Cecil Wedgwood (1863-1916) : 'One of England's Best'
Cecil Wedgwood was born on March 28th 1863, the only child of Godfrey and Mary Wedgwood. Mary died from complications following the birth. The earliest visual reference of Cecil is a sketch of the infant on a rocking horse by the French artist Emile Lessore who was then employed at the Etruria factory. At Godfrey’s request Lessore later painted a portrait of 3-year old Cecil from a photograph.
Cecil’s early education was at home in Barlaston under the direction of Alfred Smith, first clerk to the Hanley School Board. This was followed by attending Mr Lake’s School in Caterham, Surrey. In 1877 he entered into Clifton College. That same year Godfrey remarried, his bride being a cousin Hope Wedgwood. Their first home was at Dilhorne for a year and a half before moving to the neighbouring village of Caverswall. Godfrey leased Caverwsall Castle in 1878 although it soon became apparent that the building required a large staff and was cold, damp and in need of constant repairs. However, they remained at the castle for ten years.
Writing from Clifton College Cecil expressed his joy over the arrival of a sister – Mary Euphrasia Wedgwood:
‘Dear father, I am so glad to hear the good news, & above all that mother is going on well. I am very glad too that the baby is a girl, it will be so nice having a sister to look after & take care of.’
Academically Cecil was not a disappointment to his father for in the same letter he wrote:
‘I was a 1st last week in form & joint 1st the week before, so if I can only keep it up I have every chance of getting into the sixth. I don’t know that I quite like the idea of it, for although you get extra privileges, the power seems to spoil fellows who were very jolly, [and who] get disagreeable, especially the little fellows, who try to assert their authority. Sometimes my fingers do tingle so to give some brute of a sixth fellow a jolly good licking.’
The following month, among his keenness for the school sports, Cecil informed his father:
‘They have made me go in for an Oxford & Cambridge certificate, it won’t be any use to me but the Headmaster always makes the first 4 or 5 in the modern fifth go in for them.’
Yet college appeared not to change Cecil’s character as his grandfather Hensleigh wrote of him:
‘I do not know what our children will do without Cecil he has been the very life of all their enjoyment – it is very nice his being so young & having none of the dignity of a public school boy but being quite willing to play at Robbers with poor longsuffering Phoebe & the blunderbuss.’
After leaving Clifton in 1881 Cecil made the obligatory continental tour and then spent six months at the University of Geneva, improving his French and studying Latin and Greek in preparation for the Cambridge entrance exams. Upon learning of his father’s increasing poor health and frequent absence from the factory, he informed his stepmother that
‘…it would be better for me to give up Cambridge and come to work as soon as I leave here … He has done everything to please me and much as I would like to go to Cambridge I would far rather be at work, and helping him what I could.’
The same letter revealed:
‘I am getting more and more convinced that I am a John Bull: Abroad is not bad for a time, but I should never wish to leave England to travel.’
During Christmas 1881 Cecil decided that it would be of greater benefit to begin working at the factory. He returned to Caverswall Castle early the following year, riding to the factory each day on a mare named Polly.
At home Cecil appeared to have an active role in village life. He inaugurated a village cricket club allowing them to play on one of the fields belonging to the castle. He also had time to play with his half-sister. According to his father:
‘He behaves very tenderly and nicely to her. She treats him as an accustomed slave, somewhat indifferently. They make a comical couple.’
Cecil also wrote to his sister. One letter from 1882 describes the plight of a stray kitten and is illustrated with sketches, including two self-portraits.
During May 1887 Cecil was on military exercises at The Camp at Brownhills:
‘Here we are under canvas. The camp is on a heath surrounded by coal pits &c, & about the windiest spot imaginable for there is not a particle of shelter anywhere… We have pretty hard work, being on the range most of the day, & as I am in command I have the rest of my time occupied with looking after the camp & all the work connected with it. However the men are behaving very well, which is a comfort. I heard a night-jar croaking all round my tent last night & cuckoos wake us by shouting in the morning…We have 7 new recruits, all nice fellows, which is great luck as the South Stafford recruits are a fearful set of cads… We have an awful difficulty in keeping the civilians out of the camp, they are so inquisitive, & of course it doesn’t do to have them prowling all about. One gets a splendid appetite here & it is not at all a bad life tho’ rather cold. We generally live in our greatcoats all day.
