Wedgwood archive faces uncertain future
Records and artefacts telling the story of one of the UK's most famous companies faces an uncertain future following a recent court ruling
A major set of material chronicling the social history of one of Britain’s leading pottery companies could be broken up following a recent ruling in the high court.
The Wedgwood Museum, based in the Staffordshire village of Barlaston, features thousands of artefacts and documents spanning more than 250 years. As well as paintings, factory equipment and publications taken from the library of founder Josiah Wedgwood, a diverse collection of employment records, rent account books, newspaper cuttings, maps and employee photographs help to tell the story of the company and the impact that it had on British industry across the course of centuries.
Judges ruled that the collection was formerly an asset of Waterford Wedgwood Potteries, which went into administration in 2009. Although unconnected to the firm for almost 50 years, the fact that five Wedgwood Museum employees were members of the company’s pension scheme means that liability for a £134 million deficit in the fund has been transferred to the museum.
“Everyone at the Wedgwood Museum, and the museum’s many friends and supporters, are dismayed that the court decision has not confirmed the understanding of successive trustees that the museum’s collections are held in trust and must, therefore, be protected,” museum staff commented in a statement on their website earlier this month. “This decision means that work must now start in earnest to secure the necessary funds to ensure that the nationally and internationally significant collections can continue to be conserved and exhibited in the award-winning museum at Barlaston, and are not unnecessarily lost to private collectors or other museums around the world.”
Although the full implications of the ruling are still developing, possible plans for the future of the collection include speculation that it could be bought by Staffordshire businessman John Caudwell. We'll have all the latest developments on the museum’s future as they happen.
“It is shocking and extremely sad that this part of our national heritage is in danger of being lost to the general public,” says author and social historian Colin Waters. “I think it is vital that we find some means to save this valuable collection, particularly the documentary archives which provide an invaluable resource for family and local historians. The disposal of these records and artefacts would be a shameful loss for our nation.”