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Monday, 11 November 2013

"Josiah Wedgwood: He was a Unitarian. He was devoted to changing the world"

I went to the new exhibition at the British Library at the weekend on "Georgians Revisited: Life, Style and the making of Modern Britain". It marks the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I in 1714 and reveals the unprecedented economic, social and cultural changes in Britain under the four Hanoverian King Georges'.

Surprisingly religion gets barely a mention despite its significant during this period. Politics is restricted to a display of key events.

One man who gets a lot of attention is the potter, Josiah Wedgwood, with his own display cabinet of wares and a short video. We hear his biographer Jenny Uglow describe him as a genius. "He was a Unitarian. He was devoted to changing the world". He did so in so many ways; economically he realised the power of celebrity indeed Royal endorsement. On display was his famous anti-slavery medallion; with a kneeling slave and the plea "I am not a man and a brother". It was smaller than I imagined being barely bigger than a 10 pence piece. It sold in thousands was is one of the first instances where a product was used for political campaigning. She describes his involvement in the Lunar Society; the group of West Midlands radicals including Rev Joseph Priestley and Erasmus Darwin.

How right is Jenny Uglow to claim that as a Unitarian he was devoted to changing the world. His life illustrates the economic, social and indeed political changes in the period.

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