Category Archives: Hanley

Spotlight on Hanley – The 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.

Diary Date: New Exhibition at the Museum

A Georgian Christmas at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

Come and enjoy a Georgian Christmas at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery between 11.00am and 4.00pm on Saturday 8 December.

Discover the customs and traditions celebrated by the Georgians at Christmas before the advent of the Victorian Christmas tree, crackers and cards.

You will meet two costumed characters preparing for the Festive party by creating decorations from greenery and paper to adorn the house. They will also be making gingerbread, decorating the Christmas Cake and making kissing boughs. Throughout the day they will introduce visitors to a traditional Georgian Christmas and tell them how our ancestors made merry during the festive season.

Admission Free



Differences between teachers and school inspectors are not new.  The Stoke-on-Trent art schools got a pasting from government inspectors at the end of the First World War, but the principal, Stanley Thorogood, was proud of their achievements in difficult circumstances and was fizzing with ideas for the future.

Hanley, one of the six towns of the North Staffordshire Potteries, first opened its art school in 1847. Burslem opened in 1853. Smaller schools in the other towns amalgamated with Hanley and Burslem in 1910. They were part of the national system of art education, providing artisans with basic drawing and modelling skills. Only the most persistent student could follow its syllabus through its 22 levels; most went through only two or three. Originality and creativity were actively discouraged. At the pinnacle of this system was the National Art Training School in South Kensington, later the Royal College of Art (RCA)


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Joseph Boot

Wolverhampton's War

Joseph was born in Wolverhampton in 1876, the son of William Edward and Myra Elizabeth Boot. In 1901, he was living with his grandmother in Hanley, Staffordshire, and was working as a furnaceman for an ironworks. He was still in Hanley by 1911, with his widowed mother and brothers Samuel and Harry. He was now a bricklayer.

On 6 November 1915, Joseph enlisted in the North Staffordshire Regiment (number 19293). He was posted to France in July 1916, but was reported missing, and later presumed dead, on 18 November 1916. He is remembered at the Thieval Memorial.

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News from Hanley Park


Take a walk to the Cauldon Grounds to see the amazing transformation

The first area of the park to be complete is the Cauldon Grounds next to Stoke-on-Trent College. The Hammersley Fountain is working and the flowerbeds are blooming. The gates have been fully restored, the paths replaced, the lodge painted and new benches installed to create a tranquil and beautiful place to sit and contemplate.

Constructing the bandstand

Restoration update

We are now really starting to see the amazing improvements taking place in the park.

 The boathouse is nearing completion with the finishing touches being made to the balcony overlooking the lake and work is due to start soon to raise the path up to the door to allow access for wheelchairs.

The restoration of the terracotta balustrade in the terrace garden overlooking the canal is nearing completion.

 The restored bandstand has returned to the park this week following restoration and is slowing being put back together on site piece by piece.

 After many months, the main pavilion roof covering is finally being put back on, and the foundations are being put in for the new veranda posts to create a lovely outdoor seating area around the building.

Royal Music Hall in the Theatre Royal

Memories of the Theatre Royal Hanley

The Royal Music Hall is opening in the auditorium area of the building that housed the Theatre Royal, Hanley. With a standing capacity of around 900 it plans to feature a wide range of events, including Sankeys club nights, live music from up-and-coming bands and indie student nights

There will be an exhibition of memorabilia from the Theatre Royal at the Royal Music Hall during July.

Royal Music Hall Facebook page


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Spotlight on Hanley: Woolies Buildings

7-9 Upper Market Square, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs ST1 1PY In 1915, World War One did not stop Woolworth expanding and they opened their 55th store on Upper Market Square in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. As with many war-time stores, it had a similar design to Kingston-upon-Thames (Store 43), with an open pediment and a Venetian window. Source: […]

via Hanley – Store 55 — Woolies Buildings – Then and Now

Newcastle and The Potteries in 1750




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.”

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