Category Archives: History and Heritage

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.

Winter was hard in the Middle Ages 

A post by Sandra Alvarez on the Medievalists.net describes a Russian experiment to discover what life was like in the Middle Ages.

In this extract from her post, Sandra introduces her readers to the experiment. 

“In 2013, a medieval reenactment group set out to see what it would be like to survive a Russian winter in the Middle Ages. They selected one of their members, Pavel Sapozhnikov, to live on a farmstead, with only ninth century tools, clothing and shelter for six months as part of a project entitled, Alone in the Past.

“Once a day, Pavel would speak for half an hour into a camera to recount his day and share his experiences. The rest of the time, he was completely alone, with a monthly check-in to ensure he was still alive. His experiment provided a first-hand glimpse of the struggles people faced surviving the winter in the Middle Ages.”

To read Sandra’s post and learn more about village life in the Middle Ages visit Surviving Winter in the Middle Ages – Medievalists.net

Many happy returns to Tunstall’s indoor market – it’s 160 years old today

tunstall-market

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO TUNSTALL’S INDOOR MARKET FROM THE SPOTLIGHT TEAM

Opened on December 2nd, 1858, Tunstall’s indoor market celebrates its 160th birthday today.

One of the best markets in England and Wales, the indoor market, which is tucked away behind the town hall in High Street, is Stoke-on-Trent’s hidden gem.

Tunstall market is a warm-hearted place where friendly, welcoming traders sell high-quality fish and meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, household goods and luxury items at reasonable prices to local people and customers who have come from as far afield as Alsager, Biddulph, Mow Cop and Congleton to do their weekend shopping.

Despite wars and recessions, the market has served the community for 160 years. The Spotlight team is certain that the market will continue to serve the people of Tunstall and the surrounding area for another 160 years.

Tunstall’s indoor market is 160 years old this year

Tunstall’s indoor market hall, which opened in December 1858, celebrates its 160th birthday this year.

In 1856, Tunstall’s Board of Health decided to build a new market hall.

The board of health commissioned George Thomas Robinson, the architect who designed Burslem’s Old Town Hall, to build the market hall.

Constructed on a half acre site opposite the Market Place in High Street, the market hall cost £7,651.

It was opened by Thomas Peake, the Chief Bailiff and Chairman of the Board of Health, on December 2, 1858. In the evening a concert was held in the market hall. At 9.00 pm there was a firework display in the Market Place (Tower Square) which was followed by a ball in the market hall.

Trading commenced there two days later on December 4, 1858, when the retail market which sold:

  • Dairy produce
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Meat, fish, poultry, game and rabbits
  • Manufactured goods and household utensils

left the Market Place and moved into the building.

Tucked away behind the town hall in High Street, the indoor market is Stoke-on-Trent’s hidden gem.

It’s a warm-hearted place where friendly, welcoming traders sell high-quality fish and meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, household goods and luxury items at reasonable prices to local people and customers who have come from as far away as Alsager, Biddulph, Mow Cop and Congleton to do their weekend shopping.

Today, the market hall is home to one of the best indoor markets in England and Wales – a place where you and your family can do the weekend shopping under one roof.

A child murder in Kidsgrove

On Friday, July 31st, 1868, a 40-year-old furnaceman, William Hancock, stood in the dock at Stafford Assizes charged with the wilful murder of Mary Ann Whitehurst at Kidsgrove on June 10th, 1868.

The court heard that Mary, a little girl about ten years old, was the daughter of one of William’s neighbours.

On the evening of June 9th, she was playing with William’s children and obtained permission from her father to sleep at the accused’s house overnight.

Mary went to bed at about 9.30pm. In the early hours of the morning, the household was woken by William who being in a state of uncontrollable violence was shouting, cursing and attempting to attack his wife. Terror-stricken, William’s wife and children ran out of the house leaving Mary there.

William jumped out of his bedroom window into the street. Being unable to find his wife and children who had taken refuge with their next-door neighbour, William went back into the house where he saw Mary.

He caught hold of Mary and dragged her into the kitchen. He picked her up by the legs, held her upside down and battered her head on the kitchen floor until she was dead.

Medical evidence presented to the court showed that William was suffering from delirium tremens and did not know what he was doing when he killed Mary. The jury said he was insane and the judge ordered him to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Scarratt’s Tunstall – A Country Town

In this extract from the book Old Times in the Potteries, its author, William Scarratt, describes Tunstall as it was in the 1850s.

