Absalom Reade Wood, who was born in Burslem during 1851, became one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.
Absalom was educated at the Wesleyan Day School in Burslem. On leaving school he became articled to Hanley architect Robert Scrivener who designed the Mechanics Institution in Pall Mall and the Queen’s Hotel in Albion Street, which later became the town hall.
Absalom was a small man with a “comfortable, neat figure and a short beard”. He had a warm, friendly personality that gave him an optimistic outlook on life.
A keen sportsman, Absalom played cricket, tennis and golf. He also enjoyed cycling and swimming.
After qualifying as an architect, Absalom established his own practice in Tunstall.
During 1875 he became the town’s part-time surveyor. Working closely with John Nash Peake and the town clerk Arthur Llewellyn, he regenerated Tunstall’s covered market hall and created the town’s Victorian Civic Centre that contained the town hall, the Victoria Institute, a fire station, a swimming pool, a drill hall and a recreation ground.
His first commission to design a pottery factory came from his childhood friend Edmund Leigh for whom he built the Middleport Pottery (Burgess, Dorling & Leigh) on the banks of the Trent and Mersey Canal. The works, which possessed seven bottle ovens, opened in 1889 and shortly afterwards he designed a factory for Enoch Wedgwood at Brownhills.
Burslem School Board employed him to design Longport Elementary Schools, Jackfield Infants’ School, Park Road Elementary Schools and the Central School (now Burslem Enterprise Centre) in Moorland Road.
Absalom married Mary Holdcroft, whose father, William, was a pottery manufacturer. The couple had five children – two boys and three girls.
Absalom and Mary were Methodists. The family worshipped at Hill Top Methodist Church in Burslem which Absalom regenerated in 1889 and at Longport Methodist Church which he designed.
His other churches include St. Andrew’s at Port Hill and the United Reformed Church in Moorland Road, Burslem which has a magnificent stained glass window depicting the Sermon on the Mount that shows Christ surrounded by people from all walks of life.
Originally called the Woodhall Memorial Congregational Church, the United Reformed Church was constructed of red brick and red Hollington Stone. It was erected in memory of William Woodhall who played a significant role in founding the Wedgwood Institute.
Built to replace an earlier Congregational Church in Queen Street, the church’s front elevation contains a bronze relief of Woodhall set in a carved moulded panel.
Closely linked with the old Queen Street church and the new church in Moorland Road was Wycliffe Hall in Wycliffe Street. Opened in 1885, the hall, designed by Absalom, housed the church’s Sunday School and Burslem High School for Girls.
Absalom’s best-known building in Burslem is the School of Art in Queen Street. Situated opposite the Wedgwood Institute, the school which cost £8,500 was opened in 1907. Of classic design with large north facing windows that lighted the first-floor classrooms, the school was constructed of red brick with tawny terracotta facings. A circular terracotta porch supported by columns led into the building whose classrooms and studios surrounded a central hall which had a balcony with a wrought iron balustrade.
One of the school’s most famous students was pottery designer Clarice Cliff who attended classes there in the 1920s.
Born at Meir Street, Tunstall in 1889, Clarice was educated at High Street School, Summerbank Road School and Tunstall Art School which was housed in the Victoria Institute – all buildings which had been designed by Absalom.
During his long life, Absalom designed numerous churches, civic buildings, factories and houses throughout The Potteries.
He died peacefully at his home Hillcrest in Woodland Avenue, Wolstanton on December 21st, 1922.
(Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010)