Monday, 26 March 2018

Stoke on Trent

Oh heck, if I don't get this posted it'll be April.   And I hope the weather will be better then!  Since I last posted we have had more snow, which was quite pretty, and we also stayed in a particularly beautiful part of Staffordshire - Consall Forge,  not far from Stoke on Trent.  


At Consall the woods were beautiful in a wintry way but there was very little sign of Spring. I was struck by the almost fluorescent green of the moss on the trees. 


The purpose of the visit to the Stoke area was a reunion. I'm not usually one for reunions, but I liked this one. They'd been an entertaining bunch even when you saw them day after day, and although some have sadly passed away, it was fun for us survivors to meet again, hear the funny stories and see what had become of everyone. 

But isn't it strange what people end up doing?  I still remember my surprise in my late twenties when I met up with a couple of friends from art school. Ten years ago, one of them had been a brooding passionate genius wedded to his sculpture. Ten years later he was a schoolteacher and said that the most exciting thing in his life was the weekly trip to Sainsbury's!  But another friend, who'd never seemed interested in very much, had become rich, and was working as a jeweller, creating amazing portrait rings for wealthy people.   Have you ever had any surprises at reunions?  

 Anyway, back to Stoke. Here's a locally made plaque by Johnson Tiles showing the city's history and created by children under an artist's direction.  See the bottle kilns on the left? 


It's in the railway station, where we arrived after a remarkably cheap though slow train ride from London - just £8.  You might have seen the recent Guardian documentary series of short films on Stoke and if you view them or read this you may get an idea of the place.  Like so many ex industrial towns, Stoke has an interesting history and some great buildings and good people.   When I lived there, heavy industry had made it spectacularly hideous, but it was still a true working landscape with a very strong identity. 

Now, nearly all that's gone. I don't think anyone denies that the city needs something big to replace the the pottery, coalmining and steel industries that used to be at its heart. Walking out of the handsome station, I was glad to see the North Stafford Hotel still stood opposite. It was built in the beautiful neo-Elizabethan/Jacobean style which characterised the local railway company in Victorian days.  Doesn't it look like a mansion?


The hotel's still there and on the card you can see a statue at the bottom left which is also still there today.  It shows Josiah Wedgwood, who set Stoke on course to be the centre of pottery making for two centuries.  


We stayed with old friends and visited some local pubs.  My favourite has always been the Black Lion at Consall (and that's our friends' dog). I remember visiting the Black Lion when it had no road access - you could only reach it by canal or footpath. Something about the owner of the road not allowing access, I think.  But it kept going and now the adjacent railway has returned to life and runs steam trains, so you can reach it by steam train too.


While we were drinking our Pig Squeal or Hogfather (for goodness sake) in the bar... 


...I picked up a children's book which happened to be lying on a table. It was called "Dash Makes a Splash" and it was by a local author.   I instantly fell in love with the happy, colourful pictures. 


Dash is a little puppy who has a simple adventure. He gets lost, is taken in by a couple of canal boat restorers at Consall, and restores a lonely natterjack toad to the bosom of its family before returning to Consall in time for Christmas.


The story is just the kind of tale that little kids can understand and sympathise with, and that is not as easy to find these days as it once was. I liked it so much that I went to visit the lady who did the book, and bought a copy from her. It is also available on Amazon, but visiting was more fun!  I learned she learned to paint plates in her family pottery business, can't you just imagine those flowers above, garlanding the edge of a plate? 

Although Stoke still has many problems, it's a lot cleaner and brighter than it was all those years ago. I was startled to learn that Etruria Hall (once the home of the Wedgwoods) is now part of the Stoke on Trent Moat House Hotel.   I still remember how amazed I was when I first saw Etruria Hall, presiding over a completely industrial landscape at Shelton Iron and Steel Works, a little bit later than the picture below admittedly but a spectacular panorama scene of industrial devastation, the like of which I had never seen in all my young life! It was actually such a busy scene that I was quite fascinated by it, though, and wish I'd photographed it myself. 


And here is another view of Etruria Hall as it was years ago, at about 0.58 on the "Staffordshire Men" song below.



I'm not going to presume what people of Stoke are like now, or what they want for their city, but I'm hoping to return to have a better look around later in the year. Times are changing and I'd like to think Stoke will soon start to get the break it deserves.  






56 comments:

  1. So many cities that used to be industrial are having to "reinvent" themselves. That's a lovely picture book, i agree that visiting the author is a much better idea if you can do so.

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    1. Yes, it's always fun to meet authors or illustrators!

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  2. Time goes by so quickly and it is good to get together with old friends and laugh and talk about what we shared in the past.

    We have towns around here, like Stoke, that prospered with old industries that are no longer. It is good to see them revive in a new way, but still keep the history of their past.

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    1. I think that the demise of industry is common in all developed countries, but it makes it even harder that shops and stores are also being hit by the internet. I sometimes wonder where it's all going to end!

