A view of Burslem, Longport and Middleport from Bradwell Wood in 1865.
Category Archives: Burslem
We think this sketch, which may have been made in the 18th century, shows the Bell Works in Burslem. If you can tell us more about the sketch and the factory it depicts please email Spotlight on North Staffordshire at email@example.com
On October 6th, 1680, Tunstall Court Leet ordered the High Constable of the Manor of Tunstall to repair the stocks in Burslem within six weeks or pay a penalty of six shillings and eight pence.
From Anglo-Saxon times until the middle of the 19th century, the stocks were used to punish minor offences.
Criminals Were Punished by Their Victims
The Stocks were designed to humiliate and degrade petty criminals by putting them on display in a public place where their victims and members of the community could impose their own punishments on them.
Stocks were erected on village greens, in market squares and at crossroads. Most were made of wood, although a few were made of iron. Offenders sat on a wooden bench with their ankles placed through holes in moveable boards. How long a person spent in the stocks depended on the gravity of the offence. Some were there for a few hours. Others were put in them for two or three days and fed on bread and water.
In 1350, the Second Statute of Labourers compelled every town and village to erect stocks in a public place.
Having its own set of stocks conferred status on small communities. A settlement that was too small to have a set was regarded as a hamlet and could not call itself a village.
Men and women in the stocks were a source of entertainment for the crowds that flocked to see them punished.
Members of the public were allowed to whip offenders who were in the stocks until their backs were bloody and to throw stones, broken pottery, dead dogs and cats, rotten fruit and vegetables, bad eggs and excrement at them.
Innkeepers, Peddlers and Market Traders
Dishonest shopkeepers, innkeepers, peddlers and market traders were put in the stocks. Housewives poured the contents of chamber pots over the heads of traders who had given them “short weight”. Butchers who had sold rotten beef, lamb, pork or poultry sat in the stocks surrounded by maggot-infested meat. Fishmongers convicted of selling fish that had passed its sell-by date were placed in the stocks with stinking fish hung around their necks. Innkeepers and alewives who were in the stocks for selling watered down beer had jugs of stale ale poured over them by their customers.
Rogues, Vagabonds, Beggars and Drunkards
Towards the end of the middle ages gangs of rogues and vagabonds made their way from town to town begging, robbing and stealing everywhere they went. To deal with these gangs the government brought in new laws with draconian penalties for vagabonds who infringed them.
In 1388 an Act of Parliament (12 Rich. 2) was passed making it illegal for labourers to give up their jobs and leave the district where they lived without the King’s permission. The statute gave borough mayors, manor stewards and town constables authority to put labourers who had run away from their employers in the stocks, until they found sureties who guaranteed that they would go home and return to work.
A statute, passed during the reign of Henry VII (1457-1509), allowed constables to place vagrants in the stocks.
Passed in 1494, the Vagabonds and Beggars Act gave the courts power to put “vagabonds, idle and suspected persons” in the stocks for three days and three nights.
Under the provisions of a statute (22 Hen 8, c. 12) passed in 1530, magistrates could give “the impotent poor” permission to beg at specified places in the town or village where they lived. If they were found begging anywhere else, they were put in the stocks for two days and nights.
A law passed in 1605 made the punishment for getting drunk six hours in the stocks and made the penalty for being a drunkard four hours in the stocks or a fine of three shillings. Shortly afterwards, Parliament made the punishment for swearing in a public place one hour in the stocks or a fine of one shilling.
A poem dedicated to Molly Leigh:
There dwelt as persons now alive depose,
Though death must soon their testimony close,
A maiden woman, born of gen’rous race,
But like a fury both in mind and face.
When at school instead of learning truth,
A wizard tutor practis’d on her youth;
Vile gains by arts unholy she acquired,
For none did dare withhold what she desired.
Her neighbours of her spells all stood in awe,
And made her every wish their bounden law;
Thus liv’d the creature, whether fiend or woman,
Till death in clemency saw fit to summon.
So when the Christian rites were duly paid,
The body in the churchyard pit was laid;
And back the cheerful mourners hied, intent
To share the feast bespoke before they went.
But who can the dire consternation paint,
Which seized the party, and made all grow faint;
For as the threshold door they pass’d,
Her apparition struck them quite aghast.
She whom but now to the calm grave they took,
Returned before them to the chimney nook;
All ghastly pale, but unconcerned was sitting,
Employed in her accustomed task of knitting.
Spotlight found this poem about Molly Leigh, the “Burslem Witch”, in Romance of Staffordshire by Henry Wedgwood published in 1877.
In July 1750, the Rev. Richard Pococke visited Newcastle-under-Lyme and The Potteries.
Richard who kept a journal of his travels described North Staffordshire as an area where pottery manufacturers used local clay to make unglazed earthenware, bricks, tiles water pipes and plant pots. Some manufacturers mixed white pipeclay from Poole in Dorset with calcinated flintstone from Lincolnshire and other places to make salt-glazed stoneware pottery and ornaments.
