Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Stoke on Trent Cartoons and Humour

Humour - you've got to be joking!

 "Contrary to my image, I do have a sense of humour" 
Andy Murray

I would say that about eight out of ten emails I receive are 'jokes', funny and, at times, not so funny. How about you? Humour. This is a word we all know, but what exactly does it mean? The first consideration of any comedian or teller of jokes must be the audience and what is appropriate to them if amusement is to be achieved and offence avoided. I am loathe to put any subject out of bounds to humour.

However, humour must have parameters. There is no place for hurt or gratuitous offensiveness. It is a matter of regret that some current exponents fail to respect or even be aware of such a concept. The best and acceptable form of censorship ought to be the audience. In the days of the Music Hall, a comic soon knew that they were unacceptable from the reaction of the crowd who were ready to boo them off stage!

It seems that today's audiences are lacking in any discrimination when the language, gestures and subject matter oversteps the bounds of acceptability. The media, including the BBC and other bodies, rather than curb the content, actually promote it and in the case of the BBC pay for it with public money. They even introduce recorded laughter, abruptly turned on and off by a switch, to give the impression of audience appreciation. This is the tail wagging the dog, telling us that what we hear is funny!

Historically, in Elizabethan times, the 'humours' referred to the four main fluids in the body - blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler) and black bile (melancholy). These were thought to determine both physical and mental health.

'So it is, besieged with sable-coloured melancholy, I did commend the black oppressing humour to the most wholesome physic of thy health.'
 ('Love's Labour's Lost' - William Shakespeare)

Humour as a noun can be said to be the quality of being amusing, or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech:

  • his tales are full of humour
  • The ability to express humour or to amuse other people: they entertained us with their own inimitable brand of humour
  • Humour can be a state of mind: she faced it all with her usual good humour
  • As a verb, humour can mean to comply with someone's wishes, even if one does not approve, to prevent trouble or to 'keep them sweet': just try to humour him, it will be easier for everyone

Rowan Atkinson ( Blackadder and Mr Bean) says that a person or object can become funny in three different ways: by being in an unusual place by behaving in an unusual way by being the wrong size.  Here is a clip from Blackadder.

A sense of humour is almost impossible to define or evaluate. Just where it originates in our personality is impossible to say. Clearly it is common to most, perhaps all people but not in the same measure. Some people appear to have very little humour and what one person finds very funny can be quite lost on another. 

'When I first met my boss, I thought she had little sense of humour. I was wrong. She has none at all.'

Frank Carson once said that he found most of his material in real life situations. He recalled an occasion when he agreed to visit a home for the elderly in Blackpool. He found himself talking to a lady who looked at him somewhat quizzically.
"Do you not be knowing who I am?" he asked.
The lady answered him. "I've no idea love but if you ask matron she will be able to tell you."

You just could not make it up.

 Some types or genre of humour 

Character comedy or Sitcom
Sitcom is scripted and is common to many TV comedy programmes. The humour revolves around strong central characters. Some examples of this are 'Dad's Army', 'Porridge, 'Allo Allo', 'Open all Hours', 'Only Fools and Horses', 'Blackadder', 'Yes Minster', 'One Foot in the Grave', 'Last of the Summer Wine', 'Fawlty Towers', 'Rising Damp', 'The Office' and 'Dinner Ladies'.

Black comedy - (sometimes called a 'Sick Sense of Humour')
This deals with what are potentially disturbing subjects. Many people would question the acceptability of this genre. It is interesting to note that whenever a natural disaster, terrorist atrocity, sexual scandal, or any event occurs which should fill us with shock or horror, within hours the jokes begin to circulate. It is often the case that they can in fact be funny and I think it is our way of diffusing situations, almost a way of dealing with the pain and unacceptability of such events. As is so often the case with humour, where is the line to be drawn between acceptability and the totally inappropriate and who is qualified to draw it?

Blue Comedy
Blue comedy is typically sexual, often expressing sexism, racism and homophobic sentiments.. It also embraces vulgar or profane language. It is, I think, regrettable that many of today's comedians find the use of the F word essential and almost compulsory if an audience is going to find them funny. Amongst others, this blue material is common to Jim Davidson, Chubby Brown and Bernard Manning. I never recall hearing the late Ronnie Barker, Eric Morcambe, Frankie Howerd, or Les Dawson, or Frank Carson,true masters of comedy, use any vulgar expletives.

Deadpan comedy
Whilst not a very common style, so called 'deadpan' is the art of telling a joke or being in a situation without any change of facial expression or expressed emotion. This style is associated with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Les Dawson and Jimmy Carr.

Musical comedy
The use of music and lyrics, a classic example being the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Slapstick or physical comedy 
This is an old style, dating back to the days early films and the music hall, but still used today. Amongst the exponents are Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Norman Wisdom, Max Wall, Jerry Lewis, Robin Williams, Rowan Atkinson and to a point Michael McIntyre.

Sketches are similar to sitcom, but much shorter and often performed live. In this category we can list Monty Python, French and Saunders and Fry and Laurie.

A traditional mix of humour, music, and slapstick, all focused on a Dame, usually played by a man. A popular choice is the story of 'Cinderella'. Cinders, Buttons and the ugly sisters all feature and characters akin to Paul O'Grady's Lilly Savage enjoy a raucous almost vulgar romp. 'Panto' is traditionally a Christmas show in many towns. In the Potteries, the Regent Theatre is packed for the annual show.

It was the late Sir David Frost who may be said to be the founder of TV satire with 'That was the Week that Was' This was 1962. Deference to the establishment was out and the Beatles were in. Oxbridge had inflicted 'Beyond the Fringe' on the unsuspecting country and 'Private Eye' was set to expose the skeletons in many top cupboards. Published fortnightly the magazine currently has 700,000 readers. Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye)and Paul Merton continue the satirical look at current affairs in 'Have I Got News for You'. I think satire serves a purpose and can indeed be humorous as a result of the very quick wit of the above gentlemen. On the downside, it can be a tad harsh and unfair when those who cannot answer back are the target of those who earn large amounts of money by passing judgement on others in the name of humour. Satire is not the prerogative of the 21st century. The first satirical magazine was published in 1841 and carried the name 'Punch'. The cartoon, or humorous illustration about a topical issue, had its origins in 'Punch'. The original cartoon was not the same thing and was a preliminary drawing or sketch used in the preparation of murals or other paintings. 'Punch' was to enjoy great popularity during the 1840s and 1850s. It became a British institution but slowly went into decline in the 1940s. It finally closed in 1992. It was revived in 1996 only to close for good in 2002.

Humour has both national and international hallmarks. 'There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman' has been the formula for introducing a joke for many years. Why, I wonder, does a Welshman never feature? Are the Welsh lacking in a sense of humour? I cannot imagine that is the case. After all, Wales and rugby of course, gave birth to Max Boyce. South Wales has a distinctive brand of humour.

A funeral cortege was passing close to a golf course. Dai put down his club, took off his cap and paid a respectful silence as the hearse passed by. "All for good old fashioned respect down by yer, Buttie Boy, but that's a bit over the top isn't?" "Not really lads, we were married for thirty years!"

Humour is certainly a part of culture and one nationality may not understand or appreciate that of another.

 "I prefer the finesse of French humour. English humour is more scathing,
more cruel, as illustrated by Monty Python and Little Britain."
Dame Helen Mirren 

Appreciation of different brands of humour may well be dependent on a blend of a number of factors: gender, age, education, geographical location, culture and intelligence.

The humour of Stoke-on-Trent, or 'The Potteries' is similar in its spontaneity to the traditionally funny humour of Liverpool. From Ken Dodd and Jimmy Tarbuck to John Bishop, Scouse humour is in a class of its own. Liverpudlians are just naturally funny. Social deprivation and working class attitudes seems to go hand in hand with humour. Marx said that "religion is the opiate of the working classes" - but humour would be a better choice.

During the First World War, two soldiers of the North Staffordshire Regiment received their Red Cross parcels and post. A young Tommy, having read his letter, began jumping up and down with excitement with is head above the parapet.

Sergeant: "What's up with they, get thee head dine! "
Tommy: " Mar lady says I'm goin be a faither!"
Sergeant: "You, a faither? Dunner towk soft wa've bin in this trench over a twelve month!"
Tommy: "So what? There's two years between may and our yuth."