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  3. The book/story is so sweet, lovely illustrations and how wonderful you were able to meet the Artist. You always seem to have the best time where ever you go,

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. It really was fun to revisit North Staffs. I definitely want to go back soon.

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  4. I must have a look at that series. I visited The potteries for a week with Cardiff Art College ceramics course..we stayed at the Wedgwood College and visited the last traditional Brown Betty teapot factory, just missed the last proper Staffs oatcake shop and visited the Gladstone Pottery Museum with its bottle kiln, amongst a packed week of visits.

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    1. There are still some oatcake shops - quite a few. Perhaps none of the originals, but TBH they seemed pretty basic to me! It must have been so interesting to visit as part of a ceramics course, so you properly understood what you saw. I only ever saw it as a sort of outsider.

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  5. It is very many years since I visited Stoke so it is interesting to learn about the changes. Interesting post, Jenny, and good that you still meet up with friends.

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    1. Amazing to still have friends there, but it was quite an intense time and lives in the mind.

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  6. I love the art work in the kid's book...the simplicity is quite wonderful.

    An interesting post, Jenny, with great photos to match.

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    1. Yes, there is a sweet and simple air which I feel suits little kids better than so much of the rather moralistic stuff that is published now, Lee.

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  7. Stoke on Trent! I remember learning about it at school, famous for the pottery industry :) What a magnificent building is that hotel, with Wedgwood standing in front, and rightly so. What a pretty children's book, and yes the pictures do look like china paintings. As a fine old china fancier, I love seeing it all. The Black Lion looks fun. I love English pubs - never go to one in Australia...

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    1. I am glad I saw Stoke when it was still the centre of the pottery industry, I think many businesses overreached themselves in recent years, or became too international to keep a base there.

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  8. Not been to many reunions the one school one I went to was a bit of a failure for me. I met a lady who was from the Wedgwood family and who used to live in our Village, she was also a photographer.

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    1. I usually can't see much point in reunions, I generally reckon if I was going to stay in touch with people I would do so without a reunion. But this was an unusual situation, we were all working hard towards the same goals and that gave a definite community spirit.

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  9. Always so much to comment on and I hope to remember them all! Your friend's dog is adorable, and the view looks great there too. Your spring looks much like ours, too much winter hanging about. We have reunions too not so much with surprises, except of course those that said they would not show arrived! I am one for all kinds of surprises and scavenger hunts too! Thanks for sharing lovely shots from the area.

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    1. Yes, he is a lovely dog, so full of beans. And yes, there's definitely too much winter about! :)

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  10. I’m glad you had such a good time - it’s wonderful to find treasure where you least expect them. As for renunions - I hate them!

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    1. England is full of treasures that I don't expect, and I'm glad it's so!

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  11. I really enjoyed your blog. Your first line drew me right in – because that's how I feel for many of my posts. I better get them posted or it will be the next month already. :-)
    You are very lucky to have met the author of that children's book. It does sound very entertaining. Glad I happened across your blog. Have a good day.
    Deb

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    1. Thanks, Deb, and I'm glad I found your blog too!

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  12. Reunions are always laced with mixed feelings. This looked like a good one...and you found a sweet little book, too. :)

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    1. Luckily I didn't really have any mixed feelings, I was glad I'd done it, but I was really quite surprised that I'd wanted to. Previous reunions have always seemed like a waste of time.

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  13. Lovely photos. Wishing you a Happy Spring!

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  14. Hi Jenny,

    I've been to Consall Forge on a number of occasions. It's only a few miles from where I live in the market town of Leek.

    I've been to most of the places you display in the photos. And once I got over being called, "duck", by the good folks of Stoke, I've grown to be very fond of this rather wonderful city with amazing surrounding countryside.

    Gary

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    1. Oh, I didn't realise this, Gary. I like Leek, we were there last summer and had a lovely lunch in one of the small cafes near the market. Consall Forge is a great place to walk in all seasons. I had lived in Derbyshire so was used to being called "Duck" !

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  15. What a super visit.
    Friends moved back to Stoke from France some fifteen years ago and have told us how the place is changing.

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    1. Must have been a bit of a shock after Provence or wherever they were, mind you....

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  16. I like to see these industrial towns reinvent themselves. Great old photos.

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    1. It's always positive to see places acquiring new personalities. Stoke deserves a break.

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  17. I haven't been to a reunion in a long time - but my reunion observation was that the people who were very popular and "flashy" in school never became as successful as the quiet, nerdy ones did.

    I've never seen green moss like that on a tree - - it definitely does look fluorescent.
    The North Stafford Hotel looks very similar to how I imagined Thornfield Hall looked in Jane Eyre.
    A Pig Squeal??? Sounds intriguing.... After ingesting a few of those, I'd probably be dancing to the Staffordshire song!

