Pounding the streets of Stoke-on-Trent
in search of a buried past

Hanley - 'Hanley Lower Green - a collision of roads'

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Etruria 'a factory in a garden'
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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

The gateway to Hanley from the Cultural Quarter is noted by a collision of roads lined with clusters of business and retail garrisons converging upon a single hub. And right in the middle of it all pride of place is given, not as you would think to a Potteries’ iconic monument, but to a more ironic edifice – a public lavatory. Reg Booth is a councillor for Hanley. What does he think of a bog-standard toilet occupying such an eye-catching spot?

Crown Bank, Hanley - 1893
This area was the centre for the horse drawn cabs.
In the middle of Crown Bank was a small green roofed building - this was the cab drivers shelter (demolished in 1907) 
occupying this location today are public toilets

“There are many things wrong with Hanley,” he responds, “A lavatory in this location is a strange choice. But we inherited a town layout which we are trying to make into a city centre. Sometimes these things transform easily but more often they take time. The plans for a future Hanley are spectacular but they are miles away from achievement. Only time will tell.”

Reg thinks there’s still a problem of identity...... 

He says, “It’s been said before but nevertheless it remains a fact that people in other towns have no reason to shop in Hanley. Yes, the big stores are here. But big stores also trade on peripheral retail sites where it’s easier to park. People tell me Hanley is shabby in the day and risky at night; too many hideaways. Hanley hasn’t got a central square. It was Fountain Square but I think it’s been spoiled by moving the fountain and statue.”


These days Fountain Square is hemmed in by, depending on your taste, some really monotonous architecture. On the other hand you might think the façade of TX Maxx and Goldsmith Jewellers on Moxon’s Island, are better than the former Victorian frontage of Pidducks Jewellers. But jeweller and clockmaker Christopher Skelhorne thinks like me.

 “I worked at Pidduck’s when I left high school until it closed in 1982,” says Christopher. “Robert Featherstone Goodall was manager – they don’t construct strong names like that anymore – and joint director was Neil Harrison. If those two and others like Len and Roy Evans from Goodson’s, perhaps the Derricott brothers, or even the well-known drunk Vincent Riley could see Fountain Square as it is now they wouldn’t recognise it.”

 Age 69 Christopher maintains a successful business in Piccadilly Arcade with his wife Sylvia and long-serving staff Jane Mellor and Elaine Underwood, all former employees of Pidduck’s Jewellers.

 “I loved Hanley then,” reminisces Jane. “Hanley was just lovely to roam around in with so many interesting places to see. Simple things like the spiral staircase in Sherwin’s music shop were a delight.”


Have we come so far that we don’t recognise Hanley as an individual town anymore? Does it have to be the city centre?


“Geographically it hasn’t changed at all,” says historian Steve Birks. “What has changed is the way we use it. Until the end of the 1960’s Hanley was still a Victorian town. First to change was traffic and how we manage it. Not long ago you could drive through Miles Bank and into Market Square, in fact along all the town centre streets. The residential population then was higher, now very few live here. Next we changed our leisure habits; we stay at home rather than coming to town at night. And importantly our shopping habits changed. As family-owned shops gave way to chain stores Victorian buildings conceded ground to the modern flash that new shopping malls demand.”

Hanley Indoor Market
The whole of the market area was demolished to
make way for the Potteries Shopping Centre


Potteries Shopping Centre
Potteries Shopping Centre
photo: 2006 - fotodiscs


I wonder how all this began. Helpfully Steve provides some background.

    “Shelton and Hanley share a boundary at Stafford Street. If you stand at the top of Piccadilly and look through Crown Bank you’ll see the unbalanced layout that was formulated by the extension of its market over generations. Hanley is on the side of a hill and if you look from the air it fits exactly the description given to it by a chap named J W Plant, a city planning officer who, in 1960, described Hanley as ‘an archipelago of island sites’.”  

And that rather dreamy description is exactly what Hanley is. It’s what fortifies it with a pleasing Je ne sais quois.

 “The buildings occupying Plant’s variously shaped islands have been replaced piecemeal as far back as the early 19th century,” continues Steve. “From the start the central architecture was structured in widely differing heights, styles, and materials. And because of Hanley's emergence as Stoke on Trent’s commercial and retail centre, this lack of uniformity is even more pronounced than in the other Pottery towns.”

Townships of Hanley & Shelton in 1842
The dividing line was present day Stafford Street
(the red line as it passes through the built up area)


But where is Hanley and why should it be the city centre?

   “In the 17th century, Hanley consisted of two small hamlets, Upper Green and Lower Green,” explains Steve. “Lower Green is where Market Square is today. Then they were little more than two small villages half a mile apart. They came together as a result of a buoyant market and through the centralisation of specialist trading. By 1775 Hanley, or Hanley Green as it was sometimes known, had spread westwards into Shelton – remember the boundary is Stafford Street. Even by 1790 Hanley was still smaller than Burslem. But, as the Victoria County History describes it, Hanley then was ‘an improving and spirited place built so irregularly that, to a person in the midst of it, it has scarcely the appearance of anything beyond a moderate village; yet if the houses had been properly joined together, it would not only make a capital town but a well-built one’.”

I reckon that sums Hanley up. Although its architecture and use continues to transform, Hanley is still the archipelago of retail islands designated by the prosaic 1960’s council official. Meanwhile Christopher Skelhorne continues to treasure fond memories of old Hanley. 

“Hanley will always be the best place to establish a business,” he says. “I am a specialist in a specialist trade with a dedicated clientele. Yes Hanley has changed and it will continue to.”

 But will Hanley become a different, a better city centre? “I’m sure it will,” says Reg Booth. “But only time will tell.”  


Hanley and its development

Hanley, one of the six towns


next week: Etruria

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
Etruria 'a factory in a garden'
previous: Stoke Road, Howard Place & Snow Hill

7 February 2008