In this edited extract from Old Times in The Potteries by William Scarrat published in 1906, the author looks back and reflects on the changes which took place in Tunstall during the second half of the 19th century.
It would be well for some qualified person to estimate our losses and gains since the 1850s. We have lost the sweet fields and the green foliage which sheltered happy songbirds. Gone, too, are the wealthy townsmen, in search of health and quiet breathing. That grand old man, Sir Smith Child, Bart, removed his last oak tree from Newfield Hall in 1846. The advice and opinions of these cultured absentees are lost to a great degree. If the urbanity and the hospitality of the past were not over-refined, they were generous and hearty. Parks, however estimable, are not an equivalent to the free haunts of the past; for one thing, you did not see a notice “Keep off the grass” next to the pathway. The freedom of all grades and classes is unlimited in other respects, and working conditions are much better. But at the same time, we miss the patriarchal behaviour of a previous generation of master potters. One is aware that even in that state there were certain evils. The employer and the employee are now too frequently rivals. Up to the end of the 18th century, they often worked side by side. A good master would have a good man, and did not begrudge him good wages – he would just as soon have an empty cottage as an empty bench.
In this edited extract from “Old Times in The Potteries”, by William Scarratt, who was born at Tunstall in the early 1840s, the author describes a dogfight which he saw when he was a pupil at King Street National School.
William told his readers that:
“Even though dogfighting was on the decline in the 1840s and 1850s, there were still many fighting dogs kept in Tunstall. These bull-terriers or fighting dogs had coarse yellow or brown hair with white patches over one or both eyes and ears. The dogs were pugnacious to a high degree, although affectionate and quiet at home. A fighting dog had to be prompted to attack another fighting dog, but once a fight started the two dogs continued fighting until they were exhausted.
“On one occasion during school dinner time, I saw a fight between two dogs. One was a white bull-terrier that weighed 24lbs. The other was a broken haired, crossbred bull-terrier that weighed 28lbs.
“No one tried to stop them fighting. After several rounds both dogs were exhausted. They could only crawl along the ground to each other to continue the fight when the next round started.
“It was an accidental scratch battle, to begin with. Then men took respective sides for each dog. A series of lines were drawn on the ground to make ‘a ring’ in which the dogs could fight. At the end of each round, the dogs were picked up by their owners and carried over the lines where their mouths were cleared of loose hairs.
“Because the spectators believed neither combatant would yield to the other, I understood that the dog which failed to drag itself over the first of the series of lines at the start of the next round would be considered vanquished. The contest lasted about an hour. When it ended, the men picked up the dogs who were unable to walk and took them to the Grapes Inn where they were weighed in an outhouse.”
In his book “Old Times in the Potteries” which was published in 1906, William Scarratt recalls growing up in Tunstall and describes life in the town during the Victorian era.
The book is based on a series of features which he wrote for the Weekly Sentinel.
In an article introducing these features to Weekly Sentinel readers, R. W. Ship said that Scarratt would “have little need to introduce himself”. For over 50 years he had moved freely about four of the six Pottery towns and was well known in Tunstall. If anyone asked him to justify writing about The Potteries, Scarratt could say that during his childhood he was fascinated by “the stories” his parents told about events which had taken place in the latter part of the eighteenth century and that his interest in local history had “grown with the passing years”.
During 2018, Spotlight on Stoke will from time to time be posting edited extracts from “Old Times in the Potteries” in its new series Focus on Tunstall.