Wednesday, 30 January 2013

2012 and Stoke Council- what progress?

With the New Year just hours around the corner, Bill Cawley looks towards 2012, the year of delivery.
Its two years since John Van Der Laarschot became Chief Executive of the City Council and it will be 12 months from May since the Council was in Labour majority control. This year will need to see both parties delivering on the objectives that they set themselves. Residents of the city will need to see progress on a number of projects and some way out of the encircling gloom that has gripped the area since 2008. Currently over 8,000 citizens of Stoke are unemployed, local economic activity appears sluggish and the outlook nationally seems uncertain. Something needs to happen but what?
However there needs to be seen to be progress and actual completion in a number of key projects and top of the list must be Hanley Bus Station. My understanding was that the station ought to be finished by next autumn. There is work going on site and one hopes that finishing the bus station is very high on the agenda of the City Council. I wonder whether there is any recognition of the need to ensure that local projects like this do generate local jobs. It will be essential for local projects to deliver tangibly local jobs otherwise The City Council will be neglecting their responsibility.
Secondly linked to the Bus station is the need to attract investment and interest in the Sentral development in Hanley. News has reached the local media that Marks and Spenser amongst others are interested in the development but in my opinion that M & S interest only means displacement from an existing site in the centre of Hanley. Again a benchmark will be an increase in take up from leading brand shops and a timetable for completion of the project.
Another area of concern is a resolution of areas like Middleport and the difficulties faced by the reduction in funding for RENEW. The blight that is Middleport needs to be seriously addressed in the coming year.
The bid for the Green Investment Bank locally has been made although I would personally like to see a strong case made for putting this developments with its promise of excellent jobs and potential for the green economy having a more central role in the local economy. A decision is likely in March.
Another conundrum for 2012 will what to do with the Spode site in Stoke. Just before Christmas a press report indicated that Tesco were not interested in developing the site. What to do with the site will be a question that will require some resolution in the coming year.
The desire for more ” localism” will also dominate political discourse. There has been interest in both Penkhull and Fenton for more self-government and patience with the City Council has become stretched especially over such issues as the future of Fenton Library and other civic amenities in the area.
Which brings me to another topic which will again command debate in 2012 and that is turning former civic assets over to community groups to run independently. Perhaps the first acid test will be the future of Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston. There is a strong desire to retain the facility for educational use and a group of interested individuals have put together a business case to take over the facility.
On a more certain note 6 of the City’s new schools school be completed and ready for occupation by the autumn term including the new and interestingly designed Brownhills school although the costs of PFI are still a subject worthy of future investigations.
On a more equivocal note the debate and questions over the Dimensions debacle still remain and must cast doubts on the future of the officers and councillors involved in this matter.
Another policy change, which will have serious implications for the City Council in terms of its social and health care services, will be the rapid changes to the NHS Primary Care with GPs taking more control over commissioning decisions. I have serious doubts whether the Health and Wellbeing Board- a function within the City Council- is fully aware of the centrality of their role in ensuring equity in accessing services is maintained.
1 hope of mine in terms of delivery of a service will be the reopening of the railway line between Leek and Stoke which is projected to happen in the autumn of 2012. I went to a public meeting in Leek and the speed in which this project is happening makes me optimistic that this will be a project that does see fruition in the coming year.

2012 will be the year I feel in which reputations at the Civic Centre especially the senior officers in post will be made or broken.

Do you remember- February 1964?

 An event of major significance dominated the local newspapers in late February 1964. Two Leek mills were damaged by fire. The Clemensha Mill in New Street went up in flames followed 5 days later by Compton Mill owned by Job White and Co. Over 500 jobs were affected and much upheaval followed. The damage done amounted to £450,000. As both mills were close to houses several hundred residents and patients from the Cottage Hospital had to be evacuated in what was a major Civil defence exercise. Rooms at community centres at St Mary’s RC Church and All Saints were made available  to  the evacuees . The redoubtable ladies from the WVS swung into action with their tea urns at the ready. A report likened the fiery scene to that of Ancient Pompeii with burning ash, paper and fabric raining down resembling a volcanic eruption. Two people, one a fireman were hurt.

 Bagnall Parish Council was the stage for heated debate and accusations of unconcern at a series of meetings held to protest at the routing of high tension electricity pylons through the area. The dispute had been going on for some time and in 1962 the Parish Council had made a formal protest to the Central Electricity Generating Board against the proposed path. The Council’s case against the pylons uncannily resembles the arguments put against wind turbines some half a century later. They included visual impact, conflict with habitat, threat to domestic/wildlife and possible health implications. Villagers felt that the pylons should go through Stoke. A local Councillor William Hancock stormed out of a meeting because protestors believed that he was not doing enough to fight the plan. Councillor Hancock vociferously denied this was the case. In the end Bagnall’s complaints forced the authorities to change their plans and the pylons went through the Abbey Hulton Council estate where in fact I was living in 1968. Early victims of the pylons were racing pigeons that belonged to a friend who collided with cable.

 The world of work was very different in 1964 and equal opportunity legislation lay a decade on. Brough, Hall and Nicholson were looking for an energetic young man to work in the Production Control department. At WH White young girls willing to learn were required. AJ Worthington wanted a Graff knitter and there were a range of posts needed to be filled at Wardles such as fillers and warpers.  In fact the job sections were full of vacancies and nationally by 1967 we reached a situation where they were more vacancies than there were people on the unemployment register.

 On 21st February 1964 the Rolling Stones appeared at the Gaumont Hanley only 3 months since they appeared in Leek Town Hall on Christmas Eve. They were second on the bill to All Star’s 1964.The following day “ The Marauders” played at Leek Town Hall. A Birmingham band they were on Decca label and for part of this period has Jimmy Page later of Led Zeppelin as a session musician. 

