Science and Industry


One of the four friends who received annuities in Thomas Anson’s will was “Mr Kent”.

This was Nathaniel Kent (1737-1810), agriculturalist.

He was Thomas Anson’s estate manager in Norfolk. The Ansons had bought Staffordshire property from the Cokes of Holkham Hall in 1750 and after this gradually took over other estates in Norfolk from family. This close connection with the Cokes eventually resulted in the marriage of Anne Margaret Coke, daughter of the first Earl of Leicester and Thomas Anson, son of Thomas’s heir George, who later became 1st Viscount Anson. Kent is another link between the two families and it was he who introduced the modern methods of farming, including crop rotation, into England which “Coke of Norfolk” became famous for.

Kent began his career as a diplomat:

My happy destiny threw me very early in life into what I may call the very lap of agriculture. In the capacity of secretary to Sir James Porter, at Brussels, I had an opportunity to make myself well acquainted with the husbandry of the Austrian Netherlands, then supposed to be in the highest perfection in any part of Europe. No spot was there to be found that was not highly cultivated. The industry of the Flemings was astonishing, and their care in collecting every sort of manure that could be usefully applied was highly commendable.


(Account of the late Nathaniel Kent, in The monthly magazine, vol. 31, 1811)




His turn to an agricultural career was largely dependent on Thomas Anson:

Coming to England in the year 1766, Sir John Cust, the then speaker of the House of Commons, requested of me some written account of the Flemish husbandry, with which he expressed himself much pleased: and he and my first great friend, the elder brother of the late Lord Anson, who was the true friend of merit, and the encourager of science wherever he found it, advised me to quit the diplomatic path, and apply myself closely to agriculture, in which I had a handsome promise of assistance from the latter; I did not hesitate a moment in adopting their advice.


About this time I made a most valuable acquaintance with the late Benjamin Stillingfleet, one of the greatest naturalists we had, who was considered as the English Linnaeus. It was he who impressed me with the importance of taking Nature for my guide, and of learning to deduce my ideas of the value of land, not from local enquiry which might mislead my judgment, but from the wild plants and grasses; as these would invariably express the voice of nature. Accordingly, where I found the oak and elm as trees, and the rough cock’s-foot and meadow fox-tail as grasses, I was assured that such land was good. And where I found the birch-tree, the juniper-shrub and the maiden hair, and such creeping bent grasses I was equally certain that such land was poor and steril.




Kent published ‘Hints for Gentlemen of Landed Property’ in 1775. This was, exactly as the title suggests, an attempt to encourage landed proprietors to take farming seriously. The ideas in Kent’s book were practised on Anson’s property in Norfolk, at Holkham and later formed the basis of the modern farm at Shugborough in the early years of the 19th century. This development owed its origins to Thomas Anson even though it came to fruition thirty years after Thomas’s death.


Kent reveals another aspect of Thomas Anson’s interests when he calls him “the true friend of merit, and the encourager of science wherever he found it” The pursuit of scientific knowledge was as much a part of the Greek ideal as the pursuit of beauty. Modern farming depended both on an understanding of agricultural processes and a concern for the people who lived and worked on the land.


When a gentleman put his estate into my hands, I considered it was the highest trust he could repose in me; it was leaving it to me to mite out his fortune by allotting him what I thought proper upon the object submitted to me. It was therefore incumbent on me to take care of his interest, at the same time there was another person who had an equal claim to justice from me, which was the occupier, who had a right to be recompensed for his labour, judgment, and capital. In weighing these interests where there was doubt, I confess I gave the turn of the scale to the latter. Acting thus, the landlord and tenant in general expressed reciprocal satisfaction.


(Nathaniel Kent, Hints to Gentlemen of landed property, Dodsley, 1775)


Kent praises Mr Anson for his enlightened attitudes to his tenants in this book. He describes the way in which tenants were given the wherewithal be responsible for repairs on their land which would otherwise be left to the landlord and create more problems and more expense.

This obvious inconvenience has been effectually remedied by Mr. Anson upon his estate under my care in Norfolk, by agreeing with his tenants to allow them all reasonable accommodations, and all necessary materials for repairs, but that they shall sustain the moiety of all expences for workmen’s wages, unless tempests or accidents shall bring the expence of such workmanship, in any particular year, to more than six per cent, upon the rent; in which case the landlord pays the surplusage. The saving has already been considerable; and as no tenants have a better landlord, nor any landlord a better set of tenants, they find mutual convenience, and satisfaction, in this regulation ; as others may do, if they will imitate it.


Later Kent managed the royal estates at Windsor and Richmond, and he was awarded a goblet by Thomas Coke in 1808 for his services to agriculture. Thomas Anson, Viscount Anson, married Thomas Coke’s daughter and built the model farm at Shugborough in 1805, but the marriage and the farm owe their origins to Thomas Anson’s support of Nathaniel Kent.