All the ware made in the district was baked “in kilns built in the shape of a cone” which Richard said gave the area “a pretty appearance”. He went on to say that there were “great numbers” of these kilns in the Pottery villages to the east of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
In this edited extract from his journal, Richard describes Newcastle-under-Lyme and The Potteries as they were in 1750. He wrote:
“Newcastle is a small, well-built market town situated on the slope of a hill overlooking a lake. It has a handsome church and a market hall. Although Newcastle is the capital of the neighbouring Pottery villages, there are only a few potters working in the town.
“I left Newcastle on July 6th went to see the Pottery villages. I rode two miles to Stoke where stoneware is made. On leaving Stoke, I visited Shelton where red chinaware is produced and then went to Hanley were all kinds of pottery are manufactured. I visited Burslem where the best white and other types of pottery are made. The last place I went to was Tunstall. Although all kinds of pottery are made there, Tunstall is famous for making the best bricks and tiles.”
A barrister whose attempts to pursue a political career in Parliament were unsuccessful, Harold Wright became The Potteries Stipendiary Magistrate in 1893.
A man who sympathised with the victims of domestic violence, Harold was determined to stamp out wife beating and child abuse in the six towns. Drunken men who had attacked their wives could expect no mercy when they appeared before his court. Even first offenders were sent to prison, and the sentences he imposed made him the most feared magistrate in the district.
Unlike the Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrates in London who sat alone, Harold sat with Justices of the Peace.
Sitting in Kidsgrove and The Potteries, his court committed indictable offences for trial to the Assizes or to Quarter Sessions. It heard matrimonial disputes and tried summary offences.
Burslem and Longton, which were boroughs, and Hanley, which was a county borough, had their own Magistrates’ Courts presided over by borough magistrates. The borough Magistrates’ Courts shared jurisdiction with the Stipendiary Magistrate’s Court, and local police decided whether summary cases were tried by borough magistrates or by the stipendiary court. Knowing that Harold would impose more severe sentences than the borough magistrates, the police always prosecuted professional criminals and habitual offenders before his court.
Harold lived at Aston Hall, a mansion near Stone. His hobbies included hunting, fishing, painting and drawing. Under the pseudonym Snuff, he drew caricatures for Vanity Fair and made sketches of the lawyers who argued cases before his court.
A man who liked animals, Harold supported the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He helped to organise Hanley’s Annual Horse Parade and launched a successful campaign against cruelty to animals in The Potteries – an area where every week between 30 and 40 people stood in the dock charged with ill-treating dogs and horses.
The bed of the Burslem Branch Canal (March 2017)
When it was established in 1635, the Royal Mail used despatch riders, who were mounted on fast horses, to carry letters between major towns and cities.
Post offices were opened at Stafford, Stone, Leek, Lichfield and Newcastle-under-Lyme, which were on the main post routes from London to Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Carlisle.
By 1734, Newcastle’s post office was at the Swan Inn, and everyday post-boys delivered letters to The Potteries and the surrounding 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.
After the Grand Junction Railway opened in 1837, letters were brought by train to Whitmore and taken by horse-drawn waggon to a central post office at Newcastle for distribution throughout the district.
Mail coaches were phased out, and in 1854 a new central post office was opened at Stoke Station.
Until 1840, when the prepaid penny post was introduced by Rowland Hill, postal charges averaging sixpence a letter were paid by the recipient, not by the sender.
The penny post increased the number of messages sent, and the Post Office developed new services including a special cheap rate “book post”. 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 was closed on Sundays, although there was a telegraph service 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 the 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 that it was not usual to have two post offices in a village.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013
The illustration shows an artist’s impression of a mail coach caught in a thunderstorm.
Like all the towns in our area, Burslem has a proud heritage.
In the 18th century, its master potters brought the Industrial Revolution to North Staffordshire.
The old town hall is one of the finest examples of civic architecture erected by a local board of health.
Burslem born architect, Absalom Reade Wood designed the Woodhall Memorial Chapel, the Drill Hall, the Art School, the Wycliffe Institute, Moorland Road Schools, Longport Methodist Church and Middleport Pottery.
Created by local craftspersons, the Wedgwood Institute has a unique terracotta façade which is an inspiring tribute to the skills of the men and women who worked in the pottery industry.
During its long history, the Wedgwood Institute has housed several schools and colleges whose alumni have played a significant role on the world stage in the fields of literature, science and technology.
- Oliver Lodge, the first principal of Birmingham University, who invented the spark plug and perfected radio telegraphy;
- Arnold Bennett whose novels vividly described life in North Staffordshire and immortalised The Potteries;
- Summers Hunter, one of the world’s leading maritime engineers, whose firm designed the engine that powered the Liberty Ships* which helped to keep the supply lines between Britain and North America open during the Second World War; and
- Reginald Mitchell, the 20th century’s leading aircraft designer, who created the Spitfire which saved the world from Nazi domination.
*The photograph shows a Liberty Ship which was powered by a marine engine designed by Summers Hunter.