Tag Archives: Victoria Institute (Tunstall)

Spotlight on Tunstall – The Victoria Institute Faces An Uncertain Future

Tunstall’s town centre is becoming more and more like a ghost town every day.

Spotlight on North Staffordshire would support a campaign by local people to prevent the city council “selling off” the Victoria Institute to a property developer when the library leaves the building and moves into the town hall which is now being regenerated after being closed for almost 30 years.

The proposal by at least one councillor that the Institute could be turned into luxury flats for high powered executives working in Manchester and Birmingham is ridiculous.

Local elections are being held in May, and the city’s political parties have already launched their campaigns to get your vote.

Even though it is non-political, Spotlight on North Staffordshire and The Potteries is concerned about the future of Tunstall, a town that reminded a group of American visitors of Skid Row in Los Angeles.

Before deciding to vote for a candidate, residents should ask all the candidates how they intend to halt the town centres decline.

Jackson’s discussion group became The British Ceramics Society

The Victoria Institute, Tunstall

Vocational training in ceramic science for workers in North Staffordshire’s pottery industry began in 1870 when courses were started at The Mechanics Institution in Hanley and at The Athenaeum in Fenton.

During 1875, The Society of Arts (now The Royal Society of Arts) introduced examinations for industrial scientists and laboratory assistants employed in the industry.

In 1879, these examinations were taken over by The City and Guilds of London Institute. Classes to prepare students for City and Guilds examinations were held at the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem and at the Mechanics Institution. In 1880 four students from the Potteries took the examinations in pottery and porcelain manufacture. They all passed.

By the 1890s, courses in ceramic technology were being held in all “the six towns”.

The technical school in The Wedgwood Institute became the centre for advanced level training and preliminary courses were run by technical schools in Tunstall, Hanley, Stoke, Longton and Fenton.

In 1899, William Jackson was put in charge of all the ceramic courses in the Potteries.

Advanced level courses were transferred from The Wedgwood Institute to The Victoria Institute in Station Road (The Boulevard), Tunstall where a Pottery School, with a research laboratory, had been established.

The laboratory was created to test the firmness, plasticity, tenacity,  porosity and colour of any type of clay and at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the only laboratory in England undertaking original research for the pottery industry.

Most students who attended classes at The Victoria Institute were trainee managers, industrial chemists and laboratory assistants who were taking City and Guilds Preliminary (Stage One), Ordinary (Stage Two) and Honours (Stage Three) examinations in pottery and porcelain manufacture.

William encouraged his students to undertake research and ran a weekly “post-graduate” class for those who had passed their Stage Three examinations. Many had become works managers or ceramic scientists, who used the laboratory’s facilities to find practical solutions to scientific problems they faced at work.

In 1900, William formed a discussion group where research students and pottery manufacturers met to share scientific knowledge.

Originally called The North Staffordshire Ceramics Society, the group later changed its name to The British Ceramics Society.

Membership increased and the society grew in importance. Visits to factories and technical schools in Europe and North America were arranged and the society extended its activities to embrace the whole ceramics industry including refractory products and building materials.

(Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2010)

Photograph © Copyright Steve Lewin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Absalom Reade Wood (1851-1922)



Absalom Reade Wood, who was born in Burslem during 1851, became one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

Absalom was educated at the Wesleyan Day School in Burslem. On leaving school he became articled to Hanley architect Robert Scrivener who designed the Mechanics Institution in Pall Mall and the Queen’s Hotel in Albion Street, which later became the town hall.

Absalom was a  small man with a “comfortable, neat figure and a short beard”. He had a warm, friendly personality that gave him an optimistic outlook on life.

A keen sportsman, Absalom played cricket, tennis and golf. He also enjoyed cycling and swimming. 

After qualifying as an architect, Absalom established his own practice in Tunstall.

During 1875 he became the town’s part-time surveyor. Working closely with John Nash Peake and the town clerk Arthur Llewellyn, he regenerated Tunstall’s covered market hall and created the town’s Victorian Civic Centre that contained the town hall, the Victoria Institute, a fire station, a swimming pool, a drill hall and a recreation ground.

His first commission to design a pottery factory came from his childhood friend Edmund Leigh for whom he built the Middleport Pottery (Burgess, Dorling & Leigh) on the banks of the Trent and Mersey Canal. The works, which possessed seven bottle ovens, opened in 1889 and shortly afterwards he designed a factory for Enoch Wedgwood at Brownhills.

Burslem School Board employed him to design Longport Elementary Schools, Jackfield Infants’ School, Park Road Elementary Schools and the Central School (now Burslem Enterprise Centre) in Moorland Road.

Absalom married Mary Holdcroft, whose father, William, was a pottery manufacturer. The couple had five children – two boys and three girls.

Absalom and Mary were Methodists. The family worshipped at Hill Top Methodist Church in Burslem which Absalom regenerated in 1889 and at Longport Methodist Church which he designed.

His other churches include St. Andrew’s at Port Hill and the United Reformed Church in Moorland Road, Burslem which has a magnificent stained glass window depicting the Sermon on the Mount that shows Christ surrounded by people from all walks of life.

Originally called the Woodhall Memorial Congregational Church, the United Reformed Church was constructed of red brick and red Hollington Stone. It was erected in memory of William Woodhall who played a significant role in founding the Wedgwood Institute.

Built to replace an earlier Congregational Church in Queen Street, the church’s front elevation contains a bronze relief of Woodhall set in a carved moulded panel.

Closely linked with the old Queen Street church and the new church in Moorland Road was the Wycliffe Hall in Wycliffe Street. Opened in 1885, the hall, designed by Absalom, housed the church’s Sunday School and Burslem High School for Girls.

Absalom’s best-known building in Burslem is the School of Art in Queen Street. Situated opposite the Wedgwood Institute, the school which cost £8,500 was opened in 1907. Of classic design with large north facing windows that lighted the first-floor classrooms, the school was constructed of red brick with tawny terracotta facings. A circular terracotta porch supported by columns led into the building whose classrooms and studios surrounded a central hall which had a balcony with a wrought iron balustrade.

One of the school’s most famous students was pottery designer Clarice Cliff who attended classes there in the 1920s.

Born at Meir Street, Tunstall in 1889, Clarice was educated at High Street School,  Summerbank Road School and Tunstall Art School which was housed in the Victoria Institute – all buildings which had been designed by Absalom.

During his long life, Absalom designed numerous churches, civic buildings, factories and houses throughout The Potteries.

He died peacefully at his home Hillcrest in Woodland Avenue, Wolstanton on December 21st, 1922.

(Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010)