Search for the Old Roads of Stoke-on-Trent

Dalehall, Burslem
"Church met its Waterloo with buried treasure"

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

There are currently seven people registered in the Potteries phone book with the surname Burslem, but whether any of them are related to the first man who called himself after the place is not known.

“The antiquary John Ward made a few guesses in 1843 as to the genesis of the name,” says historian Steve Birks. “But as he himself admitted, it is all conjecture.”

Steve and I have come to Dalehall, one of Burslem’s earliest settlements, to trace these origins.

 “Ward comes across the name in the Domesday Book,” Steve informs me. “He argues that the Norman entry – Barcardeslim – was one of a number of spellings from the Saxon. He himself opts for Burwardeslime which he translates as a dwelling near a lime forest, and thinks the chief resident more than likely called himself after the place where he lived. The First record of a Burslem appears to have been Thomas in 1416. But the first Burslem surname connected with the town was John, a foreman of the local court in Elizabethan times. His great-granddaughter, Margaret married Gilbert Wedgwood about 1612 and started the famous Wedgwood dynasty.”


John Burslem occupied a fine house known as Dale Hall.


“It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact location,” says Steve, “Other than it was near the present St Pauls Church.  It stayed with the Burslem’s until the end of the 1600’s. But by the early 18th century it had been abandoned.”

The location was pleasantly rural. But a hundred years later industry and community-development changed all that.


Steve continues. “According to the Victoria County History, by 1832 there were several streets in Dalehall including Union Buildings in Newport Lane, Mount Pleasant Buildings in Reid Street, and Fountain Buildings built by Enoch Wood for his workers. But the giant leap forward was the erection of the magnificent Gothic Church of St Paul in 1828; a giant edifice built in Hollington stone in the Perpendicular style and distinguished by a 115 foot tower with pinnacles.

Shrewdly, when the foundations were laid, the founders built chambers into which they concealed many ceramic treasures for posterity. However the church was demolished in 1974 by which time the parishioners had apparently forgotten or dismissed the value of this wealth

“It was a shame the old church was pulled down,” says Steve. “Its replacement is a most uninspiring shed-like building which at the best looks like a row of racing-pigeon lofts.”

St. Paul's parish church - Burslem
Church Square

photo: August 2008

this church replaced the original 1828 church which was demolished in 1974


Oh dear! I wonder if Rev Robert Johnson shares this view of his priestly workplace.

“I understand Steve’s point of view,” says Robert, “But I would submit that if you compare the old St Paul’s with any church in Stoke on Trent they would all pale in its shadow. St Pauls’ was undoubtedly a remarkable edifice, built with big ideals with an important school established alongside it. It had one of the longest aisles in Britain making it very popular with weddings, and it owed its existence to it being a Waterloo Church.”

There were over 600 so-called Waterloo Churches constructed during the early 19th century using funds from the 1818 Church Building Act initiated by a greatly relieved government who made available £1 million in recognition of victory over Napoleon Bonaparte. Some social realists though considered it to be a backhander implemented to restrain the spread of non-conformist religion viewed by a nervous Tory government as being associated with radical politics. The Waterloo money, granted only to the Anglican Church, was a means of halting the rise of dissident working classes.

Robert resumes. “Money for St Pauls was matched by Burslem’s new rich as well. You must remember this was one of Stoke on Trent’s boom periods which generated a manufacturing-based powerful middle-class.”

Grave in the grounds of St. Paul's Church
Grave in the grounds of St. Paul's Church

"In affectionate Rememberance of
Jethero Plant of Dale Hall

died Dec 23rd 1878
aged 59 years"


And so St Pauls grew from affluence with worshippers regularly filling its massive capacity. They thought it would last forever until the event came that led to the downfall of the grand Gothic pile. Sadly it is a cheerless tale of inexperienced management.

“By the 1950’s attendance had slumped,” recalls Robert. “And in 1974 the building was in poor condition with the roof needing urgent repairs. Though the parishioners managed to raise £20,000, a full examination put the renovation cost nearer £250,000. It was therefore cheaper to demolish it and build a new one. The big mistake was signing over possession rights to the contractor who subsequently uncovered the hidden treasures in the foundation chambers. As a result of the sales of these he became a millionaire.”

The irony resonates. Had the parishioners recalled the whereabouts of these fabulous artefacts hidden beneath their feet all those years, there would have been more than enough money to repair the church and it would probably still be standing. Robert however is gracious in the criticisms of the modern church, for he has a deep-founded love for it.

“Its community activity is developing and there’s enough surrounding land for a sizable asset as the needs arise,” he says. “The church has a tranquil mood inside. And you can feel that it is completely at peace with itself.”

Grave of a past vicar of St. Paul's
Grave of a past vicar of St. Paul's

"Sacred to the memory of the
Revd P. B. Ellis MA
died July 5th 1861
Aged 54 years
Twenty Two years Incumbent
of St. Paul's Church Burslem"


more on Dalehall


18 August 2008

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