Category Archives: North Staffordshire

A Victorian Town Hall and a Covered Market

Tunstall Town Hall

Tunstall’s historic market hall is one of the few remaining Victorian covered markets in the United Kingdom.

Designed by architect George Thomas Robinson, the market hall cost £7,651 13s 1d. It was opened by the chairman of the local board of health, Thomas Peake, on the 2 December 1858. Trading commenced two days later on the 4 December.

The market hall was known locally as “The Shambles”. Traders who had stalls there sold meat and fish, poultry and game, fruit and vegetables, hardware and household goods, groceries and dairy produce, shoes and clothing.

In the early 1880s, the market’s main entrance in High Street became unsafe, and the market hall’s roof started to collapse. One-third of the market hall was demolished, and a new town hall was built on the site. A free Renaissance-style building, the town hall was designed by Absalom Reade Wood, one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

While the town hall was being built, Wood regenerated the remaining two-thirds of the market hall. He gave it a new roof and relaid the floor. New stalls were erected, and the market hall was redecorated.

Tunstall’s new town hall was opened by Thomas Peake’s son, John Nash Peake, on the 29 October 1885.

After the opening ceremony, a civic luncheon was held in the town hall’s assembly room. Later, the band of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the members of Burslem Prize Choir gave a promenade concert in the market hall. In the evening there was a football match in Phoenix Park, and the day ended with a grand ball in the market hall.

Keeping the Asylum safe: Fire Brigades

Staffordshire's Asylums

Members of the Coventry volunteer fire brigade, 1862 (wellcome collection CC BY)

This month, we are exploring the early days of Cheddleton
asylum further, and focusing on some elements of the advanced technology of the
times which the hospital exploited, and of which they were innovators.

As asylums grew larger and became more complex
institutions, with more patients and wards, keeping them safe became ever more
complex. In large buildings, often connected by long corridors, one fear
remained ever present – the risk of fire.

This increasing risk became an issue after several fires
occurred in the 1880s and 90s. Questions were asked in the House of Commons in
1883 about withholding licenses from asylums unless they put precautions in
place, following a fire at the private asylum at Southall Park, London. The only
source of water for the fire brigade was found to be a shallow pond a quarter

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From our archives: Spotlight on Kidsgrove – The Avenue Villa Murders

On October 2nd, 1911, people living in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire were shocked when they read in the Sentinel that widow Mrs Mary Weir, her four-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her maid, 17-year-old Mary Hambleton, had been murdered by a burglar.

The victims lived at Avenue Villa, a large detached house in Liverpool Road, Kidsgrove which stood in its own grounds overlooking the Victoria Hall and the cemetery. Surrounded by trees, the secluded villa was approached by a long, winding drive. At about ten o’clock in the morning, Mrs Eliza Stanfield, who lived opposite, was looking out of her window and saw a man walking up the drive towards the house.

Two hours later, Mrs Weir’s eight-year-old daughter, Jennie, came home from school for dinner. She saw an empty cash box lying on the floor in the hall. Going upstairs, Jennie found the three bodies lying on the floor in pools of blood. They had all been stunned by blows to the head before being stabbed four or five times by a chisel or a stiletto, a short dagger with a tapering blade.

The cash box belonged to William Lehr, a German civil engineer who was erecting a battery of German designed Carl Still coke ovens at Birchenwood Colliery. William had been living with the Weirs for eight days when the murders were committed. The burglar took £30 in gold sovereigns and silver coins from a drawer in William’s bedroom where he kept the cash box and a leather bag containing £15. The bag was missing and suspicion fell on Karl Kramer, a German construction worker at Birchenwood, who had helped William to move his possessions into Avenue Villa a few days previously.

Karl Kramer

A keen cyclist, Karl Kramer, who was 28 years old, had been an infantryman in the German army. He cycled all the way from Wakefield to The Potteries looking for work. On September 14th, 1911, he came to Kidsgrove, where German workers were building a battery of 72 Carl Still coke ovens at Birchenwood Colliery. William gave him a job, and he found lodgings with Esther Shufflebotham, an elderly woman who kept a shop in Goldenhill.

