Bits and Pieces

Penkhull History Society
Workhouse Children
Currently the class has closed because of the Coronavirus.

However we shall be re-opening once the restrictions are lifted which may be some time.

We shall continue with the lives of children in the Spittals (Stoke) and Chell Workhouses but looking in the first place how many young children were packed off to the British Colonies – New Zealand and Canada in the latter part of the 19th century and how they were treated.

Tutor Dr Richard Talbot MBE

at
The Pavilion, Bakewell Street Park, Bakewell Street, Penkhull
Commencing at 2.00 pm. – 4.00 pm.
Refreshments included.
Cost including all hand-outs £35 for the term (10 weeks)
Enquiries to Dr Talbot on 01782 396858

The Old Empire Theatre, Longton – memories of what music hall was like

 © Dr. Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian

It must be around forty-five years ago that I was given an unpublished auto-biography of the Rev. V.G. Aston entitled ‘Thirty years in the Potteries’ probably compiled in the late 1930s.

During his time as a curate at Normacot he was appointed a local chaplain for the Actor’s Church Union serving the theatres in the Longton of which one was the old Queens Theatre later to become the Empire in 1921. His reflections therefore date before then and recount a number of interesting experiences during his time there.

This first reflection of two was early in the season when a poor group of actors arrived, tired and worn out. It was a scratch affair, with the alleged comedian as boss, and the rest dependent upon his gags for their very bread and butter. Early in the week, Aston visited the show – a dud from the opening night. The paper filled house was hostile from the Monday, and the attendance was not enough to pay lodging for half the actors. By Thursday it was obvious that all the efforts of the company could not prevail in getting enough takings to pay railway fares to the next venue let alone a wage. On Friday there was a riot as the chorus girls refused to go on despite the appeals of the comedian. The audience shouting for their money back and the manager asked Aston to intervein.  

                                                                                                         By this time things had become heated, even to the point where the haggling crowd were there on centre stage, the neck-enders showing their strength in numbers in front of the shabby scenery. The stage manager was trying to calm the troubled chorus girls, but it was obvious that no one was paying attention to his words. There was no money in the kitty for pay night for the actors to settle with the rather buxom landladies which was the norm. Not even a few shillings on account would settle an argument. Things were tough as well they might be. The shrill voices of the females rose high above the remonstrations of the males, and it looked as if any moment the stage manager might be physically attacked and dispensed with by a quick punch into the orchestra pit.

The group were both tired and hungry, it could be seen in their faces. They hadn’t the money for food but in turn pressed for at least enough for their fares home, so they could get as far away from this unlucky place as fast as steam would carry them. Having emulated the ladies who rush in before the Angels, Aston gently suggested that there might be more in the till after Saturday night’s performance. Jeers was a fitting response. Indeed, having seen the show I wondered whether the cheapest thing might be the cost of a poster to say that the theatre was closed for repairs.

Having nothing better thing to say, Aston subsided while abuse was piled on like salt to an open wound. But all things must come to an end, and at midnight it became obvious that there was more readiness to sensible talk than hitherto. The upshot of it all was that the comedian manager should find the fares home by the morning, and that he would give me his sacred promise to meet me and the performers on stage at 10 o’clock on the following day. Aston finally went to bed with much misgivings, and at 10 o’clock was again on the stage awaiting the advent of the manager. He didn’t come. He just absconded he was never heard of again, and there with a score of artist on Aston’s hands mounting a blank expression. The local theatre manager was helpless, but he drew me aside and went into discussion of ways and means by which ultimately, we were able to raise enough for the fares, which meant dipping into church funds which ultimately saw the last of the unhappy gang waving goodbye from Longton station on Sunday morning. They had actually played on the Saturday night, and marvellously had done better than all through the week although none of it saw its way back to the church collection plate.

Queens Theatre Longton – A right punch up

© Dr Richard Talbot MBE, Author and Historian.

A second fascinating story written by the Rev V.G. Aston in his capacity of Actor’s Church Union Chaplain to the Queens Theatre in Longton. On this 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 unconcern 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.

Canada Cottage

This confirms that Canada Cottage was not built until 1824. At this time Queens Road had not been laid, the group of three cottages were built in a short row off what was Newcastle Street. Queens Road as we know it was not formed until the last 1870s and early 1880s. Before it was developed there was no mains water so in keeping with all old properties they had to become sufficient by the provision of their own water well. In this case until c1880.

Could not resit putting this fantastic picture of Doug Jervis bringing home the hey from the field off Hilton Road. Notice those sitting on the top – no Health and Safety in those days and the hey looks as though its ready to fall over.

I have received the following from Ron Tarling who now lives in the USA.

He recalls his time at what was Penkhull Senior School form 1963-1967 and would live to have any photographs of the time from any viewer of this site.

So, if anyone out there has any or remembers Ron why not send him a message direct or via the contact address on this site and we will publish both the message and any photographs sent in.

Would be great so share memories.

Ron Tarling  e.mail address:  taffieron@yahoo.com>

Our tutor Dr Richard Talbot gave a talk to the school children (last year) at the Willows School on Thursday 16th November.