It was at Caverswall Castle in the spring of 1885 that Cecil first met his half-sister’s governess, a young Irish woman from Cork named Lucie Gibson. The romance culminated while Godfrey was on holiday in America and Hope and Mary in London, leaving Cecil and Lucie alone at the castle for three weeks apart from the servants. On September 9th 1887, the day before Godfrey’s departure for America, Cecil had been escorting a party around the Etruria factory when he slipped and fell with his leg under him. He got up and continued but shortly afterwards fainted. He was taken back to Caverswall Castle in an ambulance with his leg strapped to a splint. Lucie recorded her thoughts in a letter, probably to one of her sisters:
It was nearly two hours before the household calmed after his arrival, and then Mr and Mrs W had to go for a stroll in the garden to compose themselves… then there was a great alarm that we had neglected the packing, and must make up for lost time; so we all rushed up to the Oak Room where all his things were collected, and packed like blacks. They were handing me the things and I was putting them in, and three times I had to take them all out and begin again because of some new thing that was or was not to go and that altered the whole configuration of the trunk. Then there was a solem procession, armed with candles, to the dark passage off the back hall (near C’s door) where coats and caps are hung to consult and decide upon his supply of overcoats; C’s voice coming through his open door in a cloud of tobacco smoke, delivering his sage opinion on the weighty subject.
All this time the wind was rising steadily – it’s blowing a gale now: and by the time dinner was over Mrs Hope was reduced to prowling about the room and looking out of every window in turn out of sheer fidgets. Then we adjourned to C’s room and had tea there – his majesty with a ‘cage’ over his leg, looking dignified and imposing even in his nightgown. But Mr and Mrs couldn’t sit still for long; so they went to bed at half-past nine to shorten the day – not reflecting that it would lengthen the night; I am sure they won’t sleep a wink…the wind is getting worse and worse! I don’t believe he’ll go at all. Well he did go; at least they’ve left the house. I’ve just been interviewing the doctor who says it is only a sprain after all and will be well quite soon…Aunt Amy (bother her) came pegging over hotfoot to see him and to kick up a fuss. If I hadn’t happened to be busy just when I saw the carriage coming, I would have gone and sat on the side of his bed and been there when she came in just to vex her.
Two days after Godfrey’s departure, Hope and Mary left for London. Cecil stayed home from the works even though his injury was not as serious as it had at first seemed. A week before Godfrey’s return from America Lucie tactfully went home to Ireland leaving Cecil and Godfrey to settle the matter of their engagement.
In February 1888 the factory accounts of the previous year were audited revealing a substantial loss. Cecil was in Ireland meeting Lucie’s family when the news came. Upon his return he told his father that he and Lucie were willing to postpone their marriage until circumstances improved and that the suggestion of postponement had been Lucie’s. Godfrey assured Cecil that such a sacrifice was unnecessary, as the pottery was not their only source of income. Godfrey wrote to his future daughter-in-law: ‘That you should be willing to defer your marriage for our convenience shows, that whatever it is which renders intercourse between the two generations more difficult than we had hoped, it is only something on the surface, that down below, you do sympathise with us and are ready to make sacrifices for us.’
Cecil’s last letter both as a single man, and from Caverswall Castle, was to his aunt Snow:
‘Thank you very much indeed for the sketches of the castle…I shall value them very much, partly as you say because they represent a house where I have spent the happiest possible years, but chiefly because they are your painting, & I do feel it a great pleasure that you should like to take so much trouble in painting them for me…colour is always much nicer than a photograph & I shall always like to have reminders of this dear old house.’
The marriage took place in Cork on July 18th 1888. Godfrey and Hope did not attend due to Godfrey’s health but sent a telegram of best wishes, as did Snow. The couple honeymooned in Ireland taking in Achill Island, Kylemore, Westport, Galway and Cork followed by the Lake District before returning to a small rented house at Chapel Chorlton near Maer.
After Godfrey retired from the factory a new agreement was drawn up in autumn 1891 with Cecil (then aged 27), Laurence and Francis Hamilton as equal partners.
It was at Chapel Chorlton that Cecil and Lucie’s two daughters were born – Phoebe Sylvia (June 27th 1893) and Doris Audrey (October 10th 1894).
