Who were Josiah Spode & Sons?
The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table… He was enchanted by her approbation of his taste, confessed it to be neat and simple, thought it right to encourage the manufacture of his country; and for his part, to his uncritical palate, the tea was as well flavoured from the clay of Staffordshire, as from that of Dresden or Save.
Josiah Spode (23 March 1733 – 1797) was an English potter and the founder of the English Spode pottery works which became very famous for the quality of its wares. He is often credited with the establishment of blue underglaze transfer printing in Staffordshire in 1781–84, and with the definition and introduction in c. 1789–91 of the improved formula for bone china (a form of soft-paste porcelain) which thereafter remained the standard for all English wares of this kind.
Josiah Spode was born in a village that is now part of Stoke-on-Trent. Spode was a pauper’s son and also a pauper’s orphan at the age of six. He was apprenticed to potter Thomas Whieldon in November (Martinmas) 1749, and remained with him until at least 1754, the year in which Josiah Wedgwood became Whieldon’s business partner. Wedgwood stayed with Whieldon until 1759. Spode worked alongside Wedgwood and with the celebrated potter Aaron Wood (father of Enoch Wood) under Whieldon’s tuition, and was with Whieldon at the high point of production there.
After John Turner left Stoke for Lane End in 1762, Spode is said to have carried on the factory of William Banks, Turner’s partner, at Stoke for him for some time. There he began to make creamware (blue painted as well as white stoneware) in the manner of John Turner, and continued to perfect his excellent potting technique. He was powerfully influenced by Turner’s work. He also made black ware and maintained a printing press for black transfer printing. He was engaged as master potter, but it is not known if his work there was consecutive or sporadic.
Spode rented a factory in Church Street, Stoke-on-Trent in 1767. There he was in financial partnership with William Tomlinson (a solicitor), and in 1772 he took on a pottery at Shelton with Thomas Mountford as his backer. In 1776, he bought the old pottery works at Stoke which had formerly been the property of William Banks (in partnership with Turner), on the same site as the later Spode factory which continued operating into modern times. His business in creamware (a fine cream-coloured earthenware) and in pearlware (a fine white-glazed earthenware), was very successful.
Josiah Spode I is credited with the introduction of underglaze blue transfer printing into Staffordshire in 1781–84. More precisely he was the first to introduce a perfected method to Stoke, (with the help of engraver Thomas Lucas and printer James Richards, formerly of Caughley, Shropshire), using improvements recently developed at nearby Shelton by or for Ralph Baddeley.
Spode the elder also, between 1788 and 1793, established and finalized the formula for English bone china, for whereas bone ash had previously been added in other factories to the fabric in proportions of roughly 40%, Spode simplified and greatly improved the recipe.
Spode had various commercial premises in London, originally in Fore Street, Cripplegate. However, the warehouse was finally settled in the former Theatre Royal, no 5 Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which his firm occupied from 1795 to 1848 when the building was pulled down. (This had been the venue of the first performance of the Beggar’s Opera in 1727.)
Josiah I was an accomplished violin player. He became a Freeman of the City of London in 1778 and was a Liveryman of the Spectacle Makers’ Company. Josiah was married to Ellen, who died in 1802 aged 76. They had two sons, Josiah and Samuel, and daughters Anne, Sarah and Ellen. Josiah and Ellen Spode (senior) are buried in Stoke-on-Trent churchyard.
Josiah Spode II (1755–1827) succeeded to the business in 1797. He was magnificently prepared for the role, an experienced salesman as well as a potter, having gained an invaluable knowledge of marketing in fashionable London. He was also a flautist, and was father of Josiah III, and grandfather of Josiah IV, a convert to Roman Catholicism, who founded Hawkesyard Priory near Rugeley.
When Josiah II married the niece of John Barker, a manufacturing potter of Fenton, in 1775 at Stoke on Trent, his father, Josiah the elder took this opportunity to establish the regular London business. Between 1775 and 1782, when his wife died in London, Josiah the younger moved between Longton and Cripplegate, London, where he was doubtless manager of the Fore Street warehouse under the guidance of William Copeland, his father’s friend and London partner. He came into power as head of the business after his father’s sudden death in 1797. He was active in the North Staffordshire Pitt Club and entered politics. He became Captain of the ‘Pottery Troop’ Cavalry Division affiliated to the Staffordshire Yeomanry, at its foundation in 1798 until its disbandment in 1805. He was granted arms in 1804. In 1811, with James Caldwell of Linley Wood, he successfully opposed a move by government to impose taxation on the work of the Potteries.
Josiah Spode’s (I) second son, Samuel Spode, for whom Josiah I erected the Foley factory at Lane End, produced salt-glazed wares up to the end of the eighteenth century. There were also daughters, including Elizabeth, who is mentioned in her parents’ wills. Samuel’s son Samuel emigrated to Tasmania and afterwards to Queensland, where his descendants held positions in government.
The Spode name is now owned by the Portmeirion pottery company, which produces many of the former Spode patterns.