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Commemorating VE Day: Barlaston at War

Having survived the years of economic turmoil following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the Wedgwood Company was ready to move their brand and production in a new and bold direction.  To achieve this, the company needed an equally new and innovative factory so it decided to move from Etruria. The decision was made public in 1936.

Two years later, in September 1938, during the laying of the foundation stone ceremony at Barlaston, Norman Wilson, the works manager, expressed a hope that at future anniversaries the factory’s workforce would be living in a world where wars no longer took place. However, almost a year to the day, WWII had started.

With the imminent risk of having to postpone all construction work at the Barlaston site, the Wedgwood Company managed to convince the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Walker Hobart Inskip, to allow the construction to continue throughout the war years. Two convincing arguments were put up by Wedgwood, Firstly, just before the outbreak of war in Europe, almost 54% of all sales were exports to the USA and Canada. If this continued during the war, the money made could help offset the financial aid Britain would be seeking from those countries. Secondly, the new factory and housing at Barlaston would be significantly less likely to suffer from bombing raids. The Barlaston site was rural, unlike the Etruria factory in the heavily industrial area of Stoke-on-Trent, and was therefore a much safer place for its workers.

The construction of Barlaston went ahead and production of earthenware and jasperware was underway within two years of the foundation stone ceremony. But conscription soon cut the worker numbers down drastically. In 1942 a pre-war staff of 1100 was down to 600, everyone from managers to slip house workers was affected. The labour shortage saw the old and young recruited to keep production going.

The range of production during the war years was also affected. Products for the home market were plain utilitarian ware with no decoration. The London showroom was closed and its manager, Felton Wreford, returned to Barlaston to become the captain of the factory’s Home Guard.

The lucrative export markets of North America were now even more vital due to the lack of European competition. A set of 12 commemorative plates, each one depicting a view of old London, were produced especially for North America - a third of the profits was donated to the British War Relief Society.

Throughout the war years the Barlaston factory and its workforce truly embodied the Blitz Spirit. To endure its formative years under such circumstances was a testament to the company and everybody involved. There must certainly have been a belief, once through the war, that Wedgwood would and could survive anything the world might throw at it.

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