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Robert Scrivener (1812-1878)

Mechanics InstituteRobert Scrivener, the architect who changed the face of Hanley, was born in Ipswich on March 29th, 1812.

In the late 1840s or early 1850s, Robert and his wife, Elizabeth, came to live in The Potteries. He established a practice in Shelton and quickly became one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

Robert and Elizabeth had eight children – four boys and four girls.

The Scriveners were members of the Methodist New Connexion. They worshipped at Bethesda Church in Hanley, where Robert was a Sunday school teacher. He played a major role in church affairs and was made a trustee of Bethesda Girls’ School. In 1856, he designed a new pulpit and a communion rail for the church.

Robert designed the new Mechanics Institution* in Pall Mall whose foundation stone was laid by the mayor, William Brownfield, on October 28th, 1859.

Towards the end of 1859, Robert regenerated Bethesda Church, replacing its old window panes with frosted glass, installing gas lighting and redecorating the interior. He gave the front elevation in Albion Street a Classical façade with Corinthian columns and a Venetian window surmounted by a cornice.

When pottery manufacturer John Ridgway died in December 1860, the Methodist New Connection in The Potteries lost its most generous benefactor. John who owned Cauldon Place Pottery in Shelton worshipped at Bethesda Church. He built a chapel for his employees and gave money to help build churches in Tunstall, Burslem and Fenton.

A radical local politician with progressive views, John refused a knighthood. He became Hanley’s first mayor when it was made a borough in 1857.

The Methodist New Connexion built a chapel to commemorate John’s life. Called the Ridgway Memorial Chapel, it was designed by Robert and erected in Havelock Place, Shelton. A white brick Gothic style building, the chapel cost £2,600. It was 60 feet long by 37 feet wide and had a tower with a spire 61 feet high.

Hanley’s finest building is the town hall in Albion Street. The building, which started life as the Queen’s Hotel, was designed by Robert. It cost over £20,000 and opened on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 1869.

Built to compete with the North Stafford Hotel, the Queen’s was a modified Italian Renaissance style building with white brick corners and Hollington stone dressings. Too far away from Stoke Station to attract visitors, the Queen’s never made a profit. The hotel closed and the borough council bought the premises for £10,800.

Workmen transformed the Queen’s into a town hall. They converted the commercial room into a council chamber and the smoke room became the town clerk’s office. The dining room became a Magistrates’ Court and the billiard room was made into a police station.

Robert died aged 67 on April 19th, 1878. He was buried in Bethesda churchyard.

*The illustration shows the Mechanics Institution in Pall Mall, Hanley, which has been demolished.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013.

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