Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Do you remember January 1989?

1989 did not begin well for the District Council. It was voted “ Most Philistine” Council in the satirical magazine “Private Eye” for the second year running. The 1980s locally were dominated by proposals to redevelop Leek and although there was much local opposition the Council were determined to press ahead. Matters had come to a head with a referendum taken the previous autumn in which the plans were rejected

Another charge levelled at the authority was its obsessive secrecy and its willingness to accept the mediocre in terms of building designs for the town centre and for the new Council chamber. It seems to me as a long term resident of the town that the lack of openness identified by the magazine still exists today.

The Post and Times carried headlines of the mental health strategy of local health services. It was reported that 120 patients from St Edwards Hospital were being moved out in the community. These plans were in line with the tenor of the times. Some years earlier the Griffiths Report on Community Care had been published which called for the closure of “asylums” and the treatment of patients in the community. It was a move generally supported by health professionals and the users. Long stay hospitals had been built often in countryside some way from urban areas and the patients tended to be institutionalised in such facilities. In the late 80s I worked as a Community Health Council officer in the North west and can recall some of the terrible stories of patient who had been effectively incarcerated in huge hospitals like Calderstones in Lancashire. In one case a woman had been a patient since the 1930s for having a child out of wedlock.

Bill Sheldon of Wetley Rocks turned 90 in 1989. He was a First World War veteran joining the Leicestershire Regiment at the age of 18. He had a memento of his war experiences in the trenches. A German prisoner at the end of the war had made him a shaving mirror complete with the crest of Bill's regiment- the Fox. Bill had a narrow escape in Flanders in 1917 when he and 5 other comrades including a mate from Longnor were detailed to go on a night raid to gather information. There plans were discovered by an alert German machine gunner who opened fire on them in No Man's land. Only Bill and the Longnor man made it safely back to British lines

It was a happy opening of the year for the Riondino family when Tracey nee Lowndes of Leek gave birth to triplets. Tracey was married to an evangelist preacher Carmine from Italy and they had given the children biblical names Melchisedel, Zipporah and Zion. The family were visiting family members in Leek over the festive period. Carmine had an interesting past and as a young man was involved with the Mafia. He bought this experience to good use in working with gang members and drug user and the family planned to build a church in Central Italy,

Residents in Rudyard were outraged at the activities of a local hunt which had disrupted life in the area over several months in 1988/9. Fox hounds had crashed into a garden in Devil's Lane causing several cats and a puppy to narrowly escape with their lives, the dogs had wrecked havoc in gardens as they pursued a fox some distance. Worse occurred some months earlier when a toddler witnessed a cub ripped apart in front of him.

Leek Ladies had formed a football club and were serious in intent. They took training seriously going on longcross country runs. The star of the team was Maxine Brookes who had acquired the nickname “ Mad Max” given her tenacious tackling ability. It had not gone too smoothly as in an early fixture they were beaten by the Doncaster Belles 36-0

Victorians and Food

Barely a week goes by without items appearing on the adulteration of food. The current controversy over burgers and horse meat being a recent example and a local newsagent was prosecuted ,last year for selling vodka to which a toxic substance was added. Concerns over the quality of food and its impact on the populace first come to the fore during the 19th century.

All through the Victorian era food was adulterated. It was, put simply, a fact of life. Almost anything you purchased was likely to have had something added. The main reason was economic diluting the product increased profit. Adding water to milk is probably the most common instance of this although adulteration was far more widely practised.

The list of poisonous additives reads like the stock list of some mad and malevolent chemist: strychnine, cocculus inculus (both are hallucinogens) and copperas in rum and beer; sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine, and preserves; lead chromate in mustard and snuff; sulphate of iron in tea and beer; ferric ferrocynanide, lime sulphate, and turmeric in Chinese tea; copper carbonate, lead sulphate, bi-sulphate of mercury, and Venetian lead in sugar confectionery and chocolate; lead in wine and cider; all were extensively used and were accumulative in effect, resulting, over a long period, in chronic gastritis, and, indeed, often fatal food poisoning. It is not surprising that purgatives were frequently used

It also explains the trust people had in the Cooperative Movement in securing quality in food . The Rochdale Pioneers opened their store in 1844 and within a few months they had become known for providing unadulterated goods and a movement was born.

By the 1870s legislation was enacted and from that date prosecutions start to come through the courts. In February 1879 a local butcher Enoch Clarkson was taken to court in Cheadle for selling discoloured beef unfit for human consumption. A grocer in Burslem was fined for adding alum to flour and in Kidsgrove another was found guilty for adding plaster of paris called “daft” to confectionery On that example sometimes the tendency could have fatal consequences . In 1858 a sweet shop owner in Bradford named Neal mistakenly added arsenic to his peppermint lozenges resulting in over 20 deaths. It was cases like this led to legislation on food quality

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Staffordshire Tolpuddle- early trade unions

In late February 1834 there occurred two incidents, which involved early trade unionism in different parts of the country. One in Dorset received, in time, national and international prominence whilst the other, in the Staffordshire Moorlands, would be forgotten and reports of the incident overlooked.

The incident in Tolpuddle led to 5 men being tried and eventually transported for 7 years to Australia. The other 5 men in the Moorlands would again lead to imprisonment and a trial for the same offence although the outcome would be very different.

Both events took place in a rural England seething with anger and discontent in the early 19th century. It was a time of great change where the certainties and traditions of the countryside were being swept away. A policy of enclosing the land, undermining the age old rights of grazing livestock on common land, of gathering brushwood or turf for fuel and collecting gleanings from the community harvest to keep the family in bread during the winter months had been disastrous for the rural poor. Their position was further worsened by an economic depression. They had no redress and were powerless to influence a parliament that was controlled by the very landowners who were suppressing them. The people who worked on the land received no compensation whatsoever for the loss of their land and previously held centuries old rights. They were driven to desperation.

By the 1830s a vicious circle of low wages, lack of influence and growing poverty tightened, men were often placed in wretched situations forced to tramp for miles to obtain help from the parishes that administered the poor laws. As rural crime rates increased the response of the Government grew harsher as people did as young as 14 were hanged for stealing and others transported for petty theft.

Finally in the early 1830s the countryside erupted in rebellion and the so-called “Captain Swing” Riots broke out. Villagers around the country marched on the homes of the local squire or magistrate to demand a decent living wage and improved living conditions. To show their feelings hayricks were burnt and machinery wrecked, although there is no record of anyone being killed.

The reaction of the authorities was savage and around the country over 250 people were sentenced to, although only 9 were executed.

The background of these hard times forms an overture to the events both in Tolpuddle and in Flash as working people in both communities sought solutions to the basic problem of how to secure a livelihood.

The answer for both was to look to community action through joining a trade union. By 1834 Trade Unions were legal and had been so since 1824. In that year laws that had existed to make trade unions illegal had been repealed. The right for working men to come together and to bargain with their employers was established. Under the circumstances working men and women took advantage of the relaxed laws and membership of the early trade unions increased.

However one aspect of trade unionism at the time had been omitted from the appeal – the ritual of initiating the member into the union. It was the ritual that bought the wrath of the Government down on the heads of the people, both in Dorset and in North Staffordshire. The initiation ceremony dated back to the years when belonging to a trade union was breaking the law and early trade unionists needed to know that their business was secret and their plans concealed.

The Dorset men were convicted of administering an illegal oath using legislation that had originally been intended for use during a naval mutiny- the illegal oath legislation and it was the same legislation that was intended to be used against another group of workers a few hundred miles further north.