His talk is in connection with their World War II day and will illustrate what it was like for people at home during the war with food rationing, blackouts, bombs dropping, air-raid shelters etc. The focus will be on how it affected children. Good subject for children to examine.

Report back – very surprised the children were there all dressed up for the period – and with gas-mask boxes etc. They engaged so well and responded to all the points and often spoke of what their grandparents had told them. Well worth the effort and time taken to prepare the Power Point presentation with many press cuttings I have from the period. When I referred to schools being closed at the outbreak of war – there was a great cheer. Good time. Who knows if invited again next year.

Bits and Pieces is a bit of ‘anything goes here’ page that does not fit in with the other categories and not a separate subject in themselves but rather ‘one-offs’. So, if you wish to add a ‘one off ‘we would be delighted to list it under this general heading.

During the English civil war 1642-46 the country was run by ‘Committees’ The following are extracts from the Order Book for the County of Staffordshire dated 1643-45 relating to Pencle as it was then called.

That the weekly pay of Bucknall, Fenton and Pencle plus other places shall be assigned to Captaine Thomas Hunt for the payment of his officers and souldiers. p.27

Whereas Alexander Brett of Pencle holds a farme there of Mr. Ralph Keeling of Newcastle and is behind with his rent as Mr Keeling informs to the summe of 18shilling for which he tooke a distress of his cattle which he afterwards by the helpe of the enemy then in these parts rescued and tooke againe. It is therefore no ordered that Mr. Keeling shall have his liberty to distrayne for the arrears and to take to his assistance so many of Captaine Stones souldiers as shall be thought necessary giving them satisfaction for their paynes therein. p.75

Whereas the Committee at Stafford are informed that various persons hould lands within the Townshipp of Pencle and refuse to pay their proportion of money imposed upon the land that they do not inhabit in the town. It is now ordered that all persons that hould land within the Townshipp shall pay theyr proportion imposed on the lands or apeare before the Committee at Stafford upon Wednesday next to shew cause to the contrary. p.84

The Committee have been informed by Mrs Sheyd wife of Ralph Sneyd that the inhabitants og Newcastle, Seabridge Pencle etc were bound in the Duchy Court of Lancaster to grind there corne and grists (batch of grain) at Newcastle Mills belonging to Ralph Sneyd, a delinguent to the Kinge and Parliament and therefore were sequested by us amongst others of the  Mrs Sneys lands for the use of the state. And for as much as Mrs Sneyd alledgeth that various inhanitants of the towns doe now neglect to grinde their corne at the mills as formerly they did and not grind at any other unless they can shew good cause to the Committee for the contrary. p.141

Penkhull Flag Pole

It’s around five years since the flag pole was installed in the middle of the village. This been a welcome addition to village life celebrating not only the standard flag flying days, local festivities, but also other occasions such as special Royal occasions, the burial of Richard III, and sadly remembering tragic events when the union flag has been flown at half-mast. During these five years algae and grime has covered the pole reducing the easy movement of raising and lowering the flag.

Recently, a group of friends have supported myself in lowering the pole and cleaning it then re-erecting the same. Not an easy task but worth the effort. We hope that it will be a further five years before a clean-up is needed again.

Several people including myself have always considered that a flag with a Penkhull identity would promote further the village when celebrations are held in the church yard or church. Now I understand that the PRA have contacted the Flag Institute which supports “creating local and community flags”. To have such a local flag registered. Any such design should be representative of the people it represents through a process of individual designs and final selection.

My thoughts on the subject is that the design should represent its Royal connection from 1086 when the Manor of Penkhull was governed by no less than William the Conqueror. Others may have different ideas. We await further action on this matter from the PRA – hopefully very soon.  Richard Talbot – The flag flyer of Penkhull.

Dr Richard Talbot MBE looks at the plans for a Lych Gate to be erected in Penkhull Church Yard.


For many years I have had in my possession copies of the plans for the building of a lych gate to be situated at the entrance of the churchyard opposite the Marquis of Granby.

Plans were submitted in July 1941 sponsored Mr. W.H. Wright and an application was made to the Diocese signed by the Vicar Rev. V.G. Aston. In the petition for the Faculty it read: That is desired to erect a Lych Gate in the churchyard belonging to the said church and that the estimated cost would be £90 and that the work will involve the removal of the present stone pillars and that the plans have been agreed upon by the Parochial Church Council and the Advisory Church Council and the Diocese of Lichfield.

I recall many years ago talking to the late Winnie Wys and asking why it was not built – I think the answer was that the person providing the gate fell out with the PCC (as it does sometimes happen) so he did not proceed although the faculty was passed. No doubt to many this has been a great loss to Penkhull as the churches location in the centre of the village is an ideal location for such a gate which would have enhanced the church.

Surprisingly the motion was proposed and seconded by two of my good friends for years ago Miss Myatt from Knapper’s Gate and Miss P. Ashwell of the Grove. Both gave extensive interviews with me some forty-five years ago and their recordings are digitised in my archives.