It may have been due to the arrival of his granddaughters that Godfrey persuaded Cecil that with the inheritance he would receive through the estates of both his Hawkshaw and Wedgwood grandfathers, that he and Lucie should move into a house more appropriate to a partner of the Wedgwood factory. A month before Christmas 1897 they took up residence at Leadendale at Rough Close, near to Barlaston.
In 1899 Cecil volunteered for the Boer War and travelled to South Africa aboard the SS Kildonan Castle. By March 1900 he had reached Natal and the following month had marched to Green Point Camp where he was sharing a hut with his cousin Oliver, while Cousin Berry was the camp’s Quartermaster. By July they had reached Wellington, about 50 miles north of Capetown, with three Companies of the 4th North Staffords and were now living in tents.
In September Cecil was commissioned to the rank of Major although the following month he confided to his father that he hoped the War would not continue much longer and described what he considered to be ‘the dragging end of the War.’ He also described what he considered to be:
‘…the stupendous ignorance of the people here. They will not believe that they are beaten, & all sorts of wonderful rumours fly about, the latest that Buller & 4,000 men are taken prisoner at the Lydenburg district. It must be remembered that we have to deal with an absolutely disloyal Cape Colony…It is an immense pity that we have never been able to give the Boars a real good stand up beating, that would have had the best effect. They are a most impossible people to deal with for a civilised people like us. They have all the vices, & none of the virtues of the native. It won’t be easy to govern them, & only the severest justice will have any effect.’
The following month his mood remained unaltered and he had also reached the conclusion that there was no necessity for a South African Wedgwood office:
‘One thing I have learnt here is it is no good JW&S troubling with this market. Nothing but the very cheapest goods sell, you don’t see a decent crock anywhere. I have only seen one set of Minton tea-ware & one of Haviland’s onglaze transfers coffees…It has been a very interesting experience, but I have had enough of it, although I have the satisfaction of feeling that I have been useful.’
He spent Christmas in Wellington but by January 1901 was stationed in the rebel district of Paarl as Commandant. This was a much larger area that included Wellington. Cecil was responsible for the railway, troops, horses, the supply of provisions and the enforcement of martial law. A series of light-hearted letters to 7-year-old Phoebe reveal what army life was like:
‘I am living in a new camp now close to a big railway bridge that we have to watch to see that the enemy do not blow up. We have little forts on the bridge made of sand in canvas bags. Each fort holds just two men and there are six forts. The men sleep in them every night so that if the enemy came they would be quite ready to shoot at him. We have got a beautiful arbour built here of trees & thatched with scrub. It is very cool & pleasant under some fir trees. We have a table in it & have our breakfast & lunch there so it is just like a picnic everyday, & while it is fine it is very nice. To get to our camp you have to ride through a river. My tent is pitched under some fir trees so that it is sheltered from the sun & from the wind & dust. The camp in which the soldiers live is surrounded by a wall made of iron planks & sand piled up outside so that if anyone shoots at them they are safe and can shoot back without being hurt.’
Another recorded that:
‘Captain Bull has lost his “Brer Terrapin”. He was put out on the grass to feed and he scuffled off when no one was looking. I have no doubt he is somewhere with Brer Rabbit, smoking a cigar and chuckling at having diddled those stupid English soldiers.’
Many, including the above, contain sketches such as Cousin Oliver catching a lizard, a mole and tabaqui, a snake, Cecil on horseback and in his arbour and being attacked by a skeeter while sleeping. Another, illustrated with an appropriate sketch, tells of one of Cecil’s companions, Captain Sheldon:
‘He saw that some elephants had been pulling down trees to get at the leaves. So he sat down on one of the tree trunks. As he sat down he heard a movement under the tree and on looking over his shoulder he saw it was a lioness who had been asleep under the branches of the fallen tree. Of course he jumped up and ran as hard as he could but when he looked over his shoulder he saw the lioness running just as fast in the opposite direction.’
Other letters appear to have contained gifts such as the one that enclosed a necklace and two bracelets sent for her birthday:
‘They are made by the black people here out of ‘sweet mallard’ seeds.’
Cecil was stationed at Wellington over Christmas 1900 and wrote to both his daughters enclosing two deer skins suggesting they use them as mats by their beds or to sit on in the nursery:
‘I hope you will both have a very happy Christmas and lots of fun. I do wish I could be with you but they want me out here yet.’