 Cars for sale in the early spring of 1964 included at Don Ratcliffe’s of Biddulph a new Austin Countryman cost £616 whilst a A40 was £598. In the same town at George Rhodes  an MGB Olde English was £834 whilst a Riley Yukon could set you back £571.

 Mr Robert Plant of Westwood Hall Farm was one of four people in the country who attempted and failed to tell the difference between farm fresh eggs and Egg marketing board “ Lion” eggs in an experiment conducted by the BBC Radio Programme “ Today”. The Egg Marketing Board “ hatched” the slogan “ Go to work on an egg” and used  Tony Hancock to advertise the healthy qualities of the product

Stalingrad 1943

I was in a local school looking at a wall chart produced by pupils on the key events of the Second World War. Emphasis was rightly given to the Battle of Britain and D-Day, but no mention was made of the war in Eastern Europe. It’s the 70th anniversary of the titanic struggle at Stalingrad perhaps the most decisive battle of the war- an anniversary that has hardly been mentioned in the British media. This struggle in which the Nazis and their allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city named for the Russian dictator was one of the bloodiest in the history of warfare with estimated 2 million casualties. The 6-month campaign, which climaxed in January 1943, inflicted catastrophic losses on the Third Reich from which it never recovered.

From June 1941 the Soviet Union was an ally of Britain. In Leek, as elsewhere in the UK, awareness of the struggle showed itself in the setting up of an Anglo Soviet Friendship Committee meeting at the Town Hall in December 1941. It was part of a co-ordinated response. The Committee busied itself by running fund raising events including a Soviet Medical Aid Fund in the New Year of 1942. Over the duration of the war meetings with speakers and events were held to recognise the super human efforts of our Soviet allies. Over two nights for instance, at Cheddleton Hospital in November 1942 a Russian ballet corps gave a concert.

Perhaps given the continuing interest in the war it is right to emphasis the fact that the Second World War was principally fought in Eastern Europe. It has been estimated that 80% of all German allied personnel died or went missing in action on the Eastern Front

The vast majority of German divisions were concentrated against the Soviet Union - in 1942, for instance, there were 240 fighting in the East and 15 in North Africa and even in 1944 there were more than 200 in the East compared to 50 divisions in the West. The two pivotal battles, Stalingrad and El Alamein, differed in scale by a factor of about ten, or an order of magnitude.

Over 36 million people 19 million of them civilians, died in Europe in this conflict. The real tragedy was that in Eastern Europe one tyranny was replaced with another 

Sunday, 27 January 2013


What links a ginnel, a twitchell and a weint? Answer they are all dialect worlds for alley from Yorkshire, Nottingham and the Isle of Man respectively. Similarly the words wag, bob and twag all mean playing truant. The reason that I draw your attention to this fact arises out of a news item I heard on radio on the future of dialect words.

Linguists at the British Library have assembled a list of thousands of rare words and phrases from dialects in order to preserve them - and make them available far beyond their native area.

Around 4,000 locally-used words have been contributed to the "wordbank" the public who visited the library, in central London, or attended a series of events at provincial libraries, at which they were asked to provide local phrases.

North Staffordshire, I believe, is particularly rich in dialect words both in the urban and rural areas. One word, which is known throughout the North Midlands, is the word “nesh” meaning susceptible to the cold. It has a long provenance cropping up in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and more modern writers such as the Nottinghamshire born DH Lawrence. A word that I particularly like is lozzuck meaning a layabout. There are others like ganzi meaning an outer garment, which may have its origins in Hindi and was probably brought over by soldiers of the Raj. Sometimes words can be misunderstood. The word “starving” in the Moorlands means freezing. In 1947 in the context of the Great Freeze of that year its thought by authority that the natives of Grindon were famished rather than perished. Tragically a rescue plane crashed killing all occupants on what seems to have been an unnecessary mission.

In my travels around the country I have come across other excellent dialect words. My own favourites are “pofagged” from Wigan meaning exhausted, “lakin” a York expression for playing and “clarty” a North Eastern word for “muddy”.

There are those who think that local words are dying out driven out by the media and population movement. I hope not and their continued existence hints at resilience.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Do you remember- January 1981?

1981 was designated the Year of the Disabled, it was the intention of the organisers to raise the profile of people with disabilities and to highlight the day to day problems  they faced. Paul Woodcock of Hall Ave, Leek who suffered scoliosis of the spine was interviewed. Paul was 22 in 1981. He spoke of his frustrations and his desire for independence and to do something useful with his life. Paul said he was bored. He was unemployed and spent much of the time watching TV. He did voluntary work at the Millward Hall Youth Centre. Paul said that he was sometimes stared at, but it did not bother him too much. Paul's concerns were echoed by a reporter who did a follow up report on the lack of facilities and access for the disabled  in Leek.

I knew Paul later on in his life as he was regular in the Swan. A gentle soul, he did eventually get a job within the Youth Service. Paul was active in local politics standing as a Liberal Democrat in his home area. He died prematurely a few years ago.

 Paul mentioned the lack of job opportunities. In the early 80s we were in the grip of a recession and unemployment was high. It was reported that plans were being made ready to revamp the Job centre in Derby St  given the local demand for service and local Tory MP David Knox hoped that the facility would be opened by the end of the year. The Job Centre  was opened and lasted until 2004 and is now a Subway branch.

 An issue that would rumble for most of the decade was the condition of Rock Hall in the Roches. It was a long running dispute that involved SMDC, the Peak National Park Authority and owner Doug Moller. The District Council published a report that declared that the property was unfit for habitation as it was damp and lacked basic amenities. Doug began to address some of the problem including painting the up stairs window, but having no ladder it presented a problem. He rigged  up a rope from which he dangled from the battlement with one hand free to administer the paint.

