A gentle, short walk exploring the life and times of the Staffordshire Potteries' most famous son.
Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)
Minimum time 1hr 15min
Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Roads, gravel tracks and tow paths,1 stile
Landscape Village, farmland and canal
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 258 Stoke-on-Trent
Start/finish SJ 889395
Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead near livestock
Parking Ample parking along road at starting point
Public toilets Wedgwood visitors' centre
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the visitors' centre drive head left across the river and then right up the drive towards Barlaston Hall. Go past this hall and continue along the metalled road as far as the crossroads in Barlaston. At the crossroads turn right and after 250yds (229m), just past St John's Church on your left, head left along a wide gravel track. This track passes through a broad expanse of open farmland, with sweeping (if not altogether dramatic) views of the Trent and Mersey canal to the right and, beyond, the flood plain of the Trent Valley.
2 After about 800yds (732m), you get to a gate ahead of you: from here follow a less obvious track right, around to the stile where another track comes in on the left. After crossing the stile head right along the track, straight over the railway, before bearing right to a bridge over the canal. Go over the bridge and take the steps down to the left.
3 At the bottom of the steps head left and then follow the canal all the way to the first bridge (at Barlaston) and then the second (at Wedgwood Station). Head left here, up to the metalled road, and then right, back towards the visitors' centre.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, white stoneware was all the rage in polite society, thanks in part to an influx of expensive white china from the Orient. In the quest for a cheaper alternative potters spent decades experimenting with powdered flint from the local mills. Flint is a very pure form of silica which, when mixed with clay, helps to whiten it, but there were so many problems with the process and such a high level of wastage that English china was for a time more expensive than silver. In the 1760s, however, the now-legendary Josiah Wedgwood perfected cream ware and a few years later, when Queen Charlotte purchased an entire tea set, marketing genius Josiah cannily changed the name to Queen's Ware. And the rest, as they say, is pottery.
The Wedgwood family originally came from Burslem, a district of what is today known as Stoke-on-Trent. Craftsman Gilbert Wedgwood was recorded as the first Master Potter in the family in 1640 - and his most famous descendant, Josiah, was born in 1730. Josiah worked in his father's pottery from the tender age of nine, and in 1744 he was apprenticed to his older brother Thomas. An attack of smallpox seriously reduced Josiah's output (his right leg later had to be amputated as a result of the illness) but the time it gave him to read, research and experiment in his chosen craft was to stand him in good stead in later years.
After a number of partnerships Josiah set up his own pottery in Burslem in 1759. But this was no ordinary company. Until then pottery had been something of a cottage industry, but Wedgwood broke the mould, building - for the first time ever - a pottery factory. And rather than rely on family members, his idea was to pay people to work in the premises that he had built, with materials and tools he supplied. In this way he made the whole production process so much more efficient and, ultimately, more lucrative.
A decade later, with business booming, Josiah Wedgwood built a bigger factory in Burslem which he called Etruria (at the time, Greek vases were believed to be Etruscan in origin). This became a model for other pottery manufacturers. Here he applied rigorous, scientific techniques to producing new, innovative pottery. The results of his efforts can still be purchased today and include Jasperware (characterised by unglazed, pale blue stoneware with white relief portraits or classical scenes) and black basalt ware, also known as Egyptian ware, a hard stone-like material used for vases and busts of historical figures.
But of course, when Josiah Wedgwood died in Etruria in 1795 his legacy wasn't just limited to porcelain. His success, vision and innovative business practices made him a leading figure of the Industrial Revolution and his impact on the local countryside was immense, not least because of the hundreds of miles of canals that he was - at least in part - responsible for, including the Trent and Mersey and Caldon canals.
Although the Plume of Feathers might not look like much from the outside, inside it's been carefully and tastefully refurbished, even if the feel might be a bit on the modern side for some tastes. The menu, though, should suit all palates, with morning coffee and afternoon tea, bar snacks all day, a set lunch and a Sunday roast.
The Wedgwood Story visitors' centre is a multi-million pound attraction featuring a museum, shop, two restaurants and of course the Wedgwood factory itself. As well as a fine display of rare and valuable exhibits, the museum also traces the rich history of the Wedgwood company and visitors can walk the factory floor to see the production process, from throwing to firing. You can take your turn at the potter's wheel, try your painting skills or talk to Wedgwood's craftsmen in the demonstration area. If you still have any energy for shopping, take time to browse for souvenirs, ornaments and table ware, including some exclusive lines. The centre is open year-round (except Christmas week and New Year's Day), Monday to Friday 9-5, weekends 10-5.
The Trent and Mersey Canal, completed in 1777, linked the River Trent at Derwent Mouth near Derby with the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook, near the mouth of the Mersey River. This effectively meant the country could be navigated all the way from the west coast to the east, and that fine clay from the West Country could be shipped to the doorstep of Wedgwood's factories. James Brindley designed and built both the Bridgewater and the Trent and Mersey, the latter comprising some 93 miles (150km) of waterway and 76 locks, not to mention a tunnel almost 1¾ miles (2.8km) long beneath the heart of Stoke-on-Trent.