Collecting Doulton & Beswick  The independent magazine for collectors of Royal Doulton and Beswick

Save the archives


From This is Staffordshire
April 2012

full article This is staffordshire


CULTURE Minister Ed Vaizey is in Stoke-on-Trent today for crunch talks about the future of the Wedgwood Museum.

Mr Vaizey will see the Barlaston attraction's world-renowned collection for himself when he meets members of the Wedgwood family and representatives of WWRD, the owner of Barlaston giants Wedgwood and Royal Doulton.

He will also meet Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt and members of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and the Arts Council.

The museum continues to face an uncertain future after a High Court ruling that its collection can be sold to help plug a £134 million pension fund gap linked to the collapse of Wedgwood itself. The Government's top legal adviser, the Attorney General, announced he would not appeal that ruling earlier this month.

Tom Wedgwood, a direct descendant of company founder Josiah, and his wife Alison have been vocal campaigners in the fight to save the collection.

They said: "It is imperative the collection and the museum stays in North Staffordshire because that is where it was made, through the toil, invention and sheer genius of the people of Staffordshire.

"It is not just a collection of ceramics, it represents 250 years of our shared history, and shows how North Staffordshire soils and clays, and hands and minds were at the epicentre of the industrial revolution which changed the world."

. . .

"The collection was donated freely over 250 years by the Wedgwood family, Wedgwood employees and supporters, with the intention they should be kept in perpetuity, on display for our nation to enjoy and learn from. It is a sad quirk of arcane law that means a collection that was always in trust should be caught out by a piece of legislation designed to stop multi-nationals squirrelling away their assets.

"The government has just agreed a £40 million increase in the cost of the Olympics opening ceremony, but £8 to £12 million will save this collection for ever, this time in a lock-tight trust, with trustees that will look after it."

. . .

He added: "These talks are about working out a sustainable future for the museum. The bottom line is the collection has to be retained in North Staffordshire. The Barlaston site is the most obvious because that's where it is at the moment but we're not ruling anything in out."

Mr Hunt said he hoped the discussions could also include bringing the Minton archive back to North Staffordshire. It is owned by WWRD, but it is being held by auctioneers Bonhams in London.

Wedgwood Museum saved?

The following report appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 21st December from which it appears that the Court has declined to bar the sale of the contents of the Wedgwood museum at Barlaston:

'Billionaire to save Wedgwood collection

'A mobile phone billionaire has promised to buy a world-famous collection of Wedgwood ceramics to keep it in his native Stoke-on-Trent.

'The Wedgwood Museum Collection - with pieces dating to Josiah Wedgwood's first factory in the 18th century - has been valued at between £11 million and £14 million.

'John Caudwell, the founder of the Caudwell Group, which he sold in 2006 for £1.46 billion, said it was "grossly unfair" that pieces from the 250-year-old pottery firm could be sold.

'His offer came after the High Court said that administrators could put the collection up for sale to plug a £134 million deficit in the Wedgwood pension scheme.'

But where does this leave the Doulton archives and where are they?

Our editor recently commented:

"Regarding the Wedgwood/Doulton/Minton archives: although originally separate companies and therefore having separate archives, Doulton took over the Minton firm some time ago and so had disposal of both Doulton and Minton archives. They sold off a lot of both collections in the early 2000s, but some artifacts remain together with the paper archives. After that, Doulton merged with Waterford Wedgwood and they struggled on for a couple of years until the whole lot were bought by an American firm, KPM Capital who consequently have all these archives at their disposal.

"I'm not sure whether the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston was part of the company taken over - I think it may be a separate entity or trust. However, as the last remnant of the Wedgwood company, they have been held liable for the whole of the Wedgwood pension fund, even though the museum has only a few employees who are members of the fund. This is why the museum went to court to prevent the collection being sold off for the benefit of the pension fund, and it appears they lost. Hence the knight in shining armour who has offered to buy the lot to keep it intact. The Wedgwood Museum collection is, therefore, entirely separate from the Doulton/Minton archives." (February 2012)

Can anyone throw further light on the whereabouts of the Doulton archives?

Previously reported: Historic Doulton archives still at risk

It has been reported to us that a significant section of archive material from the Doulton factories may be destined for export, probably to America. These archives are now in the keeping of auctioneers Bonhams. They were handed over, together with those of the Minton factory, by the new owners of Royal Doulton, the American private equity firm KPS Capital, when they bought Waterford Wedgwood in 2009.

We reported on the imminent loss of the Minton archives in CD&B No. 116 in February 2009 and in the following issue we were delighted to report that letters to the national press and efforts by members of parliament had prevented its sale by auction by its new owners, KPS Capital. At that time efforts were being made by the Wedgwood Museum to raise money to buy the archive for the nation.

However, the Wedgwood Museum itself later found itself in financial difficulties owing to the rules of the Wedgwood pension fund which made the museum liable for very considerable pension commitments to retired Wedgwood employees. We reported this situation in issue No. 124 (June 2010).

