Category Archives: North Staffordshire

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 on Stoke – The Penkhull Wassail 

Christine Mallaband-Brown posted an account of The Penkhull Wassail on her website.

She tells us that:

“There are not many places in Britain where you can wander round with flaming torches (but no pitchforks). But today we did just that round Penkhull Village. From Penkhull village hall we…”

To read more about the Penkhull Wassail visit Penkhull Wassail – Art by Christine Mallaband-Brown

Reduced Fares Encouraged Families To Shop In Tunstall

At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a retail and a wholesale market in Tunstall.

Held in the Market Place (Tower Square), the wholesale market was open every day except Sunday. From Lady Day (March 25th) to Michaelmas (September 29th) it opened at 6.00am. Between Michaelmas and Lady Day the market opened two hours later at 8.00am.

The retail market in the Market Hall was open on Mondays and Saturdays. On Mondays, the market opened from 8.00am to 8.00pm. Saturday was a working day for many people, and on Saturdays, the retail market was open from 8.00am to 10.00pm.

To encourage families living in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire to shop in Tunstall Market, the North Staffordshire Railway Company issued Cheap Market Returns to Tunstall and Chatterley Train Stations from Kidsgrove, Halmerend, Audley, Talke, Alsager Road, Congleton, Mow Cop, Crewe, Radway Green, Alsager, Sandbach, Lawton, Keele and Leycett.

Looking at backstamps

Mallaband-Brown

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What are back stamps??

They are the trademark or manufacturers mark  that you find on the bottom of cups, plates and dishes that shows who made them.

This can be useful in identifying the manufacturer, whether they are antique and if they are worth anything. Sometimes they even get forged! People have added things like the Clarice Cliff signature onto modern pots to try and fool people into buying them as originals.

Some pots have simple marks on their base to identify them. Others have complicated patterns and writing.

The people who live in the potteries (Stoke-on-Trent). Have a habit of looking underneath pots to see if they have recognised which pottery made them. I think it’s called the “turn over club” but I may be wrong…..

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NewsDesk – Burslem has become a ghost town

According to research by the Local Data Company, a third of the shops in Burslem’s run-down town centre are unoccupied.

Shops and banks have moved out. Nothing has come in to replace them.

Some shops have been empty for over five years, and one resident claims that there isn’t even a greengrocer’s shop where a customer can buy an apple. Very few people shop in Burslem. The town has nothing to offer them.

Many buildings in Market Place and Queen Street are abandoned and derelict. Their windows are broken. Willowherb and buddleias grow out of the guttering and weeds of all kinds have made their home in cracks in the brickwork.

June Cartwright the founder of Our Burslem, a group campaigning to regenerate Burslem, is trying to persuade Stoke-on-Trent City Council to open a street market which she believes will ease the town’s reliance on traditional high street shops.

Burslem is not the only town in The Potteries which has been abandoned by both shopkeepers and customers. Although Longton seems relatively busy, very few people shop in Fenton and Stoke which, like Burslem, have become ghost towns.

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.

Focus on Middleport: Middleport Matters Highlights 2018

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

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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.

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.

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