Kramer left Birchenwood on Wednesday, September 27th, after a row with William, and two days later walked out of his lodgings owing Mrs Shufflebotham eleven shillings (55p) rent. Everyone thought Kramer had left the district. He hadn’t. On the morning of Monday, October 2nd, Kramer cycled from Red Bull to Kidsgrove. Leaving his bicycle at a stonemason’s yard near the Harecastle Hotel, he walked into town. When he returned about an hour later to collect his bike Kramer seemed agitated and anxious to get away quickly.

A nationwide manhunt

When the murders were discovered, Staffordshire Police organised a nationwide manhunt for Kramer. A watch was kept on ports in case he tried to get back to Germany. His description was given to the newspapers, and the public was asked to help find a 5 foot 7 inches tall German in his early 30s, with-nut brown hair and a bristly moustache who was “last seen” wearing a green striped peaked cap, a dark green suit and black shoes.

On leaving Kidsgrove, Kramer cycled to Macclesfield. He stopped for a drink at the Bleeding Wolf, an old coaching inn on the A34 at Hall Green, and kept going outside to see if anyone was following him. By two o’clock Kramer had arrived in Macclesfield. He went to a hairdresser, where barber Samuel Rider shaved him and took off his moustache. When he left the hairdressers, Kramer went to Macclesfield Station and caught a train to Leeds.

Kramer still had his bike with him when the train arrived in Leeds at about five o’clock. The first thing he did was to purchased a rolled gold chain from a jeweller. When he realised that his suit was bloodstained, Kramer went to a tailor’s shop and bought the first ready to wear suit of clothes that the assistant showed him. It needed altering, and he left the shop while the alterations were made. Kramer collected the suit two hours later. He paid for it with silver coins and purchased a hat. Kramer changed into his new suit and left the shop carrying the bloodstained suit in a box, which one of the assistants had given him.

Later, he booked a room for the night at the Phoenix Temperance Hotel, paying four shillings (20p) for bed and breakfast.

Before going to bed, Kramer went to a public-house, the Prince of Wale, and started to buy drinks for everyone in the smoke room. He purchased several rounds and paid for them with gold and silver coins taken out of a leather bag which he kept in his hip pocket.

A woman, Dora Goldstone, approached Kramer. He bought her a drink and asked if she would like to dance. While they were dancing, Goldstone put her hands in his pocket and stole the leather bag which contained £27. She left the public-house and shared the money with two men who followed her out. When he realised the money was missing, Kramer reported the theft to the police saying his name was John Reuter.

The following day, Kramer made his way to York, where he offered to sell his bicycle to George King, a cycle dealer. King was suspicious. He believed it had been stolen and called the police. Kramer told them his name was Alfred Woltman and said he had travelled by bicycle and train from London to York looking for work. The police believed him, and King bought the cycle for fifteen shillings (75p).

Arrest and trial

Kramer left York the next morning and went to Bentley, a small mining village near Doncaster. Saying he was a fitter from Glasgow who had come to work at a local colliery, Kramer found lodgings at William Bradshaw’s fish and chip shop. That evening, Bradshaw read a report of the murders in his newspaper, which gave a description of the wanted man. Realising that his lodger was the murderer, Bradshaw informed the police and Kramer was arrested. He said his name was Ainfred Woltmann and when charged replied, “Me no understand.” The West Riding Constabulary, who had made the arrest, handed him over to Staffordshire Police, and he was brought back to Kidsgrove, where bloodstains were found on his underclothes.

On Saturday, October 7th, Kramer was remanded in custody by the Magistrates and taken to Stafford Prison. A few days later, an inquest was held at the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove into the deaths of Mary Weir, her daughter Margaret and the maid Mary Hambleton. The jury said they had been wilfully murdered by Kramer and the Coroner committed him to Stafford Assizes to stand trial for murder.

