Wedgwood's genius for firing up demand
Why The Industrial Revolution Happened Here BBC2
"UNTIL the start of the 18th century," stated Professor Jeremy Black. "most people lived, as they had for generations, an agricultural existence ruled by a small political and social elite." Different to now, of course. We no longer lead an agricultural existence.
However, then the industrial revolution came along, "a transformation that would change the way we think, work and play forever". And certainly it was a hard time for any child who liked spending 16 hours a day under a loom.
Black has a particular admiration for Josiah Wedgwood, especially "his genius for creating and satisfying consumer demand". Think of him as an early Ethel Austin.
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One thing's for sure, Wedgwood was way ahead of his time. "He appreciated," said Black, "that the middle-classes couldn't be relied upon to understand that they necessarily wanted these newfangled goods and, therefore, he needed to persuade them to buy them, indeed to desire them."
There was a problem, though. For centuries most goods had been bought at markets. A bit like they still are in Buxton.
And so Wedgwood opened the first purpose-built fashionable showroom, in London, in 1774. "He realised," said Black, "that women would be the primary purchasers of these fashionable wares." In other words, he knew women buy stuff they don't need.
"To that end," he continued, "he had a grand parlour where customers would be greeted, and meet and chat, and then taken round the showroom to see the great new products." It's a shame Comet didn't think of that.
Wedgwood also made a smart move in gaining royal patronage. "Wedgwood understood how to appeal to the social aspirations of the middle-classes," said Black. "Now they too could drink tea from the same china as the queen." I believe the inventor of strip pool was hoping to achieve something similar with Prince Harry. However, a problem still remained for Wedgwood – transport. "Nowhere," claimed Black, "was the need more pressing for reliable roads than in North Staffordshire." Whether he was talking about now or the 1700s was unsure.
Thankfully, an alternative arrived in the form of the canals. "Before canals," said Black, "trains of mules were coming into Stoke-on-Trent every day."
The authorities haven't ruled out a return to the system to make up for a lack of capacity at the new bus station.
Finally, Black took a trip through the Harecastle Tunnel. "Wonderful," he said on emerging.
He's an anomaly. A historian who likes to be kept in the dark.