Category Archives: The Potteries

LLEWELLIN’S KIDSGROVE: First Impressions

Saint-Thomas's-The-Avenue-Kidsgrove

In 1922, the Rev Frederick George Llewellin, a graduate of Durham University, became the Vicar of Kidsgrove.

Frederick wrote a book “The Lighter Side of a Parson’s Life” about his ministry in the parish and the boat people he married in St. Thomas’s Church. In this edited extract from the book, he describes his first impressions of Kidsgrove and The Potteries:

Ignoring all prophesies that I would not stand the strain for more than three months, I accepted the benefice of Kidsgrove in autumn 1921.

The parish is six miles north-east of Stoke-upon-Trent and ten miles south-west of Crewe. Thus, we are outside The Potteries, and I am glad that we are. The pottery people are so terrible in their cynicism. Observing that I had “come from the country” one of them asked me if I would like a nice calendar. Naturally, I said “Yes” and thanked him most heartily for his generous offer.

But what diabolical plot was ever so cruelly played upon an unsuspecting yokel. My wife and I opened the envelope containing the calendar when the postman brought it.

Like most women, my wife hates spending money to replace broken crockery. You can imagine the look on her face when we saw he had sent us a calendar with a picture of a large black cat dancing a on a breakfast table and smashing all the best cups and saucers. Underneath the illustration, the villain had arranged for this inscription to be printed:

Good luck to the cat that breaks the crocks
In pieces very small,
For things like this they do us good
And benefit us all.

There are about 5,500 parishioners in Kidsgrove. Most of them are employed in the coal mining industry, in engineering, in the chemical industry or on the railway. Some work in the pottery industry and travel daily to factories in Tunstall and Burslem.

Last, but certainly not least, I have a small “moving population” of boat people known locally as the “Bargees”. People who have read the stories about these “Water Gipsies” by L. T. Meade already know something about my Kidsgrove Bargees, of whom I am intensely fond.

Post: Copyright 2020 North Staffordshire Heritage

(Photograph of St. Thomas’s Church, Kidsgrove © Copyright Galatas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

FOCUS ON KIDSGROVE: The Harecastle Tunnels

Harecastle- railway-tunnel- north-portal-south-tunnel-kidsgrove

Two railway tunnels, three cuttings and a defile took the North Staffordshire Railway Company’s mainline under Harecastle Hill which separated Kidsgrove and Chatterley.

The first trains ran through the cuttings and the tunnels on 9 October 1849 when the section of track linking Kidsgrove with Stoke opened. Before reaching the first cutting, trains travelling south from Kidsgrove to The Potteries crossed a bridge over the Trent and Mersey Canal. As the train went over the bridge, passengers looking out of the carriage windows could see the two tunnels that took the canal through the hill.

The Canal Tunnels

The first canal tunnel was constructed by James Brindley and his brother in law Hugh Henshall. It opened in 1777 and was 2,880 yards long, 12 feet high and 9 feet wide. The tunnel was so narrow that boats travelling in opposite directions could not go through it at the same time. Boats going south had to wait at Kidsgrove until it was their turn to enter the tunnel. Boats going north had to wait at Chatterley until the ones coming from Kidsgrove had passed through. Because it was not wide enough to have a towpath, the boats had to be “legged” through the tunnel.

As traffic increased, the delays caused by long queues of boats waiting to go into the tunnel infuriated local industrialists. Faced with the possibility that pottery manufacturers would build a railway, the canal’s owner, the Trent and Mersey Canal Company, decided to construct a second tunnel at Harecastle. The company employed Thomas Telford to build it. The new tunnel cost £112,581 and was opened on 30 April 1827.

The Railway Cuttings and Tunnels

Railways came to The Potteries in the mid-1840s when the North Staffordshire Railway Company was founded. Trains that the company planned to run linking Stoke with Macclesfield and Crewe had to go through Harecastle Hill. Civil engineering contractor, Thomas Brassey was employed to build two railway tunnels and make a series of cuttings between Kidsgrove and the Chatterley Valley.

The first cutting a train travelling south from Kidsgrove to Stoke came to was a narrow roofed cutting, called a defile, near St. Thomas’s Church and Kidsgrove parsonage.