By February 1901 the North Staffords had been sent to Beaufort West and Lyon and Cecil had been sent replacement troops from the West Riding Militia. Although anticipating a big move in June with the promise of additional troops he desperately wished to be given a date for returning home. The reason was that the future of the works was on his mind:
‘I need not say how bitter has been my disappointment in Etruria not paying. Not only the loss of income but more the feeling that the old firm of which we are all proud & fond should have suffered during my time there. You know I have not shirked my work, any more than the others have, but one blow after another has struck us, the sinking, the bad times, the lead question until I begin to despair of ever making things go well. It is a question we shall have to consider as soon as we get back. Of course I can’t speak positively without figures before me but I am inclined to feel that we should stop before we lose more money & before we are too old to take up something else. I don’t say this without any effort but it is no good [ ] [ ] I hate giving in and confessing that we cannot make the works go but these are the facts, & I see very little prospect of altering things.’
Upon hearing of the death of Frank Shufflebotham he wrote:
‘Little did I think that he would be the one of the works friends that I should not see again. He has been a staunch and loyal supporter of us & ours & we owe him a debt of gratitude for his whole-hearted work. It make me all the more anxious to get back.’
At the beginning of August Cecil was stationed at Carnarvon as Commandant of the district. That same month his application for three months leave was granted and he returned home to deal with a matter with a lawsuit between the works and the Duchy of Lancaster. Before leaving Carnarvon he wrote:
‘I only wish the regiment were coming too…we are a fairly cheerful party here & manage to get along in spite of the dullness.’
His leave began on September 4th, sailing home aboard the Kingfanus, and docked at Southampton on September 20th. He returned to South Africa in mid-December aboard RMS Saxon. The journey was not without at least one amusing incident:
‘One of my acquaintances on board who was complaining this morning of having a headache & feeling rather bilious afterwards lunched off, among other things, crab & macaroni cheese! He lives, but for how long.’
On arrival back in South Africa he was placed in charge of an escort guarding a party of sappers who were building block houses at Leeufontein 19 miles west of Carnarvon. In January 1902 he received an urgent summons because:
‘Levett thought he had discovered about 100 Boars 7 miles to the south [at Klip Kolk]. So I rode & sent out scouts with Lt. Adams. Then I concentrated all my camp at Klip Heuwel, & of course just as were were moving in down came a thunderstorm. However it was not a long one & everyone dried up very quickly. You never saw such a wild scene. The sun set behind the fantastique piles of stone in a tour mass of clouds, behind us to the east was a huge pile of inky black lit up by blue flickers of lightening, without, & this was very uncanny, any sound of thunder. It was just like the ‘realms of gloom’ at Hanley Pantomime. We settled down & the men lit fires which were almost reflected in the rocks which are all shinny black on the top & red underneath, so full of iron that they ring like walking on a cast iron drainpipe. Then the clouds cleared away & the moon came out. Our Boars were found to be a heard [sic] of skin moving along the road, but at 7 miles it is hard to judge even with good glasses. You have largely to judge by the shape of the dust cloud that hangs over them.’
A couple of weeks later they were at Biejesleegte. Again the state of the business was a cause of concern: The works figures do not sound very encouraging. However, it is no good, as you say, going into them until we get the final figures. He also expressed opinion on the local population who were being trained as a military unit:
‘I think they are a huge mistake. They are untrained & undisciplined, they shoot at everything & anything & if they were seriously attacked by a commando of 200 or 300 men would be overwhelmed in a couple of hours. It seems such a pity to spend so much money, & then make every alternate link rotten. The real Barator are good enough, real savages, who can shoot, & fine men, but the cape boy, or bastard, a cross between Cape Dutch & Hottentots are a wretched set, & we have already had a good deal of trouble with them. One was found the other day shooting at his water donkey because he said it was no use. It was only a bit out of condition. They shoot at the guards on the line when they get of the trains to alter the points, & they have even gone so far as to shoot at the armoured train. Here in the wilderness, where they cannot be so easily supervised as on the line, they will have fine times. He also, it would seem, radically altered his appearance, although for good reason: I have just had nearly all my hair cut off (mother would not approve) & look rather (only “rather”) like a Frenchman. I found the fine dust filled one’s hair & washing it only turned it to mud, so I got Sgt Looskan with his clippers & now have it a manageable length.’