He writes:

Tunstall, which is one of Stoke-on-Trent’s six towns, was very much like a country town as late as 1854. The oak and other trees around Greengates House, the large house built by William Adams in the 18th century near where Furlong Road joins High Street, were quite leafy. Rooks built their nests in them, and there were wild ducks on the pond in front of the house. There were several large trees in the courtyard at the back of the house, and the cawing of the rooks was noisy enough in springtime. Little birds built their nests in the hedgerows below Christ Church – I have found them there. Nobody today would think that a pack of harriers or beagles were kept at Greengates House, but that is a fact, the then owner being fond of sport.  I should think the pack numbered 15 couples. I have met them when walking to the grammar school at Newchapel. Furlong Road which led to Greenfields was once narrow and overhung in some places with laburnum and other trees.

(An edited extract from “Old Times in the Potteries” by William Scarratt published in 1906)

A BOOK ABOUT TUNSTALL MARKET

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TUNSTALL INDOOR MARKET CELEBRATES ITS 160th ANNIVERSARY THIS YEAR

Tunstall’s indoor market was opened in 1858. To celebrate the 160th anniversary of its opening, historical geographer, Betty Cooper and international heritage lawyer, David Martin are writing a book about the market.

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

Tunstall’s historic Market Hall is one of the few remaining Victorian covered markets in the country.

The covered market cost £7,651 13s 1d. It was designed by Wolverhampton based architect George Thomas Robinson, who created Burslem’s old town hall. The market hall was opened by the chief bailiff, Thomas Peake on the 2 December 1858. Trading commenced there on the 4 December 1858 and customers could buy meat and fish, poultry and game, fruit and vegetables, groceries and dairy produce, clothing and manufactured goods.

In the early 1880s, one-third of the covered market, including its main entrance in High Street, was demolished to make way for a new town hall.

Built in the free Renaissance style, the town hall was designed by North Staffordshire’s leading architect, Absalom Reade Wood.

While the town hall was being constructed, Wood regenerated the remaining part of the market hall giving it a new glazed roof. New stalls were erected. The floor was relaid and the building was redecorated. Tunstall’s chief bailiff, John Nash Peake, opened the new town hall on the 29 October 1885. To celebrate its opening, a luncheon was held in the town hall. Afterwards, the band of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the members of Burslem Prize Choir gave a Promenade Concert in the covered market. In the evening a football match took place in Phoenix Park and the day ended with a grand ball in the market hall.

BETTY AND DAVID NEED YOUR HELP

Many people who shop in the market today must remember the covered market before it closed for regeneration in the 1990s and the temporary market hall that was erected in Woodland Street.

If you were a child in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, your mother could have taken you to the market on Saturdays when she did the weekend shopping. You may even have had a part-time job working on one of the stalls when you were at school or college.

If you have memories or photographs of the market which you would like to share with Betty and David please contact them at daymar727@talktalk.net

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.

Tunstall – An Anglo Saxon Village

Anglo-Saxon Village

An Artist’s Impression of an Anglo-Saxon Settlement

Tunstall is one of the oldest towns in The Potteries.

The town’s “Old English” name indicates that it dates from the late 6th or the early 7th century.

“Old English” place names are descriptive. They describe the settlement and tell us the main occupation of the people who lived there. The word “Tun” means an enclosed farmstead, hamlet or village, and “Stall” is derived from the “Old English” word “Steall” which means a place with pens or sheds where cattle were kept for fattening.

Anglo-Saxon Tunstall was built on a sandstone ridge overlooking the Chatterley Valley near the spot where Green Lane (Oldcourt Street and America Street) crossed the old drove road (Roundwell Street) from the Staffordshire Moorlands to Chester. Green Lane which ran from Leicester to Warrington was an important highway that linked the East Midlands with Merseyside. All traces of Anglo-Saxon Tunstall have disappeared although historians believe it was an enclosed settlement protected by a ditch and a wooden palisade.

Two old field names, Gods Croft and Church Field, which survived until the 19th century, support the local tradition that there was a church in Tunstall many centuries before the Wesleyan Methodists erected a church in America Street. Another old field named Cross Croft near where Madison Street joins America Street indicates that there could have been a wayside cross where markets were held. Calver Street, which runs between Forster Street and Oldcourt Street, takes its name from Calver Croft a place where there were cattle pens for calves born on the journey from the Staffordshire Moorlands to Chester.

Towards the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century, Tunstall became part of Staffordshire’s New Forest.

Today when we think of a forest, we picture a place covered by trees. In medieval times a forest was a large tract of land where the King and his friends hunted for deer and other beasts of the field.

Staffordshire’s New Forest, which extended from Tixall in the south to Mow Cop in the north, may have been founded by William the Conqueror. The forest was not an area of continuous woodland. It was the King’s hunting ground which included:

  • woods and grassland
  • hills and moorland
  • towns, villages and hamlets
  • farmland, open fields and rough pasture.

The forest had its own laws designed to protect the beasts of the field and the vegetation they ate. Offenders against Forest Laws were brought before special courts. The penalties imposed by these courts were brutal and savage. For killing a beast of the field, a poacher could be sent to the gallows, have his eyes torn out or have his hand cut off.

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