Thursday, 13 February 2014

Cross Heath - Who is King of the Castle?

'Who is King of The Castle?' 

'Local boy opens new chairs outlet in Cross Heath'

At the time of writing, a new business venue is about to open. Keith Simpson, founder and Managing Director of the well known 'Castle Comfort Centre' of Wolstanton, is opening a shop in Cross Heath next to what was the joinery business which is mentioned below. Keith is a supplier of mobility and easier living aids such as stairlifts, chairs and beds and adds a Cross Heath furniture store to the Wolstanton and Tunstall branches.

                                  Work in progress on the new Castle Comfort Centre outlet, 135 Liverpool Road, Cross Heath, ST5 9HD

Keith grew up in Cross Heath. His father, Harry, was on the PTA at Hempstalls Junior School and also a town planning officer. The inspiration for Castle Comfort Centre lies with the needs of Keith's mother, Doreen. At that time, it was not easy to acquire the equipment needed. This motivated Keith to set up a business making the acquisition of quality mobility aids at an affordable price and with good after sales service, readily available in the local area. Castle Comfort Centre opened at Bank House in Wolstanton. From that beginning, Castle Comfort Centre is now a national and international company.

Keith has fond memories of his early days in Cross Heath and he is delighted that he is now able to put something back into the locality to the benefit of local people. Castles and Kings go together, and 'Castle' still has its own - Keith "the Stairlift King"

Here are some photo's of the visit from the Mayor and Terry Conroy who came for a sneak peak before the official opening later this February and for the invited guests an early celebration for both Keith's Birthday and also for Pat's a familiar face at our Tunstall branch and for those that can remember us from Hanley Market.

Mayor of Newcastle Eddie Boden with Keith Simpson of Castle Comfort Centre on a new recliner bed.

Keith and Eddie welcome the invite-only early visitors

Pat - a seasoned traveller receives her 70th birthday gift 

Keith receives his birthday gift - Stoke City newspaper stories (he's featured in a few himself!)

 Keith looking through the book signed by Terry Conroy

 Terry Conroy trying out one of the recliner beds in the showroom

 Keith, Ann and Terry at the Cross Heath Castle Comfort Centre trying out a chair

   Keith and Cross Heath Councillor John Williams have a riser recliner chair race!

Here is the history of Cross Heath which we have had researched by our roving reporter John Pedder MBE as we have found out some interesting facts out about the area which has been previously covered in the Way We Were supplement of the Sentinel.

Whenever I am asked where I live, I always say Newcastle, never Stoke-on-Trent. This has often led to confusion. People assume that I mean Newcastle-on-Tyne. Even if 'under-Lyme' is stressed, the confusion can still occur. However, that all important distinction at least does guard against an association with Ant and Dec. There is an upside. The north east is a fascinating and beautiful region of England with its rugged coastline and ancient castles and it is home to some of the most endearing of people.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is situated north of Stoke-on-Trent and on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park. 'Castle' folk are proud of the 'Loyal and Ancient Borough' and guard their heritage and identity. It has to be said that the Newcastle of today is very different from the town in which I grew up. The old feel of a market town has slowly been lost. The cattle market no longer exists. The cows and sheep have gone and with them the farmers and dealers from the outlying areas who enlivened the town centre and brought in not only a vibrancy, but much needed trade for the local shops and public houses. Whilst there is still a traditional open market, and a farmers market, in common with many towns, the High Street is dying and varied small business outlets have given way to banks, building societies, charity shops and supermarkets.