The defile was about 150 yards long. It had stone walls and a brick roof to prevent noise from trains interrupting church services. When it left the defile, the train passed through a cutting which was about 300 yards long and about 75 feet deep before entering a short tunnel called the North Tunnel. The tunnel, which was 183 yards long, took the railway under Boathorse Road. On leaving the North Tunnel, the train went into another cutting that led to the South Tunnel which was 1,768 yards long.

The northern entrance to the South Tunnel was near where Boathorse Road changes its name to Nelson Bank. The tunnel ran through the hill to Chatterley where its southern entrance was in a cutting near Lowlands Road. Although built at a higher level than the two canal tunnels, for most of its length the South Tunnel ran between them.

Building the South Tunnel

Brassey employed about 1,600 men to build the South Tunnel. No less than 15 shafts were sunk from the surface of the hill to the level of the tunnel. Because of the hill’s undulating nature, the shafts varied in depth from 25 to 60 yards. At the top of the shafts, there were steam engines which lowered building materials for the men working below and brought soil to the surface. Before the work started, an underground roadway was driven into the hill to take supplies to the men building the tunnel. 

The roadway, which civil engineers called a drift, was six feet wide and six feet high.

Workers began to construct the entrances to the tunnel at Kidsgrove and Chatterley. At the same time, gangs of men were digging the tunnel northwards and southwards from the bottom of the shafts. The part of the tunnel they built linked the shafts which became air vents when it opened. 

Offices, stables, a few cottages and a mill for grinding cement were erected on the summit of Harecastle Hill. The bricks used to build the tunnel were made by brickworks in the Chatterley Valley. A tramway was laid over the hill to take bricks to Kidsgrove.

The South Tunnel took two years to build, and it is estimated that 15 million bricks were used in its construction.

Copyright 2020 North Staffordshire Heritage

(Photograph of the north portal of the South Tunnel at Harecastle © Copyright Jonathan Hutchins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Aikin’s Tunstall

Aikin’s Tunstall is an edited extract from Dr John Aikin’s book A Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles Round Manchester which was published in 1795.

Tunstall in 1795

Tunstall is the pleasantest village in The Potteries. It stands on high ground and commands pleasing views of the surrounding countryside. Its factories make high-quality ware which is sold in large quantities. There was formerly a church in the town, and human remains have been found buried there although no trace of either the church or the bones exists today. A neat chapel has been built recently. There are a considerable number of brick and tile works. The local clay is ideal for making bricks and tiles. Tiles made from local clay are as blue and look as good on house roofs as moderate slate. Tunstall is four miles from Newcastle-under-Lyme and nine miles from Congleton. The turnpike road from Lawton to Newcastle passes through the town. Another turnpike road starts in Tunstall and ends at Bosley in Cheshire.

The illustration shows Tunstall Windmill and the courthouse that housed Tunstall Court Leet. Although the courthouse, which stood on the corner where Oldcourt Street joins Roundwell Street, was still in existence in 1795 it not mentioned in the book.

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The Potteries in 1795

Bell Works, Pottery Industry

In 1795, a book called A Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles Round Manchester was compiled by Dr John Aikin from information given to him by local historians.

The book describes Newcastle-under-Lyme and The Potteries which extended from Goldenhill to Longton.

Writing about The Potteries, the local historian, whom Aikin says was a very intelligent gentleman, writes:

About a mile from the borders of Cheshire, the Staffordshire Potteries commence at a village called Goldenhill and stretch for seven miles to Lane End (Longton) creating the impression that it is one town with several different names. Manufacturing pottery is the main business of this extensive area whose population has increased threefold in 20 years. The pottery towns and villages are Goldenhill, Newfield, Smithfield, Tunstall, Longport, Burslem, Cobridge, Etruria, Hanley, Shelton, Stoke, Lower Lane, Lane Delf and Lane End. In all probability, they will become so intermixed that they will soon form one town with one name. Already, people who live only a short distance away are calling these towns and villages The Pottery.

The drawing shows the Bell Works in Burslem

Extract Edited by David Martin (April 2020)

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North Staffordshire’s History and Heritage

Since 1990, our historical geographer Betty Cooper and her husband international heritage lawyer David Martin have undertaken significant original research into North Staffordshire’s history and architectural heritage.

Born in The Rookery, Betty was educated at Brownhills High School in Tunstall and at Manchester University where she wrote her thesis on the economic development of The Potteries.

Betty’s researches enabled her to produce the first map of medieval Tunstall, which was a market town and administrative centre surrounded by six fields.

