Category Archives: History and Heritage

Burslem – Reflections on a town’s heritage

A Second World War Liberty Ship

Like all the towns in our area, Burslem has a proud heritage.

In the 18th century, its master potters brought the Industrial Revolution to North Staffordshire.

The old town hall is one of the finest examples of civic architecture erected by a local board of health.

Burslem born architect, Absalom Reade Wood designed the Woodhall Memorial Chapel, the Drill Hall, the Art School, the Wycliffe Institute, Moorland Road Schools, Longport Methodist Church and Middleport Pottery.

Created by local craftspersons, the Wedgwood Institute has a unique terracotta façade which is an inspiring tribute to the skills of the men and women who worked in the pottery industry.

During its long history, the Wedgwood Institute has housed several schools and colleges whose alumni have played a significant role on the world stage in the fields of literature, science and technology.

They include:

  • Oliver Lodge, the first principal of Birmingham University, who invented the spark plug and perfected radio telegraphy;
  • Arnold Bennett whose novels vividly described life in North Staffordshire and immortalised The Potteries;
  • Summers Hunter, one of the world’s leading maritime engineers, whose firm designed the engine that powered the Liberty Ships* which helped to keep the supply lines between Britain and North America open during the Second World War; and
  • Reginald Mitchell, the 20th century’s leading aircraft designer, who created the Spitfire which saved the world from Nazi domination.

*The photograph shows a Liberty Ship which was powered by a marine engine designed by Summers Hunter.

Focus on Fenton: The vicar who had friends in high places

Christ_Church,_Fenton,_from_south-eastAn establishment figure, the Reverend the Honourable Leonard Tyrwhitt, the Vicar of Fenton from 1895 to 1907, was a man with friends in high places.

Born on October 29th, 1863, Leonard was the son of Sir Henry Tyrwhitt and his wife Emma who inherited the title Baroness Berners when her uncle Lord Berners died.

Graduating from Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1886, he trained for the ministry at Wells Theological College and was admitted to the priesthood in 1888.

When he came to Fenton in 1895, Leonard found a parish deeply in debt and services were held in the new parish church (Christ Church) before the bell tower had been erected.

Designed by Stoke architect, Charles Lynam, the church could accommodate 1,900 worshippers. Built of red brick with stone dressings, the nave and chancel which cost over £6,000 had been consecrated by Dr Maclagan, the Archbishop of York, on October 3rd, 1891. Although nearly £5,400 had been donated towards the cost of building the nave and the chancel, over £800 was still owed to the builder, and about £2,000 had to be raised before the bell tower could be constructed.

Leonard moved into the vicarage in Glebedale Road and made plans to revitalise the parish. He established a church council, organised Bible classes and formed youth clubs.

Hoping it would bring in enough money to pay Christ Church’s debts and to erect a bell tower, Leonard decided to hold a three-day bazaar in the town hall to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. When he heard that the Prince and Princess of Wales were coming to The Potteries, he invited them to visit Fenton and open the bazaar.

The Royal couple accepted his invitation and arrived in Fenton on January 5th, 1897. During their visit to the town hall, the Princess, who later became Queen Alexandra, opened the bazaar which raised £3,250.

Leonard used the money to pay the church’s debts and to build a bell tower containing a peal of eight bells.

A man with a forceful personality, Leonard had unlimited self-confidence and was not afraid to speak his mind.

Early in December 1903, he began a well-publicised crusade against immorality in The Potteries which was widely reported in the national press.

In a series of outspoken, controversial sermons, Leonard condemned factory owners who failed to protect young workers from sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation. Supported by public opinion and leading non-conformist ministers, he attacked drunkenness, gambling, wife beating, child neglect, fornication and prostitution.

Photograph of Christ Church, Fenton licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Stoke-on-Trent is proud of its heritage

A Mark IX Spitfire

Reginald Mitchell’s Spitfire 

People from Stoke-on-Trent are proud of their city’s heritage.

History records the achievements of men and women from our city and tells us the role they played on the world stage.

Stoke-on-Trent’s city council was one of the pioneers of comprehensive education. It defied both Conservative and Labour governments and replaced grammar and secondary modern schools with neighbourhood comprehensive schools and a sixth form college.

Local art schools, technical schools and colleges of further education were progressive centres of excellence. Reginald Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, turned down a place at Birmingham University. He wanted to serve an apprenticeship with a firm in Fenton and to study engineering at technical schools in the city.

