Category Archives: Education

Focus on Education – Did You Go To School In Tunstall?

victorian schoolroom

A TYPICAL  MID-20th CENTURY CLASSROOM

Spotlight on Stoke is researching the history of education in Tunstall.

We are hoping to write short posts about all the schools in the town including:

  • St. Mary’s
  • The Catholic School in Oldcourt Street
  • Summerbank Road Schools
  • Tunstall High School for Girls
  • Brownhills High School
  • High Street Schools
  • Forster Street Schools

Except for Forster Street, all the schools built in Tunstall during the 19th century have been demolished. Very few photographs of them survive. If you attended any of these schools and would like to share memories of your school days with us, please email spotlightstoke@talktalk.net

Spotlight on Hanley – The Boy’s Reading Room

On the evening of Monday, October 16, 1893, a large number of boys joined civic leaders assembled at Hanley Free Library to watch the mayor, Alderman Edwin John Hammersley, open the new Boys’ Reading Room.

The Boys’ Reading Room had been created by the council because adult readers did not want to share the library’s general reading room with boys.

Alderman Hammersley told those attending the ceremony that the Boys’ Reading Room contained between 700 and 800 books.

Speaking directly to the boys, he advised them to read books about British History and novels by leading authors including Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper.

At the conclusion of his speech, Alderman Hammersley quoted from a poem about books, which says that they give us:

” New views of life and teach us how to live;

They soothe the grieved, the stubborn they chastise

Fools they admonish and confirm the wise.

Their aid they yield to all; they never shun

The man of sorrow or the wretch undone;

Unlike the hard, the selfish and the proud

They fly not sullen from the supplicant crowd.

Nor tell to various people various things,

But show to subjects what they show to kings.”

Bygone Tunstall – The Victoria Institute

In 1905, Tunstall Urban District Council produced a Year Book which gave details of the major buildings and places of interest in Tunstall including the Victoria Institute.

The edited account of the history of the Victoria Institute posted below is taken is taken from the Year Book.

THE VICTORIA INSTITUTE

“This building, the foundation stones of which were laid on the 16th May 1889, was erected by public subscription in commemoration of Her Majesty’s Jubilee and comprises a School of Science, Art and Technology and a Public Library…

“On the 24th October 1895, the foundation stone of an extension to the Institute was laid.

“The extension, which included a Museum, a Cookery School and Pottery Decorating Studios, was being erected by the Urban District Council with the help of a grant of £700 from Staffordshire County Council.”

Tunstall’s Technical Schools

Tunstall’s Technical Schools, which were housed in the Victoria Institute in Station Road (The Boulevard), opened in November 1890.

Subjects taught by the schools included Art, Science and General Subjects.

Most students attending classes at the schools worked during the day in industry or commerce and gave up their evenings to study for vocational qualifications.

The schools’ academic year started in September, and there were four ten-week terms, Students were given a week’s holiday at Christmas, another week at either Easter or Whitsun and a “long vacation” lasting two months during July and August. To ensure that students attended classes regularly during term time a register of attendance was kept which could be viewed by their parents or guardians and by their employers.

Tunstall’s Technical Schools entered their students for examinations set by the Board of Education. Students who passed were awarded certificates and the ones who gained the highest marks were given gold, silver or bronze medals.

Students who wanted to continue with their studies and become industrial designers or art teachers could apply for scholarships tenable at the Royal College of Art in London.

Speaking at Tunstall Technical Schools’ annual prizegiving ceremony in 1899, Staffordshire County Council’s director of technical education, Thomas Turner, said that North Staffordshire, like other leading industrial areas, should have its own University College.

The local newspaper, The Sentinel, supported Turner’s call for a University College to be established in North Staffordshire and asked one of the area’s leading educationalists to write about the scheme.

Published on May 27, 1899, the article that was written by an unnamed contributor said technical schools in The Potteries were too small to run scientific or academic courses for boys and girls who had been educated to matriculation standard.

To overcome this problem, the writer suggested creating a North Staffordshire College where students could read for degrees in academic subjects and receive degree level vocational training in engineering, ceramic technology, mining or metallurgy.

