The first Josiah Spode started work for a Thomas Whieldon progressing to become the manager of the Turner & Banks pottery. When Turner died Spode took over the factory. By 1776, he was producing earthenware under the Spode name. He is accredited with the development of under glaze printing. In 1797 Spode died, leaving a thriving business to his son, Josiah Spode II. Josiah Spode was succeeded by his son, Josiah Spode III who is most associated with the development of ceramic bodies.
It is the Spode factory that is generally credited with the development of bone china. During the 18th century many English potters were striving and competing to discover the industrial secret of the production of fine translucent porcelain. The Plymouth and Bristol factories, and the New Hall Staffordshire factory under Richard Champion's ownership, were producing hard paste similar to Oriental porcelain. The technique was developed by adding calcined bone to the body mix, and this was carried on from at least the 1750s onwards.
The bone porcelains, especially those of Spode, Minton, Davenport and Coalport, eventually established the standards for soft-paste porcelain which were later (after 1800) maintained widely. Although the Bow porcelain factory, Chelsea porcelain factory, Royal Worcester and Royal Crown Derby factories had, before Spode, established a proportion of about 40–45 per cent calcined bone in the formula as standard, it was Spode who first abandoned the practice of calcining or fritting the bone with some of the other ingredients, and used the simple mixture of bone ash, china stone and kaolin, which since his time set the basic recipe of bone china.
The Spode business was purchased by a partner of Josiah Spode III, William Taylor Copeland, in 1833. Mr. Copland entered into a partnership with colleague Thomas Garrett, and the firm was known as Copeland & Garrett until 1847 when it became W. T. Copeland, and then W. T. Copeland and Sons in 1867. During this period, the company began producing Parian ware, its line of statuary porcelain busts and figures. These small-scale figures were inspired by classical sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome, and they were finished to resemble marble. These affordable pieces allowed the general public to bring fine classical art into their homes. Copeland displayed these figures at the 1851 London Great Exhibition, where they were extremely successful and popular.
The business remained in the Copland family until it was put up for sale sold in the mid 1960’s. Wedgwood had shown interest but terms could not be agreed. The business was finally sold to Carborundum Company of the USA ending the Copland family association . In the mid 1970’s Carborundum announced that Spode was for sale. Wedgwood expressed interest but again terms could not be agreed. At this point Royal Worcester made an offer which cumulated in them taking a 55% share with Carborundum holding the remaining 45%. When Carborundum was itself taken over by Kennecott in 1978 Royal Worcester acquired the balance of the shares taking full control of the company. In 1983 the Crystalate Manufacturing Company Ltd. better known for making gramaphone records, achieved a hostile take-over of Royal Worcester Spode and the following year sold the business on to the London Rubber Company.
By the end of the 20th Century much of the Spode production was outsourced to Malaysia and China and the end came in 2008 when Royal Worcester Spode went into administration to be bought by Portmerion. The factories were closed and production of Spode designs, including the famous Christmas Tree, were brought back to the UK to be produced in the Portmerion factory in Stoke on Trent.