A local politician and a Methodist lay preacher, Spencer Lawton was born in Hanley during the 1820s.
A commission agent in the pottery industry, he moved to Burslem and became a member of the board of health which governed the town until 1878 when Queen Victoria made it a borough.
Spencer successfully stood for the borough council and was the councillor for south ward until he became an alderman.
An astute businessman, Spencer was appointed the chairman of the finance committee. Seeing himself as the ratepayers’ watchdog, he used his position to curtail unnecessary local government expenditure.
Elected mayor for 1886-87, Spencer was in office when Burslem celebrated Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Becoming mayor again in 1893, he opened Burslem Park on August 30th, 1894.
Burslem Park was one of the first parks designed by the world’s leading landscape architect Thomas Mawson. It cost £14,000 and was laid out by unemployed pottery workers on derelict land between Moorland Road and Hamil Road.
Supervised by Mawson, the men cleared the site removing colliery waste and shards. Horse-drawn wagons brought more than 70,000 loads of topsoil to cover the ground. An old pit mound was landscaped, and a waterfall was created. The men constructed an artificial lake and built an Elizabethan style half-timbered lodge for the park superintendent.
Local industrialists gave seats and helped pay for the children’s playground.
The Wilkinson family gave two terracotta fountains which were made at Doulton’s Rowley Regis factory. They were placed on the terrace where a bandstand and a pavilion had been erected.
The pavilion was a two-storey building that overlooked the park. It contained a buffet, a reception room and reading rooms for ladies and gentlemen.
Spencer gave the wrought iron gates at the park’s main entrance in Moorland Road where there were two drinking fountains one of which is shown in the photograph.
A man with few interests outside work and politics, Spencer was a devout Christian who worshipped at Swan Bank Methodist Church where he became a lay reader. He held bible classes in the evenings and on Sundays travelled to chapels in outlying villages to take services. Shortly before his death, he gave the church a stained glass window.
Spencer died of a heart attack on August 17th, 1901 at his home Elm House in Waterloo Road, Cobridge. He was 73 years old. After a civic funeral, in Swan Bank Methodist Church, his body was buried in Burslem Cemetery.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2012
Photograph of the drinking fountain Copyright David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2012