A view of Burslem, Longport and Middleport from Bradwell Wood in 1865.
Category Archives: Stoke-on-Trent
We think this sketch, which may have been made in the 18th century, shows the Bell Works in Burslem. If you can tell us more about the sketch and the factory it depicts please email Spotlight on North Staffordshire at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the 1960s, The Potteries was a hive of industrial activity. Skilled crafts-persons living and working in the six towns created the best pottery in the world.
About 90% of the bone china, earthenware, tiles, porcelain, bricks and sanitary ware made in the United Kingdom was produced in Stoke-on-Trent. Pottery workers employed by factories in Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton were proud of their skills and expertise. They took pride in their work and knew that the ware they made was exported all over the world.
The seeds of North Staffordshire’s industrial development were sown in the 14th century. Iron ore was mined in Tunstall and at Apedale. Small pot banks which used local clay to make earthenware were scattered in isolated villages and hamlets throughout the district. There were coal seams near the surface and coal miners risked their lives working in drift mines and bell pits to get the coal needed to fire the ware.
Industrialisation came to The Potteries in the 18th century when entrepreneurs like Josiah Wedgwood, William Adams, Josiah Spode and Thomas Whieldon built factories that produced good quality ware which was sold at prices people could afford to pay.
During the 19th century the pottery industry and the coal mining industry expanded rapidly. The population increased and the six towns which we know today were created. New factories were built and the smoke from numerous bottle ovens and kilns polluted the atmosphere.
As late as 1939, the pottery industry used 1,500,000 tons of coal to fire its ovens and kilns. After the Second World War, coal fired bottle ovens and kilns were replaced by electric or gas fired tunnel kilns. Between 1945 and 1966, many small firms closed and others amalgamated to form large companies. In 1966, there were about 66,000 people employed in the industry 48,000 of whom were women.
This illustration of the furnaces at Shelton Bar is taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the legend of the Kidsgrove Boggart was one of the best-known ghost stories in Staffordshire.
Known locally as the “Kidcrew Buggett”, the ghost lived in one of the two canal tunnels which took the Trent and Mersey Canal through Harecastle Hill between Kidsgrove and Chatterley.
People who claimed to have seen the boggart said it was a headless woman who wore a blood-stained white dress.
Although the boggart rarely left the tunnels, Kidsgrove miners and their families believed that when it was seen in Boathorse Lane, The Avenue or on the pit heaps overlooking Kidsgrove Bank “a tragedy was pending” at one of the collieries in the district.
Whenever a sighting of the boggart was reported, Kidsgrove prepared for news of a mining disaster.
The Story’s Origins
Writing about the Kidcrew Buggett in the City Times during the 1930s, a person who called himself the “Old Man of Mow” gave an account of the origin of the ghost story.
In this edited extract from his article, “The Old Man of Mow” says the legend began when a woman passenger on a canal-boat was murdered by a boatman in one of the tunnels.
Murder in the Harecastle Tunnel
“A few years before the railway was built in the 1840s, a Kidsgrove woman who wanted to travel to another part of the country had too much luggage to go by stagecoach.
“She decided to make the first part of her journey by canal-boat from Harecastle. Her luggage was her undoing. As soon as the boat entered the tunnel, the covetous boatman murdered her, cut off her head and buried her body at Gilbert’s Wharf (Gilbert’s Hole) where coal and ironstone were loaded into boats.
“When the woman was reported missing, the police traced her to the canal-boat. The boatman was arrested, tried for murder and executed.”
Before he died, the boatman admitted to killing the woman and told the police where they could find her body.
The “Old Man of Mow” ended his account of the murder by saying local people believed that the woman’s spirit haunted the place where she was killed.
Note: The Kidsgrove Boggart is sometimes called the Kitcrew Bugget.
The photograph shows the Kidsgrove end of the Harecastle Tunnels as they were in the 1950s.
Did you know there was a Camera Club in Tunstall at the beginning of the 20th century?
Called the Tunstall and District Photographic Society, the club held a photographic exhibition and a social event in the courtroom at the town hall on the afternoon of Thursday, February 13th, 1902.
As well as photographs, the exhibition contained lantern slides taken by four members who had been awarded medals in a recent competition. During the afternoon the four (Mr Capey, Mr Critchlow, Mr Walley and Mr Webster) were presented with their medals.
Before the exhibition closed, members held a concert party and were entertained by the a group called the Victorian Glee Party.
On October 6th, 1680, Tunstall Court Leet ordered the High Constable of the Manor of Tunstall to repair the stocks in Burslem within six weeks or pay a penalty of six shillings and eight pence.
From Anglo-Saxon times until the middle of the 19th century, the stocks were used to punish minor offences.
Criminals Were Punished by Their Victims
The Stocks were designed to humiliate and degrade petty criminals by putting them on display in a public place where their victims and members of the community could impose their own punishments on them.
Stocks were erected on village greens, in market squares and at crossroads. Most were made of wood, although a few were made of iron. Offenders sat on a wooden bench with their ankles placed through holes in moveable boards. How long a person spent in the stocks depended on the gravity of the offence. Some were there for a few hours. Others were put in them for two or three days and fed on bread and water.
