The latest from the pen of Dr Richard Talbot MBE

Life for Children in Stoke Workhouse

By Dr Richard Talbot MBE

My PhD thesis was a study of life in the workhouse during the latter half of the 19th century. It was based upon the fact that despite there being one national poor law of 1834 and how the rules were interpreted by each workhouse resulting in inmates were treated differently depending upon the elected governors on their perception of the poor, politics, and religion.

There was little choice for many families, it was shear destitution beyond the imagination of today which made many people to apply for admittance to the workhouse.  No welfare state or foodbanks but loads of unemployment in industrial areas such as The Potteries. The Act stated that conditions of applicants must be worse than those experienced by the lowest labourer before admittance was granted. Once admitted families were divided – husbands from wives and children from parents, gender separated. Accommodation was in dormitories cramped, with sometimes one to four sleeping in one bed for all sections.

However, late in the 1850s it was considered that children should be treated differently than their parents. They, it was thought were victims of their parent’s inability to provide for them and therefore should not be treated as harshly. Education, it was seen as essential as upon leaving the workhouse at sixteen they had a better chance to find employment no matter how meagre, the object being that this would stop them becoming a burden on the parish for the rest of their lives.

Workhouse Children 1895

Girls were considered only to be suitable as housemaids or servants and taught appropriate subjects like washing, ironing, mending, sewing and household accounts. Boys, on the other hand had what was termed as industrial training in subjects like joinery, tailoring, or shoemaking. By 1867, in addition to the list of industrial training subjects for boys, musical education was encouraged by the Poor Law Board as it would help, they thought, to secure additional opportunities upon leaving the workhouse. It is well known that there was a difficulty in supplying recruits for the armed forces and believed that workhouse boys could supply this want. The only part of the army that enlists such boys was in the regimental bands. Guardians were encouraged to introduce instrumental music among boys. This had recently been done in the large workhouses and duly taught by an efficient bandmaster.

Nationally, for the year 1867-8, the numbers that enlisted was one hundred and seventy-eight. Stoke workhouse embraced this idea as a way of finding employment for boys at the age of sixteen which almost guaranteed a future and an opportunity to make a final break from the life of a pauper.

A military style drum and fife band for boys was established in many workhouses with the intention of teaching drill and how to play musical instruments which, when invited, performed at fetes or other local events with any income being used to purchase new instruments. The decision to form a drum and fife band at Stoke was made in 1863 and once established was invited to perform at numerous local events. One such event was to accompany the local newspaper boys’ annual outing in June 1875 to nearby Trentham Hall at the personal invitation of Mr. Porter the proprietor of The Sentinel on condition that they should return to Stoke railway station by nine o’clock in the evening.

Spittals workhouse school block built 1842. Boys left of central, girls right. Centre accommodation for teaching staff.

Each invitation to perform was first sanctioned by the Board. On one occasion, an invitation in July 1875 from the Baptist Chapel at Newcastle for the boys to play at their annual bazaar was refused on the grounds that it was outside the parish. On another occasion the guardians noted after a day out, performing, that the band had not returned to the workhouse until ten o’clock at night and Mr. Emery, a guardian, suggested that in future such late engagements should be avoided as it was ‘not good for the boys to be out so late.  The band was becoming so popular in the district that by June 1878 it was noted that ‘a line must be drawn somewhere on engagements and the band should not be allowed to go out to perform more than once a week.

New school block opened 1866. Again children were separated by central staff block. Built to accommodate 300 children – some were from other workhouse unions.

Progress was made in May 1880, when the chairman of the guardians suggested that the drum and fife band be replaced by a brass band in line with a number of other unions such as found at Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool resulting in far better opportunities within the military which had proved successful in finding opportunities for boys to enlist in military bands. The guardians applied for permission from the Local Government Board to spend £60 on instruments for twenty performers plus the cost of the instructor at fifteen shillings a week. The LGB approved stating that it would ‘not only be greatly beneficial to the school but also enable the boys to enter the army.’ As the band became more proficient calls for the workhouse boys to perform at annual events increased to include Sunday school prize days and local school sports including Earl Grandville’s School where six hundred children were headed by the Stoke workhouse Band as they made their way to the grounds of Etruria Hall for their annual treat. From 1882, the band was in even greater demand appearing at festivals for numerous local churches. They even went on extended trips to different locations including Rhyl in North Wales to perform a concert on the pier. In 1883, they appeared at the Imperial State Circus, Hanley joining in the circus procession from Shelton school to the circus venue. How proud they must have felt. The guardians may have advanced their reputation by encouraging such an enterprise in the district but, nevertheless, maintained a strict approach to the care of the boys with regards to the lateness in returning to the workhouse.

Whilst Stoke took full advantage of the ideals of teaching instrumental techniques to children to further their opportunities in life, Wolstanton and Burslem Union failed to recognise the possibility of greater opportunities after leaving the workhouse. Despite their lack of interest, the guardians finally recommended a drill and fife band much later in 1887 and the employment of a single man as an industrial trainer. However, the appointment was not primarily to teach music and discipline but to find some pastime to keep boys occupied during out of school hours. This followed the decision to close the workhouse school and send all the children to Wolstanton Board School. Sadly, this was the reality of workhouse life, some boards were sympathetic to the need of the young and their futures, whilst other institutions like Wolstanton and Burslem failed miserably to grasp opportunities to help the young.

If your interested to learn more about life in the workhouse, The Royal Manor of Penkhull includes a whole chapter on the subject. Available from Amazon – large A4 hardback book £20

A Girl’s finishing school at The Mount, Penkhull

I have always had at the back of my mind that instead of writing history books I should have ago at a novel based upon a residential school of upper-class young ladies located in a large dominating mansion with extensive grounds situated on the edge of a poor industrial working-class town with its humble dwellings, outside communal privies all within easy reach of the mansion. Although fiction. it would be based upon on the fact that The Mount, the former home of Josiah Spode II was used in the 1840s as a superior girl’s finishing school. Fortunately, it was there when the 1851 census was taken which lists all that and pupils giving their age occupation and place of birth. However, I have not managed to get around to it, but the thoughts of young rather-well to do young ladies and young lads working down the hill in the factories, mostly uneducated, lacking in appropriate behaviour in front of ladies, dirty and unkept and how relationships would develop and turn out between two totally different classes of society at the time.

The mention of a school for girls was first mentioned when Mr Adams, the potter, vacated the mansion at the end of his lease. It was then agreed to lease the large imposing mansion built by Josiah Spode out to Mr William Allbut, printer and newspaper proprietor of Hanley. The business was the forerunner of Webberley’s of Hanley. The principal of the school was Mrs Allbut, who had an already established Ladies’ School at Northwood, Hanley but wished to move to a larger more prestigious premises that had just come available to attract boarders – The Mount, Penkhull.

An announcement was made in the Potteries Mercury in July 1844 that her school had moved from Northwood to Penkhull stating that it was situated near to Stoke upon Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, clearly identifying Newcastle, a town of professional people against that of Stoke, a grim town of smoke, pit-mounds, hovels, and cesspits. In fact, in a later advertisement of January 1845, the listing was more defined as Stoke was not mentioned but rather more refined to emphasise was given on the nearness of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

Mr Allbut pressed for an early completion of the lease as Mrs Allbut wished to commence her school at The Mount on the 2nd of July 1844 and repairs and redecoration was required to be done first.    Spode (iii) had only just reached the age of maturity and insisted that he wished to view the property with Mr Allbut. After his visit, Spode decided to issue a new lease with several additional terms to the increase of rental. This indenture is dated 26th June 1844, and is listed as follows:

Between Josiah Spode of Armitage Park, on one part and William Allbut of Hanley on the other part, printer, and publisher. That in consideration of a yearly rent of £75 doth hereby lease unto William Allbut, that entire capital mansion house called The Mount, late in the occupation of Louis Adams. However, it was stated that the school was for girls only and boys not allowed.

To permit the premises to be made into or used for the purpose of trade, business of for any other purpose whatsoever than that of a private residence and that if he, that is, William Allbut, thinks fit to use the premises as a school for the education of ladies, but this exception is not to be deemed as permission to use the mansion house as a school for the education of boys or boys and girls together. However, it was finally agreed that the young son of Mr and Mrs Allbut would be allowed to be educated there.

The first reference to the new establishment at The Mount appeared in the Potteries Mercury on the 13th of July 1844 (shortly following the sale of its contents on site for the former tenant Mr Lewis Adams) stating that the Ladies School had already removed from Northwood to its new premises at Penkhull.

Six months later in January 1845, the newspaper ran a larger advert setting out what the school for young ladies had to offer. Firstly, the district of Stoke-upon-Trent has been dropped, reference being made only to that of Newcastle-under-Lyme, no doubt to dissociate itself from Stoke upon Trent with its industrial scars and habitations of that town in favour of the more genteel market town of Newcastle on the other side of the hill.

The advertisement dated January 11th, 1845, reads: Establishment for Young Ladies, conducted by Mrs William Allbut and assistants.

The system pursued is as much on the domestic plan as possible, combining the advantages of home and school training. The aim of the Principal is to educate, not merely to instruct her pupils. The course of study includes the usual branches of a polite English education. The French language is taught by a Lady who has resided some years in Paris. Physical education is regarded as one of the first importance; and in this respect The Mount possesses peculiar advantages the situation being salubrious, the house large, airy, and commodious, and the pleasure grounds extensive.

TERMS; Borders 30 guineas per annum. Day Scholars 8 guineas per annum. The school will re-open after the Christmas vacation of Monday, January 27th, 1845.

Two and a half years later, 17th July 1847, an advertisement for the commencement of the new term points to a considerable increase in fees, reflecting perhaps the more genteel and wealthy families that attended the school.

Mrs William Allbut respectfully intimates that the duties of her school will resume after the summer vacation, on Tuesday, the 27th of July. Terms: Under twelve years of age, 40 guineas per annum. Above twelve, 50 guineas per annum. 

These terms include all branches of a thorough English education, also French by a resident Governess. In the domestic arrangements of the establishment an attempt was made to combine the comforts and enjoyments of home with careful school training, while the delightful situation of The Mount, and the extent of the pleasure grounds, afford every facility for healthy recreation. Prospectuses may be had on application.

We are fortunate that the 1851 census was compiled whilst the school was operational. It presents a well-established school whose reputation stretched to almost the other side of the world. A full list of staff and pupils attending the school gives an insight as to who attended, from which many conclusions can be drawn. The attendees were from Hanley, Kingston-Upon-Hull, France, Birmingham, Staley Bridge, Calcutta and Switzerland and other places. The curriculum contained the subjects expected of such a school, all aspects of the English language, French, Italian and Latin. Other subjects included music and art.

The school continued for nine years, and William Allbut and his wife left The Mount in 1853 when it was sold to Mr Frederick Bishop, Solicitor of Hanley. From Penkhull Mrs Allbut re-located her school to Pool Bank, Rock Ferry, Cheshire where it continued until at least 1858.

If interested to learn more the book The Royal Manor of Penkhull gives the only full account of The Mount together with all the land and properties that Spode owned. Available from Dr Talbot direct or Amazon. Copyright Dr Richard Talbot MBE

Interested in the history of Penkhull, well this may be of interest to you.

This is the sixth book I have written the first some 50 ago. There were 2000 printed and there remains just around 100 left and once sold there will be no more so this may be your last chance to purchase one. It contains over 300,000 words, 496 pictures, maps and diagrams, the largest history book ever written in N. Staffordshire – and it could be yours. This is a book for reading, not a book just of pictures with a few captions. It is a book packed with information about the area commencing from the Ice Age, the Iron Age, the Roman occupation, the Bronze Age, the Middle Ages, the industrial revolution right up to the present day, containing information researched over the last twenty years and two years in the making.

The early invaders into this area have left evidence dating from the middle Neolithic period in the form of a flint arrowhead, bronze-age incense cup and a stone axe head. It was from a period of nearly 5,000 years ago that the village of Penkhull was created, probable because of its elevated and defensive situation standing above the River Trent and the Lyme Brook. Penkhull was a Royal Manor from the time of William the Conqueror to at least 1308, the time of Edwards II before it became absorbed into the Royal Manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme. The men of Penkhull provided guard at the castle as a form of rental.

Following the demise of the castle, Penkhull became the seat for the Manorial Courts in what is now the Greyhound Inn. These Manor Court records dating from 1350 have survived forming the largest database of manor court records for the Manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the world. It is from these records that much of the history of the area has been obtained, material that has never been used by any previous historian which helps to paint a picture of life from the middle ages to the present day.

The book consists of twenty-three chapters that cover every aspect the history of the ancient Royal Manor. Each has been meticulously researched by the author and the book represents an accurate record of events based entirely upon original research. The material for each subject has been placed into context with both national and local events and comparisons drawn from statistics from elsewhere to show how life in North Staffordshire compared from that in other areas.

Who were the first invaders and what would their settlement consist of? Pagan worship was part of life and the subject of human sacrifice will be covered and so will the origins of Stoke Church which in all probability replaced a druid circle as Christianity took hold.

Not only is this book describing Penkhull from the melting of the ice, the first invaders into the area but also a full explanation of the discoveries which prove that Penkhull was inhabited some 4,000 years ago. The movement to the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age, the Roman occupation nearby, the Anglo-Saxon settlement which brought stability and order make interesting reading.

For the first time the account of Domesday in 1086 will be explored with its implications. With the use of ancient records, a map drawn of those seventeen original homesteads of Domesday, something very impressive. Then what does the name of Penkhull mean, what were the various spellings. How did the new Norman rulers treat the villagers with regards to punishments if caught hunting in the Royal forests?

The records for the manor courts held for around four hundred years in an old farmhouse in the centre of the village have survived. This is now ‘The Greyhound Inn’. One chapter is set aside for the purpose of explaining first the manorial legal system and the contents and purpose of the courts from 1350 onwards and how the law under the feudal system was administered. They tell a story all of their own of how all the land was owned by the Duchy of Lancaster as lord of the manor.

The history provides a full account of the rise of the Primitive and Anglican churches from the early pioneers who built the chapel in 1836 and provides an illuminating history of the origins of the Parish Church on the former manor waste in the centre of the village.

A medieval hospital once stood of the site of the current University Hospital. Excavations some eight years ago exposed the few remains. For the first time the findings, with photographs and brief history of this hospital right on the doorstep of Penkhull is included.

Agriculture was the main occupation of Penkhull folk supplying the needs of both Newcastle and Stoke until the years between the wars. There were three original ‘open fields,’ and the workers not only cultivated their own sections, but also those belonging to the crown as a form of rental.

Moving on to the early 19th century the chapter of ‘The Kingdom of Spode’ covers all the aspects of the ownership or rental of the vast majority Penkhull during the reign of Spode II and III. Also, a full account of the building of Spode’s new home, The Mount, together with a history of other occupiers including that of a girl’s finishing school until the huge estate was split up and sold in the latter part of the 19th century.

Furthermore, the development from a mediaeval village which for hundreds of years remained in a time-warp to what we have today forms the basis of changing nature of population and land ownership until the concluding chapter of urbanisation. But not forgetting the massive demolition of 80% of the village in the 1960’s by the city council as an exercise in early social engineering despite universal opposition. The blame was placed firmly on the shoulders of the Vicar at the time.

Many will recall ‘Dads Army’ that series on the T.V. Penkhull has its own Dads Army, Penkhull Home Guard. Here actual recordings of those involved made some 48 years ago by the author have been transcribed. Together with the abundance of church magazines and the vicars war diary a history of life in the village has been accomplished, even down to food and petrol rationing. There are many funny story’s as well as sad as the names of the boys going to war are recorded as lost, or their bodies are returned to Penkhull for burial.

On the happier side, during the 1930s there was a series on annual Revue type shows under the title of Penkhull Belles. Pictures and reports have survived as have that series of over 20 annual Christmas Pantomimes presented by Penkhull Methodists Chapel. The pictures of these and the memories take pride of place.

A chapter entitled ‘Concern of the Poor’ covers the history of this and all the sadness of daily life never previously research and presented. It unfolds a story of sadness on how the poor were housed, segregated, almost starved to death, just because they were poor. The history covers the first parish workhouse, later known as Victoria Buildings which dates from the early 16thcentury until 1832.

In 1901 the Guardians of the Poor decided to segregate the children from adults giving them a better chance of life in a system of care. They were re-housed in Penkhull Cottage Homes, a group of houses, still standing. Here research has been done on the minute books of the homes. These together with interviews of many of the children at the home brings such sadness to many as they record their lives in the home and the physical punishments dished out to some each day. Many from these homes were sent to training ships with harsh treatment, even the birch. Others were sent to Canada and Australia to work on the land from the ages of 9 years to 16 years.

The last chapter, ‘Urbanisation of Penkhull’ covers the development of the village from the early 1800’s to that of today. Almost the story of every street in the village is told. Who were the important people? What shops, pubs and beer houses were there? What were the important properties? The collection of documents, photographs and deeds included in this chapter is phenomenal. Many will bring back such happy memories. During this period, the ‘Grove’ was attacked during the Chartist Riots in 1842 and therefore an almost blow-to-blow account is written covering the issues both in Penkhull and other parts of the city.

No matter what aspect of interest the reader of local history may have there is something to be found in this huge work for every taste and a serious interest to students and scholars throughout the country. These are just a fraction of the subjects covered to choose from which there is something for everyone. Never has there before been such a wide-ranging study made of the area, the implications of which will transform the knowledge of this part of North Staffordshire.

This book may be obtained direct from Dr. Talbot. Currently reduced from £25 to just £15 plus £5 P&P in the UK. Payment via bank transfer and order direct with delivery address on my email address. Please message me for bank details. Remember it would make that perfect gift for Penkhull and once sold out will certainly become a collector’s item.

More information e. Mail: drrichard.talbotmbe@outlook.com

A unique story of the first theatre to be opened in N.Staffs.

During the lock-down I have been kept busy writing yet another book – my seventh, but this time with a special interest on the town of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the first theatre to be opening in 1788 as the Newcastle and Pottery Theatre. What drew my attention to its study that apart from a few sentences compiled in 1910 and a few more in the 1950s, nothing has ever been researched in detail and even less published. I have now completed writing its complete history never previously researched. To those who wonder where this theatre was, well it ended up as the Roxy Cinema over-looking Nelson Square. After such a long and a fascinating history as I have discovered it closed as a cinema in 1957 and finally was the target of the wreckers-ball to be demolished in 1963.

One of the highlights for the town was the visit of King George v and Queen Mary in the spring of 1913. As you can see by the attached photograph of what was then The Cinema, the efforts of townspeople made the town ready for such an occasion. In the middle of Nelson Square was placed a special platform with a canopy where the King and Queen we greeted by the Mayor of Newcastle. I have managed to secure a copyright photograph of the occasion which I have obtained permission to illustrate in the forthcoming book probably out the end of the year.

So, I thought I would just present a small part of my study which gives in detail the minute-by-minute account of the Royal visit.

In spring 1913, the townsfolk of Newcastle, despite the depression had something to celebrate with the visit on of King George vi and Queen Mary on Tuesday 22nd April, where probably the entire population of the town turning out to line the streets in their thousands cheering and waving flags or anything in the colours of red, white, or blue. The time set for his arrival on his first day of the Royal visit to North Staffordshire came from the direction of Madeley Heath, the royal party were staying at Crewe Hall.

Their Majesties arrived at the Newcastle boundary at 10.47a.m. and proceeded via Higherland, Church Street, High Street, Iron Market, Nelson Square, Brunswick Street and finally George Street, the carriages passing slowly giving time for the people to get a glimpse of the royal party. The ‘G’ Company of the 5th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment lined the side of Nelson Square passing with the backdrop of the Newcastle Cinema, all decorated for the occasion. The party then left the town via Stoke Road and on to Hartshill and Penkhull. In Nelson Square, outside of the decorated cinema, a platform was erected in the square where the King and Queen would stand and the Mayor would be presented to the King, while simultaneously the Mayoress presented a beautiful bouquet to her Majesty followed by other dignitaries being presented in order of status.

The town had undergone a complete transformation for the special day, it was a-blaze with colour from every direction throughout and in the main thoroughfares hung various hanging decoration, and in business premises and private houses all embellished with displays. From early in the morning of the visit the council workers were still engaged in completing the decorations and cleaning the streets already for when the morning arrived and ‘the loyal and ancient borough’ would present an appearance second to none in the district. Upon leaving the town the carriage party proceeded to slow down for the final time as it passed Newcastle Workhouse where the governor, staff and inmates lined the street.

(PS if any reader is an expert on colouring black and white photos and keen to help me with the colouring of five to be included would be fantastic – please message me)

Richard Talbot

My memories of Christmas post war when I was a child by Dr Richard Talbot MBE

Following on from six years of war in Europe and the serious consequences to family life for many and the economic decline following brought with it many changes to familiar festive rituals. It was a time for many families where husbands, brothers and sons were fighting abroad, some became prisoners of war and mothers were left to do the best as they could with food rationing.

But the events of D-Day did not transform the way or life, nor did it bring the luxury of more food or household goods. It was still a country of make do and mend, of keeping chickens in the backyard and yes, the blessing of having your own allotment. The early 1950s, remained a complex situation, unemployment, wives and children coming to terms with changed family lives where many had dinner tables set for an empty place, or upon return of a husband returning from the terrors of war that there was a stranger living in the house and relationships had to be kindled once more. Others found themselves widowed and fatherless. On the top of all this food and coal rationing remained with shortages of food, coal, sweets and very little to spend on Christmas. My mother received only 16 shillings a week in child benefits for three boys!

The thing was that there was a quiet acceptance to life. Every house in the street was the same, there was no keeping up with the Jones’s, simply because there was nothing to keep up with, which would probably seem uncommendable today whereby at the press of a button anything could be purchased and delivered to your door the next day.

Few, if any had a TV, perhaps more following the Coronation in 1953 with a single programme the BBC. Other families sat silently around wireless set many still running on an accumulator acid filled battery listening to programmes such as Workers Playtime, Two Way Family Favourites, the Huggett’s, Educating Archie and the Billy Cotton Band Show. For children serials such as Dick Barton or Journey into Space. Who today would think a programme called the Ovalteenies would be beaming into every living room with its own song “we are the Ovalteenies little boys and girls” and secret coded messages to children as they sat with their code books glued to the radio set?

There is no comparison with then and now, there was no – “I want, I have got to have” we had what were given which was little but somehow I never remember being ungrateful, but in fact the opposite, it was somehow in our DNA that this what life was like – a daily battle to survive with little in the shops to tempt us.

In many respects I guess that little has changed in the format of Christmas. There was always the build-up – certainly not the massive advertising of today from almost the beginning of September but there was always the almost magical thought of Father Christmas dropping off a gift as he glided over the roof tops on his slay. To us children the build-up was when Santa was going to arrive at the largest store in the Potteries Lewis’s in Hanley. In fact he always went on tour around the six towns first travelling on a make believe slay followed by display floats advertising when he would be at the store. I can almost see him now coming along London Road always around 1.30p.m. and all the children stood there waiting excitedly ignoring the school bell, then rushing back to the classrooms almost transfixed as we sat quietly waiting for the teacher to start the lesson.   

Yes, there was a stocking, or even a pillowcase to hang up with high expectations. Early to bed and even earlier to rise to the annoyance of parents – a quick look at what Santa had left and back to sleep or a clip around the ear!

Toys were simply far and in-between certainly not the latest iPad or some technically named ‘must have’ because they simply had not been invented then, probably board games were more the order of the day – housey-housey, snakes and ladders, ludo, drawing books of link up the numbers etc. and for boys Meccano sets or annuals of Ruppert and such like books. Even the Guinness Book of Records one year. I remember when I was around nine or ten and Sooty created by Harry Corbett in 1955 became popular was something that I really wanted and luckily, I awoke and there he was. Even built a puppet theatre with curtains and presented puppet shows in the back yard for years with that. Kept it until we move home two years ago – that’s sixty-five years!

Then as a stocking filler there would be a packet of chocolate pennies, an apple and a rare orange if available and lastly a new shiny penny or six-pence. That was it.  I was lucky as my uncle Tom worked for the foreign office based in Germany – where for some reason toys were far more sophisticated and more available than the UK so our anticipation of what would arrive in the post was high.

For Christmas, my parents managed to save enough for a Christmas tree and for Christmas day real little coloured twisted wax candles were lit as we had our teas but were blown out shortly afterwards for fear of a fire. No electric fairy lights in those days! And, for the occasion we children were allowed a rare opportunity to use the front parlour, whilst parents and neighbours would share a glass of sherry in the kitchen or over the backyard wall.

In the afternoon there was the annual Christmas speech by King George VI, we almost had to stand to attention and to be quiet or else! Commercial decorations were scarce so as children we would make paper chains out of painted newspaper or a purchase a packet of brightly colored crape paper from Stoke market, cut into strips of around three inches and then twist to give it shape.  Perfect, and father complete with drawing pins would fix to the ceiling in the corner of the room to hang down and then fix by a further pin by the center light fitting containing no more than a 100w bulb.

Dinner was the highlight of the day, no turkey – we had a boiler chicken which was cheaper and supplemented by a piece of pork to make it go further. It was always mother that ended up with just a piece of pork. Father was a baker and confectioner so saved the ration coupons to enable a plumb-pudding and custard after the main meal. Tea was a luxury, salad and a tin of John West salmon reserved only for special occasions and stored on the top shelf of the pantry. Father again made the Christmas cake complete with icing – very rare after the war and to finish off the day a piece of fathers own made pork pie as we sat around to play the board games as a family.

But it’s with joy that I recall other events that made a difference to children. Father was a member of Stoke Trades and Labour Club and every year club members children were booked into the party. Always corned-beef or cheese sandwiches, and for desert jelly and perhaps peaches topped off with a dollop of Carnation Milk which I hated. Once the meal concluded around two-hundred of us would rush upstairs to the concert room where the fun and games took place. We had entertainment with magicians, ventriloquists, singers and above all else I recall the umpteenth rendering and in different order of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Then like magic from the rear of the concert room was the long-awaited Santa Clause, complete with his helpers and sacks of neatly wrapped parcels marked boy or girl.

A similar experience was had at the Sunday School where we attended – The Gospel Hall in Stoke. Different than today as around two hundred children attended. And again, corned beef sandwiches and jelly. No boiled ham in those days. No ice-cream as no fridges.

As an ABC Minor there was always a Christmas treat at the Majestic Cinema in Campbell Place where over a thousand children came together for a huge party. We were all given a lucky-bag of a few sweets, an orange, party hat, luminous ABC minor badge and a drink together with a pair of special two colour glasses so we could watch a short trial 3D film and experienced hands coming out of the screen almost to the seat in front. We even had fancy-dress competitions. I came second as Billy Bunter wearing a pair of my father’s trousers stuffed with cushions and an old pair of glasses. By early evening – it was off up the wooden hills with a goodnight kiss, and yes, in thankfulness for the blessings of the day because in the 50s there was a lot to be thankful for.

Upon reflection, like many of my age, it is probably our upbringing in post war 50’s which is the reason we all value things differently and think little of the “we must have the best of this or that or the latest designer TV, shoes or clothes”. We are just grateful for whatever we receive. If you have early memories of your childhood at Christmas time – why not send them to Richard for publication on this Penkhull site.

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE

The first use of Chloroform in North Staffordshire March 1839

An operation was performed last week on a young man named Walklate of Sneyd Green near to Hanley whilst hitherto under the influence of this hitherto disputed agent. Not withstanding the various opinions entertained by the faculty on the propriety of its us, it was in this instance decidedly successful in assisting the operator in the use of the scalpel.

The patient was thrown into profound insensibility in less than a minute and a half, when a tumour of steatomatus kind, and of a most formidable description, measuring more than six inches in length was taken from over the clavicle of the right shoulder, the patient not having had the slightest knowledge that he had sustained so severe a cutting. The operation was performed by Mr Bramwell, surgeon of Burslem. The chloroform was administered by Mr W. Scarlett, chemist of Hanley.

(I recall when aged 10 in 1954 having a mastoiditis performed on my right ear and was given chloroform. I still remember the smell after all these years.)

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE

Prize fighting at Newcastle, Staffs. in February 1835 by

Dr Richard Talbot, MBE

The first record of knuckle fighting in the UK goes back to the early 18th century and attracted many thousands of spectators waging a small bet on who the winner would be. When fairgrounds became popular in the 19th century there were boxing booths where a huge man-eating type resident boxer would take on the challenge from any of the spectators on the promise of a five-pound note is they won. In fact, I have quite an account of such an occasion in the late 1920s of one such fight held at the Empire Theatre at Longton where one of the audience from Kidsgrove won but the proprietor refused to pay out. As a result, there was an uproar which ended when the manager of the theatre was thrown out onto the street. The article was written by the local Actors Chaplin, Rev. V. Aston who was then a curate at Florence.

The following is one such record of a fist fight held at Newcastle on Tuesday, 16 February 1830. It took place in one of the town feels of Newcastle, for 50 shillings aside, between John Wright and Thomas Mandley, both natives of Newcastle, which terminated in the defeat of Wright after fighting a total of seventeen severe rounds. It is understood were 2000 persons assembled to witness this exhibition. The police gave the combatants notice that they (the police) should, as county officers interfere if they attempted to fight in the borough. To this caution they turned a deaf ear, and proceeded to form a ring within 40 yards of the boundary, under the impression that the field was the property of the burgesses, and that as many of the burgesses were present, no one had any right to interfere.

Coomee, one of the officers, as soon as one round had been fought, placed himself in the ring, stated commanded the fighters to desist. The combatants would have complied, but the crowd thought differently no doubt because they would have placed bets on the winner.  Coomer was greeted with hisses, groans and abuse and the call for him to be physically removed from the make-shift ring. As a result, he removed himself  and the fight then continued for a further sixteen rounds but Coomee proceeded to take as many names as he could, amounting to around seventy, which was handed to Ralph Bourne Esq with application for summonses as by  breaking of the law every person present at the fight could be fined or even imprisonment. There are no records of any prosecutions.

From the archives of Dr Richard Talbot MBE

The first Voice recording machine in the Potteries

The science of recording voices became an important feature of the 1920s. By the 1930s the realisation of its commercial benefits soon attracted new methods of exploiting the technique for gain.

In May 1936, the voice recording machine found new avenues by using the technique for private recording in large stores. One such local store was Bratt and Dyke an important and well patronised shop in Stafford Street, Hanley proving a cause of great attraction.

At the time it was described as a marvel of modern science which made a gramophone record of a person’s voice at a modest cost of 6d. It worked by the insertion of a coin in a slot and the person speaking into the microphone could either sing or record a message and it would be recorded on a five inch unbreakable record was immediately delivered and would play on any gramophone. It was stated that up to 125 words could be recorded.

Apart of its attraction stated at the time that it would give pleasure to your friends in any part of the world to receive one of those vocal messages at a small charge of just 6d plus 2d for an envelope and gramophone needles. The machine was installed in a private booth which enabled personal messages to be recorded. Vastly different than having a recorder always ready at the press of a button on a mobile phone.

A short history of Social Care at Penkhull Cottage Homes by Dr Richard Talbot MBE

Without doubt many people reading this will have heard of Penkhull Cottage Homes off Newcastle Lane, Penkhull. In fact, probably many may have lived there, or their parents, grandparents, relatives, or friends. No matter who they are would have strong memories of their experiences – some good some bad.

I had almost completed my book The Royal Manor of Penkhull but over a couple of months I received calls from people recently moving into the old homes houses in what is now St. Christopher’s Avenue asking was there any information they could obtain on its history. The answer was no – it was considered that it had become a taboo subject, and yet, I thought that if something is not done now whilst there remain people alive who can share their stories – its very existence would have been lost in a few more years. So, I challenged myself to research the subject and include this in my book.