 These were perilous times and not only was there a faltering economy but we also faced increased nuclear tensions as the prospect of conflict between the West and the Soviet Union loomed. Matters were not helped with the inauguration of  US President Reagan that month who took a belligerent tone with the Russians. Come the moment, come the business opportunity:  a local builder advertised Nuclear Fall out shelters which could be installed- planning permission being agreed- in the grounds of one's home. The advert stated that the shelters were air conditioned, but I suggest a flaw in their concept as the air they would be drawing into the shelter would have been radioactive rather negating the whole purpose of the shelter,

 Amongst the quirkier stories that month was a report of a mishap at Rudyard Lake when a pleasure cruiser the “Princess” broke from its moorings and collided with a house “ The Lady of the Lake”. The boat was unscathed, but a 9 foot hole was knocked in the side of the house. The owners of the house Mr and Mrs Ginsberg antique dealers from Manchester were locked in dispute with the Severn Trent Authority as they felt that the water levels of the lake should have been reduced making accidents of this sort less likely to happen.

 House prices were on the increase in the winter of 1981. The paper cited a residence for sale in Wettenhall Drive for £26,500 and one in Burton St  valued £17, 950. Both were 3 bed roomed.

 At  the Grand films showing included “ The Bitch” with Joan Collins and a special one day showing of the 1939 classic “Gone With the Wind” The other film to show was the less than classic “ Erotic Pleasures”

Jane Austen and the Peak District

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good wife”.  This is the well-known opening sentence of a book published in January 1813. “ Pride and Prejudice” was published anonymously; the child of the imagination of a middle aged spinster living in the seclusion of the Hampshire countryside. Little did Jane Austen know that her “playful” volume, as she described it, would become one of the most loved books in the English Language. It was recently voted second most favourite novels only being beaten by “Lord of the Rings”. The book’s place in the literary canon is assured and it continues to be read and enjoyed. It remains a book that is being continually recreated from the Indian film “Bride and Prejudice” to “Bridget Jones”. It seems that the themes of love, social advancement and the pursuit of wealth in a framework of class remain familiar.

In the 200th anniversary of publication of “Pride and Prejudice” many have wondered at its popularity, some more critically than others. Mark Twain and DH Lawrence loathed the book and thought it bland. WH Auden a fan of Austen's believed the novel was cleverly subversive- an unflinchingly realistic look at the way in which money can compromise all things including love

Jane Austen was acquainted with Staffordshire and the Peak District. She had a cousin Edward Cooper the vicar of Hamstall Ridware near Rugeley. It seems that they did not get on and she came northwards to visit the Peak District, possibly to escape her relative in 1806. At this visit and a subsequent one in 1811 she visited Bakewell, Dovedale, Haddon Hall and it's possible that she saw Chatsworth which became the model for Pemberley- Mr Darcy's estate in “Pride and Prejudice”.

The novel has been frequently filmed. In 1995 the BBC shot a widely popular version that used locations in the Moorlands:Colin Firth played Mr Darcy and Jennifer Ehle played Elizabeth Bennett. The village of Longnor featured in shots of village scenes and there was also a scene of a picnic on the Roches with a distant view of Tittesworth Reservoir.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Victoria Rd Fenton 1973- an essay on deindustrialisation

From 1972-3 I worked at Johnson and Slater part of the Royal Doulton group. It was a small pottery that made sanitary ware- shower trays mainly- and was situated just off Victoria Road between Fenton and Berryhill. It was a family run pottery run by the Maynard’s father and son. The older had served in the Army had achieved the rank of Major and was one of the first British Army officers into Vienna. Both Maynards were named John the younger was called Master John to distingush him from his father. Master John walked around the factory usually dressed in a trilby hat and a bow tie with a fresh red carnation. I worked as a Production Control Clerk in a small office with an admirable chap called Terry O’Donnell. In 1972 S Pearson acquired Doulton & Co Ltd & Son Ltd, which had previously made substantial investments in the tableware section of the pottery industry, organised as Allied English Potteries Ltd. Although it had become part of the Pearson Group the pottery had the feel and the language of a hundred years before. It is inconceivable that anyone would call a manager “Master”

Every morning my father would drop me off at Joiners Square and I would walk the mile or so up Victoria Road. To aid my memory I looked at a business directory and maps from the 60s and 70s to help me recall the industrial landscape of the time. Engineers and metal workers dominated the area. A large factory Copestick and Farrell was on the left as I walked towards Fenton. My brother and a friend worked there and I knew that in the early 70s business was good. Products went either to the Coal Industry or for the construction industry. The trade directory of 1972 lists 4 pages of various types of engineer ranging from Civil, Electrical and Mechanical. Two small companies were based in Duke St Fenton- Baddleley Walkers and WH Barker. There was a blacksmith and crate makers as well in the Greater Fenton area.

 Then there was Hewitt`s brickwork’s and refractors in Victoria Rd .The other side of the road was mainly dominated by Byatt`s Garage group.  It stretched from the car parts unit down to Gunn-JCB and went back as far as the River Trent. Part of Byatt`s was Welford Truck Bodies who made trailers. Regina Glass Manufacturers was also based in Victoria Road. There were potbanks on the road to Fenton. Signs of the industrial landscape were very visible on the earlier map and near the Eastwood Football ground was a large marl hole I presume for use by a near by brickmaker. It was filled in by the 1980s. It was an area concerned with making things, which it had done so for some time. Victoria Road had been laid down in the 1840s a railway line and station had followed although the station had closed by 1972.

By 1973 the City Council was getting concerned that the industrial base of the area was still traditional. A meeting was held in September between the City Council and a West Midlands Regional team. The outcome was a positive one it was concluded that the land reclamation projects would make the area again a very popular one to attract new companies. It was a period of mergers with Wedgwood informing the media of the take over of Crown Pottery as well as Mason’s Ironstone being taken over.

That autumn the news of the major Tesco development in Hanley on the site of the former Newhall Pottery was announced. The Council published plans for a major development along a Hanley-Stoke axis, which would lead, to 16,000 jobs being created. The Leader of the Council Jim Westwood believed it to be the opportunity for Stoke to be a great city.

