Category Archives: Architects

Spotlight on Hanley – The Grand Theatre

FRANK MATCHAM WHO DESIGNED HANLEY’S GRAND THEATRE

Designed by Frank Matcham, the Grand Theatre of Varieties in Trinity Street, Hanley was built for two brothers, impresarios Charles and George Elphinstone who owned the Theatre Royal in Pall Mall, Hanley and Batty’s Circus.

Born in Devon during 1854, Frank was educated at Babbacombe School, Torquay. He became an architect and went to live in London where he worked for Jethro Robinson who designed and built theatres. Robinson died suddenly in 1874 while he was erecting the Elephant and Castle Theatre in south London. Although only 24 years old, Frank took over Robinson’s practice and finished building the theatre.

Rapidly establishing himself as one of the country’s leading architects, Frank designed over 100 theatres and music halls, including the London Palladium and the Coliseum, before his death in 1920.

Impresarios employed him to build theatres in towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom. He designed the King’s Theatre, Glasgow; the new Theatre Royal, Portsmouth and the Gaiety Theatre at Douglas on the Isle of Man. In the north-west, he built the Olympia Theatre. Liverpool and the Grand Theatre in Blackpool where he designed the Tower Ballroom and Circus.

The Elphinstone brothers commissioned Frank to increase seating capacity at the Theatre Royal, to build the Empire Theatre in Commerce Street, Longton and to design the Grand Theatre of Varieties.

An ornamental Renaissance-style theatre with a dome over its main entrance, the Grand cost over £25,000 and part of the auditorium could be converted into a circus arena by extending the stage.

Officially called “The Hanley Grand Theatre of Varieties and Circus” the new theatre opened on August 22nd, 1898 with a variety show starring Professor John Higgins, the world’s champion jumper. Billed as “the human kangaroo”, Higgins astonished a packed house by jumping over 30 chairs placed 11ft apart. The audience held its breath as he leapt over two horses, and cheered when he successfully jumped over a four-wheeled cab.

A popular venue, the Grand attracted world-famous music hall and variety artistes including George Robey, Vesta Tilley, Albert Chevalier and “The Potteries’ very own – the one and only” Gertie Gitana.

Gertrude Astbury, who took the stage name Gertie Gitana, was the daughter of pottery worker William Astbury and his wife Lavinia. Born at 7 Shirley Street, Longport in 1888, Gertie began her theatrical career as a male impersonator with Thomlinson’s Royal Gypsie Choir when she was four years old. A child prodigy, she made her music hall debut as Little Gitana at the Tivoli in Barrow-in-Furness. Gertie acquired a repertoire of popular songs that included “Nellie Dean”, “When the Harvest Moon is Shining” and “Sweet Caroline”, and went on tour captivating music hall audiences everywhere.

Like most variety theatres, the Grand showed newsreels between performances, and audiences saw Gladstone’s funeral, Queen Victoria’s visit to Ireland and British troops in action during the Boer War.

Travelling showmen brought “moving pictures” to fairs. The films they showed were very popular. During 1909, entrepreneur George Barber opened a cinema in Tunstall. Shortly afterwards four cinemas were opened in Newcastle-under-Lyme. In 1910, the Elphinstone brothers built the Empire Electric Theatre in Hanley, a cinema that could seat more than 900 people.

Cinemas provided cheap entertainment for working-class families. Even the most impoverished families could afford to spend a few pence watching a silent film and have enough money left to buy fish and chips on the way home. After the First World War, people started going to the cinema two or three times a week.

Audiences drifted away from music halls and variety theatres. When the Grand Theatre closed in 1932, the building became a cinema. The first film that was shown there was “Sally in our Alley” starring Gracie Fields.

Tunstall has one of the best markets in England and Wales

13510852_1767361226841230_8194106140212701983_nTunstall has one of the best markets in England and Wales.

Tucked away behind the town hall in High Street, the market is Stoke-on-Trent’s hidden gem.

A warm-hearted place where friendly, welcoming traders sell high-quality fish and meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, household goods and luxury items at reasonable prices to local people and customers who have come from as far away as Alsager, Biddulph, Mow Cop and Congleton to do their weekend shopping.

Founded in 1817, the market which celebrated its bicentennial in 2017 moved into the market hall behind the town hall in 1858.

The market hall was designed by George Thomas Robinson, the architect who created Burslem’s old town hall.