By the beginning of the 1930s, the North Staffordshire Technical College was a university in everything but name. The college had an international reputation and attracted overseas students. It possessed the world’s leading ceramic research centre and had Europe’s best mining school.

There are those who say the past is dead. They are wrong. The past lives in our collective memory. It makes us what we are today. Stoke-on-Trent has a proud heritage – a heritage which must not be forgotten. A city that forgets its past is a city without a future.

Spitfire Squadron

A Mark IX Spitfire

A Mark IX Spitfire like the one that attacked Rommel’s car

No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron was the first Auxiliary Air Force squadron to fly Spitfires. Formed as a day bomber unit during 1925, it became a fighter squadron in January 1939 and flew Gloucester Gauntlets until May when they were replaced by Spitfires.

On September 1st, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun. No. 602 Squadron and No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron were given the task of protecting the naval base at Rosyth. On the 16th October, German bombers attacked the base. Both squadrons were scrambled to intercept them, and two enemy aircraft were destroyed.

No. 602 Squadron remained in Scotland until August 1940 when it moved south to join No. 11 Group which was defending London and the South East during the Battle of Britain.

In 1941, the squadron and its “cute little Spitfires” starred with Tyrone Power and Betty Grable in “A Yank in the RAF”, a Hollywood movie made as a tribute to the large number of American airmen who had volunteered to fight for Britain.

During 1943, No. 602 Squadron joined the newly formed 2nd Tactical Air Force which had been set up to provide air support for the allied invasion of Europe. Now equipped with Mark IX Spitfire fighter-bombers, 602 Squadron was sent to a front-line airstrip in France shortly after D-Day.

The bomb loads carried by Spitfire fighter-bombers depended on the target they were attacking and how far away it was from their base. Usually, the aircraft carried two 250 pound bombs under its wings or one 500 pound bomb. If the target was only a short distance from its base, the plane could carry one 500 and two 250 pound bombs.

Describing the Spitfire’s role as a fighter-bomber, Flying Officer David Green who flew one during the campaign to liberate Italy said: “Carrying two 250 pound bombs, the Spitfire made a very fine dive bomber. It could attack accurately and did not need a fighter escort because as soon as the bombs had been released, it became a fighter.”

July 17th, 1944 was a beautiful summer’s day in Normandy. During the afternoon, a Mustang reconnaissance aircraft spotted a German staff car and its motorcycle escort speeding along a country lane near Lisieux.

A flight of five Spitfire fighter-bombers from No 602 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Chris Le Roux, was sent to investigate. Le Roux strafed the vehicle with cannon and machine-gun fire killing the driver. The car ran off the road and crashed into a tree. Its passenger Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the commander of German ground forces in Normandy, was severely injured suffering a fractured skull and severe concussion.

He was taken to a military hospital where doctors successfully fought to save his life. On leaving the hospital, Rommel was sent to Germany to recuperate where he died a few months later in mysterious circumstances.

Copyright Phoenix Trust 2013

Photograph Creative Commons Licence.

Teacher training in the 19th century

Until school boards were established by the Education Act 1870, the state did not make any provision for the education of working-class children.

What little education they received had to be paid for by their parents, although there were a few free places reserved for them in the grammar schools at Leek, Newchapel, Stafford, Stone and Uttoxeter.

By the end of the 17th century, Newcastle-under-Lyme had a grammar school, where 39 boys were educated free of charge. There was also a dame school, which was financed by the town council. The school had free places for up to 20 girls.


Joseph Lancaster

In 1808, nonconformist educationalist Joseph Lancaster founded the British and Foreign Schools Society to give financial help to free churches who were building day schools at home and missionary schools overseas.

Fearing that the British Schools would monopolise elementary education in the new industrial towns, the Church of England set up the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales.

During 1814, the National Society opened its first school in North Staffordshire at Chesterton.

The first British School in The Potteries was erected in Burslem by the Wesleyans. The parish church, St. John’s, opened a National School in 1817 and by 1822 the Roman Catholic Church had built a school at Cobridge.

Many teachers were not well educated or well trained. Pupils who wanted to become teachers stayed at school until their early teens and became apprentice teachers. Called monitors, the apprentices were supervised by the headteacher and allowed to teach younger pupils. After a few years, monitors who had successfully completed their training and could maintain discipline were employed as assistant teachers.