Over the years, Betty and David have written extensively about North Staffordshire and some of their articles will be posted on this page.

The photograph shows Brownhills High School where Betty was educated.

Tunstall Town Hall and Covered Market

Tunstall’s historic market hall is one of the few remaining Victorian covered markets in the United Kingdom.

Designed by architect George Thomas Robinson, the market hall cost £7,651 13s 1d. It was opened by the chairman of the local board of health, Thomas Peake, on the 2 December 1858. Trading commenced two days later on the 4 December.

The market hall was known locally as “The Shambles”. Traders who had stalls there sold meat and fish, poultry and game, fruit and vegetables, hardware and household goods, groceries and dairy produce, shoes and clothing.

In the early 1880s, the market’s main entrance in High Street became unsafe, and the market hall’s roof started to collapse. One-third of the market hall was demolished, and a new town hall was built on the site. A free Renaissance-style building, the town hall was designed by Absalom Reade Wood, one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

While the town hall was being built, Wood regenerated the remaining two-thirds of the market hall. He gave it a new roof and relaid the floor. New stalls were erected, and the market hall was redecorated.

Tunstall’s new town hall was opened by Thomas Peake’s son, John Nash Peake, on the 29 October 1885.

After the opening ceremony, a civic luncheon was held in the town hall’s assembly room. Later, the band of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the members of Burslem Prize Choir gave a promenade concert in the market hall. In the evening there was a football match in Phoenix Park, and the day ended with a grand ball in the market hall.

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

This drawing of Shelton Bar is taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

A drawing of Shelton Bar taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Tunstall Windmill

old-windmill-tunstall-stoke-on-trent

Tunstall Windmill was a corn mill.

It was built in 1813 on land that became known as Millfields which was on the north side of Roundwell Street between America Street and Dunning Street.

A track led from America Street to the mill which at one time was surrounded by a circular loading bay where carts were loaded and unloaded.

 The mill is mentioned by W. J. Harper in his book “By-Gone Tunstall” that was published in 1913.

In this edited extract from the book, Harper writes:

Of course, there were no houses near the mill in the earlier years of its history, save three one storey workmen’s cottages seen on the left of the drawing. In later years the mill yard was fenced in, and gardens were provided for the cottagers . . . When the mill went into disuse the corn room was used as a practice room by members of Tunstall’s drum and fife band.

Harper knew John Bickley, a member of the band, who remembered rehearsing in the corn room. John told him that a man and his wife lived at the mill. One evening the couple began to argue. During the row, the woman walked out. She didn’t come back, and her husband spent the night alone in the mill.

There was an old mine shaft nearby, which was full of water. The next morning, the woman’s body was found in the mine shaft. She had committed suicide.

The mill was demolished in 1855. 

The illustration shows Tunstall Windmill

The Pottery Industry in the 1960s

During the 1960s, The Potteries was a hive of industrial activity. Skilled crafts-persons working in the six towns made the best pottery in the world.

About 90% of the bone china, earthenware, tiles, porcelain, bricks and sanitary ware produced in the United Kingdom came from Stoke-on-Trent.

Pottery workers were proud of their skills and expertise. They took pride in their work, and the ware they made was exported all over the world.

The seeds of North Staffordshire’s industrial development were sown in the 14th century.

Iron ore was mined in Tunstall and at Apedale. Small pot banks, which used local clay to make earthenware, were scattered in isolated villages throughout the district. There were coal seams near the surface, and miners risked their lives working in drift mines and bell pits to get coal to fire the ware.

Industrialisation came to The Potteries in the 18th century when entrepreneurs like Josiah Wedgwood, William Adams, Josiah Spode and Thomas Whieldon built factories that produced good quality ware which was sold at prices people could afford.

During the 19th century, the pottery industry and the coal mining industry expanded rapidly. The population increased and the six towns we know today were created. New factories were built and the smoke from numerous bottle ovens and kilns polluted the atmosphere.

As late as 1939, the pottery industry used 1,500,000 tons of coal to fire its ovens and kilns. After the Second World War, coal fired bottle ovens and kilns were replaced by electric or gas fired tunnel kilns. Between 1945 and 1966, many small firms closed and others amalgamated to form large companies. In 1966, there were about 66,000 people employed in the industry of whom 48,000 were women.

(The photograph was taken in the warehouse at the Gladstone Pottery Museum (Longton) by J. Rutter and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

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