Our next trip out was from Manchester, to the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and it’s neighbouring town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It was however a different trip, as we did about 10 miles worth of walking around the area…
Status: Stoke-on-Trent Unitary District, Staffordshire, City, England
Travel: Metrolink (Anchorage – Piccadilly), Virgin Trains (Manchester Piccadilly – Stoke-on-Trent)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs, Stoke Station Shop
Attractions: Potteries Shopping Centre, River Trent, Trent & Mersey Canal, Hanley Town Hall, Stoke Town Hall, Stoke War Memorial, Stoke Minster, Potteries Museum, Hanley Park, Hanley Clock Tower, etc
Stoke-on-Trent is quite unusual, as the city was formed by the union of six towns in the area in 1910, which were:
Longton, Stoke, Burslem, Hanley, Tunstall and Fenton. Hanley became the city centre, whilst Stoke (close to the River Trent hence the cities name) houses the administrative side of the city in it’s Town Hall. There are a number of Town Halls in the city as the previously independent towns all had their own local government, and they can be seen today. We arrived at the mainline railway station, located in the Stoke area of the city, and began our adventure, heading towards Hanley…
We exited the station, and were greeted by Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795), a local English Potter, who created new methods that revolutionised pottery making and he received various orders from famous customers including Queen Charlotte (1744 – 1818, the wife of King George III) and Empress Catherine of Russian (1729 – 1796, longest ruling female leader of Russia). He was also responsible for the Trent and Mersey Canal which runs from the River Trent which runs through Hanley into Stoke, to the Mersey at Manchester which then runs through to the docks of Liverpool. This enabled him to get his pottery to the major ports at Manchester and Liverpool to be sold around the world. One of his friends was Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802, English Physician and was for the Abolition of the Slave Trade) whose house we found in Lichfield, also in Staffordshire. Another Darwin Josiah was associated with is Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882, who happens to be his Grandson, and is known for his evolution theories).
All in all Josiah was a rather important man in his day and remembered fondly today. Behind the statue is the North Stafford Hotel, which actually opened all the way back in 1849. This mini square is known as Winton Square.
Have any of the eagle eyed amongst you noticed what Josiah is holding in his left hand? Well, it happens to be an exact replica of the Portland Vase, which Josiah managed to recreate in 1789. This was notable as it showed the British they could recreate Roman pottery and then take it even further to become the leading pottery makers in the world. The original vase dates back to between AD 1 and AD 25, to the Romans and currently resides in the British Museum in London (since 1810).
Our next stop on the way to the city centre was Hanley Park, just off the main road we had been following. It opened in 1897, and it’s a pleasant experience to explore. At the southern end is the lake, and fishing is allowed. Gemma was excited to see the ducks (I swear one day she will actually put one in her bag and take it home haha!) The flowers were starting to come out, with a plethora of Daffodils around the park.
You may have noticed the large metal words “Do you feel it too?” sat on the side of a bank. This is part of something called “Creative Stoke”. There are three main works in the park, designed by Emily Campbell. The park is very close to the train station and the University so it is the perfect place to put art aimed at visitors and locals alike. This piece of art is called “Love Ties”. Others in the park include the words “I see you standing there as if on a distant horizon, I reach out and our hands touch”. The third will be on the steps leading from the lake up to the main green and on to the Band Stand and the Pavilion. This will read “Do you know what it is, this sublime feeling, do you feel it too?”. Together they make the park a really interesting place, and is a good example of how modern art can be loved in the community.
The Caldon Canal (Etruria to Froghall) which opened in 1779, runs through the park, but originally we had no idea. It’s up a bank between us and the band stand so we were heading towards it expecting to just climb over a bridge over a path, when suddenly a barge went past to our astonishment. It was quite amusing and a cool find. We walked down the side of the canal for a bit, then back round the edge of the park to the road where we had started.