Both John Parnell and Joseph Banks describe features of the gardening and agriculture that struck them as unusual in their visits of 1769 and 1767.

Parnell wrote:

I went across part of the Heath towards the obelique…and on my return towards Wolseley was amazed to find some Hundreds of acres inclosed all with a cheaveux de frize to secure them from the Deer and all Plowd up ready for improvement, they looked the most uniform completely Executed piece of Extensive farming I ever saw…about 1000 acres six hundred of which is taken off Cank Heath to the great Improvement of the county tho’ not much relish’t by the cottagers on the Heath.


(Transcription of extracts from John Parnell’s Journal. William Salt Library, Stafford.)



These were presumably the cottagers who moved to the new cottages in the village.

…he has thrown cheaveaux de frize Round all the swelling Knowles which these lands abound in. Plowd them up deep as possible and planted Scotsfirs Laurel Larch and some chestnut on them…


Elsewhere he saw:

…one uniform Beautiful Peice of Plowd Land and all to be sown this summer with Turneps an Improvement so Extensive as to amaze me. I mett Eight Bullocks to a Plow which were all Harnessed with yokes and Bons – they were the finest Plow of Bullocks I ever saw. I got to the Plowman and had a conversation I much wanted…


…his masters manner of managing such great fallows was to Burn the coursest Parts and only slightly dung the others for the turnips. Dung replyed I how can you have Dung sufficient…Why master (says the Plowman) has five thousand Load of muck at home.


This was farming on a grand scale and seemingly directly under Thomas Anson’s control. It is hard to imagine eight bullocks on one plough, and Parnell saw noted:

The Harrows which followd the first ploughing were Drawn by seven fine Horses after each other. I never Beheld so great a Break Harrow…


In the house Parnell encountered another estate worker:

There is now in the kitchen an Old Fellow a Bricklayer’s Labourer who has been Drinking here these three nights and two Days…he has already drunk down three of four setts of his Companions.


Joseph Banks noted a new method of growing peaches under glass in the garden:

Here also was a method of forcing fruit chiefly peaches which was new. It was called here the dutch way and done thus – the trees were naild against Frames of Beech made solid about two feet from them was a rais’d walk of Boards and the glasses resting upon the topps of the frames reached about three feet beyond this walk making the proper angle with the horizon this last interval when the glasses are put in is filled with Bark which by its fermentation supplies heat enough for the purpose and of a kind mire agreeable to the trees of that (yore?). the whole is constructed at a very less expence and is said to answer better than any other method.


(Extracts from Joseph Banks Travel Journal, 1767)


Industry art and science come together in the figure of Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood used the highest level of scientific expertise in the pursuit of art and in the establishment of a hugely successful and influential business. Wedgwood may well have encountered Thomas Anson as a collector of inspiring classical art but their most dramatic connection came from the development of the canal network, a crucial feature of the industrial revolution.

Haywood Junction, just outside the Shugborough estate, is the junction of two major canals which received Acts of Parliament the same day, 14th May 1766, and would become the core of the network.

Lord Anson, Earl Gower and Thomas Broade had commissioned a survey of a canal from Stoke-on-Trent to Wilden Ferry, on the Trent, from James Brindley in 1758. As Lord Anson had no particular interest in the area by that time it was very likely that Thomas was the real supporter. He continued to be a supporter of the Trent and Mersey canal in the 1760s.

Josiah Wedgwood was the inspiration for the canal project in its final form, with Thomas Bentley, his partner, and Erasmus Darwin, the extraordinary philosopher and poet from Lichfield. Wedgwood saw the canal as the answer to the transport of fragile pottery.

A meeting was held on 30th December 1765 at Wolseley Bridge, just south of Shugborough, to launch the plan. It was essential that Anson would support it as the canal had to pass through Shugborough alongside the Trent. Thomas Anson was one of the “Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey.”



The first sod was dug by Josiah Wedgwood at Brownhills near Tunstall on July 26th 1766. The next year Wedgwood began work on his new factory in at Etruria, alongside the canal, which was opened on 13th June 1769.

It was in the last years of the 1760s that Wedgwood developed his “black basaltes” stoneware and began his range of neo-classical vases. The canal was important to his business success.

The Canal opened as far as Shugborough, from the south, on 24th June 1770, and reached Stoke on Trent in 1772.

The canal project demonstrates that Wedgwood and Darwin knew Anson from at least 1765. Darwin, who had a fertile mind, inventing steam cars and revolutionary theories of evolution long before his grandson, became a close associate of Wedgwood.

The last work on the monuments in Thomas Anson’s lifetime was the completion of the Lanthorn of Demosthenes, originally planned in 1764. The structure was built before 1767, when Joseph Banks saw it, but it was left unfinished. The original monument had been capped by a tripod, and Stuart had drawn his reconstruction of what this might have looked like.