While he was awaiting trial, the prison authorities discovered that Kramer was mentally ill. He became withdrawn and lost interest in everything. On Tuesday, November 14th, two prison officers carried him into the dock at Stafford Assizes and placed his seemingly lifeless body on a chair. He sat on the chair with his head in his hands while the court clerk read the indictment.

Kramer remained silent when the clerk asked him whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty.

Two doctors told the court that Kramer was insane and unable to understand the proceedings. The jury accepted their evidence and found that he was unfit to plead, and the judge, Mr Justice Pickford, ordered him to be detained in custody during His Majesty’s pleasure. Kramer was taken back to Stafford Prison and shortly afterwards transferred to the criminal lunatic asylum at Broadmoor.

Copyright Betty Cooper 2010

First posted on 19 August 2010

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

This drawing of Shelton Bar is taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Tunstall in the 1830s

Between 1811 and 1831, the population of Tunstall rose from 1,677 to 3,673.

By the end of the 1820s, Tunstall was a prosperous industrial town with a weekly market where fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, household goods and dairy produce were sold.

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only three factories making pottery in Tunstall. By the end of the 1830s, there were seventeen. Three manufactured both china and earthenware, twelve made earthenware and two produced hand-painted china figures.

Since the middle of the 18th century, Staffordshire blue brick and tiles were made in Tunstall. In the 1830s, there were five firms manufacturing bricks and tiles. The largest brick and tile maker was Thomas Peake whose works in Watergate Street also made ornamental plant holders and garden furniture. 

Although the Methodist New Connexion, the Primitive Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists had churches in the town, members of the Church of England had to travel to Wolstanton to worship in the parish church, St. Margaret’s, or go to Newchapel to attend services at a chapel of ease.

There were Sunday Schools attached to all the Methodist Churches.

During the week, an infants’ school was held by the Primitive Methodists in a three-storey building in Calver Street. Writing about the school, John Ward in his book The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent, published in 1843, called it a “laudable and interesting institution” whose aim was:

To rescue children between the ages of two and six years, from the influence of bad example, and from vagrant habits; to imbue their minds with religious and moral sentiments, by imparting instruction adapted to their infant capacities, and to diminish the burden and care of their parents . . .

The parents of each child paid two pence a week for its education.

From 1831, the Wesleyan Methodists held evening classes where men and women were taught to read the bible. In 1838, the Wesleyans established an elementary school for boys and an elementary school for girls.

During 1829, the Church of England launched a public appeal to build Christ Church.

The appeal raised £1,000, and the government gave £3,000 towards the cost of the building. A site, where Furlong Road joins High Street, was purchased from Ralph Sneyd, the Lord of the Manor, for £400.

London-based architect, Francis Bedford was employed to design the church.

Built of Chell-Hollington stone, Christ Church was an Elizabethan style building. It was “an elegant structure with a neat tower surmounted by a spire at the west end”. The church was consecrated by Henry Ryder, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, on August 14th, 1832.

Christ Church could accommodate 1,000 worshippers. It had a three-decker pulpit, and there were galleries on the north, south and west side of the nave.

Faculty Friday- Trentham

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield

This month’s faculty not only shows details of proposed changes to a church but also hints at a local status power play. The 1843 faculty for Trentham requests confirmation of rebuilding work already completed and remaining work to be done. This includes re-pewing the main church, after taking down the old galleries, with reserved seats for the Pilkingtons of Butterton Hall and building a new west gallery containing pews for the Duke of Sutherland. The architect for this project was Charles Barry.

What’s of note in these papers is that as part of the replacement of the galleries, the Pilkington’s lose their reserved gallery and are instead allocated pews on the ground floor whilst the Sutherland’s (of…

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Scenes From the Past: Tunstall Windmill

old-windmill-tunstall-stoke-on-trent
Tunstall Windmill

Tunstall Windmill was a corn mill.

It was built in 1813 on land that became known as Millfields which was on the northside of Roundwell Street between America Street and Dunning Street.