It is important to be able to laugh at one's self. The best Jewish humour emanates from Jewish comedians. The same is true of Liverpool and Stoke-on-Trent. A Liverpudlian friend of mine asked me:
 "How do you know that a Scouser has been in your back yard? The wheelie bin is on bricks."

The current obsession with political correctness must never be allowed to ban genuine humour. I asked my friend if people in Liverpool would find the joke offensive?

"Of course not. If it is a choice between laughing and crying, then it is better to laugh. Never take yourself too seriously."

 In Victorian times, a new social phenomenon emerged; trips to the seaside. Workers from Stoke-on-Trent and Liverpool flocked to the new resorts such as Blackpool, with its beach, fun fair and of course the famous Tower. The advent of the seaside resorts brought with it a new culture, both saucy and innocent and perhaps worryingly sinister. The saucy seaside postcard, with an unmistakeable artistic style, brought daring innuendo into the shops. The good humoured saucy postcard was one thing, but, the Punch and Judy Show, aimed at children, is perhaps more questionable. Punch and Judy was the blueprint for today's soap operas.

Punch and Judy
Image:Flickr-steve wilde

Punch and Judy is a traditional puppet show, featuring Mr Punch and his wife Judy. The show is not a modern invention. Punch and Judy has its roots in Italian commedia dell'arte, as early the 16th century. Incidentally, Judy was originally called 'Joan'. Typical of Potteries humour, friends of mine, well known in Newcastle under Lyme, kept 'The George and Dragon'. Tony is married to Joan, and people would ask if George was in!

The original Mr Punch was a character called Pulcinella, anglized to Punchinello, hence Punch. Mr Punch's UK first appearance in England is thought to have been May 9th. 1662. Ironically, that year coincides with Archbishop Cranmer's 'Book of Common Prayer'.

Known since Victorian times as the "Professor" or "Punchman" a single puppeteer stands in a booth and manipulates the hand puppets, usually, Mr Punch, Judy, a baby, a dog, a policeman and a crocodile. The Professor sometimes had a "Bottler" who would encourage the crowd to put money in a bottle. The audience were encouraged to take part, shouting warnings to the puppets if danger was at hand. This is a similar tradition to Pantomime - "He's behind you" "Oh no he isn't"

The diarist Samuel Pepys records seeing Punch and Judy in Covent Garden and when the tradition reached America even George Washington bought a ticket! The original booths were dull-makeshift affairs made to be carried around the country. In the 20th century, red and white stripped booths became iconic in the new seaside resorts.

Originally, the show was intended for adults. It was often violent and the puppets reflected some dark subjects. In the late Victorian era, the target audience became children. The content was adapted to make it suitable for a younger audience. The character of the devil was removed along with Punch's mistress -'Pretty Polly'. I wonder how this name became synonymous with a parrot? Perhaps it was the gaudy coloured feathers and a squeaky voice which began with Mr Punch's attraction to his mistress against the plainness of Judy his wife. Perhaps nothing much in society has changed! Mr Punch was always a fearsome character. He wears a brightly coloured jester's motley and sugarloaf hat with a tassel and carries a long stick (a slapstick) which he uses to beat the other characters. He is a hunchback whose long hooked nose almost touches his curved jutting chin. He speaks in a shrill squawking voice which was produced by the use of a device called a swazel held in the Professor's mouth. It is surprising that the character is still thought appropriate for children. He is a bully, baby basher and wife beater. He delights in gleeful self-satisfaction which gave rise to the expression " as proud as punch".

Stoke-on-Trent, in common with other areas, has its own dialect and accent.

 "Ar to toke rate" is a guide to speaking Stoke.

A few examples may be of help here.
afread - afraid
dyead - died
drownded - drowned
aks - ask
dost - do you?
ducker - a flat pebble
all but - nearly
dollop - a lot
dunna - don't
fang - take hold
flummoxed - bothered
funt - found
furk - to look for something
gob - mouth

It is said that all North Staffordshire and especially Pottery dialect is contained in certain expressions.

"Dust ere, if thee astna got anythin woth sayin then dustna say anythin at ow,orate?

"Do you hear? If you haven't anything worth saying don't say anything. Alright?"

Stoke-on-Trent, or 'The Potteries' comprises six towns. Arnold Bennett got it wrong when he wrote 'Anna of The Five Towns' From north to south they are Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. A history of Tunstall has already featured in another of my articles.

Potteries dialect and humour is best illustrated by two cartoon characters, 'May un Mar Lady' (Me and the Wife). The cartoon characters were created by Dave Follows and appeared in The Sentinel newspaper. The series first appeared on July 8th 1986 and soon became a part of Potteries culture. Dave Fellows sadly passed away in October 2003.The simple three window sketches feature a dominant wife and her frustration with her irresponsible and perhaps lazy husband who is impervious to her nagging. In one sketch, the husband cannot get to sleep and 'Mar Lady' tries to find out why:

"Eets neow good ah conna get ter slayp"

"At thay werritin abite th' rent bayin thray wicks overdue, the final demand fer th' reets un 'ow way're gooin 'ter peey next months car instalment?
'Nar, ther's a rumour that Th' Potters Arms is gooin ter cleowse dine."

Perhaps Mr Follows should have supplied subtitles? A animated test from 2008 is featured on Youtube below.


Humour can be found in some unlikely topics and objects.. For example, can there be any humour to be found in a stair lift? Surely not. Well, I was wrong. A major supplier of stair lifts, Castle Comfort Centre, whose head office is located in Wolstanton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire certainly think so and in fact have a website dedicated to the topic! (See stairlift cartoons site here)
How about those of you with a feline of senior years? Perhaps treating her to a lift up those stairs?

Here's some more of the typical Stoke humour from www.stairliftcartoons.com

  • A stair lift for dogs has been designed, it's made by a company in Barking.

  • Mother to son: "You must get my stair lift serviced, it's driving me up the wall" 

  • Wife to husband: "I hope we never get to the age when we need a stair lift."
           Husband to wife: "So do I, we live in a bungalow."

  • Is there a stair lift in the Rover's Return? If there is, Tracey will soon have it across at the second hand shop.

Joking apart, one couple allegedly installed a chair lift for their dashshund following spinal surgery.  Here's a picture of a visitor to their stairlift showroom and a pet dog getting measured up for a stairlift.

Image:-Courtesy of stairliftsdoctor.co.uk

Any consideration of humour, and Stoke-on-Trent humour in particular, could not come to a better conclusion than with a song, written in the early 70s, by Brian Berrington. Brian was a member of the Stoke-on-Trent Folk Club. He worked in the Pottery Industry all of his life, for one period at Grindley's in Tunstall, close to the Town Hall, now the home of the Tunstall Indoor Market.

He recalled the time in early 1950s when the firm was making Coronation commemorative mugs.

A group of management, including Colonel Grindley, were gathered by a kiln, expectantly awaiting the appearance of the first batch of these prestigious items.

The MD arrived and appearing rather agitated enquired what on earth was going on?

"We are looking for mugs" he was told by way of explanation.

A long serving worker, in cloth cap and white smock, turned to another and mumbled, "And ays funt us!"

The importance of such local humour does not end with just being funny. It is a valuable social history of the lives of ordinary real people who were the heart of an industrial area, now, sadly, largely gone but the spirit and humour of Potteries folk is still as real as ever.

Overheard in Tunstall Market, a lady referring to her teenage grandson's girlfiend:
 "What's her like?
A right useless article, but then so is he."

It was this from environment that Brian acquired not only a love of the people of Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and North Staffordshire in general and perhaps more poignantly, a love of their humour. The material is reproduced with the kind permission of Kay, Brian's widow.

Brian of course sang the song in a Potteries accent, the spelling of which I will attempt with apologies to the purists!

 'Burslem Wakes' 

"There was Willy Clough and Jim McGough and 'Arry Lowndes and may
Wain thought as us would tak the buz to Blackpool by the sae
For many a dey way saved us pey and only drank at neet
Agin the dee waid be awey all on us Blackpool trate.

From the 4 in Hand you understand wey left one sunny dee
The lads and may on th' PMT and up the motorway
Wey brought us fags in paper bags with us snappin safe inside
And wey thought of the fun as was to come dyne by the rollin' tide. 