Moving on through the city, evidence of Stokes vast pottery empire is visible, as we passed over the Caldon again further on, and the barge we saw earlier was just reaching here as well, almost a race! The skyline is dominated in some places by the old pottery Kilns, beautiful bottle Kilns that make some areas of the city look like a historic, 18th century place, which of course, it is. We saw at least 10 different ones throughout the day, so it’s not without cause that Stoke-on-Trent has been nicknamed the Potteries, and is the World Capital for Ceramics. At it’s peak there were 2000 of the Kilms, making the area almost one giant factory back in the day.
Nearing the city centre itself, past a lot of the old factories, we reached the fantastic new bus station, which opened in 2013. Costing £15 Million it is a state of the art facility, and it’s quite eye catching as well. There are 22 bays, with around 120 buses an hour calling at the station. There are even touch screens to let you plan your journey. Local buses criss cross the city and run to nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme and over to Manchester.
As we passed the bus station we spotted the Tourist Information Office inside the Victoria Hall theatre. It was originally constructed in 1888, as an attachment to Hanley Town Hall, but it has been updated with modern developments, whilst still preserving the historic building underneath, to make it into a great visitor attraction.
As we entered the pedestrianised zone of the city centre (work is on going to extend it outwards from the main shopping streets to the tourist information office and bus station) we found Hanley Town Hall, the original seat of local government for the former independent town of Hanley, situated in Albion Square.
It’s a grand building, with a bronze figure of Britannia (Female personification of the Island of Great Britain) atop the Hanley War Memorial off to the right just out of shot. Britannia bears a shield with the emblems of the Royal Navy, Army, Airforce and the Red Cross, and holds aloft a sword.
The Town Hall itself is the second in the town, with the previous building from 1845 sat in Fountain Square, and acquired by Lloyds Bank in 1886 who rebuilt a lot of the building in 1936. The current Town Hall was constructed in 1869, as the Queen’s Hotel. The town council bought it in 1884 and it remains an important part of the city centre.
Opposite here is the BBC Radio Stoke building, built of concrete with protruding ribs all around the outside, making it interesting architecturally and it differs from the usual drab plain concrete constructions.
We moved through to the shopping streets, and came across a small market with fresh produce, wines and other items available. It was a lovely sunny day so the locals were out in force going about their daily business and the whole city had a feel of hustle and bustle about it.
A large amount of the very centre of Hanley is pedestrianised, and makes it a lot easier to explore some of the more interesting things you can find in the town. The first one we found is below…
This beautiful building was constructed in 1831 in a Classic Style. There is more than just this front section, the building is almost the size of a small block. It was built as the meat market, but this eventually closed and in the 1990’s it was converted into a series of shops that constitute what is now known as the Tontines Shopping Centre. You can see the Waterstones at the left end of the building, and there is a pub called “The Reginald Mitchell” a Wetherspoon pub, next to it.
The building is fantastic overall, with the charming clock tower above what I imagine was the original main entrance to the market. The exterior of the building has retained all of its charm.
I have to say, that Waterstones in the UK always seems to find old and historic buildings to base their stores in, as all of the ones we have seen aside from inside a modern shopping centre, are in old stone buildings with lots of history, so its nice that the company is contributing to the upkeep and preservation of these types of structure.
It had been quite a long walk so far up to this point, so before we started heading in the direction of Newcastle-under-Lyme for stage 2 of our journey, we made our way towards the Potteries Shopping Centre to have a short break and grab some lunch.
On the way, we passed this statue of noted footballer Sir Stanley Matthews C.B.E (Commander of the British Empire) who was born in Hanley in 1915. He is regarded as one of the greatest English footballers of all time, and the only English player to be knighted before he retired.
During his career, he was the first winner of the European Footballer of the Year award as well as the Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year award. His career began with Stoke City in 1932, untl 1947. He then transferred to Blackpool until 1961 when he returned to Stoke for the next few years until 1965. He played for the English national team between 1937 and 1957, and from 1965 he toured the world coaching amateur footballers and one of his proudest contributions was establishing an all-black football team in Soweto (Part of Johannesburg) despite South Africa’s racial laws.
