Category Archives: History and Heritage

A US Navy Pilot’s Comments on the Spitfire and the Seafire

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A SUPERMARINE SEAFIRE

Flown from the decks of aircraft carriers during the Second World War and the Korean War, the Seafire was the Royal Navy’s version of the Spitfire.

Over 2,300 Seafires were produced for the Fleet Air Arm, and in 1943 United States Navy pilot Corky Meyer had the chance to fly one of them.

Describing the aircraft’s performance Corky wrote: “Without argument, the Spitfire/Seafire configuration is probably the most beautiful fighter ever to emerge from a drawing board. Its elliptical wing and long slim fuselage are visually most delightful, and its flight characteristics equal its aerodynamic beauty.

“The Seafire had such delightful upright flying qualities that knowing it had an inverted fuel and oil system, I decided to try inverted figure 8s. They were as easy as pie… I have never enjoyed a flight more. It was clear to see how a few exhausted, hastily trained Battle of Britain pilots flying Spitfires were able to fight off Hitler’s hordes for so long and so successfully.”

He concluded by saying that while the carrier based Wildcat, Hellcat and Corsair fighters were workhorses “the Seafire was a dashing stallion”. 

Photograph: Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

A Visit To The City Archives – Minton Tiles

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I had the pleasure of being invited to a behind the scenes visit to our city archive today. I had been asked if I wanted to go along by a friend who is doing an art project about the pottery manufacturer.

We went up to the third floor of the city library and were shown round the back of the reception desk into the staff only section. There the city archivist showed us some of the fading pages in the ledgers. They were images of pots that various pot banks made in the history of Stoke-on-Trent.

There were pattern books for tableware and tiles  ledgers with the cost of making the ware and details of workers. The old pottery firms did not collect a lot of details and a lot was thrown out when they closed down. But once we had been in the air conditioned archives we were allowed…

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

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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

Share Your Memories of Tunstall Market

Do you have memories of Tunstall town hall and market?

Spotlight on North Staffordshire and The Potteries is writing a booklet about the history of the town hall and the market.

Did you work in the market or did you go shopping there with your mother when you were growing up? Can you remember the stalls that were in the market hall and the things they sold before it was regenerated at the end of the 20th century?

If you have memories or old photographs of the market or the town hall which you would be willing to share with us, please email David Martin at daymar727@talktalk.net

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.

Comment: The Future of Local Museums

Faced with cuts in local government expenditure local museums in towns and cities throughout the country are facing closure.

Spotlight on North Staffordshire and The Potteries has no hesitation in saying that Museums and Art Galleries ensure the survival of our cultural heritage. They are too important to be used as political footballs by cost-cutting councillors. A nation that forgets its cultural heritage is a nation without a future.

Theft and Homicide in Late Anglo-Saxon Law 

In a post on Medievalists.net, T. B. Lambert looks at Theft, Homicide and Crime in late Anglo-Saxon Law.

Lambert says:

“It is a startling but infrequently remarked upon fact that for five centuries English law, which prescribed the sternest penalties for theft, contained only a relatively minor royal fine for homicide. Whereas the first clear statement that the death penalty applied to thieves is found in the late seventh-century West Saxon laws of Ine, we have no equivalent statement with respect to homicide before the text known as Glanvill, composed in the late 1180s…”

To read more visit Theft, Homicide and Crime in Late Anglo-Saxon Law – Medievalists.net

Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England

A post on Medievalists.net looks at archaeological evidence challenging the long-standing belief held by legal historians that in Anglo-Saxon times criminals were executed for major criminal offences or faced punishments such as amputations for lesser crimes.

To learn more about crime and punishment in Anglo-Saxon England visit Capital and Corporal Punishment may have been rare in Anglo-Saxon England, researcher suggests – Medievalists.net

Focus on Apedale: The Apedale Railway

At the moment, the Spotlight Team is fascinated by model railways. It is re-creating a Mainline layout which Heritage Associates photographed for Palitoy in the 1970s and would like to know more about the models shown in Apedale Railway’s photograph. Please contact the team at spotlightstoke@talktalk.net if you can give it more information.

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