Thursday 1 March 2012

Wedgwood museum in danger of closure

A High Court judgment has left the Wedgwood Museum, rated by UNESCO as one of the UK's top 20 cultural assets, in danger of closure. 

Wedgwood's instantly recognisable style
Photo: Lionel Allorge
A Birmingham court held that the museum's collection was an asset of Waterford Wedgwood Potteries, the china and glassware company which went into administration in 2009. The struggling firm had debts of millions, and the judgment means that the museum's collection can be sold off to pay that deficit. 

The collection was separated from the trading arm of Wedgwood in the 1960s and gifted into the care of a trust company, in order to protect it from just this sort of commercial risk. But pensions legislation passed in the 1990s (in response to the Robert Maxwell pensions fund scandal) has had an unexpected effect: it means that the Wedgwood museum company, as the last solvent company among all the insolvent Wedgwood group companies, takes legal responsibility for the entire debt owed by the group's employers - in this case, all £134.7m of it. 

The whole Wedgwood collection is estimated to worth only a fraction of this deficit (somewhere between £11m - £18m). It includes paintings by British masters Reynolds, Stubbs and Romney; two rare Portland vases, valued at £1m each; an archive of over 100,000 documents and manuscripts; and of course a world class collection of chinaware. 

In giving his judgment the judge said that this was 'a sad conclusion for those who are concerned to preserve a collection which is, as everyone recognises, part of our cultural heritage and of immense importance'. However, a campaign has been set up to save the museum following the controversial judgment and the museum itself has said that it will 'strive for a solution which will save the Museum's Collections for the nation and keep them on display'.

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