He returned to the UK in 1989 and became the President of Stoke City Football Club and the Honorary Vice-President of Blackpool. He passed away in 2000 whilst on holiday in Tenerife and tributes came in from all over the world.
We soon reached the shopping centre, marked by the Blue Clock Tower outside. Inside the centre we found a travelling collection of a certain animal, but I will do a separate post about them after my Stoke post so keep an eye out!
Leaving the shopping centre, we passed by the side of the Debenhams store that is part of the centre, and on the wall is one of the notable artworks in the city.
It is called the “Man of Fire” and is older than it looks. It was first hung up in 1963, towering 35 feet over the entrance to the shop which was then a Lewis’s until Debenhams took over in 1998. It was designed and built by David Wynne from London and when he was making it he decided it should have something to do with the Potteries as Stoke-on-Trent is nicknamed the Potteries so he based the artwork around the fires in the kilns that dominate the city.
This beautiful Aluminium creation has been taken down only once, in 2003 when it was transported to Redditch for a makeover, and a few years later it returned to scare the locals once more.
We wandered through Hanley in the general direction of the B5045 to take us across to Newcastle-under-Lyme and passed a few things of interest, including the building on the right, known as the Chimes. It was once a Boots Chemist Store and it has an odd angle at the front of the building due to the unusual layout of the original town centre.
Next, we passed the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Inside it contains a large collection of ceramics from Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent as a whole, as well as historical items from the local area. One of the most popular exhibits is a Supermarine Spitfire, designed by R. J. Mitchell (1895 – 1937, from nearby Butt Lane) during World War II.
On the outside, two statues are present down the side of the building, one of Mitchell himself, and one of a man dressed in silver, who I am told was a Steel Worker. The statue was created as part of a public fundraising event to make a tribute to the workers at Shelton Bar, a huge 400 acre site with over 10,000 workers, which opened in 1830 in an area called Shelton, nestled between Hanley and the main area of Stoke. It was also the largest steel rolling mill in the whole of Europe, and as such was a big target for the German Luftwaffe during World War II, who tried a number of times to bomb the factory. Sadly most of the plant closed in 1978 and a lot of workers lost their jobs. They are now remembered thanks to the statue, a stunning tribute to generations of workers.
There are a number of other museums in Stoke to do with it’s ceramics heritage, including the Gladstone Pottery Museum and the Etruria Industrial Museum all located in and around Hanley. Heading towards Burslem you will find the Barewall Gallery, Moorcroft Factory Shop and Visitor Centre.
It was at this point that we set off towards the neighbouring town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, which directly borders Stoke-on-Trent. On the way we passed over a few canals, saw a few more kilns and went over both the West Coast Main Line and the A500 main road. You can find our walk here on Google Maps. We went in a loop, out of Hanley to Newcastle and back round to the Stoke area of the city where the station is located, so I shall pick up this post after we re-entered the city borders at Stoke…
After walking through the suburbs for a short while, we came across this fantastic structure, which is the Holy Trinity Church in the area of Stoke known as Hartshill. Construction began sometime before 1842, to a design by George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Gothic Revival Architect).
I like the brown stone used on the building, as we have seen a lot of kiln’s throughout the day, all a similar colour so the church fits in well with the heritage of the city.
We were following the A52 from Newcastle all the way to the very centre of the Stoke area of the city, so it was a nice easy route to follow. Further down the road from the church, as we neared Stoke itself, we passed by these fantastic old cottages, known as “Minton Cottages”, that look absolutely stunning.
They date back to 1857, and were also designed by George Gilbert Scott. There are a number of similar buildings in the area, and show how well Stoke-on-Trent has retained so many of its historic buildings. Since 1993 the cottages have had Grade II Listed Status, and one look is enough to transport you back in time to what Britain was like over 100 years ago.