But what was the position in the Moorlands at this time? The township of Alstonefield had a population of 649 and with the population of other townships in the area such a Warslow and Quarnford the wider community added up to an area population of 4700. The Directory of 1834 mentions that an Act of Parliament had recently been laid down to enclose all the common land in the area which surely must have rankled who relied on the commons for additional food and fuel to eke out their meagre wages. Another source of irritation was that the value of the land would have been made over to a local Vicar to the value of £300 a year. It is worth noting that early trade unionism was very much involved Methodists and other dissenters who were often at odds with the established Church of England. I will conjecture that the 5 men on trial were Primitive Methodists, a sect founded in North Staffordshire. The dispute in the area centred on button making and there existed in the area called Oliver a maker of “Florentine buttons”.

Button making in the early 19th century was a cottage industry and increased use of machinery and adverse trade circumstances and wage reduction in the early 19th century caused many to look to forming a new trade union which caused them to be in conflict with the law.

The authority mindful of the increase in unrest in both town and country decided on a harsh course and a number of local men were arrested.

The 5 men in the dock at Stafford in August 1834 were named as William Ball, Thomas Malkin, Joseph Coates, Joseph Haywood and Henry Booth- were all from Leek. All these names occur as common surnames in the area which they still do today. They were indicted for administering an illegal oath to Elizabeth Bestwick at Alstonefield on the 27th February 1834. The evidence of Elizabeth Bestwick of Alstonefield is extremely interesting as it sheds light on how early trade unionist operated

In February 1834 Mr Brunt said to me that the best thing to do was to commence a union. On the 27th all the defendants came to the Travellers Rest and explained the advantages of joining a trade union and said that we would not have cause to repent it. We of our own free will not make buttons for under 6d and 10d. They were singing and praying, but they did not compel me to take the oath. We took it of our own free will. They sang and prayed and took the oath in the clubroom, our eyes were blindfolded. A woman did it , but I did not know whom. She led us in and we went to a large dining table. We all knelt down with our right hand on our left breast and our left hand on a Bible. We kissed the book and solemnly declared that we would not make buttons for 6d and 10d, but we would keep all the secrets of the lodge and never give the consent that the money should be divided or appropriated for any other than the union and if we did our souls would drop into a bottomless pit.

The first time they came to the Travellers Rest “ Now sister you are a member of our honourable society and may you all prove worthy of the honour conveyed upon you”.

Mr Haywood gave me my oath. Sarah Bestwick was sworn in at the same time. I took hold of her hand. We were to subscribe 2d a week at the quarter of the year. We were to turn out for higher wages. We would be allowed 6 shillings a week. All the prisoner’s were present.

Taylor, Johnson and Bowcock came to the Flash. Some time after this we were initiated and told us that the Dorchester men had been transported for taking the oath and bid us be initiated again. We readily consented to it. When I tool the oath my hands were readily bound, but the handkerchief hurt my eyes and I saw all the persons, the hatchet and the sword. They had on a kind of surplice. Two had light dresses on.

In August when the case came to trial it must have seemed a forgone conclusion. The 5 men pleaded guilty and their dread must have been reinforced when they realised that the judge at their trial was the same judge at the trial in Dorset and in that case Mr Justice Williams had been remorseless.

However the outcome was very different. Firstly unlike in the case of the Dorset men the local magistrate Greaves spoke up for the 5 men indicating that they were respectable and industrious men and what they had done the men had done in their ignorance. The men were contrite and leniency was asked for.

Secondly, public opinion had turned in favour of the Dorset men. Mass demonstrations and petitions had been organised in many places in the country including Stoke on Trent where a public meeting had been organised by the Potter’s Union in the Swan Inn in Hanley and a petitioner comprising of several thousand names had been collected. In London a demonstration of over 200,000 had taken place against the injustice suffered by the Dorset Labourers. The country was mobilised and the authorities did not want a repeat in North Staffordshire of the events in the south

Thirdly the unions had ceased to administer oaths so they were not likely to be caught again in this trap.

The men were realised and were sent on their way back to their Moorland homes and their families.

The Times delivered a homily to the wealthy during this poverty wracked period.

Let the rich be taught that Providence will not suffer them to oppress their fellow creatures with impunity. Here are thousands of Englishmen; industrious, kind hearted but broken hearted human being, exasperated into madness by insufficient food and clothing, by utter want of the necessaries for themselves and their unfortunate families”

Saturday, 23 February 2013

When Rembrandt came to town

I came across something that I can only describe as astounding recently when going through a bound volume of the Leek Times for 1875. What caused me to be dumbfounded was the description of an art exhibition that took place in April of that year. The venue was the West Street School Rooms and I can probably safely say that at no other moment in Leek’s history has so much cultural and monetary value been amassed in one place. At the opening of the exhibition the report in the Leek Times said that no opening speeches were made but it may have been that the first visitors were simply amazed at the spectacle. The paper gave a list of the artists whose work was being shown at West St over the next weeks.

It reads like a list of the most greatest western artists of the last 400 years Michaelangelo,Correggio,Rembrandt,Jan Steen; Reynolds, Gainsborough and others are programmed as having canvasses at the exhibition.

There are etchings and sketches by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Turner and Hollar

There was also very high quality sculpture and pottery on display

The works were selected principally from the galleries of the local gentry but also borrowed pieces from the South Kensington Museum which is now better known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. The named contributors to the exhibition included such local worthies as Mrs Bradshaw, Mrs Crusoe, Joshua Nicholson, Mr George Wardle, WS Brough, Hugh Sleigh, William Challioner, Miss Condlyffe, Mrs Argles, Major Brocklehurst, Miss Van Tuyl, and Miss Gaunt

The painting that the reviewer is most demonstrative about is a canvas by a Dutch artist David Teniers the Elder (1582-1649) called “Peasants Merry Making” the writer is very impressed that the painting had been valued at £3000 in 1870. It was in his words “wonderfully coloured” and painted in 1650 when the artist was working in Brussels. I have attempted through Google to try to find out what happened subsequently to the art since appearing in Leek 132 years ago. That picture can now be seen in the National Gallery in London it was and presented to gallery in 1948 by John Hanbury Martin. Teniers who was the head of a dynasty of painters was the most famous artist of rustic life and very popular in his life time and beyond when many were purchased by the great houses of England and France in the decades that followed his death.

It is also interesting to reflect on the impact of inflation on the price of art since the days of the Mid Victorians. To give you an idea a Salomon Van Ruysdael another 17th century artist represented at the Leek exhibition sold for $3 million in New York in February this year.

The reviewer obviously liked his rural scenes as another picture to get a rave review is a drawing of cattle by George Morland a very popular London born artist of the mid 19th century who has now largely lapsed into obscurity. The Leek Times expends a great deal of ink celebrating the art of the unheard of Morland but infuriatingly hardly mentions a portrait by the “immortal” Rembrandt.

The 18th century artist and founder of the Royal Academy Joshua Reynolds is represented in the exhibition by two canvasses one is a portrait of the poet Goldsmith who was one of the 18th century artist’s closest friends. It now sits in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and the other is of a clergyman.

