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The Tea-Cup Revolutionary : Josiah Wedgwood, a village potter whose disability meant he could not use a potter’s wheel, brought about a quiet revolution in English society.
The Tea-Cup Revolutionary

The rich have always had nice things; what changed in the eighteenth century was that, because of private enterprise and the industrial revolution, the poor started to share them too. Josiah Wedgwood was one of the pioneers who changed the lives of the poor for the better.

A NASTY bout of smallpox when he was eleven left Josiah Wedgwood so lame that he could not work the pedal of a potter’s wheel.

But pottery was all he knew, so in 1759 he turned from manufacture to innovation, employing others for design and production, and burying himself in the chemistry of his trade.

After many disappointments, Josiah developed ‘creamware’, a mass-produced yet visibly superior white earthenware, which could be also be tastefully decorated. It was a runaway success.

Wedgwood established the world’s first ceramics factory, employing twenty thousand people on generous wages in Etruria, a Staffordshire town he built specially for them, and making quality tableware for the industrial revolution’s emerging middle-class.

Soon he found himself taking orders from Queen Charlotte and — for 952-piece service — from Empress Catherine of Russia.

But powerful people had always had fine things; now working families had the same crockery on their tables. It was a sort of revolution - in a tea-cup.

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Picture: © Derek Harper, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 4.0. View original
A pot from the ‘Green Frog’ tea service ordered in 1770 by the Empress Catherine II of Russia, now kept in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
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By Thomas Clarkson
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