By March he had moved to Schuinshoogte and the following month De Aar where he remained until the end of the war.
Cecil had returned home by the middle of August 1902 and was now living at Idlerocks, Barlaston. During his time in the forces he was twice mentioned in dispatches, and besides two medals, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, presented to him by Edward VII. Upon returning to the factory he was given a ‘welcome home’ reception by the workers who presented him with a large silver tray inscribed with his name (a similar gift also being made to his cousin Frank). He was also presented with the Freedom of the County Borough of Hanley in recognition of his service.
Cecil, along with Lucie, visited her relatives in Ireland in both 1903 and 1904. On the latter trip, which lasted a month, Cecil wrote to his parents, who he addressed as ‘Dear people’, and informed them that:
‘Lucie has taken away my nice old trousers that I brought to wear out here!! She says she won’t have me in yellow cotton trousers so I am reduced to wearing my last years flannels which I had brought for best! Such is the tyranny of woman.’
By 1904 Cecil was in already an active member of the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce. During the nationwide annual meeting held in Bristol he visited his old school, Clifton College, where he was between 1877 and 1881, and saw ‘my old study & my name on the door above where I cut it when I left, & also my name on the Honours List in the big school because I got the DSO.’
In 1905 he became Chairman of Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd and the following year Chairman of the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce. During the next five years he also undertook a number of different responsibilities outside of work. He also became Chairman for the Committee for federating the five towns, an association representing the commercial interests of the district, in 1907, the same year that he was elected councillor for Hanley. The following year he also became a member of the County Association for Territorial Forces. He was also president and chairman of the Executive Committee of the Hanley Charity Organisation Society and a member of the Council of the London COS. He was also extremely keen on the Infant Welfare Movement that Lucie joined, and supported any movement for promoting health. That same year he was also president of The Hanley Glee and Madrigal Society and treasurer of the North Staffordshire Provident Association. In February 1911 he was also a member of the committee of the Audley Disaster County Fund.
Cecil saw that care was a matter beyond the provision of financial aid and that the recipients would only benefit through well-organised administration. Writing on New Year’s Day 1911:
‘I feel certain we are making a mistake in spending so much on the so-called education of the children and so little on seeing that they are properly equipped to profit by that education from the health point of view. Combined with this is the difficulty of preventing the parents from losing their sense of responsibility if we do too much.’
Despite these extra-mural responsibilities Cecil was actively engaged in the business. In March 1908 he helped to resolve the wages dispute when the workers demanded a 15% rise. Cecil negotiated with the workers committee and the unions to divert the threat of a strike.
By this time he and his family were living at The Woodhouse near Cheadle. He would often go riding to places like Oakamoor, Farley, Froghall and Draycott. Family excursions included Croxden Abbey where:
‘we found a communicative lady in a dog-cart who told us that King John’s heart was buried there & that lately they have found the coffin & bones of the founder buried in the orchard, just near where the high altar used to stand.’
During October 1907 Cecil and Lucie spent a week travelling around Derbyshire and Yorkshire, the itinerary well documented through postcards to Sophie. 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) stopping at Conisboro’ Castle for lunch on the way:
‘This is the castle where Athelstan came to life in Ivanhoe. Such a fine ruin & the keep which dates from about 1200 is in splendid repair for a ruin.’
The next day they arrived at York, staying at a boarding house at 37 St Mary’s:
‘We came here to this very comfortable house this morning. We left the house at Doncaster, as John Peel was not feeling very well, & the drive from Doncaster to York was ugly. The stable at Doncaster was good so I left them to the care of the ostler for two days. We have been all round the walls & spent the afternoon at the minster.’
The following day they spent at Rowntrees cocoa factory, studying how they provide dinners for 2,000 workers every day:
‘Excellent pie made of meat, potato & onion & pie crust 2d a huge wedge, tea ½ a pint. It all most wonderfully well-organised. This afternoon we went to St Mary’s ruins & the Roman wall, ending up with the minster again, a lovely anthem & voluntary. We sat & listened to some lovely music of the afternoon service in the dusk. It was very grand, the half light gave such size to everything. Only one felt what a poor race we are compared to the men who built this church & the other great cathedrals. Horrid people would walk about while the music was being played which made me very angry. I am sure they were non-conformists. In fact, if I stayed long at York I should become a bishop I am sure.’
