Category Archives: History and Heritage

Are heritage railways coming to the end of the line?

The dwindling supply of British coal may force many heritage railways to close. Stocks are low and will run out in two years.

An all-party Parliamentary group on heritage rail blames the government. It says government plans to invest in alternative fuels and ban traditional coal-fired power stations will make coal mining in the UK uneconomic.

Most of Britain’s 158 heritage railways are run by volunteers. Many railways can’t afford to buy foreign coal and will be forced to close.

Heritage railways are a vital part of Britain’s tourism industry. They attract about 13million visitors a year and bring in an income of more than £400million.

Spotlight on Biddulph Grange

Last week’s post on the Geological Gallery at Biddulph was, I hope, something of an insight in to the mindset of James Bateman its creator in the mid-19thc. Today’s is designed to look at the gardens he created there, partly because both he and his wife were passionate about plants but partly as a reinforcement of […]

via A Walk Around the World — The Gardens Trust

Spotlight on Crime and Punishment – The Stocks

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 their heads by customers they had cheated.

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.

Spotlight on Biddulph Grange – Orchids, Ferns, Fossils and the Great Flood

biddulph-grange.jpeg

Biddulph Grange

We often hear that grand gardens cost money: it’s as true as the old cliché which says “money talks.” But there is a world of difference between a grand garden and a great one. Great gardens develop when that money meets vision, enthusiasm, knowledge – and a gardener. In the garden I’m going to talk about […]

To read more visit Orchids, Ferns, Fossils and the Great Flood — The Gardens Trust

Spotlight on Burslem – Molly Leigh

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.

Molly Albin – Hanley’s Formidable Town Crier

So far as we can ascertain no local artist made a sketch or painted a portrait of Molly Albin, the formidable lady who was Hanley’s town crier in the 1820s.

Molly lived in Tontine Street, which was still a country lane where there were a few cottages and a farm.

She was a well-built woman, who had a strong arm, a forceful personality and a mind of her own.

Molly despised married men who spent their wages getting drunk in public houses.

A man drinking in a public house, when he should have been at work or at home with his wife, was terrified when he heard Molly ringing her bell as she walked towards the tavern. He trembled with fear while waiting for her to call his name and tell the world about his misdemeanours.

Molly had no intention of letting the man off lightly, and men and women gathered outside the building to hear what she had to say about him. They knew that she would have no hesitation in humiliating and degrading “her victim” by telling them all about his “offences” and how he abused his wife and children when he came home in a drunken stupor.

Speaking in a loud voice to make sure they could all hear her, Molly told the people in the crowd everything she knew about him including where he worked, what his job was and how much money he earned. Nothing was held back. They heard how he spent his wages on drink when his wife needed money to pay the rent and buy food for the family. Molly did not care what she said about a man who neglected his family. However, there were times when she went too far and told the crowd how much money he owed to his creditors and how the debt had been incurred.

Sometimes, factory owners would pay Molly to “ring up their drunken idle workmen” and “persuade” them to return to work. After the employer had given her the man’s name, Molly walked through the town ringing her bell telling people in the streets that he was a man who refused to work and maintain his family.

The men who spent their time getting drunk in public houses came to hate her. From time to time, a drunkard about whom she was making scathing remarks threatened to assault her. Molly knew these were idle threats and laughed in the man’s face when they were made.

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

supermarine_seafire

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)]

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 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.

Spotlight’s Mission

Our mission at Spotlight on North Staffordshire and the Potteries is to use our region’s unique heritage and culture to encourage regeneration by giving local people pride in the past, confidence in the present and hope for the future.

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