Antonio da Correggio’s 1489-1534 the principle artist of the Parma school of the Italian renaissance and responsible for some of the most vigorous and sensuous works of the 16th century is in the exhibition with his” Holy Family” painting

A contemporary artist shown at West Street in 1875 was one of the founding members of the Pre Raphaelite School Arthur Hughes who would have been 51 in that year. His illustrations of the Tennyson poem “Enoch Arden was displayed. I wonder as a example of idle speculation whether William Morris a principle figure in the moment and living in Leek at the time might have stared at the work as he knew Hughes through a mutual friend Rossetti

Perhaps the canvas that had the strongest connection with Leek in an oblique way was the March to Finchley by Hogarth. The painting which currently resides at the Coram Foundation- the London based children’s charity is based on a real historical event that Hogarth witnessed in December 1745 when British troops marched 10 miles out of London to rendezvous on Finchley Common to face the invading Highland Scots lead by Bonnie Prince Charlie. At the time Hogarth was observing the amassing force 165 miles away the advancing Scots were in Leek. This was nearly the limit of their advance and they retreated soon as they reached Derby when resources and supply lines had reached a limit. The British Army set off in pursuit of the retreating Highlanders pausing to receive the grateful thanks of the leading citizenry in Leek later that month. They caught up with the Scots at Culloden to smash the army and the clan system with it the following April. When he painted the picture in 1749 the danger was well past and Hogarth could afford to treat the subject in a light hearted and relaxed way mocking gin soaked soldiery as they headed north

There was also pottery lent by Minton’s of Stoke and Doulton of Lambeth. Mrs Cruso donated a Dresden vase with landscape and Morris of London contributed ware again I wonder if William Morris approved. Amongst other pottery was a Vase decorated by Louis Solon a French pottery who was beginning to make a reputation for himself having recently arrived in the country after fleeing war in France.

There was also a Bronze of St John the Baptist by Ghiberti of Florence dated 1412. I wondered if it is the same bronze which is now in now in the Orsonmichele in Florence? Ghiberti first became famous when he won the competition to design the doors of the bronze doors of the baptistery in 1401 described by Michelangelo as being “worthy of the gates of paradise”. This event is thought by art historian to have been the start of the Renaissance

The journalist covering the event over three weeks of the Times wrote glowingly about the Embroidery exhibition

“We think the time is not far off when English Ladies will be spend their spare hours in placing on our fabrics productions of their own minds or designs of the great masters of design and colour

We must not forget to look at three needlework pictures found near the embroidery, relics of better taste than of the cross stitch age, two of them being worked by Miss Condlyffe and one lent by Miss Sutton, they are well worked in the style of the old tapestries”

During the whole week the exhibition has been visited by large amounts of people and this has induced the management to keep the exhibition open by an extra week. £40 was spent on bringing the exhibition to Leek

Music was heard at the exhibition including a performance by the band of the Rifle Volunteers.

The reporter ended his report by praising the organisers of the exhibition and even from a distance of over a hundred years I can only marvel at the range of material that these three men helped to bring to Leek. I do wonder about the security and I have a vision of the Rembrandts and the rest travelling to Leek wrapped in brown paper and travelling in the Guards van.

“Mr Thomas Wardle, WS Brough and John S Winfield must be especially pleased that there arduous labour and untiring perseverance has achieved a success which a week after the exhibition seemed impossible.”

The exhibition had been poorly attended to start with and the committee had thought of making the exhibition free however on the fourth day the number of visitors increased and at the end the exhibition made £25

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Do you remember January 1967?

A report published at the beginning of 1967 sounds oddly familiar to modern ears. Leek was described by a visitor as “ being dead from the neck up”. Architects Shingler Risdon carried out an in-depth assessment of the town with sweeping proposals within its conclusion. The introduction to the report painted a gloomy picture. No major employer had been attracted to Leek since the war. The population had stayed static since the 1930s whilst other Staffordshire towns had grown. The town's young people were leaving as the town provided insufficient opportunities especially for its graduates. There were 26 empty shops in the town centre.

The report proposed a number of bold changes. The bottom end of Derby St near to the monument would be extensively re developed with a new Civic centre, a Magistrate Court, Library and Children's Health Clinic, A 20 mph one way system was devised with a new road connecting Earl Street and Southbank. Derby St would be pedestrianised and a “ new triangular road system around Derby and Hayward Street with the end of the roundabout 44 years before it was achieved.

Leek people looking to book their summer holiday in January 1967 could look at a number of choices to escape to warmer climes. The previous decade saw the start of cheap package holiday to Mediterranean resorts. Typical was a 11 day holiday to the Italian Riviera costing £34 but for the hardy there was a 14 day coach trip to Italy including stops in Brussels, Lake Lucerne, Milan, Florence, Pisa, two days in Rome, Assisi, Rimini, Venice, Innsbruck and Augsburg. The trip included 2,500 miles travel and cost £41. The people of Leek were beginning to follow a national trend as airports such as Luton developed to meeting the need to escape to the sun although Britons were only allowed to take £50 out of the country due to the economic plight of the country.

A footballing legend appeared in Leek in the month before his 52 birthday. Stanley Matthews was the manager of Port Vale and bought a young team to play Leek Town before a large crowd of 1,400. The crowd were entertained in a free scoring game in which the visitors won 6-1 . The home team included the uncompromisingly named Boote and Nutting but they were overwhelmed by the Vale. Stan bossed the game and even at this advanced age his vision and touch had not deserted him.

Young people with increasing disposable income were spending their money on themselves. John English hair stylists of Cheadle telephone number 3367 advertised their new style for 1967 – the Grecian Boy. It was promoted this: “PERFECT layer cutting. To ensure lasting style our new 1967 permanent wave with buoyancy which will give your hair that soft rippling waviness which is so feminine, A hairstyle that will require absolutely No BACKCOMBING a very little lacquer, in fact, just a flick of the brush keeps its shape”.

Amongst the bands that were getting off on the right foot in January 1967 was the Mysteries pictured in the Post and Times who had just been booked by Molloys, a London based agency. One of the members of the band was Iain Sutherland who in the 70s was playing with his brother Gavin in the Sutherland Brothers and later in Quiver. The song “Sailing” was taken up by Rod Stewart and was a number one in the UK charts for 4 weeks in 1975.

The moral turpitude of the nation exercised the mind of the Rev Ken Foster of Rushton who used the Leek Deanery magazine to examine the increased usage of a fashionable word “mini” “ Big Girls are trying to look like little girls, the Commonwealth is becoming mini in company with the motor car and a whole system of mini morals are reducing human society to a state.... surely in 1967 we will have to reverse this process and begin to grow up again before it is too late. We see history and life in great sweeps and apply the fertiliser of common sense to our stunted social economy”

Mr Bowcock- a "visionary" hoarder

Anyone who thinks that compulsive hoarding is a new phenomena as revealed in television programmes might like to hear of the case of George Bowcock of Kiln Lane. I would go as far as to say that Bowcock might be one of the earliest accounts of the compulsive disorder predating the case of the New York Collyer brothers by nearly 60 years. The curious affair of Bowcock came to public notice in the 1870s when his activities were first investigated by the authorities .Leek's sanitary commission asked him to clear up his “treasure house” as he styled it in 1873. George had “ by many years patient toil succeeded in amassing a heterogeneous collection of curiosities the like of which a man would never expect to see in the course of a life times travel”. The old man has assembled the collection in caves and passages around Kiln Lane, but he was ordered to clean up and the material was carted away. Nothing daunted he started again at 125 Mill St, since long demolished , as he reported to journalist he intended to gather another collection “ of such gigantic proportions to cast all other collections in the shade”

George in a visionary statement “ dreamed of a future world in which old pots grew on apple trees and there were mines of old cans, wheels, bottles, and crockery and where the whole world was engaged in an occupation collecting as much rubbish they could find room and a man's blissful or wretched state depended on what he collected”. George seems to have the obsessive desire of people in the 21st century to acquire stuff bang to rights. Perhaps a large statue of him could be erected naturally from re-cycled materials in Brough Park? However it proved too much for townspeople then and he was taken to court by Inspector Farrow for collecting rubbish “injurious to health” in 1876.