Since that last report we have heard nothing about the situation with the Minton archive - whether Bonhams still hold this, whether it is still in the hands of KPS Capital, or if efforts to raise the money to save it for the nation have been successful.

Now, it would appear, we have to join battle once again to save the Doulton archive which, we believe contains much material, such as Hannah Barlow's sketchbooks, factory records and pattern books that would be of inestimable value to historians and researchers. It is time to again make ourselves heard to prevent this important resource, and the Minton archive, being sent abroad or split into separate lots at auction.

Collecting Doulton & Beswick issue 124, June 2010

Where is the Doulton archive collection?

Much of the Doulton archive collection was, as we know, sold at auction by Bonhams six or seven years ago, and parts of the Minton archive collection followed soon after. Now another great collection at the newly opened prize-winning Wedgwood Museum at Barlaston is under threat. The money raised from these sales did little to pay the massive debts of Royal Doulton or Waterford Wedgwood, and may have delayed their demise by a few weeks only, but the breaking up of nationally important collections was tragic.

I have attempted to find out from the Wedgwood Museum whether there was anything left of the Doulton and Minton archives still in their care, and, if so, what was to happen to them, but to no avail.

We publish below an editorial and a letter from Ian Lawley which appeared in The Guardian newspaper on 17th and 21st May 2010. Barry Hill.

In praise of ... the Wedgwood Museum

Josiah Wedgwood was one of the remarkable men of the late 18th century, his life a model of industrial, political and intellectual progress. An anti-slavery campaigner, a member of the Lunar Society and founder of the factories that still produce fine ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent, his work is celebrated in a thriving museum that now faces the most unjust of threats to its future. The Wedgwood Museum in Stoke, opened in 2008 after a lottery-funded transformation, risks being dragged down by a legal quirk. When the ceramics firm went bankrupt last year - and transferred to new owners - five members of the museum's staff remained in the pension fund. As an accidental result of a new law intended to protect pensioners, the museum has found itself liable for funding the pensions of 7,000 ex-Wedgwood factory employees and a £134m deficit, an impossible task. The museum trust was forced into administration last month as a result - though the museum remains open and as busy as ever. Its administrators are waiting for a court ruling which may compel them to break up and auction off its extraordinary collection. Such vandalism is barely imaginable: the museum's contents trace 250 years of cultural and manufacturing history, including many pieces of global importance and immense value. The court could rule that the museum is not liable, but if the sale begins, no donor could ever be generous enough to rescue its contents from a forced sale to private collectors abroad.

The Wedgwood Museum's collection must not be broken up

It would be ironic if we lost these outstanding treasures as the Staffordshire hoard is saved Your editorial states that this outstanding Museum 'risks being dragged down by a legal quirk'. The museum is owned and managed by an independent trust set up precisely to prevent its collections being sold off in the event of the parent company facing bankruptcy. Now that Wedgwood has gone the way of so many other ceramic companies, the museum has, unbelievably, 'found itself liable for funding the pensions of 7,000 ex-Wedgwood factory employees and a £134m deficit, an impossible task'.

Indeed, Stoke-on-Trent has an alarming history when it comes to demonstrating the legal vulnerability of museum collections held in trust. When the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum went into administration in 1991, its collections were judged to be disposable assets that should be sold off to repay creditors. Donors were alarmed to discover that items that they had given in the assumption that they would be held in perpetuity were now lost to the public. To prevent a similar fate overtaking the Gladstone Pottery Museum, the local authority stepped in to assume control. More recently, as the ceramic industry has declined, the city has seen the loss of a number of company-owned historic collections that have enormous local resonance.

The most iconic of these was the Minton Museum collection, which had passed into the hands of Royal Doulton. Like the Wedgwood Museum's own collection, this encapsulated the history and productivity of a globally important manufacturer. It held many unique examples of high Victorian design, including exquisite pâte sur pâte work by Louis Solon, unusual examples of Parian ware, designs attributed to Christopher Dresser and monumental pieces shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the international exhibitions that followed.

When Royal Doulton decided to dispose of the Minton Museum in 2002, the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery attempted to negotiate a private treaty sale in order to keep this important historic collection together. Although funding was secured in record time, Doulton withdrew from the negotiations and decided to sell the collection as individual lots at auction. Most notoriously, a dessert service commissioned by the Victorian explorer Lord Milton to commemorate an expedition to the Canadian Rockies was broken up into 22 separate lots; many pieces went overseas.

While we managed to acquire some significant examples of Minton craftsmanship, including a Sevres-style vase shown at the Great Exhibition, a monumental Bacchus vase and a rare life-sized majolica peacock, many major items were lost from the public arena. Royal Doulton then offloaded the contents of its own museum at auction, to offset a small proportion of its debt.

The Wedgwood Museum must not be allowed to go down a similar route. It would be both tragic and ironic if we were to lose its extraordinary collection just as the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold has been saved for the region.

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