The Council were also successful in getting a government initiative – Quality of Life- the first of many to come to the Potteries.

And on the last day of October 1973 ,as if to state that the old world was certainly coming to an end, the death of William Cartlidge at the advanced age of 87 was declared. Cartlidge from Wolstanton was the last bottle kiln maker who plied his trade from before the First World War to the 1950s.

Going down Victoria Road now and it is a place transformed. It’s a place where you buy and store things that are made in China. There are Cash and Carries, Food storage facilities and a budget supermarket. And close to Johnson and Slater long demolished is the City Council Call Centre. It is an area, which handily serves as a microcosm for what has happened to the local economy in the last 40 years

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Monarchy and Staffordshire-a 1000 year connection

Staffordshire’s connection with Royalty goes back over 1500 to the beginning of kingship in England. Saxon England before uniting under one Crown was divided into the petty kingdoms of Mercia, Northumberland and Wessex. Mercia was one of the most powerful states ruled by Offa who ruled from 757 to 796 over an area that included Staffordshire and Cheshire. His capital was Tamworth and such was his reputation that he was known as an able ruler throughout Europe. Offa minted his own currency and built the defensive system that kept the marauding Welsh at bay. The Staffordshire Hoard, some of which is exhibited in the City Museum in Hanley, dates from this time.

100 years after Offa’s time Staffordshire found itself on the front line following the invasion and settlement of Vikings. The northmen had established colonies to the North and East of the county. The great warrior Anglo-Saxon king Alfred beat the raiders armies and the torch of organising resistance passed to his formidable daughter Ethelfreda, one of the most capable women in English history. She took the fight to the Danes by building “burghs” or forts in Stafford and Derby. She pushed them back north and made peace with them in York in 918 where they recognised her supremacy.

The area did not take kindly to a new invader after 1066. Staffordshire rose in rebellion against William the Conqueror in 1069 and he came to Stafford to personally supervise the brutal repression of the uprising. Moorland communities suffered greatly and the chroniclers noted the punishment meted out to villages such as Longnor and the starving people.

Medieval Kings came to Staffordshire for two principal reasons en route to Wales and Chester to embark for Ireland of for pleasure to enjoy hunting. In the former category was one of the greatest Plantagenets the awesomely energetic Henry II who stayed in Chesterton in 1157 no doubt he will have seen the newly built castle in the town that took the name of the fortification. King John who gave Leek its market charter in 1207 liked the county for the chase and hunted in Kinver and Cannock Forests. There is no evidence to suggest that he visited the “Queen of the Moorlands”. Two inept monarchs who spent time in the county were Edward II who beat down a rebellion in a skirmish near Burton in 1322.Richard II who was lead a captive through the streets on Newcastle by his cousin the usurper Bolingbrook later to become Henry IV in 1399. Both men were later savagely murdered.

Staffordshire was involved at the beginning and the end of the Wars of the Roses. In 1459 at Bloreheath Queen Margaret of the mad Henry VI witnessed the route of his army by the Yorkists and fled Mucklestone Church as legend had it by getting a blacksmith to reverse her horseshoes to confuse any pursuers. In 1485 the army of the Welshman Henry Tudor passed through Staffordshire before meeting Richard III at Bosworth. The man who guaranteed Henry’s victory William Stanley lead his army through Newcastle drawing on retainers in Cheshire and Staffordshire legend has it that a knight from Rudyard, Ranulph killed Richard that fateful August date.

The Tudors rarely visited this part of the country one who did was Elizabeth who visited the county town in 1578. It was a very lavish affair and the Queen following representation from the town which was suffering a decline said that she would do all she could to protect the declining hat industry and ensure that a assize would be held in Stafford  “forever”. But the historical character of this period most closely associated with Staffordshire was the doomed Mary Stuart Queen of Scots who was held at two castles Tutbury and Chartley near Uttoxeter. The gaunt ruins still stand. It was from Chartley that Mary allowed herself to be drawn into the plot to assassinate her cousin Elizabeth. The coded messages from the plotters being passed in the false bottom of barrels of beer from Burton. As a consequence of her involvement in the conspiracy Mary was executed.

Elizabeth’s successor, son of Mary Stuart, James I it seems had little time for the county and is reputed to have damned the area as  “fit only to be cut into thongs to make highways for the rest of the country”. James was not in modern parlance a “hearts and minds” man and threatened to bare his backside once, impatient with displays at public adoration. Perhaps the feeling was mutual, as there was a strong Staffordshire connection in the “Gunpowder Plot”.

The county tended to side with Parliament in the Civil War the result of the stubbornness and vanity of the next monarch Charles I. After the king raised the standard to begin the war in 1642 in Nottingham travelling back through Uttoxeter. He seems to have been hated by many in the county. One battle was fought in the war at Hopton Heath near Stafford the following year. Two prominent men with strong Staffordshire connection determined Charles’s fate the judge at his trial in 1649 Bradshaw and the Newcastle born Thomas Harrison who signed the death warrant. Harrison suffered a gruesome fate on the restoration to the throne of Charles’s son Charles II. Harrison was butchered one January day in 1661.

Charles II had knowledge of Staffordshire as a consequence of fleeing the Battle of Worcester in 1651. He spent a few weeks on the run from parliamentary forces some of the time spent squeezing his over 6-foot frame in an oak at Boscobel. Royalists used to celebrate oak apple day in late May to commemorate Charles return to the throne. Charles recalled this event up to his dying day in 1685. He asked the Staffordshire priest from Boscobel, Huddlestone to convert him to Roman Catholicism.