I used the media to ask former inmate children to make contact and was delighted that quite a number did and to my surprise apart from their memories many had kept precious old black and white snaps that I was free to use.

The idea of ‘cottage homes’  came out of the fact that society began to think that the treatment of children who accompanied their parents into workhouses as well as those should not be subject to the same rules as adults but rather be accommodated outside of institutions in large homes with an appointed ‘mother’ frequently a spinster, who would take care of them. It was also the idea that they should attend local schools and places of religious worship and where possible have a more normal life than previously. From then on, once babies born into workhouse life and weened, they were removed from the mother and placed in the care of the cottage home.

The entrance and gates to Penkhull Cottage Homes

Penkhull Cottage Homes were opened on Friday, 19th December 1901. New boots, shoes, and clothes were purchased for the children ready for the grand opening. In January 1902, there were 144 children and by 1925, 240 living at Penkhull Homes. Visiting was only allowed on the first Saturday of the month, between the hours of 3pm. and 5pm. The sending of children to be placed into care was simple and was adopted by the Board of Guardians under the 1899 Act. Hundreds of children were taken into Penkhull Cottage Homes each year on this basis as orphans, or from parents that were either incapable of looking after their children, or  because of abject poverty, unemployment, family breakdowns, death, or in many cases the parents just did not care. For example, for one month, in 1911, 63 children were deserted by their parents, just left at the door of the receiving officer, no questions asked. 

But what was the general perception of the children in care. Interesting, but it’s a certain fact that I, like most of my age were told that if we didn’t behave we would be sent to Penkhull Cottage Homes – why – because it was assume that all the children there were naughty. I learnt that was not the case but in reality, I now feel they were all victim of the time. But what was life really like – space does not allow here. Many orphaned children were sent to Canada or Australia to work on the land, never to be heard of again. Boys were frequently sent away to working boys’ farms such as Wallingford Farm Training Colony or similar institutions, firstly to learn discipline and then a trade. Local schools were used, mostly Penkhull as the nearest but also Cross Street, Harpfields, Springfields and Stoke boys. The logbooks of these schools make horrendous reading, many children sent were illiterate, absenteeism was out of control, children misbehaved. Sadly, some teachers treated cottage home children far worse than other children especially where corporal punishment was concerned.

A 1911 photo of the children at one of the homes – even a cat was part of that home

The centre of activities was the Muster Hall where entertainment was put on for the children and parties and where various groups came to offer their services. It was in the Muster Hall that children had to line up once a month for a short back and sides by local barber Frank Wedgwood who was employed for the day. Frequently children were invited to the pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, local visiting circuses, weekly swimming lessons at Hanley baths and visits to Hanley Park and even to Trentham. For the Coronation of King George V, it was agreed a change from the strict diet at the home for two days and the sum of £2 was granted to buy prises for a sports afternoon. On V.E. day there was celebrated by a proper street party. Tables and chairs were placed down the avenue, each ‘home’ having their own table as a family. Food was somehow found in abundance even though rationing was in operation. In 1911 the homes had its own Boys Brigade group and by the 1920s they joined Penkhull Scout Group.

From the early age of five years, children in each home were expected to play their part in the running of the home. Mother’s job was not to clean, scrub, wash and tidy every day, that was up to the children. It was considered that the discipline for children, as in most homes, was that each child should have some responsibility for its upkeep. Older boys and girls were expected to feed the younger children and teach them how to use knives and forks. When a little older they would take the first steps of laying the breakfast table, then getting ready for the evening meal which was a little more complicated. Breakfast consisted mainly of porridge, not only was it made the previous evening by the older children but also served by them in the morning, then then before school, all would have to be cleared away and dishes washed.

For most children, their experience at Penkhull was good, giving order and some form of stability to their lives where previously there was none or little at the best. Upon reflection many former children now consider themselves even luckier than many children outside with regard to clothes, food, comforts, holidays and general care. Sadly, some children, for whatever reason, were damaged upon arrival; others became unfortunate victims of a system of institutional care.

Annual holiday came early in June 1911 as a number of boys were invited to a summer camp at Skegness. In March 1923, it was decided to fund-raise for a children’s summer outing to Rhyl, probably with the free use of a school room or church hall taking with them hand-made straw mattresses and groceries. Other holidays were to Llandudno on the same basis and for one trip was after the war – an old arm camp outside Southport where they occupied former bunkbeds in detached barracks. Later, individual ‘homes’ booked their own boarding house in Blackpool. The children received just 2d a week pocket money and tried to save from that for the holiday.

On holiday at Llandudno mid 1950s

Unfortunately, there are no records of punishment that have survived, but it is doubtful if much was entered in them anyhow. Some children in care were, according to the evidence from interviews were well treated. Others reported that certain mothers made their wards’ a ‘living hell’, but no one dared to speak out for fear of even worse things happening to them. Some of the boys were beaten and yet the Superintendent did nothing about it. As a punishment, children were made to stand in a corner, have their legs or bottom smacked with the back of a wooden hairbrush. It was apparent that some foster mothers went far beyond any reasonable approach to punishment. One person interviewed was sent to bed all Christmas day for just a silly thing. Missed all the meals, the visit from Santa and lay there all day crying as she listened to the other children playing.

Girls at the former army camp at Southport

Boys who became troublesome, were made to stand on a chair in the cold hallway for hours. There were restrictions on playtime and weekly sweet allowance, and lastly, sent to bed early. Some children when interviewed said their mothers were sadistic with the punishments they inflicted. It was terrible some days to learn just how cruel some of the mothers could be hidden behind closed doors many of which were almost like prison officers.

On holiday at Southport one mother would not allow the boys in her care to wear casual clothes and play around in the fields or the beach like the other children. Even when visiting the town, they had to be dressed up to the hilt and marched in a row.

One of the homes celebrating a birthday party

One thing that most agreed with was that there was never any expression of love, compassion, real care or concern given by mothers. Even when ill in bed there was never any kindness shown, just pure hatred.  On occasions children had the mopping up bucket placed over their heads and told to stand in the hall no matter the age.  Woe-betide-them if they spoke after lights out, as children were threatened a belting with mother’s leather strap. Punishment came in all forms, from the back of a wooden hairbrush on the back of the hand or even worse across your knuckles.

This only represents a fraction of life experienced recorded at Penkhull Cottage Homes, the chapter in my book is over 20,000 words long with loads of photographs – a massive undertaking to research, interviews and compile. It’s unique as the only record of life recorded at Penkhull Cottage Homes and as such a masterclass of social interaction of the period.

If perhaps you or someone you know experienced life in the Homes this book The Royal Manor of Penkhull would be the perfect gift for Christmas and the only account of life in the homes ever written. Once sold out the book will not be reprinted but will become a collector’s item. Its hard back A4 size and available at a reduced price of only £20 including postage in the OK. There are only around 100 left. If interested either message or em me on richard.talbot88@btinternet.com and I will send full details of payment and delivery etc.

Stoke Old Town Hall – a history

With the recent demolition of the single story 1950s council offices in Hill Street, Stoke I thought that I should attempt to compile a short account of the history of Stokes first Town Hall and Market erected in the town of Stoke-upon-Trent which stood for nearly one hundred and fifty years with remarkably very little recorded documentation about its history.  

Stoke old Town Hall and open market.

John Ward, in his history of Stoke-on-Trent 1843 records the only account of the town hall and market which was erected in 1794. It was built on copyhold land in the ownership of John Ward Hassells who, by the will of his grandfather of the same name inherited several plots of land in that area off the new turnpike road from Stoke to Trentham in the early 1790s. One such plot was transferred at a manorial court to eighteen trustees “upon trust to erect and build an edifice, the lower part of which was to be appropriated for the purpose of a market or fair, or both; the upper part for a school house, or such other purpose as the trustees shall direct”.

There was nothing recorded regarding this new town hall which until Simon Shaw wrote in 1829 “Stoke has its own market and town hall, a neat structure, well adapted for public purposes; and under it are lockups, and a place to hold the public fire engine”. Shortly after this a local trade directory gave an insight into the business expectations at the market in 1834. “Modern Stoke has a new Market House and Town Hall, a small neat structure well adapted for public purposes; but the market held every Saturday has not risen to much importance owing to the Hanley market being part in the most populous and central part of the Potteries.”

However, in the early 1830s, because of the limited capacity of this market, the need was expressed for a much larger one. A company of shareholders of £5 each was formed embracing most of the townspeople and householders of the town. The Staffordshire Advertiser records the opening on Saturday 1st August 1835 as a Shambles and any person interested in a stall should contact Mr William Wright although the market was only held once a week on a Saturday. The market was to be erected immediately to the west of the town hall bordering what is now Hide Street and Epworth Street described as commodious and covered new market.

However, as a direct consequence of building the new St Peters-ad-Vincula church and the opening of Glebe Street brought a change in local shopping habits and the focus for business moved slightly to the east leaving this new covered market somewhat devoid of customers. So much so, when the new town hall was erected in Glebe Street the market was transferred there in 1845 to an area now occupied by the Kings Hall and the covered market of 1835 was being used as a shambles by 1859 and a hide and skin marker by 1872.

1937 O.S. Map of Hill Street showing the old town hall

With more pressure on the town council for a larger market it was again relocated to a larger purpose-built building fronting Church Street in 1883 designed by Charles Lynam. However, this new Victorian market was all but destroyed by fire on F.A. Cup final day (22 May 1982). Only the clock tower, entrance arch, fish section and shop frontages in Church Street were saved. The current market in South Wolfe Street was opened in 1984. The former market site with its clock tower was block paved for use as an outdoor trading/event space, and a library and one-stop shop has subsequently added to the site.

The upper room of the town hall in Hill Street was used for numerous meetings both by the Improvement Commissioners and for meetings in general. In 1839 it was used for a public meeting of ratepayers to discuss the highways in the town. However, by 1842 the old Town Hall was being rented out to the Diocesan Commercial School conducted by Mr. J.P. Pearson. B.A. and included the study of: Religious Instruction, English Grammar, Ancient and Modern History, Geography, Writing and Arithmetic and Bookkeeping. The cost per pupil was One Guinea per quarter. By 1847, it was under the instruction of Rev. H.S. Wood, M.A. who also included board for a limited number of students at his home at Oakhill.

At a meeting of Stoke Highway Board for the Liberty of Penkhull held there in 1861 it was noted that the ground floor – the marketplace had been let off as a store for materials and tools at £10 per annum. The Trustees refused to sign the lease as the charges would not even cover any repairs to the building. However, the incoming chairman of the Trustees stated that he has been approached to rent the ground floor for ten shillings a week which had been accepted.

The following year the school appears to have ceased using the old town hall as it was used for public a meeting of rate payers to discuss highway matters. Then in September 1848, it was used by the Peace Movement to hear the report from those who attended the Great Peace Congress at Paris. The room was packed for such an important conference. Ten years later, in August 1858, following a national impetus in the creating Freehold Land Societies, by which created “working class” groups bounded together to provided a rare opportunity for them in owning their own homes. These schemes were nationally, supported by the Liberal Party whereby following the purchase of a plot of land by society members were encouraged to build their own properties. It was noted that in only a short period of time over one hundred members had joined this Stoke group. Many of such groups were formed throughout the Potteries in the latter years of the 19th century.

OS Map c1901 showing the town hall with properties all around it.

The important thing at this meeting was a report on the structure of the building and recorded as it as dilapidated, and the roof was very unsafe and the trustees were having to pay for these repairs out of their own pockets. By 1874, it was reported that the Highways Committee had agreed to the portioning off a section of the ground floor to be used as a fire station. The following year discussions were taking place with regards to the Stoke School of Art, Public Baths, and a new Free Public Library in London Road. A debate followed where it was suggested by Mr. Turner to save the rate payers maintaining any new library that indeed the old town hall should be used both as a library and a museum for the town. The proposal was defeated.

Despite all the differing over these middle years the upper room at Stoke Town Hall was still be used for occasional private hire.  In November 1880, the annual dinner for the Stoke Oven Men Union for eighty people at which Mr. Woodall. M.P. spoke on trade and trade unions. In 1915, one of Stokes leading politicians and businessman, Alderman Mr Frederick Geen died. Listed in his many achievements he became the Mayor of Stoke-upon-Trent for three years in succession, worked hard for the Federation of the six towns in 1910 and was instrumental in the building of the Kings Hall in Stoke. Following his internment at Harshill, a banquet followed at Stoke Old Town Hall for around eighty guests including the Bishop of Lichfield and eminent architect Mr. Charles Lynam.

Little was recorded following this with regards to its use. The ground floor continued to be a storeroom and fire station and the upper room for occasional meetings. It was clear it had become a burden upon Trustees with little hope of a permanent use. It had almost become redundant. In an aerial view of the area in 1937 the building is identified, and all the adjacent properties had been cleared suggesting that this area of Stoke was to be completely cleared for development. This fact is evident from an OS map of 1898 when all the old properties shown on the original sketch had been cleared. However, World War 11 put a stop to any future plans for the site and Stoke Old Town Hall and was demolished the following year in 1938.

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, F.R.Hist.S.

My days as a young lad at All Saints Junior School Boothen.

By Dr Richard Talbot MBE. (written for the Sentinel to be published in their next edition of the monthly The Way we Were.

Like many reading this my early childhood experience at school as a child has no comparison with the experience of today. After WW11, in 1951 (all those years ago) I was moved from Boothen Infants school at the top of All Saints Road, just across the playground to the next school in my educational experience – All Saints Junior School. It was an old building, in fact the main hall and a classroom petitioned off was built as the first Boothen Church opened on All Saint’s Day 1st November 1870 where we held assembly each morning taken by headmaster Mr. William Geary, who once a week played an old 78 classical music record to the gathered company probably in an attempt as an introduction to the classics. As a seven or eight-year-old boy, I don’t’ think it had much affect!

However, upon reflection my four years of life at the school gave me a sense of balance between the circumstances of the time and learning. The cane was still administered – six strokes was normally the worst punishment. I recall in the third year my twin brother having six of the best and I suddenly shouted out to the teacher, “that’s my brother sir” to which came the reply “well in that case you come to the front and take the punishment instead”. I quickly learnt a lesson there!

Viewing the school in perspective with today, perhaps one of the highlights is the state of the playground. It was made up of mostly broken up clinker from coke boilers, no tarmacadam in those days and complete with puddle holes everywhere. If you fell over, and with short trousers it was always grazed knees or elbows. Around the playground were a number of brick and concrete air-raid shelters and on one side stood the boys brick toilet, a very basic construction comprising of about six individual toilets and the urinal was an outside brick wall, painted half-way up with back bitumen paint with a narrow gully at the bottom leading to a grid. No idea how often this was flushed by the caretaker!

During the year there were several efforts to raise money for special occasions, perhaps a jumble sale and the sale of scent cards at 2d each. These were often used by mothers to place in the draw where clean underwear was kept. This small income was to provide a Christmas party for the children probably just over three hundred, each class having around forty in those days. The classrooms were decorated with crape paper cut into strips and twisted as streamers supplemented by colour paper hand-made by the pupils of paper chains. All children had to bring their own dish, cup and spoon identified by a piece of wool being wrapped around the handles etc.

My class of 1952/3 I’m third from the right on the back row

There were no dinners provided at lunch time until the last year following a new hall being erected opposite the school in the grounds of the church. I recall we all wanted to stay for school dinner at 2/11d a week. As I was a twin there were two to pay for, far beyond my mother’s budget – so we continued to walk around a mile home each way for lunch, had probably a bowl of lobby and then walk back again in all weathers – our knees were so chapped in the winter months and we used to have Rosalex rubbed in then at night to reduce the pain.

It was during the winter months that we saw the classroom fires lit with a huge guard around the hearth. No central heating then. The teacher’s desk was adequately placed nearby, no doubt for him/her to keep warm whilst we children sat frozen to death. It was free milk for all children in those days – one third of a pint. Each little bottle was placed on top of the brick hearth around the fire in the hope they would unfreeze or even warm-up before break time. Then every couple of hours the caretaker would come in and reload the fire with a mixture of coal and coke. In those days’ teachers could smoke whist teaching and I recall the deputy head, Mr Carr, who must have got through twenty plus of cigarettes a day in front of his pupils.

Mr Carr taking a lower class 1952/3

Then the day came once a year where every child had to line up in the hall, class following class for the nit nurse visit who stood at the front examining the hair of every child. Her title today would be lice therapist.  To place this into context probably ninety or even more percent of children came from homes with no bathrooms, only a cold water tap over a kitchen sink. Hot water either came from a gas stove whistling kettle or from the kitchen gas boiler used for boiling whites on a Monday. Most children had a wash at the kitchen sink with a kettle full of hot water – “don’t come in mum I’m having a wash” was the usual cry when trousers were dropped for the purpose of splashing a little water over that part of the anatomy. If there was a bath, it was a tin bath on the hearth on a Friday night, cleanest first, dirtiest last was the norm with a fresh kettle of hot water added now and again. Hence the need for a nit nurse. In fact if you look at my class photo you can see how some were so poorly dressed and looking rather bedraggled – sign of the times after the war and father was the only bread-winner in the family.

Yes, there was no comparison today with my years at junior school or even senior school. We used proper ink pens which we dipped into an ink pot set into the wooden desk. Splodges everywhere if you were not careful! We had a full range of subjects to learn although practical subject was out as there was nowhere to have them. As Boothen school was a C of E school, religion was taught several times a week  – I recall the Catechism (the rules of the C of E) being taught for weeks on end until we knew it almost parrot-fashion. In most cases all we had was an exercise book to do our classwork. There were a few hand-out books which were collected at the end of the class but there was certainly no library in the school. It was mostly black-board teaching interrupted only by the teacher throwing his white chalk or even the wooden board-rubber to a child found either nodding off or misbehaving.  I do not recall drama except for the Coronation year when the school produced an historical pageant in the new church hall. That went down well, and the children loved it although I think there was always a bit of a concert at Christmas as I recall my brother singing White Christmas with another boy called Roy Lunt.

During the summer, the highlight was the school Sports day in the playground. Certainly not the best place to run and in the sack-race where we all had trouble with the numerous potholes in the ground. But there were nice times and certainly well supported by parents.

The staff I recall without exception were wonderful. I truly believe they tried their best with all the children under their care without exception despite the problems of the time. On one occasion I had a splint in my finger and was sent to Mr Geary, the headmaster. He always wore his academic gown which was a peculiar shade of green probably through years of service. On this occasion I was invited to sit on a chair in his office where he promptly produced his medical instruments – a needle and a pair of tweezers. After doing the necessary he thanked me for being good during the ‘procedure’ and to my surprise placed a hand in his pocked to produce a penny with the words “that’s for being a good boy”. I have never ever forgotten this act of kindness after sixty years.

The Victoria Hall, Hanley.

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE, Author and Historian.

At the end of my recent article on the Queens Hotel I mentioned briefly of the Borough Councils need of a large Assembly Hall in Hanley the intended name of what is now one of the Potteries treasures, the Victoria Hall.

Following the opening of the town hall in 1886 thoughts turned to the need for large assembly hall. The brief was given to the borough engineer and surveyor, Mr Joseph Lobley. The site was to the rear of the town hall, situated on the former bowling green to the Queens Hotel. The new Assembly Hall had to be of a standard to compliment the new town hall and the reputation of Hanley, the most important and prestigious town in the Potteries.

The main attribute of the new venture has been its outstanding acoustics, valued by world renowned artists. Many over the years considered it a feature by accident and yet previously undiscovered notes and plans show that the hall was specifically designed by Lobley to achieve the reputation it has today. The dimensions were like Birmingham Town Hall but with an additional gallery. The seating accommodation was to be in the region of 2,700.

The priority of Lobley was to create a building with the main consideration being the acoustic properties. The design itself was there to support that first objective. With this in mind Lobley visited Manchester Free Trade Hall and others halls where it was known the acoustics were good to obtain both measurements and structural peculiarities to feed into his calculations for an ideal hall and not a box type hall where sound echoed and reverberated.

Once done, and drawings completed they were sent a to T. Roger Smith, Professor of Architecture at the University College London, one of the countries’ leading authorities on acoustics for his comments. In his response he referred that Mr Lobley had on a regular basis spoke with him about his plans and was delighted that his suggestions had been incorporated in the final draft. He referred to both the front and the back walls that they were semi-circular, which would have the affect of absorbing the sound at the rear of the hall and stop any echo. At the orchestra end the wall encapsulated the sound to project it forward.

In many concert halls, including the Royal Albert Hall at the rear of the top gallery there are arches with the passage-way behind. This allowed the sound to flow as they offered no obstruction to the sound waves whereas a straight wall would. This is incorporated at the Victoria Hall. Looking up to the ceiling I have often wondered why it is so shaped and not simply flat. The ceiling is almost concave in its structure. Even the roof trusses below the ceiling have a purpose as placed there they act to check and break up any tendency of a rolling sound which would certainly be the case with a flat ceiling. In his conclusion, Professor Smith stated that it was his belief that this hall would be commodious and extremely striking in appearance and excellent in its acoustic quality. So, the fact remains that the reputation of the acoustics was down to the ingenuity and determination of one man – Mr Joseph Lobley.

Shortly after the report a decision was made, because of the prestige the new hall would bring to Hanley, it was decided that the name of Assembly Hall be changed to that of Victoria Hall for it was built in the same year the country had celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

The Hall is also renowned for its superb organ which has done the city proud over many years. It was originally installed at the Royal Golden Jubilee Exhibition Centre at Saltaire in 1887 by one of the famous organ builders of the time, Peter Conacher of Huddersfield. With the building of the Victoria Hall the potter, George Meakin, purchased the Saltaire organ and gifted it to Hanley Borough Council in time for the hall’s opening in October 1888. The Hanley organ is known for its tone has attracted top organ recitalists and thrilled audiences ever since 1888. It is a perfect for the accompaniment of choirs and use with orchestras. In 1988, the hall’s centenary, the City Council restored the organ to perfect order and is now regarded as one of the most important concert organs in Europe.

The foundation stone was laid in August 1887 and was officially opened on October 4th, 1888. On October 11th, the same year the first North Staffordshire Musical Festival, a charity concert in aid of the North Staffs. Infirmary and other local hospitals was held. The hall was packed, the arena, balcony and gallery crowded, and in the stalls, people were standing right up to the doors. Since then, the Victoria Hall has witnessed hundreds of occasions like this. In 1905 the world-famous Carl Rosa Opera performed Lohengrin, a romantic opera composed and written by Richard Wagner to a packed house. In fact, the hall soon became a multi-facet venue being used for just about every possible purpose in addition to that of the arts.

During its lifetime, the Victoria Hall has experienced many changes in tastes of music, from world renowned singers, the finest instrumentalists and choirs which still excite audiences. Throughout its history the floorboards have been trod by international evangelists, gospel choirs, politicians, school concerts to spiritualist evenings with Doris Collins and Longton’s Gordon Higginson appearing twice in the 80s. And yet at the height of WW1 objections were made against a Pacifist Meeting in December 1917. Then in 1923 the great wartime evangelist Gipsy Smith held a two-day Christian Mission in April. Whilst on the other hand the international leader of the Salvation Army gave a wartime lecture on An Army on the March in 1941. Following the destruction and miners murdered, women and children battered in the Czech town of Lidice by the Nazis In 1942, a campaign was launched on the 6th September The Lidice Shall Live supported by the mineworkers and people of the Potteries.

Not surprisingly it must be some of the world’s best-known singers that have graced the stage that are remembered such as Paul Robeson who had a magnificent bass voice. On this occasion the audience stood and roared a welcome as he stepped onto the platform – he appeared in 1930 and again in 1939. Then at the other end of the voice scale was international star – tenner Richard Tauber. He appeared in January 1939 and soon thrilled the hall with music by Lehar – You are my hearts delight and others which each in there turn held the audiences spell-bound. Two years later in 1941 he returned this time conducting the London Philharmonic and then again to sing in October 1944. From that year until 1947 saw a flow of appearances of the finest contralto of her time Kathleen Ferrier. In 1944 she appeared with the Etruscan Choral Society in their performance of the Messiah conducted no less then by Malcolm Sargent. In 1947, she appeared with the Ceramic City Choir in their Messiah alongside the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and again the same year again with the Etruscan Choir.

A further favourite for the Potteries was Gracie Fields who appeared in November 1949 and then again for her farewell tour in November 1952 when tears fell at this intensely moving occasion as she sang Sally, Sing as we go, Now is the Hour and lastly Wish me Luck.

Following the end of the war one of the finest husband and wife teams, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth trod the boards to a packed hall in March 1947 delighting the audiences with We’ll gather Lilacs in the spring again and Someday my heart will awake with not a dry eye in the house. This was followed – billed as “Britain’s Greatest Tenor” Josef Locke in Match 1950. Others followed, legends in their own lifetime – Joan Hammond, Nat King Cole, Shirly Bassey, Winifred Attwell, all sell-out audiences. Finally, in 1958, Cliff Richard and the Drifters (with Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch), who later became the Shadows performed their first ever live professional performance together at the Victoria Hall then returned in May 1959.

Choirs at the Victoria Hall over the years are far to numerous to list but include – The Ceramic Choir, frequently with named artists and orchestras, The Etruscan  Choral Society, Burslem Orpheus Male Voice Choir, the Audley and the Biddulph Male Voice Choirs, the Daleian Singers and others.

Now, as always, the Hall has a reputation for large orchestras, The Halle with both John Barbrolli and then Malcolm Sargent conducting. In 1940 they presented a special concert especially for workers advertising ‘come in your working attire, no evening dress’. The Liverpool Philharmonic, The Grenadier Guards Band in 1949 and for years the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra delighted audiences. 

Before we move on to our final section, we cannot pass these reminiscences without a mention of decades of wrestling with regular appearances of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki. All great nights.

From the early 1970s it could be described as Rollermania. Hundreds of groups have performed at the Victoria Hall, some became megastars whilst others have faded away. In April 1972, the Electric Light Orchestra visited but on their return visit in 1976 it was feared that the frenzied audience might literally bring the house down. Sound experts were consulted as screaming rock fans could produce dangerous levels of vibrations. Roy Orbison appeared in July 1972, followed by the great David Bowie in May 1973. In the November of the same year Queen played to a packed house and as so successful played there again in October 1974. Then in May 1975, came a group who had teenagers falling in fits at the feet of the Bay City Rollers. A police security operation was mounted as thousands of fans with no tickets caused chaos and the corridors of the hall became emergency first aid stations as fans fainted or overcome with emotion as lead singer Les McKeown teased his teeny fans.

But someone who really lived up to their bizarre reputation was Elton John who graced the stage on the 6th May 1976. What a night! The vast stage was covered with a white fur carpet as was the top of his elaborate piano. Never one to do things by halves his

concert proved to be a memorable both for his outfits, his glasses and, more importantly his music. Many, so mesmerised were seen jumping onto their seats totally overcome by his performance and transfixed by the brilliance of the man.

The Queens Hotel, Hanley –now Hanley Town Hall

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE. Author and Historian

My guess is that few in the city are aware that Hanley Town Hall is up for sale – it has become redundant because of council services being amalgamated with better use of council stock. This prominent Hanley building became a town hall in 1886, prior to which it was the prestigious Queens Hotel. Sadly, for a combination of reasons its life as a hotel extended just less than twenty years, but no one has over the last one hundred and forty odd years explored its demise, and yet its short life is full of intrigue and wonder as to why the most attractive building in North Staffordshire closed its doors.

The need for such a hotel came about because from the late 18th century, the combined townships of Hanley and Shelton were rapidly expanding with Hanley as the central town of the six and where most of local business was conducted and meetings were held.

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In 1857, because of its growth and importance, the township of Hanley with Shelton become the first incorporated borough of the six towns leaving the other five behind. It became the prominent town of the Potteries where its leaders and influential businesspeople were set on a course for Hanley to become the central and most important town in North Staffordshire.

With its new-found status of a county borough, the town council and leading citizens came to realise that to attract new business to the town that a hotel which outshone all others was important to its growth. As a result, they came together to form the Hanley Hotel Company in July 1864 offering four thousand shares at £5 each for sale. Hanley, they declared was the centre of the Potteries and frequented by china and earthenware dealers, commercial travellers and as such there was an urgent need for public functions and superior accommodation associated with a progressive town like Hanley.

By the end of 1865, a site near to the centre of town had been decided upon and in August the following year Scrivener & Sons of Hanley were appointed as architects. By April 1869, the new hotel was sufficiently near to completion that the directors advertised the Queens Hotel nationally ‘To be Let for a term of years and containing every possible requisite of a first-class family and commercial hotel’. Finally, after four years in the planning and prior to its official opening the new hotel was opened for public viewing on the 1st January 1869. With a wide circulation of press publicity, crowds from all parts of Hanley and the Potteries, dressed for the occasion in their Sunday finery waited in anticipation on the hotel steps, almost in the same vein as for the January sales.

The style was of modern Italian, constructed of red brick with white brick and ashlar dressings with slate roof creating an imposing exterior even today. For those who trod the floors that day, the interior was luxury beyond imagination in contrast to the rows of terraced houses with outside ducket lavatories at the bottom of the yard. Rooms were high and spacious where the principal space was given to the commercial rooms – thirty-six feet long showroom, public meeting rooms, huge billiard room measuring no less then fifty feet long together with the dining room of the same proportions.

The bar was placed at the centre of the building, opposite the entrance hall from where the principal rooms led off. The manager’s room adjoined the bar, and a waiter’s room was nearby. The butler’s pantry and plate closet were close to the principal staircase. Then there were the porters and luggage rooms, coffee room and smoke room. The basement contained numerous sellers, boiler house, icehouse, wash house, and laundry.

On the first floor there were two large board or private sitting rooms, fourteen bedrooms, two dressing rooms bathroom and housemaid’s room: on the second floor, eleven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, one bathroom, linen closet and house maids room, and on the third floor thirteen bedrooms one bathroom, linen closet and house maids room. In addition, there were lavatories on every floor, and a hoist for lifting coals and water to the upper floors. The furniture was of the newest and richest description costing between £4,000 and £5,000. All bedrooms were furnished in mahogany, and on the first and second floors crimson red hangings were attached to the bedsteads. The total cost of the building was £15,000.

One additional feature that it had its own bowling green to the rear, exactly where the current Victoria Hall now stands. This was a private bowling club and well supported by the gentry of the town.

The Queens Hotel was formally inaugurated on Thursday 6th January 1870 with the most lavish, no expense spared banquet followed by a formal ball. The guest list was endless with the Rt.Hon. Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury at the top followed by the board of directors, the Mayor, Aldermen and councillors of the borough, Mr Robert Scrivener, and their guests.

The hotel flourished, its style and ambience attracted the best clientele in the district together with trade exhibitions, conferences, and meetings. It was a huge success and the directors and shareholders were delighted. Their investments appeared both secured and profitable as the Potteries were booming along with the whole world between the years 1850 and 1870. But things were to dramatically change. The euphoria was short lived as the Potteries was hit by a severe worldwide depression in trade by 1873 which lasted until the mid-1890s. As a result, with the huge running costs and mortgage in the centre of in a relative, poor working-class area, declining business the hotel could not meet the demands of its creditors.

Consequently, a meeting of the director was held in March 1876 where the accounts were presented showing a current trade debt of £2,451 and a bank overdraft of £2,860. However, the directors failed to contemplate the seriousness of the situation and carried on in the hope that things would improve. But things did not and at a meeting held a year later with the creditors and shareholders in attendance it was agreed to defer a decision on liquidation for a further three months. It was noted that the takings per week had reduced to £130.

