Monthly Archives: June 2013

Focus on Burslem: John Ward (1781-1871)

St. Paul's Church, Burslem (640x409)John Ward, the author of “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent” published in 1843, was born at Slawston in Leicestershire on June 22nd, 1781.

John who became one of North Staffordshire’s leading lawyers served his articles with an attorney in Cheadle.

Qualifying in 1808, he moved to Burslem and set up his own practice.

At the time, Britain and her allies were at war with France. Napoleon’s army had defeated the Prussians. English troops, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, were fighting a rearguard action in Portugal and John joined the Longport Volunteers, a unit formed to help defend The Potteries if the French invaded.

In 1811, John married Anne Rice from Ashby-de-la-Zouch. They had one son, William, who died of pleurisy in 1847.

An able lawyer, he quickly established an extensive practice and acted for leading industrialists and large landowners including Admiral Smith Child and his grandson Sir Smith Child. Like all successful lawyers, John made enemies. Burslem pottery manufacturer Enoch Wood accused him of professional misconduct. John sued for defamation and Wood was ordered to pay him £100 damages.

A devout Christian, John was churchwarden at St. Paul’s in Dalehall, a church he helped to build. Erected on land given by William Adams, the church was consecrated by Henry Ryder, the Bishop of Lichfield, on January 19th, 1831. Costing £2,000 the medieval Perpendicular style Hollington stone building was designed by London architect Lewis Vulliamy who also built Christ Church, Cobridge.

The Reform Act 1832 made Stoke-upon-Trent a Parliamentary Borough giving it two Members of Parliament. Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Longton and Fenton were included in the constituency.

In 1837, local historian Simeon Shaw, using John’s archives, began writing “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent” which he hoped to publish in monthly instalments.

Rewritten and edited by John, the first eight parts were printed under Shaw’s name. A financial dispute arose between Shaw and his publishers. They refused to publish any more instalments until John agreed to take over the series and complete the work. He wrote the last 12 parts, and all the instalments were made into a book called “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent”. John was acknowledged as the author, but all profits from its sales were given to Shaw.

Politically a Conservative, John was one of Burslem’s improvement commissioners who were responsible for providing street lighting and policing. The town’s market trustees made him their clerk. He arranged for them to buy land in the town centre where they erected a meat market. Opened on October 1st, 1836 the market hall was a Romanesque-style stone building designed by architect Samuel Ledward.

Large-scale riots took place in Staffordshire during August 1842. Armed troops were used to maintain law and order. Men and women who had been arrested were taken to Stafford Gaol. The Crown employed John to help prosecute them. They were tried by Special Commissioners, who were High Court judges, sitting at Stafford.

John remained in practice until he died at his home, Furlong House in Burslem, on June 3rd, 1870. He was 89 years old. His funeral took place at St. Paul’s, Dalehall and he was buried in the churchyard.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust, September 2010

Stoke-on-Trent’s First Art Schools

Great Exhibition Crystal_Palace_interior (640x436)

Stoke-on-Trent’s first art school, The Potteries School of Design, was opened on January 25th, 1847. It held evening classes in Hanley, Stoke and Longton. Students were taught elementary drawing, basic design, freehand painting and modelling.

The school’s first headmaster, John Murdock, and his successor, John Charles Robinson, made it a centre of excellence. Students won national prizes and were awarded scholarships enabling them to continue their studies at the Government School of Design in London.

During 1851, pottery designed by students from North Staffordshire was exhibited at the Great Exhibition, held at the Crystal Palace* in Hyde Park. Their designs impressed Prince Albert who had helped to organise the exhibition. He persuaded the government to devise a scheme to build a regional College of Art and Technology in Hanley which would have university status and branch schools in Tunstall, Burslem, Longton and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The government’s proposal to build a regional college in Hanley was made public at a meeting held at the Wesleyan School in Burslem on January 19th, 1853.

During the meeting, Smith Child, who was North Staffordshire’s most generous philanthropist, and leading pottery manufacturer Herbert Minton offered to help finance the college. The scheme was rejected by civic leaders and pottery manufacturers who wanted each town to have its own art school. Prince Albert’s attempt to bring higher education to The Potteries had failed.

Shortly afterwards, small design schools were established in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Burslem.

Monthly fees for students attending classes at the Burslem school were 1/9d (9p) for men and 1/6d (7.5p) for women. The school’s headmaster was William Jabez Mückley, an artist whose work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. It held classes in the assembly room at the Legs of Man, an old coaching inn frequented by thieves and prostitutes. Despite the venue, William was a popular teacher who attracted and retained students. Although the school gave Burslem well-trained pottery designers and skilled crafts persons, local firms refused to help it find more suitable premises.

The school closed when William left Burslem in 1858.

*The illustration shows The Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust, September 2010

DM/BC 2017

Staffordshire’s First Newspaper



Staffordshire’s first newspaper, the Staffordshire Advertiser, was founded by Stafford printer Joshua Drury.

The first edition was published on January 3rd, 1795. It cost four pence (2p) and had four pages. Each page was divided into five columns containing news, features, poems and advertisements printed in small type without illustrations. Mail coaches brought the paper to inns and taverns in Newcastle and the Potteries where workmen gathered to have the news read to them.

England and her allies had been at war with France for two years, and the paper carried news of the campaigns in Europe. It informed readers that Royal Navy warships were setting sail from Portsmouth to intercept the French fleet which was cruising in the English Channel. A dispatch from Poland told them the Russians had captured Warsaw and massacred 20,000 men, women and children. Reports from Holland showed that the Dutch disliked the British troops sent to defend them and were hoping to make peace with the French.