Religion played a key role in the fate of monarch throughout the 17th and 18th century. The Protestant belief of George I ensured the success of the Germans from Hanover who replaced the Stuarts after 1714. The pottery from the developing industrial areas in North Staffs proclaimed the succession. But it was under threat and the area witnessed the final act in the religious struggles that had dogged the country for two hundred years. Charles Edward Stuart more popularly known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” intended capturing the throne for his family and Roman Catholic faith. Initially he was successful and following his coronation in Edinburgh as Charles III marched south on a whirlwind campaign as cities and towns such as Lancaster, Manchester and Stockport fell to his Highland army. On December 3rd 1745 the battle hardened Scots arrived in Leek. Terrified townspeople cowered as the rebel army went on the rampage. After several hours they left to march towards Derby where realising the game was up as an army led by King George’s son William, Duke of Cumberland advanced to Stone. Realising that they risked being cut off from home they retreated. Cumberland’s forces arrived in Leek pursuing the Scots and were treated as liberators. Charlie and his army met their nemesis at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness in April 1746.

The focus shifts to a country experiencing the Industrial Revolution. Royal sons of George III spent three days in September 1806 staying at Trentham Hall visiting the new factories of Spode and Wedgwood. George Prince Regent and William Duke of Clarence were somewhat dissolute individuals obsessed with drink, women and gambling. In fact the more prudish non-conformists sorts of the district refused to meet the debauched pair. Mr Spode and Mr Wedgwood had fewer qualms. Prince Regent whilst at Etruria was interested in a modern piece of technology- a steam engine. They moved on a day later to Longport to inspect the Kinnersley Glass works. The appreciative locals were plied with free drink again annoying the Methodists. The two succeeded to the crown as George IV followed after his death in 1830 by Clarence who became William IV.

Victoria through her lone reign did not visit the North of the County. There is a story that as a child, in company with her mother the Duchess of Kent, she passed through Leek. She stayed at her Prime Minister Robert Peel house at Drayton in the 1840s and following his death unveiled an equestrian statute of beloved Albert in Wolverhampton in 1867.

It was once said that we have had three wastrel monarchs on the British throne Charles II, George IV and Edward VII. Charles had an interest in science, George in the arts and architecture whilst Edward was a good shot. History has not been kind to Victoria’s eldest son who was described by Rudyard Kipling as a “corpulent voluptuary” which probably explains why he never got a peerage. In between the strenuous round of country weekends games of baccarat and womanising Edward as Prince of Wales did visit Stoke taking time to open the Sutherland Institute in Longton in 1877.

His son’s reign was an eventful one. George V became King on the eve of the First World War. The model of kingship he took differed greatly from his father; George aimed for bourgeoisie respectability. He and his wife Queen Mary visited North Staffordshire frequently. In 1900 as the Duke of York he opened Leek Technical School. And two years after his Coronation he visited North Staffordshire on a two day visit in Appril 1913. He visited major pottery manufacturers in Stoke including an exhibition at the Kings Hall. But it was the visit he made in 1925 when he conferred City status on Stoke, which was the most profound. The visit was an eventful one with visits to lay a foundation stone at the Infirmary and a civic luncheon at the Town Hall.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


A friend me of a surprising find in a skip at local recycling centre. Sitting in a skip was, as far as he could tell, a perfectly serviceable Moog Synthesiser 1962 vintage. The sort played by Kraftwerk he thought. I’d seen one played by Keith Emerson in ELP at Trentham Gardens in 1971- but the less said about that the better.

The point is that here seemed to be a possibly functioning piece of kit, which could fetch around £1000. My friend pleaded with the manager to let him have the Synthesiser. The manager refused on health and safety grounds that someone might be injured and sue the authority. It was a deeply frustrating experience. My friend as told that amongst other implausible stuff brought to the centre included cut up sections of a Chevrolet Car- it suggests the Johnny Cash song. Also, dumped at the recycling centre were items including wash machines still wrapped in plastic and other new appliances.

The willingness of locals, on this evidence, to throw away perfectly electrical goods is perplexing. It has been going on for sometime. The disposable culture started early. In 1892 William Painter, founder of the Baltimore Bottle Seal Company, patented the bottle cap. The bottles were returned, but the bottle caps got thrown away. They only worked once. Painter's chief salesman at the time was King Camp Gillette, who went on to apply the principle to his own invention, the disposable razor blade. Today almost everything has its disposable version and the concept has been taken a step further until we see the grotesque waste evidenced at Fowlchurch. We now live in a disposable culture. What a Waste!

I once, by way of an analogy, met a woman who worked for the Arts Council in Mongolia in the 1990s after Communism fell. She had a job re-organising the Mongolian publishing industry. She told me that under the old system the canons of Marxist- Leninist thought were printed unread by the locals, pulped and then printed again. It seemed to me as good a metaphor for the waste in capitalism as it is for failed Communism

Jimmy Clitheroe

Its pantomime season and some months ago I came across an advert for a production of “ Dick Whittington” in Leek in the late 60s. The star of the show was Oldham born comedian Danny Ross better known as the gormless Alfie in the Clitheroe Kid a mainstay of radio comedy for many years. It seems that Danny was regular visitor to Leek, as it was just a short drive over the Pennines from his Lancashire home

I heard Jimmy Clitheroe’s show again recently on Radio 4 Extra. Clitheroe was present along with Alfie, Jimmy’s Scottish grandfather and his improbable sounding sister Susan who had an accent more suggestive of Roedean than Rawtenstall. To me the show was distinctly unfunny. I may have roared with laughter at it in 1964, but certainly not half a century later.

The “Clitheroe Kid” however is still evocative, recalling Sunday afternoons long ago where such programmes held the attention of all the family. It was a recognisable, innocent world where the wrestling is on the telly, and you have to scrape a few coins together to buy sweets.

I was speaking to someone who knew Clitheroe slightly. Jimmy had a Rolls Royce but even with padded seating his 4 foot 3 inch frame found it difficult to peer over the windscreen. My contact initially thought the driver’s seat was empty at their first meeting. He never grew taller than this, and even in middle age could easily pass for an 11-year-old boy. Clitheroe always performed rather spookily in school uniform even when taking part in radio shows.