Focus on Fenton: Fenton Library

Brief description The site was gifted to the town by William Meath Baker (the Baker family owned a large pottery business in Fenton, and the street the library is on, is called Baker Street). The architect was F.R. Lawson. Current status: Closed as a library in 2011, but see article linked below – plans are […]

First posted 6th August 2017. To read more visit Fenton library — The Carnegie legacy in England

Robert Scrivener (1812-1878)

Mechanics InstituteRobert Scrivener, the architect who changed the face of Hanley, was born in Ipswich on March 29th, 1812.

In the late 1840s or early 1850s, Robert and his wife, Elizabeth, came to live in The Potteries. He established a practice in Shelton and quickly became one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

Robert and Elizabeth had eight children – four boys and four girls.

The Scriveners were members of the Methodist New Connexion. They worshipped at Bethesda Church in Hanley, where Robert was a Sunday school teacher. He played a major role in church affairs and was made a trustee of Bethesda Girls’ School. In 1856, he designed a new pulpit and a communion rail for the church.

Robert designed the new Mechanics Institution* in Pall Mall whose foundation stone was laid by the mayor, William Brownfield, on October 28th, 1859.

Towards the end of 1859, Robert regenerated Bethesda Church, replacing its old window panes with frosted glass, installing gas lighting and decorating the interior. He gave the front elevation in Albion Street a Classical facade with Corinthian columns and a Venetian window surmounted by a cornice.

When pottery manufacturer John Ridgway died in December 1860, the Methodist New Connexion in The Potteries lost its most generous benefactor. John who owned Cauldon Place Pottery in Shelton worshipped at Bethesda Church. He built a chapel for his employees and gave money to help build churches in Tunstall, Burslem and Fenton.

A radical local politician with progressive views, John refused a knighthood. He became Hanley’s first mayor when it was made a borough in 1857.

The Methodist New Connexion built a chapel to commemorate John’s life. Called the Ridgway Memorial Chapel, it was designed by Robert and erected in Havelock Place, Shelton. A white brick Gothic style building, the chapel cost £2,600. It was 60 feet long by 37 feet wide and had a tower with a spire 61 feet high.

Hanley’s finest building is the town hall in Albion Street. The building, which started life as the Queen’s Hotel, was designed by Robert. It cost over £20,000 and opened on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 1869.

Built to compete with the North Stafford Hotel, the Queen’s was a modified Italian Renaissance style building with white brick corners and Hollington stone dressings. Too far away from Stoke Station to attract visitors, the Queen’s never made a profit. The hotel closed and the borough council bought the premises for £10,800.

Workmen transformed the Queen’s into a town hall. They converted the commercial room into a council chamber and the smoke room became the town clerk’s office. The dining room became a Magistrates’ Court and the billiard room was made into a police station.

Robert died aged 67 on April 19th, 1878. He was buried in Bethesda churchyard.

*The illustration shows the Mechanics Institution in Pall Mall, Hanley, which has been demolished.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013.

Fenton – The old library

Fenton Library

FENTON LIBRARY

Standing on the corner of Glebedale Road and Baker Street, the free English Renaissance style building that housed Fenton Library was designed by local architect F.R. Lawson.

At the end of the 19th century, Fenton was the only town in The Potteries without a library.

Earthenware manufacturer, John Shaw Goddard, who became chairman of the urban district council in April 1900, wanted to build one but the council did not have the money.

He asked wealthy landowner William Meath Baker for help, but William who had just given the town a new fire station could not afford to build a library.

However, he promised to give a site behind the town hall where a library could be erected if John was able to raise the money.

Discovering that a New York philanthropist, the self-made millionaire Andrew Carnegie, was building libraries in towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom, John asked him to build one in Fenton. Andrew gave John £5,000 to build a library.

William kept his word and donated the site behind the town hall.

The urban district council adopted the Free Libraries Act and agreed to levy a penny rate on each householder to enable it to buy books.

The library was opened by William on March 7th, 1906.

It was housed in a two storey Accrington red brick building with Hollington stone facings. The main entrance was in Baker Street. Revolving doors led into to the foyer whose mosaic floor was laid with Minton Hollins tiles depicting the town’s coat of arms. The interior archway over the door contained a mural showing children sitting at the feet of knowledge, painted by Gordon Forsythe who later became the principal of Stoke-on-Trent Art Schools.