The next day they left York and arrived at 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’
In May 1908 Cecil and Lucie had a week long holiday in Devon, based at the Esplanade Hotel in Paignton. Their excursions included Dartmouth, Kingswear, Totnes, Newton Abbot and: ‘the picturesque old thatched village of Cockington & on through deep narrow lanes to Compton Castle.’
On their return journey they visited Exeter including the Cathedral and the museum:
‘We had a beautiful choral service in the cathedral. It is finer inside than out. It has a dumpy look outside & the gothic is not good enough for the great massive Norman towers.’
On their return (by train) they had to wait for an hour at Burton so they walked down the main street to a tea shop where they had toasted crumpets & tea:
‘The food was good but the plates were grubby which distressed your mother, & she demanded a clean one. I philosophically cleaned mine on the tablecloth.’
Although Cecil was compassionate he also had a sterner side to his character, apparently to those who did not listen to him. Returning from business in London by train to Blythe Bridge where he:
‘had to wait for Walshman who was late, & who bought the Brougham when I had said the dog-cart. I don’t think he will do it again.’ Another letter contained amusing anecdotes such as the state of football fans:
‘I met mother at Stoke on Saturday & was very glad I did for the place was a pandemonium, with excursion train after excursion train of small, hollow-chested, round-shouldered ruffians coming to see a football match. That is what the nation is coming to, they barked along the platform like wild things.’
As a present for Christmas 1908 Cecil received a piano from his mother.
‘It has arrived quite safely & fills up the corner of the drawing room [at The Woodhouse] just exactly. And now I am looking forward to playing it, & reminding myself of the times I used to play for father, & how he used to like the Kreutzer Sonata. I hope when I play it, an echo of it may reach him still.’
Cecil was a keen admirer of horses and his letters often comment upon these beasts. One letter from January 1909 describes how a horse attempted to drink out of the canal at Etruria but fell in:
‘The question arose how to get him out for it is so deep opposite the works he could get no foothold. I sent men & ropes to help & finally with the united efforts of boatmen & our own men he was hauled up a plank. The poor old beast was all of a shake with the cold, so I had him into our stable & set a man to help his owner rub him dry while I sent for a quart of warm ale & ginger, which he enjoyed. He was getting warm when I left, & I told them to rug him up warm & I hoped he would take no harm.’
The culmination of Cecil’s civic life was when he became the first Lord Mayor of Stoke on Trent in March 1910. A special service was held at St Peter’s Church in Stoke. On the reverse of the service sheet in Lucie’s hand is written ‘Cecil never lowered his eyes from the preacher’s face’.
Cecil’s father Godfrey died in 1905 and never had the chance to see his son as Lord Mayor. In a letter to his mother Cecil wrote: ‘Thank you for what you say in your letter, if I can follow in his footsteps, & feel that he would approve of what I am doing I shall be satisfied. What an immense help his whole life was to set one on the right road, not so much by what he said, as by what he did, for he said very little. It is a great pleasure to me to think that you can feel that I am doing work of which he would recognise the use – & I do thank you for saying so.’
He made Frederick Green his deputy mayor:
‘I could hardly do less when he had such a large support. Also I hope it will tend to heal feuds…I do think father would have approved, & that it gives a value which it would have lacked otherwise. I think also old J.W. looked on from his pedestal [added in a different hand ‘yes I’m sure he did’] with interest. Well, I will do my best to be worthy of their respect.’
In September 1910 he was already considering the prospect of re-election as mayor. If successful this would mean that Cecil was to serve for 19 months. His main concern appeared to be how his time was taken away from managing the factory:
‘Now I must consider the partners at the works & the work people there. The mayoralty practically takes all my time & energies. The works is beginning to forge ahead well, we are full of orders, & the difficulty is to get them off. If we fail now, after all our efforts, to get the work through in reasonable time we shall lose all we have worked for…that is the conundrum I have to solve. On the other hand I see I am of public use. I have been asked by several councillors to take it on again. Next year would be a big year because of the coronation. I am very much torn between the two.’
