The Wedgwood Collection is an important slice of West Midlands history.
Indeed, it is a part of the nation’s industrial heritage.
The 10,000-piece collection is an archive of art and ceramic treasures spanning more than 250 years. It also includes handwritten notes by Josiah Wedgwood and artist George Stubbs.
It is a record of a period when the ceramics trade was at the heart of the industrial revolution, and at the heart of Staffordshire’s economy.
The county, and the area around Stoke-on-Trent in particular, is still Britain’s pottery heartland.
And it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the history of this key industry.
Many of the items themselves are truly beautiful. They make it clear exactly why Britain, and Josiah Wedgwood’s firm in particular, led the world in ceramic art.
It’s fair to say that the Wedgwood Collection is of no less historical importance than Ironbridge Gorge, a world heritage site and the birthplace of the industrial revolution.
It might also be compared to an collection from a much earlier period of history, but one which also provides a fascinating insight into out history, the collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and metalwork found near Lichfield known as the Staffordshire Hoard.
In other words, the Wedgwood Collection must remain intact and available for the public to see – both Midlanders and visitors from other parts of the UK, and tourists from overseas.
The prospect of selling it off to help pay the debts of the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan is a potential tragedy.
Of course, the pension’s trustees cannot be blamed for claiming any assets they believe might effectively belong to the fund. They have a legal obligation to do so. But one way or another, the collection must remain in trust for the nation.
We applaud John Caudwell’s offer to save the collection from being lost to the region. Josiah Wedgwood was an entrepreneur who used his wealth and position to benefit society as a whole, and this important tradition, which has meant so much to the West Midlands and the people of cities like Birmingham, continues today.
Members of the Wedgwood family have welcomed the generous offer.
They are also keen to ensure, as we report, that the collection does remain in trust (or strictly speaking that it becomes part of a trust, following the court ruling that placed its future in doubt).
What they want to avoid is that it becomes part of anyone’s personal collection.
While the specifics of any arrangement will clearly require detailed and possibly complex discussion, it is entirely right that the collection must be available for public view.
Whether that involves a body formally known as a trust is perhaps less important than it appears, because the phrase “trust”, although widely used, may not carry quite the legal weight that many of us sometimes imagine, as the court’s ruling in the case of the Wedgwood Collection demonstrates.
But the principle must be that the collection is available for the nation to enjoy and learn from – which, no doubt, is exactly why Mr Caudwell’s made his extremely generous offer in the first place.
There are still many other avenues that could also be explored as methods of saving the Wedgwood Collection, including a potential legal challenge.
One way or another, it must be saved.