Josiah Spode I (1733-1797) founded the Stoke-on-Trent based pottery company, Spode, in 1770. His inherent skills and sheer dedication to his business lead to two major achievements that would redefine the pottery industry:
- The development of a winning formula for fine bone china.
- The perfection of blue under-glaze printing.
Born on 23rd March 1733, Josiah I began a career in the pottery industry at the age of 16. He later married a haberdasher, Ellen Findley, in 1754 and had eight children, Josiah II, Samuel, Mary, Ellen, Sarah, William, Anne and Elizabeth.
After successes working for many of the best potters in the Stoke-on-Trent area, including Thomas Whieldon, Josiah I set up his own small pottery factory in 1760 and in 1770 established the Spode pottery company. He bought up land that adjoined the factory enabling him to make use of the intricate canal system that served the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, allowing raw materials to be brought in and finished ware out.
In 1778 Josiah I sent his son, Josiah II, to London to open a showroom and shop. This shrewd decision meant that Spode had direct information from their valued and wealthy customer base in London. Spode was able to design and manufacture ware that customers actually wanted leading the company to great success.
In the late 1700s, Chinese porcelain decorated in blue and white was increasingly difficult to obtain as the imports slowed due to an auction ring that was lowering the profits of the Chinese exporters. In response to this, Josiah I developed the technique of transfer printing designs engraved on copper plates in 1784. The Willow collection was designed and manufactured and in 1816 the iconic Blue Italian pattern was introduced.
After much experimentation, Josiah I and his son Josiah II also perfected the recipe for fine bone china – an invention that redefined the pottery industry. This fine bone china was brilliant white and translucent. It inspired new designs and finishes and required new skills. It was of superior quality and strong whilst also having the look of being delicate. It was this formula that made the Spode name famous across the globe.
At his death in 1797, The Times obituary for Josiah Spode I said, “He possessed many amiable and endearing virtues, which rendered him an ornament to society and a service to mankind; in domestic attachments he was tender, generous and affectionate; in friendship faithful and sincere; nor was he less distinguished for charity and liberality to the poor. In short he lived universally respected and died not less generally lamented”.
After his father’s death, Josiah II (1757-1827) returned from London to run the Spode business in Stoke-on-Trent. Dedicated to the local community, Josiah II built cottage homes for his factory workers in Penkhull, a village next to Stoke where he also built his home which he named The Mount. He also donated money towards the rebuilding of a church in Stoke where he was senior churchwarden. During this time, ceramic slabs were laid at the cornerstones of the church which were inscribed “transmit to generations far remote invaluable memorials of the perfection to which the Potter’s Art in the neighbourhood had arrived in the early 19th century”.
Josiah II died in 1827 and was buried with his father at St Peter’s Church in Stoke.
The second son of Josiah II, Josiah III (1777-1829), had been initiated into the pottery business by his grandfather and founder of Spode, Josiah I. When Josiah III married Mary Williamson at the age of 38, he retired from the business but returned 12 years later to run the business after his father’s death in 1827. Josiah III died suddenly at the family home just 2 years later.
In 1833, the company was sold to W. T. Copeland and Garrett. William Taylor Copeland (Lord Mayor of London 1835-1836) was the son of William Copeland who had worked with Josiah II in London in the late 1700s. It remained in the Copeland family until 1966.
Today, Portmeirion Group is committed to the development of the Spode brand producing the high quality that is expected from Spode’s ware. The manufacture of many items has been brought back to our factory in Stoke-on-Trent which has been producing high quality ware for the Portmeirion brand for 50 years. With Spode’s Blue Italian, Woodland, Christmas Tree and Baking Days collections as well as Portmeirion, Royal Worcester and Pimpernel, The Portmeirion Group is extremely happy to be associated with this great British brand.