Sainsbury's and Morrison's (where Castle Comfort have their displays and free walking stick repair days) (on the site of the old cattle market in Brooke Lane) now dominate the retail market rather than 'the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker' of bygone days. Other than 'The Bulls Head' in Lad Lane and 'The Boat and Horses', a link to the old canal days, very little of the old Newcastle remains. But what of the historical Newcastle? Newcastle has its origin in the ancient manors. Tracing the history of the Manor of Newcastle may well start with the castle itself. This is difficult. Unlike Conway, Nottingham, Caernarvon or other towns where a castle still stands largely intact, there is not much of our castle left to be seen. John Ward, in 'A History of Stoke-on-Trent' (first published 1843 - republished by Webberley Ltd 1984) makes the following observation: "In treating, therefore, of the ancient history of such townships as are within the Manor of Newcastle, we should have little more to do than write a history of the Manor itself, and the castle which gave it the youthful name it still retains (after every vestige of the structure has been swept away by the destructive hand of age); but this is by no means an easy task, for we are unable to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to the precise period when the castle was built, or respecting the original formation of the manorial territory.' In the 11th century, England was invaded. An army of Norman, Breton and French soldiers was led by Duke William 11 of Normandy; later to be known as William the Conqueror. William's claim to the throne was based upon a familial link to the childless Edward the Confessor. Edward had named Harold as his successor but he may well have already named his distant cousin William as well. Not a good situation! For the first eleven years of Edward's reign, the real ruler of England was Godwine, Earl of Wessex. In 1004, Edward had married Godwine's daughter Edith but it was not a case of happy families. Edward outlawed his father in law and family. Such were the unstable affairs of the day, that with the help of Edward's opponents, Godwine and his sons returned and his lands were restored. On the death of Godwine, in 1053 his son Harold took over the mantle. Edward died on January 4th 1066 and was buried in the abbey he had constructed in Westminster. The invasion which followed, an arrow in Harold's eye and the date 1066 were destined to become the facts known by all school children, even if the rest of history escapes them! Why is all of this relevant to Newcastle-under-Lyme? At the time of the Norman Conquest, large parts of the County of Stafford belonged to the Crown. At the time of Domesday survey, Wolstanton and Penkull were described as 'large manors', certainly much larger than today. Trentham was an adjoining manor. These Crown properties needed to be defended and that meant the building of a new castle. William died just two years after listing of his territorial possessions and it seems unlikely that he was responsible for the castle. William was followed by his son, Rufus who reigned for thirteen years. Rufus was aware of the necessity to defend the kingdom his father had won. He became known as a great builder of castles. Rufus was followed in 1100 by Henry 1st and he was to reign for the following thirty-five years. Henry continued the establishment of defensive structures. It likely that the foundation of our castle may be within that period but there is no existing record to that effect. A reference does appear during the reign of King Stephen in a 'treaty of accommodation' between him and Henry Plantagenet, the future King Henry II. This involved castles and lands including the 'new castle' of Staffordshire. It seems that Newcastle, together with Stafford, Tamworth and Tutbury were the total castles maintained in this county. The new castle was built to defend royal lands and also to protect us from the Welsh! The castle had another facility, a gaol to house those who had transgressed, way before Saturday night's revellers in the modern day Iron Market! The new castle was not the first defensive site in the Borough. In the 1st century, the Romans established a fort at Chesterton. There was a settlement at Holditch and a villa at Hales. There is evidence of a Saxon settlement in the Borough from the 6th to the 9th century. Madeley was granted a royal charter in 975 by King Edgar. Newcastle is not given a mention in the Domesday Book (1086) whereas Bradwell, Wolstanton, Clayton, Knutton, Hill and Chapel Chorlton and Maer do appear in the book. Newcastle was planned and established by King Henry 11 and its Royal Charter was granted in 1173.

Where was the castle and what did it look like?

The castle was located in what is now Pool Dam on a site between Lyme Brook and Silverdale Road in Newcastle. Excavations have located remains of the Castle Motte. Remains of the walls have been found alongside St Mary's Primary School on the corner of John O'Gaunt's Road and opposite to a new housing development aptly named Castle Keep Mews. For further fortification, a dam was constructed to divert water from the Lyme Brook to form a pool or moat around the castle; hence the name Pool Dam.

The pool, complete with fish, is included in the Arms of the Borough.

The motto is 'Prisca Constantia' meaning 'Ancient and Royal'. The title of the Ancient and Royal Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme is still in use today. The Manor and castle fell into the custody of the Earl of Chester with whom it remained for quite some time until his death in 1232. Having no children, the custody reverted to the Crown In the early reign of King John 1166-1216 (of Robin Hood fame) the castle was in need of costly maintenance. He was the youngest son of Henry 11 and is buried in Worcester Cathedral.

A visit by Royalty always inspires interest and often benefits to an area. If you have read my article about Tunstall you may recall the lovely story of Alderman Barber, The Princess Royal and the boiled ham! Over many years, the Potteries and Newcastle have been favoured with visits by the Queen and by Princess Margaret, particularly at Keele University, I remember seeing Princess Margaret opening the New Victoria Theatre in Basford. More recently The Prince of Wales has shown much support for the regeneration of the area.