Shortly before the rubbish was removed a reporter called on George. He climbed into the house making his through “ an assortment of broken and cracked gallipots which encumbered the stairway” Clothes were everywhere and in the bedroom George sat on a bench encircled by pots in which he was brewing herbs. His bed was surrounded by detritus, but that did not concern him “ I only sleep here, I eat at Selina Tatton's”, he cheerfully remarked.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Scouting for Boys

Sunday the 6th June 1920 was a splendid early summer day and a day that a large proportion of the town turned out to enjoy. All the principle dignitaries of the town were present. The MP Mr Broomfield, the Nicholson’s and Lady Brocklehurst. Another distinguished visitor was an Australian born Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt who lived at Swainsley Hall who was to meet with an old comrade who had also seen conflict in the Boer War of 1899-1902.

A war hero was in town and one whose exploits exactly 20 years before had lead to national rejoicing when the news from the front was grim.

Robert Baden Powell arrived in town having lunched at the home of Mr and Mrs Horace Wardle at “Ladydale”. BP, as he was universally known, had become famous overnight in 1900 as the defender of the town of Mafeking, which had been surrounded by a Boer Army in the South African War. The war had at that stage gone very badly for the British and his valiant defence of the town made him a national hero. Following the end of his army career Baden Powell wrote “Scouting for Boys” in 1908 part of which was written in the “Isaac Walton Hotel in Dovedale. He had also stayed at the summer house of the Wardle’s at Swainsley Hall; they had owned the house prior to the Admiral taking over the house in 1909. Baden Powell being a Scout insisted that on camping in the grounds of the house.

Baden Powell was in Leek meeting with the newly formed Scout Troops part of the national obsession with the Scout Movement, which was developed following the first scout camp on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in 1907.

Baden Powell who in 1920 was aged 63 looked according to the local reporter who covered the event as “hard as nails” and very fit. Over 5,000 people assembled on the Beggars Lane Cricket field with scouts and guide groups from all over the district. There were Scouts from Mill St Mission and West St as well as Oakamoor. The Leek First Guide group attended commanded by Captain Worthington and the participants heard a drumhead service conducted by the Vicar of Leek. The Foden Band provided the music.

Baden Powell welcomed a number of ex servicemen who were parading that day who had fought in the Boer war and who had shared hard times. He went on “It was all very well to erect memorials to men who had fallen in war. The best memory was to follow the example and that people should not be trained to be soldiers but to be good citizens. Scouts in Leek belonged to a vast family extending over the Empire. I want you to honour God and the King and do good to someone every day”.

In 1920 BP was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World at the national jamboree held in London. He was to die in 1941. My mother who was a guide recalled the memorial service for all scouts in North Staffs, which was held in St Peter’s in Stoke.

Scouting continued to thrive in Leek over the decades and the local paper carried regular reports on the health of the movement. In May 1924 an anonymous correspondent “Scouter” rhapsodised on the coming of summer. One could look forward to the smell of the campfire and the early morning dip in the river and the pleasures of living the natural life as opposed to the artificiality of the modern town dweller. Scouter however was troubled

“ A number of privileges are given to scouts are now be taken away owing to the careless habits of people who preceded them and who fail to see that there careless habits are spoiling the ground for others. Scouts do not do this and the object of the scout camper is to leave as little trace as possible and he usually manages to do this. To learn to fend for yourself should be the object of every youth”

It remained a very popular activity for many young people in Leek and central to many then and up to the present. In fact during the war the Nazi’s regarded Scouting as a dangerous spy organisation and Baden Powell although a very old man by 1940 was to have been arrested if the invasion of Britain had proved successful.

In 1957 the 50th anniversary of the start of scouting was celebrated by an international jamboree in Birmingham. Scouts from many nations took part and a party of 200 were welcomed to Leek in August of that year. The event did not go to plan as Scouts from Belgium, Burma, Denmark, South Africa and the United States made the journey up by rail. In a scene reminiscent of a film star of the time Norman Wisdom the specially charted train passed Leek station at high speed past the hapless civic and scouting leaders who lined up on the platform. The newspaper report stated that the fireman happily waved at the group as the train charged through. It got close to Macclesfield before the train was recalled. It was suggested that a mix up in languages and confusion over the parties accounted for the error. Lunch was prepared at Rudyard and the Scouts were taken around the district including the Isaac Walton Hotel where BP had written part of “Scouting for Boys” in the summer of 1907. There was disappointment as many of the local mills were closed for the industrial holiday.

The tour ended in the town centre and parties of Scouts were taken on a speedy tour of Leek particularly conspicuous were the American Scouts in brilliant red jackets with the badge of the American jamboree, which they had attended earlier in the year. Cllr Stubbs mentioned the link between the States and the town when the party passed through the army camp at Blackshaw Moor where part of the American Third Army was stationed during the War.

It is easy to mock some of the sentiments expressed in “Scouting for Boys” but one has to admire a book, which had part of its birth in the Moorlands. I think that it can be strongly argued that it was a book that changed the world. And some of the views presented in it given the current debate over youth prescient. Baden Powell wanted to produce practical, self reliant and unselfish citizens and I would say as a former scout myself- 81st Milton Scouts- this is what is exactly what is required today.

In 1907 there were 20 scouts at the original camp on Brownsea Island today there are 28 million worldwide. And of the 12 Americans who walked on the moon 11 had been scouts.

Monday, 18 February 2013

A Talbot!

They could not have been more different either physically or in temperament. John Talbot the first Earl of Shrewsbury was aristocratic and rich, brutal, audacious - the English Achilles. She was young- only 19- slight, unconnected, devout and of peasant stock.  Yet fate brought them together.

2012 is the 600th anniversary of the birth of St Joan of Arc the saviour of France. Talbot is the man from whom she wrestled control of France. He had local connections. Through marriage Talbot acquired Alverton Lodge later to be named Alton Towers. He acquired his ferocious reputation initially in the Glyndwr rebellion in Wales, but it was in France that his reputation was sealed. The height of English power in France during the Hundred Years War was reached on the campaigns of Henry V most notably at Agincourt in 1415, but after his death English power began to fade. Doing his best to hold back the French advance was John Talbot- a considerable thorn in the side of the French.

The unlikely coming together occurred after 1429 when the young shepherdess appeared. Everything was against her, her class, her gender, and her youth. Convinced at the age of 13 that she was an agent of God and shortly after her 19th birthday she began her mission to drive the English from France. She convinced the heir to the French throne, the Dauphin, of her mission and set off with images of Christ to the fore to relieve the city of Orleans. Later Joan led the French to victory at the Battle of Patay at which Talbot was captured. Joan was later burned as a heretic at Rouen was and Talbot after a ransom returned and was killed in 1453 the year the war ended.. He is buried in the parish church of Whitchurch. Joan was canonised in 1920.

 Reading University has developed a database from muster rolls of medieval soldiers who fought in France. Several Corleys/ Cauleys/Cawleys from Cheshire- my ancestral home- served as “valettus” or archers. The Cheshire archers were amongst the renowned warriors of the time. It’s thrilling to think that an ancestor fought at Agincourt or saw Talbot or Henry V or indeed Joan.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Do you remember Feb 1976?

