Pounding the streets of
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...."
“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.
“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.”
by the bridge which crosses the Trent & Mersey canal
(Where Wedgwood's Etruria factory used to be)
photos taken 1985 - Ken Green
“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.
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.
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.
next week: Cobridge
7 February 2008