At Preston tayn they set us dyne for get us a cuppa tay
I supped me cup then opened up the cawd oatcake and chaise
Then off once more to Blackpool shore and the salt smell of the sae
Went Willy Clough and Jim McGough and 'Arry Lowndes and may.

Wey took an hour went up the Tower for sey the famous view
Then wey came dyne went inter tyne for get a pint or two
Or three or four, or maybe more then off way went for say
If wayne coud get a bit o' skirt for t'other thray and may. 

I lark the wey the skirts todee rise 'igh above the knays 
There's lots of thigh to great the eye and they're designed to plaise 

Withite more words wayne funt fower birds then off ter Squires Gate
Ter get some fun on the coaster run and our luck the Whale of Fate. 

We went fer tay at the UCP for cod and chips and paise
All I could say as I supped may tea was my birds shapely knays
When Willy Clough said "Add enough" mar mind on 'er were set 
Ah said "Oh no I must be slow I anner started yet."

It was gerrin dark so in the park way took 'em for a woke
The other thray left 'er and may fer sit un 'ave a towk
'Er soft red lips were oiled with chips 'Er muttered sweet and low
"I do love you so come on do before we 'ave to go." 

The hours flew by and with a sigh she murmered 'Theet so strong 
Oh don't yer know I want you so how come you are so long?'
 Then suddenly I pushed her free and stood up with a cuss
 'Well what's to do? Well thanks to you I've gone and missed the buz.'

Its a long long woke all in the dark from Blackpool down ter Stoke
And memories of a pair of knays dunner 'elp yer when your broke
And passions 'igh beneath the sky just mak yer swear and cuss
When nearly there if you declare 'Ave bin and missed the buz.'

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Tunstall History and Facts

Tunstall - Stoke-on-Trent

Image Courtesy of www.fotodiscs4u.co.uk
The City of Stoke on Trent is a linear conurbation of 93 square kilometres (or for the Euro sceptics 36 square miles) Originally, the area comprised six individual towns. From the north these are Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. By the early 20th century it had become polycentric, a federation of six towns and numerous small villages. City status was granted in 1925. In spite of the name, The City of Stoke-on-Trent, it was not Stoke but Hanley which was to emerge as the primary commercial City Centre.

Currently, the highly contentious plan is to move out of the Civic Centre, alongside the King’s Hall and the Minster Church of St Peter’s, in Stoke to a new centre to be built ‘up anley, Duck’. Stoke on Trent has its own unique accent and dialect which marks out North Staffordshire folk around the world. If you complain about the cold when it is ‘slatting dain’ or raining heavily. you are said to be ‘nesh’ In actual fact, to ‘go up’ to Hanley is correct as one goes ‘up’ to the primary centre. Regardless of geographical location, one always goes ‘up to London’; certainly never ‘down’ to the Capitol.

Image: Wikipedia - Lionel Allorge
It was the making of fine bone china and the cheaper everyday earthenware which gave rise to the area becoming known as ‘The Potteries’. Names such as Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and Doulton were known worldwide. I well recall an occasion when we had family visitors staying from America how how they expressed incredulity at the sight of our Scottie dog eating her meal from a Wedgwood bowl – perhaps proof that familiarity does indeed breed contempt!

The local football team, known as ‘The Potters’ was for a time home to many football legends such as Terry Conroy, Gordon Banks and Sir Stanley Matthews and today his statue stands in Hanley as a tribute to that sporting era.

Alongside the traditional ceramics industry, the area produced coal on a large scale and iron and steel at the Shelton Bar works. The Potteries towns of today have suffered much dereliction and lack of employment. The pottery industry has all but gone. Gone also are the mines, the steelworks and most of the engineering. What was once a proud region, with traditional skills, is now an area desperately in need of regeneration. The heart of the industry has gone, probably for ever, but the spirit of pride and friendliness of Potteries folk remains.

It has to be said that one blessing of the city, formed out of the six towns, not five as immortalised by Arnold Bennett’s ‘Anna of the Five Towns’ is that it forms a ribbon development along the valley of the River Trent. One is very quickly out of it. North Staffordshire is a very lovely area. Bordering on to the Staffordshire Moorlands, one is soon into Derbyshire and the Peak District National Park. This region is as attractive as anywhere else in Britain.

Some of the spirit of The Potteries is recorded in literature. Arnold Bennett was born in Hanley in 1867 and died in 1931. His father was a solicitor and his son, having been educated in Newcastle- under-Lyme, read law and became a solicitor’s clerk in London.

Newcastle is not a part of Stoke-on-Trent and to this day, the folk of ‘Castle’ guard that distinction as a Loyal and Ancient Borough and a part of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Marsh, a lovely open area between May Bank and Wolstanton is still preserved as a local amenity by the Duchy. Running north to south, the towns are Tunstall, Burslem. Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. In ‘Anna’, the names are altered to Turnhill, Bursley, Hanbridge, Knype, The Forgotten Town (Fenton) and Longton. Bennett became a prolific writer. On his own admission, his motivation was to maximise his income rather than creative activity.

‘Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas a piece for stories which I can do better myself? Not me. If anyone imagines my sole aim is art for art’s sake, they are cruelly deceived.’
(Arnold Bennett)

Bennett presents a bleak image of Tunstall (Turnhill). “It was the winter of 1835, January. They passed through the marketplace of the town of Turnhill, where they lived. Turnhill lies a couple of miles north of Bursley. On one side the marketplace was barricaded with stacks of coal and the other with loaves of a species of rye and straw bread. This coal and these loaves were being served out by meticulous and haughty officials, all invisibly braided with red-tape, to a crowd of shivering, moaning and weeping wretches, men women and children – the basis of the population of Turnhill.”

The population of Tunstall today as they use Tunstall Market, deserve a much more flattering description. The most northerly of the towns has a fascinating history which is well worth investigating.

A brief history of Tunstall

The story of Tunstall has its roots in antiquity. There is evidence that as far back as 1280 iron was being produced in the town. Tile and brick making sites possibly date back to the late Middle Ages. The ancient name of ‘Sneyd’ seen in Sneyd Green and a number of well known Sneyd Arms pubs, gives us a link to the Lord of the Manor, one Walter Sneyd Esq. The Sneyd family, dating back to the 13th century, went on to have much influence in this area. A letter from one ‘Harry Delves’ (probably Sir Henry Delves of Doddington) to Richard Sneyd (d.1537) concerns buying land in Keele. In 1542 William Sneyd bought the Keele estate and it was to remain in the family for some four hundred years. The first Keele Hall was built by Ralph Sneyd (son of William) in 1580. Today, other than a quarry and some very old trees nothing remains of his Tudor style creation. During the Civil War, the Sneyds were on the side of the King, which, in what was a strong Parliamentary region, was a dangerous side to follow. Col Sneyd was killed by Parliamentary soldiers. The current Keele Hall was built in mock Jacobean style in 1851. During the second world war, the hall was requisitioned by the army. After the war, the estate was purchased from Ralph Sneyd in 1948 to become the University of North Staffordshire, which became the University of Keele in 1962.

So much for the Tunstall connection with Keele and the Sneyd family. There is an interesting reference to Tunstall in a journal of 1828 ‘Tunstall is a considerable village within the township of Wolstanton Court, a liberty in the parish of Wolstanton, four miles from Newcastle, pleasantly situated on an eminence, deriving its name from the Saxon word tun or ton, a town, and stall, an elevated place, seat or station.

In this township abounds coal, ironstone, marl and fine channel coal; and the manufactories of earthenware are very extensive here.’

The ‘eminince’ or ‘elevated place’ refers to the ridge on which the site of Tunstall stands between Fowlea Brook to the west and Scotia Brook to the east.