In the meantime, the hotel continued to function despite rising debts and an unrealistic view that things could only get better. But the depression was deep there was no hope. It was almost a year after that a further meeting of shareholders and creditors was held. Here the arguments continued to find a solution; just pay off creditors under £10; a further share issue to raise more capital – but neither was put to the vote, the only conclusion was to avoid the inevitable for now.

Finally, on the 3rd January 1878 with no resolution the hotel was put into liquidation and placed into the hands of Mr Charles Butters for auction. Four days later The Evening Sentinel declared that the problem with the Queens Hotel is that it was principally built on such a large elaborate scale, far beyond the immediate requirements of the district. If the premises were purchased at a moderate price, it may be possible to see it continuing”.

The auction room in Trinity Street was packed to the doors as the auction commenced on Wednesday 27th February. It was stated that the Queens was without doubt the finest building in the Potteries – and if built today the cost would be more than £30,000. The first bid was for just £4,000, then as usual practice it continued in steps of £500 until the final bid of £7,350 was made by Mr. J. T. Keeling, a director of the Queens Hotel. However, in addition to the sale price there was also added to that the outstanding mortgage of £8,700. All appeared done and dusted until Mr Keeling was suddenly taken ill. But the cause was not lost as it passed to Mr. Charles Turner for the sum of £12,000. Having paid £1,200 deposit, pending contract Turner decided not to proceed leaving Mr Keeling in a dilemma. He approached Hanley Borough Council who had previously discussed the matter.

The matter was debated on March 10th which included not only the full council but also the burgesses of Hanley. It became clear that the council had been actively been seeking a resolution to the replacement of the old town hall for seven years, looking at other sites and exploring the possibility of the demolition of the old building, acquiring adjacent properties and building a new town hall. This cost was estimated to be well more than £60,000, far greater than the purchase of the Queens, plus around £2,000 for alterations. The debate however moved onto the provision of a large Assembly Hall for the town and where would that go? This proposed building was estimated to cost in the region £3 to £6,000. And where would it go – to the rear of the hotel on a site currently used for a bowing green. The final vote was fifteen for and twelve against going ahead with the Queens Hotel plan.

They met on 1st June 1883 to debate the issue of the Queens Hotel once more also considering the situation of its old Town Hall in Tontine Street which could no longer accommodate the business of an expanding major town. Finally, the decision was made to purchase the Queens Hotel from Mr Turner at the agreed price of £12,000 plus £50 towards his legal expenses. It took three years to convert the hotel into the new Hanley Town Hall which was opened in July 1886.

The question remains as to what will happen to this building. The options I feel are limited. The major problem being there is no car parking facility. Rooms in the town hall that were previously used as an over-spill for large choirs or orchestras is no longer available for users of the Victoria Hall, so, as a consequence, there may be a reduction in future usage of the hall.

Highway Robbery in the Potteries by Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian.

My guess is that the words ‘highway robbery’ or ‘stand and deliver’ conjure up words that belong to the past and probably have little equivalent in use today.

Turpin was widely glamorised both in poetry, novels and in 1925 his life was made into a silent film followed by further films and a TV series film on the adventures of Dick Turpin from1979–1982.

The number of highwaymen increased in the early 18th century. They targeted stagecoaches, carriages, farmers returning from market and mail coaches. They were usually armed with pistols, wore masks but highway robbers, although on foot and frequently local, caused considerable trouble on the highways of North Staffordshire. Looking through the cases that appeared in the Staffordshire Advertiser there are plenty to chose from. All have different aspects to their cases but so does the punishment – from execution, hard labour and transported either for several years or for life.

Take the case ofMichael Coyle and John Keene who were indicted for a highway robbery committed on Mr George Phillips, a pottery manufacturer at Longport in April 1825. Coyle pleaded not guilty, but then changed his mind to guilty. Coyle, who with Keane, were both charged with stopping Phillips on the highway, threatening his life robbing him of a valuable watch and a little silver. Both were identified by Phillips in court and a man named Beteson, who came to his assistance. The watch was finally traced to Keene.

Phillips, in his statement to the court said that he was returning from Newcastle to Longport around 7.30 p.m. and had around two miles to go. “About a quarter of a mile from home I saw two men advancing towards me. I was on the gallop, and the two men made way as if to let me pass; but when I came between them, the prisoner Coyle laid hold of my bridle. At that moment he failed in stopping the horse; but Keene ran on a little and stopped him. Then Coyle put a pistol to my face and said “do you see this” he then pulled me from my horse falling on to my head. The next I knew they were struggling with me to drag me into a nearby ditch. Coyle then said placing the gun into my left ear “if you make any noise or give any alarm, I’ll blow your brains out”. Then I heard another voice from the top of the bank shout out “what are you going to do with the man – are you going to murder him? To which Coyle replied, “if you don’t hold your noise, I will blow your brains out”. At this point Keene riffled my pockets for the silver coins and removed my watch”.

At this point both ran off in the direction of Longport and not seen again until a pawnbroker at Manchester, who became suspicious when they came into his shop sent for the police. They were subsequently arrested and charged. The jury almost immediately returned a verdict of guilty. The Judge ordered that Coyle and Keene to be removed from the court after being sentenced death for robbery and violence.

The next case is about William Baker where his father kept a cheese stall in Longton market. It appeared that when he was returning with his father from work in April 1848 at about a quarter before 1 o’clock, after passing the Lane End turnpike gate, he saw three men in front coming towards them. In his statement Baker reported that his father was several yards in front. “Once the three passed my father, one approaching me, and I felt a blow on the side of my head and fell to the ground. Looking up I saw Thomas Beardmore, John Roberts and Samuel Heath grab hold of my basket containing items from the stall, a notebook and sixpence in copper and then ran away, leaving the me lying on the road. Hearing a commotion my father turned around and ran back asking me if I had fallen and explained that I had been robbed”. Returning to Longton they reported the matter to the police and all three men were subsequently arrested.

Heath said that he was the worse for drink.  A witness, Robert Viggers, stated that he saw the prisoner Beardmore knock the boy down and run off with the basket. The inspector of police, George Garner retrieved the basket the following morning from the home of Beardmore. He was apprehended and charged the other two of the offence. Heath in his defence said he was walking in front of the other two prisoner’s’ and heard the noise of coppers being handled and turned around to see the other two holding the basket.

The learner to judge then summed up the evidence and after a long consultation the jury returned the verdict of guilty against Beardmore and Robert but acquitted Heath. The judge ordered him to be immediately discharged. Passing sentence on the other two prisoners the judge said “Thomas Beardmore and Joseph Roberts you have been respectively convicted upon satisfactory evidence and you have been found guilty of highway robbery. To deter others from similar crimes, and protect those who lead an honest life, that both of you should be made an example. You will be transported for the term of 10 years”.

There are many cases of highway robbery to be found in old press report’s, but our final case is dated March 1864 and concludes in a different sentence being administered by the judge. James Holt, a labour aged 28 was charged with feloniously assaulting James Sweeney at Tunstall and stealing from his person £1. It was committed against an elderly man, a labourer, on the 9th January as he left a beer house in Burslem as he commenced his way home just before midnight. He was walking along Cross Street and was overtaken by the prisoner, who seized him by the collar, and threatened to knock his brains out if he did not give him the money he had in his pocket. He knocked him down, kicked him in his ribs, and took his money. He had a two shillings and sixpence piece plus several shilling pieces. Witness, David Barlow, admitted to seeing Sweeney followed by Holt in Cross Street at about 12 o’clock on the night in question. He asked Holt if he knew the victim Sweeney, he replied that he did.

At this point the elderly man was lying helpless on the pavement. Barlow assisted by Holt managed to get the victim standing and offered to escort him home. However, Sweeney fell again with Holt on top of him.  Then the witness saw Holt take something from the victim’s pocket which tingled like money. He left and went and gave information to the police. Holt was arrested and taken into custody and on being searched by police found one shilling in silver and other coins. Earlier in the day Holt was seen in the town begging and his companions gave him two or three pints of ale, a loaf of bread and a pound of cheese, and 3p to pay his lodgings. In court he was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

During the early 1800s it should be remembered that even a couple of shillings was considered a large sum of money. As an example, to others the judge would show little compassion and give out a meaningful sentence as an example to others. Transportation was considered a hard punishment as many prisoner’s failed to survive even the sea journey to Australia let alone ten years hard labour. Execution was commonplace frequently for what we would consider minor offences today. Even for the theft of a silk handkerchief or a pony could mean certain death. Did indeed the punishment fit the crime? I will leave it to the reader to decide.

Dr Richard Talbot, MBE, Author and Historian.

The Victoria Hall, Hanley – The Peoples Palace of the Potteries

At the end of my recent article on the Queens Hotel I mentioned briefly of the Borough Councils need of a large Assembly Hall in Hanley the intended name of what is now one of the Potteries treasures, the Victoria Hall.

Notice the proposed name Assembly Hall

Following the opening of the town hall in 1886 thoughts turned to the need for large assembly hall. The brief was given to the borough engineer and surveyor, Mr Joseph Lobley. The site was to the rear of the town hall, situated on the former bowling green to the Queens Hotel. The new Assembly Hall had to be of a standard to compliment the new town hall and the reputation of Hanley, the most important and prestigious town in the Potteries.

The main attribute of the new venture has been its outstanding acoustics, valued by world renowned artists. Many over the years considered it a feature by accident and yet previously undiscovered notes and plans show that the hall was specifically designed by Lobley to achieve the reputation it has today. The dimensions were like Birmingham Town Hall but with an additional gallery. The seating accommodation was to be in the region of 2,700.

The priority of Lobley was to create a building with the main consideration being the acoustic properties. The design itself was there to support that first objective. With this in mind Lobley visited Manchester Free Trade Hall and others halls where it was known the acoustics were good to obtain both measurements and structural peculiarities to feed into his calculations for an ideal hall and not a box type hall where sound echoed and reverberated.

Once done, and drawings completed they were sent a to T. Roger Smith, Professor of Architecture at the University College London, one of the countries’ leading authorities on acoustics for his comments. In his response he referred that Mr Lobley had on a regular basis spoke with him about his plans and was delighted that his suggestions had been incorporated in the final draft. He referred to both the front and the back walls that they were semi-circular, which would have the affect of absorbing the sound at the rear of the hall and stop any echo. At the orchestra end the wall encapsulated the sound to project it forward.

In many concert halls, including the Royal Albert Hall at the rear of the top gallery there are arches with the passage-way behind. This allowed the sound to flow as they offered no obstruction to the sound waves whereas a straight wall would. This is incorporated at the Victoria Hall. Looking up to the ceiling I have often wondered why it is so shaped and not simply flat. The ceiling is almost concave in its structure. Even the roof trusses below the ceiling have a purpose as placed there they act to check and break up any tendency of a rolling sound which would certainly be the case with a flat ceiling. In his conclusion, Professor Smith stated that it was his belief that this hall would be commodious and extremely striking in appearance and excellent in its acoustic quality. So, the fact remains that the reputation of the acoustics was down to the ingenuity and determination of one man – Mr Joseph Lobley.

Shortly after the report a decision was made, because of the prestige the new hall would bring to Hanley, it was decided that the name of Assembly Hall be changed to that of Victoria Hall for it was built in the same year the country had celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

The Hall is also renowned for its superb organ which has done the city proud over many years. It was originally installed at the Royal Golden Jubilee Exhibition Centre at Saltaire in 1887 by one of the famous organ builders of the time, Peter Conacher of Huddersfield. With the building of the Victoria Hall the potter, George Meakin, purchased the Saltaire organ and gifted it to Hanley Borough Council in time for the hall’s opening in October 1888. The Hanley organ is known for its tone has attracted top organ recitalists and thrilled audiences ever since 1888. It is a perfect for the accompaniment of choirs and use with orchestras. In 1988, the hall’s centenary, the City Council restored the organ to perfect order and is now regarded as one of the most important concert organs in Europe.

The foundation stone was laid in August 1887 and was officially opened on October 4th, 1888. On October 11th, the same year the first North Staffordshire Musical Festival, a charity concert in aid of the North Staffs. Infirmary and other local hospitals was held. The hall was packed, the arena, balcony and gallery crowded, and in the stalls, people were standing right up to the doors. Since then, the Victoria Hall has witnessed hundreds of occasions like this. In 1905 the world-famous Carl Rosa Opera performed Lohengrin, a romantic opera composed and written by Richard Wagner to a packed house. In fact, the hall soon became a multi-facet venue being used for just about every possible purpose in addition to that of the arts.

During its lifetime, the Victoria Hall has experienced many changes in tastes of music, from world renowned singers, the finest instrumentalists and choirs which still excite audiences. Throughout its history the floorboards have been trod by international evangelists, gospel choirs, politicians, school concerts to spiritualist evenings with Doris Collins and Longton’s Gordon Higginson appearing twice in the 80s. And yet at the height of WW1 objections were made against a Pacifist Meeting in December 1917. Then in 1923 the great wartime evangelist Gipsy Smith held a two-day Christian Mission in April. Whilst on the other hand the international leader of the Salvation Army gave a wartime lecture on An Army on the March in 1941. Following the destruction and miners murdered, women and children battered in the Czech town of Lidice by the Nazis In 1942, a campaign was launched on the 6th September The Lidice Shall Live supported by the mineworkers and people of the Potteries.

Not surprisingly it must be some of the world’s best-known singers that have graced the stage that are remembered such as Paul Robeson who had a magnificent bass voice. On this occasion the audience stood and roared a welcome as he stepped onto the platform – he appeared in 1930 and again in 1939. Then at the other end of the voice scale was international star – tenner Richard Tauber. He appeared in January 1939 and soon thrilled the hall with music by Lehar – You are my hearts delight and others which each in there turn held the audiences spell-bound. Two years later in 1941 he returned this time conducting the London Philharmonic and then again to sing in October 1944. From that year until 1947 saw a flow of appearances of the finest contralto of her time Kathleen Ferrier. In 1944 she appeared with the Etruscan Choral Society in their performance of the Messiah conducted no less then by Malcolm Sargent. In 1947, she appeared with the Ceramic City Choir in their Messiah alongside the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and again the same year again with the Etruscan Choir.

A further favourite for the Potteries was Gracie Fields who appeared in November 1949 and then again for her farewell tour in November 1952 when tears fell at this intensely moving occasion as she sang Sally, Sing as we go, Now is the Hour and lastly Wish me Luck.

Following the end of the war one of the finest husband and wife teams, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth trod the boards to a packed hall in March 1947 delighting the audiences with We’ll gather Lilacs in the spring again and Someday my heart will awake with not a dry eye in the house. This was followed – billed as “Britain’s Greatest Tenor” Josef Locke in Match 1950. Others followed, legends in their own lifetime – Joan Hammond, Nat King Cole, Shirly Bassey, Winifred Attwell, all sell-out audiences. Finally, in 1958, Cliff Richard and the Drifters (with Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch), who later became the Shadows performed their first ever live professional performance together at the Victoria Hall then returned in May 1959.

Choirs at the Victoria Hall over the years are far to numerous to list but include – The Ceramic Choir, frequently with named artists and orchestras, The Etruscan  Choral Society, Burslem Orpheus Male Voice Choir, the Audley and the Biddulph Male Voice Choirs, the Daleian Singers and others.

Now, as always, the Hall has a reputation for large orchestras, The Halle with both John Barbrolli and then Malcolm Sargent conducting. In 1940 they presented a special concert especially for workers advertising ‘come in your working attire, no evening dress’. The Liverpool Philharmonic, The Grenadier Guards Band in 1949 and for years the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra delighted audiences. 

Before we move on to our final section, we cannot pass these reminiscences without a mention of decades of wrestling with regular appearances of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki. All great nights.

From the early 1970s it could be described as Rollermania. Hundreds of groups have performed at the Victoria Hall, some became megastars whilst others have faded away. In April 1972, the Electric Light Orchestra visited but on their return visit in 1976 it was feared that the frenzied audience might literally bring the house down. Sound experts were consulted as screaming rock fans could produce dangerous levels of vibrations. Roy Orbison appeared in July 1972, followed by the great David Bowie in May 1973. In the November of the same year Queen played to a packed house and as so successful played there again in October 1974. Then in May 1975, came a group who had teenagers falling in fits at the feet of the Bay City Rollers. A police security operation was mounted as thousands of fans with no tickets caused chaos and the corridors of the hall became emergency first aid stations as fans fainted or overcome with emotion as lead singer Les McKeown teased his teeny fans.

But someone who really lived up to their bizarre reputation was Elton John who graced the stage on the 6th May 1976. What a night! The vast stage was covered with a white fur carpet as was the top of his elaborate piano. Never one to do things by halves his concert proved to be a memorable both for his outfits, his glasses and, more importantly his music. Many, so mesmerised were seen jumping onto their seats totally overcome by his performance and transfixed by the brilliance of the man.

The former Queens Hotel, now Hanley Town Hall up for sale!!!

By Dr Richard Talbot, MBE. Author and Historian

My guess is that few in the city are aware that Hanley Town Hall is up for sale – it has become redundant because of council services being amalgamated with better use of council stock. This prominent Hanley building became a town hall in 1886, prior to which it was the prestigious Queens Hotel. Sadly, for a combination of reasons its life as a hotel extended just less than twenty years, but no one has over the last one hundred and forty odd years explored its demise, and yet its short life is full of intrigue and wonder as to why the most attractive building in North Staffordshire closed its doors.

The need for such a hotel came about because from the late 18th century, the combined townships of Hanley and Shelton were rapidly expanding with Hanley as the central town of the six and where most of local business was conducted and meetings were held.

In 1857, because of its growth and importance, the township of Hanley with Shelton become the first incorporated borough of the six towns leaving the other five behind. It became the prominent town of the Potteries where its leaders and influential businesspeople were set on a course for Hanley to become the central and most important town in North Staffordshire.

With its new-found status of a county borough, the town council and leading citizens came to realise that to attract new business to the town that a hotel which outshone all others was important to its growth. As a result, they came together to form the Hanley Hotel Company in July 1864 offering four thousand shares at £5 each for sale. Hanley, they declared was the centre of the Potteries and frequented by china and earthenware dealers, commercial travellers and as such there was an urgent need for public functions and superior accommodation associated with a progressive town like Hanley.

By the end of 1865, a site near to the centre of town had been decided upon and in August the following year Scrivener & Sons of Hanley were appointed as architects. By April 1869, the new hotel was sufficiently near to completion that the directors advertised the Queens Hotel nationally ‘To be Let for a term of years and containing every possible requisite of a first-class family and commercial hotel’. Finally, after four years in the planning and prior to its official opening the new hotel was opened for public viewing on the 1st January 1869. With a wide circulation of press publicity, crowds from all parts of Hanley and the Potteries, dressed for the occasion in their Sunday finery waited in anticipation on the hotel steps, almost in the same vein as for the January sales.

The style was of modern Italian, constructed of red brick with white brick and ashlar dressings with slate roof creating an imposing exterior even today. For those who trod the floors that day, the interior was luxury beyond imagination in contrast to the rows of terraced houses with outside ducket lavatories at the bottom of the yard. Rooms were high and spacious where the principal space was given to the commercial rooms – thirty-six feet long showroom, public meeting rooms, huge billiard room measuring no less then fifty feet long together with the dining room of the same proportions.

The bar was placed at the centre of the building, opposite the entrance hall from where the principal rooms led off. The manager’s room adjoined the bar, and a waiter’s room was nearby. The butler’s pantry and plate closet were close to the principal staircase. Then there were the porters and luggage rooms, coffee room and smoke room. The basement contained numerous sellers, boiler house, icehouse, wash house, and laundry.

On the first floor there were two large board or private sitting rooms, fourteen bedrooms, two dressing rooms bathroom and housemaid’s room: on the second floor, eleven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, one bathroom, linen closet and house maids room, and on the third floor thirteen bedrooms one bathroom, linen closet and house maids room. In addition, there were lavatories on every floor, and a hoist for lifting coals and water to the upper floors. The furniture was of the newest and richest description costing between £4,000 and £5,000. All bedrooms were furnished in mahogany, and on the first and second floors crimson red hangings were attached to the bedsteads. The total cost of the building was £15,000.

One additional feature that it had its own bowling green to the rear, exactly where the current Victoria Hall now stands. This was a private bowling club and well supported by the gentry of the town.

The Queens Hotel was formally inaugurated on Thursday 6th January 1870 with the most lavish, no expense spared banquet followed by a formal ball. The guest list was endless with the Rt.Hon. Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury at the top followed by the board of directors, the Mayor, Aldermen and councillors of the borough, Mr Robert Scrivener, and their guests.

The hotel flourished, its style and ambience attracted the best clientele in the district together with trade exhibitions, conferences, and meetings. It was a huge success and the directors and shareholders were delighted. Their investments appeared both secured and profitable as the Potteries were booming along with the whole world between the years 1850 and 1870. But things were to dramatically change. The euphoria was short lived as the Potteries was hit by a severe worldwide depression in trade by 1873 which lasted until the mid-1890s. As a result, with the huge running costs and mortgage in the centre of in a relative, poor working-class area, declining business the hotel could not meet the demands of its creditors.

Consequently, a meeting of the director was held in March 1876 where the accounts were presented showing a current trade debt of £2,451 and a bank overdraft of £2,860. However, the directors failed to contemplate the seriousness of the situation and carried on in the hope that things would improve. But things did not and at a meeting held a year later with the creditors and shareholders in attendance it was agreed to defer a decision on liquidation for a further three months. It was noted that the takings per week had reduced to £130.

In the meantime, the hotel continued to function despite rising debts and an unrealistic view that things could only get better. But the depression was deep there was no hope. It was almost a year after that a further meeting of shareholders and creditors was held. Here the arguments continued to find a solution; just pay off creditors under £10; a further share issue to raise more capital – but neither was put to the vote, the only conclusion was to avoid the inevitable for now.

Finally, on the 3rd January 1878 with no resolution the hotel was put into liquidation and placed into the hands of Mr Charles Butters for auction. Four days later The Evening Sentinel declared that the problem with the Queens Hotel is that it was principally built on such a large elaborate scale, far beyond the immediate requirements of the district. If the premises were purchased at a moderate price, it may be possible to see it continuing”.

The auction room in Trinity Street was packed to the doors as the auction commenced on Wednesday 27th February. It was stated that the Queens was without doubt the finest building in the Potteries – and if built today the cost would be more than £30,000. The first bid was for just £4,000, then as usual practice it continued in steps of £500 until the final bid of £7,350 was made by Mr. J. T. Keeling, a director of the Queens Hotel. However, in addition to the sale price there was also added to that the outstanding mortgage of £8,700. All appeared done and dusted until Mr Keeling was suddenly taken ill. But the cause was not lost as it passed to Mr. Charles Turner for the sum of £12,000. Having paid £1,200 deposit, pending contract Turner decided not to proceed leaving Mr Keeling in a dilemma. He approached Hanley Borough Council who had previously discussed the matter.

The matter was debated on March 10th which included not only the full council but also the burgesses of Hanley. It became clear that the council had been actively been seeking a resolution to the replacement of the old town hall for seven years, looking at other sites and exploring the possibility of the demolition of the old building, acquiring adjacent properties and building a new town hall. This cost was estimated to be well more than £60,000, far greater than the purchase of the Queens, plus around £2,000 for alterations. The debate however moved onto the provision of a large Assembly Hall for the town and where would that go? This proposed building was estimated to cost in the region £3 to £6,000. And where would it go – to the rear of the hotel on a site currently used for a bowing green. The final vote was fifteen for and twelve against going ahead with the Queens Hotel plan.

They met on 1st June 1883 to debate the issue of the Queens Hotel once more also considering the situation of its old Town Hall in Tontine Street which could no longer accommodate the business of an expanding major town. Finally, the decision was made to purchase the Queens Hotel from Mr Turner at the agreed price of £12,000 plus £50 towards his legal expenses. It took three years to convert the hotel into the new Hanley Town Hall which was opened in July 1886.

The question remains as to what will happen to this building. The options I feel are limited. The major problem being there is no car parking facility. Rooms in the town hall that were previously used as an over-spill for large choirs or orchestras is no longer available for users of the Victoria Hall, so, as a consequence, there may be a reduction in future usage of the hall.

The Gordon Theatre, a beautiful Edwardian theatre in Stoke.

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE. Author and Historian

As a child living in Stoke along with my brothers, mother and aunt we attended two of the cinemas in the town each week, the Majestic and the Hippodrome in Kingsway. The one thing I remember was my mother used to tell us what the Hippodrome was like when she was a child with live shows and sitting in the gods. Mesmerised by her stories of an era long gone I have always wondered what this Edwardian theatre would be like today if it had survived the downturn of cinemagoing in the sixties.  

By the end of the 1900s, Hanley was the largest town in the Potteries and had to its credit two theatres, the Theatre Royal and the Grand. Both were successful attracting some of the best acts on tour. As a result, it was believed that a lively cultural activity such as theatres in the town attracted business and people.

It was therefore considered that Stoke, with no theatre except a small music-hall lower down in Church Street, thought at theatre was an absolute necessity in such busy manufacturing town as Stoke for after the hurry and scurry of work and business, there was a need for something to cheer and brighten people’s lives for the next day’s struggle. Indeed, the towns people pondered that if a good theatre had been erected in Stoke about twenty years earlier, the town would have been in a far more flourishing state than it was in the late 1800s.

But things were to change as by March 1897, Messrs Crichton and Carlton announced their intention to build a two thousand-seater theatre in Wolfe Street (now Kingsway) only to be criticise by many as it would never pay but the company were confident and appointed architect Mr Charles Lynam to work on preparing plans. It was a wooden structure under the name of the Crown Theatre with the stage sufficiently large enough to accommodate any play on tour.

Thankfully, early Sentinel reports have survived which provide much of the material required for this article. By 1900, Mr D. H. Mountford, proprietor of the Gordon Hotel in Kingsway, (now the White Star) purchased the Crown and was determined to replace the wooden one and erect a theatre of substance that the town would be proud of and far more distinct than any other in the Potteries.

They appointed theatrical architects, Owen and Ward of Birmingham, and construction work was carried out by Thomas Godwin of Hanley. Attempts have been made to locate any archives of the company which may contain plans or even photographs of the interior with Birmingham Archives, the Theatres Trust and the National Archives without any success – but we do have a description.

The Hippodrome, Kingsway, Stoke.

The frontage faced Wolfe Street (after Thomas Wolfe the potter whose works were opposite where the car part now stands). It was built of red Accrington bricks with a terracotta dressing. High above the facade were two dome-shaped cupolas, where stood a gilded figure representing liberty. Lower down mounted was a bust of General Gordon of Khartoum and the theatre name carved in stone. In addition, an iron and glass awning ran the whole length of the building to protect patrons from the elements.

The seating accommodation was two thousand with additional room in the promenade standing area for three to four hundred people. The auditorium comprised of boxes, stalls, rear stalls, pit, dress circle with a family circle – the gods. A feature was the addition of a winter garden approached from the dress circle. Here amid the luxurious surroundings of pretty fountains, and cooling ferns patrons would, in summertime, retire during the interval. The seating was set over three levels, with cantilevers supporting the two balconies to give clear view of the stage. In fact, the stage area was huge measuring 60’ x 40’ with a proscenium arch of 28’6” with a fireproof curtain. It was complete in all details, and the grid sufficiently lofty to fly away scenery for the most-heavy productions. Dressing rooms were beneath the stage, well ventilated and roomy.

Entering by a vestibule, patrons would arrive at a spacious grand hall, with walls tiled in Minton and a ceiling richly decorated in high relief plaster and colours of gold. Proceeding via the grand staircase the foyer was reached from which were the ladies and gentlemen’s cloakrooms, coffee room and saloon, decorated with Japanese papers and enriched feelings. The walls of the foyer were adorned with large paintings by Minton artist Anton Boullemier, and the floors covered with Minton tiles.

Once the auditorium was entered into patrons were immediately drawn to the magnificent painted ceiling, artistically executed hand-painted cupric and floral work having been introduced. The feature is the exquisitely modelled fibrous plaster work of the proscenium arch and boxes, and the ceiling all of which was decorated in delicate tints of terracotta and turquoise blue, relieved by hand-painted panels. The gallery front was decorated with gilded plasterwork, and the drapery around the stage was of turquoise embossed fabric with private boxes arranged in the same style. The building was carpeted throughout, blue velvet tip-up seats and the walls of the auditorium decorated with Japanese wallpaper. To place this theatre into context is was no doubt the finest in North Staffordshire designed at the height of the Edwardian error – lavish in every detail. The whole building was lit with electricity and the final cost amounted to £20,000.

Monday, 12 March 1900 was the opening night where Ben Green’s company presented ‘Belle of New York’ before a large audience. Mr Mountford, the proprietor as expected made his appearance on stage following the curtain call and thanked the audience for their patronage.

The manager, Mr J. D. Greene did much in establishing the theatre on a good firm basis. Through his perseverance, and as a result of his wide experience it soon established itself as conducted in a most efficient and business-like manner. It was predicted at the time of its opening that the Gordon Theatre would become popular as any in the district. Indeed, all who visited the Gordon expressed their delight stating that it was a great benefit to the town of Stoke.

In those days there was no Gilbert and Sullivan or Rogers and Hammerstein, so the programmes consisted mostly of straight plays and operas.  Later in1902, variety acts were being booked into the theatre, but with the nearness of the Grand Theatre in Hanley competition was difficult and audiences dropped away and as a result Mr Mountford decided to close the Gordon in April 1904. However, the darkness did not last long as showman Pat Collins, the well-known fairground proprietor took over the Gordon, then following refurbishment it was re-opened on Whit Monday, 23rd May 1904 but under a new name – Collins’ Hippodrome, Theatre of Varieties. It advertised the opening with the greatest array of British and Continental Artists procurable. The old Gordon was described as entirely refurbished with a new installation of electricity making this the most brilliantly lighted theatre in the UK.

However, with the flair for entertainment Collins took a view that variety would put ‘bums on seats.’  So, what better to open with famous musical stars Marie Loftus and Nellie Watson, along with ‘The Happy Japs’ and the evening concluded with a short exhibition of Animatography showing on the silver screen. As a result of Collins intervention, the Gordon soon became successful as he realised that people wanted to move from plays and opera to ‘Variety’.

Probably the highlight of Collins ownership of the theatre saw a major international star arrive in Stoke upon Trent, Eugene Stratton, a song and dance man and part of a minstrel group before going solo – rather like Al Jolson in October 1904. Stratton was famed as a ‘Coon singer’ – blackening his face with make-up to do so. Stratton performed his two songs which was met with ferocious applause.

It was not long after that Collins sold the Hippodrome to Mr T. Allen Edwardes, with extensive knowledge of running music halls and presented his first show in January 1905 featuring another star of the musical era Vesta Tilley. However, his reign only lasted until 1909 but the next proprietor, Frank Macnaghten only ran the business for two years changing hands once more in 1911. On this occasion the Gordon reverted back to Mr Edwardes and introduced the former programme of dramas and operas with the usual Christmas pantomime such as Little Miss Ragtime in 1912 and Little Bo Peep in 1913.

