Campaigners trying to prevent the world-acclaimed Wedgwood Museum collection going under the hammer face a tense wait until a court judgment in January.
The Wedgwood Museum was placed into administration earlier this year as the small charitable trust which runs it is being held responsible for the shortfall in the pension scheme at Wedgwood, the pottery giant which collapsed last year along with its sister company Royal Doulton.
The celebrated museum in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, which is still open to the public as normal, is home to 10,000 treasures of both regional and national importance stemming right back to 1765 when Josiah Wedgwood founded his ceramics company.
Although it is run as a completely separate entity to the collapsed pottery company, a pensions link means the Museum Trust is now deemed to be liable for the £134 million shortfall in the Wedgwood companies’ pension plan.
The turmoil has come about because five of the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan’s 7,000-member scheme were employees of the Museum Trust when the Wedgwood companies became insolvent last year.
As a result, the Wedgwood Museum Trust was placed into administration to enable the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan to seek the support of the Pension Protection Fund, the body established to provide a guaranteed minimum level of payments to members of pension funds of insolvent companies.
The future of the Wedgwood Museum’s collection now rests on the court decision as to whether the collection is “alienable” – or, in other words, whether it can be transferred to another owner.
Alison Wedgwood, whose husband Tom is a direct descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, is leading a campaign to keep the collection intact and at its home in Staffordshire. She said the Wedgwood family was worried that items it has donated to the museum could be sold off as a result of what she called an “unfortunate anomaly” in the law around pensions.
“We don’t want to be in a ludicrous situation where we have to start raising funds to buy back the collection we donated in the first place,” she said.
Ms Wedgwood said the family and the Save The Wedgwood Museum campaign supporters, now had to wait until the judge’s decision in January.
“It’s quite stressful,” she said. “It’s got to come down to what the judge thinks – we don’t know which way it’s going to go.”
The £10 million Wedgwood Museum was opened in 2008, and within a year of opening, it had won the £100,000 Art Fund prize for museums and galleries, with judges praising it as a “brilliant snapshot” of the history of British manufacturing.