Pottery Makers

In its heyday, Tunstall had nearly one hundred pot banks. Among the more famed were William Adams & Co, R Beswick, Grindley Hotel Ware Ltd., Booths, W H Grindley & Co Ltd., Johnson Brothers Ltd., Alfred Meakin (Tunstall) Ltd., and Enoch Wedgwood & Co Ltd. Just one example of the importance of pottery manufacturing in Tunstall is that in 1977, Alfred Meakin’s alone employed 2000 local people. Up to the late 1990’s most pottery used around the world was made in Stoke-on-Trent. Some 70,000 or so people were employed in the ceramic industry. The drift of pottery manufacturing eastwards resulted is the figure dropping to just 6000. Which son or daughter of the Potteries could have predicted that an iconic brand such as Wedgwood would go into liquidation but it did in 2009. Other closures followed including Royal Doulton. Only twenty years ago there were some three hundred companies making pottery. Today the figure is more like fifteen. The smoke and the bottle ovens, akin to a Lowry landscape, have gone but pride and self-respect have gone also. The once proud and skilled potters have been replaced by I.T. companies, distribution centres and on line gambling. The ‘High Street’ is now the domain of closed shops and boarded up pubs, banks and charity shops, as unemployment and on-line internet shopping have changed our towns, probably for ever.

It is not all gloom and doom. Tunstall is the location of the highly successful ‘Churchill China’, based in Malborough Way. The company has its beginnings in 1795, later comprising a number of small family firms. The name ‘Churchill’ was adopted in 1928. Today it is largely owned by the Roper family. My father was a salesman for the family company when it was known as ‘James Broadhurst’s’ based in Fenton.(Sorry Arnold Bennett but yes, Fenton does exist). Churchill China is based on family values and is a leading innovator of ‘green technology’ in the industry. 90% of Churchill’s products are made in the UK.

Tunstall’s architecture

The Town is really one urban street, along which are some impressive architectural structures, with the exceptions of the iconic bottle ovens, of which, sadly, there are no remaining examples. Tunstall has some interesting historical places of worship. Stoke-on-Trent has a strong Methodist tradition. John Wesley the father of Methodism, famously preached at Mow Cop which could claim to be the origin of the Wesleyian Methodist Church. There were no churches in Mow Cop and Wesley preached in the open. Wesley, an Anglican, formed the Methodist Church as he felt that the established church had lost empathy with ordinary working people. After his death in 1791, as is often the case, infighting and reform were to follow. The Methodists were ‘staying in their churches’ and some felt that Wesley’s way had been lost. A reformed body was to be established, Primitive Methodism. The ‘Prims’ as they became known locally were formed by Hugh Bourne (1772-1852) and William Clowes (1780-1851). The first Primitive Methodist Chapel was built by Hugh Bourne in Tunstall in 1811. Bourne was nothing if not prudent. He designed his chapel in the form of a row of houses. It had no dividing walls and only one entrance. In the event of the failure of the new movement, all would not be lost and the chapel could be converted into dwellings and sold off! Bourne need not have worried as the new brand of Methodism became very popular with the Potteries working classes. The small chapel could not accommodate growing congregations and it was rebuilt on a larger scale, opening ion 1860 as the great ‘cathedral’ of Primitive Methodism – Jubilee Chapel, Tunstall.

 The Roman Catholic Church

Image Copyright castlecomfortcentre.com
The Church of The Sacred Heart is also is a well known landmark in Tunstall. The Church, with its copper domes, dominates the landscape, especially from High Lane. The church, sited on Queen’s Avenue, is really a testimony to one legendary man, Father P.J.Ryan. He it was who had the vision to give Tunstall Catholics the finest church in the area. He commissioned an architect, J.S. Brocklesby, with a demanding brief and that was to design the biggest, most imposing and most beautiful church in the area. Fr Ryan dragged Brocklesby all over Europe looking for inspiration. I suspect that he never intended to give the architect free reign and Brocklesby finally gave up on the task. Undaunted Fr Ryan decided to go it alone, and, with the help of unpaid, almost pressed labour, the church was completed and opened in 1930. Such was the compelling character of this ‘turbulent priest’ that it is said that his funeral procession was some five miles long and brought the Potteries to a standstill. In a largely Protestant area, with the sometimes suspicious fears of Catholicism, this speaks volumes about the man.

The Anglican building, Christ Church Tunstall, by Francis Bedford, with extensions by A.R.Wood is by comparison an unimposing edifice built in the 1832 under the patronage of Ralph Sneyd Esq. at a cost of £400 for the site alone.The growing population during the 19th century, required the need for a Church in Tunstall. Church of England worshippers had to travel in all weathers and on poor roads to the mother church, St Margaret’s Wolstanton. In 1738 Tunstall had a population of a mere 200. By 1838 this figure had risen to a staggering 6,608 living in some 1,400 houses. An Act was passed for the building of churches in ‘highly populated areas’ and in 1829 the people of Tunstall filed an application. Christ Church was built at a cost of £3,146. Of this figure £1000 was raised by local people and the Church Commissioners paid the rest. Such were these the days of faith that it was thought necessary to build a church which would accommodate 1000 people!

Image Copyright castlecomfortcentre.com
The current Town Hall is the second to stand in the town. The original was demolished in 1892 and the new hall was completed in 1885. The building was designed by A R Wood, a local architect, who died at his home in Wolstanton in 1922. (He designed a number of buildings in the area, including St. Andrew’s, Porthill.) The Neo Renaissance style is ashlar faced with terracotta balustrading and frieze. Over the central bay Wood placed an inscription - PEACE, HAPPINESS,TRUTH,JUSTICE ADMDCCCLXXXV. It is sad to see how local planners allowed shop fronts to occupy the façade. The hall is home to the Tunstall indoor market - the newest outpost of the Castle Comfort Centre.

Tower Square and Clock Tower Tower Square, across the road from the Town Hall, is a pleasing central point in Tunstall with its shops and imposing clock tower. The tower built in a yellowish brick, was erected in 1893. The tower is a memorial to an influential family, the Smith Childs. Admiral Smith Child RN had a distinguished naval career. He served in the Seven Years War, the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars. His has a direct link to Tunstall in that he founded a pottery factory there in 1793 and took an interest in the town’s affairs. He died in 1813 and is buried at St. Margaret’s Church Wolstanton. He outlived his son by two years, and as a result, he left his estate to his grandson who became Sir Smith Child, Bart. Smith Child was born in Tunstall. Sir Smith Child and his wife Sarah who lived in Fulford, married in January 1835. The family lived in Stallington Hall. In addition to business interests, Smith Child was a politician and between 1851 and 1859 was MP for North Staffordshire. The Child’s were local philanthropists and gave financial support to the area. As well as his local church in Fulford and Fulford School, Smith Child was a supporter of the North Staffs Infirmary Building Fund. Smith and Sarah are buried at St. Nicholas Church, Fulford. Their grandson moved to London to take up a post working for the King. The family philanthropic spirit had been passed down and the family were much missed by the local poor to whom they had generously given help in the form of coal, soup, flannel and blankets.

Some famous Tunstall Folk

Clarice Cliff                                        Potter
Susie Cooper                                      Potter
Alan Lake                                           Married to Diana Dors
Hugh Dancy                                        Actor –‘Black Hawk Down’
Neil Morrissey                                   Actor – ‘Men Behaving Badly’
Anthea Turner                                    TV presenter – Blue Peter
Nick Hancock                                     TV – Chairman ‘They Think its All Over’
Legendary Lonni                                Rockstar - candidate for Monster Raving Loony Party
Robbie Williams                                 Mega Pop Star – some songs refer to Stoke-on-Trent

Historical facts are both fascinating and important when looking at any area. There is no shortage of the availability of such information. What is more poignant is to talk to people who actually experienced first hand the life of a village or town.

(The writer is indebted to Mr David J McFarlane who agreed to share his memories of growing up in Tunstall.)

Mr David McFarlane was born in 1933 and grew up in Tunstall. I am pleased to pass on some of his personal recollections.
 “I loved growing up in Tunstall. It was a vibrant, colourful place and the people were a friendly mix of equally colourful characters; a cross section of all of the social classes. For many, life was not easy, but there was a pride and sense of community in Tunstall. I lived in the town centre, finally on a corner plot opposite to the Catholic Church and opposite the park which was, and still is a lovely amenity for local folk. I spent many happy hours playing there.  There was really no fear for children’s safety in those days.

My family were Methodists and in those days, people tended to treat Catholics with a degree of suspicion. The Sacred Heart Church was the inspiration of one Father Ryan. He served all of the people, regardless of their faith, and was a highly respected character in Tunstall.