It was about this time that cinemas started to open providing a different form of entertainment with slap stick comedy in black and white and Stoke saw two cinemas opening in 1912, the  Princes Picture House in Wharf Street, and the Majestic in Campbell Place. As a consequence, theatres were hit hard and even more so as soldiers returned from WW1 and sought more light relief entertainment.  By April 1919 as a result of falling revenue the Gordon made the decision to close as a live venue. With screen in place it re-opened as the Hippodrome as a full-time picture house with Lou Faversham and Barber Castleton in ‘The Silver King’, and Charlie Chaplin in ‘Shoulder Arms’ on Easter Monday 21 April 1919. The advertisement read – “Stokes Super Cinema” completely reconstructed, redecorated, refurbished with the latest scientific cinema installation. As a result. audience returned to this new Picture House no longer a live theatre.

From this point it carried on its business successfully until December 1951 when the Hippodrome was closed for a programme of renovations which transformed it from the beautiful Edwardian theatre for ever. The gods were removed, the circle and stalls re-seated. And redecorated and all the original artistic plaster mouldings removed. Finally completed the cinema reopened on the 28 July 1952 showing of the film ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. From this date it became part of the Gaumont group.

Like many picture houses at the beginning of the 1960 audiences fell as a result with the popularity of television, despite the integration of Cinemascope and was forced to close its doors on the 14th January 1961 switching off the lights for the last time. It was demolished the following May, even the bust of General Gordon ending up lost forever.

At that time, I worked in Stoke and passed most days and witnessed it’s slow fall from glory and the laughter of past audiences silenced as it succumbed to swing of the wreckers ball and a part of Stoke’s history became a pile of bricks – if only I thought!

The location in Kingsway is occupied by shops and council offices, and all traces of the past, except for the gable end to the stage have disappeared but a plaque on the building does note it’s name – Gordon House.

Today, because of its stunning design and architecture of the interior and exterior it would have been listed and therefore preserved, but like so many treasures in the potteries of that period it fell to the demands of change, but not perhaps for the better.

If you have found this article interesting and would like to learn more about old theatres in the area then I recommend a well researched and well presented book by William Neale ‘Old Theatres in the Potteries’ available from Amazon.

The Horror of two Executions

© Dr. Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian

Stafford Goal

Stafford prison was opened in 1793, replacing a former goal located near to the town’s North Gate. The first hanging at the new prison was held on the 17th August. Until 1832 hanging was the punishment for shoplifting upwards but nine years later the death penalty was abolished except for treason or murder and by 1868 the practice of public executions was abolished and from then held within the prison walls.

In 1965 Parliament finally abolished the death penalty to be replaced with a mandatory sentence of imprisonment for life. Nationally, the last two hanged in the UK were Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen who bludgeoned a man to death to steal just £10 – is a significant footnote in the annals of abolitionist history reads: as they were led to the gallows there was little fuss no public outcry, no headlines in the press and considered little more than run-of-the-mill. – How different this was when the anticipation of a pending executions held in public where thousands gathered from a wide area to watch the last breaths of a life to be extinguished by the law.

Before the 1830s little was published regarding executions but the case of two very different people, Richard Tomlinson and Mary Smith, they were both executed on the 19th February 1834. The journalists then exposed every gruesome detail of the executions leaving little to the imagination

Tomlinson, aged 22, was charged with the murder of Mary Evans at Ranton on the 16th December 1833 and Mary Smith for the murder of her illegitimate child at Bloxwich both of whom suffered the penalty of law in front of Stafford goal.

At the trial of Tomlinson, it was stated by William Tinsley the brother in law of the victim and where Mary Evans lived and where Tomlinson frequented visited. On Sunday the 15th the two left to visit her sister at Knightly. They stayed overnight and the following morning left to visit a conjuror at High Ercall to collect a debt. For some reason Tomlinson, after two miles refused to continue and went to lie face down in a field followed by Evans asking, “what was the matter”, and why he would not continue. By chance Tinsley decided to return home and around 10 a.m. and saw them both coming towards his house but instead turned into a field.

A further witness, John Bentley, saw them walking towards the place where the body was found between 11 and 12 noon. Then shortly after twelve Tomlinson appeared in a local beer shop and burst into tears.  Phillips, the proprietor, asked was he short of money and Tomlinson replied, “far worse than that”. Around 1p.m. Charles Harper, travelling along the road noticed the dead body of a woman a short distance away lying in a ditch face down with a wound on her head bleeding heavily. Tomlinson confessed in the beer shop what he had done and was arrested confessing to the murder following an argument. At court, after pleading guilty in the hope of a more lenient sentence Tomlinson changed his plea to not guilty.  Following the trial, the jury confirmed their decision – guilty.

The Judge, after placing a black cap on his head said the prescribed words to the prisoner. “The sentence of this court is that you will be taken from here to the place from whence you came and there be kept in close confinement until [date of execution], and upon that day that you be taken to the place of execution and there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy upon your soul”.

The case of Mary Smith could not be more different charged with the wilful murder of her illegitimate child at Bloxwich. Smith aged around 24 already had several illegitimate children and now she was pregnant by James Harrison, aged around 60 with whom she lived acting as his servant. As she was nearing her time for delivery, she asked around the village for a place to give birth and found a house nearby, the home of Mrs Maria Cocking where she was to be confined and the midwife duly delivered a healthy girl on the 21st June 1833.

On the 3rd July, Smith left the home of Mrs Cocking and took her baby with her. Smith was dressed in a red cloak and white straw bonnet stating that she was off to see its father James Harrison but instead of taking the shorter turnpike road took the route along the canal side. Various witnesses saw her there for some time pacing up and down the tow path and when asked replied that she was waiting for two men to arrive. This was proven to be a lie in court, but the witnesses confirmed that Smith was the same person. It appeared that later she placed a stone into the baby’s clothes and placed it into the canal but after doing so, she attempted to retrieve her child, but it had sunk out of reach.

She then continued to the home of the father Harrison and upon enquiring where was his daughter but was informed that it was at a home where it was being nursed. By that time the child was discovered floating in the water by a male who had a hey hook with him dragged out the bundle to discover it was in fact a newly born child and took it quickly a nearby Inn, the Spread Eagle and the police sent for. Subsequently on the 8th July an inquest was held, the baby being identified by both the midwife and Mrs Cocking as the child of Smith and the local Doctor confirmed that the cause of death was drowning. The jury after a few minutes pronounced a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against Smith.

At her trial on the 3rd August 1833, the court room was crowed by mostly women who were anxious to hear the trial, and many turned away. Smith was brought to the bar distressed and in a delicate state allowed to sit during the proceedings. The witnesses, together with Mrs Cocking and the midwife all confirmed what had been said at the inquest. After deliberating but for a few minutes the jury returned a verdict of guilty of the wilful murder of an infant and Smith was removed from the court after showing little emotion during the whole proceedings. The execution of both Tomlinson and Smith together was in front of Stafford Goal at 8 o’clock on the 19th March 1834.

As early as six the crowd began to assemble in front of the jail. Thousands of people congregated from all parts of the county many of whom had walked upwards of 20 miles to witness the tragic spectacle. About 7:30 the chaplain, whose prayers had been unceasing in endeavouring to impress upon the unfortunate creatures the need for repentance.  Upon entering the room accompanied by the governor and two police officers in reply to questions from the Chaplain, Tomlinson appeared quite resigned to his fate but at this point he appeared in a state of meekness and reverence.

The two prisoners were then taken to the chapel, Tomlinson was placed on the right of the chaplain in front of the altar.  Mary Smith was then brought in supported by the matron as she was in a state of speechless agony of mind. When she caught the first lamps of Tomlinson kneeling at the communion table, she screamed in despair falling to her knees. She was then raised and supported to the table next to Tomlinson. The Rev Mr Brokerage then commenced the sacramental service, which he read in an unusually impressive and affecting manner. During the reading of the prayer of Humble Access Tomlinson was in earnest devotion and not a muscle of his frame moved. Smith was in a state of mental agony her whole frame quivered with the intensity of her feelings.

The prayers at the end of the service Smith appeared to reflect upon the rapidity with which the few remaining minutes of her life were passing away. At the final words were spoken, the chapel door was opened.

Every arrangement been made, the mournful procession commenced. The silence was only broken by the mournful tolling of the prison bell, and when they came into the area the reading of the burial service was commenced “I am the resurrection and the life,” by the Chaplain. The effects on the solemn thousands of spectators was dramatic as a hush came over the whole gathering. The executioner, with a clean smock frock on, and the brown cotton mask for the eyes stood silent. Tomlinson ascended the drop with a firm step and quietly placed himself under the fatal beam.  Smith tottered sobbing to her place. The ropes were adjusted, and white caps drawn over their faces. The drop fell, and their spirits were ushered into the presence of their God and their mental sufferings were over. As the corpses hung, the silence of the immense crowd was overpowering. The bodies were then cut down after hanging and then removed for burial within the goal grounds.

The Abbots Bromley Murderer.

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian.

The next investigation into Stafford executions relates to that of George Jackson accused of the Abbots Bromley Murder. On this occasion the Staffordshire Sentinel printed a one-off page on the same day as the execution, such was the public interest. Perhaps I have the only one that has survived in my archives? What made this case so absorbing at the time is that two young males were convicted with murder, but only one was hung for the crime.

Coach and Horses, Bromley Hurst

The story commences in May 1857 at the Coach and Horses Inn, situated in the village of Bromley Hurst, a short walk from Abbots Bromley. At the bar stood William Charlesworth, a farmer aged 67 who had been to market to sell cattle and had money on his person. Two young men were also in the bar, George Jackson aged twenty and Charles Brown aged twenty-one. At around midnight Charlesworth left with a friend but were followed by Jackson and Brown who were overheard before they left that they were going to have some fun with him. Charlesworth and his friend soon went their separate ways. Charlesworth had not walked far before he was knocked face down by Jackson. Brown then turned the body over and searching his pockets found a purse containing a large amount of money.

Brown was concerned that Charlesworth may regain consciousness and recognise the pair. A fence post described as thick, heavy and long was then found nearby and according to Jackson the fence post was used by Brown to smash the base of Charlesworth head. The following morning the victim, Charlesworth, was discovered at five a.m. covered in blood, eye socket smashed and his brains protruding, by a labourer called Talbot and the fence post nearby was also stained with blood. He ran to a nearby farm to get help, but nothing could be done. The body was then removed to the home of Charlesworth’s son, Thomas.

Upon enquires the police soon established that Jackson and Brown followed Charlesworth and upon doing so went first to the home of Jackson. The police officer questioned him of his whereabouts the previous evening and noticed blood on his jacket sleeve. Jackson stated it was from a nose-bleed when he fell over on his way home but upon examining the place of the fall there was no sign of blood. Then followed a search of Jackson’s home for the purse and other blood-stained clothing. Nothing was found. Then followed a search of Browns home and again nothing was found.  

Shoes were removed from Jackson to examine footprints at the site of the murder. They were identified as Jacksons. Once more the police, along with the suspects returned to Jacksons home and searched the outbuildings, then as this search drew no evidence, they searched a nearby haystack. This revealed a purse with a substantial amount of money in addition to blood stained clothes belonging to Jackson.

A subsequent inquest was held at which the cause of death was confirmed, and the case went to trial. At the trial Brown admitted that he was with Jackson, but it was Jackson that took the first blow to the back of the head and that he, (Brown) had turned the body over and searched the pockets of the victim. Jackson in his testimony acknowledged that he struck the first blow. Jackson added that Brown rolled him over and robbed the victim stating that if he returned to consciousness it would bring detection. Seeing the stake nearby beat him over his head. Brown on the contrary, denied that he ever struck Charlesworth, and asserted that Jackson’s first blow killed him. The verdict of the jury was they both be convicted of the wilful murder of William Charlesworth and were subsequently sentenced to death.

Despite this verdict several influential and well-known gentlemen attempted to procure a mitigation of the sentence. Through their exertions, a petition was sent to Sir George Grey, paying for a remission of the sentence of death. The petition forcibly set forth that the evidence adduced at the trial did not conclusively prove that the crime of wilful murder or premeditated, and that the prisoners were but young men, of good character, and that the crime had been committed by them while they were excited by drink. The petition was sent to The Right Honourable Sir George Grey Secretary of State for the Home Department.

A reply followed stating that all though a distinction might be drawn between Brown and Jackson, because, although both were guilty in the eyes of the law, there was a clear distinction between Jackson and Brown in as much that it was only Jackson who hit the victim. Jackson remained as charged but Brown had his conviction removed.

From the time of his conviction, Jackson exhibited a perturbed and excited spirit. For two or three days after his trial, he gave way to an intense and sullen grief despite the admonitions of the chaplain. Gradually Jackson became calmer, and apparently resigned to the terrible fate which awaited him but still struggled mentally with his resignation to death. How much he hoped for, and how much he clung to life was made manifest by the bitter and despairing tears he shed, even more so when the news of the respite for his companion in crime was made. Yet despite the contradictory statements made by the prisoners since their conviction tended to show that each alike were legally entitled to mercy, or death. It was not a clear cut case which today would be classed as unsafe.

Perhaps in the anticipation of such a death he was called upon to suffer more pain than in the actual experience, never more seemingly stronger illusions than in his mind. Evidently a young man of strong passions, with the life careering high – all his instincts awake – without those mental powers – he seemed to oscillate between the most opposite states of body and mind – at one time being so feeble that his muscular system seemed to have lost all its force; and then, even more so when his family came on the day prior to the execution to see him for the last time. Jackson became convulsive, with a passionate embrace of those to whom he still was dear, and who were still dear to him. It was only by the sheer force of officers that they separated but he relapsed even before mental anguish had taken a less violent form – into a state of physical prostration.

At length the night preceding the fatal morning came. The rain came on heavily leading more horrors as he contemplated the scene that was about to be taking place. Cold, cheerless, dismal, a most depressing Stafford. There were not the galleries and platforms that were displayed for the execution of Dr Palmer. But from early every highway was being travelled by persons hastening to the goal, crowds hastening along in the sullen, drenching weather. The avenues to the goal became thronged; and excited levity in the anticipation of such a scene. But the anticipations of the officials that the courage of the wretched culprit would be completely destroyed as the fatal hour came was realised.

At about 3 o’clock in the morning, the chaplain visited Jackson and found him in a state complete distress, unable to reply to the questions put to him. Then came the officials with the terrible summons to prepare for death, then he became terribly excited, and fell into the most pitiful paroxysm of tears, sobs, and groans until bought out. The chaplain told him of hope and mercy beyond the grave, the contemplation of the grave, and the ignominious road he must travel to it. Jackson’s only response was – oh dear, oh dear which broke the tone of anguish which escaped his lips.

He staggered violently to the scaffold supported by four warders – sobbing, groaning, struggling and exclaiming – Lord have mercy on me, Lord have mercy upon me. The scene on the drop was most sickening as Jackson was seated on a chair which had been prepared for him, tied and struggling, his whole frame convulsed, and his eyes expressed that of mans alarmed anxiety beyond the imagination.

The rope was, however, speedily placed around his neck by the hangman, the fatal noose adjusted the bell tolled. Then as if by a mixture of premeditation and spasmodic terror, he raised his hand, bent his head and grasped and removed his cap. Again, it was replaced. He continued working himself with terrible muscular violence in the agonies of anticipated death had not the drop instantly fallen he would have overcome hemp ropes and human sinews and thrown himself from the chair.

An audible murmur was expressed a felt horror pervaded the crowd, while this was going on, but, a short struggle, a few listings and heaving he soon became a lifeless corpse in the murky air, and under the sullen rain on a Stafford morning. The crowd of three to four thousand were variously affected; but it was question if any were beneficially influenced. The body, after handing the legal time was cut down was buried within the prison walls. The journalist of the Sentinel in his final words made a most profound assessment of such a horrific scene “that we trust that this painful and disgusting exhibition may contribute to the numbers to the state of public feeling and opinion which shall speedily put an end to capital punishment”.

Dr. William Palmer – the Rugeley Poisoner.

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian.

The final contribution in this series of executions at Stafford is that of Dr William Palmer of Rugeley, one of the most prolific mass murderers of his time attracting national notoriety. In fact, he became the subject of a TV series several years ago.

Born in Rugley, Staffordshire, William Palmer was one of eight children. His father worked as a r, and died when William was twelve leaving his mother with a legacy of some £70,000.

As a seventeen-year-old, Palmer worked as an apprentice chemist, but later studied medicine and qualified as a physician in August 1846.

He returned to his hometown of Rugeley to practise as a doctor, and married Ann Thornton. His mother-in-law, also called Ann had inherited a fortune of £8,000. She died on 18 January 1849, two weeks after coming to stay with Palmer and was known to have lent him money. Palmer was disappointed with the inheritance he and his wife gained from her death, expecting it to be much greater. Palmer had become interested in horse racing and borrowed money from a man he met at the races named Bladen who lent him £600, but soon died in agony at Palmer’s house in May 1850. His wife was surprised to find little money on his person, despite having recently won a large sum at the races and there was no record of the loan to Palmer.  

His first son, William was born in either 1848 or 1850 and outlived his father. Palmer had four more children, all of whom died in infancy. The cause of death for each child was listed as “convolsions”. As infant mortality was not uncommon these deaths were not initially seen as suspicious.

By 1854 Palmer was further in debt and forged his mother’s signature to pay off creditors. He took out insurance policies on his wife, his brother Walter and a friend George Bate. All subsequently died and the insurance company commenced investigations. Then, with huge debts Palmer planned the murder of his friend John Cook who had just inherited £12,000. They attended horse races in 1855 where Cook won £3,000 – Palmer lost a small fortune. During celebration drinks Cook complained that his gin burnt his throat and was violently sick. A few days after they met again and the same happened, but this time Cook became suspicious that he was being poisoned by Palmer.

Palmer was now under pressure from his creditors and Cook became ill following drinks, but Palmer took charge of his medication including the administration of a bottle of gin sent to Cook as a gift. Cook became worse and Palmer defrauded him from his winnings. Palmer then purchased strychnine and administered this in the gin to complete the job. On 21 November Cook died in agony screaming that he was suffocating. At the inquest the jury delivered their verdict that the “Deceased died of poison wilfully administered to him by William Palmer”.

The conclusion of the trial was “that Cook died from a deadly drug administered by the hand of the man who has just forfeited his life which had been proved by an assemblage of evidence seldom equalled in its accumulated force. Society, it was considered, should congratulate itself that justice had not in this instance been frustrated by villainy, and that with all the advantage which English law gives to the prisoner, his coldness, cunning and knowledge have in this case failed to destroy the traces of his guilt and to avert it’s just reward”. When the final order for his execution was read to him, he calmly replied to the effect, that – if it must be, it must be.

During the time in his cell awaiting his execution he was regularly attended by the prison Chaplain, and the prison Governor but at no time would he confess to his crime. On the Friday evening prior to his execution he was visited by the Chaplain, his solicitor and family members. Each of them in turn spent time with the prisoner to say their last farewells. The Chaplain again entreated Palmer to confess if he were guilty but replied – I have nothing to say, and nothing I shall say. After partaking of a little brandy and water the prisoner retired to rest between 12 and 1 o’clock, sleeping very soundly until 2:30 a.m. when he was aroused in order to be readiness for the chaplain.

The Chaplain of the goal, who had been most unremitting to bring the prisoner to a right sense of his predicament visited him as early as 2:30 a.m. remaining with him until five and then returning staying with him until 7:30 a.m. As the time Palmer had to live became ever shorter, the chaplain tried more urgently upon Palmer the necessity of repentance but to no avail. At 7:40 it was announced to the prisoner that the time had nearly arrived for the last sentence of the law to be carried out. The executioner was afterwards introduced into the prison cell. Palmer appeared quite unconcerned, and while the operation of securing his hands was being performed, he showed no symptoms of emotion, simply requesting that the rope might not be drawn too tightly. Minutes after, the prisoner was bought out of the cell and commenced his last journey – this time to the gallows walking with a smile on his face as if he was going to participate in some holiday festival and not to meet his end in a matter of minutes.

The intense and anxiety to witness the execution has already manifested itself by the numbers pouring into Stafford from every direction during the previous day. Trains from all parts being crowded and the streets of Stafford, despite the tolerance of rains which fell without stopping. The public houses were full, and a relentless feeling of excitement appeared to be agitating everyone’s mind. But those who came late in the day in the hope of securing accommodation found it impossible, However, the occupiers of private houses were taking advantage of this by offering accommodation, with no restrictions as to price.

Great efforts were made to provide places from which the execution could be witnessed. The road opposite the goal being narrow, a very small part of the thousands attending will only hope to catch a glimpse of the gallows as every available space commanding a view was full. Platforms were erected for which a charge was made and the front seats a guinea was charged. Barriers were erected, to break the force of any general rush in the crowd, and a large body of police attended to keep control. Some nearby houses had the slates removed from the roof and the top boarded over from which the execution could be witnessed – at a charge.

The platform near the prison was soon occupied. The hum of many voices gradually increased here and there like a morning chorus, but the crowd did not present any displays of brutality which often characterised their demeanour on such occasions. People were gradually admitted within the barriers, and the rain helped to keep the crowd thinner than otherwise would have been the case. The numbers gradually increased intensity to around 35,000. Their demeanour was considered subdued, and the patience with which they awaited, for the execution was remarkable.

At 7:53 on Saturday 14th June 1856, the executioner was introduced into the prison cell. The prisoner received him quite unconcerned while the preliminary operation of securing his hands was being performed. Then the bell gave the first toll, announcing to the crowd the departure of the procession from the cell of the condemned convict led by the Chaplain reading passages from the funeral service. Course murmurs of the crowd arose into a loud buzz of excited expectation. A cry of – hats off – was raised, which was obeyed, the noise subsided, and a respectful, if not solemn, silence succeeded. Every face was easily upturned to catch the first glimpse of the wretched culprit entering the goal Square. The condemned man ascended the steps with a quick, firm step, and placed himself on the centre of the drop, with his face upwards. He was ghastly pale, but preserved an unmoved expression of countenance, indicative of a firm resolution to meet his dreadful fate without flinching. Even with the death bell breaking the silence he exhibited the same indomitable, or rather insensible demeanour which had so frequently held throughout his trial and conviction.

Once under the fatal noose the executioner adjusted the rope, and, having shaken the hands of the prisoner for the final time. Palmer never looked up but remained motionless as a statue during the few seconds occupied by the necessary preparations for the awful termination of his earthly life. He never flinched or shuddered as the executioner placed the rope around his neck and drew the hood over his face. That done, the bolt was immediately withdrawn, and the drop fell. Being a stout heavy man, Palmer never struggled at all; a few compulsive twitching is of his arms and legs alone endured and after a few seconds his limbs hung motionless in death and the criminal yielded up his life to the Almighty for the final judgement.


The Regent Theatre Hanley – nearly burnt down three times.

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian – and former Chairman of the Regent Theatre Trust Ltd.

Battery-operated electric drills and saws are considered a boon to both trades and DIY groups, but they are also a great asset to potential burglars as I found out. It was quite a few years ago when I was campaigning to save the former Gaumont/Odeon cinema in Hanley from demolition to be replaced by a shopping arcade which was proposed from Piccadilly to Pall Mall when, with luck, I came across three potential catastrophic incidents that could have lost this beautiful Grade II theatre for ever.

When the Odeon in Hanley closed and relocated to the new seven screen complex at Festival Park the old building was left empty, boarded up for over ten years or more. When I started my campaign to create a theatre from the empty shell of a former cinema, I secured a set of keys to the building to enable experts to view the building with a view transforming it into a theatre.

However, after a few years it became obvious that it was being targeted. The front entrance had been boarded over with tin sheeting. Just a single door with a huge padlock for security. But at the rear there were two emergency exits from the auditorium which led directly into Pall Mall, and it here with wooden doors that on many occasions access was gained with the use of electric tools. As the issue was becoming serious, I made every effort to visit probably four or five times a week to look if any entry had been made and what damage had been done.

Richard Talbot in the old Gaumont Cinema before retoration

On each visit when I entered the auditorium, I always switched on the four 2kw cleaners flood lights mounted on the ceiling, shining its high-powered light through a cut out. On one such occasion after switching on the lights I noticed that two were just glowing – something was seriously wrong! I climbed the never-ending back stairs in double time, across the roof to gain access into the roof void and walked on planks to the offending lights. The lights had been lifted and placed directly onto the wooden supports. In fact, the whole void was constructed of timber and the huge dome of papier-mâché – once ignited it would go up like a tinder box. It was only a matter of probably a few minutes before the whole lot would have set fire.

On the second occasion, the front door would not open. It was boulted from the inside. I was with the then city conservation officer. Instinctively we ran around to Pall Mall and gained access. We could smell smoke from upstairs. We ran quickly – two steps at a time, it was coming from the ballroom so instinctively we dashed through the doors to find the small fire and managed to put out before any serious damage was done. The culprits had disappeared.

The former ballroom and dancing school

On the third occasion, it was in the auditorium immediately where sections of the dome had collapsed through water damage. It was made of inflammable paper so easy to set alight when dry. Luckily, there was a significant amount of rubble around, so with haste I kicked and gathered with my hands and again managed to put out the fire before it set hold.

I think after that the Pall Mall exit doors were made far more secure to stop any further attempts to burn down this magnificent 1920s Art-Deco building. However, I had not been there at just the right time we would have no Regent to celebrate the arts and to draw thousands to our city from all parts of the Midlands, but rather that arcade, no doubt full of empty shops.


The dangers of not having the MMR injection.

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE, Author and Historian

The recent national publicity regarding the lack of take-up of the MMR vaccine prevention for children of measles, mumps and rubella has caused considerable concern to medical professionals who rightly fear a major outbreak of measles with terrifying consequences including the loss of life. Since 1796, when Edward Jenner an English country doctor introduced a vaccine for smallpox it has saved more lives worldwide than any other vaccine to date.

Britain has one of the best vaccination programs in the world, but it has become clear that not everyone is working for the same goal. The NHS now report that only 86 per cent of children have received two jabs before they are five which is the lowest since 2011/12 significantly below the target of 95 per cent.

Nowadays, little is known of the dieses that once held the country to ransom in the Victorian period and earlier, smallpox, diphtheria, typhus, typhoid, mumps and many others and yet all of these have practically disappeared as a result of vaccinations. Yet despite this they are all still there within the soil, water and the air ready to attack anyone who is vulnerable through no vaccination. Measles, in many cases can be fatal, or it can leave a life-time of health issues, hearing loss, lung and heart problems and, alarmingly the loss of sight.

The use of historical records helps us to evaluate and understand this importance of vaccination today. They show that every town in the potteries was affected by measles in epidemic proportions every few years during the 19th century as they started to expand as a result of industrialisation; poor sanitation; lack of clean drinking water; the close proximity of houses and  cess pits. In many cases as soon as measles retracted from one area, another would become infected. In Newcastle for the month of March in 1876 there were more than fifteen deaths reported, mostly of children under five. The Mayor, in an explanation as to the cause put it down to the recent bad weather!

In Stoke there were 425 children absent from school because of the sickness the following month and in August there was a major epidemic in Burslem. Here, 23 children under the age of five died of measles, and yet only one boy unvaccinated died of smallpox proving the value of vaccination.

As a result of the epidemic and the increasing number of deaths, all schools were closed for three weeks, Sunday schools were cancelled, and many places of entertainment saw a huge drop in business. The town was almost placed in quarantine as a result of the epidemic. But Burslem was not alone, Tunstall, Wolstanton, Silverdale, Trent Vale and Fenton all fell victim to the disease two weeks later. For each town it had become the norm to close schools for three weeks in an attempt to curtail the number of deaths. In July 1876, Fenton witnessed the deaths of 27.27 per thousand of population. Throughout the summer they had to deal with other outbreaks of scarlet fever, whooping cough as well as measles causing even more pain and family suffering and funerals.

Workhouses at Stoke and Chell were closed to visitors and restrictions were placed on movement as they too suffered the consequences with many deaths. New epidemics were repeated every two or three years throughout the whole of North Staffordshire.

And yet today despite media warnings we now have a generation of parents unaware as to the possible consequence of measles and fail to comprehend the importance of getting their child vaccinated with the MMR jab. The Anti-Vax group is misguided on the basis of the report of twenty years ago by the discredited Doctor Andrew Wakefield that there was a possibility of a link between MMR and autism. This has been totally refuted by the Lancet. 

Dr Robin Nandy chief immunisation UNICEF, said “within two generations people have forgotten how dangerous these diseases can be. I’m from the generation of physicians that have seen children hundreds dying from measles in parts of Africa”. In the UK I believe it is complacency about vaccinations because parents are no longer aware of the consequences of measles, polio or diphtheria – all killers of the 19th century and could still and will do today unless parents take note and have their children vaccinated. It is their responsibility and it is they and they alone who will suffer the grief if they lose their loved ones.

The Winter of 1963 bring back so many memories

© Dr. Richard Talbot MBE

No doubt for people of my age the year 1963 brings back many memories. The thought of watching the Beetles perform live at the Gaumont Cinema (now the Regent) on 3rd March which was the final date of the tour with teenage singer Helen Shapiro headlining with Danny Williams and Kenny Lynch. At the bottom of the programme, in brackets, was an unknown Liverpool group called the Beatles who would have played to a packed audience in excess of over 2,300. Beatlemania hadn’t quite begun then, but it wasn’t far off. Or it could have been the thoughts of the FA Cup third round that lasted a total of sixty-six days and featured no less than 261 postponements, with 16 of the 32 games called off ten times or more. Staggering statistics never to be repeated.

It was also to be the worst never-ending winter that commenced when snow began to fall on Boxing Day, 1962, but no-one enjoying a belated white Christmas in the Midlands could have known what was to come –  it was the big freeze which lasted until March 1963 that I remembered most of all. It was the year that the UK had one of its worst winters since January 1814 with temperatures plummeting so low even sea froze. Huge ice boulders formed on beaches and blizzards caused snowdrifts up to 20ft (6m) deep. The Arctic conditions meant thousands of schools closed, telephone lines were brought down and power cuts hit thousands of homes.

There was snow everywhere and strong winds from the north and east. It was unremittingly cold that penetrated in innermost parts. Arctic conditions, with temperatures of minus 19.4 c, settled in for more than two months, creating huge snowdrifts twenty feet deep in many places, crippling transport and leaving families – most without the luxury of central heating – freezing at home. The rock-solid ground would not even yield for the dead, rendering gravediggers’ shovels useless as a result, burials were suspended for weeks.

Everyday living became a struggle as food prices soared by 30 per cent and households had to rely on water from road tankers because the mains were frozen. All waste-water was used to flush the toilet. There was not even a regular football programme to provide sports fans with a distraction from the biting misery of one of the coldest winters on record and the freeze gave rise to the creation of the Pools Panel while the FA Cup Final was played on May 25, three weeks later than the year before.

It was not until March 6, when Britain awoke to a frost-free morning, that winter finally loosened its icy grip on North Staffordshire and the rest of the country. December had begun with an anticyclone near the UK and this gave cold frosty, foggy conditions. There was a fear of a repeat of what happened during early December 1952 when thick smog was believed to have killed thousands but fortunately it was not on the same scale.

So, as a young teenager I experienced all this with freezing pipes and only a coal fire and frozen bedrooms challenging. But there were opportunities to enjoy – if that’s the right word – the effects of the weather. The one thing that after seeing that Trentham Lake was frozen over as reported in the Sentinel, I wanted to try this out for myself and ‘walk on water’ so to speak. So, one Sunday along with my friend Michael we walked from Stoke to Trentham to witness the spectacle for ourselves. It was one of those enduring memories that I have not forgotten. There must have been several hundred there, even a few ice-skaters with blades. The experience of walking across the ice, then walking across to the islands and then to the far-end of the lake was to me magical. Even now after fifty-odd years I never forgotten this and recalled it so often as the time that I walked across water – almost like the biblical story.

