Wedgwood & Derbyshire

Although Josiah Wedgwood is naturally associated with his native Staffordshire there are numerous references of his visits across the border into neighbouring Derbyshire. The earliest of these appears in a letter written to his friend and business partner Thomas Bentley in (probably July) 1767:


‘I have some thoughts of meeting you at Derby, if you can let me know certainly when you will be there, & that you can stay a few days there, or if you will return with me to Burslem, I will bring a spare horse with me, & we can make Matlock in our way, & visit the lead mines which I much want to do, being in the midst of a course of experiments which I expect must be perfected by the spar fusible a substance I cannot at present meet with but I will bring Pott along with me who will direct us in the pursuit of it, & I am very much certain we should neither lose, or repent our, labour I will not call it, for it would be the highest entertainment to us both.


If it happens that I cannot have the pleasure of seeing you at Derby, I will write more particularly on the subject & direct my letter to you at Mr Stamfords. In the mean time pray let me know as exactly, & as soon as possible, – when you shall be at Derby, & how long you shall stay there.’


It is interesting to note that Bentley himself was a native of Derbyshire, having been born in the tiny village of Scropton. Another letter to Bentley, dated 8th September 1767 includes:


‘Whether your letter will find me at home or at Buxton…pray when will an interview suit you at Buxton, Matlock, or Derby…They are working mines he [James Brindley] tells me near Matlock & throw all the spar, &c, &c into a brook which washes away all the dirty & light parts & leaves a great variety of ponderous bodys behind, – I long to be fosselling amongst them, pray tell me when you will meet me there.’


On 26th June 1773 Wedgwood wrote:


‘We go to Buxton in the morning but I shall not stay many days there.’


It would appear that Wedgwood stayed there under a week as a later dated July 3rd confirmed:


‘I left Mrs Wedgwood at Buxton on Thursday. I shall return to her again tomorrow. The water agrees with her very well.’


The above comment suggests the reason for the trip was so that Josiah’s wife, Sarah, could ‘take the waters’, as she did in a number of spa towns. Another letter dated 15th January 1775 reveals:


‘I will give you a full description of the substance I want for I have not a single piece unpounded. It is a white chalky looking substance, in form generally flat, about an inch or from one to two inches thick, & often inclosing small lumps of lead ore. We found it in great plenty at the first mines we visited short of Middleton, going from Matlock where my father called Godbehere to us & asked him “if he knew what we wanted.” He called it cauk, but we were then in search of Spath fusible or No.19 which he afterwards found for us upon Middleton Moor, & called it Wheat Stone. I inclose you a little of this cauk pounded, in a paper A.


I apprehend Mr Stamford has a share in some of the mines which produces this substance. Some person from Birmingham had a quantity of it lately to try it as an ore, & that will perhaps be the best idea for us to procure it under; but it must not be pounded till it is under our management, or that of our friend, for the lead ore must be carefully picked out of it at the time it is pounded, & before it is made small.’


Josiah frequently used codes to disguise elements of experimentation. The reference to ‘No.19’ was part of a coded list of raw materials. In the following letter, dated 17th July 1775, Josiah disguised the identity of Matlock by substituting the name for ‘Mafledgk’:


‘I went to Mafledgk on Friday to enquire about the subject I told you was not what it should be, & found he had got it at a different place to that which you directed him. I told him you wished to have it whiter, which he seemed to think could not be – However I have settled with him to sort it & send you the white by itself, & that which is not so white may answer some other purpose.’


A letter to his son John written from Uttoxeter on 19th October 1775 gives a lengthy account of his parents fortnight holiday in Matlock:


‘We are just parted from your sister Sukey at Derby, where she stays a few days longer, & then goes to London with Mr & Mrs Bentley…We have been near a fortnight in Derbyshire with Mr & Mrs Bentley & other company which altogether made up a party of thirteen. The time passed away very agreeably & when we made a fosselling party we wished you could have been one, to partake of the pleasure we received in these excursions. Should you like a little journal of our tour – you do not need to read it when you have anything better to do.


October 8th Your mamma & I on our chaise, & Sukey in her chair left Etruria to meet our friends at Matlock. You and I in our journey to Matlock went by Cheadle, but we now chose the road through Leek and Ashbourne and found it a better way though I believe it is a mile farther – but I had another motive for taking this route.


If you recollect, after leaving Mr Kendals tin plate work in our way from Cheadle to Ashbourne, we went a long way up hill, left Mr Gilberts to the left, & a mile or two father on, came to some lime works. This place is called Calden Lowe & is a mountain of Limestone, & the last hill of this stone between Derbyshire and Flintshire in Wales, where it rises again, consists of the same strata as the Derbyshire Hills, & is in every respect the same kind of stone. But this is by the by – We are surveying a course for a branch of our canal at Etruria to the west of Calden Low by which, if we succeed, our country will be supplied with lime at little more than half the price we now pay for it, which will enable us to improve our land, & the face of our country very much, & is therefore a great object to us. The course of this intended canal runs parallel with the road from Ashbourne, for some miles, to view this ground was my principal motive for preferring the Leek to Cheadle road.


