David Proudlove's
critique of the built environment of Stoke-on-Trent

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- page 1 -

"May’s General Election [2010] saw a supposedly historic result, leaving us with the first hung Parliament in more than thirty years, leading to the formation of the so-called Con Dem coalition: a marriage of convenience between the Tory party, and the Liberal Democrats. Labour candidates all over the country were the subject of a kicking, due to the perceived failings of the previous Government, and the unpopularity of leader Gordon Brown.

Despite the sea change in opinion nationally, and the murmurings of the brain-dead far right locally, Stoke-on-Trent bucked that trend, returning three Labour MPs, including New Boy, historian Tristram Hunt, controversially selected as the candidate for Stoke Central ahead of local candidates, ‘parachuted’ in by central decision-makers according to critics......


However, in spite of local misgivings, Hunt appears to be a potentially great asset for the Potteries, particularly considering his background and knowledge of the issues that the city faces: 

Tristram is a renowned expert in Victorian cities and social issues, and wrote the magnificent Building Jerusalem, a history of the Victorian city. Our Victorian cities were often thought of as filthy, poverty-stricken hell holes, but Hunt paints a different picture: places of innovation, "civic pride and provincial power". Building Jerusalem will sit alongside Briggs’ Victorian Cities and Wilson’s The Victorians as vital reading for anyone wishing to understand the Victorian-era.

This knowledge will be vital as he wrestles with the challenges facing the Potteries. Modern Stoke is essentially a Victorian creation, but a place that is still to come to terms with industrial collapse and changes in society. However, the key principles that underpinned the pioneering society that was the Victorian-era are still as relevant now as they were then: innovation and technology, civic pride and leadership, passion, people. 

Tristram Hunt understands this, and with his links with the movers and shakers in the capital, perhaps he can act as the catalyst to help Stoke-on-Trent become a great 21st Century City. Perhaps this is fanciful; but most places that have seen a resurgence in recent times, one person has often provided great leadership to drive and influence positive change. Sir Howard Bernstein did this for Manchester in the aftermath of the IRA bomb in 1996; could Tristram Hunt be the man for Stoke?

Tristram Hunt – 
Stoke-on-Trent’s newest MP

Building Jerusalem – Hunt’s portrait of Victorian Society

The Victorian-era was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from June 1837 until her death in January 1901. The era was one of great prosperity for Great Britain, as wealth generated from the British Empire alongside domestic industrial improvements led to the development of an educated middle class, and changes in political thinking and governance arrangements, and a subsequent expansion of the electorate.

The country’s population exploded, from around 15million in 1850 to over 30million by Queen Victoria’s death, this in spite of mass emigration (around 15million people left the British Isles during the Victoria-era), and the Industrial North rose to challenge the dominance of the capital, with the boast "what Manchester thinks today, England thinks tomorrow" reflecting the new power of provincial cities. Indeed, many Victorian thinkers saw their age as "an age of great cities"; think of great Victorian cities, and you think of Manchester, Birmingham, London, Leeds.

Perhaps the most important development in Victorian Britain was the improvement of communication links. The growth of the canal system, and above all the railways, allowed freer movement of goods, raw material and people, leading to greater trade and industrial growth, which further contributed to the nation’s wealth, but also social changes: travel was no longer the privilege of the rich and became an important part of the lives of a much wider section of society, including the working class.

This nation’s wealth was reflected in the quality and design of the built environment, with wealthy industrialists, businesses, and also local councils, giving us some exceptional buildings, a great many of which are – fortunately – still with us today, in a wide variety of architectural styles such as Classicism and Gothic.


next: Victoriana - page 2
previous: Symbols of Unity, Division and the Potteries Heart of Darkness