Spotlight on Tunstall – Betty Wedgwood’s Dame School

Dame School

In his autobiography “When I was a Child” published in 1903, Charles Shaw gives a graphic and horrifying description of working-class life in Tunstall during the 1830s and 40s.

One of Enoch Shaw and his wife Mary’s eight children, Charles was born in 1832. The Shaw family lived in a small terraced house in Piccadilly Street and from 1835/6 to 1839 Charles attended a local dame school until he started work in the pottery industry when he was seven years old.

In this edited extract from “When I was a Child”, he tells us about his school days at Betty Wedgwood’s dame school.

BETTY WEDGWOOD’S DAME SCHOOL

“My education was like that of thousands of other working-class children.

“I went to old Betty Wedgwood’s dame school, and as I had ‘finished my education’ when I was seven years old, I must have attended her school for three or four years.

“The school was housed in the only room on the ground floor of her little cottage. It was about four yards square, with a winding, narrow staircase leading to the cottage’s one bedroom above. The furniture was very scant, consisting of a small table, two chairs, and two or three little forms about eight inches high for the children to sit on. There were a few pictures on the walls of the usual garish sort, blazing with colour, and all the figures upon them were in strikingly dramatic attitudes.

“One small picture was reserved for special distinction, as it was supposed to be the portrait of old Betty’s deceased husband. He had been a soldier and must have attained the rank of colour-sergeant, his stripes and sword being well to the front. The children were duly impressed with the greatness of the personage represented by the little picture. To us, he was a greater warrior than either Wellington or Napoleon. He was more real than either of them because we had before us a visible hero, whose exploits were described by old Betty in tones of awe and in words of admiration. The children listened with wonder to the never-failing recitals of his courage and valour and deeds, and so it has come about that my first vivid impression of a soldier, and what soldiers did, was got by old Betty’s devotion to her husband’s memory, and by the aid of her husband’s portrait.

“The course of education given by the old lady was very simple and graded with almost scientific precision. There was an alphabet, with pictures, for beginners. There must have been something intensely vivid about these letters in the alphabet, for to this day when I see the letters Q and S as single capitals, I see them rather as when I first saw them in old Betty’s alphabet. I have often wondered whether other people carry the same weird impression of the capitals of their first alphabet. I have an impression, too, that the distinctness of that old alphabet had something to do with the success of old Betty’s teachings, for though she never taught writing, her scholars were generally noted for their ability to read while very young. I know I could read my Bible with remarkable ease when I left her school, when seven years old.

“Betty’s next grade, after the alphabet, was the reading-made-easy book, with black letters making words containing two, three and four letters.

“The next stage was spelling and reading the Bible. For those successful in these higher stages old Betty had peculiar honours. They were allowed to take the ashes from under the fire-grate to the ash-heap outside the house. This ash-heap was a common meeting-place, as everybody used it, and on its elevation, many doughty battles were fought. Whoever among the youngsters could get on the top of it and ‘hold the fort’ against all comers, was considered a Victor. Going to the ash-heap, then, meant a bit of sport, and possibly a victory to be talked of in the little school world.

“Another honour of old Betty’s was to allow a successful scholar to sit on the highest visible stair in the winding staircase leading to her bedroom. It was a rare joy to see and be seen by four fellow scholars from this vantage-point of honour. There was yet another distinction the old lady had to bestow. She taught both boys and girls who were successful in reading how to knit stockings. She was a remarkable knitter herself and could carry on this occupation with the regularity almost of a machine, while her eyes were everywhere in her school.

“Old Betty had another resource for pleasing all her scholars. On fine days the little forms were taken outside her cottage and placed under the windows. The children had their books or their knitting, and the old lady, knitting herself incessantly, marched backwards and forwards, hearing lessons and watching work. The joy of the children was that they could see the passers-by, and their mothers, for old Betty’s cottage was at ‘The Bottom’, a favourite resort for the dwellers in the neighbouring cottages.

“These were occasions when the old schoolmistress lapsed into continual smiles, and when her usual rigour, in the matter of lessons, disappeared.

