During the 18th century, Hanley and Shelton became the most important towns in The Potteries.
Between 1762 and 1801 their populations grew from 2,000 to 7,940. Hanley’s first church, St. John’s, erected in 1738 was enlarged during the 1760s. Stagecoaches called at The Swan, an old inn in the town centre. Pack horses and wagons carried ware from Hanley and Shelton to the Weaver Navigation’s wharves at Winsford and brought back ball clay and household goods. A covered market designed by architect James Trubshaw was built in Town Road during 1776.
The Trent & Mersey and the Caldon Canal stimulated economic expansion and population growth.
Entrepreneurs opened factories and iron works. People from the surrounding countryside came to Hanley looking for work and new houses were constructed.
In 1791, a trust was formed to acquire the market hall and build a town hall. The trustees leased land in Market Square from John Bagnall, the Lord of the Manor, where they erected a town hall.
Markets were held in the square on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A fortnightly cattle market was established at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1813, Parliament gave the trustees power to regulate the market place and make by-laws. The trustees demolished the old town hall and built a poultry market and a stone lockup where prisoners were held until they were brought before the Magistrates’ Court which sat in a room at the Swan Inn.
Punishments in the 18th century were severe and intended to deter the offender by degrading and humiliating him.
Men found guilty of being drunk and disorderly were put in the stocks and pelted with bad eggs, rotten tomatoes and potato peelings by jeering crowds. Women convicted of street fighting or brawling were placed on the ducking stool and dipped in Clementson’s Pool until they begged for mercy. Men and women caught stealing from market stalls were tried at the county Quarter Sessions and received a public whipping or were transported to Australia for seven years.
Despite these draconian penalties, law and order broke down. The annual wakes turned into a drunken orgy which was followed by rioting and looting.
Fearing for their own safety, Hanley’s unpaid constables turned a blind eye when serious crimes were committed. In the evenings, robbers lurked in doorways waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims walking home through narrow unlit streets.
Having no confidence in the constables, residents employed watchmen to patrol the streets and protect their property. A society for the prosecution of felons was formed and in 1825 a professional police force was created.
Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin 2013