He had been in show business for years and had performed with such stars of the music hall as Arthur Lucas and Frank Randle.

One of his catch phrase's was “I’m all there with me cough drops” (a Lancashire expression for someone quick-witted). When he got into a scrape - as he frequently did - his catchphrase was “Ooh, flippin’ ’eck”.

 He came to a sad end -dying of a sleeping pill overdose- on the day of his mother’s funeral. His shade came into my life unexpectedly when I visited Beverley and took part in a ghost walk some years ago. The guide mention a small “spirit “ seen to run along a wall “ It’s the ghost of Jimmy Clitheroe” said my companion

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Richard Caldwell -Tudor Doctor

2013 sees the 500th anniversary of the birth of a man completely overlooked in the annuals of famous people of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Richard Caldwell was born in Upper Hulme in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. For someone from such a remote place Richard must have showed signs of remarkable promise. He attended Brasenose College in Oxford, graduating in 1554. Caldwell was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians four years later becoming President of the College in 1570. He co- founded the Lumleian lectures- annual lectures on the latest medical advance- still held today. It was at a lecture that William Harvey announced his research on the circulation of the blood in 1615 .

During the 16th century there were some improvements in medicine, but it remained basically the same as in the Middle Ages. In 1478 a book by the Roman doctor Celsus was printed. (The printing press made all books including medical ones much cheaper). This quickly became a standard textbook. However in the early 16th century a man named Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) called himself Paracelsus (meaning surpassing Celsus). He denounced all medical teaching not based on experiment and experience. However traditional ideas on medicine held sway for long afterwards especially in an area as inaccessible as the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Tudor doctors were expensive and they could do little about illness partly because they did not know what caused disease. They had little idea of how the human body worked. Doctors thought the body was made up of four fluids or 'humours'. They were blood, phlegm, choler or yellow bile and melancholy or black bile. In a healthy person all four humours were balanced, but if you had too much of one you fell ill.

Despite the relative scarcity of available books on medicine in England, this was a period of rapid development in medicine on the Continent. A number of important teachers were experimenting with new methods and disseminating new ideas. Men such as Falloppius, head of medicine at the University of Padua (for whom the Fallopian tube was named); Columbus, who first described the relationship of the systole and diastole of the pulse to the beating heart; and Montanus, the first to use clinical instruction for the teaching of medical students. Caldwell seems to have been aware of the advances and it is reported that he made a reputation for translating Italian medical research into English.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Zeppelin Raids over North Staffs 1916

I came across two accounts of Zeppelin raids over North Staffordshire, which are fully described in a newspaper account of late 1918. The Zeppelin was the brainchild of Count Ferdinard Zeppelin a German army officer who began developing his ideas on airships in 1897. The first Zeppelin flew on 2nd July 1900. The LZ-3 Zeppelin was accepted into army service in March 1909. By the start of the First World War the German Army had seven military Zeppelins.

The Zeppelin developed in 1914 could reach a maximum speed of 136 kph and reach a height of 4,250 metres. The Zeppelin had five machine-guns and could carry 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs) of bombs.

In January 1915, two Zeppelin navel airships 190 metres long, flew over the east coast of England and bombed great Yarmouth and King's Lynn. The first Zeppelin raid on London took place on 31st May 1915. The raid killed 28 people and injured 60 more.

The two raids over North Staffordshire occurred on January 31st 1916 and on the night of the 27th/28th November 1918.

On the first occasion North Staffs the district escaped without damage or injuries. On the second occasion 21 bombs were dropped and exploded as well as several duds. The damage was small and one person was injured.

January 31st 1916

The area was taken completely by surprise by the first raid. Few people thought that the airship could reach into the north or the Midlands. Lighting restrictions were not in force and the whole area including the steelworks at Etruria was a blaze of light, hidden by a slight ground mist. A number of airships reached the Midlands. One was over Walsall at 20.10 and another attacked Burton at 20.30. A zeppelin came up from the south and was seen over Trentham. It was attracted by the lights of the steelworks and dropped 6 bombs in rapid succession. (It was probably the one that my grandmother saw who was living in Ashford Street, Shelton in 1916). All the bombs fell on refuse heaps between the works and a colliery entrance. It made craters but did not cause any material damage. Thereafter the course of the Zeppelin is not known. It was heard in Hanley over Wolstanton and Madeley and then passed over the area. Other towns in Staffordshire suffered damage that night. Walsall was twice raised. The Wednesbury Congregational Chapel was completely damaged. Wednesbury, Tipton and Burton were also heavily attacked and the number of deaths in these towns was 12.13 and 14 receptively. At Burton a bomb fell on a mission hut killing the wife of the preacher as well as 4 members of the congregation.

November 27th-28th 1916

Monday the 27th November was a clear and dry night. At 10.45 a warning was received. The whole district was blacked out and air raid precautions were taken. Doctors and Red Cross Nurses were sent to their allocated stations. The Regular and Special police were in readiness for any emergency and the Fire Brigade wee on stand by. Information was received that the Zeppelin was seen coming from the direction of Biddulph and making for Kidsgrove, Goldenhill and Tunstall

A local gave an account of the raid

“I had been burning the mid night oil unaware of the air raid warning had been given, and had just reached my bedroom at a few minutes to One o’clock when I heard a deep, rumbling long sustained explosion. I concluded that a serious colliery explosion had happened, and I had gone to the next bedroom to see if anyone else had heard it when two more detonations occurred- shorter and sharper than the first. Obviously an air raid was occurring. After a brief interval another explosion ripped through the night- still nearer and accompanied by a rending sound. A few seconds and a series of two or three followed in such quick succession as almost to suggest machine gum fire except the firing I heard was of the heavy stuff

Then from the window I could see distant flashes – over in the direction of Chesterton- and every sound was following by a grinding and rending detonation. So the infernal artillery continued to half past one, when the Zeppelin, obviously coming closer to my point of vantage, dropped a bomb that shook every brick and window in the house. Yet the explosion was half a mile away. That was the last and saw of the raider. I counted 21 explosions.”