 Although it was the month of St Valentine, there was little sign of love between Tom Walker, the Regional Officer of the Building Workers union UCATT and the head teacher of Waterhouse High School Brian Nicholson. The saga began when Mr Nicholson contacted the Army as he was involved in developing the railway line at Rudyard and thought that he would use some of the pupils to help re-open the line which has since become a very popular tourism attraction. He contacted the Army, as their expertise was required to clear the area of accumulated rubble. They wrote back to Mr Nicholson informing him that he needed the approval of the relevant trade union before the work could be carried out. The Head teacher wrote and Mr Walker promptly turned him down in acerbic terms “ No doubt the Council would like the Army to complete the D road or build hospitals”. Mr Walker pointed out that there were 200,000 unemployed building workers who needed jobs. The Post and Times produced a front-page editorial attacking Walker. National newspapers then joined in reporting what they perceived as another example of union bullying. Walker was rightly outraged that private correspondence had been leaked to the media and concluded another letter to Nicholson with a furious outburst subsequently reported “ your childish ignorance disgusts me”. It’s probable that there was no exchange of cards between the parties on 14th February.

 Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday in 1976 and there was an opportunity for lovers to hasten to the Countryman club at Newtown near Longnor to see Pete Conway serenade the audience. Pete is the father of Robbie Williams who would have been exactly 2 in February 1976. North Staffs in the 70s was an excellent place to see top entertainers. Gloria Gaynor- the Queen of Soul was at Baileys in Hanley following the Fatback Band- the Spanish Hustle was a UK top ten hit in 1976 the previous week. And the Post and Times advertised that Ken Dodd was coming with his Laughter Show to the Grand in early March. No doubt the bleary-eyed audience met the local milkmen on the way home the following morning

 The year was an Olympic year the Montreal Olympics started in the summer. The Leek Athletics Club was set up on a snowy February day at Westwood High School, the international runner Roy Fowler was present to put 50 runners through their paces including Mayor Josie Heath. The establishment of the club was enthusiastically received and amongst the hopefuls was 14 year old Andrew Wilton from Longnor a junior cross-country runner. Amongst the first decisions made by the club was to select the clubs colours of green and white and fix up weekly training sessions. Kit could be obtained from Bourne's Sports which had a full page advert in the paper detailing some of the bargains that could be obtained such as a Wilson Brinylon track suit at £6 or training shoes at £3.50 O the joys of wearing brinylon for sport! . The special designed Nike running shoes were still some years off.

 It was a memorable time for 13 year old Julia Poyser of Hillswood Avenue, Leek who had won a competition to see a rehearsal of “Blue Peter” in London which starred John Noakes- not forgetting Shep- Lesley Judd and Peter Purves. The programme, which had been going since 1958, had a regular audience of 7 million in the 70s. Julia won a Blue Peter annual- there is no record of a badge in the newspaper report.

 One of the iconic films of the 1970s was on show for one night only at the Grand” Badlands” with a very young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The 70s, in my opinion,  was one of the great decades of cinema

Wife selling Longnor 1886

In July 1886 the Leek Times reported on a wife selling incident in Longnor. It would seem not exactly a rare event. Between the 18th and early 20th century there were around 400 cases of wife selling around the country. An alleged incident took place in 1854 in Leek so the Longnor case takes such instances virtually to the dawn of the 20th century.

Wife selling was regarded as an alternative way to end an unhappy marriage other than by costly divorce. It was regarded as a rural custom, which relied on the mutual consent of the parties. To give wife selling validity it was necessary to make it a witnessed event.

Locally the custom followed a set procedure. A man took his wife to market tied with a length of rope. He paid a toll that gave him the right to sell her. He then paraded her around extolling her virtues. Once the deal was agreed the parties would adjourn to a local pub and the deal sealed over a beer.

The Leek Times reported that three tinkers came to Longnor, one was playing a tin whistle the other sang and the third a woman collected pennies. A local farmer John Gould of Coats Farm, Hollinsclough whose wife had left him years before entered into negotiations to buy the woman. The sale was agreed over brown ale in the Bull’s Head. Gould then took the halter to lead his newly acquired wife into the market place so that his friends were made aware of his new acquisition.

 At this stage a local policeman intervened and the farmer was told that his purchase was illegal and that he ran the risk of being run in. It did not deter him. He said“ I do not think you can interfere with me when my wife left me. I have the right to buy another” The couple was last seen walking away from the Bull’s Head arm in arm later that evening.

By 1886 the practice was dying out the passing of divorce legislation in the middle of the 19th century spelt the end of wife selling. Before the 1857 act men whose wife had committed adultery were forced to take drastic action such as wife selling to re-gain their self-respect. It is likely though that the tradition lingered on in rural areas.

Monday, 11 February 2013


One entertainment that Hanley audience responded to warmly over a spring fortnight in 1879 was the Hague Minstrel Show which played to packed audiences at the Imperial Circus in Glass Street. In the words of the Sentinel they were undoubtedly “the largest and best troupe of minstrels in the world. “ It was not often that companies of merit appeal to a Hanley audience… If the embodiment of true talent in its highest sense then appreciation will not be lacking in this district”.

Minstrel’s shows had been part of the local entertainment scene since the 1840s. But it was Sam Hague, a British born clog dancer credited with inventing tap dancing, who created the extravaganza that was so well received by the Potteries audience. He put together his troupe in the aftermath of the American Civil war in New York: the company were made up of former slaves. They began their regular UK tours in 1866 with Liverpool being the first city visited. Although the all black cast were not welcomed and gradually Hague replaced the black performers with blacked up white minstrels. By the late 1870s they made up the majority of the cast.

The Sentinel went on “The audience were splitting their sides with laughter at the grotesque figures and extraordinary jokes”. Minstrel shows cruelly lampooned black people as lazy, child like buffoons who had a happy go lucky personality. It was an image that continued in popular culture to after the Second World War. Some of the performers were black and that night of the review special mention was made of Aaron Banks who sang “Emancipation Day” so tenderly that the audience in Hanley was moved to tears. It is to be remembered that President Lincoln’s Proclamation freeing the slaves had occurred only 16 years before. Another former slave Abe Cox performed the “Hen Convention” introducing vocal imitation of the farm yard.

What was interesting was the revenue bathed in electric light and perhaps the first use of electricity in an entertainment in the area. The light illuminated Glass Street and the neighbourhood, the Sentinel recorded. It was “first rate fun and frolic… and the audience had been exhilarated by the melody and mirth of the Minstrels”.

The minstrel tradition continued into the 20th century and my Grandmother Cawley, a regular at the Stoke Hippodrome, saw the black faced artists Eugene Stratton and GH Eliott in the 1920s

Wandering Jew

Before Rowan Williams the last bearded Archbishop of Canterbury was the Staffordshire Moorlands born Gilbert Sheldon who was the See of Canterbury from 1663 to !677. 

Sheldon recounted a curious story to the writer and gossip John Aubrey about an exotic visitor to Ipstones in the 1650s. A poor crippled man of the village was disturbed one Sunday by a knock at the door. The stranger desired a glass of beer, which was given him. The stranger asked the old man how long he had been ill and told him that he could cure him by an herbal preparation. The old man was told that he must also constantly and fervently serve God. The cure seemed to work although no one else saw the stranger who was curiously dressed in a purple shag gown wandering the streets of Ipstones. Sheldon intimated that the visitor was the Wandering Jew.

The story of the Wandering Jew commonly called Ahasuerus or sometimes Cartaphilus is an ancient one. The legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original account concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus the way to the Crucifixion was then cursed to walk the earth until Christ returns.