Unemployment was a problem then, not just a modern day issue. In those days it was common to see a group of men outside the Town Hall looking for work and hoping that a pot bank or the railway boss would hire them, albeit just for a casual day or two. Such as things were, there were always the unsuccessful who would be left to share their disappointment and hope for a miracle. This was a Godsend (perhaps literally) for Fr. Ryan who coerced them to follow him and provide ‘volunteer’ labour on the church building site. It did not provide a pay-packet but perhaps it was ‘good for the soul’!

I remember seeing the large number of people who came out of the church every Sunday after the Latin mass; a crowd which greatly outnumbered those I saw at our Methodist chapel anyway, and more akin to a football match!

The size of the congregation was a cause for amazement for one bystander who said to my father, “How do they get so many when the service is in Latin? There’s only one man understands a word of it and he’s Mason, the chemist!”

I can’t remember the date, but it was in 1951 that Tunstall centre and the surrounding area came to a standstill. Buses, vans and cars were going nowhere, it was gridlock. The cause was the funeral cortège for Fr. Ryan. Such was his popularity.

The new Town Hall, facing the Market Square, was a lovely building then and was a proud edifice, the back being attached to a popular covered market, opened in 1885, but it fell into disrepair as Stoke and Hanley became the centre of administration. After some restoration work, the market has reopened and it is now a very lively trading post and meeting place.

At the top of the Market Square stands the clock tower, built in 1893. It was always useful to glance across at the clock as people went about their business in the town. In its heyday, the square was a colourful lively place being the terminus for some ten or twelve privately bus companies, all with their own distinctive liveries and privately owned. I always loved trains and buses and to visit the square was a bus-spotters paradise. I can still remember the colours of each company.

PMT Red with a cream stripe
BROWNS Fawn and white – At the end of the war, they added a red white and blue Stripe to celebrate victory
ROWBOTHAMS Blue cream and red
WELLS Apple green with a grey stripe
RELIANCE Light green and cream stripe
TILSTONES White with marone stripes
ABC MOTORS Maroon with red stripes
 STANIERS Red with maroon stripe

A PMT stopped by the park to unload black-faced men – no pit head baths in those days!

Tunstall station was on the railway loop line which went all round the Potteries. Cobridge tunnel was very low, and some engines had to stop and remove a high funnel before going through, similar to the working narrow boats on low bridges on the Trent and Mersey canal. The railways carried goods as well as people. A familiar noise and sight was that of large wooden barrels, full of straw packed pots from the Adams’ factory being rolled by hand to the station along Furlong Road and Station Road, later to be renamed The Boulevard.

I remember going down to the bottom of Tunstall Park to where the ‘mineral line’ ran to and from Chatterley Whitfield colliery. I think this was called Sytch Sidings. I had my own Thomas the Tank Engine’ The line had its own fleet of little tank engines and like the buses, I recall not only their colours but also their names.
‘Edward V11’, ‘Minnie’ , ‘Katty’, ‘Rodger’ and the posh sounding ‘Earl of Granville’.

The Fire Station was a strange building. It was located on the High Street but you could easily miss it. It had a single shop front style entrance which was just wide enough to take a fire engine with just a few inches to spare! Very odd really.

Thinking back to Tower or Market Square, the following shops were there in the early 1940’s. 

Left side

BOOTS CHEMIST with a library on the 1st floor
HOME & COLONIAL GROCERS (with saw dust on the floor!)
HINCHCO CHEMISTS (Mr Hincho sported a waxed moustache and wore winged collars)
MIDDLEBROOKES HABADASHERY (My mother was a Milliner and bought fabrics there)

Right side


Around the corner from the Town Hall was a public library in what was the Victoria Institute and Public Swimming Baths, built in 1889. In 1901 a local ironmonger, W M Durose, made a wrought iron sign which hung on the side of the building. He also made the gates to Tunstall Park, a masterpiece of his skills, which still survive today. The baker was in fact Mr Baker! These were the days of post war rationing and things were short. People used to take their meagre ingredients to him and he would do the baking for them. I think they met at the Church Hall in Stanley Street.

Amongst the ‘characters’ I remember, and about whom my father would often speak, was "Alderman George Herbert Barber.”
George Barber didn’t have an auspicious start in life. He was born in 1860 and died in 1946. When he was about seven, his mother passed away. His father was evidently an ill man and unable to look after him. The young lad was placed in Chell Workhouse. Deprived of a formal education, George taught himself what we used to call the 3Rs. Another example of his character was that he taught himself to play the accordion. He would go around the Tunstall pubs entertaining the customers. In his autobiography “From Workhouse to Lord Mayor” he tells how he became a farm labourer and finally a miner. He was drawn to Methodism and developed a social conscience, perhaps based on the experience of his childhood. He assisted miner’s families during the strikes in the last two decades of the 19th century. He relates witnessing women begging for food to feed the family while husbands drank in the pubs. Drunkenness was rife and he refers to what he called ‘the ally of poverty’ in Tunstall in those days. These experiences led him to join the Temperance Movement. He had a fascination with film and photography. An example of an early use of ‘media’ is when he would give lectures on the perils of drink, all illustrated by slides in a ‘Magic Lantern’ show!

You know, I remember him as a Sunday School teacher. He used to tell us about the Holy Land and show slides of the places in the Bible. It was a fascinating novelty to us – no TV or tablets then of course. He somehow managed to feature in many of them, saying things like “This is where Jesus was born and that’s me on the left!

His interest and ingenuity lead to him opening the first ‘picture house’ (cinema) in Tunstall in 1909 – ‘Barber’s Picture Palace’. He must have had a good business sense and within just ten years he owned a chain of cinemas throughout the Potteries and some in Buckinghamshire.

He was elected as a Labour Councillor and became the first Labour Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent in 1929. Amongst his philanthropic projects were the North Staffs Royal Infirmary and The Haywood Hospital. “He certainly was a character. I can tell two stories which my father used to tell about Alderman Barber. I don’t know how true they are as they have been passed down the generations, but they are a wonderful insight of the man. One concerns ‘Barbers Palace’ and the old silent film shows accompanied by a pianist. Some of the early cinemas were referred to as ‘The Bug Hut’. The story goes that before the evening showing began, he would interrupt the pianist and take to the stage to address the audience."

 “If any of yer have got fleas yer must ave brought in with yer.”

The best of all came from his period as Lord Mayor. It was 1930 and the City had a visit from the Princess Royal, Mary, the daughter of King George V. At the reception, probably in the King’s Hall, as first citizen he was seated next to Princess Mary. Evidently, she discretely cut off some fat from the meat, boiled ham perhaps? Perhaps rooted in his experience of poverty, the Mayor was shocked at such waste. George Barber was a man of the people and doubtless had little understanding of Royal etiquette.

“Thay mustna leave good food lark that arinde thays parts your ‘ighness” and proceeded to take it from her plate and ate it, with his fingers." I like to think that he called her ‘Duck’!

New Tunstall

With the development of Asda, Next, Argos and Boots the gateway road into Tunstall has changed as it is now dominated by a futuristic sculpture that marks further development on the Eastern side of Tunstall by Dransfield Properties.

Image Copyright CCC
The shard sculpture, made by Robert Erskine, represents a fingerprint that was found on a shard of Roman pottery, discovered when excavating the Wedgwood factory premises.  Highlighting the link between past and future as the ceramics industry has been here throughout time.

Here's a video of him discussing it.

Shortly to be installed on the outskirts of Tunstall is a new sculpture called Golden created by international acclaimed artist Wolfgang Buttress, which will take the place of the Bottle Kiln pyramid, which is to be re-sited at the entrance to the new JCB Tunstall distribution building, Blue Planet site off Sir Reginald Mitchell Way
If there is something else important to you about Tunstall let us know in the comments and we will add it in.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Traudi Plesch OBE

In Memory of Traudi Plesch OBE 1922 – 2013

A guest post by John A Pedder MBE

“Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil” 
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

Traudi Plesch passed away on August 10th 2013 at the age of 91. Her husband Peter passed away just a short time before her on March the 5th of the same year. They were both remarkable and North Staffordshire will be the poorer for their passing.

As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it, anything done in love, supersedes evil. Both Traudi and Peter came from a background of evil but proved that from evil, good can triumph. Peter was born in Germany and Traudi in Austria. Peter was one of the last surviving members of the European Diaspora of intellectuals forced to escape Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1930s the family fled to England.