By December 1770 Josiah Wedgwood had become a colleague of James “Athenian” Stuart, carrying on the inspiration of Greek design from him into his own work. It is reasonable to suggest that Thomas Anson, again, is the link between Stuart and Wedgwood, and to the later stages of the classical revival. Wedgwood’s immense dinner service for Catherine the Great includes many views of the Shugborough landscape.

Wedgwood was discussing with Stuart the adaptation, or new building, of premises in the Adelphi on the south side of the Strand for a new showroom. Wedgwood wrote to his partner Bentley about this and about a visit to Matthew Boulton’s Soho Works in Birmingham where they discussed whether it was a good thing or not for Wedgwood to have a showroom for his ware next to Boulton & Fothergill’s showroom.

We agreed that those customers who were more fond of show & glitter than fine forms & the appearance of antiquity, wo’d buy Soho vases, and that all who could feel the effects of a fine outline & had any veneration for antiquity wo’d be with us.


(Eliza Meteyard, Life of Josiah Wedgwood, London, Hurst & Blackett, 1865)


He continues:

I forgot to tell you that Mr Boulton was making an immense large Tripod for Mr Anson to finish the top of Demosthenes Lanthorn, building there from Mr Stewart’s design. The Legs were cast & weighed about 5 cwt, but the workmen staggered at the bowl & did not know which way to set about it; a Council of the workmen was call’d & every method of performing this wonderfull work canvassed over. They concluded by shaking their heads & ended where they begun. I then could hold no longer, but told them very gravely they were all wrong, they had totally mistaken their Talents and their metals; such great works should not be attempted in Copper or in Brass. They must call in some able Potter to their assistance and the work might be completed. Would you think it? They took me at my word & and I have got a fine job upon my hands in consequence of a little harmless boasting. Mr Stewart said he knew Mr Anson wo’d glory in having the Arts of Soho and Etruria united in his Tripod, &that it wo’d be a feather in our Caps which that good gentleman would delight in taking every opportunity to shew for our advantage. So this matter stands at present but Mr Boulton, Dr Darwin and I are to dine with Mr Anson on New-Year’s Day & shall talk the matter over again.



It’s interesting to note that even Stuart still sees the promotional value of pleasing Thomas Anson, even at the age of 75.

The New Year’s meeting did not take place, but Dr Darwin was invited to Shugborough with “Wedgwood, Boulton, Keir and Bentley, if he is the country” in January 1771. Wedgwood was not able to attend this time due to trouble with his artificial leg.

The completion of the Lanthorn brings together Anson and Stuart with Wedgwood, the Greek Revival designer and industrialist, the revolutionary philosopher, and Boulton, the key figure in Industrial Revolution Birmingham. This is a useful reminder that there was not necessarily any opposition between the ideals of the Greek philosophy and modern science and technology. The intellectual inspiration of Ancient Greece did not mean an escape into the past. It was about timeless truths and it could drive new technologies and social experiments.

“Keir” is James Keir (1735 – 1820), born in Edinburgh, but attracted the Midlands by the fame of Erasmus Darwin and the “Lunar Society.” He contributed improvements to Darwin’s poem “The Botanic Garden” in 1787. In 1791 Keir proposed a toast at a Birmingham dinner on 14th July 1791 in favour of the French revolutionaries and the fall of the Bastille and precipitated the “Church and King” riots in which conservative workers were incensed by radical masters.

There is a direct link between Anson and Wedgwood’s own products. Wedgwood wrote to Boulton on 3rd December 1772, describing a meeting between Wedgwood and Anson at Shugborough.

Mr Anson behaved with great politness to me & admired our things very much. He has given me leave to mold from any of his medals, or anything else he has. He ordered a pair of the best painted vases we have & I intend sending a pair of 93s we have here @ £10-10 unless you have any you think will do better. ….I left the patterns at Mr Ansons and was to have gone again after this week with a Moulder but I cannot go till after the 12th. At parting he very politely made me a present of a silver medal of the late Ld. Anson & said if he liv’d till summer he would come & spend a day with me at Etruria & his sisters will come with him, but his life is very precarious, I fear he will scarcely survive the winter.


(Mss. letter in the Wedgwood Museum.)







1) Account of the late Nathaniel Kent, in The monthly magazine, vol. 31 (1811). Available on Google Books.

2) Nathaniel Kent: Hints to Gentlemen of landed property (Dodsley, 1775) Available on Google Books

3) Transcription of extracts from John Parnell’s Journal. William Salt Library, Stafford.

4) Extracts from Joseph Banks Travel Journal, 1767

5) http://wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk/canal.htm

6) Eliza Meteyard: Life of Josiah Wedgwood, London (Hurst & Blackett, 1865) Available on Google Books.

7) Mss. letter in the Wedgwood Museum