In 1350, the Second Statute of Labourers compelled every town and village to erect stocks in a public place.
Having its own set of stocks conferred status on small communities. A settlement that was too small to have a set was regarded as a hamlet and could not call itself a village.
Men and women in the stocks were a source of entertainment for the crowds that flocked to see them punished.
Members of the public were allowed to whip offenders who were in the stocks until their backs were bloody and to throw stones, broken pottery, dead dogs and cats, rotten fruit and vegetables, bad eggs and excrement at them.
Innkeepers, Peddlers and Market Traders
Dishonest shopkeepers, innkeepers, peddlers and market traders were put in the stocks. Housewives poured the contents of chamber pots over the heads of traders who had given them “short weight”. Butchers who had sold rotten beef, lamb, pork or poultry sat in the stocks surrounded by maggot-infested meat. Fishmongers convicted of selling fish that had passed its sell-by date were placed in the stocks with stinking fish hung around their necks. Innkeepers and alewives who were in the stocks for selling watered down beer had jugs of stale ale poured over them by their customers.
Rogues, Vagabonds, Beggars and Drunkards
Towards the end of the middle ages gangs of rogues and vagabonds made their way from town to town begging, robbing and stealing everywhere they went. To deal with these gangs the government brought in new laws with draconian penalties for vagabonds who infringed them.
In 1388 an Act of Parliament (12 Rich. 2) was passed making it illegal for labourers to give up their jobs and leave the district where they lived without the King’s permission. The statute gave borough mayors, manor stewards and town constables authority to put labourers who had run away from their employers in the stocks, until they found sureties who guaranteed that they would go home and return to work.
A statute, passed during the reign of Henry VII (1457-1509), allowed constables to place vagrants in the stocks.
Passed in 1494, the Vagabonds and Beggars Act gave the courts power to put “vagabonds, idle and suspected persons” in the stocks for three days and three nights.
Under the provisions of a statute (22 Hen 8, c. 12) passed in 1530, magistrates could give “the impotent poor” permission to beg at specified places in the town or village where they lived. If they were found begging anywhere else, they were put in the stocks for two days and nights.
A law passed in 1605 made the punishment for getting drunk six hours in the stocks and made the penalty for being a drunkard four hours in the stocks or a fine of three shillings. Shortly afterwards, Parliament made the punishment for swearing in a public place one hour in the stocks or a fine of one shilling.
A poem dedicated to Molly Leigh:
There dwelt as persons now alive depose,
Though death must soon their testimony close,
A maiden woman, born of gen’rous race,
But like a fury both in mind and face.
When at school instead of learning truth,
A wizard tutor practis’d on her youth;
Vile gains by arts unholy she acquired,
For none did dare withhold what she desired.
Her neighbours of her spells all stood in awe,
And made her every wish their bounden law;
Thus liv’d the creature, whether fiend or woman,
Till death in clemency saw fit to summon.
So when the Christian rites were duly paid,
The body in the churchyard pit was laid;
And back the cheerful mourners hied, intent
To share the feast bespoke before they went.
But who can the dire consternation paint,
Which seized the party, and made all grow faint;
For as the threshold door they pass’d,
Her apparition struck them quite aghast.
She whom but now to the calm grave they took,
Returned before them to the chimney nook;
All ghastly pale, but unconcerned was sitting,
Employed in her accustomed task of knitting.
Spotlight found this poem about Molly Leigh, the “Burslem Witch”, in Romance of Staffordshire by Henry Wedgwood published in 1877.
So far as we can ascertain no local artist made a sketch or painted a portrait of Molly Albin, the formidable lady who was Hanley’s town crier in the 1820s.
Molly lived in Tontine Street, which was still a country lane where there were a few cottages and a farm.
She was a well-built woman, who had a strong arm, a forceful personality and a mind of her own.
Molly despised married men who spent their wages getting drunk in public houses.
A man drinking in a public house, when he should have been at work or at home with his wife, was terrified when he heard Molly ringing her bell as she walked towards the tavern. He trembled with fear while waiting for her to call his name and tell the world about his misdemeanours.
Molly had no intention of letting the man off lightly, and men and women gathered outside the building to hear what she had to say about him. They knew that she would have no hesitation in humiliating and degrading “her victim” by telling them all about his “offences” and how he abused his wife and children when he came home in a drunken stupor.
Speaking in a loud voice to make sure they could all hear her, Molly told the people in the crowd everything she knew about him including where he worked, what his job was and how much money he earned. Nothing was held back. They heard how he spent his wages on drink when his wife needed money to pay the rent and buy food for the family. Molly did not care what she said about a man who neglected his family. However, there were times when she went too far and told the crowd how much money he owed to his creditors and how the debt had been incurred.
Sometimes, factory owners would pay Molly to “ring up their drunken idle workmen” and “persuade” them to return to work. After the employer had given her the man’s name, Molly walked through the town ringing her bell telling people in the streets that he was a man who refused to work and maintain his family.
The men who spent their time getting drunk in public houses came to hate her. From time to time, a drunkard about whom she was making scathing remarks threatened to assault her. Molly knew these were idle threats and laughed in the man’s face when they were made.