Peter went to Harrow School and Cambridge and then in 1951, he was appointed to the University of North Staffordshire, now Keele University, as one of the first non-professorial staff, teaching physical chemistry. His death marks the end of an era at Keele as he was the last surviving member of staff from the 1950s. Peter Plesch was hugely enthusiastic, not only about science and chemistry but about life. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was aware of his own good fortune when his family escaped the fate of so many of their compatriots and this had shaped his attitude and generosity of spirit.
In his words

 “I live my life to the full for all those whose lives were taken. My duty to them forbids anything less.”

This dedication and enthusiasm was also to be seen in the life of his second wife Traudi. She had fled her native Austria to escape the Nazi domination and ensuing holocaust. Living with Peter in the Westlands, she too was to put her stamp on this area. Her love of life and of the people of Newcastle and North Staffordshire manifested itself in prolific fund raising for her many chosen good causes. She was the inspiration that resulted in the raising of huge sums of money. These included £300,000 towards the building of the Douglas Macmillan Hospice in Blurton and another £660,000 to establish a day centre to mark the Hospice’s Silver Jubilee year. She was to go on to lead the £750,000 appeal to build the Child Development Centre at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. In 2000 Traudi was awarded the OBE in recognition of her charity work in North Staffordshire.

Some words from Karen McKenzie, Hospice Director of Income Generation

“We are indebted to this amazing lady for her significant help over many years. Traudi was a huge personality and a fabulous ambassador for us.”

Her relatives have set up a justgiving page to raise funds in her memory, towards international cancer research.  The link is here www.justgiving.com/remember/Traudi-PleschOBE


Founder of the Castle Comfort Mobility Products Group, Keith Simpson wishes to thank John Pedder MBE for this accurate and fitting tribute to Mr & Mrs Plesch.

Keith states' "Peter and Traudi as our clients for many years, became friends.

Their needs in later years for our services, whether a rubber stopper for a walking stick or a specialised stairlift system, were fulfilled by our staff who were privileged to ensure their exacting standards were met.

A particular feature with the Plesches was that our efforts would always be acknowledged, and indeed very quickly by telephone and in writing. If ever they felt a tiny improvement, over any aspect of our products and services - could be made... . it would be politely suggested, and for this we were grateful.

It has been a pleasure to be of assistance over many years .. and as with any of our clients, their passing away brings great sadness .. but always fond memories."

Keith Simpson

Friday, 6 September 2013

Adlington Retirement Apartments Wolstanton

Adlington Retirement Apartments Wolstanton

Starting to build Adlington Retirement Village, Wolstanton
We are very excited to see the progress in the village of the Adlington retirement complex.  Built on the site of the former garage in Wolstanton High Street the Adlington Apartments are a welcome addition to the area and having all the local businesses so close by will be very handy for all the new residents.

The facilities of an Adlington development are superb as they offer 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and a number of activity rooms, lounges, a restaurant and a guest suite with en-suite facilities for visiting family.

Naturally as the areas best mobility products and independent living supplier we are well placed to offer high quality space saving riser recliner chairs and electric adjustable beds as well as the everyday assistance from helpful items like grabbers, perching stools or walking sticks, which are all designed to be useful for the over 55's who might need them living at Adlington in Wolstanton.

Adlington Retirement Village, Wolstanton
They even offer an internal mobility scooter parking suite with electrical charge points.  Don't worry if you haven't got a scooter yet, as we can arrange to pick you up and demonstrate one for you here at the showroom or get you set up with any extra equipment you might need in your new home.

The development itself will also offer 24-hour on site care, if required, and will be provided by Methodist Homes Association staff, one of the premier organisations in the field.

The Adlington apartment complexes, of which there are already 2 built in the UK (Rhos on Sea and Stockport) have proved very popular with buyers and we foresee that the quality building, in-house facilities and convenient location for visiting local shops and the health centre, all adds up to a great place to spend your golden years.

Once the ribbon is cut on the building we anticipate helping many of the new residents make their new apartments comfortable and homely and introducing them to our renowned high quality customer service.
If you have read down this far you can get £50 cashback* on your choice of a brand new riser recliner chair from the showroom, by quoting the "Adlington Castle Comfort Blog."
Adlington Apartments Wolstanton
See you soon.

Dr.Stirling, Ann and Keith from Castle Comfort Centre, Wolstanton

*(One cashback offer per each brand new chair you order)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Electric Beds Stoke on Trent



 “To sleep perchance to dream” (Hamlet) 

To sleep well is very important to good health and peace of mind. One’s bed is not only a place of rest and sleep. It is a sanctuary, almost akin to the womb, where one somehow feels safe and sheltered from the busy world with all of its unwelcome intrusions. It is the only place where one is truly one’s self. A comfortable bed is the most valuable of all our worldly possession. To sleep rough on the streets or to be a soldier in a wet dug-out or ‘fox hole’ in some foreign field has to be a version of hell. The building of a nest or bed is not the prerogative of Homo Sapiens. Most living creatures need to build a place of safety and refuge in which to regenerate and survive. “The sparrow has found her an house, and the swallow where she may lay her young.” (Psalm 84) Primates build nests. Orang-utans build new nests every day, high in trees, where they are safe from predators. The nest is usually built between ten and twenty metres off the forest floor. Having selected horizontal branches, they gather sticks and leaves for the construction. The more supple branches are bent inwards and woven together to form a “mattress”. Leafy branches are used to line the structure and sometimes a roof of branches covers the finished nest; the smaller softer leaf branches formed into a pillow. And so, the orang-utan is ready for bed; safe, warm, dry and free of Council Tax!

Orangutan Nest
When it comes to building skills to create a bed, I have to admit that the ginger colouring of the orang-utan is all that my cat Freddie has in common with them. He uses a convenient ready-made place at the foot of my bed! Orang-utans are to be found in far away Borneo. When looking for a bed in Stoke on Trent, Freddie just makes do with what is readily available!

The history of beds is a fascinating social story. Beds not only reflect design and construction. They have been items linked to wealth, power and social custom. We always look at the Romans period as both an era of power and empire and also of ingenuity and technology. The Romans built cities, roads, palaces, baths and even central heating systems. For the rich Roman, a spectacular bed, covered with exotic textiles was a status symbol.
Roman Bed

Viking beds did not have purpose made mattresses. Animal skins were used to make sacks. These would be stuffed with dry leaves, straw and even pea-pods. The result could not have been very comfortable! The Viking and Saxon words for bed and mattress give us a clear clue to the structure.
“Baence” (bench) and “streou” (straw). Interestingly, “crib” and “cot” originates from the same source and referred to more permanent sleeping platforms.

 Viking bed frame
It is interesting to note that the wooden bed frame features the familiar Viking dragon shape more associated with Viking boat design.
Viking Museum, Sandnessjoen
Tudor bed
By the medieval period, grand beds were once again the prerogative of the rich and powerful. These were elaborate constructions with feather mattresses, canopies and side curtains. I suppose that the curtains afforded privacy but also I imagine a shield from draughts which no doubt were part of living in castles or grand houses of the day.King Henry V111’s building works at Hampton Court works included a spacious bedchamber to house his own bed. In view of Henry’s corpulent build and the demands of the need for an heir with his famous ill-fated wives, it had to be quite a structure! During Tudor times beds became more common possessions for many people. Most were quite simple and others elaborate “four-posters” with fine drapes. In William Shakespeare’s will, he left his “second-best” bed and its furniture to his wife, Anne Hathaway. Tudor beds required regular attention to keep the stretched cords holding the mattress taut. These were tightened by a special lever called a “twitch”.

Tudor Bedroom 

The next major change in bed style and construction came about with the Victorians. Bed frames were made from metal which for the wealthier meant brass. The bed would be polished as part of the duties or those below stairs. After 1820, comfort was improved with a new innovation; mattresses with coiled springs. And so what of today? I suspect that in TV advertising, beds appear as often as any other product and more frequently than many. We see apparently never ending ‘sales ads’ featuring a range of couples leaping onto a mattress, strangely usually lacking sheets or duvets! Sleep is of course a vital part of our natural cycles. A lack of sleep reduces efficiency and results at best in a grumpy attitude and, at worst, to accidents. Motorway electronic signs spell out the warning – “Tiredness kills. Take a break.” No doubt we have all experienced times when for whatever reason we seem to have been awake all night. There are few worse experiences than lying there as the mind churns over with total mixed up nonsense. Sleeping problems can be experienced by those suffering illness, disability or simply the onset of ageing. It is during the night hat people feel at their lowest. Getting in and out of bed or finding the right sleeping position without those infuriating pillows sliding back can become difficult. There is an answer. Technology has afforded relief in the form of the adjustable bed. At the push of a button, the head section and other areas of the bed can be adjusted to suit the user’s needs, be it reading a book or sleeping elevated to assist breathing problems. Double beds are available for couples where the two halves of the bed can be adjusted individually.

