Tuesday, 2 April 2013

1960s and North Staffs

The mood at the beginning of the decade was cautiously optimistic. A Sentinel editorial ran;

“The Nation depends on food we import and the goods we export. Six years of a Socialist Government produced the welfare state and nearly brought us to our knees. But we can look to the future with a measure of confidence, which would have been considered imprudent at any other age in our history”.

The “Beat generation” caused some concern. Local Churchmen worried that religion held no interest. One such young man might be Stephen Seadon of Bentilee aged 14 who went missing was later discovered working as a fairground attendant at Rhyl with “Mother 1960” tattooed on his arms.

There was a problem recruiting GPs to the area-an issue highlighted by City Coroner Hails was the high number of industrial related dust deaths.

A wallaby which had escaped from the Roaches was caught in Penfleet Ave Meir.

In August the National Waterway Conference was held in Stoke. As a 5-year-old one of the first things I can recall was the brightly decorated barges.


 Education radically changed in City Schools. Blurton and Willfield schools were set to become the first comprehensives. The Chairman of the City Councils Education Committee Bob Cant said “ One cannot bind any future committee for all time but as far as the future is concerned we do not propose to change these timetables.

In Newcastle the jobless figures continued to fall and labour shortages existed in the mining and building industry. Full employment was a characteristic of the period.

The major decision made by the City Council in April 1961 was the Longton development reputed to cost £500,000. There was some controversy. Mr Cornes a local businessmen believed that the Council had acted suspiciously. He felt that they’d rejected a stronger business application and forced through a dubious one. Leader of the Council Albert Bennett refuted these claims arguing that Longton had an excellent deal.

A new Medical Centre was planned for Hartshill.


Lewis’s new Store opened in Hanley but the iconic statue  “Man of Fire” was erected the following year. There was a concerted effort throughout this time to make Hanley the regional shopping centre.

Housing remained problematic. Tunstall couple Mr and Mrs Cox of Pittshill were eager to swap their purchased house in which they lived with their 3 small children for a council house in Fegg Hayes.

Racial discrimination sometimes flared up. Crewe landlord Mr Bramhall of the Chetwode Arms barred coloured people. Fortunately the towns people backed a campaign by West Indian born Ephraim Brown to reverse the ban.

October 9th 1962 was a prestigious day as the Victoria Theatre opened in an old cinema in Hartshill. The first play was “The birds and the well wisher” by William Norfolk. The company was helped on its way by a £50 cheque from actress Hermione Gingold.

In October Little Richard played to enthusiastic crowds at Trentham Gardens.

The month was nearly the last for humanity as the Soviet Union and the United States almost went to war over the siting of soviet missiles on Cuba. President Kennedy issued a series of ultimatums to Soviet President Kruschev. October the 24th was the peak of the crisis. The Soviets relented and the possibility of a nuclear war passed.

AE Glaze of Burslem used the Sentinel Letters page to state that  “ October 24th was the blackest day in the annals of the human race, and by an unimaginable divine miracle a nuclear holocaust was avoided. Certainly the narrowest of squeaks closely avoided. Let us pray”

On a lighter note Mrs Shenton’s budgie went missing in late September from its Blurton home. Mrs Shenton was originally from Athens and the bird spoke Greek, a favourite phrase being” It always rains in England”.


The winter of 1962 –3 was the second worst of the 20th century. Heavy snowfalls in January ensured hardship for many people in the area. Tean suffered black outs, Bradnop farmer Mr Chadwick of Birch Lea Farm assisted 25 travellers caught in a heavy snow storm on the Ashbourne Rd. Trentham Lake was iced over and locals enjoyed the floodlit skating. The canals were ice bound and children fed the swans at Whieldon Rd- I was one of them.

Saturday January 26th 1963 was an ordinary day as far the Sentinel was concerned. The Old Nortonians held their AGM, Biddulph Allotment Growers held a social event and the annual dinner dance of the Assistant Colliery Managers was held at the North Stafford Hotel. However a few yards away The Beatles were playing the in the area for the first time. It went unnoticed.

Backstage at the King's Hall after the gig Lennon and McCartney began writing Misery, which would subsequently appear on The Beatles' debut Please Please Me.

The Rolling Stones also played in North Staffs and appeared at Leek Town Hall on Christmas Eve.

It was a good year for Stoke City who won promotion to the First Division propelled by the 48-year-old maestro Stanley Matthews.

Politicians believed that Britain had to keep ahead of competitors with technology. In June 1963 Sir John Cockcroft the creator of the hovercraft opened a science wing at North Staffs College of Technology in Shelton.

On 22nd November 1963 the news of President Kennedy’s assassination reached the UK. The murder and the televised shooting of Lee Havey Oswald the following Sunday shocked the British public.