After his fate is declared he became a penitent Christian who did good deeds and issued pious warnings to the people he encountered

There were claims of sightings throughout Europe, since at least 1542 in Germany up to 1868 in New York. Joseph Jacobs, writing in the 1911 commented 'It is difficult to tell in any one of these cases how far the story is an entire fiction and how far some ingenious impostor took advantage of the existence of the myth'.

As a representation the character became symbolic of the fate of a benighted people oppressed over the ages. The figure of the doomed sinner, forced to wander without the hope of rest in death till the millennium, impressed itself upon the popular imagination, and passed thence into literary forms .The Wandering Jew features in work from Chaucer’s Pardoners Tale onwards. Works by Hans Christian Andersen, the German poet Schiller, Shelley and Alexander Dumas all feature him.

Two pieces of Victorian engineering

I visited the Eiffel Tower recently. It was my first visit. I was staggered by this wonderful piece of 19th century engineering. The design is truly iconic but strangely was deeply unpopular when first erected. However its status is beyond question. Over 200 million people have visited since it was opened in 1889. Closer to home there is an engineering triumph of the period equally as impressive as M Eiffel construction and its birthplace was Oakamoor.

In the Victorian period Thomas Bolton’s of Oakamoor manufactured submarine telegraph cables. During the 1850s they were involved in several schemes but the greatest engineering challenge was to lay a transatlantic cable. The Atlantic Telegraph Company was formed to lay a cable from North America to Europe by 1862. And Bolton’s who were contracted to quickly produce the copper cable needed.

The first cable was produced at Oakamoor works in 1856. Over 108 tons of copper was used to produce 20,000 miles of cable within 5 months. It was eventually laid and connected and a message between Queen Victoria and President Buchanan of the US was transmitted on 17 August 1858.  However technical difficulties such as poor conductivity led to only intermittent use.

Undaunted, Bolton’s continued to perfect there manufacturing techniques. In September 1863 a new order for 200 tons of copper wire was placed for a second Atlantic cable. Brunel’s Great Eastern ship was hired to lay the cable and on 27 July 1866 the laying was completed.

Almost immediately, the cable opened for business but only the rich could afford it -- the initial rates were a startling 10 shillings a letter at a time that a monthly wage for a labourer was a few £s

As with the overland cables, undersea cables were laid rapidly. Within 20 years there were 107,000 miles of undersea cables linking in the first global communication. The original cables stopped working in the 1870s but by this time four other cables were laid. It is interesting to note that even though later cables could carry large numbers of signals at the same time, it was not until the 1960s that the first communication satellites offered a serious alternative to the cable the development of which owes something to the workers of Oakamoor

Banking Crisis 1873

The present economic turmoil has led people to look at previous economic crashes with particular interest shown in the depression of the 1930s. In reality what has to go back to the late 19th century to denote a recession as deep and long as this one. The Banking Panic of 1873, which began  the world wide Great Depression that lasted 20 years, bears many similarities with the present economic crisis and it was a North Staffordshire born man- Henry Clews- was deeply involved in the drama

 The son of a Cobridge potter he arrived in America in 1853 and started out as a clerk in a firm of wool importers. After few years, he tried to become a stockbroker but his efforts to gain admittance to Wall Street’s inner circle were snubbed until 1857

Clews became responsible for the marketing of the US debt during the Civil War. The reward for the political advice that he gave General Ulysses S Grant during his presidential campaigns was the conventional one: He was offered a role in Government. However he too was engulfed in the Panic of 1873

 The roots of the Bank fright were based on an expansion of credit; land speculation and lack of controls rather like today

The panic here started on a Thursday, Sept. 18th, when a major bank collapsed the result of speculation in an ill-conceived railway development. The bank suspended payment on the notes it had issued akin to declaring bankruptcy. The announcement was devastating to American finance houses.

The following Sunday President Grant came to New York, spending the day in consultation with, Henry Clews and other prominent business men to effect a solution. Businessmen flocked to the Fifth Avenue Hotel declaring that unless the government came to the rescue nothing could save the country from ruin. Of the country's 364 railroads, 89 went bankrupt following the crash. A total of 18,000 businesses failed. Unemployment reached 14% by 1876. Construction work halted, wages were cut, and real estate values and corporate profits vanished. One of the casualties of the crash was Clew’s own bank
Clews bounced back in just four years. By 1877, he had paid his debts and formed Henry Clews & Co, eventually taking over the entire space of the Mills Building opposite the stock exchange, an edifice that still exists today. From then on, Clews prospered as an investment banker and came to be known, like Warren Buffett is known today, as ‘The Sage of Wall Street.


Someone told me about an incident from over a hundred years ago that happened at the Powis Arms in Wetley Rocks. The publican had been carrying out an affair and the women of the community had decided to subject the miscreant to “rough music” a type of community humiliation. Pots and kettles were beaten and catcalls were directed against the man to shame him. A similar incident crops up in Lark Rise to Candleford.  The ceremony might also include the riding of the victim upon a pole or a donkey; masking and dancing ... mime or street drama upon a car or platform; the miming of a ritual hunt; or the parading and burning of effigies; or, indeed, various combinations of all these. But the purpose of “rough music” was to inflict upon people shame for violating the standards of the community

Whatever happened to the notion of shame? The reason I ask is that an incident in the recent election is seared into my memory. I attempted to give a leaflet to a man who rather rudely rebuffed me in a very superior way. I later found out that the man had been found guilty of a serious sexual crime. How could it be that such an individual should adapt such a haughty way with me given the nature of his crime? At one end of the scale there are people supposedly on incapacity benefits running marathons, and what a Councillor in Stoke who got returned for his ward regularly despite downloading child pornography. At the other end there are Members of the House of Lords who resume their seats after being imprisoned for fraud and Lord Archer who effortlessly moves from chokey to fundraising for the Tory Party- what is going on?  

There was a time when public figures who had misbehaved, or simply made serious mistakes, went off quietly, and without complaint.

The Tory Cabinet Minister John Profumo, who resigned in 1963 over a scandal involving the prostitute Christine Keeler, devoted much of the rest of his life to good works in London’s East End

Today the only thing our society tells us to be ashamed of, it seems, is shame itself.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Do you remember Feb 1957?

 Earth tremors hit the area on Tuesday 12th February at 3.45 in the afternoon. The force of the quake caused the office of the Post and Times to rock and light fittings swung. A woman in Abbots Road was flung from her chair, passengers on a bus on Blackshaw Moor were shaken and perhaps Fred Bailey of Alder House, Endon experienced the luckiest escape when a 9-foot chimney stack collapsed at the back of the house. No one was injured although Keele University seismic unit recorded the movement of the earth. Students of the geology of the area would not have been surprised, as earth tremors in the area have been recorded since the 16th century. In September 1777 James Boswell the biographer of Doctor Johnson witnessed an earthquake when he stopped in Leek on the way to visit Johnson in Ashbourne. The intensity of the quake led to the congregation of St Edward’s Church running into the streets.

 Leek’s welcomed its only Hungarian refugee who began work as a textile technologist at the Churnet Works. The 38 year old man had escaped into Austria with his two small boys and his wife following the failure of the uprising against occupying Soviet forces the previous October. The Hungarians had suffered much repression since the end of the Second World War with 1 in 3 of the population falling foul of the authorities. The revolt against the Communist regime was bloodily crushed and many fled including the Leek man's family. A local Councillor Gilbert Tatton helped the unnamed man find work and he was looking to bring his family from London to Leek. He was lodging in Beggars Lane.