We slept at Ashbourne that night, & after a pleasant ride to Matlock the next morning we met our good friends Mr & Mrs Bentley there, with Miss Oates from Chesterfield, & Mr & two Miss Stamfords from Derby. These were of our particular party, but there was many gentlemen & ladies besides which we knew, & a good sociable dance in the evening united the whole company together as one family, & made the place very agreeable to us all.


Tuesday 20th – Took a ride to Darley upon the Bakewell road, & amongst other things were highly pleased with a view of the effects of preserving industry in clearing, & cultivating the side of an hill on our right, which a few years since was quite barren and covered over with stones, but is now converted into beautiful fields of grass & corn.


After dinner – crossed the river to Adams Walk, & the weather being fine had a delightful view from the seat in the cliff, & at the top of the hill. All were full of the praises of Adam for enabling them to climb the once inaccessible rock, & rival the birds in their view of the enchanting scene below & let me here stop a moment to tell you, my dear boy, that this poor man – this Adam of Matlock – by a well-timed exertion of his ingenuity & industry, has acquir’d more real fame than many noble lords, & his name will be remember’d with gratitude & respect, when theirs are totally forgot.


We were here join’d by Mr & Mrs Kenyan & two Miss Birches who very politely inquir’d after you. They stopped a day or two here in their way to town. We next took a walk by the river side at the bottom of the cliff to the mine you were in when you first heard of the old man having done this & the other.


The engines you and I saw unfinsh’d are now at work and throw up a vast quantity of water, and the ore they raise is pretty considerable.


Mr Whitehurst, Mr & Mrs Brock have now join’d us & a Mr Williams from Chelsea who is taking a young gentleman he has had the care of, to Warrington Academy. We cross the river again, drink tea at the new bath, & spend a cheerful evening afterwards at our own.


Wednesday we took an early breakfast, & made a party to Chatsworth a seat of the Duke of Devonshires ten or eleven miles from Matlock. You will not expect me to describe this truly noble seat, but I hope sometime to have the pleasure of showing it to you.


Thursday being a dull rainy day there was no stirring abroad, so the ladies and gentkemen sang, & fluted & played, making their confinement to the house as agreeable as possible. The evening was concluded with various songs, & so well was the want of fine weather abroad, made up by the good humour & harmony within, that the company declar’d it the most pleasing & elegant day they had spent at Matlock.


Friday morning – walk’d to cromford & attempted to see the cotton mills, but were disappointed, Mr Acwright [sic], the inventor & superintendant of the mills permitting very few to have the pleasure of viewing his ingenious performances.


Mr Bentley & I had contriv’d a concert to entertain the company with this evening. They knew nothing of the matter till the band struck up altogether in the Long Room. I have forgot the piece but ‘tis no matter, it was a very full one, accompanied by voices, & very agreeably surprised the whole company. Our band was picked out of the blacksmiths shops, cobblers stalls, & the mines in the neighbourhood, but not withstanding their humble situation in life it would be paying them no compliment to say they made better musick than we had heard from brothers of the string much finer dress’d than themselves.


On Saturday we went to visit Gregory Mine near Ashover, which I suppose is one of the richest mines now working in the country. It is situated upon the declivity of a very high hill – immense banks are form’d with earth spars &c out of the mines, & our chais’s no sooner appear’d under the hill than these banks were fill’d with men, women & children running out of the little cabins where they were dressing their ore to see who was coming to pay them a visit. I never before saw a mine half so populous, or such a quantity of ore drawn up. Several cabins full of women & children seated in rows, stamping & breaking the ore – others again sorting, separating & washing it in various manners, in short, the whole bank was animated & afforded us a most agreeable entertainment.


On Sunday afternoon we left Matlock to spend two or three days with our friends in Derby.’


Other correspondence between Josiah Wedgwood and individuals associated with Derbyshire includes John Whitehurst and Joseph Pickford.  Whitehurst was a clockmaker and both a watchman’s clock and an engine-time clock existed at the Etruria factory. Pickford was the architect who was responsible for the design and building of the Etruria factory that opened in 1769. Josiah’s letters from this period make many references to the building of the works and his relationship with Pickford.


During Wedgwood’s journey to Cornwall in May 1775 he commented that a couple of miles out of the town of Dorchester ‘the general appearance of the country [is] much like the Peak of Derbyshire’ and a few miles further ‘the hills are now so high and bold, and the valea as deep, as in any part of Derbyshire.’