Home news included George III’s announcement that the Prince of Wales was going to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick. There was a detailed account of the state opening of Parliament and the debates following the King’s speech.

Surprisingly, very little local news was reported. Readers were told that Wolverhampton magistrate Edward Hickman had sent a rogue and vagabond, Benjamin Smith, to the House of Correction but neither Newcastle nor the Potteries were mentioned.

(Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust, September 2010)

Postal services in North Staffordshire

Established in 1635, the Royal Mail used despatch riders, mounted on fast horses, to carry letters between major towns and cities.

Post offices were opened at Stafford, Stone, Leek, Lichfield and Newcastle, which was on the main post road linking London with Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Carlisle.

By 1734, Newcastle’s post office was in the Swan Inn and everyday post boys delivered letters to The Potteries and neighbouring villages.

Black, maroon and red painted mail coaches, whose average speed was six or seven miles an hour, replaced despatch riders in 1784. Protected by scarlet-coated guards armed with blunderbusses, pistols and cutlasses, these coaches became familiar sights in Tunstall and Burslem, where the postmaster was the landlord of the Legs of Man Inn.

When the Grand Junction Railway opened in 1837, the post was brought by train to Whitmore and taken by horse-drawn wagon to the main post office at Newcastle for distribution throughout the district. Mail coaches ceased to run and in 1854 the main post office was moved from Newcastle to Stoke Station.

Until 1840, when the prepaid penny post was introduced by Rowland Hill, postal charges averaging six pence a letter were paid by the recipient, not by the sender.

The penny post increased the number of letters sent and the Post Office developed new services including a special cheap rate “book post” and the Post Office Savings Bank. Towards the end of the 1850s, pillar boxes where letters could be posted were erected in Hanley, Longton and Stoke.

Small sub-post offices were opened at Chell, Kidsgrove, Chesterton, Norton and Wolstanton.

At Silverdale, where Mr J.H. Wrench was the postmaster, the post office in Church Street was open between 9.00am and 8.00pm six days a week. It closed on Sundays, although the telegraph service opened for two hours in the morning. When the post office was open, letters were delivered twice daily at 7.00am and 5.00pm and the mail was collected three times a day at 9.45am, 7.00pm and 8.45pm.

Very few post offices were purpose built and many postmasters had other occupations. Tunstall’s postmaster, Benjamin Griffiths was a watch and clock maker who had a shop in the Market Place (Tower Square). When he retired, newsagent Samuel Adams, who was also the parish registrar and church clerk became the postmaster.

Hanley whose population was 32,000 had a small post office in Fountain Square. When the borough council asked the government for a second post office, the Postmaster General said: “It was not usual to have two post offices in a village.”

The illustration shows an artist’s impression of a mail coach caught in a thunderstorm.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013


Spitfire Squadron

A Mark IX Spitfire

A Mark IX Spitfire like the one that attacked Rommel’s car

No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron was the first Auxiliary Air Force squadron to fly Spitfires. Formed as a day bomber unit during 1925, it became a fighter squadron in January 1939 and flew Gloucester Gauntlets until May when they were replaced by Spitfires.

On September 1st, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun. No. 602 Squadron and No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron were given the task of protecting the naval base at Rosyth. On the 16th October, German bombers attacked the base. Both squadrons were scrambled to intercept them, and two enemy aircraft were destroyed.

No. 602 Squadron remained in Scotland until August 1940 when it moved south to join No. 11 Group which was defending London and the South East during the Battle of Britain.

In 1941, the squadron and its “cute little Spitfires” starred with Tyrone Power and Betty Grable in “A Yank in the RAF”, a Hollywood movie made as a tribute to the large number of American airmen who had volunteered to fight for Britain.

During 1943, No. 602 Squadron joined the newly formed 2nd Tactical Air Force which had been set up to provide air support for the allied invasion of Europe. Now equipped with Mark IX Spitfire fighter-bombers, 602 Squadron was sent to a front-line airstrip in France shortly after D-Day.

The bomb loads carried by Spitfire fighter-bombers depended on the target they were attacking and how far away it was from their base. Usually, the aircraft carried two 250 pound bombs under its wings or one 500 pound bomb. If the target was only a short distance from its base, the plane could carry one 500 and two 250 pound bombs.

Describing the Spitfire’s role as a fighter-bomber, Flying Officer David Green who flew one during the campaign to liberate Italy said: “Carrying two 250 pound bombs, the Spitfire made a very fine dive bomber. It could attack accurately and did not need a fighter escort because as soon as the bombs had been released, it became a fighter.”

July 17th, 1944 was a beautiful summer’s day in Normandy. During the afternoon, a Mustang reconnaissance aircraft spotted a German staff car and its motorcycle escort speeding along a country lane near Lisieux.

A flight of five Spitfire fighter-bombers from No 602 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Chris Le Roux, was sent to investigate. Le Roux strafed the vehicle with cannon and machine-gun fire killing the driver. The car ran off the road and crashed into a tree. Its passenger Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the commander of German ground forces in Normandy, was severely injured suffering a fractured skull and severe concussion.

He was taken to a military hospital where doctors successfully fought to save his life. On leaving the hospital, Rommel was sent to Germany to recuperate where he died a few months later in mysterious circumstances.

Copyright Phoenix Trust 2013

Photograph Creative Commons Licence.