26 November 2011

Josiah Spode I and Thomas Whieldon in 1749

Spode I, print (detail) 1958
Recently in the UK apprenticeships, or rather lack of them, for young people have been in the news. This reminds me that very often it is recorded in published works, Spode company publicity material, on TV and on the web that Josiah Spode I (1733-1797) was 'apprentice to Thomas Whieldon'. This oft-repeated claim is more fiction than fact.

It arises from an entry in Thomas Whieldon's notebook for 9th April 1749 (collection of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent). It shows a hiring record of 'Siah Spoude' - our Josiah Spode I. It seems clear from the entry that this is not the record of an apprenticeship even though it is followed, on the next page, by further hiring details for the next few years.

Whieldon notes apprenticeships in quite a different way for other boys elsewhere in his notebook.

Above is an old black and white photo of the entry. It says: 'hired Siah Spoude to Give him from this time to Martlemas next - 2/3 or 2/6 if he Deserves it'. Martlemas, also known as Martinmas, is the 11th November and a traditional hiring time. Spode I's 'wages' are written in shillings and pence. The conversion to decimal money in use today in the UK gives us 12½p for 2/6.
Whieldon type teapot V & A
On 9th April 1749 Spode I was just 16 but at this period in history it is probable he would have already had ten years or so experience working in the pottery industry and, showing aptitude for it, would rapidly be attaining the skills of a master potter. With these skills he could get a job with one of the most successful potters of North Staffordshire at the time - Thomas Whieldon.

Whieldon's notebook records more entries for hiring Spode I. He must have been valued by Whieldon as he receives gradually increasing weekly wages as well as 'earnest' - money to bind the bargain. Spode I continued to be associated with Thomas Whieldon who acts as witness to the agreement between him and one of his business partners. Later generations of the families intermarry.

Why should such archive material be so continually misinterpreted? 

The answer perhaps lies with an initial incorrect interpretation by early Spode researchers. It is then used in the 1930s for Hayden's book on Spode written as a commission for the Spode company. The story was emphasised further by publication in 1970 of the book by Whiter then a director of Spode. The ease with which this 'rags to riches' story could be summarised in a couple of sentences was tempting and became a constant in marketing material for the Spode company whose primary interest was commerce not historical research. It would seem too that the company felt happier with the idea of their founder being apprentice to one of the industry's great figures. For some reason it was preferable to the truth that Spode I simply got a job with Whieldon. To me the fact that a young boy who had humble beginnings worked hard enough and was good enough to get not just one job with Whieldon but continuous hirings, negotiated partnerships to fund his fledgling businesses and then eventually was able to buy his own factory, run his own company and train his sons to a high standard is just as fascinating and remarkable.

Books on Spode
For further research please consult my booklist. The books illustrated here books are available to use at the Stoke-on-Tent City Archives. Don't forget to consult Peter Roden's NCS Journal article (Volume 14 1997) for the facts on Spode I's early life. This is also summarised in Copeland's latest edition of 'Spode & Copeland Marks...'

With thanks to Peter Roden for his detailed Spode research.