 The newspaper celebrated the work of the local rural postman. It focused on Fred Ward who was not only a joiner but also a school caretaker, wheelwight, painter and village postman in Meerbrook. Fred who had been doing the job for 24 years was a very fit 64-year-old. He had to be as delivering letters meant a 12-20 mile walk visiting 35 farms daily. Fred was a feature of the landscape and local farmers sang his praises. He carried out other tasks for the farmers, which were not part of his official duties such as passing on messages. One farmer thought that he deserved a medal for his efforts. Fred Ward seemed to be a model of public service, an integral part of the community. Post Office of 2013 take note.

 An intriguing lecture was given by Rev Daniel Rashid the vicar of Onecote at the Swan in Leek. The vicar was unusual, as he was a convert from Islam. He spoke on his former religion to the local Rotary Club giving an in depth analysis of the history of Islam and the role of the prophet Mohammed. We now live in an age of mutual suspicion between Islam and the West and its worth noting that in 1956 the British, French and Israel had been involved in conflict with a Muslim country Egypt. It is interesting why the Vicar abandoned his previous religion and the pressures he might have faced in doing so.

 Ridgways of Longton had a large advert in the Post and Times featuring the makes of motor bike they were selling. The names were a roll call of a great industry. Recall these names and weep at the fate of British manufacturing since the 1950s: - BSA, Triumph, Royal Enfield, Frances Barnett, Vincent, James and Douglas.

 On the subject of 50s icons one was appearing at the Majestic James Dean in “Rebel without a cause”. The film had already legendary status amongst teenagers and the newspaper recognised the mythical impact that the dead film star- he had died 18 months previously- had on the youth of the area


One piece of data that caught my eye in the report of the findings of the 2011 UK census was the state of the coal mining industry. The mining and quarrying industry as a whole employs 46,478 people, which is down 12,913 on 2001 figure.

The decline of the coal mining industry has been well documented but it comes as a shock to see the extent of the fall. The coal industry reached its peak in 1913, when 280 million tons were produced, of which 90 million were exported. The industry employed 1.3 million men and boys.

The Staffordshire Moorlands had worked coal seams in Cheadle, Biddulph and even at Quanford. Even the names of places speak of the  presence of mining in the area. I was driving toward Cheddleton and drove down Coalpit Lane, which followed down from Wetley Moor. Small coal pits existed around the moor.

Conditions were dreadful for much of the time until nationalisation in the late 1940s, but an insight into what people had to put up with can be gauged by an account of a local Miner writing during a strike in 1892

“I have been a miner for 30 years. At 12 I was sent down the pit and did not see the light from one weekend to another. My wages started at 7d a day. The mines were owed by Mr Bateman who was very kind but paid low wages. There was no union and everyone was frightened of Mr Bateman and no one dared to ask for more. Many a time I have come home from work scarcely able to put one leg in front of another and milk and meal was all my widowed mother could afford. My father was killed when I was very young working in the 8-foot seam at Williamson’s.

Times have changed since then but if it were not for the Combination we would be back in those “ good old days”. We are blamed for trying to protect our wages, but no one says a word against the masters protecting their capital. We have a good a right to look after ourselves as anyone else. Some people think that the colliers are getting a great deal of money, but those making such fuss would not like to exchange work and wages with them”

Sunday, 3 February 2013

1930s- the Gathering Storm

In 1934 the Bradford born writer and play write JB Priestley came to Stoke as he journeyed around researching a book that described Britain in the 1930s. He had seen the new industries that were opening up in the South of England and he was obviously aware of the huge textile mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire and now he was in the Potteries to document the area for posterity. He was not impressed by the physical geography of the area. The region was an unrelentingly grim one, an ugly work a day place. He could not find a City Centre only a collection of small towns full of mean houses in equally mean streets. What intrigued Priestley used to the gaunt vastness of the factories of the West Riding was the littleness of the factories and the major public buildings. It reminded him of Lilliput. The smoke belching out of the bottle kilns were in his opinion a monstrous intrusion on the landscape.

The Potteries were for him as a man himself from the provinces was that he found it insular, self-contained and within the newly created City Of Stoke on Trent there was little to raise the spirits.

However he was fascinated by the pottery industry as he saw as still essentially a craft industry with a contented workforce. It was still dominated by small family run companies. But one point that the Yorkshire man made was that a place like Stoke was “ no place to be idle in” “For a potter must either be in work or in misery”

Priestley ended his piece by hoping that “one day Stoke on Trent would emerge a real city, spacious and gay, high and white”

 Priestley was not the only well-known writer in the area in the 1930s. It was something of a vogue for writers to travel into the depressed industrial areas to judge for themselves the misery and poverty. In 1936 George Orwell the public school educated scion of colonial public servants came through North Staffordshire on his way to Lancashire. He had been commissioned to write a piece of extended reportage on the social conditions in the north of England. The research would eventually produce “The Road to Wigan Pier”. Orwell being an observant writer picked up material that he hoped to use latter in the book as he progressed northwards. He passed through the area on foot in February 1936. It was bitterly cold as he came through Hanley and Burslem. He noted in his journal that the streets were full of poorly dressed and desolate looking people. The shops looked meagre and were scantily provisioned.

 Orwell stayed a night at the Youth Hostel beside Rudyard Lake. The lake was frozen over and ice had formed into blocks which gave off a clanking sound as they collided into one another. Cigarette packets bobbed up and down amongst the ice floes and Orwell felt it was one of the most depressing images he had ever witnessed. The Youth Hostel was freezing and lit only by candles. It was so cold that he thawed his hands over a fire in the morning to get warm. He walked on towards Macclesfield arriving in Manchester penniless by the evening. He pawned his scarf and spent the night in a doss house before meeting people who put him in contact with people from Wigan.

Both men were drawn to Stoke as even then it was considered an area that had the history of being dominated by one industry and was finding it difficult in adapting to the new economic conditions of the time.

In October 1929, the collapse of the Stock Market in New York heralded the Great Depression. The ensuing American economic recession shook the world: World trade contracted prices fell and governments faced financial crisis as the supply of credit dried up. Many countries adopted an emergency response to the crisis by erecting trade barriers which worsened the crisis by further hindering global trade.

The effects on the industrial areas of Britain were immediate and devastating, as demand for British products collapsed. By the end of 1930, unemployment had more than doubled from 1 million to 2.5 million and exports had fallen in value by 50%. Government revenues contracted as national income fell while the cost of assisting the jobless rose. The industrial areas were hardest hit, along with the mining districts. London and the south-east of England were hurt least. The political centre of the country was therefore most remote from the impact of the recession..

In Stoke in the worst year of the recession 1932 30% of those employed in the pottery industry were unemployed. The situation did improve during the decade and by 1936 the proportion did fall by to 17%. The area remained depressed and unemployment remained an intractable problem. Lowering tariffs and imports from other parts of the world continued to put the Pottery industry under the greatest of pressure. The courage and stoicism of the Potters suffering from the Coalition Governments indifference was noted by the Daily News in August 1932

And never has the true kindness been manifested than today, sharply silhouetted as it is against the background of industrial gloom

Frankly the Potters admit that the land flowing with protectionist milk and honey is not theres. Long as it been promised them. Their fathers had waited in vain to posses it and found it a barren desert. Indeed under the Government some of the oasis that was already there’s has been despoiled by the enemy.
Under such circumstances it was understandable that people might look to the political extremes and the 30s offered a number of choices to those looking at the edges of politics.. Oswald Mosley believed himself the man for the moment. The Leader of the British Union of  which were  also known as the Blackshirts from their clothing believed his time had arrived.