Bombardment of Tunstall

The first bomb fell on a spoil heap near the Birchenwood Colliery Kidsgrove: it did no damage. The second and third exploded on slag heaps not far from Goldendale Iron works. The third fell in a working class area of Tunstall in a working class district and there was done the main damage of the raid.

The bomb buried itself into soft ground forming the backyard of 6 Sun Street making a crater six feet deep and 7 to 8 yards wide sweeping away the sculleries and out houses of 2,4,6,8 Sun St wrecking those dwelling houses and doing damage more or less severe to many other houses in the locality as well as the Roman Catholic Church nearby. At Number 8 which was occupied by Mr and Mrs Cantliffe and their two children. Mr Cantliffe had just returned from work as a local pit and with his wife was having supper. He was hit in the chest and injured by flying fragments. His wife was uninjured, as were the other occupants of the house who were asleep at the time. The man was taken to the North Staffs Infirmary for treatment for a chest wound and he recovered quickly.

The doors and windows of nearby houses were torn from their framework and splintered windows were shattered and furniture was reduced to matchwood. There were fifteen houses in this row and all were considerably damaged. Back to Back with this row were another houses with their frontage in Bond St; and they suffered considerably, most of the windows were smashed and some having frameworks torn out. Masonry fell on the roofs of houses for some distance. The roof of the Roman Catholic Church was damaged by falling fragments, and the windows were blown out. At the Royal Albert Pottery many windows were damaged. After the explosion of bomb many of the people of the area were out in their night attire, and ready help was given to the people whose homes had been wrecked. Next day the Sun Street area of Tunstall presented a devastated aspect and for days afterwards became a spectacle for the curious.

Chesterton District

From Tunstall the Zeppelins made across Bradwell Woods for Chesterton wee the burning mine hearths in the collieries attracted the raider and gave the enemy the impression of more important targets than mere heaps of ironstones in the process of calcimining. At any rate the airship heavily bombed and the explosions were heavily and numerous. Apart from an old shed, which collapsed from the concussion and a big crater formed in the mine works and on the ground not a scrap of damage. This bombardment was particularly futile. One of the last bombs fell behind Bradwell Lane in Wolstanton and the force of the explosion was felt with great intensity.

For some time the raider circled around and many residents saw the airship. Eventually the airship turned south east and was sighted over Blurton coming over Hartshill at 01.35 leaving the area shortly afterwards

Beside 21 bombs that exploded there was an array of duds. Several were discovered in the Chesterton. And two unexploded bombs at the entrance of the Stafford Coal and Iron works at Sideway and one at Fenton Hall. Both had harmlessly dug in.

The airship responsible for the raid was the LZ61

The LZ 61 took part in a total of ten raids on England during 1916. These included:
January 31

It was ordered to attack Liverpool, but problems with night navigation meant that instead it bombed Tipton, Bradley, Wednesbury, and Walsall: killing over 30 people - including Julia Slater, Walsall's Lady Mayoress.

April 1
It attacked Cleethorpes, dropping several bombs on the town just after midnight. One of which landed on the Alexandra Road Baptist Chapel, killing 31 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion the Manchester Regiment, who were billeted there One of the only British Army units to be directly engaged by enemy action on British soil during World War I.

September 2

It took part in the largest airship attack of the war with 13 other Naval airships and also four Army airships - 16 in total. During this raid the crew of the LZ 61 witnessed the downing of the SL 11, the first airship to be shot down over the British mainland.

September 25–26

It was unable to find its designated targets of Derby and Nottingham, and instead attacked Bolton, Lump, Rawtenstall, Ewood Bridge, Stonefold, Haslingden, Helmshore, Rossendale, Ramsbottom and Holcomb.

On November 27, 1916 LZ 61 began its last raid on England in the company of nine other Zeppelins. Crossing the coast north of Atwick, LZ 61 initially attacked Leeds but was repelled by anti-aircraft fire.

After bombing Sharton, Dodworth, Kidsgrove, Goldenhill, Tunstall, Chesterton, Fenton and Trentham it made out into the North Sea near Great Yarmouth. It was intercepted by three RNAS pilots: Flight Sub–Lieutenant Edward Laston Pulling; Flight–Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury; and Flight Sub–Lieutenant Gerard William Reginald Fane flying B.E. 2C aircraft. After exchanging fire with the three aircraft the LZ 61 burst into flames and crashed into the sea about eight miles (13 km) east of Lowestoft. Kurt Frankenburg commanded the Zeppelin. He and the 16 other members of the craft did not survive.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Neil Armstrong 1930-2012


Neil Armstrong died over the weekend. For people of a certain age the exploits of Armstrong and other pioneers of space travel will remain for always an indelible part of their youth. Earlier today I looked up my diary entries for 1969. I was 14 years of age and in the week of the moon landing had been on holiday in Wales. We got back to Stoke that weekend and sat to watch the events of the night of the 20th and 21st of July unfold. The TV coverage was memorable; the BBC at the time had a policy of employing people who knew what they were talking about. And then in the early hours of that memorable Monday morning the news that Armstong and Aldrin had landed the moon vehicle and Armstrong was about to make his epoch making walk. The grainy TV screen made out a ladder and a boot as the astronaut made his descent and of course as he touched the surface of the moon his famous comment. A copy of The Guardian was bought commemorating the moon landing, which we kept until it disintegrated.

It was a time of optimism about the future of man in space and each episode of space exploration- whether it be American or Soviet- was eagerly anticipated. I particularly recall the Apollo 8 voyage in 1968. It was Christmas time and a particularly snowy holiday period. I remember looking up at the night sky at a brilliant full Moon as the astronauts beamed back the celebrated picture of a vulnerable planet Earth, a startlingly blue, and of course later the dramatic escape from catastrophe of Apollo 13. As someone told me today all these explorations were achieved by basic computers, slide rules and log tables.