A track led from America Street to the mill which at one time was surrounded by a circular loading bay where carts were loaded and unloaded.

 The mill is mentioned by W. J. Harper in his book “By-Gone Tunstall” that was published in 1913.

In this edited extract from the book, Harper writes:

Of course, there were no houses near the mill in the earlier years of its history, save three one storey workmen’s cottages seen on the left of the drawing. In later years the mill yard was fenced in, and gardens were provided for the cottagers . . . When the mill went into disuse the corn room was used as a practice room by members of Tunstall’s drum and fife band.

Harper knew John Bickley, a member of the band, who remembered rehearsing in the corn room. John told him that a man and his wife lived at the mill. One evening the couple began to argue. During the row, the woman walked out. She didn’t come back, and her husband spent the night alone in the mill.

There was an old mine shaft nearby which was full of water. The next morning, her body was found in the shaft. She had committed suicide.

The mill was demolished in 1855. 

SPOTLIGHT ON BURSLEM: When dressing up as a ghost could land you in front of the Church Courts

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield

In September 1627 Robert Simpson donned a white sheet and walked around Burslem, Staffordshire, pretending to be the ghost of a recently deceased local man. Was this, as Simpson claimed, a simple case of trying to frighten an individual or, as the church courts claimed, was it the sign of something much more sinister?

All sides agree that on the 12th September 1627, the same day that local potter John Turner was buried, Simpson ‘in the dark of the night’ put on a white sheet ‘with a knott on the topp or head thereof in the manner of a windinge sheete’ for the purpose of looking like Turner’s ghost but the burning question is why.

Winding-sheet containing corpse, 15th century.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The church court, in a case promoted by William and John Blore of Audley, accuses Simpson and his friend William Edge of…

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Scenes From the Past – Balls Bank Methodist Church

balls-bank-methodist-church-kidsgrove
Balls Bank Methodist Church in Whitehill Road, Whitehill (Kidsgrove)

Spotlight on North Staffordshire is researching the history of Methodist Churches in Whitehill and The Rookery.

If you and your family worshipped at Balls Bank or attended Sunday school there please share your memories with us. Our email address is bettyatspotlight@outlook.com

Spotlight on Hanley: “The Doctor and Parson” by Noah Heath

noah-heath- sneyd-green-the-potteries

“The Doctor and Parson” is a poem that was based on a true story. It was written by Noah Heath who was born at Sneyd Green towards the end of the 1770s or early in the 1780s. The doctor was Dr. Lane who lived in Saggar Row (now Parliament Row), Hanley. We believe that the parson was the Rev. John Middleton.

The Doctor and Parson

Verse One

The case was distressing when truly displayed,

On a languishing pillow the patient was laid,

The gossiping neighbours all had no doubt,

That the spark of existence was nearly run out;

When a grave, skilful doctor, renowned in fame,

To give some assistance, immediately came.

He feels the pulses and views him all o’er,

Refers to his judgement which way to explore,

Then turns himself round, to his treasure he hies,

And his life giving balsam then straightway applies.

Seems to have little doubt he can make a firm cure,

And the life of the patient pronounces secure.

Verse Two

In comes the parson, that sanctified man,

And declares that the doctor had took a wrong plan;

Then questions the patient again and again,

Whence arose all his sorrows, his anguish and pain,

“Your treatment is wrong, I have to say,

It’s as plain as the sun in the skies at mid-day;

Such wrong application must meet with disgrace,

For a mortification will shortly take place.”

“A mortification!” the doctor then cries;

“Yes, a mortification,” the parson replies.

“Pooh! pooh!” says the doctor, “such things I deny,

And tell you quite plainly, your reverence, you lie.

Tho’ we must all allow you’re a man of great parts,

And have a great knowledge of science and arts,

That the truth you expound, and peruse much in books,

You are a Jack-of-all-trades, we can see by your looks,

But in case like these ever silence pray keep,

And if you be the shepherd, preserve well your sheep;

Let us both mind our business, without more control,

For I’ll mind the body if you’ll mind the soul.”

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