Josiah’s great-great grandson Cecil Wedgwood also left correspondence concerning visits to Derbyshire. During October 1907 he and his wife Lucie spent a week travelling around both Derbyshire and Yorkshire, the itinerary being well documented through postcards to their daughter Phoebe. They departed on Oct 7th and stopped at The Charles Cotton Hotel at Hartington for tea.


They then drove on to The Peacock Inn at Rowsley where they spent the night before continuing on to ‘the smoky town’ of Sheffield. From here they travelled to Doncaster, staying at The Angel Inn, and taking in Conisboro’ Castle on the way. They arrived at York the following day. On the return journey they visited Worksop, staying at The Lion:


‘This is a very funny little old inn with a very nice oak staircase. I think we shall go on after lunch tomorrow for there is not anything to see at Chesterfield.’


On October 14th they were at the New Bath Hotel at Matlock:


‘We woke at 7 to hear it pouring down. Fortunately it cleared & we had a pleasant drive here over moorland country. We got in to lunch & have just got back after a very pretty 2 hours walk. Tomorrow we go to Ashbourne.’


This was the final stage of their journey:


‘A cold & windy but very pretty drive from Matlock about 14 miles. We had a walk up the High Tor this morning & were nearly blown away on the top. They returned home the following day after ‘a lovely drive under the Weaver Hills’


Harry Barnard, the Wedgwood designer and modeller, although being born in the London district of Canonbury, at the age of nine was ‘transported suddenly into fresh surroundings’ when sent at the age of nine to a private school in Derbyshire. This was the Belper Collegiate School. Unfortunately descriptions of his environment are sparse, the reason being that they were usually only allowed out in the town for an hour on Saturday afternoons when pocket money was paid out. Of Belper itself he reflected in his autobiography:


‘The lively River Derwent skirted one corner of the town and cotton mills and iron foundries were the principal industries. The old hand-made horse shoe nails were a very important product, being made in little forges attached to the cottages, in fact it was a cottage industry back then and the “nailers” were the rough element in the community always on the alert, and ready for a fight at any election, parliamentary or municipal. Many cottages “clicked” with the old hand loom, and also as antique as the old spinning wheel. The police and the nailers of Cow Hill were often at loggerheads, with batons and hammers, and split heads were usual on both sides after a meeting. There was a gang of poachers among them, and many tales were told of a Jack Lee, a gypsy who settled there amongst them.’


Barnard also commented on another particular local inhabitant called Joady Joash who:


‘Defied all law and was credited with the most extraordinary doings, at full moon. I remember seeing him racing through the streets, quite nude, with a huge fir tree club and defying all. Everyone got out of his way, police as well, until he subsided into some corner overcome with fatigue. The children used to be scared. He was looked upon as an evil spirit, and yet when he was clothed and quiet they would follow him about. Why? Because he often used to enter a sweet shop, grocer’s or chemist’s, and take down bottles of sweets which he would empty into the dirty pockets of his ragged coat, and then scramble them to the children in the street. No one seemed to dare to stop him for fear of raising the devil in him.


Occasionally he came to the congregational church where some of us used to attend, and where we were told he was brought up. His proper name was Brown. The state was brought on, I believe, by alcoholic abuse. He was usually quiet, but at times broke out, and used to hold up the whole service by praying in a stentorian voice, or singing hymns in a tone like a trombone, or argue, answering his own questions during sermon time. On one occasion when the minister mildly suggested that he should keep quiet and let him talk. His reply was “shut up, old farthing face” much to the amusement of the frivolous boarders of Belper Collegiate School


His fevered brain was chilled one night when he went out in a heavy snow storm with nothing on, and prayed to the moon on Cow Hill. When he became quiet they took him to the workhouse infirmary where he died from pneumonia.’


Although not appearing to have a lot of free time to roam there were occasions when, along with other school friends, he would frequent a hill called the ‘Chevin’ where there were ‘pools for sailing boats and rocks for playing robbers behind.’ Other occasional excursions included the limestone quarries in the nearby hills where the full trucks used to pull the empty ones up over a wheel at the top:


‘We youngsters used to risk our necks by having free rides, both up and down, and the quarry men did not seem to stop us but rather revelled in our audacity. In a valley called Via Gellia, where lilies of the valley grew in abundance, were lead mines, funny little one man shows entered down a pit like a ladder. Here again was a happy hunting ground for us when no one was about. We purchased farthing dip candles and used to go exploring.’




Other letters mentioning Derbyshire – 1774 July 30th, undated p59 (vol.VIII), Sept 3rd, Oct 31st. It was on this latter trip that he was accompanied by his father-in-law. The Commonplace Book belonging to Josiah contains a reference to Derbyshire Blue John.