Wonderful Wedgwood

Alison Cooper, Curator Alison Cooper Curator
Garniture of Wedgwood and Bentley basalt vases of classical form, c.1770-1775 /Saltram

The pioneering Josiah Wedgwood opened his own factory in 1759. He was such an innovative designer that his work became incredibly fashionable. It was so popular that a visit to his London shop was tricky because the queues were often so large. Theresa Parker described it as a 'very tempting shop.'

Hamilton Vases

One of the new types of ceramic body created by Wedgwood was a type of stoneware known as black basalt. It was ideal for emulating the black pots of Greek and Roman antiquity which many 18th century tourists were bringing back from their 'Grand Tours’ as souvenirs. These particular pots are based on the collection of William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples. The decoration is a perfect fit for Saltram’s classically-inspired interiors.

Garniture of Wedgwood and Bentley basalt vases of classical form.
Garniture of Wedgwood and Bentley basalt vases of classical form.
Garniture of Wedgwood and Bentley basalt vases of classical form.

Black Basalt

Black basalt was also easy to model. This lamp has three beautifully cast figures. Inspired by ancient Greek hanging lamps, the central bowl held oil from which six wicks were lit. Theresa Parker writes excitedly to her brother that 'we have just bought a beautiful lamp of the Black Staffordshire ware.'  Theresa collected and displayed her ceramics in a glass case. A letter describes how she arranged each of the pieces. Within this, the black basalt Wedgwood took pride of place.

Wedgwood black basalt oil lamp unmarked ca.1772.
Wedgwood black basalt oil lamp unmarked ca.1772.
Wedgwood black basalt oil lamp unmarked ca.1772.

Engine Turned

Creamware was another Wedgwood invention that became incredibly popular. Looking to the field of engineering, Wedgwood became interested in the lathes used to decorate metalwork or turn ivory. He adapted this technology to apply it to creamware – engine turning unfired but hard clay. The results can be seen on a set of vases at Saltram. The regular ridges of the vases could only be turned using a machine. In many ways, they look incredibly modern – perhaps like 3D printed vases that you can find today. Wedgwood was definitely ahead of his time.

A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases in the Library, c.1765. These were machine-turned and have lids with decorative handles.
A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases in the Library, c.1765. These were machine-turned and have lids with decorative handles.
A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases in the Library, c.1765. These were machine-turned and have lids with decorative handles.

Pebble garniture

The final piece of Wedgwood not to be missed on any visit to Saltram is the pebble garniture (set), to be found in the dining room. For this set, Wedgwood again experimented with material. His aim was to produce a ceramic resembling stone. The dark granite ‘pebble’ look of these vases was created with a unique type of glaze, mixed from cobalt, iron and manganese.

Three piece Wedgwood garniture, c.1775-80, on a mantelpiece.
Three piece Wedgwood garniture, c.1775-80, on a mantelpiece.
Three piece Wedgwood garniture, c.1775-80, on a mantelpiece.