A sensational local murder occurred in 1963 when a well known operatic singer beat to death the wife of her lover. The body of Mary Walton was dumped in the back of her car at Mow Cop. However the murder had been committed at the Rudyard home of Gwen Massey- a strikingly attractive 34-year-old brunette. Massey met Frank Walton a well-known singer at a concert in Congleton and this liaison was to have fatal consequences. Mary Walton and Gwen Massey met at the Plough in Endon and later drove to Massey’s.


Port Vale’s attendance record was shattered by the 40,000 plus crowd that watched the FA Cup replay in late January 1964 against Liverpool. The Merseysiders won a pulsating match.

A period came to an end on 4th March when the Loop line carried its last passenger. The railway was a splendid manifestation of Victorian engineering. Men who had worked for the railway for years were interviewed. Harry Cooper of Porthill who had worked at local stations since 1911 recalled Mr Cratchley at Tunstall Railway station with his tailcoat and his fresh red carnation.

 The M6 reached North Staffordshire. The link was opened in May.

It was a glorious period for club cricket in North Staffs. The West Indian stars Gary Sobers and Wes Hall played for Norton.

This year was an Election year when a resurgent Labour party led by Harold Wilson narrowly beat a Tory Government beset by scandal. The election was fought in a spirited fashion. Keele University students heckled Tory Home Secretary Henry Brooke. Local politicians made promises. Labour candidate in Stoke South Ellis Smith campaigned for Ford to open a factory locally. As a 9 year old I did my bit for Labour’s cause by delivering leaflets for Barnett Stross in Old Mill St, Stoke.


The Torch opened in Tunstall. A reviewer drooled that the young people “ in gay clusters admired the polished golden parquetry of the dance floor which was soon to feel their leather”.

April and a testimonial game for Stanley Matthews. I went to the game and recall Matthews being carried off by enthusiastic colleagues to the music of the Dagenham Girl Pipers.
Newcastle born Jackie Trent had a Number 1 hit with “Where are you now?” in May.

There was an unusual event in July when the antics of Leek MP Harold Davies was the subject of a question at a US Presidential Press Conference. The President was Lyndon Johnson, and the extraordinary incident was a secret peace mission to war torn North Vietnam undertaken by Davies, an expert on the politics of the area at the behest of Harold Wilson.

It was a busy period for shopping centres. The Bennett Precinct in Longton, a controversial development was opened. The Sentinel believed that this visionary project was a “challenge to the long hampered trading instincts of a town that refused to be vanquished”

Education was felt to be vital but one young Shelton’s resident enthusiastic study backfired literally. Safebreaker Eric Dwyne got 8 years following an aborted raid on Twyford’s Factory. According to the police he learned to make explosives from books borrowed from local libraries.


Not everyone felt optimistic about the Potteries. Richard Crossman, Housing Minister in the re-elected Labour Government wrote” if we spent billions on this ghastly collection of slag heaps, pools of water, old potteries, deserted coal mines there would be nothing to show for the money”

It was also the year that Clayton schoolgirl appeared on ITV’s Opportunity Knocks compered by Hughie Green. The 14-year-old singer, a pupil of Seabridge School had already tasted fame by coming 3rd in Keele University Rag Queen competition. She was introduced on the show by Bill Morris of the Place. She hoped to emulate Julie Andrews.

If 1966 is known for one thing it is England’s World Cup triumph. However what is apparent is how low key the event is reported in the local media. The sports pages of the Sentinel had greater coverage of the Test series against the West Indies than they did of the progress of the national football team. One football related event that did make the front page was Sir Stanley Matthews’s narrow escape. Sir Stan, knighted the previous year, crashed into a lorry at Brown Edge. Fellow passenger, former Stoke City player Jackie Mudie had to crawl through the rear window of the car. Sir Stan watched the final from a hospital bed at the NSRI.

 Holidaymakers paused their outward journeys to watch the game as the AA reported light traffic.  The Sentinel showed a group of pensioners about to catch a coach to the North Wales coast at the fully operational new Hanley Bus Station.

In Smallthorne the pub “La Verdo Stelo” (Esperanto for Green Star) was opened. A strong advocate for the language Alderman Horace Barks was present. In the pub helpful Esperanto phrases were available including “ I’ll have a pint of Bass”.


An important event of the year was the electrification of the main line railway completed in March. A new route was blasted through the rock for the Harecastle Tunnel. Over 18,000 lbs. of gelignite was used in the process. A new signal box was built and £41,000 spent on refurbishment.

On 2nd April the Prime Minster Harold Wilson gave an address to party loyalists at the Victoria Hall. I was present and cannot recall anything about the speech. I do recall the cigarette smoke and the hecklers carrying placards against the Vietnam War. Wilson spoke about the slums of the city “ What is the answer to our Coronation St houses that lack basic amenities”?