On the ground floor were rooms containing an adult lending library, a reference library, a children’s library and a reading room. A staircase with a wrought iron balustrade, made in Tunstall by William Durose, led from the foyer to the upper floor where there was a lecture hall which could seat between 100 and 120 people. The room had an ornamental plaster ceiling and was heated by an iron grate in a faience surround.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013

Alexander Scrivener (1852-1921)

Albert Square - Fenton

Albert Square, Fenton

Alexander Scrivener, the architect who designed Fenton town hall, was born in Shelton on April 19th, 1852.

His father, Robert, and his elder brother, Edward, were architects. During 1868, Robert and Edward went into partnership and formed Robert Scrivener and Son whose offices were in Howard Place, Shelton. The firm designed the Mechanics Institution in Pall Mall and the Queen’s Hotel in Albion Street which later became Hanley Town Hall.

Alexander was educated at Hanley Art School. He became an architect and joined the firm. When their father died in 1878, Edward and Alexander acquired the practice.

Alexander married Anne Twyford. They had five children. The family lived in Endon where they worshipped at the parish church.

Alexander’s hobbies were music and archaeology. He conducted the Endon Choral Society and was choirmaster at the parish church.

A member of the North Staffordshire Field Club, he took part in archaeological digs and led field trips to historic buildings. The club made him its president for the year 1895-96. He undertook historical research and wrote articles for its journal.  In 1904, the Field Club awarded him the Garner Medal for services to archaeology and made him its president again a year later. During 1914, he excavated Castle Hill, at Audley proving conclusively that the de Audley family had built a castle there in the Middle Ages.

Politically, the Scriveners were Conservatives. They designed Hanley’s Conservative Club in Trinity Street which opened on February 25th, 1878.

Edward and Alexander were astute businessmen who used their professional skill and expertise to make Robert Scrivener and Son the area’s leading architects.

Sanitary ware manufacturer, Thomas Twyford employed the firm to design his Cliffe Vale factory. The practice built churches and schools throughout The Potteries and designed The Sentinel’s office in Foundry Street, Hanley. It designed numerous buildings in the town including the Roman Catholic Church in Jasper Street, the Higher Grade Elementary School, the Freemasons Hall in Cheapside and the telephone exchange in Marsh Street.

The buildings in Fenton which the firm designed included Queen Street Board Schools, the Cemetery Chapels and the Temperance Coffee Tavern in City Road. It built shops and offices in Christchurch Street, laid out Albert Square and designed the town hall.

Alexander designed St. Paul’s Church in Victoria Road, Newcastle-under-Lyme whose foundation Stone was laid by Sir Lovelace Stamer, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, on June 15th, 1905. Edward died while the church was being constructed and Alexander became the senior partner in the firm.

Consecrated by the Bishop of Lichfield in 1908, St. Paul’s was built of stone. A perpendicular style building, the church cost almost £700. The building, which could accommodate over 500 worshippers, had an octagonal spire. It had central heating and was lit by gas lights.

Alexander remained in practice until his death. Taken ill suddenly, he died aged 69 on December 17th, 1921 and was buried in Endon churchyard.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013

Tunstall’s Jubilee Buildings

Designed by the town’s surveyor, Absalom Reade Wood, the Jubilee Buildings, in the Boulevard and Greengates Street, gave Tunstall a public library, an art school, a technical college, a swimming pool and a fire station.

Built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the complex was constructed in two stages. The main building, the Victoria Institute in The Boulevard, was opened by Sir Smith Child on October 29th, 1891. Still occupied by the library, the Victoria Institue cost £4,500. Apart from a small grant of £970 from the government, all the money was raised locally.

There were bazaars and fetes. Pottery manufacturers made donations and workers organised collections. Employees at Alfred Meakin’s pottery raised £50. Miner’s at Clanway Colliery gave £16 while workers at Booth’s Church Bank Pottery collected £12.50.

The three storey red brick and terracotta building, with Runcorn red sandstone facings, had wrought iron gates at the main entrance. When it opened, the library, which contained 2,000 books, was on the ground floor. The art school was on the first floor and the technical college was on the second. There were 100 students attending classes at the art school. It had scholarships for local elementary school pupils who wanted to become pottery designers. Student’s studied ceramic technology, painting drawing, modelling and design. The number of students increased and new courses including dress-making, embroidery, jewellery design and wood carving were introduced.

Smaller than the art school, the technical college trained students for careers in mining, engineering or commerce.

The Victoria Institute was extended in 1897. These extensions included a museum and art gallery, a domestic science school and pottery studios for the art school.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2011

Absalom Reade Wood (1851-1922)

tunstall-town-hall

TUNSTALL TOWN HALL

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 the 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)