“She was deeply respected by both children and parents. It would be too much to say she was beloved, for there was an air of stateliness and solitariness about her which precluded warm attachment. Whether her stateliness came through her military associations in past years, or whether it was a natural habit, I cannot now say. But for her, being a schoolmistress, it suited well. It impressed the children with a feeling of reverence, and it kept parents from intruding mischievously in the little world she ruled.

“Poor old Betty! She was, perhaps, above the average of her class who taught the children of England in those days for a mere pittance, when our rulers were squandering the resources of the nation in less useful ways and were blind to the wisdom of educating the children of the country.

“She and her class did two things – they made night schools possible for those who wanted to go further, say, to learn writing and arithmetic, and they made it possible for Sunday school teachers to have less elementary drudgery.”

Life was hard for Kidsgrove miners

During the first half of the 19th century, a coal miner’s life was hard. Wages were low. Men, women and children worked long hours in semi-darkness. The work was dangerous. Accidents were frequent. Human life was cheap, and colliery owners put profits before safety.

Half naked men and women worked together at the coalface mining coal and putting it into wagons. Young children were employed to open air doors on roadways leading from the coalface to the bottom of the mine shaft. They sat alone in the darkness and opened the air doors for boys and girls who were harnessed to wagons which they pulled along the roadway.

In the early 1840s, Samuel Scriven who was preparing a report on child labour for the government visited Kidsgrove. He interviewed several coal miners employed by colliery owner Thomas Kinnersley who lived in luxury at Clough Hall.

A Young Miner’s Working Conditions

Seventeen year old John Vickers who was interviewed by Mr Scriven said: 

“I have been working in the mines for about four years. Before that, I worked at a farm for about four years. My job is to attend at the pit’s mouth and haul away the coals that come up from the Delph. My wages are 11 shillings a week which I give to my mother. I am paid by the charter master. He gives me my wages in a public-house. I went to day school for a few months before going to work on a farm. Although I cannot read or write, I go to church pretty regularly. I start work at six in the morning and go home at about six {in the evening}. I am too tired to go to school in the evening. I would like to go if I could but, as I said before, I am always too tired.

“My father is dead. My mother keeps a dame school for young children. I have three sisters; two of them work in the silk factories at Congleton. The eldest is 18 years old. She earns five shillings and six pence a week. My other sister, who works in Congleton, is 14. She earns three shillings and six pence a week. My youngest sister goes to the National Day School at Mr Wade’s. 

“I have my first breakfast before I go to work and take my second breakfast to work with me. I go to dinner at twelve and have ‘tatees’ and bacon. I always take an hour for dinner and eat my second breakfast when I can. I never do any night work.”

The illustration shows a girl harnessed to a wagon in a coal mine.

Trentham Hall could have been Staffordshire’s first University

Trentham Hall

TRENTHAM HALL

Not many students and staff who attend Staffordshire University’s award ceremonies on the Trentham Estate know that Trentham Hall could have been home to a leading Russell Group university like Manchester or Birmingham.

On February 12th, 1890, Francis Elliot Kitchener, the headmaster of Newcastle High School, attended the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner at the North Stafford Hotel.

While proposing the toast to “the staple trades of Staffordshire”, he suggested establishing a University College in Hanley which specialised in chemistry and engineering. Both the Sentinel and Thomas Turner (Staffordshire County Council’s director of technical education) supported the idea.

However, nothing was done until 1900 when a Council for the Extension of Higher Education in North Staffordshire was set up to help finance Oxford University’s Extension Courses in the district.

Taking up Kitchener’s idea, the council launched a public appeal to build a North Staffordshire College in The Potteries.

The proposed college, which would have had University status, was going to run full and part-time degree courses, train teachers and provide vocational training for men and women working in industry and commerce.

Although the estimated cost of the college was £20,000, there was widespread support for the project.

By the end of 1904 pottery manufacturers, colliery owners, professional bodies and local town councils had promised to give between £10,000 and £11,000 towards the cost.