A bizarre event was witnessed in Bentilee in early September. Several saw an orange disc with bright red glowing dome as it flew low overhead and apparently landed in a nearby field. No sound was heard, but one witness felt "wind" as the UFO passed overhead. A fiery glow was seen in a field- the apparent landing site. Police were called, but the light disappeared. Witnesses saw a luminous object rise from the field, hover, and then disappear "in a fraction of a second.”

A grim event hit many farmers in North Staffordshire in November. The foot and mouth outbreak badly impacted on the area. Farms in the Staffordshire Moorlands were particularly affected and 91 cows were killed at Bagnall.


Radio Stoke, one of the first BBC local radio stations, began in early March. The opening jingle was the clinking of a cup and plate. Most of the staff including John Abberley were locally born. The BBC were rather wary of the first community radio stations and they refused to underwrite it. The City Council paid the running costs of the station for its first two years. Stoke Council felt it was an excellent medium to promote the City. The station broadcast for 4 hours only.

Immigration was a major issue with the arrival in the country of Asians who were thrown out of Kenya. The influx of citizens from the New Commonwealth caused concern expressed in the Letter Pages.
“Immigration should not be curbed but stopped altogether”, wrote Worried of Harpfields.

New estates flourished in the late 60s with private housing being built in many areas. In Stoke large estates were built in Trentham and elsewhere and in the Moorlands Wimpey houses were built in Tean and the large Westwood development completed in Leek. In Cheddleton a buyer could get a 95% mortgage and a 3-bedded new house could be had for £3000.

The effect of the breathalyser introduced at the end of 1967 had an instantaneous impact on road accidents. They fell by 20%.

The late 60s were a time for people who did not want to end up in little boxes. The alternative culture even spread to North Staffordshire. In the summer the Leek Post and Times carried a story of three people moving through the area who were keen to live a more natural life free from the stresses of modern technology. Robert Lewis from Suffolk 22, Vashti Bunyan 23, from London and To Copnall 20, lived in a horse drawn bread van that had been painted green and yellow. They and their horse Bess and a collie dog lived for a time in the Combe Valley. Their ultimate aim was to settle in the Highlands. One of the company, Vashti was a musician who since that year has achieved cult status and is still producing acclaimed records.

The new permissiveness did not please everyone. Leek Council took against a film version of the James Joyce novel “Ulysses”. Councillors condemned it and one Cllr Fisher complained “ If I used the words from Ulysses and shouted them in Derby St. I would be arrested and rightly so”. A sprightly correspondence developed in the letter pages of the paper although perhaps the most insightful comment came from Enid Clews of Onecote who thought that the film was “ boring and a waste of 2/6”.


 Stoke on Trent had the greatest area of derelict land in the country and the plans to redress this problem led to highly imaginatively schemes. Ministers were taken on a tour of the proposed developments at Hanley Forest Park, Westport Lake, Berryhill and Fenton.

Moonscape perhaps adequately describes the industrial scenery of urban North Staffordshire. The real thing dominated the world media in July when Neil Armstong set foot on the lunar surface. No one who witnessed this could fail to appreciate the significance of this epoch making event.

The need for a trained young work force was one of the recurring themes of the decade. Northern College in Burslem was opened by 1967 to be followed 2 years later by an expanded Elms College at Shelton . The college had all the modern conveniences and a catering and hairdressing salon gave students practical experience. The opportunity to be trained and earning a living was an attractive proposition for youngsters. The provision of post 16 education was completed with the opening by Prime Minster Harold Wilson of the Sixth Form College in Fenton the following year.

It was not all progress. On July 17th 1969, in the same week of the Moon landing, more than 100 Mods and Rockers clashed in Cobridge and Burslem. Surprisingly no one was hurt. The Mods assembled by ABC Cinebowl in Hanley. Meanwhile the Rockers were outside a café in Burslem. The Rockers marched down Waterloo Rd. The police had a difficult time keeping the gangs apart. The police who at one point threatened to be overwhelmed drew truncheons. At some point dogs were called in. The Mods with mini skirted girls in tow moved to Vale Place where the police stopped them. Magistrates who met the following day took a dim view and heavy fines were administered on 6 young men from Blurton, Abbey Hulton and Bentilee.

The abiding concern for the Sentinel in the closing months of the decade was the tension between capital and labour. I witnessed this myself. In the summer of 1969 the Post Office Engineering Union went on strike. It was the first time the union had taken industrial action- the consequence of a pay dispute. The strike was unanimous in the Potteries and all 700 staff were out. The telephone service was 99% unionised and the union organiser was my father who spent part of the holiday co-ordinating the action. The conflict between authority and the unions was to take centre stage in the coming decade.