I knew someone who met Armstrong and told me what a self-effacing and modest man he was. He never once sought to make personal gain from his triumph. The astronaut was the first to recognise that his supreme achievement was the product of teamwork, of the thousands of people who had worked on the space programme since the 1950s. In a modern age and in a time of instant celebrity perhaps we should reflect on what truly makes for a hero. Armstrong would certainly fit into this category, even though he shunned the limelight, because, for a brief shining moment he showed the way to the stars.

A history of smells

A few weeks ago I received a letter from Shirley Williams thanking me for sending her an article I had written on her mother Vera Brittain. In the piece, which appeared in May, I wrote of Vera’s taking her Oxford entrance exam at Leek College one hot day in July 1914. She wrote of the unpleasantness of the occasion the consequence of being cooped up with “odiferious” 16-year-old students. In her letter of reply the Baroness believed that the personal hygiene of teenagers had not changed much in a century. It’s an opinion, which I challenge given the range of deodorants available. But nevertheless this led me to think of the olfactory landscape of North Staffordshire in the past.

One great change is the absence of horses nowadays compared with 100 years ago the by-product of equines would have been very noticeable as would have been the absence of cars and exhaust fumes. People would have smelt of carbolic, especially as soap become more widely available after the 1880s. There was the odour of camphor from mothballs on clothes during the winter. My mother recalls clearly the smell of “Rinso” on washing hanging in the alleyways in the 1930s. Industry would have its own emanations. Smoke hung heavily in the air. Dye works gave off a pungent fragrance. The smell of steam trains to me is wonderfully evocative, other places would give off from less pleasing stenches. A friend recalls the reek coming from a bone mill near to where he lived in Silverdale. Slaughterhouses smelt of blood and the acrid smell of scorched hide, but for my mother an unforgettable aroma was that of roasting meat on the range. My own Proustian recollection is that of hot Brown’s sausage rolls in Stoke market. Of cigarette smoke during a football match combining agreeably with wintergreen. And I do miss the smell of pipe tobacco in public places.

Certain places carry with them unique bouquets. I always think of the pleasing reek of Higson’s brewery- sadly gone- as you walked out of Lime Street Station in Liverpool. When the wind was in the right direction aniseed fragrance from the Uncle Joe’s Mint balls factory pervaded the air of Wigan and catching a train in Worcester was made the more congenial by the close proximity of the Lee and Perrin works.

Friday, 4 January 2013

On two conflicting religious houses

t was a colourful sight that would live long in the mind of those who witnessed it that autumn day in 1846. The assembled clergy representing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in England had arrived in the Staffordshire Moorlands to assist in the consecration of newly built St Giles Church in Cheadle the inspired creation of architect Augustine Pugin.

The Morning Post of September 3rd 1846 commented on the clergy “All were habited in the full costume of their rank- exhibiting a solemn and imposing scene and it was impossible to witness it without the mind carried back to those ancient times”. Amongst the assembled bishops was Seraph Heliani the Armenian Bishop of Jerusalem with long flowing beard and dressed in oriental robes- an exotic sight for the people of Cheadle.

The newspaper did not hold back in the praise lavished on the newly opened Church.

“Bright and glittering colours, gorgeous decoration, beautiful paintings meet the eye on every side until the senses become dazzled”

I visited St Giles for the first time recently: it is a stupendous sight, undoubtedly one of the great British churches of the early 19th century. Whilst I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Museum opened to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Pugin. I marvelled that this architectural jewel could be in the Staffordshire Moorlands. I noticed that the visitor book was full of reverential comments. I added an appropriate quote from Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Later my mind turned to another impromptu visit made in July to a place of worship diametrically opposite to Roman Catholic opulence .The Primitive Methodist chapel in Milldale was the place I thought of. It was built a decade before St Giles. It is unadorned, bare, but for me it was as much imbued with the spirit of God as the Cheadle Church. The visitor book was as full of positive comments as was St Giles. The chapel is set in wonderful countryside beside the Dove and I was alone. I sat in silence to hear the birdsong in the copse next to the chapel and the flow of the river. It was as much a glimpse of heaven as Pugin’s marvel






Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On stress-past and present

During the Christmas period I over heard two young women complaining on how hard life was compared with the past. It is a source of puzzlement to me that we are living in an age where most people live longer and healthier lives with access to modern health care and social services and yet seem to be unhappy. The number of prescriptions for antidepressants, as one indicator, increased by 28% from 34m in 2007-08 to 43.4m in 2010-11, according to the NHS information centre. For a majority though standards of living are better than they were 50 years. Work now does not have the physical dangers of a century ago in industries like coal mining. Even the shopping experience is superior to that encountered by people in the past. Greater choice, goods always in season in one place is to be expected and obtained today. In short for many the lives they live are far better and less hazardous than their ancestors lives.

The picture that heads this article is that of my grand mother Hannah Sherwin born in 1890. The picture was taken in 1918. Her history serves as a crushing rejoinder to those today who bemoan their lot. By her teens both her parents were dead and she was left to bring up 4 siblings. A brother and a sister died in a typhoid outbreak after playing in a polluted area in Hanley in 1912. Four relatives including a beloved brother- George Mitchell- were killed in the trenches of the First World War. Her first husband Harry Cartwright who she married at Milton Church in 1917 died of wounds the year later in France two weeks before the end of the war. Afterwards she met and married my grandfather whose illnesses and wounds received serving in the 7th North Staffs in Mesopotamia shortened his life. Both lived through the dangers of the Second War including bombing of the steelworks close to where they lived. Their sons served in the forces, safely returning.  I barely knew my grandparents who both died in 1958 when I was 3.

I suppose the strains of modern life are exacerbated by the loss of community and the needs for individuals to succeed, but no one can convince me that queuing up in a supermarket is as stressful as charging across a muddy field against German machine guns.