I have already mentioned that many football matches were cancelled. I experienced that first-hand as I was the first aider that accompanied Stoke Boys Club football team each Saturday who played in the North Staffs Alliance team. As young, fit, enthusiastic guys it was always the hope that a game would be held unless the ref called it off at the last minute. We did manage to play many games, and yes, because of the hardness of the ground my services were frequently in demand.

For those lads who did manage to get kicked in a delicate part of the male anatomy there was a further agony awaiting them as I quickly ran across the pitch with a trainers bag full of half-frozen water and sponge in hand, then, quickly pulling open their shorts and applying the sponge where it was most needed certainly solved the problem immediately and they were back playing in double-quick time!!

Christmas at Penkhull Cottage Homes

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE Author and Historian.                          

From the early days of the workhouse, Christmas was celebrated with the prospect of additional fare of roast beef and plumb pudding with a little entertainment for the children whilst the adults had additional tobacco for the men and tea for the women. As early as 1899, pressure were placed on the Spittals Workhouse by the Local Government Board in London that children should no longer be brought up in Workhouse Institutions where they were exposed to many of the undesirables of society. It was finally accepted that individual large homes, grouped together, each under the control of a ‘house mother’ was to become the norm where children could have the experience of a home and attend local schools and churches along with other children.

Sadly, the general perception of Penkhull Cottage Homes was that of a place of physical punishment, restrictions and a regimented dictatorial existence in an attempt to control unruly children. This could not be further from the truth as my interviews with a number of former residents has sown it was a place of safety and for most children a far better existence than a home life of hunger, cold, lack of clothing and education and above all a place where love was replaced by daily punishment.

The new cottage homes in St Christopher’s Avenue, Penkhull was opened in December 1901 and children for the first time experienced the festive period as never before. In January 1902, all the children visited the matinee performance of the pantomime at the Theatre Royal at Hanley, provided free of charge by the proprietor. In addition, the children received gifts. Dr Hind, the medical officer for the Homes, gave picture books to the children, and Messrs Holdgate and Small, and Messrs Vyse and Hill of Stoke gave toys suitable for children of all ages.

Money was short for occasions such as Christmas and the guardians had to be careful where it was spent and certainly luxury items were out of bounds. However, by 1920 the guardians slightly relaxed its rules as it was agreed that an additional expense on food for each home to the value of 2/6d, and the purchase of one toy per child not exceeding 1/- would be permitted in addition to the customary apple and orange per child.

All were placed in the children’s stockings to be opened on Christmas morning. By the 1950s there were improvements, as each child could be purchased one toy at a cost not exceeding 2/- and the amount on food was increased to 2/6d per child.  Staff were given an extra 5/- in cash for the purchase of Christmas Fare.

After the Second World War, Christmas became the highlight of the year as people were starting to feel the benefits and people became more aware of children for what every reason ending up in Penkhull Homes whereby schools and factories had collections for gifts for the children on Christmas day.

Presents were distributed to each child by means of a pillowcase full on Christmas morning. Civic heads and the Rector of Stoke would make an early visit around each of the homes and the Lord Mayor would give each child a silver sixpence. By 1960, the allowance for a Christmas gift for each child rose to 10/- and an additional 7/6d for the housemother. Then it was off to the children’s ward at the N. Staffs Royal Infirmary.

Soon it would be Christmas Dinner time. Children as usual were responsible for setting the table and helping with the vegetables for their house mother. No turkey or even chicken but the welcome sight of a large piece of pork on the dinner table excited them all. Later in the day, a large party would be held in the Muster Hall where all the children and house mothers attended. Even silent movies were shown by a willing Mr Earnest Tew, of Trent Valley Road and local entertainers gave their services free.

But it’s the generosity of others in the community that helped to make their Christmas so special. At Thistley Hough Grammar School for girls, just across the road from St. Christopher’s Avenue, provided an evening of entertainment performed by the staff and girls and long trestles of refreshments were laid out for the children – favourites no doubt jelly and corned-beef sandwiches. The boys looked forward to this from September onwards as every boy would have a girl allocated to look after him for the whole evening – what a treat that was!

There were also other invitations to Christmas parties in their honour from companies such as Creda, the Michelin and the police, the list was endless. The local Rotary Clubs would also organise the annual outing to the pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Hanley the week after Christmas with transport provided. The minute books for 1948 read that “many Christmas gifts, toys, money and books had been sent to the cottage homes, and that the children had been entertained.”

Gordon Chan remembers with joy the number of gifts waiting for him in the dining room on Christmas morning, mostly all donated from charities, companies, groups and individuals. He had never seen so many presents before – totally overwhelmed. Barry Broadhurst and Bill Bratt both former children at the cottage homes like others speak fondly of such happy memories of Christmas, it was just the excitement of it all and the expectation of a present from Santa. Both young boys could not believe the amount of food provided by mother on that day as they all sat around the table for dinner.

Talking to me some twelve years ago, Mrs Dorothy Hill, even at the age of 80, remembers Christmas clearly. We had lovely Christmases. Each foster mother did her own thing. She would make a Christmas cake all secret; only the eldest girl in the house would help her. No Christmas decorations would go up until Christmas Eve. We would all be sent off to bed early after a bath, then having to have our tea in bed, which was so exciting. Mother and the girl would then decorate the dining room with decorations and a Christmas tree. We were so lucky to have a bath because most children outside of the homes would not have that luxury not even a bath and hot water.

Mother used to get us to write a letter to Santa with three items we would like but Mother said we might be lucky and get just one. Most would ask for writing or drawing set or perhaps a toyshop, little things like that or a game, but it was not an expensive one like today. I never knew about the finance, I believed it was Santa but then I found out years after it was Mr Victor Tipton, the husband of Mrs Tipton, who ran the working boy’s home in Bath Terrace, Stoke. Mr. Tipton would come to each home with his sack dressed as Santa. He would knock at the door; we would all be sitting in the dining room waiting. He would bring the sack in and we had to sit then in anticipation to see what Santa had brought us.

All the presents were wrapped with our name on, just so thrilled. Our foster mother would also prepare a stocking, which was hung on the fireguard at night, and then in the morning it was found at the bottom of our beds with an apple, orange, a few chocolates; a new penny, nuts and a sugar mouse. There was a little book or something like that. We thought the world of these. Mother used to prepare the dinner in the house, beautiful all together with crackers on the table and a tree. The yearly message from the King and we all sat around to listenen to from the wireless in mother’s sitting room, that was a treat in itself, then we had to sit and play with the toys we had.

Later we had a large party in the house, cake, jelly, then after tea we had party games. In the 60s Cllr. Doris Robinson, chairman of the Children’s Committee would come around to each home during the day and give us all a new shilling to spend.

Considering the times of such hardship in the Potteries during the 20s to the 60s, perhaps it’s quite remarkable that these children were treated so well despite the fact that many people considered that there were there because they were naughty. In fact, my extensive research, interviews and writings of many former children sent to the homes point clearly that they were victims of the times and society where it was the easiest thing in the world to dump and unwanted child on the doorstep of the Superintendent without questions being asked.

Working Children mid-1800s

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE

“It is impossible to make comparisons today for the working and living conditions of the middle years of the 19th century – and yet it was a reality of life not to be brushed under the carpet. Without exception, the vast majority were either potters or colliers in every town of the Potteries and the challenge to the working class was to avoid the workhouse at all costs. The causes of such deprivation are numerous, the pottery industry was unpredictable especially with the American market.  

Breadwinners, because of the system of wages being paid in the street corner pub, were encouraged by the landlord to have more to drink as he claimed he had not enough change to pay them from a £5 note from the foreman who held the pay for all under him. Many wives, along with their children, would stand outside imploring their husbands to come out before all their wages were spent. But would often return home with a drunken spouse in the certain knowledge they would be evicted the following week as there was no money for the rent or food. For many families the breadwinner would just walk out, leaving his wife and children to the mercies of the Poor Law system, or to survive on just a few pence from the relieving officer. For others, because of industrial disease, many mothers were left widowed at an early age. Against this background of need and lack of sustenance, there was also a lack of education except that offered by Sunday schools.

The 1840s saw the number of children working under the age of 15 number 9,599 for Stoke Union and for Wolstanton and Burslem Union 8,335. There was no such thing as welfare benefits, it was abject poverty that set the tone of employment in the Potteries. As a result, many families living in poverty managed to survive outside of the Poor Law by sending out their children to work from an early age to provide a little extra money each week. This poses the question as to whether children’s work was a means to survival by helping the household economy – or was the situation exploited by employers?

It was certain that without child labour hundreds if not thousands of families would have been forced to apply to the Poor Law Union for admission to the dreaded workhouse. There was an extensive use of children in the pottery industry, in some cases from the age of six, working long hours in appalling conditions. The same applied to children working in the mines from the age of seven or eight, pulling wagons underground, leaving home at 5.30am to return at 6.30pm six days a week for a weekly wage – at 14 – of just 10 shillings.

A report of the 1840s had a lot to say about how children were treated. It was reported that the employers of the day saw nothing wrong in children working a 72-hour week at eight or 10 years of age. As a consequence, their health, growth and education suffered badly. Indeed, most children commenced work in the pottery trade sometimes as young as five or six – as a necessity for family survival or else to be condemned to the workhouse. Children were used as cheap, unskilled labour to fetch and carry, prepare raw materials and to provide power for the few machines that the potters used.

On reaching the age of 14 most children were apprenticed to a trade – thrower, presser, transferer or paintress. Large numbers were employed at the ‘clay end’ of the factory, helping to shape and fire the ware. A thrower, forming pots on the wheel, required three helpers – one to turn the wheel, one to prepare the clay and cut it into balls of the right size and one to carry away the finished wares to the stove where they would dry. A plate-maker or presser also required three helpers – a ‘jigger-turner’, a ‘batter-out’ who prepared the clay and a ‘mould-runner’ which was deemed the hardest job in the factory.

Little boys of eight or nine would take two heavy plaster moulds, each with a damp clay plate on it; and run with them out of the workshop to the drying stove, place the moulds on the shelves, pick up two dried plates on their moulds and run back with them for 12-14 hours a day.

In the winter temperatures could range from just above freezing in the workshop to almost 100 degrees in the stove room. The workshops were dusty and often damp, and this also affected the children’s health.

A normal working day consisted of 12 hours, but many children worked longer if the order books were good. Some orphan children even slept on sacks of straw in their place of work and had to make sure the workshop was warm in the morning. Some, worn-out, overslept so were beaten by the master potter with a clay cutting wire as punishment. Other children were expected to be in the workshop before the adults and to have the place swept, fires lit, water brought in and the clay prepared for the adults. It was usual for children to work overtime for three or more hours per day – this was very hard on the younger children who then had to walk up to three miles to return home. When work was slack, or on a Monday when the master potter did not turn-in as he was still under the influence of drink devoured over the weekend, the pottery bosses relied on the children to work even longer hours for the other four or five days to make up lost time.

Not all children worked in such bad conditions. Where the pottery was decorated with printed designs young girls were employed to cut the patterns out from the sheets of paper before the transferer applied them to the pots. This work was tiring, as the children stood all day and had to be both quick at cutting out and accurate if they were not to spoil the design. In other workshops children painted dozens of teacups or plates. They would have a pattern to copy in front of them and would repeat border designs or floral sprigs on hundreds of pieces per week. These children, usually girls, had some of the better working conditions. Although the pay was very low, the children sat at their work, were rarely ill-treated, and the workshops were usually clean and warm. The wages the children earned ranged from one shilling per week to three shillings and sixpence (5p-17.5p) all of which went to family income to survive another week.

Josiah Bevington, just eight years of age, worked at Mr Hackworth’s pottery in Shelton. He had been a mould-maker for a year and received two shillings (10p) a week and worked very nearly every day. Arriving at about six o’clock, sometimes five, to light fires, his job was to carry the moulds from the worker to the hot-house and back. Josiah had one sister at work, and she received three shillings a week as a paper-cutter. Josiah managed a meal of water for breakfast and potatoes for dinner; sometimes a bit of bacon – not enough for his needs. He had only one set of clothes that he wore each day. However, he could read and write a little as at one time he attended a day-school. But because of work that reduced to only a Sunday school.

Joe Wilkinson, aged 11, worked at Maddocks & Seddon in Burslem, he had worked there from the age of six running moulds. Joe, like most of his friends, could not read or write, but he attended Sunday school to learn the Bible. He had a father, who despite being a collier, had not worked for years and his mother was out of work. He received three shillings and three pence a week. Joe had several sisters and brothers – one brother drove donkeys, another worked in the pit, another had nothing to do and one sister turned a wheel, but the other two were too young. He turned up for work at half-past six and returned home at nine in the evening. Sometimes his master beat him with his fist, once knocking him the other side of the pot-stove as a punishment for being so long at breakfast. Half an hour was allowed but makes Joe work that time before he could go home half-a-mile away. Sadly, Joe never had time to play as he was so tired after work. Having had his supper, he went straight to bed. At work he never wore shoes and stockings as he had only one pair he kept at home for Sundays. He had another set of clothes that he received from his day-school. His father is noted as being good to him because he was a ‘totaller’, meaning he abstained from drink.

The report emphasises the life of children in the mid-1840s – and yet a further one, undertaken 20 years later, shows there had been no improvement at all. In fact, the number of children under the age of 15 working in the potbanks still numbered in the thousands.

George Webb worked for Mr Hopkins at his earthenware factory in Burslem, he is recorded as 10 years old and had worked there since the age of six. George arrived at 6am and worked a 14-hour day at such a young age. The two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) he earns goes to his parents. George can neither read nor write, but he does go to the Bethel Sunday school. His father worked at Sneyd Farm Iron-Stone Pits but had been off work for three weeks with no money due to illness. George had four brothers and one sister who was a dressmaker. One brother was a squeezer, (a hollowware presser) another a handler and the last one a mould runner like George. George went to Sunday school to learn to spell and write but admitted to the report’s authors that he did not know who made him, or who made the world and had never heard talk of heaven. Finally, he doesn’t know if he does right or wrong.

This is the reality of life in the five towns of the Potteries without exception where it was all about survival at any cost, even sending out your children from the age of six to avoid the horror of workhouse life.”

 The Horror of two Executions

© Dr. Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian

Stafford prison was opened in 1793, replacing a former goal located near to the town’s North Gate. The first hanging at the new prison was held on the 17th August. Until 1832 hanging was the punishment for shoplifting upwards but nine years later the death penalty was abolished except for treason or murder and by 1868 the practice of public executions was abolished and from then held within the prison walls.

In 1965 Parliament finally abolished the death penalty to be replaced with a mandatory sentence of imprisonment for life. Nationally, the last two hanged in the UK were Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen who bludgeoned a man to death to steal just £10 – is a significant footnote in the annals of abolitionist history reads: as they were led to the gallows there was little fuss no public outcry, no headlines in the press and considered little more than run-of-the-mill. – How different this was when the anticipation of a pending executions held in public where thousands gathered from a wide area to watch the last breaths of a life to be extinguished by the law.

Before the 1830s little was published regarding executions but the case of two very different people, Richard Tomlinson and Mary Smith, they were both executed on the 19th February 1834. The journalists then exposed every gruesome detail of the executions leaving little to the imagination

Tomlinson, aged 22, was charged with the murder of Mary Evans at Ranton on the 16th December 1833 and Mary Smith for the murder of her illegitimate child at Bloxwich both of whom suffered the penalty of law in front of Stafford goal.

At the trial of Tomlinson, it was stated by William Tinsley the brother in law of the victim and where Mary Evans lived and where Tomlinson frequented visited. On Sunday the 15th the two left to visit her sister at Knightly. They stayed overnight and the following morning left to visit a conjuror at High Ercall to collect a debt. For some reason Tomlinson, after two miles refused to continue and went to lie face down in a field followed by Evans asking, “what was the matter”, and why he would not continue. By chance Tinsley decided to return home and around 10 a.m. and saw them both coming towards his house but instead turned into a field.

A further witness, John Bentley, saw them walking towards the place where the body was found between 11 and 12 noon. Then shortly after twelve Tomlinson appeared in a local beer shop and burst into tears.  Phillips, the proprietor, asked was he short of money and Tomlinson replied, “far worse than that”. Around 1p.m. Charles Harper, travelling along the road noticed the dead body of a woman a short distance away lying in a ditch face down with a wound on her head bleeding heavily. Tomlinson confessed in the beer shop what he had done and was arrested confessing to the murder following an argument. At court, after pleading guilty in the hope of a more lenient sentence Tomlinson changed his plea to not guilty.  Following the trial, the jury confirmed their decision – guilty.

The Judge, after placing a black cap on his head said the prescribed words to the prisoner. “The sentence of this court is that you will be taken from here to the place from whence you came and there be kept in close confinement until [date of execution], and upon that day that you be taken to the place of execution and there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy upon your soul”.

The case of Mary Smith could not be more different charged with the wilful murder of her illegitimate child at Bloxwich. Smith aged around 24 already had several illegitimate children and now she was pregnant by James Harrison, aged around 60 with whom she lived acting as his servant. As she was nearing her time for delivery, she asked around the village for a place to give birth and found a house nearby, the home of Mrs Maria Cocking where she was to be confined and the midwife duly delivered a healthy girl on the 21st June 1833.

On the 3rd July, Smith left the home of Mrs Cocking and took her baby with her. Smith was dressed in a red cloak and white straw bonnet stating that she was off to see its father James Harrison but instead of taking the shorter turnpike road took the route along the canal side. Various witnesses saw her there for some time pacing up and down the tow path and when asked replied that she was waiting for two men to arrive. This was proven to be a lie in court, but the witnesses confirmed that Smith was the same person. It appeared that later she placed a stone into the baby’s clothes and placed it into the canal but after doing so, she attempted to retrieve her child, but it had sunk out of reach.

She then continued to the home of the father Harrison and upon enquiring where was his daughter but was informed that it was at a home where it was being nursed. By that time the child was discovered floating in the water by a male who had a hey hook with him dragged out the bundle to discover it was in fact a newly born child and took it quickly a nearby Inn, the Spread Eagle and the police sent for. Subsequently on the 8th July an inquest was held, the baby being identified by both the midwife and Mrs Cocking as the child of Smith and the local Doctor confirmed that the cause of death was drowning. The jury after a few minutes pronounced a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against Smith.

At her trial on the 3rd August 1833, the court room was crowed by mostly women who were anxious to hear the trial, and many turned away. Smith was brought to the bar distressed and in a delicate state allowed to sit during the proceedings. The witnesses, together with Mrs Cocking and the midwife all confirmed what had been said at the inquest. After deliberating but for a few minutes the jury returned a verdict of guilty of the wilful murder of an infant and Smith was removed from the court after showing little emotion during the whole proceedings. The execution of both Tomlinson and Smith together was in front of Stafford Goal at 8 o’clock on the 19th March 1834.

As early as six the crowd began to assemble in front of the jail. Thousands of people congregated from all parts of the county many of whom had walked upwards of 20 miles to witness the tragic spectacle. About 7:30 the chaplain, whose prayers had been unceasing in endeavouring to impress upon the unfortunate creatures the need for repentance.  Upon entering the room accompanied by the governor and two police officers in reply to questions from the Chaplain, Tomlinson appeared quite resigned to his fate but at this point he appeared in a state of meekness and reverence.

The two prisoners were then taken to the chapel, Tomlinson was placed on the right of the chaplain in front of the altar.  Mary Smith was then brought in supported by the matron as she was in a state of speechless agony of mind. When she caught the first lamps of Tomlinson kneeling at the communion table, she screamed in despair falling to her knees. She was then raised and supported to the table next to Tomlinson. The Rev Mr Brokerage then commenced the sacramental service, which he read in an unusually impressive and affecting manner. During the reading of the prayer of Humble Access Tomlinson was in earnest devotion and not a muscle of his frame moved. Smith was in a state of mental agony her whole frame quivered with the intensity of her feelings.

The prayers at the end of the service Smith appeared to reflect upon the rapidity with which the few remaining minutes of her life were passing away. At the final words were spoken, the chapel door was opened.

Every arrangement been made, the mournful procession commenced. The silence was only broken by the mournful tolling of the prison bell, and when they came into the area the reading of the burial service was commenced “I am the resurrection and the life,” by the Chaplain. The effects on the solemn thousands of spectators was dramatic as a hush came over the whole gathering. The executioner, with a clean smock frock on, and the brown cotton mask for the eyes stood silent. Tomlinson ascended the drop with a firm step and quietly placed himself under the fatal beam.  Smith tottered sobbing to her place. The ropes were adjusted, and white caps drawn over their faces. The drop fell, and their spirits were ushered into the presence of their God and their mental sufferings were over. As the corpses hung, the silence of the immense crowd was overpowering. The bodies were then cut down after hanging and then removed for burial within the goal grounds.

The next in this series covers the case George Jackson, the Abbots Bromley Murderer followed by that of Dr William Palmer known as – The Rugeley Prisoner.

2nd in the series of three – executions.

George Jackson the Abbots Bromley Murderer.

© Dr Richard Talbot, Author and Historian.

The next investigation into Stafford executions relates to that of George Jackson accused of the Abbots Bromley Murder. On this occasion the Staffordshire Sentinel printed a one-off page on the same day as the execution, such was the public interest. Perhaps I have the only one that has survived in my archives? What made this case so absorbing at the time is that two young males were convicted with murder, but only one was hung for the crime.

The story commences in May 1857 at the Coach and Horses Inn, situated in the village of Bromley Hurst, a short walk from Abbots Bromley. At the bar stood William Charlesworth, a farmer aged 67 who had been to market to sell cattle and had money on his person. Two young men were also in the bar, George Jackson aged twenty and Charles Brown aged twenty-one. At around midnight Charlesworth left with a friend but were followed by Jackson and Brown who were overheard before they left that they were going to have some fun with him. Charlesworth and his friend soon went their separate ways. Charlesworth had not walked far before he was knocked face down by Jackson. Brown then turned the body over and searching his pockets found a purse containing a large amount of money.

Brown was concerned that Charlesworth may regain consciousness and recognise the pair. A fence post described as thick, heavy and long was then found nearby and according to Jackson the fence post was used by Brown to smash the base of Charlesworth head. The following morning the victim, Charlesworth, was discovered at five a.m. covered in blood, eye socket smashed and his brains protruding, by a labourer called Talbot and the fence post nearby was also stained with blood. He ran to a nearby farm to get help, but nothing could be done. The body was then removed to the home of Charlesworth’s son, Thomas.

Upon enquires the police soon established that Jackson and Brown followed Charlesworth and upon doing so went first to the home of Jackson. The police officer questioned him of his whereabouts the previous evening and noticed blood on his jacket sleeve. Jackson stated it was from a nose-bleed when he fell over on his way home but upon examining the place of the fall there was no sign of blood. Then followed a search of Jackson’s home for the purse and other blood-stained clothing. Nothing was found. Then followed a search of Browns home and again nothing was found.  

Shoes were removed from Jackson to examine footprints at the site of the murder. They were identified as Jacksons. Once more the police, along with the suspects returned to Jacksons home and searched the outbuildings, then as this search drew no evidence, they searched a nearby haystack. This revealed a purse with a substantial amount of money in addition to blood stained clothes belonging to Jackson.

A subsequent inquest was held at which the cause of death was confirmed, and the case went to trial. At the trial Brown admitted that he was with Jackson, but it was Jackson that took the first blow to the back of the head and that he, (Brown) had turned the body over and searched the pockets of the victim. Jackson in his testimony acknowledged that he struck the first blow. Jackson added that Brown rolled him over and robbed the victim stating that if he returned to consciousness it would bring detection. Seeing the stake nearby beat him over his head. Brown on the contrary, denied that he ever struck Charlesworth, and asserted that Jackson’s first blow killed him. The verdict of the jury was they both be convicted of the wilful murder of William Charlesworth and were subsequently sentenced to death.

Despite this verdict several influential and well-known gentlemen attempted to procure a mitigation of the sentence. Through their exertions, a petition was sent to Sir George Grey, paying for a remission of the sentence of death. The petition forcibly set forth that the evidence adduced at the trial did not conclusively prove that the crime of wilful murder or premeditated, and that the prisoners were but young men, of good character, and that the crime had been committed by them while they were excited by drink. The petition was sent to The Right Honourable Sir George Grey Secretary of State for the Home Department.

A reply followed stating that all though a distinction might be drawn between Brown and Jackson, because, although both were guilty in the eyes of the law, there was a clear distinction between Jackson and Brown in as much that it was only Jackson who hit the victim. Jackson remained as charged but Brown had his conviction removed.

From the time of his conviction, Jackson exhibited a perturbed and excited spirit. For two or three days after his trial, he gave way to an intense and sullen grief despite the admonitions of the chaplain. Gradually Jackson became calmer, and apparently resigned to the terrible fate which awaited him but still struggled mentally with his resignation to death. How much he hoped for, and how much he clung to life was made manifest by the bitter and despairing tears he shed, even more so when the news of the respite for his companion in crime was made. Yet despite the contradictory statements made by the prisoners since their conviction tended to show that each alike were legally entitled to mercy, or death. It was not a clear cut case which today would be classed as unsafe.

Perhaps in the anticipation of such a death he was called upon to suffer more pain than in the actual experience, never more seemingly stronger illusions than in his mind. Evidently a young man of strong passions, with the life careering high – all his instincts awake – without those mental powers – he seemed to oscillate between the most opposite states of body and mind – at one time being so feeble that his muscular system seemed to have lost all its force; and then, even more so when his family came on the day prior to the execution to see him for the last time. Jackson became convulsive, with a passionate embrace of those to whom he still was dear, and who were still dear to him. It was only by the sheer force of officers that they separated but he relapsed even before mental anguish had taken a less violent form – into a state of physical prostration.

At length the night preceding the fatal morning came. The rain came on heavily leading more horrors as he contemplated the scene that was about to be taking place. Cold, cheerless, dismal, a most depressing Stafford. There were not the galleries and platforms that were displayed for the execution of Dr Palmer. But from early every highway was being travelled by persons hastening to the goal, crowds hastening along in the sullen, drenching weather. The avenues to the goal became thronged; and excited levity in the anticipation of such a scene. But the anticipations of the officials that the courage of the wretched culprit would be completely destroyed as the fatal hour came was realised.

At about 3 o’clock in the morning, the chaplain visited Jackson and found him in a state complete distress, unable to reply to the questions put to him. Then came the officials with the terrible summons to prepare for death, then he became terribly excited, and fell into the most pitiful paroxysm of tears, sobs, and groans until bought out. The chaplain told him of hope and mercy beyond the grave, the contemplation of the grave, and the ignominious road he must travel to it. Jackson’s only response was – oh dear, oh dear which broke the tone of anguish which escaped his lips.

He staggered violently to the scaffold supported by four warders – sobbing, groaning, struggling and exclaiming – Lord have mercy on me, Lord have mercy upon me. The scene on the drop was most sickening as Jackson was seated on a chair which had been prepared for him, tied and struggling, his whole frame convulsed, and his eyes expressed that of mans alarmed anxiety beyond the imagination.

The rope was, however, speedily placed around his neck by the hangman, the fatal noose adjusted the bell tolled. Then as if by a mixture of premeditation and spasmodic terror, he raised his hand, bent his head and grasped and removed his cap. Again, it was replaced. He continued working himself with terrible muscular violence in the agonies of anticipated death had not the drop instantly fallen he would have overcome hemp ropes and human sinews and thrown himself from the chair.

An audible murmur was expressed a felt horror pervaded the crowd, while this was going on, but, a short struggle, a few listings and heaving he soon became a lifeless corpse in the murky air, and under the sullen rain on a Stafford morning. The crowd of three to four thousand were variously affected; but it was question if any were beneficially influenced. The body, after handing the legal time was cut down was buried within the prison walls. The journalist of the Sentinel in his final words made a most profound assessment of such a horrific scene “that we trust that this painful and disgusting exhibition may contribute to the numbers to the state of public feeling and opinion which shall speedily put an end to capital punishment”.

Dr. William Palmer – the Rugeley Poisoner.


© Dr Richard Talbot, Author and Historian.

The final contribution in this series of executions at Stafford is that of Dr William Palmer of Rugeley, one of the most prolific mass murderers of his time attracting national notoriety. In fact, he became the subject of a TV series several years ago.

Born in RugeleyStaffordshire, William Palmer was one of eight children. His father worked as a sawyer, and died when William was twelve leaving his mother with a legacy of some £70,000.

As a seventeen-year-old, Palmer worked as an apprentice chemist, but later studied medicine and qualified as a physician in August 1846.

He returned to his hometown of Rugeley to practise as a doctor, and married Ann Thornton. His mother-in-law, also called Ann had inherited a fortune of £8,000. She died on 18 January 1849, two weeks after coming to stay with Palmer and was known to have lent him money. Palmer was disappointed with the inheritance he and his wife gained from her death, expecting it to be much greater. Palmer had become interested in horse racing and borrowed money from a man he met at the races named Bladen who lent him £600, but soon died in agony at Palmer’s house in May 1850. His wife was surprised to find little money on his person, despite having recently won a large sum at the races and there was no record of the loan to Palmer.  

His first son, William was born in either 1848 or 1850 and outlived his father. Palmer had four more children, all of whom died in infancy. The cause of death for each child was listed as “convulsions“. As infant mortality was not uncommon these deaths were not initially seen as suspicious.

By 1854 Palmer was further in debt and forged his mother’s signature to pay off creditors. He took out insurance policies on his wife, his brother Walter and a friend George Bate. All subsequently died and the insurance company commenced investigations. Then, with huge debts Palmer planned the murder of his friend John Cook who had just inherited £12,000. They attended horse races in 1855 where Cook won £3,000 – Palmer lost a small fortune. During celebration drinks Cook complained that his gin burnt his throat and was violently sick. A few days after they met again and the same happened, but this time Cook became suspicious that he was being poisoned by Palmer.

Palmer was now under pressure from his creditors and Cook became ill following drinks, but Palmer took charge of his medication including the administration of a bottle of gin sent to Cook as a gift. Cook became worse and Palmer defrauded him from his winnings. Palmer then purchased strychnine and administered this in the gin to complete the job. On 21 November Cook died in agony screaming that he was suffocating. At the inquest the jury delivered their verdict that the “Deceased died of poison wilfully administered to him by William Palmer”.

The conclusion of the trial was “that Cook died from a deadly drug administered by the hand of the man who has just forfeited his life which had been proved by an assemblage of evidence seldom equalled in its accumulated force. Society, it was considered, should congratulate itself that justice had not in this instance been frustrated by villainy, and that with all the advantage which English law gives to the prisoner, his coldness, cunning and knowledge have in this case failed to destroy the traces of his guilt and to avert it’s just reward”. When the final order for his execution was read to him, he calmly replied to the effect, that – if it must be, it must be.

During the time in his cell awaiting his execution he was regularly attended by the prison Chaplain, and the prison Governor but at no time would he confess to his crime. On the Friday evening prior to his execution he was visited by the Chaplain, his solicitor and family members. Each of them in turn spent time with the prisoner to say their last farewells. The Chaplain again entreated Palmer to confess if he were guilty but replied – I have nothing to say, and nothing I shall say. After partaking of a little brandy and water the prisoner retired to rest between 12 and 1 o’clock, sleeping very soundly until 2:30 a.m. when he was aroused in order to be readiness for the chaplain.

