Tunstall Town Hall
Tunstall’s heritage market was 200 years old on September 20, 2017.
In 1816, Tunstall’s chief constable, pottery manufacturer John Henry Clive, founded a company to build a Magistrates’ Courthouse and create a Market Place.
The company leased three-quarters of an acre of sloping ground called Stoney Croft from Walter Sneyd, the Lord of the Manor. It built a courthouse and laid out a market place, which later became Tower Square, on the site.
A two-storey stone building, the courthouse had a fire station with two fire engines and a market hall on the ground floor where eggs, butter, milk and cheese were sold when the market opened. The building faced eastwards. It was erected about halfway up the slope. Steps led from the lower part of the Market Place, where stalls were set up on market day, to the market hall’s main entrance.
Beneath the market hall was the town lock up – a dark, foul-smelling dungeon where prisoners were held while awaiting trial. The stocks stood at the foot of the steps leading to the market hall. Six hours in the stocks or a fine of five shillings was the usual penalty for being drunk and disorderly.
The company placed an advertisement in the Staffordshire Advertiser that was published on September 13, 1817, which read: “Notice is hereby given that henceforward a market will be held at Tunstall, in the Potteries, weekly on Saturdays in front of the Court-House. The first to be on Saturday, 20 September. Stalls and standings free.”
Tunstall Market was both a retail market and a wholesale market. Retailers sold fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and salt. Horse-drawn waggons brought dairy produce, fruit and vegetables to the wholesale market which attracted retailers from Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Longton and Fenton.
An Act of Parliament passed in 1840 created the Tunstall Market Company to manage the market. In 1847, the company sold the market for £6,500 to the town’s Improvement Commissioners. Shortly afterwards, the commissioners allowed dealers to sell hay and straw there. In 1855, the Improvement Commissioners were replaced by a Board of Health. The Board of Health managed the market until 1894 when Boards of Health were abolished and Urban District Councils were created to replace them. Tunstall Urban District Council ran the market until 1910 when the “six towns amalgamated” to form the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent.
A New Market Hall
In 1856, the Board of Health decided to build a new market hall and turn the courthouse into a town hall. George Thomas Robinson, the architect who designed Burslem’s Old Town Hall, was commissioned to transform the courthouse into a town hall and to build a new market hall.
Robinson enlarged the courthouse giving it a circular front where the steps had been. He redesigned the courtroom and turned the market hall into a boardroom and offices for the Board of Health.
Constructed on a half acre site opposite the Market Place in High Street, the new Market Hall cost £7,651.
The Market Hall was opened by Thomas Peake, the Chief Bailiff and Chairman of the Board of Health, on December 2, 1858. In the evening a concert was held in the Market Hall. At 9.00 pm there was a firework display in the Market Place which was followed by a ball in the Market Hall.
Trading commenced there two days later on December 4, 1858, when the retail market which sold:
- Dairy produce
- Fruit and vegetables
- Meat, fish, poultry, game and rabbits
- Manufactured goods and household utensils
left the Market Place and moved into the building.
The wholesale market that sold:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Fruit trees and bushes
- Garden plants, seeds and shrubs
- Hay and straw
remained in the Market Place which later became known as Market Square.
A New Town Hall
Although the courthouse had been enlarged and made into a town hall, the building was too small to meet the administrative needs of an expanding industrial town.
At the beginning of the 1880s, the front portion of the Market Hall and the main entrance in High Street, which had been built on the spring line that marks the geological boundary between Etruria Marl and the Blackband series of coal and ironstone measures, was collapsing due to subsidence. The Board of Health decided to reduce the size of the Market Hall by a third. The front part of the building was demolished and a new town hall was erected on the site. Designed by Absalom Reade Wood who was one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects, the town hall is a free “Renaissance Style” building that stands on a rusticated stone base. It was opened by John Nash Peake, the Chief Bailiff and Chairman of the Board of Health, on October 29, 1885.
While the town hall was being built, the remaining two-thirds of the Market Hall was being modernised. The building was reroofed, new gas lighting was installed, the floor was relaid and permanent stalls were erected.
The Wholesale Market in the 20th Century
The wholesale market, which closed before the end of the 19th century, was re-established in the Market Square in 1901. Shortly afterwards, a small retail market selling fish and rabbits was opened in the square. These markets declined after the First World War (1914-18). The retail market in the Market Hall became Tunstall’s primary market, although as late as the 1930s there were still a few stalls in the square selling fish and rabbits.
When children approached his stall one of the traders who sold rabbits started singing these words to the tune of the well-known music hall song “If you want to know the time ask a policeman”:
“Does your mother want a rabbit?
“Sell you one for sixpence.
“Skin you one for ninepence.”
The Market Hall after 1940
Before the Second World War (1939-45), the Market Hall was open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In February 1940, the market was opened for the sale of meat on Fridays. During 1941, some of the stalls were taken down and a civic restaurant was established in the Market Hall.
After the war, market days were Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
During the 1950s and 60s, families could do their weekly shopping in the market where there were stalls that sold:
- Bread and cakes
- Eggs, butter, cheese, margarine and milk
- First and Second World War memorabilia and military medals
- Fruit and Vegetables
- Handbags and purses
- Hardware and household utensils
- Ladies and children’s clothing
- Meat and poultry, black pudding, boiled ham, brawn, corned beef, Cornish pasties, home-cured bacon, pork pies, sausages, savoury ducks and tripe
- Pet food, cages for budgerigars and hampsters, fish tanks and goldfish bowls
- Oatcakes and Pikelets
- Shoes and handbags
- Second-hand books and magazines
- Toys and games
- Watches and jewellery
In 1992, the City Council’s architects and surveyors discovered that the Market Hall and the town hall were unsafe. The structures supporting the Market Hall’s roof were unstable and its east gable wall was likely to collapse. A temporary market was erected in Woodland Street. Both the town hall and the Market Hall were closed. Although the town hall is still closed, the Market Hall was regenerated and reopened at the beginning of the 21st century.
© Betty Cooper and David Martin (2017)