In the third year of his reign, King John visited Newcastle to inspect the works carried out on the castle. By King's Writ, forty pounds had been allocated for repair work on the castle. This was not an insignificant amount of money. The King seems to have been doing the rounds as he was in Middlewich the day before. According to J.Ward's research (1843) the King had instructed the Barons of his Exchequer to allow the Sherriff of Salop to finance the repairs to the King's castles of wood in his bailiwick and also for timber used in fortifying his Newcastle-under-Lyme castle. The King directed the Sheriff of Staffordshire to take from the neighbouring woods, beyond the limits of his forest, sufficient timber for the repairs which the castle required. This instruction gives us a strong clue to the fact that the castle was predominantly a wooden structure with just a tower or Keep built of stone. If the entire structure had been built of stone it is likely that a similar warrant for the masonry would have been issued.

The history of Newcastle and its castle seems to have gone through numerous twists and turns, all of course linked into the complex and often ruthless events in the politics and intrigues of holders of power in England. The King's power was to be challenged by a group of rebellious barons. The battle of Lewes (1264) resulted in the tide turning in the favour of the opposition. The King was taken prisoner in the hands of his rebel subjects and made by them to surrender his castles and possessions and even his authority. By 1262 and 1263, the castles of Chester, the Peak and yes, Newcastle were in the hands of Prince Edward, the King's eldest son. Edward was fully occupied in skirmishes with Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, and in the pursuit of the rebellious English barons. It was not going to be long before 'Happy Families' changed the pattern of power once again. Young Edward was entrapped by his uncle, one Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. The University of Leicester carries his name today. The King and the Prince were forced to make peace terms with de Monfort and the remaining rebel barons. In 1264, the Prince agreed to surrender his castles and munitions stored in Newcastle. Montfort's ambitions were not to end with a mere three castles! He became a powerful man and raised himself to the position of High Steward of England, vesting himself liberally with the spoils of his sovereign nephew. Uncle Simon was soon to meet his comeuppance. The end of Simon de Montfort's period of grandeur, as well as the rebel cause, came to an abrupt end at the battle of Evesham (August 4th 1265) in which de Montfort perished. King Edward III resumed his power and possessions was once again 'King of the Castle'. He was to bestow the de Montfort estates on his second son, twenty-one year old Edmund Plantagenet. Edmund was nicknamed Crouchback, (meaning Crossback). He had fought in the eighth crusade and was entitled to wear a cross, stitched into the back of his clothing. As well as the title Earl of Leicester, Edmund was created Earl of Lancaster.

The Duchy of Lancaster is one of two duchies, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall. The duchy traces its origins to the rebellion already described. The Duchy comprises homes, farms, offices and estates. The income from the duchy provides the money to fund the Queen's official duties and the upkeep of palaces and also provides income for the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, The Princess Royal and several other members of the Royal family. The money is separate from the £13.3 million paid to the Queen by taxpayers' (one of which she is). The Duchy's property portfolio is now valued at £405 million. Who was John of Gaunt? Names bear witness to history. The remains of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Castle can be found on the street of the same name. Close by is 'The Castle' public house, previously called 'The John O' Gaunt'.

The area and pub close by is called 'Black Friars'. Close to the castle was a Dominican Friary. (Not a reference to the 'Dancing Octopus' chippy located by 'The Castle' pub!) Dominicans wore a black habit, hence the term 'Black Friars'. The house was to fall under King Henry VIII and the Reformation.

John of Gaunt, ( 1340-1399) or originally Ghent, where he was born, was the third surviving son of Edward III and younger brother of Edward, the Prince of Wales, known as 'the Black Prince'. There was a rumour at the time that his father was actually a Gent butcher, a story which was to always drive him to showing his temper! Being the first Duke of Lancaster his lands brought him great wealth. In fact he was probably one of the wealthiest men ever, being worth the modern equivalent of $110 billion. It is claimed that he was the sixteenth richest man in history. Among his huge 'portfolio' was the castle in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

In the later history of Newcastle-under-Lyme industry and philanthropy were to feature. As with the John O'Gaunt public house, other hostelries bear the names of local figures, linking the town to some of its past.

The name Gresley is important in the story of Cross Heath.

'The Gresley Arms' in Alsagers Bank is a popular venue with magnificent views across the Cheshire Plain. The pub is, I assume, named after Sir Nigel Gresley. We must take care not to confuse him with the railway engineer and designer of the Flying Scotsman of the same name. Sir Thomas Gresley,6th Baronet, after whom the public house may be named, was a land owner, coal mine owner and a canal builder. He lived at Knypersely Hall in Biddulph, Stoke-on-Trent, which he inherited from his mother. He was appointed High Sherriff of Staffordshire in 1759.