The Chaplain of the goal, who had been most unremitting to bring the prisoner to a right sense of his predicament visited him as early as 2:30 a.m. remaining with him until five and then returning staying with him until 7:30 a.m. As the time Palmer had to live became ever shorter, the chaplain tried more urgently upon Palmer the necessity of repentance but to no avail. At 7:40 it was announced to the prisoner that the time had nearly arrived for the last sentence of the law to be carried out. The executioner was afterwards introduced into the prison cell. Palmer appeared quite unconcerned, and while the operation of securing his hands was being performed, he showed no symptoms of emotion, simply requesting that the rope might not be drawn too tightly. Minutes after, the prisoner was bought out of the cell and commenced his last journey – this time to the gallows walking with a smile on his face as if he was going to participate in some holiday festival and not to meet his end in a matter of minutes.

The intense and anxiety to witness the execution has already manifested itself by the numbers pouring into Stafford from every direction during the previous day. Trains from all parts being crowded and the streets of Stafford, despite the tolerance of rains which fell without stopping. The public houses were full, and a relentless feeling of excitement appeared to be agitating everyone’s mind. But those who came late in the day in the hope of securing accommodation found it impossible, However, the occupiers of private houses were taking advantage of this by offering accommodation, with no restrictions as to price.

Great efforts were made to provide places from which the execution could be witnessed. The road opposite the goal being narrow, a very small part of the thousands attending will only hope to catch a glimpse of the gallows as every available space commanding a view was full. Platforms were erected for which a charge was made and the front seats a guinea was charged. Barriers were erected, to break the force of any general rush in the crowd, and a large body of police attended to keep control. Some nearby houses had the slates removed from the roof and the top boarded over from which the execution could be witnessed – at a charge.

The platform near the prison was soon occupied. The hum of many voices gradually increased here and there like a morning chorus, but the crowd did not present any displays of brutality which often characterised their demeanour on such occasions. People were gradually admitted within the barriers, and the rain helped to keep the crowd thinner than otherwise would have been the case. The numbers gradually increased intensity to around 35,000. Their demeanour was considered subdued, and the patience with which they awaited, for the execution was remarkable.

At 7:53 on Saturday 14th June 1856, the executioner was introduced into the prison cell. The prisoner received him quite unconcerned while the preliminary operation of securing his hands was being performed. Then the bell gave the first toll, announcing to the crowd the departure of the procession from the cell of the condemned convict led by the Chaplain reading passages from the funeral service. Course murmurs of the crowd arose into a loud buzz of excited expectation. A cry of – hats off – was raised, which was obeyed, the noise subsided, and a respectful, if not solemn, silence succeeded. Every face was easily upturned to catch the first glimpse of the wretched culprit entering the goal Square. The condemned man ascended the steps with a quick, firm step, and placed himself on the centre of the drop, with his face upwards. He was ghastly pale, but preserved an unmoved expression of countenance, indicative of a firm resolution to meet his dreadful fate without flinching. Even with the death bell breaking the silence he exhibited the same indomitable, or rather insensible demeanour which had so frequently held throughout his trial and conviction.

Once under the fatal noose the executioner adjusted the rope, and, having shaken the hands of the prisoner for the final time. Palmer never looked up but remained motionless as a statue during the few seconds occupied by the necessary preparations for the awful termination of his earthly life. He never flinched or shuddered as the executioner placed the rope around his neck and drew the hood over his face. That done, the bolt was immediately withdrawn, and the drop fell. Being a stout heavy man, Palmer never struggled at all; a few compulsive twitching is of his arms and legs alone endured and after a few seconds his limbs hung motionless in death and the criminal yielded up his life to the Almighty for the final judgement.

The Regent Theatre Hanley – nearly burnt down three times.

© Dr Richard Talbot, author and historian and former Chairman of the Regent Theatre Trust.

Battery-operated electric drills and saws are considered a boon to both trades and DIY groups, but they are also a great asset to potential burglars as I found out. It was quite a few years ago when I was campaigning to save the former Gaumont/Odeon cinema in Hanley from demolition to be replaced by a shopping arcade which was proposed from Piccadilly to Pall Mall when, with luck, I came across three potential catastrophic incidents that could have lost this beautiful Grade II theatre for ever.

When the Odeon in Hanley closed and relocated to the new seven screen complex at Festival Park the old building was left empty, boarded up for over ten years or more. When I started my campaign to create a theatre from the empty shell of a former cinema, I secured a set of keys to the building to enable experts to view the building with a view transforming it into a theatre.

However, after a few years it became obvious that it was being targeted. The front entrance had been boarded over with tin sheeting. Just a single door with a huge padlock for security. But at the rear there were two emergency exits from the auditorium which led directly into Pall Mall, and it here with wooden doors that on many occasions access was gained with the use of electric tools. As the issue was becoming serious, I made every effort to visit probably four or five times a week to look if any entry had been made and what damage had been done.

On each visit when I entered the auditorium, I always switched on the four 2kw cleaners flood lights mounted on the ceiling, shining its high-powered light through a cut out. On one such occasion after switching on the lights I noticed that two were just glowing – something was seriously wrong! I climbed the never-ending back stairs in double time, across the roof to gain access into the roof void and walked on planks to the offending lights. The lights had been lifted and placed directly onto the wooden supports. In fact, the whole void was constructed of timber and the huge dome of papier-mâché – once ignited it would go up like a tinder box. It was only a matter of probably a few minutes before the whole lot would have set fire.

On the second occasion, the front door would not open. It was boulted from the inside. I was with the then city conservation officer. Instinctively we ran around to Pall Mall and gained access. We could smell smoke from upstairs. We ran quickly – two steps at a time, it was coming from the ballroom so instinctively we dashed through the doors to find the small fire and managed to put out before any serious damage was done. The culprits had disappeared.

On the third occasion, it was in the auditorium immediately where sections of the dome had collapsed through water damage. It was made of inflammable paper so easy to set alight when dry. Luckily, there was a significant amount of rubble around, so with haste I kicked and gathered with my hands and again managed to put out the fire before it set hold.

I think after that the Pall Mall exit doors were made far more secure to stop any further attempts to burn down this magnificent 1920s Art-Deco building. However, I had not been there at just the right time we would have no Regent to celebrate the arts and to draw thousands to our city from all parts of the Midlands, but rather that arcade, no doubt full of empty shops.

 

Lessons of the Past important for the Future

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE, F.R.Hist.S. Author and Historian.

As one of Staffordshire leading historians I have over the last eighteen months become more concerned of the possibilities of a major outbreak of measles as one the most infectious diseases known. Yet since 1796 when Edward Jenner an English country doctor introduced the vaccine for smallpox – it has saved millions of lives world-wide. In fact, vaccinations have saved more lives in the past 50 years than any other medical procedure or product. The World Health Organisation estimates that it prevented more than 10 million deaths between 2010-2015 alone. However, the media has recently brought to the public’s attention that the up-take of the MMR, measles, mumps and rubella programme is dropping by alarming numbers and putting our children and wider communities at serious risk.

Vaccinations are the cornerstone of any safe, well-functioning health system. The NHS now report that only 86 per cent of children have received two jabs before they were five which is the lowest since 2011/12 which is significantly below the target of 95 per cent. As a direct result cases of measles have trebled in the last twelve months, while mumps is at an all-time high. The WHO report that there 364,808 cases of measles world-wide in the first six months of 2019 – triple that of 2018 and highest since 2006.

Since the MMR was introduced in Britain in 1968 millions of cases of illness have been prevented and thousands of lives have been saved in the past 30 years alone, 20 million cases and 4500 deaths have been avoided according to again the WHO since a vaccine was finally introduced in 1963. The year before the vaccine was introduced there were 500,000 measles cases in Britain and 99 people died but by 2016 the WHO declared Britain measles free. Now we have lost that status.

My archives contain the medical reports for each of the six pottery towns from around the 1870s. The study of these is alarming, distressing to read of the number of children who directly died as a result of measles annually. Measles, in many cases can be fatal. It can leave a life-time of health issues, hearing loss, lung and heart problems and, alarmingly the loss of sight and death.

Every town and village in the potteries was affected by measles in epidemic proportions every few years. In many cases as soon as it retracted from one area, another would become infected. In Newcastle for the month of March in 1876 no less than 15 deaths were reported, mostly of children under five. The Mayor in an explanation as to the cause put it down to the recent bad weather!

The following month in the town of Stoke there were 425 children absent from school because of the sickness and in August there was a major epidemic in Burslem. Here 23 children under the age of five had died as a result of measles, and yet only one boy unvaccinated died of smallpox proving the value of vaccination.

As a result of the epidemic and the increasing number of deaths, all schools were closed for three weeks, church Sunday schools were cancelled, and many places of entertainment saw a huge drop in business. The town was almost placed in quarantine as a result of the massive epidemic. But Burslem was not alone, Tunstall, Wolstanton, Silverdale, Trent Vale and Fenton fell victim to the disease two weeks later. In all towns it had become the norm to close schools for three weeks in an attempt to curtail the number of deaths. In Fenton for the month of July witnessed the deaths of 27.27 per thousand of population. Throughout the summer they had to deal with outbreaks of scarlet fever, whooping cough as well as measles. Workhouses at Stoke and Chell were closed to visitors and restrictions were placed on movement as they too suffered the consequences in their schools. The results of this epidemic were replicated every two or three years throughout the whole of North Staffordshire.

These facts stand as the possible consequence of measles today which are so important to place them into context of what could happen again if the numbers of children vaccinated continue to fall. The Anti-Vax group are misguided on the basis of the report 20 years ago by the discredited Doctor Andrew Wakefield that there was a possibility of a link between MMR and autism. This has been totally refuted by the Lancet. 

Dr Robin Nandy chief immunisation UNICEF, said “within two generations people have forgotten how dangerous these diseases can be. I’m from the generation of physicians that have seen children hundreds dying from measles in parts of Africa”. In the UK I believe it is complacency about vaccinations because parents are no longer aware of the consequences of measles, polio or diphtheria – all killers of the 19th century and could still and will do today unless parents take note and have their children vaccinated. It is there responsibility and it is they and they alone who will suffer the grief if they lose their loved ones.

              Christmas at Penkhull Cottage Homes

By Dr Richard Talbot, Author and Historian.

From the early days of the workhouse, Christmas was celebrated with the prospect of additional fare of roast beef and plumb pudding with a little entertainment for the children whilst the adults had additional tobacco for the men and tea for the women. As early as 1899, pressure were placed on the Spittals Workhouse by the Local Government Board in London that children should no longer be brought up in Workhouse Institutions where they were exposed to many of the undesirables of society. It was finally accepted that individual large homes, grouped together, each under the control of a ‘house mother’ was to become the norm where children could have the experience of a home and attend local schools and churches along with other children.

Penkhull Cottage Homes, off Newcastle Lane, Penkhull

Sadly, the general perception of Penkhull Cottage Homes was that of a place of physical punishment, restrictions and a regimented dictatorial existence in an attempt to control unruly children. This could not be further from the truth as my interviews with a number of former residents has sown it was a place of safety and for most children a far better existence than a home life of hunger, cold, lack of clothing and education and above all a place where love was replaced by daily punishment.

The new cottage homes in St Christopher’s Avenue, Penkhull was opened in December 1901 and children for the first time experienced the festive period as never before. In January 1902, all the children visited the matinee performance of the pantomime at the Theatre Royal at Hanley, provided free of charge by the proprietor. In addition, the children received gifts. Dr Hind, the medical officer for the Homes, gave picture books to the children, and Messrs Holdgate and Small, and Messrs Vyse and Hill of Stoke gave toys suitable for children of all ages.

Money was short for occasions such as Christmas and the guardians had to be careful where it was spent and certainly luxury items were out of bounds. However, by 1920 the guardians slightly relaxed its rules as it was agreed that an additional expense on food for each home to the value of 2/6d, and the purchase of one toy per child not exceeding 1/- would be permitted in addition to the customary apple and orange per child.

All were placed in the children’s stockings to be opened on Christmas morning. By the 1950s there were improvements, as each child could be purchased one toy at a cost not exceeding 2/- and the amount on food was increased to 2/6d per child.  Staff were given an extra 5/- in cash for the purchase of Christmas Fare.

After the Second World War, Christmas became the highlight of the year as people were starting to feel the benefits and people became more aware of children for what every reason ending up in Penkhull Homes whereby schools and factories had collections for gifts for the children on Christmas day.

Presents were distributed to each child by means of a pillowcase full on Christmas morning. Civic heads and the Rector of Stoke would make an early visit around each of the homes and the Lord Mayor would give each child a silver sixpence. By 1960, the allowance for a Christmas gift for each child rose to 10/- and an additional 7/6d for the housemother. Then it was off to the children’s ward at the N. Staffs Royal Infirmary.

Soon it would be Christmas Dinner time. Children as usual were responsible for setting the table and helping with the vegetables for their house mother. No turkey or even chicken but the welcome sight of a large piece of pork on the dinner table excited them all. Later in the day, a large party would be held in the Muster Hall where all the children and house mothers attended. Even silent movies were shown by a willing Mr Earnest Tew, of Trent Valley Road and local entertainers gave their services free.

But it’s the generosity of others in the community that helped to make their Christmas so special. At Thistley Hough Grammar School for girls, just across the road from St. Christopher’s Avenue, provided an evening of entertainment performed by the staff and girls and long trestles of refreshments were laid out for the children – favourites no doubt jelly and corned-beef sandwiches. The boys looked forward to this from September onwards as every boy would have a girl allocated to look after him for the whole evening – what a treat that was!

There were also other invitations to Christmas parties in their honour from companies such as Creda, the Michelin and the police, the list was endless. The local Rotary Clubs would also organise the annual outing to the pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Hanley the week after Christmas with transport provided. The minute books for 1948 read that “many Christmas gifts, toys, money and books had been sent to the cottage homes, and that the children had been entertained.”

Gordon Chan remembers with joy the number of gifts waiting for him in the dining room on Christmas morning, mostly all donated from charities, companies, groups and individuals. He had never seen so many presents before – totally overwhelmed. Barry Broadhurst and Bill Bratt both former children at the cottage homes like others speak fondly of such happy memories of Christmas, it was just the excitement of it all and the expectation of a present from Santa. Both young boys could not believe the amount of food provided by mother on that day as they all sat around the table for dinner.

Talking to me some twelve years ago, Mrs Dorothy Hill, even at the age of 80, remembers Christmas clearly. We had lovely Christmases. Each foster mother did her own thing. She would make a Christmas cake all secret; only the eldest girl in the house would help her. No Christmas decorations would go up until Christmas Eve. We would all be sent off to bed early after a bath, then having to have our tea in bed, which was so exciting. Mother and the girl would then decorate the dining room with decorations and a Christmas tree. We were so lucky to have a bath because most children outside of the homes would not have that luxury not even a bath and hot water.

Mother used to get us to write a letter to Santa with three items we would like but Mother said we might be lucky and get just one. Most would ask for writing or drawing set or perhaps a toyshop, little things like that or a game, but it was not an expensive one like today. I never knew about the finance, I believed it was Santa but then I found out years after it was Mr Victor Tipton, the husband of Mrs Tipton, who ran the working boy’s home in Bath Terrace, Stoke. Mr. Tipton would come to each home with his sack dressed as Santa. He would knock at the door; we would all be sitting in the dining room waiting. He would bring the sack in and we had to sit then in anticipation to see what Santa had brought us.

All the presents were wrapped with our name on, just so thrilled. Our foster mother would also prepare a stocking, which was hung on the fireguard at night, and then in the morning it was found at the bottom of our beds with an apple, orange, a few chocolates; a new penny, nuts and a sugar mouse. There was a little book or something like that. We thought the world of these. Mother used to prepare the dinner in the house, beautiful all together with crackers on the table and a tree. The yearly message from the King and we all sat around to listenen to from the wireless in mother’s sitting room, that was a treat in itself, then we had to sit and play with the toys we had.

Later we had a large party in the house, cake, jelly, then after tea we had party games. In the 60s Cllr. Doris Robinson, chairman of the Children’s Committee would come around to each home during the day and give us all a new shilling to spend.

Considering the times of such hardship in the Potteries during the 20s to the 60s, perhaps it’s quite remarkable that these children were treated so well despite the fact that many people considered that there were there because they were naughty. In fact, my extensive research, interviews and writings of many former children sent to the homes point clearly that they were victims of the times and society where it was the easiest thing in the world to dump and unwanted child on the doorstep of the Superintendent without questions being asked. (Text and photos Copyright Richard Talbot)

Dr Richard Talbot MBE, F.R.Hist.Soc. Historian and Author looks at the facts regarding the story of Molly Leigh, the alleged witch of Burslem.

I consider it an injustice that over the last couple of decades the name of Margaret Leigh of Burslem has been vilified by the press and so-called amateur historians who have taken pleasure in perpetuating the myth that she was actually a witch.

Hardly a month goes without a further slant has been added to this ridicules story in attempt to draw attention to the writer as an authority where history is concerned. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So in attempt to place on record the actual FACTS I have studied these and present a true account re Margaret (Molly) Leigh the supposed witch buried at St. Johns, Burslem 1st April 1748 and the copy of her will dated 25th March 1748 just one week before her death. In my experience over many years this was normal practice.

The Last Will and Testament published in The Sentinel records Margaret as a spinster, but in the parish records she is listed Mrs, probably a curtesy title because of her age and not relevant. Her mother Sarah is listed as Booth suggesting that she, for whatever reason remarried to a Joseph Booth.  Her mother was taken care of in the terms of the Will but Joseph her husband, who she refers to as father-in-law (in reality he was probably her stepfather) she makes it clear that he receives nothing.

Margaret was clearly very well-off with land and property covering a wide area in addition to cash-in-hand as she leaves £400 to the children of her cousin Ann a small fortune then probably £1m today. Money to purchase forty loaves of bread for the poor widows of Sneyd. Margaret, is would appear was loved by all her relatives as she identifies many in her Will. How she acquired such wealth we do not know, perhaps inherited this from her father upon his death. I have tried to trace her father without success.

In addition, after the death of her mother the lands and properties were to be sold and the revenue used to build a hospital in Burslem for the reception and habitation of so many poor women. However, there is no evidence that this was ever done. Margaret was indeed a most generous lady.

On the reverse side of the document and dated 1752, it states that this was a copy of the original Last Will and Testament of Margaret Leigh which was previously in the hands of a private collector. Sadly, the Will was never proved and therefore it is not listed at the Lichfield Diocesan Record Office.

One of the most interesting references at the bottom of the Will which gives clarity to her status in society is that Mr Joseph Lovatt of Penkhull was listed as one of the two Executors.

For part of my master’s degree I studied Joseph Lovatt in depth. He was born in Green Head House, a large farm house in the centre of the village with extensive farm land attached. That house is now The Greyhound Inn.  Joseph was a man of letters, educated in science. Later in life he became the Estate Manager of Chirk Castle near to Wrexham in Wales and placed in charge of the whole estate and its finances. At the National Archives for Wales in Aberystwyth there is a large archive relating to Joseph Lovatt including his Will, his education and a bundle of documents relating to Penkhull. I have copies of them all. These facts alone of Margaret’s association with him and the status he held immediately destroys any possibility whatsoever of her being a witch or of low standing in society.

Some of the notes written on the subject refer to her being deformed or possibly handicapped in some way. She could even have been scared from smallpox as a child and as such, children then as today would make up stories and no doubt torment her. The stories of a blackbird, milking cows and selling the milk in Burslem market to survive and a trial for witchcraft pending are all bolt-ons to an imaginary story to increase is story-telling value especially to children. The explanation is as simple as that.

Regarding her grave being the wrong way around – again there is a simple explanation as graveyards in many cases had no plans and a grave would be dug in any convenient spot. To establish first if the land was clear the Sexton would knock iron rods into the ground to make sure there was no ‘body’ previously buried there, and if that was the case the plot dug out.

But what about the photograph – once more a fantasy as photography was not discovered until the 1820s and then in its experimental stage for many years. It was not until at least the 1880s or 1890s that it became more widely available. So, for around 150 years to suggest that after three or even more generations someone remembered where she lived is stretching the imagination too far.

The date of the picture held in Hanley Archives has no date. In all probability it could have been a picture of any cottage anywhere and then once shown to someone who was aware of the story of Molly Leigh replied, “that could well be a place where a witch could have lived”. Since then the photograph has been portrayed as factual evidence whereas there is no possibility of that as the cottage of Molly Leigh. In reality, with her wealth and status in society and no doubt entertaining local worthies I would suggest that she would have lived in far more elevated surroundings.

I hope that these comments will finally put to bed the sad story of a lady of society, who after death considered the poor, the single women of Burslem as well as many of her relatives. (Copyright Richard Talbot 2019)

What it was like working in the Potteries as a child in the mid 1800s

By Dr Richard Talbot F.R.Hist.S.

It is impossible to make comparisons today for the working and living conditions of the middle years of the 19th century and yet it was a reality of life not to be brushed under the carpet. Without exception, the vast majority were either potters or colliers in every town of the Potteries and the challenge to the working class was to avoid the workhouse at all costs.

The children’s block at the Spittals Workhouse. Children separated by the office and teachers rooms in the middle. Ground floor classrooms, first floor dormitories.

The causes of such depravity are numerous, the pottery industry was unpredictable especially with the USA market. Breadwinners, because of the payment system of wages being paid in the corner pub were encouraged by the landlord to have more to drink as he claimed had not enough change to pay them from a £5 note from the foreman who held the pay for all under him. Many wives, along with their children would stand outside imploring their husbands to come out before all their wages were spent but to return home with drunken spouse with the certain knowledge they would be evicted the following week as there was no money for the rent or food.

For many families, the bread winner would just walk out leaving his wife and children to the poor law or to survive on just a few pence from the relieving officer. For others, because of industrial diseases many mothers were left widowed at an early age. It is this background, of need and sustenance, lack of education except that offered by Sunday schools. The 1840s saw children number nine thousand, five hundred and ninety-nine for Stoke Union and for Wolstanton and Burslem Union eight thousand, three hundred and thirty-five that were working under the age of fifteen. There was no such thing as benefits, it was abstract poverty that set the tone of employment in the Potteries.

As a result, with no choice, many families living in poverty managed to survive outside of the  poor law by sending out their children to work from an early age to provide a little extra money each week posing the question as to whether children’s work was a means to survival by helping the household economy, or was the situation exploited by employers. It was certain than without child labour hundreds if not thousands to families would apply to the poor law for admittance to the dreaded workhouse. There was an extensive use of children in the pottery industry, in some cases from the age of six, working long hours in appalling conditions. The same applied to children working in the mines from the age of seven or eight pulling wagons below ground. leaving home at 5.30 a.m. to return at 6.30 p.m. six days a week for a weekly wage at fourteen years of only ten shillings.

A report of the 1840s had a lot to say about how children were treated where it was reported that the employers of the day saw nothing wrong in children working a seventy-two hour week at eight or ten years of age. As a consequence, both their health, growth and education suffered badly. Indeed, most children commenced work in the pottery trade sometimes as young as five or six, as a necessity for family survival or to be condemned to the workhouse.

Children were used as cheap, unskilled labour to fetch and carry, prepare raw materials and to provide power for the few machines that the potters used. On reaching the age of fourteen most children were apprenticed to a trade – thrower, presser, transferer or paintress.

Large numbers were employed at the ‘clay end’ of the factory, helping to shape and fire the ware. A thrower, forming pots on the wheel, required three helpers; one to turn the wheel, one to prepare the clay and cut it into balls of the right size, and one to carry away the finished wares to the stove where they would dry. A plate-maker or presser also required three helpers: a ‘jigger-turner’, a ‘batter-out’ who prepared the clay, and a ‘mould-runner’ which was deemed the hardest job in the factory.

Little boys of eight or nine would take two heavy plaster moulds, each with a damp clay plate on it, and run with them out of the workshop to the drying stove, place the moulds on the shelves, pick up two dried plates on their moulds and run back with them for 12-14 hours a day. In the winter this could range from just above freezing in the workshop to almost 100 degrees in the stove room. The workshops were dusty and often damp, and this also affected the children’s health. A normal working day consisted of 12 hours, but many children worked longer if the order books were good.

Some orphan children even slept on sacks of straw in their place of work and had to make sure the workshop was warm in the morning. Some, worn-out, overslept so were beaten by the master potter with a clay cutting wire as punishment. Other children were expected to be in the workshop before the adults and to have the place swept, fires lit, water brought in and the clay prepared for the adults. It was usual for children to work over-time for three or more hours per day: this was very hard on the younger children who then had to walk up to three miles to return home. When work was slack, or on a Monday when the master potter did not turn-in as he was still under the influence of drink devoured over the weekend the master relied on the children to work even longer hours for the other four or five days to make up lost time.

Not all children worked in such bad conditions. Where the pottery was decorated with printed designs, young girls were employed to cut the patterns out from the sheets of paper before the transferer applied them to the pots. This work too was tiring as the children stood all day and had to be both quick at cutting out and accurate if they were not to spoil the design. In other workshops children painted dozens of teacups or plates. They would have a pattern to copy in front of them and would repeat border designs or floral sprigs on hundreds of pieces per week. These children, usually girls, had some of the best working conditions: although the pay was very low, the children sat at their work, were rarely ill-treated, and the workshops were usually clean and warm. The wages the children earned ranged from 1/- per week to 3/6 (10p-17.5p) all of which went to family income to survive another week.

Josiah Bevington just 8 years of age worked at Mr Hackworth’s pottery in Shelton. He had beena mould-maker for a year and received 2s. a week and worked very near every day. Arriving at about six o’clock, sometimes five, to light fires his job was to carry the moulds from the worker to the hot-house and back. His father was a dipper; he had no work to do. Josiah had one sister at work, and she received 3s. a week as a paper-cutter. Joseph manages a meal of water for breakfast and potatoes for dinner; sometimes a bit of bacon, not enough for his needs and had only one set of clothes that he worse each day. However, he could read and write a little as once he attended a day-school but now only a Sunday School because of work.

Joe Wilkinson aged 11 worked at Maddocks & Seddons in Burslem, he had worked there from the age of 6 running moulds. Joe, like most of his friends could not read or write but he attended Sunday School to learn the Bible. He had a father, who despite being a collier had not worked for years and his mother was out of work. He received 3s 3d a week. He had three sisters and four brothers; one brother drove donkeys, another worked in the pit, another had nothing to do and one sister turns a wheel, but the other two were too young. He turns up for work at half-past six and returns home at nine in the evening; but sometimes his master beats him with his fist, once knocking him the other side the pot-stove  as a punishment for being so long at breakfast; half an hour was allowed, but makes Joe work that time before he could go home half a mile away.  

Sadly, Joe never had time to play as he was so tired after work so once having his supper he went straight to bed. At work he never wore shoes and stockings as he had only one pair he kept at home for Sundays. He had another set of clothes that he received from his day-school. His father is noted as good to him because he was a ‘totaller’, meaning he abstained from drink.

The last entry, which again emphasises the life of children in the mid-1840s and yet despite this report, a further one undertaken twenty years later there was no improvement at all. In fact, the number of children under the age of fifteen numbered in excess of 6,500 working in the pot-banks.

George Webb worked for Mr Hopkins at his earthenware factory in Burslem, he is recorded as ten years old and had worked there since the age of six. George arrives at six a.m. and works a fourteen-hour day at such a young age. The 2/6d (12.5p) he earns goes to his parents. George cannot read or write but now he goes to the Bethel Sunday school. His father works at Sneyd Farm Iron-Stone Pits, but he has been off work for three weeks with no money due to illness and his mother stays at home. George has four brothers and one sister who is a dressmaker. One brother is a sqeeser, (a hollowware presser) another a handler and the last one a mould runner like George.

George goes to Sunday school to learn to spell and write but admits he does not know who made him, or who made the world and had never heard talk of heaven and finally he doesn’t know if he does right or wrong.

This is the reality of life in the five towns of the Potteries without exception where it was all about survival at any cost, even sending out your children from the age of six to avoid the horror of workhouse life.

Memories of my early childhood by Dr Richard Talbot MBE

My guess is that growing up in the Potteries during the post-war years of the 1950s would be no different from any other industrial town of the north, except those like Coventry which suffered badly at the hands of the Luftwaffe. So often I hear the words “today is not like the good old days” and yet despite the fact that I have lived through times that today many under the age of sixty would not even comprehend, I feel blessed in someway that I have experiences of life that give me values, standards and an outlook on life without comparisons. It would be easy to list the tough things in the 1950s, but there were also blessings and joys, simple in comparison with today but nevertheless pleasures that I have held dear throughout my life.

My twin John and I were born in a rented small terraced house in Fielding Street, near to the old Victoria Ground with an outside ‘Duckett’ lavatory (no flushing water). It was a time of food rationing and my father worked all hours as a foreman baker at the Co-op bakery in Burslem. He used to cycle there and back from Stoke, and his cycle was kept in the passage just inside of the front door. The parlour was off this passage, but we were not allowed in there as it was kept for Christmas or if relatives came to visit. We lived in what we called the kitchen, Baxi coal fire grate with two ovens at the side. There were two side armchairs for mum and dad and us boys sat on kitchen chairs. It was a quarry floor with a large coconut mat in front of the hearth. I can see mother now on her hands and knees once a week scrubbing the floor with a white enamelled bucket which every day was put to a different use upstairs. It was always my biggest worry that if ever mother was ill – whose job would it be to empty the chamber pots under the bed!

No central heating, freezing bedrooms, even froze a glass of water, lino on the floor. Mother used to wrap up either two heated house bricks or the oven shelf and place either in the bed before retiring. Same downstairs a coal fire, frequently supplemented with coke, took ages to light. I recall so often a tin draw plate in-front to help the fire along, or even a sheet of Sentinel over the backside of a shovel to achieve the same until it suddenly it turned brown and burst into flames.

Food was not plentiful, very limited choice so it was make do with a piece of jam or even a sprinkle of sugar on bread and marg. One thing still saddens me from the time that once in the Co-op in Lonsdale Street there were pine-apples for sale at one shilling. They were rare after the war and I pleaded with mother if we could have one. My mother could not afford just one extra shilling. Now, we have pine applies on a regular basis and each time memories of nearly seventy years ago keep flooding back with sadness for how mother must have struggled to make ends meet.  Certainly, no such thing as puddings except on a Sunday and mostly sago or rice with a blob of jam. And yes, on a Sunday we went to the out-door for a bottle of Tizer or Dandelion and Burdock to share between five of us.  Tripe and other such foods were frequently on the menu and there were no such luxuries as a Mars bar or the suchlike. There was no TV until the Coronation in 1953. This I recall cost £99 a small fortune then and on the never-never. But at least we had one and as such we were obliged to invite neighbours bringing their own chairs to watch such things as the cup-final when our small kitchen was packed with standing room only. We had a wireless set and I must say I have such vivid memories of programmes on the light programme. Sunday lunch was always shared with Billy Cotton followed by Two-way Family Favourites. Later in the day it was all ears for the Ovaltineys, a children’s programme and then the thrilling weekly serial of Journey into Space.

Like most boys we were taught to do jobs in the home. Yes, I even used to help mum scrub the kitchen floor and became a dab-hand with a dolly-peg and ironing – non-electric warmed up on the gas-stove and even now seem to have flat fingers from the mangle! As coal was delivered in large lumps it was our job to break these into small pieces on a rota basis and fill the coal scuttle for the following day. Then we had to call at Stoke market with an old wooden trolley to collect apple and wooden boxes to chop up into fire-wood. I took the initiative to collect more boxes chop them up and knock at door’s, to sell firewood at 6d a box. Did quite well with regular weekly customers. Then, during the winter on a Saturday, it was off to the gas works in Whielden Road with an old sack and broken-down push chair to get a hundred-weight of coke for the fire as coal was still on ration. Cost I think just two shillings and six pence. There were always long queues of boys by the weighing machine.

