Wedgwood Comes Home to Leith Hill Place
For the first time in over 50 years, a collection of Wedgwood ceramics formed by the Wedgwood family was on temporary display at Leith Hill Place. Visitors were able to view the timeless beauty of exquisite Wedgwood ceramics in an exciting exhibition at Leith Hill Place. The collection returned to the house for the first time in over 50 years on 28 April and was on display until 29 October 2017.
Looking back through the lens of history we forget just how culture-changing Josiah Wedgwood really was. Britain was in the grip of pottery mania. Like the iPhone of its day, china was the must-have object of desire, to see and be seen with. Yet we were importing it at vast expense. Wedgwood changed all that by inventing a ceramics body that could be manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent, using British raw materials. He also had the ingenuity to create revolutionary new manufacturing and selling techniques. When sales took off (and boy did they) he brought the British economy along with him. Wedgwood was one of the great British inventors and entrepreneurs on a par with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Leith Hill Place in the Surrey Hills is a remnant of that golden age and so is this marvellous collection of ceramics.
The internationally important collection, assembled by Ralph Wedgwood, great–great grandson of Josiah Wedgwood I (1730–95) and cousin to the well-known composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, contains over 140 pieces of Wedgwood: from tea sets to vases, beads and even earrings. The name Wedgwood is synonymous with the distinctive blue colour of jasperware (a fine stoneware) invented in 1771 by the factory’s founder Josiah Wedgwood I. After countless experiments, the ingenious marketer and skilled Staffordshire potter settled on the popular colour, along with a variety of others, green, lilac and black, several of which are included in the exhibition. In addition, there are many examples of his black basalt, creamware and even ‘first period’ bone china, manufactured near Stoke–on–Trent.
" It’s a real sense of achievement to bring this historic collection back to its original setting. The display has been created in memory of the late Sir Martin Wedgwood and we are hugely grateful to the Wedgwood family for their support. Many of our volunteers at the house have been involved in researching, designing, interpreting and displaying the ceramics. Leith Hill Place is a Grade II* listed building and having the collection here really brings the house to life."
The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams inherited the Palladian Leith Hill Place with its stunning views of the South Downs in 1944 and a year later passed it to the National Trust, for the benefit of the nation. The house was then let to Ralph Wedgwood (1874–1956), who made it his family home. In the 1950s, it was open to the public two afternoons a week to view his collection of Wedgwood ceramics, proudly displayed throughout the ground floor. Ralph assembled his collection from family inheritances, auctions and private purchases. Subsequent generations have added their own items to the collection, showing the timelessness of the ceramics and the range of the factory.
" One of the more exciting finds when researching for the exhibition was an inventory from 1955 of the items at Leith Hill Place, which lists, not only a description of each item, but also its location in the house. Where possible we’ve tried to restore items to their original position."
Wedgwood at Home is a unique opportunity to celebrate this iconic figure in the history of British ceramics, who transformed the lowly pottery industry, through industrial innovation combined with the latest in timeless classical design.
The display, Wedgwood at Home was open at Leith Hill Place from 28 April to 29 October 2017, Friday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, from 11am-5pm. Entrance to the exhibition is free, but admission charges for Leith Hill Place will apply. National Trust members receive free entry. A series of special events will be held throughout the year and will be advertised on the website.