Coal mines and canals are part of the industrial history of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. Wolstanton Colliery was one of the deepest and most productive. Prior to the nationalisation of the coal industry, mines were in the hands of private ownership. Gresley owned a mine in Apedale. This was to play a major role in the development of Newcastle-under-Lyme and especially to the area of Cross Heath, settled alongside the A34 or Liverpool Road. Newcastle-under-Lyme used to have a thriving textile industry. Enderley Mills (1881 Enderley Street) in Brampton was opened by one Richard Stanway and specialised in making uniforms, both for civil bodies and of course for the military. The mill has gone and is now a small residential development. Enderley Mills was way ahead of its time in terms of employees facilities, a fact recorded by factory inspectors. It had a surgery, creche, reading room and a savings bank. Close by was a silk mill. Built in 1825, the mill was sited close to the canal in Brampton Sidings. At a later date, following major structural changes, it became the site for Photopia. In 1797, a cotton mill was built in Cross Heath by one Richard Thompson. He was a cotton manufacturer from Burton on Trent. In 1790 Thompson bought the site, on the A34, to establish his own business. The site included a house for the owner, apprentices' accommodation and mill workers' cottages. Production ceased in the 1960's. For a short time, part of the building was taken over by Royal Doulton and General Electric and it became known as Swift House. Today the premises is of mixed use, including a car and motorcycle outlet.

The Cross Heath of today

Swift House - the original cotton factory can be seen from this angle

Rear View of Swift House - one of the old cotton sheds is still visible

'Coals to Newcastle'

It is hard to imagine, but Thompson's mill stood on the side of a canal. There is a link here to Sir Nigel Gresley. He needed a means of transporting coal from his Apedale mine to Newcastle. His answer was to build a canal. The Gresley canal received Parliamentary approval 1n 1793. Within a couple of years, the four or so miles of new canal was open and Gresley could move his coal to a wharf in Cross Heath. Gresley was awarded sole rights for 21 years on condition that price of his coal did not exceed 25 pence a ton. During this period (1795) authorisation was given to build another canal, entering Newcastle-under-Lyme from the south, linking the town to the Trent and Mersey in Stoke-on-Trent. In 1798 a third canal was proposed to link the Newcastle Canal to the Gresley. It was to be 8 called the Junction Canal. Differences in the terrain of some 60 feet where the canals would meet brought the project to an end as funds would not meet the cost of a proposed railway inclined plane. The Gresley canal was left in isolation with a small extension of what was to be the Junction Canal. The remains of the wharf are buried beneath the new Newcastle-under-Lyme College. The Cross Heath of today History of an area, Interesting as it is, we need to take a look at Cross Heath today. My first problem is where exactly does Cross Heath start and finish? In common with most urban conurbations, one area merges into another. Where does Cross Heath become the town centre, Brampton, Milehouse or Wolstanton or May Bank? One authority is perhaps political maps.

Cross Heath is an electoral ward within the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, but then these boundaries change. How do you know if you are in Cross Heath, Wolstanton, Porthill, Bradwell or wherever? It seems to be a case of what the locals tell one. The figures from the 2001 census records Cross Heath as having a population of 6,159. It is an area which one passes through, but few stop to take a closer look. There is the usual mix of architecture found in all towns marking different stages of historical development. Much is attractive from an age of character and some of the latest perhaps more aesthetically questionable.

A34 Liverpool Road Cross Heath

Local pubs are an important part of the social life of any area. Recent years have witnessed the closure of literally hundreds of such places. The trade is at an all time low. There are a number of factors at work. Cost is certainly one. Supermarkets carry a wide range of much cheaper products, a fact which arguably needs to be controlled. Much of the industry is held in the grip of national companies. These are not brewers; they are more interested in real estate. Tenants and managers are tied into them and not allowed to buy from elsewhere at what can be more competitive prices. Rents are high. Many a publican has worked hard to build up trade only to be rewarded by increased rents. Free houses with 'real ales' and food outlets are more successful. Cross Heath is no exception. 'The Hanging Gate' (also known as 'The Castle Tavern') stood on Liverpool Road. During the 1880s the pub stood on the opposite side of the road. The new pub was built in the 1930s. 'The Hanging Gate' finally closed in 2007 and stood abandoned until it was demolished in 2009. The plan was to build 26 flats on the site. Following neighbours' concerns, the plan was blocked in 2008. In 2009, permission was granted for the fast food giant 'KFC' to develop the site and the fast food outlet now stands on the site.
A34 Newcastle KFC 

The view expressed at the time by one local resident is of interest. It is a classic example of wanting something as long as it is not on my doorstep! However, he may have had a point! "Another pub lost, but what I cannot understand is that the site was earmarked for flats until that was blocked by the neighbours. Letting KFC build a drive through is going to create more nuisance, rubbish, noise, fumes and anti-social behaviour. Anyway, not to worry. I love KFC, and I don't have to live next door to it." Other pubs in the area have suffered a similar fate. 'The Dimsdale' was demolished and the site now plays host to McDonalds. Further along the A34, you will find what was another 1930s substantial public house, 'The Milehouse'. The building has survived. At one time a 'Berni Inn' steakhouse it is now 'Buffet Island', a location for excellent Chinese cuisine.