During 1846, the government made regulations governing teacher training. Under these rules, boys and girls who had stayed at school until they were 13 could be appointed pupil teachers.

Pupil teachers were apprenticed to the headteacher for five years. At the end of each year, they were examined by the school inspectors. When their apprenticeship ended, pupil teachers took the Queen’s Scholarship examination.

Those who passed with the highest marks were given a grant which enabled them to go to a teacher training college and become fully qualified certificated teachers. Other pupil teachers who passed the examination were offered employment as uncertificated assistant teachers. Only certificated teachers could obtain headships. Uncertificated teachers remained assistant teachers throughout their careers. Many secured positions at the school where they had been educated and taught there until they retired.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013


Education in The Potteries during the 1920s



During the early 1920s, the type of school a child attended depended on its parents’ social status.

Middle-class children, whose parents could afford to pay school fees, were sent to secondary schools like Newcastle High School, the Orme Girls’ School and Hanley High School where they received an academic education.

Except for a few scholarship boys and girls attending secondary schools, working-class children went to elementary schools and left to start work at 14.

When the First World War ended in 1918, the Labour Party demanded educational reform and called on the government to give all children a secondary education.

In 1926, the Hadow Report recommended replacing elementary schools with primary schools and selected entry secondary schools – grammar and secondary modern. The report was accepted by the government and local education authorities in North Staffordshire made plans to reorganise their schools.

Stoke-on-Trent’s three secondary schools, Hanley High School, Longton High School and Tunstall High School for Girls became grammar schools. Parents whose children attended these schools still had to pay school fees although a few free places were given to working-class children who had passed the eleven plus.

Reorganisation started in Tunstall during 1929. Tunstall High School for Girls left the Jubilee Building and moved into purpose-built premises at Brownhills. Existing school buildings in Forster Street, High Street and Summerbank Road were modernised or enlarged. Three secondary modern schools were created and Forster Street, where new classrooms and a hall were constructed, became a primary school.

By 1932 all the local authority’s schools in The Potteries had been reorganised. Influenced by the public schools, the grammar schools and the secondary modern schools organised their pupils into houses. House points were awarded for pupils’ academic and sporting achievements. School societies were encouraged and senior pupils who were made prefects helped to maintain discipline.

Although class teaching, where a teacher had a class for a year and taught every subject, was retained in primary schools, it was replaced in secondary modern schools by subject teaching. New teachers had to specialise in one or two subjects, and those who had taught in the elementary schools were given in-service training to help them adapt to the change.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013

Photograph Copyright The Phoenix Trust 2012


John Lloyd and Reginald Mitchell – two aircraft designers from The Potteries

John Lloyd’s AW52 – The Flying Wing

Two of the 20th century’s leading aircraft designers, Reginald Mitchell and John Lloyd, grew up in Stoke-on-Trent.

Both were educated at Hanley High School and served apprenticeships in The Potteries before going to work in the aviation industry.

Made in 1942, the film The First of the Few, starring Leslie Howard and David Niven, told the world how Mitchell raced against time to create the Spitfire while dying of cancer.

Already “a living legend” when the film was released, the Spitfire symbolised Britain’s determination to destroy Nazi Germany.

The film made Mitchell a Potteries’ folk hero. Hanley High School was renamed Mitchell High, the Mitchell Memorial Theatre was built to commemorate his life and a by-pass, Reginald Mitchell Way, was named after him.

John Lloyd’s contribution to aviation history was forgotten.

Between 1942 and 1949, John was at the cutting edge of aviation research working on the flying wing, an experimental tailless jet aircraft. Hoping these experiments would enable him to design an airliner, he constructed a two-seater tailless glider which flew successfully.

Impressed by the glider’s performance, the government allowed him to build two jet-powered flying wings. One crashed while being flown by a test pilot and the other was taken to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where it was used in tests which helped to develop the V Bomber force and Concorde.

You can find out more about John’s life and the aircraft he designed by reading “John Lloyd – North Staffordshire’s Forgotten Aircraft Designer” at

The Daily Sentinel was Staffordshire’s first daily newspaper

North Staffordshire’s popular daily newspaper, The Sentinel, started life in 1854.

Originally called The Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial Advertiser, the first edition was printed and published from offices in Cheapside, Hanley on January 7th, 1854.

A weekly paper, which cost 3d, The Sentinel supported the Liberal Party and campaigned successfully to make Hanley a borough.

Its first editor was Thomas Phillips, a bookseller and printer from Northampton, who remained with the paper until 1859.

