War was just around the corner. In 1914 along with many of his workers, he enlisted. He was second-in-command of the 8th North Staffordshire Regiment in France. However on the third day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 he was killed. Legend has it that his last words were, ‘Carry on the Potters!’

“Cecil was extremely proud of the Potteries. He was proud to be a potter, proud of his ancestry and proud of his military comrades from his hometown,” adds Kevin. “He was a chap who put others first; a man with a sense of duty to his family to his country and to his community.”

The celebration of his second term as mayor was amazing. The Sentinel reported on ‘the tremendous amount of spade work in setting the federation era on its feet and getting the huge council machine in working order through strength and courtesy.’

I guess that answers my question.


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11 Feb 2009