Adjustable Beds
Just what are the benefits of an adjustable electric bed?

There is little doubt that people with back or breathing problems need to be careful about the type of bed and mattress they sleep on. The disadvantage of a fixed bed, being a flat sleeping surface, is that they lack the ability to distribute pressure over the entire surface and tension of muscles and joints in often increased. There is also the possibility of putting strain on the heart and poor circulation. An adjustable bed may help. For some people sleeping surface, adjustable bed that is on an incline of say 30 to 45 degrees, may be more comfortable as the upper part of the body is higher than the lower part, similar to sitting in a chair. Some support under the knees may take away stress on the lower back. There is no one single bed type that suits everyone and it is important that a potential buyer tries out a bed before making a decision.

Conditions that may be helped by electrical adjustable beds:

  • Lower back, neck and shoulder pain. 
  • Acid reflux 
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma 
  • COPD
  • Swollen legs or feet
  • Some heart conditions.

How do electric adjustable beds work?

Watch this video to find out and come to Stoke on Trent to see one in our showroom at ST5 0HE.


So from orang-utans to sparrows and cats to Kings, we have devised ways to rest our weary heads. From bags of leaves to memory foam, from stately curtained four posters to electronic adjustable beds, our search for rest and relaxation is a daily requirement. Visit our Stoke on Trent electric bed showroom to find yours.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Heat Wave 2013 - UK Elderly At Risk

Heat waves – dangers to elderly and infirm people

Health Warning Issued 18/07/13

ha ha heatwave
The heat wave warning has been raised to "level three" by the Met Office for south-west England and the West Midlands. The move brings those regions in line with the South East and London, where level three warnings remain in place. The warning alerts healthcare services to help those in high-risk groups such as the elderly and young children. Wednesday was the hottest day of the year, with 32.2C recorded at Hampton Water Works in south-west London. (Source:www.bbc.co.uk/news)

Why is a heat wave a problem?

The main risks posed by a heat wave are:  dehydration (not having enough water) overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing heat exhaustion heatstroke.

Who is most at risk?

A heat wave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people in extreme heat are: older people, especially those over 75 babies and young children people with a serious chronic condition, especially heart or breathing problems people with mobility problems, for example people with Parkinson’s disease or who have had a stroke people with serious mental health problems people on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control, people who misuse alcohol or drugs, people who are physically active, for example labourers or those doing sports.

Advice for a heatwave

  • Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside.
  •  If it’s safe, open them for ventilation when it is cooler.
  •  Avoid the heat: stay out of the sun and don’t go out between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat. (Source: www.nhs.uk)

Many people, especially the elderly, experience mobility problems. We tend to concentrate on physical issues such as difficulty in walking or bathing. There are of course some excellent mobility aids to help people, not only to find basic tasks easier, but, very importantly, to retain independence. One person, having previously been confined to the ground floor but had invested in a stair lift, made the poignant comment “I have got the other half of my house back.” If mobility is difficult because of breathing problems, a heat wave can result in serious complications.

Heat can be a problem for people with COPD. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is not a disease in itself but the name given to conditions where you find it difficult to breathe in and out due to long term damage to your lungs. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema but not chronic asthma. In normal lungs, the network of tubes or ‘airways’ that transport air deep into your lungs, become gradually smaller, ending in tiny air sacs. When air reaches the air sacs, oxygen passes into your blood. At the same time, unwanted carbon dioxide transfers into your blood and is expelled when you breathe out. If your airways are damaged, it is harder for air to flow in and out of your lungs and so difficult for you to get enough oxygen. Damage occurs in response to harmful substances and usually starts with inflammation. If the inflammation lasts for a while, permanent changes start to take place. The walls of the airways become thickened, the airways are narrower and so breathing becomes more of an effort. In chronic bronchitis, inflammation results in overproduction of mucus in the airways and formation of phlegm that blocks your airways and makes you cough. Many people with COPD have chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In emphysema, the damage also affects the air sacs. They lose their elasticity, which makes it difficult to keep the airways open and for air to get in and out of your lungs.  With fewer air sacs working properly, the transfer of oxygen into your blood and removal of carbon dioxide is restricted.  Therefore you breathe harder in an attempt to get enough oxygen. If you can’t get enough oxygen, you will feel tired and less able to carry out everyday activities. (Source:www.AgeUK.org.uk)

Your Pets need help too! Pets, especially dogs and cats, are at risk as well as human beings. We have all gone to our car to discover that it has become a sweltering oven. It is impossible to get in and even the steering wheel is too hot to touch. Dogs and cats should never be left in a hot, un-ventilated car. If leaving them is unavoidable, park in the shade and leave the windows down enough to let in fresh air and supply a bowl of fresh water. Do not leave them for a long period. Just a few minutes can be enough to cause heat exhaustion and even death. Incredibly, even the professionals, who ought to know better, can get it badly wrong. A police dog handler who left two dogs to die in the back of his car during a heat wave was spared a custodial sentence yesterday. A judge told Ian Craven, 50, that the mental anguish he suffered and loss of his career was in itself ‘quite a punishment’. He was banned from keeping dogs for just three years after admitting causing unnecessary suffering to the animals. One animal welfare charity said a jail sentence would have been appropriate. The officer sparked a national outcry in June after Chay, a four-year-old Malinois, and six-month-old Alsatian puppy Tilly died from heatstroke. They were left in the back of his scorching vehicle for more than four hours at the force’s dog training centre in Keston, Kent, while he went to a meeting in Stratford, East London. Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Hot Weather For The UK

Forest Fires in Greece
 It is hard not to wonder at the vagaries of the British climate. We Brits would be lost for something to talk about if our weather was stable and reliable. The weather is a greater talking point than football! The threat of climate change may well be a topic open to academic and political debate, but the weather, the result of climate, is changing for sure. We no longer seem to have clearly defined seasons and the planet is witnessing extremes; floods, gales, temperatures, and snowfall are all being seen on a scale unknown in recent climatic history. What determines our weather? There are of course many factors but one is our island position. We are surrounded by water meaning that the sea, at the mercy of the prevailing winds and the sun’s temperature, is a big player in the game. The most regular winds come from the west and they have travelled over vast areas of ocean, collecting water, which, driven by the land to higher altitudes drops on us as rain. Air pressure and a complexity of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ and ‘fronts’ are a part of our daily weather maps and satellite pictures. Then there are the other two culprits who are usually apportioned blame – the Jet Steam (air) and the Gulf Steam (water). We are prone to criticism of the met office, saying things like ‘they never get it right’. But you know, most of the time they do. Weather forecasting is a very difficult science, especially for areas where conditions can change very rapidly. We all remember the Bar-B-Q summers that never arrived. This year it has – bringing the longest heat wave in years. Hot sunny weather is not totally good news. High temperatures and dry conditions, together with a deadly blend of vandals or simply careless people, can result in disastrous fires destroying large areas of forest or grasslands, putting animals and people in danger and destroying property.

High temperatures, reaching the top 20’s and even 30’s, produces a significant health risk to vulnerable people, namely the very young, the elderly and those suffering breathing and mobility issues. We all love to have some summer, but we must be aware of the potential dangers. Remember that pets can suffer too! Our problem in this country is that we do not have the hot weather often enough to acclimatise. If you are particularly vulnerable, take steps to prepare and help yourself. It could be a long hot summer. Where possible, use a stair lift and perhaps a wheelchair, avoid steep slopes and stairs, keep out of the direct sun and always drink plenty of water. The video below from ‘Down Under’ gives you some very useful tips.

