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

- 'a factory in a garden'

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the changing face of Cobridge
previous: Hanley Lower Green - a collision of roads

Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

We see roads today as congested channels devised to take us from one place to another. We don’t care what stands on either side behind long lines of parked cars, or whose community we lumber through. We depart and we arrive – that’s it.

“Three-hundred years ago the lane that left Snow Hill Shelton to reach the ridge of Cobridge must have been beautiful,” claims historian Steve Birks. “Even today its name, Etruria Vale Road, evokes an idyllic rural setting. To the east of this lane were Tinkersclough, Mount Pleasant, Sun Street and Slippery Lane; names that hint at charismatic settings. On the west side was a lush valley sweeping to the Fowlea Brook with long meadows part of which was the Ridge House Estate and another called Bank House.”

Long before this much of the territory was owned by the Hulton Abbey monks, a present from the land-rich Henry Audley. It was surrendered to Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries and broken up in 1539. According to the Victoria County History Ridge House estate was owned in 1615 by Ralph Hamersley. In 1767 it was owned by Mrs Ashenhurst who, in that same year, sold it to an ambitious Burslem potter named Josiah Wedgwood.

"the land which was formerly known as 'The Ridge House Estate', were at that time outside the actual Potteries and in the beautifully wooded and pastured country on the road to Newcastle-under-Lyme, the ancient borough...."

Etruria Valley prior to 1840
This engraving was discovered in the rubble of the Etruria Pottery in 1963.
It depicts the rural Etruria Valley prior to 1840, showing clearly the Wedgwood Pottery Factory in the middle distance with Etruria Hall behind.

“Wedgwood must have seen its potential when he helped draw up the plans for the Trent and Mersey Canal,” Steve continues. “On the sloping land above the brook he began building a fine mansion and gardens. Then, on Tuesday 13th Jun 1769, an important day in the history of the Potteries, he opened his new factory together with a row of cottages for his specialist workforce and gave it the inspired name – Etruria.”

To paraphrase the title of Wedgwood archivist Sharon Gater’s book on the company’s later move from Etruria to Barlaston, the great founder built his workers a factory in a garden. And this rural setting was preserved for many years until a mightier industry arrived with its disfiguring article of trade.


“I lived as a child at 130 Lord Street from 1940 until 1956 just before they began knocking the houses down,” says former resident Barbara Jolley nee Finney. “As children it was an exciting place to live if very noisy and smoky. Wedgwood’s worker’s cottages were still there then.” 

But the factory in the garden had gone; instead mountains of reclaimed tyres were piled in the yards between the cold bottle ovens.  

“Our house was near the railway station,” Barbara remembers. “Shelton Steel Works was at the back. Across the road was the marl hole of Wooliscroft Tiles. Next to that was the gasworks. There was a gas pipe right by our house and a man came every day to release the pressure. The smell was vile. But over the railway line we had Etruria Woods. We’d climb through the hawthorn lanes to picnics and pick blackberries. I remember there was a house whose occupier sold us homemade toffee apples.” 

Another former resident is Kath Hopcroft, daughter of the celebrated choirmaster Harry Vincent.  

“My father had his shoe repair business where we lived in Lord Street,” says Kath. “I have so many memories of old Etruria as a girl but most involving my father’s activities with the Etruscan Choir.” 

Harry Vincent was the founder and conductor of his famous choir that attracted solo contributions by the internationally feted contralto Kathleen Ferrier.  

“Rehearsals and performances were at the Etruscan Philharmonic Hall, later renamed Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Hall,” recalls Kath. “Our house served as a meeting place for local and national musicians and dignitaries. Lord Street was a long street reaching down from the two pubs below the canal by Wedgwood’s.”

The Bridge Inn - Lord Street
The Bridge Inn - Lord Street
by the bridge which crosses the Trent & Mersey canal
(Where Wedgwood's Etruria factory used to be)

photos taken 1985 - Ken Green


One reason given for Wedgwood’s move to Barlaston was because of the pollution and mining subsidence.  

“The growth of industry in Etruria was due to the proximity of the external routes, the canal and the railway,” explains Steve. “After Josiah's death in 1795 Etruria Hall stood empty for some time and only then temporarily occupied by family members until they moved away altogether. In turn the hall was used as a boarding school and by a younger son of Josiah II, Francis Wedgwood, who ultimately sold it. By 1854 it was owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and four years later by Earl Granville who was enlarging his Shelton ironworks. The hall was later used as offices by the Shelton Iron Steel and Coal Company. It’s part of the Moat House Hotel now.”

And so it goes on.

“Jesse Shirley and his brother Henry were born in Etruria,” Steve continues, “forming a partnership in the bone and flint mills in Etruria, a company that has been distinctly successful over generations; in fact it still operates today and is the world's oldest producer of calcined bone ash used in the manufacture of fine bone china pottery. Partly because they were suppliers to Wedgwood’s, Shirley’s prospered in Etruria.”  

Shirley's Etruscan bone and stone mill, Etruria
Shirley's Etruscan bone and stone mill, Etruria
photo: July 1986 Chris Allen

The countenance of the community continued to change with industry.

 “Many of the street names were altered in the early 1950’s” recalls Barbara. “Overnight our house became 394 Etruria Road. Our side was becoming rundown and rows of terraced houses were condemned, although on the park side the later terraces were kept.” 

And there they remain bizarrely named after South African towns – Ladysmith, Kimberley and Pretoria, while further along are more obscure names – Humbert, Cavour and Salem.

 “But by 1986,” Steve concludes, “much of the steelworks site was derelict. In fact most of Etruria was depressed. All that was left was the eyesore of industrial waste. Then, almost magically, 180 acres of industrial dereliction was reclaimed and turned into the National Garden Festival.”

Cold furnaces, rusted sheds and twisted metal were exchanged for marinas, China Gardens and cable cars. A salvaged slag tip became Maypole Hill with woodland walks. A year later and the first buildings of the Festival Retail and Business Park were laid down and Wedgwood’s Etruria and the idyllic lanes had gone forever.

Aerial photograph of the Shelton works c.1950 

The amount of damage and desolation to the surrounding area can clearly be seen. The Trent and Mersey canal can be seen passing through the works.
Wedgwood's pottery works are in the bottom right hand corner.

Etruria and 'famous men'

Walk around Wedgwood's Etruria


next week: Cobridge

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
the changing face of Cobridge
previous: Hanley Lower Green - a collision of roads

7 February 2008