Mosley knew North Staffordshire well. He spent some of his child hood at Rolleston Hall near Uttoxeter. A First World War hero much was expected of Mosley whose dashing good looks and political connections marked him out as potential Prime Ministerial material. He was a man in a hurry and despised the existing political structure having been a Conservative MP and then joining Labour where he became a Birmingham MP entering the cabinet of the Labour Government in 1929. He was desperate to do something about unemployment and published the Mosley memorandum in 1930, which advocated public works and increased borrowing to finance the programme. The Labour Party leadership rejected it and Mosley resigned the Labour Party in disgust. By the early 1930s he was looking across to Italy and the fascist state of Mussolini as inspiration to start a new political party- the British Union of Fascists to tackle many of the social problems that beset Britain.

Stoke on Trent was one of his power bases. He was assisted in this by his first wife Lady Cynthia Mosley MP for Stoke in the late 1920s and adored by many local people for charm. The City became the location for an early meeting of the British Union of Fascists. An well-advertised meeting was held in the King’s Hall in Stoke in October 1932. On the night of the meeting a packed hall listened intently as Mosley explained the objects of the BUF. In Government he laid before the country a set of ideas to meet an emergency but the established parties would not accept them. These ideas ‘had now been developed into a permanent programme, and a political system and philosophy of life which he believed could save the future of this country’. Mosley was always a mesmerising speaker
The party did well and recruited many members in the early part of the decade. The first BUF branch headquarters in Stoke-on-Trent was at 84 Normacot Road, Longton, opened in October 1933. A second office in Stoke at 14 Glebe Rd followed.
There was little opposition to the BUF in Stoke in this early period. There was a very small Communist Party in the City were vociferously opposed to Mosley but the main political parties choose to ignore the BUF.
There were about 500 individual members and additional 500 supporters. It was successful at recruiting school children who were organised into a youth wing.
On the 25th March 1934 the BUF held two very successful public meetings in the Potteries. Mosley spoke at an evening meeting at the Kings Hall and earlier the Director of Research for the BUF William Joyce, later to be known as the executed traitor Lord Haw Haw, spoke at a packed meeting at Longton Town Hall. He was given an unbroken hearing as he explained Fascism. Joyce could be a very witty speaker as a confrontation at a meeting around that time proves. He was heckled by a middle aged woman who shouted “ You bastard” as Joyce rose to speak. His answer “ Not now mother” suggests a quickness of mind. Mosley spoke later that day to a 4,000 strong audience.

   According to the Sentinel journalist covering the event a larger venue would have been filled without difficulty.  Local people flocked to hear the fascist leader. The hall was filled long before the meeting was due to start, there being a large queue waiting early in the evening. Mosley was given an enthusiastic reception. The meeting passed orderly and uninterrupted throughout.
Membership and interest in the movement in the area was broken following the violence at a large public meeting at Olympia in London in June 1934. Nearly 1000 Stoke BUF members and supporters arrived in the capital in 60 buses. Many of them found themselves caught up in the riot in and around the hall as a group of around 4,000 anti fascists laid siege to the venue. One Stoke participant at the rally Albert John Buckley, aged 17 of 64 New Street, Hanley, sustained serious internal injuries when struck across the stomach with a flagpole in the melee.
The local BUF membership suffered a further attack when reports began to circulate that the  centres were hot beds of sexual activity.. A clean up was ordered and a senior member of the Blackshirts as the BUF was commonly known as arrived in Stoke to organise a purge of the local party. AK Chesterton- a relative of GK Chesterton the writer- was alarmed to find that the local centres had degenerated into a drinking club with separate bars labelled Officers and Blackshirts. He closed the clubs.
Mosley however continued to be a draw. On the Saturday evening of 10 November 1935 the fascist leader addressed yet another capacity 4,000 strong audience at the King’s Hall, Stoke. The local press reported that during his speech Mosley told the audience that Jews controlled the City of London which in turn dictated to whichever party was returned to Westminster and used it ruthlessly and relentlessly against Britain’s interest.
Meanwhile growing hostility to the BUF was evident in the streets of Stoke on Trent. A Remembrance Day wreath laying ceremony at the cenotaph in Kingsway was disrupted when local Blackshirts were subject to booing and jostling Incidentally my mother as a child recalls the disturbance as innocent passer-by were in danger of being caught up in the violence.. It was a similar experience when out door meetings held in  Market Sq, Hanley. sometimes required the police to part local fascists and communists..
The last gasp of fascism occurred in April 1938 when a Kings Hall meeting, which Mosley spoke, was violently disrupted by local Communists. Local BUF activists had ascertained before the meeting that any trouble could be contained. The violence inside and outside the hall proved him wrong. Several thousand people turned up to demonstrate against the presence of the leader of the black shirts. The worst incidents of the night, however, occurred after the meeting.  A large number of anti-fascists assembled outside and waited for Mosley to attempt to leave. When he emerged with a body of escorts, in a portion of the crowd broke through a police cordon and rushed the fascists and fighting continued for quite a while before the police succeeded in restoring order. But it was the up turn in the local economy that doomed the BUF in Stoke. At the time of Mosley’s final visit to Stoke-on-Trent as fascist leader in 1938 pottery exports from the start of the year had increased impressively and the need for a radical right solution to economic problems seemed unnecessary.
One boost for the local industry occurred with eagerly awaited Coronation of Edward VIII intended for the spring of 1937. Edward was very much a play boy prince succeeded his respected father George V in January 1936. However by December a constitutional crisis occurred when Edward let it be known that he intended to marry his girlfriend the American divorcee Wallis Simpson . The Government lead by the Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the Church of England made it clear that they could not allow the relationship to continue as it would jeopardise Edward’s position as Head of the Church of England. The Church could not recognise Mrs Simpson as Queen as a divorced woman. While the crisis developed one man who was willing to support Edward was Oswald Mosley who was living with his second wife Diana at Wotton Lodge in the Staffordshire Peak District. Mosley had married Diana Mitford at a secret ceremony in Germany in October 1936. Hitler was one of the guests. However his assistance was not required and Edward abdicated to be replaced by his brother who ascended the throne as George VI. Although the institution of the Monarchy shook it quickly resumed its popularity and it was the intentions of the American woman which questioned in that most insightful of arenas the school playground’s of Stoke. My mother recalled children’s song of the time

Who’s that coming down our street?
Its Mrs Simpson and her smelly feet.
She’s been married before
And now she’s knocking on Eddy’s door.
The change  for the Coronation caused consternation in the Pottery industry as the Sentinel opined
Of course mugs and beakers, which are either in the biscuit or glost stage, will be capable of utilisation for King George VI designs but losses must be sustained in respect of the great quantity of lithographic sheets which have been printed already

 Mr Gilbert of Drubbery Lane, Longton in the Letters page had a solution

I suggest that every family in the Potteries and elsewhere should endeavour to buy a Coronation Mug bearing the image of Edward VIII

In this way we can assist the manufactures, wholesalers and shopkeepers to clear their stocks and reduce the burden that has been placed on them.

But the new King and his family had the good will of the people of North Staffordshire and in an editorial in the Sentinel commenting on these tumultuous events remarked

In all we say let there be charity, in all we do let there be unity. Then the Empire will save its soul.

We have a constant vision. The happy family, the beloved little Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. We are confident of a happy future.

But already the vision was beginning to darken