Staffordshire County Council offered to give £12,500 if matching funding could be raised. The Council for the Extension of Higher Education in North Staffordshire made plans to launch a final appeal. Before it could be launched, the Duke of Sutherland stepped in and offered to give Trentham Hall to the county council if it agreed to establish the college there.

Believing it had achieved its objective, the Council for the Extension of Higher Education disbanded, and the county council made plans to transform the hall into a regional college.

While these plans were being made, a campaign to reform local government in The Potteries by replacing its six local authorities with a county borough council was gaining momentum.

Realising change was inevitable and that responsibility for education would be taken from it and given to the new county borough, Staffordshire County Council withdrew its support for the North Staffordshire College.

Hanley, which was already a county borough, refused to take over the project and the county council erected temporary buildings to house a mining school and a pottery school on land near Stoke Station.

At the end of the First World War, another attempt to give North Staffordshire a University College failed.

The mining school and the pottery school became the Central School of Science and Technology, one of the technical schools in The Potteries from which Staffordshire University can trace its descent.

Tunstall Schools – Can You help Spotlight?


victorian schoolroomSpotlight on Stoke is researching the history of education in Tunstall.

We are hoping to write short posts about all the schools in the town including:

  • St. Mary’s
  • The Catholic School in Oldcourt Street
  • Summerbank Road Schools
  • Tunstall High School for Girls
  • Brownhills High School
  • High Street Schools
  • Forster Street Schools

Except for Forster Street, all the schools built in Tunstall during the 19th century have been demolished. Very few photographs of them survive. If you attended any of these schools and would like to share memories of your school days with us, please email spotlightstoke@talktalk.net

Outraged teachers threatened to resign

brownhills-high-school-1950s

BROWNHILLS HIGH – ONE OF THE CITY’S FOUR GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

Stoke-on-Trent teachers were shocked when they learned that Henry Dibden, the director of education, wanted to abolish the city’s grammar schools.

When Henry became director of education in 1951, the Potteries was a deprived area. It had only four grammar schools, and most children left school at 15 without any qualifications. Less than 10% took O’ Levels and plans to build nine new grammar schools were abandoned when the city ran out of money.

The education committee estimated that between 25% and 30% of the school population could obtain five or more O’ Levels but only one secondary modern school (Goldenhill Secondary Modern) was entering pupils for these examinations. Realising the city needed a new education policy, the education committee told Henry to draw up plans to go comprehensive and as an interim measure introduced selected entry O’ Level streams into six secondary moderns.

Henry’s scheme for secondary school reorganisation was published on January 20th, 1959. He proposed replacing the grammar schools and the secondary moderns with 24 neighbourhood comprehensives and a sixth form college for A’ Level students. Accepted by the Labour Party controlled city council, the plan was attacked by the Conservative Party, the Workers Educational Association and Keele University. Outraged teachers held public meetings and threatened to resign unless the scheme was withdrawn. When the council refused to back down, some teachers sold their homes in the city and went to live in South Cheshire to ensure that their children received a grammar school education.

Wanting to go comprehensive in the early 1960s, the education committee renamed the six secondary moderns that had selected entry 0’ Level streams junior high schools. An experimental sixth form college was opened at Longton High School, but the Conservative government refused to allow the committee to turn its grammar and secondary modern schools into comprehensives.

In 1964, the Labour Party won the general election, and Stoke-on-Trent hoped the new government would accept its proposals. Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, who had been educated at Wirral Grammar School, opposed the scheme saying that grammar schools would be abolished over his dead body. The city council responded by threatening to go comprehensive without government approval and a bitter row developed within the Labour Party.

To prevent the dispute being made public the city council and the government reached a compromise, which involved reorganising both primary and secondary education. Stoke-on-Trent agreed to make its infants’ schools first schools taking pupils aged five to eight and establish middle schools for children from eight to twelve. In return, the government allowed the city to replace grammar and secondary modern schools with comprehensives and build a new sixth form college.

Erected at Fenton Manor, the college cost £500,000. It was opened by Harold Wilson on April 10th, 1970 and had accommodation for 750 A’ Level students aged 16 to 19.

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

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