Be sure that you enjoy the great summer weather but stay comfortable and, above all, safe. Follow the NHS guide which lays out sound advice for all - but especially for those at high risk through age, illness or lack of mobility.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Stroke Recovery in Stoke on Trent

“When you have a stroke, you must talk slowly to be understood and I have discovered that when I talk slowly, people listen. They think I’m going to say something important.” - Kirk Douglas

Just the very mention of the word stroke strikes fear into the minds of most people. It conjures up images of disability, or losing the ability to speak and, in severe cases, even to death. One stroke survivor told me that after suffering a stroke his life quality had changed so dramatically that he sometimes became so depressed and frustrated that he had moments when he regretted having survived. But there is hope, and there is help available too.

Harry (not his real name) was the last person one would have thought was a high risk candidate. He has never smoked or drank, carried no extra weight and has enjoyed a stress free life. He is in his seventies and his wife in her mid eighties. One morning, without any warning, he slumped over the breakfast table. Until the stroke he had enjoyed good health. Harry is a musician. He had been an accomplished organist and choirmaster, teaching the organ and playing in his local parish church. His enthusiasm lead to the installation of a small pipe organ in his house. It is fair to say that music was his life. The stroke has left him incapable of using his left arm and leg. He will never play again. He now depends almost totally on his wife which adds to his frustration. He is now dependent on mobility aids. There is much help available. If stairs are a problem then a stair lift is the answer, used in conjunction with other aids such as a wheelchair, walking sticks and frames and a bath lift, together with regular physiotherapy.

Harry and his wife have now had the stress of moving home to Stoke-on-Trent to receive excellent care based at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire where people suffering Stroke are more likely to survive than anywhere else in the country and also to be near to family as extra support.

Our Stroke service in Stoke on Trent

A stroke occurs when the blood supply is cut off to the brain. Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to the brain, and without a blood supply, brain cells can be damaged or destroyed, and are not be able to do their job. Strokes occur in different parts of the brain, and can result in damage to your body, dependent on which part of the brain has been affected. For example, if the part of the brain which controls how limbs move is damaged, the ability to move can be damaged or even lost.
. Source: University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust http://www.uhns.nhs.uk
When a person shows symptoms of having a stroke, speed is essential and ringing 999 should never be delayed. Much is being done on TV and in the media to alert the public to F.A.S.T.
Just how common are strokes?
                                Males                   Females               Total
UK                          19,287                   30,079                   49,366
England                15,824                   24,743                   40,567
N. Ireland            489                         750                         1,239
Scotland              1,889                     2,875                     4,764
Wales                   1,085                     1,711                     2,796
It is interesting to note that women appear to be at greater risk of stroke than men.
How can I reduce my risk of having a stroke?
Most medical information suggests that the risk of having a stroke can be reduced by five actions:
Blood pressure 57-365
(Year 3)
Stopping Smoking
Cutting down on how much alcohol you drink
Eating a healthy diet - cut down on salt and fatty foods
Taking regular exercise
Having regular blood pressure checks

Are there signs of hope for stoke patients?

According to the BBC News website, one current experimental procedure involves injecting stem cells into the damaged area of the brain. Science correspondent Pallab Ghosh reports that a UK company is applying for permission to transplant stem cells made from human foetal tissue into the brains of stroke patients. ReNeuron, based in Guildford, has told the BBC that they have what they are calling ‘convincing evidence’ that damaged brain cells, as a result of a stroke, could potentially be regenerated.

Professor Keith Muir of Glasgow University has expressed “surprise” at the moderate improvements in the five patients trialled. However, he stresses that it is too soon to tell if the progress can be attributed to the procedure. The results will be presented at the European Stroke Conference in London.
One patient, 80 year old Frank Marsh, has reported encouraging changes in his condition. The normal period during which some improvement may naturally occur following a stroke is twelve months. Frank had his stroke five years ago. His wife said that he had reached a plateau and progress had stopped. Following the treatment he has gained some hand movement and can now dress himself, tie his shoe laces and hold on to things. To regain such simple actions, which the rest of us take for granted, must bring huge hope to the stroke victim.
Like my friend Harry, Frank is a musician and shares the frustration of no longer being able to play. In Frank’s words “I’d like to get back to my piano and walk a bit steadier and further.”
Source:  BBC News 

What are stem cells?
Stem cells are the body’s raw materials from which all other cells, having a specialised function, develop. If we think of the cell stems as the ‘parent’ then as the cells divide ‘daughter’ cells are produced. These either become new stem cells (self-renewal) or become specialised cells (differentiation) with a specific function such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone. Cells can be genetically manipulated to regenerate or repair diseased or damaged tissues.

Who may benefit from stem cell therapy?
In the broad term, we all do because certain stem cells can be used to test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs.

More specifically, benefits may be seen in patients suffering spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, burns, cancer and stroke.

Amongst the latest reported research, involving injecting stem cells into the area of damaged brain of stroke survivors is not without controversy. Scientific research involving both human and animal research and resources is always subject to ethical questioning.

The stark fact is that stroke survivors are currently not going to make a full recovery but who knows what future treatment may achieve. It is more a case of learning to adapt to the situation, aided by some excellent support from the heath experts, suppliers of mobility aids and, very importantly, self help and dedicated carers. It is worth repeating that physical symptoms are not the only obstacle to
be overcome. Understandably, patients experience levels of depression and frustration, sometimes taking this out on those who are caring for them, ironically often those to whom they are the closest such as their partner or children.

What help is out there for carers?

As well as the GP and Occupational Therapists, informed information is available from organisations whose knowledge is based on first-hand experience.
‘One in ten people in the UK is a carer.Being a carer can be a kind, admirable and selfless act. At times though, it can be challenging and carers have told us that they sometimes feel overwhelmed,exhausted and isolated. Stroke is a sudden and serious condition and can come as a shock. Suddenly seeing a loved one unwell can be very upsetting. You might not understand what has happened or may find it difficult to know how to support them. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, but as you come to terms with what has happened, you might want to know how you can help.’

Source:  http://www.stroke.org.uk/factsheet/stroke-carers-guide.

Stroke exercises and treatment

Moving around safely is taken for granted, unless you suffer a stroke. Some survivors experience paralysis of an arm and/or leg, and balance issues add to the difficulties. Some 40% of survivors suffer serious falls within a year of suffering their stroke. Weakness in a muscle or group of muscles results from the inability of brain signals to get through and of course lack of movement results in the muscles becoming weaker. Exercise and movement is essential and a regular programme of exercises set out by an expert physiotherapist is very important. Many of these exercises can be done whilst sitting or lying down. Swimming can be excellent, but of course always under correct supervision. Walking, bending and stretching are all beneficial. Experts warn against fatigue and all exercise regimes should be tailored to the individuals needs.

Treatment is a combination of therapy and medicines. In addition to the motion exercises, splinting or casting can be used to give support or to straighten a foot twisted by muscle weakness. The release of chemicals which cause muscle contraction can be inhibited by the use of botulinum toxin.

Stroke and Kinetics

One other area of interesting therapy is that of kinetics. The ability to use kinetics or 3D pictures of movement, may hold a link to a new procedure to assist with the rehabilitation of stroke survivors by gait analysis, the study of how people walk. The leading research is taking place at Missouri University. It is claimed that cameras installed in people’s homes to collect data and analyse their movement may be able to act as an early warning system to health issues including falling and mobility impairment, providing advanced movement analysis for physiotherapy.  

Meanwhile, at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, UK, Kinect games are being used to help rehabilitate stroke patients. Titles such as Kinectimals and Kinect Bowling help redevelop coordination following a trauma. Doctors say that the ability to focus on natural movements and activities is vastly beneficial over the traditional physiotherapy where patients would be stretched and pulled to rebuild sensation and muscle strength.

There are also mobility exercises for rehabilitation and stroke recovery based around neurophysiotherapy.  An enterprisinig firm in New Zealand has combined clinical therapeutics developed at Otago in New Zealand ,which is a worldwide centre of excellence in falls rehabilitation, with a computer to help rehabilitate upper body function after a stroke.

Here's a video of it in action.

In conclusion, suffering a stroke is a cruel and debilitating trauma but there is a great deal of help available and the future holds some exciting possibilities to give hope to all, both survivors and carers.  If you would like to visit your local Stoke mobility aids showroom we can show you some of the products that other stroke survivors have found useful, indeed necessary in their new phase of life.