 The community has some interesting, thriving places of worship.

Cross Heath Methodist Church 

St Michael and All Angels Cross Heath

As well as churches and pubs, schools are an integral part of any community. Just around the corner from St. Michael's is Hempstalls Primary School

Cross Heath has a long and successful connection with the military. During the Second World War, the location was home to Cross Heath's version of 'Dad's Army', the Home Guard. In more recent times, it was a TA Centre and home to 58 Regiment Royal Signals. Following cuts in the defence budget and the restructuring of the TA, 58 Signals was disbanded in 2010. A campaign was launched to save the centre on Liverpool Road.

The case was taken up by Paul Farrelly, M.P. for Newcastle -under-Lyme. To quote Mr. Farrelly: "The former barracks complex is an important part of the culture of the area. Our cadets use the building every week and it is vital that they will be given an assurance that they will have a place to meet locally in the future." The campaign was a success and today RAF and Army Cadets, together with a Careers Office, use the location. Paul also applied to English Heritage to designate the complex as a Grade 2 listed building.

Amongst the things which I discovered is the number and variation of businesses, sometimes in unexpected places. The mills and wharfs of the past may be no longer, but enterprise continues along Liverpool Road.

Talking of enterprise, whilst walking around the area I even came across a 'Seasonal Cat Burglar'!


Next door to the TA Centre, a substantial single storey building has had a number of uses over the years. Many years ago it was a petrol station. Once a mecca for lovers of fast and stylish cars, 'Classy Chassis' operated there. They were followed by similar goodies but with just two wheels! Today it is a furniture shop. Another well-known business in the same area of Cross Heath was 'Joseph Jones Joinery'. Joseph Jones, after many successful years, retired to the West Country but as I understand it the ownership of the building remains with the Jones family. Here is another example of change as the site is now an Electrical Suppliers. 

The new Castle Comfort shop will be opening soon, so look out for opening offers on clearance chairs to bag yourself a bargain. The number to call is 01782 631111.

Image Credits:All Cross Heath Area Photos:John Pedder MBE 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Stoke City Player Gives Recliner Chair To Care Home Resident

Living Like A King In Comfort!

Previous Castle Comfort regular Mick Downing of Wolstanton, who started with a free ferrule for his walking stick, is pictured here as the latest beneficiary of the CCC good deed fund which helps local people to live life more comfortably with a donation of a chair, bed or other piece of mobility equipment from the team.

We had to do a double take when we saw this photo as residential home carer Kandy is a double for Stoke City player Kenwyne Jones!

Regular readers will have recognised Mick from the youtube video below which shows him when he received a riser recliner chair that Terry Conroy (ex- Stoke City player and Ireland International) had borrowed from Castle Comfort during his own recuperation from a stroke. Click the grey arrow in the middle to watch it.

It was very fitting that Terry should have presented the chair after his own recovery, as Mick is a die-hard Stoke City fan having watched them play in their Victoria Ground days as a lad.  His new room at Samuel Hobson House - a care home in Wolstanton, clearly shows his footballing allegiance.

Over the years he has been an ardent fan of Stoke (and of Castle Comfort Centre!) Micks's friends and family reminded us that his birthday was coming up, and wondered if Terry Conroy could perhaps get a "Potters" football autographed by some of the players at the Brittania Stadium. Terry, after an email from the mobility products firm arrived like a shot at CCC's showroom - not with a ball, but with something even more special.  A Gordon Banks's collectible 75th Birthday plate was given as a gift to thank him for his loyalty over the years. The plate was delivered by Keith from Castle Comfort on behalf of "TC" who had a mammoth weekend involved with the Stoke/Liverpool game (a match to go down as an historical classic in footballing history) and is signed by Gordon on the back - wishing Mick all the best. Each limited edition plate was created in Stoke on Trent and shows Gordon Banks in his 1966 World cup winning days celebrating with Bobby Charlton.  The plate now takes pride of place in his room, named Stanley Matthews Way, along with his comfy riser recliner.

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

  • 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

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
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
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
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.