    Those book illustrations are delightful. Are they watercolors?

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    1. Yes, if only I'd realised that the people I envied at school weren't demi gods I think life might have been a bit easier at times! The style of the North Staffs railway was (I think) really beautiful and was sort of neo-Jacobean 17th century, so might well have been the way Thornfield Hall looked!

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  18. I have never been to a reunion of any kind, but I would like to visit Stoke on Trent.

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  19. what a unique and beautiful city you visited dear Jenny!

    thank you for briefing and virtual trip!

    either i was stunned with moosy tree which looked like lost fairy in snowland :)

    i meet my old friends from school time during my visit to my native area and only once i was surprised with forth divorce of one of my girlfriend .

    yes this railway station is looking like an old magnificent mansion .

    How adorable this storybook is !
    either i love kids colourful short storybooks !

    this one is lovely with such happy ending!
    i think that buying copy from author was intellectual decision

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    1. The tree did look rather magical, almost as if it had a personality, and was dressing up to make us look at it. Wow, four divorces, that is a lot. She must be very particular about her husbands..... :) I am glad you liked the storybook, and I agree that a happy ending is so important for children.

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  20. I'd love to go to a reunion with my class mates, but it always seems to fall during a time when I can't make it to Germany.

    Visiting old friends and local pubs sounds like a great time!

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    1. It is quite a trek for you to go too - not like getting on a slow train door to door, like we did!

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  21. The last photo shows us what industrialization was. The place at present would talk its history to visitors.
    Happy Easter!

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  22. we're pretty familiar with cities trying to reinvent themselves over here. I hope only good things for Stoke on Trent. Is the Wedgewood still manufactured there? I'd love to do a tour of that. And the hotel is gorgeous, the pub looks wonderful.

    I've not been to reunions yet, though I may go to our next one. But I do think it's fun to see who people change. Living in the same town, sometimes I run into someone and it's always a surprise!

    Wishing you and your family a lovely Easter -- and spring. Soon.

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    1. Wedgwood became a big multi national and swallowed up many smaller firms, Jeanie, and then went bankrupt. It has been taken over by someone or other, and most of the manufacture is done outside England now but I think they still do a certain amount of the more specialised work in Stoke. The pub is terrific, wish it was my local! I think it must be nice to live in a small town and see people as they continue to change, it was a slight shock to me that one or two people had changed as much as they did, because it clashed so much with my memory of them. I suspect I hadnt known them as well as I'd thought, before.

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  23. I have always loved The Potteries. My Mother went down one of the mines (an Uncle was the mine manager) when she was about 20 (around 1929) and it left a lasting impression. When I had the pottery of Lewis I made frequent visits to The Potteries too. Over the many years I've been visiting the changes have been enormous - but then they have been enormous of most of the North West of England.

    'Dash Makes a Splash' reminds me of the 'lovely' tales like 'Tom Puss and Mr Bumble' and many simpler tales from my youth.

    I have never been to a reunion and I doubt that I ever will.

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    1. Oh, for a minute, I thought your Mum was wielding a pick - perhaps as part of the war effort :) I think it must have been a hellish job. And when people did go down the mine, a lot of the lads I knew made it their life's ambition NOT to do it. Now, it's looked back at nostalgically by almost everyone - perhaps because it did offer a sense of community that people did not value until it had disappeared. Yes, I liked "Dash" for the same reasons as you.

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  24. £8 for a train ride? How long ago was that...?
    I never considered Stoke a beautiful place so avoided it.
    Nice to know it is being improved.

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    1. Incredible train ride. Mind you it was pretty slow, but I had a good book. You can get some wonderful bargains on trains so long as they are not on commuter routes. I don't think anyone ever described Stoke as "beautiful" but Consall is outside the city, and into rural North Staffs.

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  25. That moss-covered tree is amazing. And sweet kids' book.

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    1. Some of the trees were quite dazzling, with that bright green!

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  26. I suppose it was nice time spending with your friends that you have not seen long time Jenny. I dare to say I am afraid of meeting people I studied or worked with more than 20 year ago. We all change - physically and mentally and perhaps we're other ones now.
    I'm glad Stoke is better and cleaner than before.
    Happy Easter!

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    1. Yes, come to think of it I was rather surprised at how one or two of them had changed. Life always leaves its mark. And now I think of it, I wonder what they thought of me! :)

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  27. Must be the ghastly Spring, lichen is fluorescent everywhere this year.
    Always think it's a pity that Dutch barges aren't painted with flowers and castles like England's.

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    1. Yes, I think the canal art is unique to England. I didn't know that wet weather makes lichen go fluorescent, but that figures...!

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  28. A super post, Jenny! I’ve never been to Stoke but I like industrial history and I would like to see it. That book looks a delight. I’m very tempted to buy it too. What a special visit!

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    1. I really want to get to see some of the museums in Stoke, talking of history! Perhaps later in the year.

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