Although somewhat reluctant about the prospect of re-election as mayor by early October the decision had been made. An undated letter from the Aldermen and Councillors of Stoke upon Trent declares their
‘admiration of the magnificent way in which you have carried out the very exacting duties of Mayor, since the formation of the County Borough. We also desire to press upon you the earnest, and unanimous wish of the members of the Council, that you will allow yourself to be nominated for the Mayoralty for the coming year.’
The letter contains 97 signatures.
‘Well the die is cast & we are in for another year. The petition was signed by almost all the council, the only ones who did not were absent, & was handed to me at the last council meeting. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm not only of the councillors but of the public who were present. How we are ever to come down to being ordinary folk I do not know. I could only say “yes” in face of such a unanimous request. Everyone is very nice & appreciative of Lucie’s Mayoress-ship. Last night, at the council, & in the papers allusion, is made to her “grace & charm”, in fact we are both in danger of having our heads turned. Etruria is progressing well, we are full of orders. Frank was very kind about the mayoralty, & strongly urged me to take it on, which was very good of him as the entire work falls on his shoulders. But as he says by standing for another year I shall feel that I have done my best for federation.’
As Mayor Cecil would also have an involvement in labour disputes such as acting on the strike at Craddick’s Tile Works in Stoke and the Railway Workers Strike during 1911. This latter incident called for Cecil, as Mayor and also Chief Magistrate, to preside over the Borough Justices and the Watch Committee to take all possible steps to protect the train services from London and ensure that food supplies reached the district. A letter from the General Manager’s Office of the North Staffordshire Railway shows the severity of the problem in regards to the transport of goods:
‘Dear Mr Mayor, You may be interested to know that on Saturday last we had 80 waggons [sic] of Burton Ale hidden away behind Stoke Station which the authorities at Liverpool, Manchester, etc had refused to let us send forward. This would have been a very fine prize for an unruly mob if they had broken in upon us.’
During the first two months of 1914 Cecil was involved with The National Service League, petitioning the Prime Minister in forming a compulsory home defence strategy. On September 11th he was gazetted as Major in the Kitchener Army. During the next six weeks he raised two regiments – the 7th and 8th North Staffords. By December he was at Perham Down and appointed second-in-command of the 8th Regiment. He refused a post on the staff to which his age and experience would have entitled him, preferring to take active service in the trenches alongside his men.
He described the miserable conditions at Perham Down to his mother:
‘The camp was ankle deep in mud. We had wind & rain for some days, & it culminated on Friday in a hurricane that blew down our reading room marquee, the drying tent where we dried clothes, the grocery tent, the canteen, & the YMCO tents. So they had nowhere to get warm & dry. Your gift enabled me to get bucket braziers & coke for every tent by midday on Saturday, so they were quite dry & happy by that afternoon & it would have done your heart good to hear them singing cheerfully in their tents. That took about £9. Then I am giving the cooks an extra tip all round for their hard work. Whatever the weather they had to cook in the open for 11,000 men, no light job. Then I propose to buy a big drum, which we lack, to cheer the men on their marches, & an extra side drum. So you see we are finding much useful work for your benefaction.’
A week later Cecil wrote from the School of Musketry, then based at the Royal Hotel, Hayling Island:
‘Tomorrow the whole battalion moves to Bedminster (a suburb of Bristol) to shoot their musketry course. We shall be in billets there for a fortnight. I came here on Friday for a five day’s course of its instruction in how to teach musketry. It is very interesting, & the lectures & the practical work are well arranged & thought out. We are a very funny collection of old gentlemen, all majors or colonels. What our combined age & weight must be I have no notion. I feel rather like Mr Bullitude. We are packed 3 in rooms & were told we must be in time for lectures just as if we were back at school. I go back to Bedminster on Wednesday. The report from our Divisional General is that we shall probably go abroad in March. It is likely we shall be left at Weston (when we get back from shooting about Jan 6) until the last fortnight before we go abroad. This afternoon we are to be shown the mechanisation of the latest machine gun & rifle. Yes, before long I believe we shall have freed Belgium & France from the Germans.’