During 1860, Thomas Andrews Potter, a journalist who had worked on The Bradford Observer, bought The Sentinel becoming its owner/editor.

Introducing himself to Sentinel readers, Potter wrote in his first leader:

“It will be the aim of the new proprietor to make… the Sentinel increasingly valued as the paper of this populous and thriving district. The wants of the locality will be carefully studied, and its passing events will be fully and truthfully recorded through the agency of an efficient staff of reporters and correspondents.”

At 4.00pm on April 15th, 1873, Potter brought out Staffordshire’s first daily paper, The Daily Sentinel, which had four pages and cost a halfpenny.

The Daily Sentinel was a great success, and by the end of the year, it had readers throughout The Potteries and in Congleton, Macclesfield, Leek, Stafford, Market Drayton, Uttoxeter and Crewe.


John Livesley A Potter From Shelton Who Fought in The American Civil War


The American Civil War


Thousands of Britons took part in the American Civil War (1861-1863) fighting and dying for both the Union and the Confederacy.

Many were ex-soldiers who had fought in the Crimean War (1853-1856) while others were civilians from all walks of life who crossed the Atlantic to fight for a cause that they believed was just.

Writing home, an Englishman serving in the Union Army told his family:

“The Corporal of our detachment is an Englishman who celebrates today as the anniversary of “Inkerman” and wears his medals on his jacket, including the Victoria Cross, with silver bars, possibly the greatest honour an Englishman can earn.

“He was a Sergeant Major in the Rifle Brigade, and I can assure you he is by far the best soldier in our company.

“I find it worthy of mention that there are about 20 Englishmen in our company (about a fifth of its strength) and although we are small in proportion, every Sergeant is English excepting the Quartermaster Sergeant who is Scots.”

One of the men from North Staffordshire who fought with the Union Army was John Livesley.

Born in Shelton in 1838, John was the son of a local pottery manufacturer.

In January 1864 he went to the United States and enlisted in the 6th Regiment New York Cavalry.

His military career ended a few months later in August 1864 when he was wounded and taken to hospital where an arm and a leg were amputated.

John returned to Stoke-on-Trent and became a grocer in Lichfield Street, Hanley. He married Ellen Twigg in 1866 and died four months later aged 29.

History does not tell us how many Britons took part in the American Civil War,  but we do know that 67 of them who fought in the Union Army were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, the United States of America’s highest military award for bravery in the face of the enemy.

James Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel

Brindley Tunnel (2)

The Trent and Mersey Canal, which runs from Preston Brook near Runcorn to Shardlow in Derbyshire, follows a route surveyed by James Brindley.

It took 600 men eleven years to construct the canal. Work began on July 26th, 1766 when Josiah Wedgwood cut the first sod near Tunstall Bridge at Brownhills in the Chatterley Valley.

Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel that took the canal through Harecastle Hill between Chatterley and Kidsgrove, is a feat of civil engineering which merits World Heritage Site status in its own right.

Described as the eighth wonder of the world when it was opened, the tunnel’s historical importance has been ignored by both the City of Stoke-on-Trent and the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

One of the first canal tunnels to be built, it was 2,880 yards long and nine feet wide.

There were branch tunnels leading to underground loading bays in collieries and mines where small boats were loaded with coal or ironstone. These tunnels which ran directly from the main tunnel into the mine workings are the earliest known examples of true horizon mining.

Opened in 1777, the Trent and Mersey Canal was a commercial success and it quickly became one of England’s major inland waterways.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel could not cope with the number of narrowboats using the canal. The tunnel was too narrow to take boats going in both directions.

It took about two hours for a boat to pass through the tunnel. Bottlenecks developed at Kidsgrove and Chatterley where boatmen were forced to wait until they were allowed to enter.

The tunnel did not have a towpath. Narrowboats were “legged”  through the tunnel by men lying on their backs and moving the boat along by “walking” with their feet on the roof or on the side of the tunnel.

A second tunnel, designed by Thomas Telford, was constructed between 1824 and 1827 by civil engineering contractors Pritchard & Hoof. The firm specialised in building canal tunnels and Daniel Pritchard said that with the exception of the Brindley Tunnel the rock at Harecastle Hill  “was much harder than the rock any tunnel had ever been driven in before”. Brindley’s tunnel remained in use until 1914 when subsidence made it unsafe.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010

Photograph © Copyright Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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