On the way to Stoke Town Hall and Stoke Minster, we passed a number of landmarks elsewhere in Stoke. The first of these is called Co-Operative House that was once a Co-Operative department store. Today it has been converted into offices, however from the outside it is still a beautiful building that looks like it should be an old theatre from the 1920’s.
Second, we passed the Spode Pottery Factory, run by Josiah Spode (1733 – 1797), another famous Josiah in the city that made ceramics. The factory no longer produces pottery (since 2008) however it is open as a visitor centre (since 2010) and you go in and find out all about how they used to create finely crafted products. Spode is still a functioning company, and was founded back in 1767 by Mr Spode.
The third building we passed is Stoke Market Hall, with it’s distinctive Clock Tower. The building dates back to 1900 going off a carving above the main entrance, and whilst the building itself contains some stalls, it acts as a front to the main open air market.
We finally made it to our penultimate stop of the day, Stoke Town Hall. The left hand side of the building is made up of King’s Hall, a theatre venue, which was added between 1910 and 1911 as an extension to the Town Hall.
Outside Kings Hall is the impressive Stoke War Memorial, that looks a bit like a ceramic version of the cenotaph in London.
We moved around to the side of the building to get a better view of the entrance to the Town Hall section, and it looks amazing.
Construction began in 1834, on the design by Henry Ward. Building seemed to lag, as it wasn’t until 1842 that the North Wing was finished, and 1850 when the South Wing was also completed.
When it was built, there was a space in the centre of the building to house a market, but this was changed in 1888 to build office space, with a council chamber and a mayor’s parlour. In 1935 the main assembly room on the first floor was enlarged and the glazed tiles on the walls were replaced with wooden panelling.
With the federation of six towns coming together to create one city, Stoke Town Hall was selected as the headquarters of the new city council, and still is today. The building is fantastic,
Our final stop was just back up the road from the Town Hall entrance, at Stoke Minster, also known as The Church of St. Peter ad Vincula. It was constructed between 1826 and 1830, and received an interior renovation in 1888. It’s official name became Stoke Minster in 2005 because of it’s importance to the local community. There has been a church here since the original wooden one from 670, a stone replacement in 1805 and numerous other churches throughout the years. The remains of the 805 version can be seen in the churchyard.
I love the main tower with the mini spires at each corner, and again the colour of the building fits in so well with the kilns and ceramic history of Stoke-on-Trent. The large metal construction across the road from the Minster is a piece of artwork called “Another Gift” by Liz Lemon. It was installed in 2006. It’s an interesting piece and it just fits in nicely between the two historic buildings of the Town Hall and the Minster. Also, both Josiah Wedgewood and Josiah Spode are buried in the Minster churchyard.
That was the end to our visit to Stoke-on-Trent and we walked the short distance over the A500, over the Trent & Mersey Canal back to the station and headed back to Manchester, and from there home.
Other attractions in the area include the Wedgewood Visitor Centre near the Motorway, as well as the Gladstone Pottery Museum in the Longton section of the city.
Stoke is well connected by train, being on the Manchester branch of the West Coast Main Line so regular Virgin Trains run from Manchester to and from London, as well as local services to Derbyshire, Cheshire and Manchester. Cross Country services from Manchester run though the city on to Birmingham, Coventry, Bournemouth and Oxford etc. There is another train station in the city in the Longton section that follows through to Derby.
The nearest airports are Manchester (37.6 miles away) and East Midlands Airport (44.7 miles away). You could even take a trip on the canal system and take your boat through the city and explore the six towns that make it up. The M6 (North for Scotland and Lancashire, South for Birmingham and the South) runs around the city with junctions 15 and 16 taking you directly into the city.
Stoke FC have their home at Britannia Stadium as you enter the Fenton area of the city, and it’s a well known local ground.
Stoke is an incredible place to visit with so many different styles together in one place, with a great heritage and an amazing collection of architecture, shops and artwork. There are museums a plenty across the different towns so a trip to Stoke is definitely one you make last a few days.