One love of mine was glove-puppets. All started as in 1952/3 when I received a ‘Sooty’ for Christmas. I used to build proper puppet theatres with closing curtains. Even made scenery and my aunt used to knit me other glove puppets. Used to put a notice on the back-gate in the back alleyway during the school six weeks school holidays adverting ‘The Richard Show’, staring Sooty and others and place wooden old planks on bricks in the back yard for seats and charge one-penny for admission. Perhaps this is where my love of theatres came from as in later life, I managed to save the Regent in Hanley from demolition and promoted it to what it is today.

Its, surprising that despite life being tough in so may ways and with a disciplined father, I look at life now as an experience. With both abstract poverty and all the jobs that were undertaken I regret nothing because yes, I consider myself lucky in some ways that I have turned out hopefully as a credit to my parents. No, it was not all bad. I attended the Gospel Hall Church Sunday school for years (still have my first prize Mr. Chips and Coronation New Testament). My brother and I went to Field House nursery at Westend, then Boothen Junior School, gas lighting, coal fires and the playground was made up of ash with bricked up air-raid shelters all around. And lastly St. Peter’s Boys Secondary Modern in Stoke where I experienced some of the kindest thoughtful teachers and first became a class monitor, milk monitor and then rose to the high position of a prefect. Even during the six-weeks holidays I used to have a key to the school gates and went into water the garden allotment and the greenhouse tomatoes several times a week On a Friday I would open the gates for local residents who would come to purchase vegetable, flowers and the tomatoes. I was my job to dig up the veg serve them. Loved every minute. I still have the only prize I won, Boys Companion – for services to the school certainly not clever enough to win anything else.

There were other happy times. As a family we were lucky that we had a week’s holiday at Rhyl. We stayed in a large council house, No 94 Earnest Street, just over the railway bridge. Nothing special us three boys sleeping three in a double bed while mum and dad shared a three-quarter bed all in the one bedroom. As things were on ration, mother used to either give Mrs Jones the land lady the ration book or purchases the food then Mrs Jones would cook it and serve it up. No money for ice-creams or goes on the cycles so spent most of our time on the beach or paddling pool which remains a favourite today. In the evenings would crouch up against the wire-netting fence around the band stand and listen to the Rhyl Silver Band with Mr Conway as M.D. inviting children and adults to join in the singing competitions. No money for a seat inside.

Other pleasures we enjoyed were the weekly visit to the ABC Majestic cinema in Campbell Place (yes proud to wear my ABC Minors badge). We watched such wonderful films like Hop-along Casady or Flash Gordon when at the end of each week’s programme, he was facing certain death until the next episode. This was our weekly treat of just 6d. As father was a member of Stoke Trades and Labour Club we would go on the annual outing to New Brighton and the usual trip on the Royal Iris up and down the Mersey. Then a quick dip in the huge out-door swimming pool before tea in a café in High Street where we were served on long trestle tables – always fish and chips. We also went to the Christmas Party at the club and met Santa and received a gift marked BOY. How many times we all sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer I have no idea!

During the summer when in those day’s children were not allowed in pubs, like many other families we went to the Gardeners Retreat at Boothen early on a Saturday evening as we could sit out-side as they had a glass canopy over the seating area. One bottle of pop with straw and a bag of crisp’s would have to last all night. We thought it was wonderful.

As I have said before probably my upbringing would be no different than any other child of the time. But the lessons of value, work, loyalty, discipline, respect and certainly neighbourliness and personal integrity and honesty were fundamental to success that I learned have stood me in good stead all my life. And yes, like many others I frequently think that children of today have missed out on these experiences whereas life today may be far better in material things and living conditions, but the fundamental ways of life recorded here no longer see the light of day, they are outdated where respect and personal integrity counts for naught for many but as a result moves the country on a pace, and as a result leaving it in a far worse place than during my up-bringing with practically nothing except for the things that really matter in life which I still cherish. Thank you mum and dad.

The First Talkies in the Potteries

By Dr Richard Talbot MBE, former Chairman of The Regent Theatre Trust Ltd.

The 1920s was a decade known in North America as the “Roaring Twenties” while in Europe the period is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age” because of the economic boom following World War I, but all this came to an end in October 1929 with the devastating Wall Street Clash.

Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, the country’s largest cinema chain at the time with over one hundred cinemas in the UK had secured the Hanley site as early as 1925 but struggled to gain possession of the last three cottages situated in Bird’s Nest and Raby’s Court located the middle of the site between Cheapside and Pall Mall. Finally, after securing a court order for the none-payment of rents in June 1927 PCT went ahead to construct the largest and most commodious cinema with theatre facilities and restaurants in N. Staffordshire.

Towards the end of the 1920s a depression in word trade affected industrial towns like Stoke with devastating effect as the export trade to America almost collapsed. There was mass unemployment, hunger and appalling living conditions in many back-to-back terraced homes in the potteries. It was a time of outside lavatories, for many night soil collections and a once a week tin bath in front of a coal fire – cleanest first. Remember it was still a time of the gas mantle and, for those who could afford, a radio run by an acid accumulator battery charges up weekly at a local shop. It was a time for many where the parlour piano was the only place to relax and forget their twelve-hour working day – that’s if they had a job! It was a time when the workhouse was still a reality for those unable to fend for themselves.

Amid all this it was the picture-house which thrived for just a few pence you could leave all the stresses behind as be transformed twice a week to a world of make-believe. This would be created not just by celluloid projected onto a silver screen, but by the sheer splendour of the ‘Picture Palace’ and the new Regent in Hanley was going to be the best in the Potteries built to the design of the PCT architect Mr W.E. Trent in art-deco style commencing in late 1927.

I recall in my viewing of the old Regent years ago that there were the remains of the old 110 volt direct current electricity and its water-cooling process under the stage to illuminate in excess of 15,000 light bulbs most of which were in the massive auditorium.

At the official opening, in February 1929 the audience was treated to an afternoon and evening of entertainment including the screening of The Last Command, starring Emile Jannings, Evelyn Brent and William Powell whilst live on stage were the nine Regent dancing girls, a soprano, tap dancers, and Mr E Felton Rapley on the Wurlitzer organ which rose from the bowels of the orchestra pit on hydraulics.

The cinema was operating silent movies when it opened. At the same time a debate was being held between film directors and actors if to proceed with ‘talkies’ because of the costs and wondered if they would oust the silent picture or even rival the appeal of the theatre.

  • However, amongst all this glitter and razzmatazz, with the depression in full-swing it had a serious affect on the shares of PCT and was purchased by British Gaumont in December 1928 whilst building work on the Regent continued. It was just two weeks after the opening of the Regent that British Gaumont took over the running of PCT and its assets.

It was only two months following the opening of the Regent that the cinema along with sixty of the Gaumont circuit cinemas were equipped with the Western Electric Company’s talking film installation whereby full-length films such as “The Singing Fool” and “Show Boat” could be shown.

It was not long after that the very first ‘Talkie’ in the Potteries was shown at the Regent in July 1929 when “The Singing Fool” starring Al Jolson took to the screen filling the 2134 seats at four performances a day. At the end of the week the demand was so great with constant queues around the block that the management decided to run the film for a further week. This meant that around 26,000 people came to see history in its making at The Regent and to witness actual words and music coming for the first time from actors. I doubt if there was one dry eye as he sang Sonny Boy. The Sentinel reported “Whenever it has been shown enormous crowds have been drawn to see it. It is a remarkable production and has secured almost universal approval. In it Al Johnson is revealed as one of the most powerful emotional actors on the screen”.

The Greyhound Inn during the war

by Dr Richard Talbot MBE

It is now fifty years since the BBC started to show the sit-com Dad’s Army which ran from 1968-1977 and yet, it seems since then as though the programme has never been off air.  But who would think that the Greyhound Inn and Penkhull Home Guard would have anything in common with the television programme – Home Guard?

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Most of us have, at some time or another, enjoyed the series, with its light-hearted look at the Second World War’s Home Guard. However, despite this amusing portrayal, in its time, the Home Guard represented a formidable force of willing volunteers ready to give up their lives in protection of their country (with a bit on fun as well). 

The same could be said about the Home Guard in Penkhull, but the first dilemma the group had to contend with was where would they store the rifles and ammunition. It was a NO to the church although the Vicar did give them permission to use the church belfry as a lookout. What about the infants’ school across the road – again not appropriate as children occupied the building five days a week.

Regulations stated that the riffles, and ammunition must be under close guard at all times – so where better than the local pub, the Greyhound Inn. The landlord of The Greyhound Inn was Dick Pattinson, who, despite representations from his wife Alice agreed that a small bedroom over the bar would be an ideal place to keep the equipment. It was probably beyond the script writers of the TV programme to suggest a local pub would become the place where guns and ammunition were stored during the last war, but not at Penkhull, the village had to be defended at all costs.

The thought of an incendiary bomb dropping on the roof one evening never occurred to the Captain Mainwaring of the day, Major George Campbell of Queens Road. In fact, one had dropped onto the church roof only a few yards away and another on to Rowlands Garage and another on the Senior School roof in Princes Road. If that had happened at the Greyhound during opening hours there could have been a massive explosion and many fatalities both in the pub and nearby properties. No Health and Safety in those days and no one considered the possible consequences.

The day arrived when just five rifles were delivered to the pub to be shared amongst thirty volunteers. They were quickly taken to the small bedroom – all the men followed, clambering over each other to be one of the five lucky ones. So how would they be divided – by rank, by experiences or age, no. The simplest way was to place each name into a hat and the first four our would have a brand-new riffle, the fifth went to the landlord of the pub – Dick Pattinson who was a sergeant in the first world war and taught the others how to assemble, clean and use the rifles.

With all the commotion and the heavy tread of boots on the floorboards, Alice, Dicks wife could be heard shouting up the stairs “if ever a bomb dropped on the pub, all of Penkhull would be bloody blown sky-high”, but no one took the slightest notice.

Alice was a good cook and often would make a large rabbit pie for the Home Guard when one group came off duty late at night and all gathered in the bar to share stories. Always a dozen rabbits were obtained ready skinned and cut up from Holts shop in Penkhull. However, on one occasion when dividing up the pie Alice only counted eleven pairs of rear legs – two were missing! Alice was one not to hesitate is shouting a few choice words and an almighty row broke out as to where the other pair of legs had gone. “No supper then for you bloody lot” shouted Alice. No one batted an eye. Alice then demanded that they all empty their pockets unless someone owned up. At last before they were all to be thrown out the youngest of the group admitted he had taken them as a joke on Alice just to see if she noticed a shortfall. Censorship won’t allow the words to be printed – but it sounded nothing like ‘stupid boy’.

One incident that would be typical of the TV series was when Penkhull Home Guard was informed that a mock invasion was to take place during a Saturday night and Sunday morning between Penkhull and Clayton Home Guards, so a keen watch was kept for the ‘enemy’. Clayton attacked about nine o’clock on the Sunday morning, and a fierce battle raged in Penkhull as never before in all its history. Eventually, the umpires decided that the observation post was taken and that Dick Pattinson (Landlord of the Greyhound) would be taken prisoner of war. Dick’s wife Alice, heard the news and stormed from the Greyhound, standing at the doorstep and turning to the umpires in her usual form of address ‘If Dick’s a prisoner’ she said at full voice, ‘how the bloody-hell are we to open at twelve o’clock?’ This called for emergency meeting – this was serious stuff.   

The Greyhound was known it had a quantity of good ale in its cellar, so after a rather hurried conference between the enemy and the umpires, and the serious consequences if Dick remained detained, both for Home Guard and village regulars, confusion followed. The only way to rectify the situation was to parole Dick so the pub could be opened providing that he took no further part in the battle.

At twelve o’clock on the dot an end came to the battle, victors and vanquished dead and wounded almost spontaneously gathered together as long lost friends to be refreshed by a smiling Dick.

Tree planting ceremony by schoolchildren in Penkhull village.

Penkhull, the village in the centre of the city, joined with the rest of the nation and the Empire in expressions of thanksgiving and jubilation. The afternoon ceremony of thanksgiving will form a lasting memorial to the Silver Jubilee, for no fewer than seven trees were planted in the churchyard, by some of the youngest children in the village.

The Churchyard and village were a blaze of colour, with flags bunting and ribbons in the national colours frittering everywhere. Hundreds of people watched the tree planting ceremony – some describe it as the largest crowd ever seen in Penkhull. The children of the junior school, headed by the Vicar of Penkhull the Rev V. Aston, Mr H Leason, Mr A P Dobson (churchwarden) and Miss Evans (headmistress) marched in procession through the village before entering the churchyard by the main gate. The crowds formed a circle into which the children filed, carrying flags and banners.

A short dedication was conducted by the Vicar, the National Anthem was sung and then three songs were beautifully sung by the children. Mr H. Leeson addressed the gathering he said “today the whole of the British Empire is showing its love and loyalty to our King. I feel that Penkhull is doing nothing but what is expected of it, for its loyalty is second to none throughout the Empire. The planting of these trees is a way of communicating the occasion on which these young children will look back with pride in the years to come.

Penkhull, the village in the centre of the city, joined with the rest of the nation and the Empire in expressions of thanksgiving and jubilation. The afternoon ceremony of thanksgiving will form a lasting memorial to the Silver Jubilee, for no fewer than seven trees were planted in the churchyard, by some of the youngest children in the village.

A short dedication was conducted by the Vicar, the National Anthem was sung and then three songs were beautifully sung by the children. Mr H. Leeson addressed the gathering he said “today the whole of the British Empire is showing its love and loyalty to our King. I feel that Penkhull is doing nothing but what is expected of it, for its loyalty is second to none throughout the Empire. The planting of these trees is a way of communicating the occasion on which these young children will look back with pride in the years to come.

Then the children planted the trees each child saying, “I plant this tree in honour of the King’s Silver Jubilee”. Mavis Lawton, Margaret Beresford, Barbara Holbrook, Betty Rowland, Billy Meiklejohn, Michael Holt and Ken Cheadle were appointed for the job in hand. Thanks, were then expressed to the organisers, the crowd then sang two verses of the National Anthem, and the children paraded to the schools for their own celebrations.

The evening was given up to celebration at dusk, when the village was transformed into to a fairyland of light. Seven hundred and fifty coloured lights twinkled among trees in the churchyard, while the church spire formed a picturesque background. At the back of the school was lit a bonfire, built with more than 25 tonnes of timber. A crowd of several thousand gathered on the surrounding land to which the Mayoress of Stoke-on-Trent set light to the huge pile. Fireworks set to music added colour and gaiety to the event. Among those present at the ceremony was Mr and Mrs H Leeson and Mr A Timmis, to Miss Mr and Mrs J A Lawton the vicar of Penkhulll and Mrs Aston, Mr H Steele, Mr A Dobson, Mr W Fleet and Miss Ward. The decorations, the erection of the coloured lights and the building of the bonfire was in the hands of Mr Harry Leeson, Mr Meiklejohn and Mr H. Sherratt and the vicar of Penkhull.

A short dedication was conducted by the Vicar, the National Anthem was sung and then three songs were beautifully sung by the children. Mr H. Leeson addressed the gathering he said “today the whole of the British Empire is showing its love and loyalty to our King. I feel that Penkhull is doing nothing but what is expected of it, for its loyalty is second to none throughout the Empire. The planting of these trees is a way of communicating the occasion on which these young children will look back with pride in the years to come.

Then the children planted the trees each child saying, “I plant this tree in honour of the King’s Silver Jubilee”. Mavis Lawton, Margaret Beresford, Barbara Holbrook, Betty Rowland, Billy Meiklejohn, Michael Holt and Ken Cheadle were appointed for the job in hand. Thanks, were then expressed to the organisers, the crowd then sang two verses of the National Anthem, and the children paraded to the schools for their own celebrations.

The evening was given up to celebration at dusk, when the village was transformed into to a fairyland of light. Seven hundred and fifty coloured lights twinkled among trees in the churchyard, while the church spire formed a picturesque background. At the back of the school was lit a bonfire, built with more than 25 tonnes of timber. A crowd of several thousand gathered on the surrounding land to which the Mayoress of Stoke-on-Trent set light to the huge pile. Fireworks set to music added colour and gaiety to the event. Among those present at the ceremony was Mr and Mrs H Leeson and Mr A Timmis, to Miss Mr and Mrs J A Lawton the vicar of Penkhulll and Mrs Aston, Mr H Steele, Mr A Dobson, Mr W Fleet and Miss Ward. The decorations, the erection of the coloured lights and the building of the bonfire was in the hands of Mr Harry Leeson, Mr Meiklejohn and Mr H. Sherratt and the vicar of Penkhull.

The First Talkies in the Potteries
by Dr Richard Talbot MBE, former Chairman of The Regent Theatre Trust Ltd.

The 1920s was a decade known in North America as the “Roaring Twenties” while in Europe the period is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age” because of the economic boom following World War I, but all this came to an end in October 1929 with the devastating Wall Street Clash.
Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, the country’s largest cinema chain at the time with over one hundred cinemas in the UK had secured the Hanley site as early as 1925 but struggled to gain possession of the last three cottages situated in Bird’s Nest and Raby’s Court located the middle of the site between Cheapside and Pall Mall. Finally, after securing a court order for the none-payment of rents in June 1927 PCT went ahead to construct the largest and most commodious cinema with theatre facilities and restaurants in N. Staffordshire.
Towards the end of the 1920s a depression in word trade affected industrial towns like Stoke with devastating effect as the export trade to America almost collapsed. There was mass unemployment, hunger and appalling living conditions in many back-to-back terraced homes in the potteries. It was a time of outside lavatories, for many night soil collections and a once a week tin bath in front of a coal fire – cleanest first. Remember it was still a time of the gas mantle and, for those who could afford, a radio run by an acid accumulator battery charges up weekly at a local shop. It was a time for many where the parlour piano was the only place to relax and forget their twelve-hour working day – that’s if they had a job! It was a time when the workhouse was still a reality for those unable to fend for themselves.
Amid all this it was the picture-house which thrived for just a few pence you could leave all the stresses behind as be transformed twice a week to a world of make-believe. This would be created not just by celluloid projected onto a silver screen, but by the sheer splendour of the ‘Picture Palace’ and the new Regent in Hanley was going to be the best in the Potteries built to the design of the PCT architect Mr W.E. Trent in art-deco style commencing in late 1927.
I recall in my viewing of the old Regent years ago that there were the remains of the old 110 volt direct current electricity and its water-cooling process under the stage to illuminate in excess of 15,000 light bulbs most of which were in the massive auditorium.
At the official opening, in February 1929 the audience was treated to an afternoon and evening of entertainment including the screening of The Last Command, starring Emile Jannings, Evelyn Brent and William Powell whilst live on stage were the nine Regent dancing girls, a soprano, tap dancers, and Mr E Felton Rapley on the Wurlitzer organ which rose from the bowels of the orchestra pit on hydraulics.
However, amongst all this glitter and razzmatazz, with the depression in full-swing it had a serious affect on the shares of PCT and was purchased by British Gaumont in December 1928 whilst building work on the Regent continued. It was just two weeks after the opening of the Regent that British Gaumont took over the running of PCT and its assets.
The cinema was operating silent movies when it opened. At the same time a debate was being held between film directors and actors if to proceed with ‘talkies’ because of the costs and wondered if they would oust the silent picture or even rival the appeal of the theatre.
It was only two months following the opening of the Regent that the cinema along with sixty of the Gaumont circuit cinemas were equipped with the Western Electric Company’s talking film installation whereby full-length films such as “The Singing Fool” and “Show Boat” could be shown.
It was not long after that the very first ‘Talkie’ in the Potteries was shown at the Regent in July 1929 when “The Singing Fool” starring Al Jolson took to the screen filling the 2134 seats at four performances a day. At the end of the week the demand was so great with constant queues around the block that the management decided to run the film for a further week. This meant that around 26,000 people came to see history in its making at The Regent and to witness actual words and music coming for the first time from actors. I doubt if there was one dry eye as he sang Sonny Boy.

The Sentinel reported “Whenever it has been shown enormous crowds have been drawn to see it. It is a remarkable production and has secured almost universal approval. In it Al Johnson is revealed as one of the most powerful emotional actors on the screen”.

The Newcastle Canal  by Dr Richard Talbot, MBE ©

Newcastle Canal in the town of Stoke c1818

Although this article is a history of the Newcastle Canal its origins stem from the opening of the Trent and Mersey in 1766. It’s from this time that the industrial revolution in the six towns took off as the canal brought access to markets throughout the country and indeed the world.

In addition, this canal enabled raw manufacturing materials and coal that were required for the expanding pottery industry. This brought with it the urgency for this new mode of transport to extend from the Trent and Mersey at Stoke to Newcastle to bring back coal from the mining village of Silverdale to markets both in Stoke and throughout the country as well as serve the manufacturing town of Stoke with raw materials. In 1795, the year of Wedgwood’s death this new canal was cut from Stoke to Newcastle but because of the hills of Penkhull and Hartshill it took a route of four miles. Its purpose, according to the preamble of the Act, was to provide for Newcastle and the establishments near it a link with the main canal at Stoke and to assist the agriculture of the neighbourhood of the canal by a supply of materials.

From the Trent and Mersey Canal it passed under Copeland Street now the A500 north-west of Glebe Street continuing through Spode works to the rear of Gordon Theatre later the Hippodrome then the Gaumont cinema in Kingsway, Stoke. From here it passed under Church Street close to the Wheatsheaf, (an entry at the side of which leads to the old canal bed) The canal then emerged by the former Woolworths store but in 1795 it was lined with potbanks. 

canal

The canal wharf at Minton factory Stoke 

From this point it continued to the east of London Road through Minton’s and Campbell Tile where there were wharf then under a bridge at Corporation Street which still remains through what became Bilton’s Table Ware and on to a swing bridge across

The canal at Boothen with Boothen junior school on the left[/caption] 

All Saints Road and on to Oakhill. From this point it continued on the lower ground into what was then open countryside then around 300 yards from Hanford Bridge, the canal turned in a westerly direction to run though the fields through Trent Vale Tile Works and crossing under the A34 towards the end of Rookery Lane opposite to which is now appropriately called Bridge Road.
After passing beneath the road the canal continued northward on its way to Newcastle passing under the shadow of the Spittals Workhouse, now the Royal Stoke. At this point the Guardians of the poor had its own wharf for the loading of stone for the inmates to break down into smaller pieces.
The terminus of the Newcastle Canal was close to Brook Lane at an elevated piece of ground. A pub named the Boat and Horses still stands near the former basin though the basin itself was converted into railway sidings many years ago during the construction of the Stoke-on-Trent to Newcastle-under-Lyme train line, which began construction on 26 June 1846. History records however that the canal was never a profitable venture, probably on account that it was an off-suite and only offering access to the factories in the town of Stoke and the carriage of bulk goods to and from Newcastle.
However there remains significant evidence to show that the canal was active in promoting both its use and potential in the first half of the 19th century. In 1817, the brick and tile works were advertised to let at Trent Vale promoting the fact that it was near to the Newcastle Canal. The same approach was taken when the Soap Works at Oakhill came up for sale in 1819, again promoting its own wharf on the canal banks. The same year the Patron of Stoke Church took advantage of the new canal by advertising the Glebe land adjacent to the canal for housing and factories.
One of the early potters of Stoke, Joseph Poulson sold his valuable potworks situated on the south-bank of the Newcastle Canal. But the town of Newcastle did not miss the opportunity to exploit their location for in 1824 the commodious house and works of the late Joseph Mellard came up for sale stating, ‘communicating directly to Stoke and the Trent and Mersey canal’.
The situation of the canal brought investment in the form of new properties, one of which in 1834 was described as ‘newly erected with corn mill and team engine and other buildings’. This must have been right in the centre of Stoke as it was described as the canal runs under the premises and the boats are unloaded by machinery’. In 1847, with immediate possession, two large wharfs located between ‘the canal and the new market place well adapted for coals and clay’. By the 1840s other developments started further along what is now London Road, but then Commercial Road each of which promoted access to the canal. The Vine Inn and two cottages and a plot of land for a wharf. In 1856 the earthenware manufactory previously owned by William Adams was up for sale and advertised as adjoining the Newcastle canal.
Many readers would have read several times the story of the drowning of Timothy Trow, the tram conductor who managed to save the life of a young girl in the canal but drowned himself in the process. Sadly he was not the only one. In April 1846 children playing by the banks of the canal near to Stoke when a lad – George Bromley was pushed in by another boy Charles Heath. His sister ran to fetch her mother. The little boy was got out soon after, but it was too late to save him. A further case of drowning occurred at Oakhill in February 1862. Two brothers Samuel and Richard Breeze had been at Newcastle drinking on the Saturday. Richard left Samuel in a pub and returned home. It was not until the following morning it was discovered that Samuel had not returned. A search was made of the tow paths of the canal when finally, the body of Samuel was discovered floating on the water.
The prospects for the canal for the second half of the 19th century changed as all the reports were dominated by the amount of sewage being dumped into the canal. By 1867 it was reported that the canal was in a foul condition. reports consistently referring to the problem. Two years later, Newcastle sewage tanks were being blamed for the stench of the water. In 1870, Mr Davenport complained about the foul state of the canal running through his works. Two months later it was the flour-mill in Stoke that was complaining and once more the Newcastle Borough were accused. By December it was recorded that eight children had died at Trent Vale from scarlet fever attributed to the ‘filthy state of the canal’.
As late as 1871 the canal had been given a new lease of life as the railway company decided to clean it from end-to-end. Some cleaning was carried-out, but the problem of sewage continued as in 1876 the sugar refinery at Newcastle was charged with dumping all its rubbish into the canal and at the same time the sewage from the town continued to flow. It was described in 1880 as being in an ‘most beastly state’ with an epidemic of diphtheria in the town with fatalities caused by the appalling amount of floating sewage in the canal. At the same the Spittals Workhouse adjacent to the canal were accused of dumping all their sewage into the canal.
By 1921 stretch from Newcastle to Trent Vale was filled in. The remainder also had been filled in as far as a point just north of Church Street by 1938 when a further act allowed the stopping up of the canal as far as its side-arm from the main canal about a hundred yards long, over which the main tow path and Copeland Street are carried on original humpback bridges. Proposals were made by the City Council as early as 1934 to purchase the section of canal at London Road, Stoke, and, in 1952, it was filled in and a garden was laid out by the Corporation parks department. Many of the grown trees were retained and for a distance of one third of a mile, flower beds and lawns were laid out. The finished boulevard was named the Coronation Gardens and opened for the coronation with extensive illuminations,
The last remains of it can still be seen however, notably opposite Royal Stoke Hospital on the other side of the road behind a wooded area (the workhouse burial ground) and the Jewish cemetery.

My first terrifying experience of the NHS
by Dr Richard Talbot, MBE ©

The former main building at the hospital

It was around six years after the NHS was founded – about 1953 as a very young frightened little boy I had my first experience of the NHS at the North Staffs Royal Infirmary.
I had for nearly two weeks been complaining to my mum about ear ache. The pain was so bad that I took to filling a hot water bottle with cold water, (no ice-packs in those days) and placing it onto the cheek to relieve the pain. Mother at the time was quite ill herself with tonsillitis and as father working three shifts neither was able to take me to the doctors.
Finally, mother took me to the doctors – it was Dr Gamble in Hill Street, Stoke. He took one look into my ear then scribbled a note, placed into an envelope and ordered my mother to catch the bus around the corner to Hartshill. No time to go home!
The letter was read at reception and I was ushered into the ENT department to see Dr Carter the consultant and admitted there and then to the children’s ward – a large forbidding room with beds on either side and a large coal fire complete with guard at the far end. Little did I know that was to be my home for the next couple of weeks and the worst thing it was only a few days before Christmas. I dread to think what was going through my mother’s mind as she walked back to Stoke! The first twenty-four hours saw doctors and nurses came and go – “turn over on your side” followed by yet another painful penicillin injection into my back-side. Think they used blunt knitting needles in those days!
In the early 50s this was the only antibiotic available – and did not do its job. I was told that I was going to the theatre the next day. Well as it was Christmas time, I thought it was a local pantomime and became excited at the thought. Yes, I had bad ear ace, but I had no idea until later in life how seriously ill I was. It was mastoiditis, a condition that frequently leads to meningitis and in many cases death. The thoughts now of what my parents were thinking at the time is frightening – as a twin were, they going to lose one of them?
As I arrived in the ‘theatre’ – who are all these people in white gowns, what pantomime was this I thought, why was I being placed on a bed – I was petrified. The next thing was a large pad was placed over my mouth and nose – and drop by drop coliform applied. No injections in the back of the hand and count ten in those days! I awoke back in the ward with bandages all around my head – and a nurse standing there at my side with yet again another knitting needle to do its worst.
The following day was Christmas Day and to my surprise the empty beds in the ward were taken up by a grim-looking bunch of adults. It soon became apparent that there was ‘no room at the inn’ in the normal male ward and over-spilled to the children’s ward with those suffering from too much alcohol the previous night. This fact soon became obvious as my main toy given to me by the hospital Santa was a blue coloured tin-plate spaceship with wheels underneath. When pushed along it noisily produced sparks out of the back making a terrible noise, then no sooner I tried it out than a nurse came running to stop me as those adults in the wards were ‘feeling unwell with terrible head-aches’.
Later that morning – a civic party were escorted into the children’s ward – first time I had ever seen a real Lord Mayor. He was accompanied by the Rector of Stoke Rev. Percy Hartil and Deaconess B.I. Smee and other local dignitaries. They all came around the children’s beds and gave out more gifts from a different Santa. Probably still believed in him then! In the afternoon came my parents and brothers who had walked from Stoke and shared – wow even more gifts and hugs from mum who could not stop crying. Could not understand why? I only recently learned from my brother that mother would walk home from the NSRI each time and at home crying uncontrollably.
The following day I was informed that I was to have a bath. No idea what to expect and as a little boy rather embarrassed at the thought of undressing in front of strangers. Next thing a tin large bath suddenly coming from an anti-room was laid in front of the large fire, a screen placed around and there was I now the centre of attention standing there with no clothes on and who was going to bath me – Aunty Annie – as she was called by children and staff who was actually the ward cleaner and who also cleaned out the fire each morning. I was probably more frightened of that than the operation. (I want my mam I thought)
Each day I was examined by Dr Carter sitting in at his old wooden desk in a swivel chair at the entrance to the ward. Then one day he said ‘looking good young man, as he removed my stitches’ probably gave me a 6d piece for my good behaviour – even then I had no idea I had actually been cut – well the reality was that a large incision was made at the back of my ear while they scraped away the infection from the scull bone. Yes, I still have a large scar to prove it.
An ambulance was booked to take me home – back there I was mothered and cared for with neighbours and even my Sunday School teachers from the Gospel Hall, Stoke, calling to bring fruit and large brown eggs etc. I recall that at school I was not allowed in active sports, at the hair-dressers with mother sitting there the barber was under strict instructions to be careful when cutting hair at the back of my ear. One thing I considered a blessing that my father who practiced ‘spare the road and spoil the child’ we were as children no strangers to physical punishment and at eighteen stone you did not do its twice. From now one, I was protected from the ‘I’ll give you a thick-ear’ punishment on numerous occasions.
Reflecting on my vivid memories and now reading up once more the consequences for a child with mastoiditis which are frightening to read there are two things that come to mind. First and foremost was the worry of my family for me – remember in the early 1950s with not the knowledge of today and secondly as my father a baker on a small income how could he possibly afford such an operation and care if it had happened before 1948 – so I for one am grateful to the NHS even in its infancy.