On Christmas Day he wrote to his mother from the Royal Hotel, describing life on the range:
‘Among other things we are providing hot cocoa on the range for the men when they are shooting. We begin about 9 & end at 3.30, & they take cold rations with them. But the hot cups of cocoa in the middle of the day will be a great factor in keeping them warm. They are behaving very well & have not grumbled about losing their Xmas leave owing to having had to come here for shooting…I got back here on the evening of the 23rd & found Lucie & the two girls installed in this very comfortable hotel, which is also our regimental headquarters…Yesterday I was on the range all day, but today we have had a complete holiday. We went to morning service in the cathedral – a very excellent sermon from the bishop. Then this afternoon we wandered out for a bit, fine & not cold for Xmas. Afterwards we had tea in our sitting room, & the colonel four other of our officers came in. We had bought a very excellent Xmas cake the evening before. So we had quite a cheery party, & everyone talked & I think enjoyed themselves. Tomorrow I shall be on the range all day.’
The last of Cecil’s letters to survive was written to his sister, the address simply stating ‘France’:
‘Our marvellous weather holds, & we sit with our dug-out door wide open – not bad for January. It is an immense boon to the men who have very little cover in their trenches. We are keeping them fairly well, but sickness is increasing rather owing to them being thoroughly tired. We have had no real rest since the 24th Sept, & are all, officers & men, getting stale, & 3 weeks out of sound of guns will be an immense blessing. We are going to some comfortable billets where we were before, when our rest was cut short. In spite of tiredness we are all very cheery, by [ ] of living from day to day, & we sleep very soundly. A small high explosive shell came into the drying room last night, not ten yards away from the dug-out where the colonel & I were sleeping & exploded & never waked us. It is curious how absolutely one gets used to the constant explosions, till one’s brain ceases to register them consciously. I suppose one hears them in an unconscious way.’
On July 3rd 1916 Cecil was killed at La Boiselle, commanding the 8th Regiment. They had carried the village and was preparing the counter-attack, standing facing the enemy, when he was shot through the throat. His final words were reputedly ‘Carry on the Potters’, the nickname by which the regiment was known. The men who survived that attack wrote on a wooden cross above his grave ‘One of England’s Best’.
Cecil’s body was buried in the Bapaume Post Military Cemetery near the spot in La Boiselle where he was killed. The wooden cross was replaced at the cemetery with the usual white headstone bearing the Regiment’s badge at the top. The inscription reads ‘Major Cecil Wedgwood, 8th N. Staffordshire Regt., 3rd June [July?] 1916, age 53. As the Shadow of a Great Rock in a Weary Land.
A memorial service for Cecil was held at St Peter’s Church, Stoke on July 14th 1916. At the service were representatives of every religious, civic, educational, and philanthropic association in the area, who came to pay their tributes of remembrance. There were also more than 400 employees from Wedgwood as well as others that had previously worked at Etruria. He was described as having ‘impressive personality, the high esteem in which he was held throughout the district. His just but always kindly and sympathetic rule in the chair appealed to all…and was broad-minded and level-headed in his judgements.’ One obituary stated: ‘The Wedgwoods in the recent generation have revived and strengthened the best traditions of their house, and Major Cecil Wedgwood brought a personal chivalry and service, ability and faithful work to adorn the name that he bore; and he leaves it not only untarnished, but enshrined more than ever in the regard and the affection of the people of Staffordshire.’’
Early the following year the Church Army Cecil Wedgwood Hut was erected in his memory. A letter from The Church Army reads ‘At a spot where the push was most fiercely contested in the early days of July 1916, and amidst countless shell holes, the hut has been erected in memory of a brave soldier who fell near by in that terrible time which took such fearful toll of the flower of the manhood of England. A nicely written board records that it is ‘The Cecil Wedgwood Hut given in memory of Major Cecil Wedgwood, D.S.O’…A small canteen is run there, and a cinematograph has been installed; the latter giving much pleasure & relief to thousands of men, who but for this hut, would have had no other shelter than their billeting tents or huts. Thousands of letters are written weekly and the men look upon it as the one bright spot, and the place where they can find sheer and inspiration in their hours of rest after the strenuous times of trench warfare. The donors would be amply repaid could they but hear the glowing tributes paid by our gallant men.’
Five years after the war the Cecil Wedgwood Rooms and Field were opened at the Blind and Deaf School at The Mount in Stoke. His widow Lucie went on to join the board of directors, while his daughter Audrey became a company secretary.