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.
In 1905, Tunstall Urban District Council produced a Year Book which gave details of the major buildings and places of interest in Tunstall including the Victoria Institute.
The edited account of the history of the Victoria Institute posted below is taken is taken from the Year Book.
THE VICTORIA INSTITUTE
“This building, the foundation stones of which were laid on the 16th May 1889, was erected by public subscription in commemoration of Her Majesty’s Jubilee and comprises a School of Science, Art and Technology and a Public Library…
“On the 24th October 1895, the foundation stone of an extension to the Institute was laid.
“The extension, which included a Museum, a Cookery School and Pottery Decorating Studios, was being erected by the Urban District Council with the help of a grant of £700 from Staffordshire County Council.”
Stoke-on-Trent City Council plans to give Dimensions, which is one of the city’s largest leisure centres, a £300,000 facelift.
The major upgrade will give the centre in Scotia Road, Burslem a new gymnasium.
Work on the project will start in April. When the new gymnasium opens, the existing gymnasium will be turned into an exercise studio.
Councillor Anthony Munday, the cabinet member for greener city, development and leisure, is reported as saying:
“This project is a positive investment in our leisure services which will improve what we can offer to our residents. The changes reflect our commitment to improving health and wellbeing for a wide range of age groups. We want to encourage more people to become active, and I’m sure these improvements will play an important part in doing that.”
Tunstall’s Technical Schools, which were housed in the Victoria Institute in Station Road (The Boulevard), opened in November 1890.
Subjects taught by the schools included Art, Science and General Subjects.
Most students attending classes at the schools worked during the day in industry or commerce and gave up their evenings to study for vocational qualifications.
The schools’ academic year started in September, and there were four ten-week terms, Students were given a week’s holiday at Christmas, another week at either Easter or Whitsun and a “long vacation” lasting two months during July and August. To ensure that students attended classes regularly during term time a register of attendance was kept which could be viewed by their parents or guardians and by their employers.
Tunstall’s Technical Schools entered their students for examinations set by the Board of Education. Students who passed were awarded certificates and the ones who gained the highest marks were given gold, silver or bronze medals.
Students who wanted to continue with their studies and become industrial designers or art teachers could apply for scholarships tenable at the Royal College of Art in London.
Speaking at Tunstall Technical Schools’ annual prizegiving ceremony in 1899, Staffordshire County Council’s director of technical education, Thomas Turner, said that North Staffordshire, like other leading industrial areas, should have its own University College.
The local newspaper, The Sentinel, supported Turner’s call for a University College to be established in North Staffordshire and asked one of the area’s leading educationalists to write about the scheme.
Published on May 27, 1899, the article that was written by an unnamed contributor said technical schools in The Potteries were too small to run scientific or academic courses for boys and girls who had been educated to matriculation standard.
To overcome this problem, the writer suggested creating a North Staffordshire College where students could read for degrees in academic subjects and receive degree level vocational training in engineering, ceramic technology, mining or metallurgy.
This extract from the Tunstall Year Book, which was published in 1905, gives an account of the Sir Smith Child Clock Tower in Tower Square which was built by public subscription and presented to the town in 1893.
THE SIR SMITH CHILD CLOCK TOWER
“On Thursday, the 23rd November 1893, the ceremony of unveiling and handing over to the town this Tower, which was erected during the lifetime of Sir Smith Child, as a permanent memorial to commemorate his unparalleled acts of benevolence to Tunstall, was performed by Mr Alfred Meakin, in the presence of Mr J G Child, and a numerous company.
“The Tower, which is erected at the west end of the Market Square (Tower Square), and is constructed of buff terra-cotta, stands some 50 feet high, is fitted with a striking clock with Cambridge chimes, having four dials, and at the base of the structure is a bronze bust of Sir Smith Child in a niche designed for that purpose.
“The cost of the Tower has been over £1,500, which amount was contributed by over 3,500 subscribers.”
MPs want Town of Culture competitions to be held in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to give each country its own town of culture.
During a debate on the proposal in the House of Commons, MPs from towns throughout the UK spoke about the cultural activities in their constituencies and the potential for cultural development. Members expressed their frustration that there had been hardly any discussion about the beneficial effect of culture on towns despite the long-term cultural and economic benefits the title UK City of Culture had brought to cities.
Spotlight on North Staffordshire and The Potteries believes there should be competitions in all parts of the UK to create national towns of culture. These competitions would give local towns like Congleton, Leek, Nantwich, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stafford the opportunity to bid to become England’s town of culture.
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.
The success of LightNight in Burslem proves that when they work together, the people of The Potteries can create a world-class event. Spotlight on North Staffordshire and The Potteries congratulates everyone who helped to make LightNight so successful.