I imagined in 2004 it would be difficult to find a born and bred Trenthamite in Trentham over the age of fifty, for since the middle of the 20th century this most southern territory of Stoke on Trent has been largely taken over by newcomers occupying the land under successive housing developments. For reasons not readily identifiable, Trentham has always been a magnet for the high-achiever, the self-made and go-getting breed of citizens. But not all who come here fit this template and some, it must be said, are cuckoos in the nest.
After this myth-making act of defiance Trentham Colliery closed forever and the last symbol of coalmining in Stoke-on-Trent - the pithead winding gear 'A' frame - was demolished on 19th August 1997. The Miners Wives Group remains unforgiving about this, as they put it, this wanton act of industrial and heritage vandalism.
Coal and ironstone have been dug in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire since 1282 and by 1467 the Great Row coal seam was being mined and used for firing pottery. The actual area within which coal was exposed at the surface was 70 square miles, which is small compared to other British coalfields. But along the central part the thickness of the seams was much greater than that of any other English coalfield except Lancashire.
Trentham estate is the most recognised family home in the district.
Along with coal and clay the great industries of the Potteries included iron and steel and George Leveson Gower, the ironmaster, was a man who immersed himself in the Industrial Revolution and reaped its riches. In 1846 his son, also George, took over the running of Shelton ironworks. No individuals have contributed more to the pollution of Stoke on Trent than this father and son. And yet they were the first to complain when the waste created by the nearby potters of Fenton spoiled the river as it flowed through their estate.
In 1884 Cromartie married Millicent Fanny St Clair-Erskine, or Meddlesome Milly as the locals dubbed her on account of her impetuous and often uninvited involvement in public affairs. The Hall was eventually demolished in 1913 when the Sutherland's moved away basically because of the horrible smell of the Trent. The famous sculpture of Perseus at the head of the lake is one of the last remnants of these times along with the preposterous statue of the first duke standing high in the wooded Hanchurch hills overlooking his estate.
Homebird historian and writer Graham Bebbington loves Trentham and knows as much about the area as anybody. He is currently writing a book about the other Trentham family, the Wengers. Adolph Wenger was the founder of the famous Etruria colour and chemical company. This is a family that occupied the 18th century Priory House Farm until it was demolished in 1959. The Priory estate was enormous and when it was sold off it formed the backbone to the sprawling Werburgh and New Inn Lane housing development.
Graham told me that Trentham had managed to retain its village appearance until the 1960's when it became the massive suburb of Stoke on Trent that we recognise today.
Graham believes the contribution to the pottery industry made by the Wengers has been overlooked and he intends to put this right in his latest contribution to evolutionary local history. He showed me the documents he has turned up in his research. One is a map of the district in the 1950s showing Trentham estate on which stood the Wenger's Priory Farm. A few cottages can be seen scattered around and the layout of new streets at Ash Green had just started. The mass of greenery on the map belonged to Trentham Gardens and the Wenger's priory. So it seems that in less than 50 years rural Trentham has become saturated with houses.
Councillor Ross Irving is no cuckoo either. He is the chair of Stoke on Trent's Planning and Development committee (2004). Does he think that Trentham has reached its limit in housing development?
Ross is also one of Trentham's councillors and has represented the district for thirty years. He agrees that Trentham has been cultivated to become Stoke on Trent's highest valuated district by deliberately laying out the largest concentration of high-quality private housing making it a sought-after district. "By the same token," says Ross, "It should be noted that it also provides the highest return of rate support to the authority with the largest housing stock in bands D, E and F."
According to statistics, Trentham has also the highest concentration of 'in-work' population attracting buyers from the high-end of employment to property which many would find unaffordable. It's also the most superior area for educational qualifications and has the highest take-up of private education. "Even so," Ross indicates, "local people in most cases send their children to the local schools."
But there is a marked lack of leisure facilities here. "When this has come up in the past the ready answer has always been - well you've got the Gardens on your doorsteps. The county council did once earmark a large tract of land for leisure use but other priorities came along. Mind you it does have a top quality private golf club." Well naturally - it goes without saying!
At this moment the regeneration of the Gardens has commenced in a scheme called Trentham Awakes providing another page in the district's varied history.
I suppose Trentham is - well - Trentham. The name on its own attracts self-made pecuniary affiliation which is perhaps why there seems to be little community feeling here.
The once pretty village has changed into a sprawl of houses. No corner shops, no pedestrians; no clusters of villagers passing the time of day. Children disappear into schools. In late afternoon they disappear again into the thousand houses on the never-ending estates. But then again Trentham does not seem to be plagued by truancy and vandalism. It's a bit scary though, a bit like John Wyndham's Midwich. Okay so long as the cuckoos keep themselves to themselves.
next: Berryhill - the lungs of the Potteries
previous: ‘Smothern Rindabite’ - the Devil’s Islands
Pevsner and Trentham Park - "It is the principle of The Buildings of England not to describe buildings which have been demolished. Trentham Park must make an exception"
The Bankers' Clearing House - was transferred to Trentham Gardens for the duration of the 1939/45 war.