Category Archives: Burslem

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

Teacher training in the 19th century

Until school boards were established by the Education Act 1870, the state did not make any provision for the education of working-class children.

What little education they received had to be paid for by their parents, although there were a few free places reserved for them in the grammar schools at Leek, Newchapel, Stafford, Stone and Uttoxeter.

By the end of the 17th century, Newcastle-under-Lyme had a grammar school, where 39 boys were educated free of charge. There was also a dame school, which was financed by the town council. The school had free places for up to 20 girls.


Joseph Lancaster

In 1808, nonconformist educationalist Joseph Lancaster founded the British and Foreign Schools Society to give financial help to free churches who were building day schools at home and missionary schools overseas.

Fearing that the British Schools would monopolise elementary education in the new industrial towns, the Church of England set up the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales.

During 1814, the National Society opened its first school in North Staffordshire at Chesterton.

The first British School in The Potteries was erected in Burslem by the Wesleyans. The parish church, St. John’s, opened a National School in 1817 and by 1822 the Roman Catholic Church had built a school at Cobridge.

Many teachers were not well educated or well trained. Pupils who wanted to become teachers stayed at school until their early teens and became apprentice teachers. Called monitors, the apprentices were supervised by the headteacher and allowed to teach younger pupils. After a few years, monitors who had successfully completed their training and could maintain discipline were employed as assistant teachers.

During 1846, the government made regulations governing teacher training. Under these rules, boys and girls who had stayed at school until they were 13 could be appointed pupil teachers.

Pupil teachers were apprenticed to the headteacher for five years. At the end of each year, they were examined by the school inspectors. When their apprenticeship ended, pupil teachers took the Queen’s Scholarship examination.

Those who passed with the highest marks were given a grant which enabled them to go to a teacher training college and become fully qualified certificated teachers. Other pupil teachers who passed the examination were offered employment as uncertificated assistant teachers. Only certificated teachers could obtain headships. Uncertificated teachers remained assistant teachers throughout their careers. Many secured positions at the school where they had been educated and taught there until they retired.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013


Focus on Burslem – Spencer Lawton

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

Did you attend North Road School in Burslem?

North Road School in Burslem

We are sure this photo of North Road School in Burslem will bring back many happy memories to former pupils.

If you went to school there we should love to hear from you.

Email us at to tell us about your school days and the games you played in the park across the road. Introduce us to your teachers and school friends. Let us know which were your favourite subjects and tell us what you did at weekends and during the summer holidays.

Photograph Copyright David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2012


Jackson’s discussion group became The British Ceramics Society

The Victoria Institute, Tunstall

Vocational training in ceramic science for workers in North Staffordshire’s pottery industry began in 1870 when courses were started at The Mechanics Institution in Hanley and at The Athenaeum in Fenton.

During 1875, The Society of Arts (now The Royal Society of Arts) introduced examinations for industrial scientists and laboratory assistants employed in the industry.

In 1879, these examinations were taken over by The City and Guilds of London Institute. Classes to prepare students for City and Guilds examinations were held at the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem and at the Mechanics Institution. In 1880 four students from the Potteries took the examinations in pottery and porcelain manufacture. They all passed.

By the 1890s, courses in ceramic technology were being held in all “the six towns”.

The technical school in The Wedgwood Institute became the centre for advanced level training and preliminary courses were run by technical schools in Tunstall, Hanley, Stoke, Longton and Fenton.

In 1899, William Jackson was put in charge of all the ceramic courses in the Potteries.

Advanced level courses were transferred from The Wedgwood Institute to The Victoria Institute in Station Road (The Boulevard), Tunstall where a Pottery School, with a research laboratory, had been established.

The laboratory was created to test the firmness, plasticity, tenacity,  porosity and colour of any type of clay and at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the only laboratory in England undertaking original research for the pottery industry.

Most students who attended classes at The Victoria Institute were trainee managers, industrial chemists and laboratory assistants who were taking City and Guilds Preliminary (Stage One), Ordinary (Stage Two) and Honours (Stage Three) examinations in pottery and porcelain manufacture.

William encouraged his students to undertake research and ran a weekly “post-graduate” class for those who had passed their Stage Three examinations. Many had become works managers or ceramic scientists, who used the laboratory’s facilities to find practical solutions to scientific problems they faced at work.

In 1900, William formed a discussion group where research students and pottery manufacturers met to share scientific knowledge.

Originally called The North Staffordshire Ceramics Society, the group later changed its name to The British Ceramics Society.

Membership increased and the society grew in importance. Visits to factories and technical schools in Europe and North America were arranged and the society extended its activities to embrace the whole ceramics industry including refractory products and building materials.

(Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2010)

Photograph © Copyright Steve Lewin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Recent Entries »