Life post war in Stoke-on-Trent

In his second part on austerity Dr Richard Talbot talks about real post war hardships.

Probably the most significant thing for the immediate post war years was rationing and little money. For families it must have been especially hard for mothers and hardships continued as for a decade following 1945. What is more surprising they are all within a person’s lifetime and have no relationship to present-day austerity.
As children we only had new clothes at Eastertime and these were purchased from the Co-op Emporium in Liverpool Road, Stoke, with the ‘divvy’ mother received on what we had spent at the co-op over the year. I was totally fascinated by the overhead wires carrying the Dart Cash Carriers from every corner of the store to a central elevated cashier’s desk.
I remember most vividly as a child around eight going into the co-op in Lonsdale Street and there at the end of the counter was my first sight of a pineapple. My brother and I pleaded with my mother if we could have one and the events of that day have remained with me all these years as my mother could not afford just one-shilling. (5p today) On another occasion when snow was on the ground, mother sent me to the corner shop to get a block of Cadburys Fruit and Nut – her favourite as a treat for us all to share. I joined in a snowball game with other boys and I lost the 6d. I searched for what seemed hours with no luck so walked home to tell my mother. What now upsets me most is that she just stood there and cried – why, because that was probably the last 6d she had before father brought his wages home.
My father was the bread-winner and as such was occasionally treated to a pork chop. We children had bread and jam or bread and margarine with a little sugar spread over or even brown sauce and would fight for who would have the chop after father finished to pick off the last bits of pork from the bone. On a Tuesday mother sometime purchased a one shilling rabbit from Stoke Market. I can see her now in the tiny back-kitchen skinning the rabbit and cleaning out its inside. That was a treat we enjoyed.
To raise a few pence, I would walk to Stoke market to collect wooden apple and orange boxes on a Friday after school and the following Saturday morning. I would then sit in the backyard and cut them up into pieces to light coal fires with. Then placing them into old tomato boxes would walk the street knocking at doors in an attempt to sell them for say 3d or 6d a box. Surprisingly a number of neighbours placed a regular order for each Saturday.
At around eleven I badly needed a new jacket, so mother took me to Mr. Skellern the watch-maker in London Road, where in the window was a second-hand blue jacket. So, for the first time I had to wear second-hand clothes. In fact, I got to like it and wore it for years. One weekly treat was 6d to go to the Majestic cinema in Stoke for the Saturday children’s matinee. There was certainly no pocket-money. Another occasional treat was an iced cream (synthetic) bun on a Wednesday from Droys in Church Street. Whilst at St. Peters Boys School a trip was organised to visit the origins of the Rover Trent at Knypersley. The cost was 4/6d, but for two that was nine shillings, a small fortune. My brother and I were I think the only two boys in the class who remained at school.
In those days all boys wore short trousers until around the age of twelve regardless of your height. One of the serious issues we had was with the cold winters and the winds causing painful chapped knees. Here we had to muddle though with a tin of I think Rosalex, a kind of barrier cream.
One of the highlights was when our landlord Mr. Bourne decided it was time to replace the duckett lavatory with actual clean fresh flushing one. The whole yard was dug-up for a water supply from the kitchen. I could not believe it, it was flushed with clean water you could drink – such wonders of the world I thought. But having water laid on brought a whole new set of problems in the winter months with freezing. Old rags were used as lagging to wrap around the pipe, but this was not sufficient. So, in addition a paraffin lamp had to be secured and placed by the pipe to keep the water from freezing ultimately leading to a burst-pipe and possibly no water for weeks.
To the younger readers its important to consider that my childhood experiences was not exclusive as my family was no different to most found in industrial towns, perhaps slightly better as a recall many in our street alone with larger families’ hardships were far worse and yet we pulled through those times.

by Dr. Richard Talbot MBE and published in the Staffordshire Sentinel.

My extensive researches into history over the years is inspired by one of my objectives to share my knowledge with others. Sadly, little if anything appears to have been written regarding the period following the end of WW2 and the austerity that people had to endure, totally unrecognizable with the same word used today. There is no comparison to that of my childhood. I have already written in the Christmas edition of the WWW regarding my experience of Christmas but its experience of everyday life for the overwhelming majority of Potteries folk that demands pen to paper as a permanent record.

 My father was a foreman baker working three shifts at the Co-Op in Burslem, travelling along the canal on his push bike from Stoke. Mother was a guilder by trade but like most women gave up work when she married. There were three boys in the house, my elder brother Frank by five years and my identical twin John. We all shared the back bedroom, my twin and I had a double bed, whilst my elder brother had the single. I recall most it was freezing during the long winder months. Even a glass of water by the side would freeze and the windows totally white over. No double-glazing then. I recall my elder brother had my grand-fathers thick army coat over the top for warmth. When it was really-cold mother would either place a couple of old house bricks into the oven of the triplex grate for a few hours then place them in the bed covered with an old cloth. Even the oven metal shelves in the bed. And like every good family we had a chamber pot under the bed. No getting up and going down the yard in the freezing weather in those days. Even now I have visions of my mother going upstairs with a white enamelled bucket in her hand to empty the chambers. My dread was always who would do that job when mother was now very well?

No fitted carpets, just lino – cold to the feet with an old peg-rug at the side made from worn-out trousers or jackets and cut into strips. Somehow mother could make a simple pattern from the colours. In fact, make-do was for all. When shirts were worn out at the elbow the sleeves would be cut and made into short sleeves. The piece cut off would be trimmed and with the aid of an old Singer treadle machine stitched around to make handkerchiefs.

Coal remained on rationing until June 1958. Town gas was produced by extracting it from coal leaving coke. Coke was the mainstay of many. Each Saturday morning, we three lads would start off walking from Fielding Street to the gas-works in Whieldon Road with an old pushchair and a hessian sack and I think 2/6d for a hundredweight. We would join the que of what seemed in memory to be about a hundred waiting to stand by the hopper with sack placed under to be filled and our precious money, tightly-gripped in our hand passed over. This coke, then mixed with slack from the coal lumps would extend the experience of warmth in our kitchen.

Probably the most significant thing for the immediate post war years was rationing and little money. For families it must have been especially hard for mothers and hardships continued as for a decade following 1945. What is more surprising they are all within a person’s lifetime and have no relationship to present-day austerity.
As children we only had new clothes at Eastertime and these were purchased from the Co-op Emporium in Liverpool Road, Stoke, with the ‘divvy’ mother received on what we had spent at the co-op over the year. I was totally fascinated by the overhead wires carrying the Dart Cash Carriers from every corner of the store to a central elevated cashier’s desk.
I remember most vividly as a child around eight going into the co-op in Lonsdale Street and there at the end of the counter was my first sight of a pineapple. My brother and I pleaded with my mother if we could have one and the events of that day have remained with me all these years as my mother could not afford just one-shilling. (5p today) On another occasion when snow was on the ground, mother sent me to the corner shop to get a block of Cadburys Fruit and Nut – her favourite as a treat for us all to share. I joined in a snowball game with other boys and I lost the 6d. I searched for what seemed hours with no luck so walked home to tell my mother. What now upsets me most is that she just stood there and cried – why, because that was probably the last 6d she had before father brought his wages home.
My father was the bread-winner and as such was occasionally treated to a pork chop. We children had bread and jam or bread and margarine with a little sugar spread over or even brown sauce and would fight for who would have the chop after father finished to pick off the last bits of pork from the bone. On a Tuesday mother sometime purchased a one shilling rabbit from Stoke Market. I can see her now in the tiny back-kitchen skinning the rabbit and cleaning out its inside. That was a treat we enjoyed.
To raise a few pence, I would walk to Stoke market to collect wooden apple and orange boxes on a Friday after school and the following Saturday morning. I would then sit in the backyard and cut them up into pieces to light coal fires with. Then placing them into old tomato boxes would walk the street knocking at doors in an attempt to sell them for say 3d or 6d a box. Surprisingly a number of neighbours placed a regular order for each Saturday.
At around eleven I badly needed a new jacket, so mother took me to Mr. Skellern the watch-maker in London Road, where in the window was a second-hand blue jacket. So, for the first time I had to wear second-hand clothes. In fact, I got to like it and wore it for years. One weekly treat was 6d to go to the Majestic cinema in Stoke for the Saturday children’s matinee. There was certainly no pocket-money. Another occasional treat was an iced cream (synthetic) bun on a Wednesday from Droys in Church Street. Whilst at St. Peters Boys School a trip was organised to visit the origins of the Rover Trent at Knypersley. The cost was 4/6d, but for two that was nine shillings, a small fortune. My brother and I were I think the only two boys in the class who remained at school.
In those days all boys wore short trousers until around the age of twelve regardless of your height. One of the serious issues we had was with the cold winters and the winds causing painful chapped knees. Here we had to muddle though with a tin of I think Rosalex, a kind of barrier cream.
One of the highlights was when our landlord Mr. Bourne decided it was time to replace the ducket lavatory with actual clean fresh flushing one. The whole yard was dug-up for a water supply from the kitchen. I could not believe it, it was flushed with clean water you could drink – such wonders of the world I thought. But having water laid on brought a whole new set of problems in the winter months with freezing. Old rags were used as lagging to wrap around the pipe, but this was not sufficient. So, in addition a paraffin lamp had to be secured and placed by the pipe to keep the water from freezing ultimately leading to a burst-pipe and possibly no water for weeks.
To the younger readers its important to consider that my childhood experiences was not exclusive as my family was no different to most found in industrial towns, perhaps slightly better as a recall many in our street alone with larger families’ hardships were far worse and yet we pulled through those times.

If you have any memories of your childhood where you live not matter where – would be interested in publishing them on this site. Other countries more than welcome.

Sent to the contact address.

Queens Theatre Longton –

A right punch up!

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian.

Rev. V.G. Aston

Years ago, most provincial theatres had a Chaplain to provided support to travelling actors who otherwise may not be in a position to attend church on a regular basis. At the Queens Theatre in Longton on such chaplain was Rev. V.G. Aston later to become the Vicar of Penkhull who compiled a few notes with regards to the nights when wrestling challenges live on stage was an established form of entertainment. On one occasion a famous wrestler offered a challenge to all to pin him to the stage for two minutes having first exhibited his rather terrifying muscles and strutted out his chest and his hindquarters performing the curve known to mathematicians as a parabola.

They were always pretty violent affairs, and when Aston attended on the Friday night no one appeared to accept the £5 challenge. Then the management suddenly announced, after a prolonged blast on the trombone that a local ‘Daniel’ had come from Burslem to offer himself as the next victim of the ‘Goliath’. The bone-crusher was on stage cracking jokes that he would later crack the bones of the challenger to the expectant audience. This crude play had its immediate effect, and the swelling biceps struck terror into Aston’s heart as he retreated from the wings to watch the massacre from the safety of the stalls. Like Goliath of old the champion called upon his gods of raw liver and steak. To the surprise of the audience a youth in the prime of fitness strode to the front of the stage amid shouts of encouragement of his backers. All went silent.

In front of the footlights appeared the theatre manager dressed in tails, shirt glistening that would have done full justice to Woolworths and with glorious gesticulations he announced that at last there had been found in the Potteries one who was prepared to come and to be eaten alive for the amusement of the Longton patrons. Punctuated by drum rolls, the manager made the stupendous announcement that the champion would now proceed to throw the vertebra of the Burslem laddie to the audience. But all this did not seem to move the challenger, who un-concerned awaited the settling down of the champion.

Soon they were locked in their vicious embrace. Once moans, and all the usual complement of such affairs were resounding through the hall, it became evident to all that the champ wasn’t having things all his own way. Then from the back of the hall came cries of encouragement as might well tilt the scales in favour of the Burslem lad whom they had backed with most of their weekly wages. Indeed, Aston feared that unless the champion was pinned down for two minutes, there might be at last twenty colliers who would see that he stayed on the mat for as many hours.

Suddenly the champion gave a great heave and with a perfect arch threw challenger on his back with a sound that put the fiddlers out of tune. It was all over. But was it? Back came the Burslem lad like a tennis ball, and the champion began to blow and sweat as lithe arms and legs were festooned about him, and gradually he was on his back. The whole audience heaved in sympathy. Yes, sure enough, the champion was down, already his shoulder blades were touching the carpet. The house was breathless. Could the challenger hold him there? Two minutes; too long and weary years they seemed, sweat poured from combatants and audience alike. Could he hold him? The referee’s watch in hand, and many others in the crowd had their watches ready, timing the seconds as they languidly passed. A minute and a half, three quarters; yes, the deed was done. The champion was on his back, the wager was won.

The whole mob rose to its feet the wrestlers rolled clear, and in turn jumped up – the challenger to claim victory, the champion to deny defeat. Pandemonium broke loose. Shouts, filthy words, blasphemy rang throughout the auditorium, fists were raised blows aimed.

Aston heard a voice, from the happy land of sleep “I’m sorry Mr clergyman I’m sorry”. Aston rose minus a face, or so it seemed with a pair of broken spectacles and so returned home with a glorious black eye and a bent nose for inspection at church on the following Sunday.

Personal memories of Christmas in the 1950s

Six years of war brought many changes to familiar festive rituals. Christmas celebrations during the Second World War had to be scaled down as restrictions and shortages took their toll. It was also a time for many families where many men were fighting abroad, or prisoners of war and mothers were left to do the best as they could.

By the early 1950s, it remained a complex situation, unemployment, wives and children coming to terms that upon return of a husband and father it almost seemed that there was a stranger living in the house and relationships had to be kindled once more. Others found themselves widowed and fatherless. On the top of all this rationing remained, short supplies of food, coal, sweets and very little to spend on Christmas. Mother received only 16 shillings a week in child benefits for three boys!

Few if any had a TV, perhaps more following the Coronation in 1953 with a single programme the BBC. Other families sat silently around wireless set many still running on an accumulator acid filled battery listening to programmes such as Workers Playtime, Two Way Family Favourites, the Huggett’s, Educating Archie and the Billy Cotton Band Show. For children serials such as Dick Barton or Journey into Space. Who today would think a programme called the Ovalteenies would be beaming into every living room with its own song “we are the Ovalteenies little boys and girls” and secret coded messages to children as they sat with their code books glued to the radio set? There was no distinction then, no keeping up the Jones’s everyone in the street was in the same boat as there was little in the shops.

There is no comparison with then and now, there was no – “I want, I have got to have” we had what were given which was little, but there was nothing to buy like today and certainly paying for the rent and food took priority. No doubt little has changed today where the format of that special day is concerned. Yes, there was a stocking, or even a pillow-case to hang up with high expectations. Early to bed and even earlier to rise to the annoyance of parents – a quick look at what Santa had let and back to sleep or a clip around the ear.

I guess expectations were not high because things remained strained. Toys were simply far and in-between, probably board games were more the order of the day – housey-housey, snakes and ladders, ludo, drawing books of link up the numbers etc. and for boys Meccano sets. Then as a stocking filler there would be a packet of chocolate pennies, an apple and a rare orange if available and lastly a new shiny penny or six-pence. That was it. I was lucky as my uncle Tom worked for the foreign office based in Germany – where for some reason toys were far more sophisticated and more available than the UK so our anticipation of what would arrive in the post was high.

For Christmas my parents managed to save enough for a Christmas tree and for Christmas day real little coloured twisted candles were lit as we had our teas but were blown out shortly afterwards for fear of a fire. No electric fairy lights in those days! And, for the occasion we children were allowed a rare opportunity to use the front parlour, whilst parents and neighbours would share a glass of sherry in the kitchen or over the backyard wall.

In the afternoon there was the annual Christmas speech by King George VI, we almost had to stand to attention and to be quiet or else! Commercial decorations were scarce so as children we would make paper chains out of painted newspaper or a purchase a packet of brightly colored crape paper from Stoke market, cut into strips of around three inches and then twist to give it shape. Perfect, and father complete with drawing pins would fix to the ceiling in the corner of the room to hang down and then fix by a further pin by the center light fitting containing no more than a 100w bulb.

Dinner was the highlight of the day, no turkey in those days – we had a boiler chicken which was cheaper and supplemented by a piece of pork to make it go further around. It was always mother that ended up with just a piece of pork. Father was a baker and confectioner so saved the ration coupons to enable a plumb-pudding and custard after the main meal. Tea was a luxury, salad and a tin of John West salmon reserved only for special occasions and stored on the top shelf of the pantry. Father again made the Christmas cake complete with icing – very rare after the war and to finish off the day a piece of fathers own made pork pie as we sat around to play the board games as a family.

But it’s with joy that I recall other events that made a difference to children. The school Christmas party – held in your own class-room. During the year the school would hold jumble-sale, sell scent cards and other such things to provide cherished corned beef sandwiches, jelly and a dollop of Carnation Milk. I recall we all have to take our own cutlery with a piece of coloured cotton wrapped around the handle so not to lose it.

Father was a member of Stoke Trades and Labour Club and every year club members children were booked into the party. Again, corned-beef or cheese sandwiches, and for desert jelly and perhaps peaches and another cherished dollop of Carnation Milk which I hated. Once the meal concluded around two-hundred of us would rush upstairs to the concert room where the fun and games took place. We had entertainment with magicians, ventriloquists, singers and above all else I recall the umpteenth rendering and in different order of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Then like magic from the rear of the concert room was the long-awaited Santa Clause, complete with his helpers and sacks of neatly wrapped parcels marked boy or girl.

A similar experience was had at the Sunday School where we attended – The Gospel Hall in Stoke. Different than today as around two hundred children attended. And again, corned beef sandwiches and jelly. No boiled ham in those days. No ice-cream as no fridges then.

The last outside event for Christmas was at the Majestic Cinema in Campbell Place where over a thousand children as ABC minors came together for a huge party. We were all given a lucky-bag of a few sweets, an orange, party hat, luminous ABC minor badge and a drink together with a pair of special two colour glasses so we could watch a short trial 3D film and experienced hands coming out of the screen almost to the seat in front. We even had fancy-dress competitions.

By early evening – it was off up the wooden hills with a goodnight kiss, and yes, in thankfulness for the blessings of the day because in the 50s there was no comparisons to be made, what we had was the norm replicated probably in every home in the street.

Upon reflection, like many of my age, it is probably our upbringing that is the reason we all value things differently and think little of the “we must have the best of this or that or the latest designer TV, shoes or clothes”. We are just grateful for whatever we receive.

Bluebird 1935 land speed car in storage at Stoke

The resurgence of the name Bluebird as the speedboat in which Donald Campbell was killed in 1967 as it crashed on Coniston Water in his attempt to break his own water speed record and now following years of restoration following its being brought to the surface years after the crash has once more finally been tested in the water.

His father, Sir Malcom Campbell was a British racing motorist and motoring journalist. He gained the world speed record on September 1935, and became the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph, averaging 301.337 mph in two passes.

This last version of the car that Sir Malcolm Campbell used to set his major records. After reaching 251mph at Daytona Beach just a couple years prior, he then had his sights set on reaching the elusive 300mph mark. Blue Bird most definitely had the power to reach those speeds, the problem was that it was extremely difficult for the car to use all that power.

In 1935, Campbell and his team came up with a few modifications that were designed to help the car get its power down to the ground more efficiently, and hopefully help with the wheel spin problem of the 27-foot-long car. The location was at Bonneville Salt Flats located just west of Salt Lake City, Utah, a perfectly flat area that stretches for miles and miles. On September 3rd, 1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell took his beloved Blue Bird out where he drove it straight into the record books. The car that featured the 36.7L supercharged Rolls Royce airplane engine producing 2300+ horsepower managed to reach the elusive 300mph mark. For a land speed record, two runs are necessary, and the combined average of those runs is what becomes the record.

But why this now. Well for years I ran a business at 245 London Road. The property was built in 1906. The ground floor was a car showroom showing off the first Daimler cars in the city and complete with inspection pit. It was owned by the proprietor of a large garage opposite, where West End Village now stands. The owner in those days lived above the old shop. During my time there around three gentlemen came in to tell me that during the war Sir Malcolm Campbells record winning Bluebird was stored there behind covered windows. They and other boys used to look through gaps in the sheets of old newspapers on a regular basis and in wonder of the right before them. I have every reason to believe this to be true as the connection is the proprietor of the garage who probably had connections through that industry with Sir Malcolm Campbell and offered a safe place – Stoke-on-Trent for its storage during the war.

I wonder if there is anyone reading this who remembers the car in storage at 245, London Road as it would be great to receive their memories.

Potters holidays of the past

© Dr Richard Talbot, MBE, Author and Historian.

In reality there has been no potters holiday for a number of years as the industrial landscape of the Potteries of thirty years ago has long gone as there are no longer a pottery industry to speak of, no coal mines employing thousands or the Michelin at its height employing over seven thousand employees. To be correct prior to the 1970s the title was the wakes weeks but then lost its significance as all the large industries and the schools of north Staffordshire voted to change the date from the first two weeks in August to the last week in June and the first week in July to become new the potters holiday. Why, because the weather patterns had changed, and early August became consistent with bad-weather. Before the 2nd World War there was only one week’s holiday and that was with no pay until 1937. Two weeks holiday came after the second world war.

A part of the brief for this essay was ‘what of its origins’, Well, you’ve read it here first in the Sentinel remember for press reports in 1838 the wakes in Stoke was described as an ancient festival. In fact it dates from Anglo-Saxon times probably the 6th century when the junction of the Trent and Fowley formed a religious site for pagan worship which incorporated the festival of Lamas, a holiday celebrated on the 1st August. By the early 7th century, Christian missionaries began converting Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire and as the Christian calendar is based upon many of the old Anglo-Saxon festival days, Lamas coincided with the feast of St. Peter in Chains, so to continue the annual festival on the same site with a new wooden Christian Church appropriately dedicated to St. Peter ad Vincula. Stoke parish originally stretched from Caverswall to Norton in the Moors until 1807 and so every hamlet and village celebrated the Wakes (religious festival) at the beginning of August. During medieval times this took the form of Church Ales, whereby the old Saxon Church in Stoke was repaired, cleaned, white-washed by the people of this huge parish whilst the church provided free ale to all the men in exchange for labour. It became a great festival where all families attended with picnics of food and children’s games and dancing after the work was done.

By 1833 wakes celebrations became of local concern for the Primitive Methodists in Longton who at the time of the annual wakes held religious camp meetings where many attended from other towns and distant villages of the district. These were to “counteract the ill-effects of the wakes of drunken disorderly people” but this was counterbalanced by manufacturers such as W. Ridgway and coal proprietors entertaining their workers with dinner and plum-pudding. A decade later there appears to be a more-sober approach to the celebrations with friendly and benevolent society activities, Sunday School anniversaries and the annual Pottery Races.

As the potteries towns started to expand with workers and manufactories the 1840s the annual wakes festival became an intrinsic part of the Potteries calendar as each town was described as “full of jollity”. Every public house and open-space were crowed as potters and colliers put on their Sunday best as they promenaded around town centers. There were side-shows and exhibitions that attracted lovers of the unexpected, giants and dwarfs, mermaids, learned pigs, peep-shows, conjurors and slight-of-hand performers packing out every corner of the towns. However, the friends of religious education of the young were there to observe and, in their view, to protect the vulnerable.

In 1846, things had progressed in as much that the towns of Hanley and Shelton, Stoke, Fenton and Longton had established their own wakes committees. Hanley Green was described as “one of the most picturesque spots in North Staffordshire, a magical quarter whilst Far Green was the place for sports and pastimes. There was bear, bull and badger-baiting and dog fighting – all for the enjoyment of potters and miners alike. In the market place, just opposite the Angel Inn, stood Mr. Batty with his wild beasts, another with his performing mice. The bottom of Market Square was occupied by Mr. Sheldon of London with his swinging boats. At the Town Hall the ‘Ethiopian Seranaders’ were performing all week and at the Shakespeare Tavern, was “to be seen alive” the “infant Goliath” an infant of enormous weight. On Miles Bank, a gentleman was ‘strutting upon the stage in all the splendor of Knights Templars’ and the most fashionable dances of the day were performed with agility described as ‘truly surprising’.

By the mid-1850s, there was a reflection upon the poor state of trade over the previous years but in 1856 there was something to celebrate as trade was good and therefore employment was once more on the up and people had a few more shillings to spend. Emphases was made of the races and of Trentham Thursday, an important part of the local celebrations. By now there were events from the Saturday evening prior to the first Sunday in August continuing through to the rest of the week. Comments were made regarding the appearance of potteries folk. “Some years previous it was fashionable for the silver-spoon folk to speak of the masses as the “unwashed”, but in the Potteries – save for a stray collier in his working clothes, it would be difficult to find any man, woman or child – when away from work with unwashed faces or unclean hands. Indeed, they are all well-dressed and scrupulously clean.

And so, the wakes continued without interruption for years until one word entered the local vocabulary becoming increasingly significant each year slowly prompting the decline of the annual celebrations – ‘excursions’.

The North Staffs Railway with an eye for business and in good times, potters with a few extra shillings to spend took advantage of the daily excursions from every station on the Knotty line. Yes, thousands still made their annual pilgrimage to Hanley as the celebrations provided a welcomed break for the toilers of the district who provided the prosperity for their masters. The description in 1873 encapsulates in vivid technicolour the experiences of the day. Crown Bank, the waste ground in Percy Street, from the top of Piccadilly, covering Fountain and Market Squares, Parliament Row, in Tontine Square and Glass Street was a collection of motley grouping of shows, roundabouts, shooting galleries, photographic booths and more.

By the end of the 1880s the Potteries Carnival, as it was described by many once more returned with an abundance of attractions designed to give locals a pleasurable experience in every town. This year there was also a greater emphasis on the excursions by train commencing from the Friday until the end of wakes week to destinations such as North Wales, Yorkshire and the Lancaster coats, Chester, Matlock, and as far a Bath. Indeed, as the advertisement said – to explore the far distant lands of Southampton, Brighton and Glasgow – places previously never visited but now available by train even if in a 4th class compartment. Its this excitement of the ‘excursion’ that continued for the Jubilee Celebrations of Queen Victoria in 1897 when extra special trains were put on to London.

The turn of the century witnessed a serious decline in the Potters wakes week and along with it came the demands for the change of date, the end of June or the third week in July were demanded in the hope it may change its fortunes. At that time each town had its own council, each with a different view point than its neighbour. Industry was in conflict, potters against colliers and educationalists had no chance of agreement. At a meeting of the North Staffs Traders Association held in February 1900, the debate was lively, but the proposed changes were rejected on the basis that if they were held earlier or later than present, the next thing would be demands for an additional week’s holiday for the workers which could not be entertained. So, in 1900 it was decided to retain the date because of its ‘religious origins’ in relation to the parish church of Stoke.

By 1912 reports suggest that many of the usual town activities had disappeared and there was decidedly an emphasis on the seaside resorts. At Stoke station platforms were over-run with people, children and luggage as no fewer than ten special trains were run to Blackpool alone conveying more than 8,000 pleasure seekers, six out of ten selecting the gay Lancaster resort (how the meaning of words have changed) while eight other trains were dispatched to North Wales, Aberystwyth being the main destination against that of Rhyl and Llandudno. These trips were in addition the nearer to home excursions such as Buxton, Market Drayton and the Manifold Valley.

This excursion bonanza continued and in August 1939 when, the thought of war was in the uppermost of every one’s thoughts. In excess of 136,000 people decided to take a holiday as the fear of it being their last for some years was dominant in their minds. Over 34,000 left the potteries on the Friday and on the Saturday, 52,000 travelled by special trains, 35,000 by ordinary service and 15,000 by coach, car or cycle. This was despite the fact that the weather predictions were not good, but the threat of rain impaired the cheerfulness of the crowded platforms despite clouds of another sort forming over Europe.

I recall in the 50s that almost every factory in the city closed for the annual wakes, so too the mines and all schools. The PMT, ran only a Sunday service and streets were like ghost towns, almost of biblical mass-exodus on special trains to North Wales and Blackpool became the priority of all. Even the Evening Sentinel advertised that their daily paper would be on sale at various holiday resorts as productions schedules were changed to meet demand.

But for those who did stay at home, the huge gatherings in town centers had disappeared but Pat Collins fair-ground situated off Regent Road, Hanley was always a treat-to-be had, a push-and-shove event as children waited for the rides, coconut shires, roll-a-penny, win a gold fish, photo with a monkey, or to relish a candy-floss or toffee apples for a few pence. There were side shows – see the fat lady, or even witnessing a disappearing act, and peep-shows of naughty girls – they were all there for a few pence. Great times for all and great memories even today.

Trentham Thursday

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian

“Everybody goes to Trentham on Wakes Thursday” was a typical local fable during the 19th century. However, many now wonder “what was Trentham Thursday was all about?” Well, the first mention of a Trentham Thursday first appears in 1843 when the writer talks about the approaches to Trentham Park being thronged by groups who came on foot, in vehicles of every description and barges along the canal. There was a brass band playing in the park where the young and old “tripped the light fantastic” as they felt free from the daily grind of the pottery factories of Stoke to the green park and clear air of Trentham. The year following tens of thousands were reported promenading around the park, setting up picnics and games for children were in abundance.

The park was part of the estate belonging to the Duke of Sutherland of Trentham Hall who allowed it to be enjoyed once a year by the people of North Staffordshire. A worthy description of 1845 clearly illustrates the atmosphere and importance of this annual festival. “Early in the morning, the clustering towns of the entire district pored fourth their gaily attired inhabitants in their thousands. Pedestrians and vehicles of every description, groaning beneath their burdens of laughing, buoyant, joyous people crowed the entire lengths of crowed roads as they made their way to Trentham”. From this period onwards, each following year the event attracted more able-bodied of the Potteries exchanging the smoke for the enjoyment of the sylvan groves of the Duke of Sutherland.

In 1854, the Independent Order of Odd-Fellows appealed to the Duke to allow the gardens to be opened for a special gala to raise funds for the North Staffs Infirmary. Admission was one shilling for adults and six pence for children obtainable in advance from local booksellers. Never before had so many people congregated in one place at the same time for an incredible 61,000 plus attended that day.

During the Victorian period attendance numbers maintained an average of over 51,000 each year. By the mid-1860s, specials trains were running every hour from all stations on the Knotty line to Trentham, the demand was so great that wooden sheds where placed in each town for the purchase of train tickets in advance to save complete chaos at each station on the day. The short walk from Trentham station to the park defies the imagination with itinerant stall holders providing food, alcohol, side shows, music of all kinds in attempt to persuade revellers to part with the odd penny or sixpence as they passed.

By the late 1870s Trentham Thursday was viewed as the crowning finale of the Stoke Wakes and no wonder, for what more pleasant way to end a week’s jovialities than to ruralise for a day amidst the most enchanting scenes of nature and for free. However, by the early 1880s there were reports of a slow decline in numbers as it had done over the last few years that in a decade there would be no more Trentham Thursday.

Until the 1880s the weather, rain or shine played little part on the day, but in this decade, it was a good excuse not to travel to Trentham reducing further attendance figures then amounting to just a few thousand who were determined to cling on to the importance of the day.

Once the decline was established, the excursions from Stoke station to seaside resorts and historic cities surpassed all expectations and thus was as predicted the death-nell to Trentham Thursday as potters wanted to explore further afield. It was reported in 1912, that again numbers were down at Trentham from years past of sixty to seventy thousand to just a few. The fairground, stalls and booths that once lined the way from the station to the park became just a shadow of its former glory. Weather was at its worst and as trains arrived with people with high expectations of the day the platforms were full of those wanting to return home. For those who remained the weather changed for the better noon and people returned on foot together with mats, baskets of food and the children as always paddled in the stream as they had done for the last seventy years.

Sent to the contact address.

from the pen opf