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

- 'Packhorse Lane - the lifeline of the Potteries'

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

After 250 years the views our forefathers looked out upon are returning to the Potteries. As the last ugly workplaces are being demolished we can see again a landscape that was here before industry. And what sensational vistas they must have been.

“The projection of land that Burslem stood upon had superb westerly views across the Fowlea Valley into the foothills of Bradwell Woods,” says historian Steve Birks. “For most of the last 250 years steel mills, iron and coalmines, pottery ovens and slagheaps have stood in the way. Now they’re going we can once again see the true landscape that the pioneering potters destroyed.”

One such view is from the head of Packhorse Lane in Burslem.

Pack Horse lane still exists between the bank on the left and the restored works of Enoch Wood (now converted into flats).

“In 1710 there were around 500 people employed in pottery in the entire region. In Burslem alone, by 1760 the numbers had climbed to 150 manufactories employing 7,000 people,” says Steve. “And a further 25 years on there were 15,000 workers across the whole of the Potteries.” 

During these early times pottery was carried to market on the shoulders of the potters, or on the backs of mules.   

“The packhorse route followed a lane from Burslem to Newcastle via Bradwell,” Steve continues.
“From Newcastle the freight was carried to Winsford in Cheshire, a town that developed because of its salt trade valued here for glaze. By 1721 Winsford’s River Weaver was transformed into a principal watercourse allowing freight to be transported to the docks at Liverpool. But the 30 mile journey from Winsford to the Potteries still had to be negotiated by packhorse often to a cost of disastrous breakage.” 

Some of these problems were solved by turnpike roads. The first, in 1714, went from Newcastle to Winsford.  

“The road from Burslem to Newcastle though still followed the route along Packhorse Lane. And Newcastle jealously guarded its main turnpike route so as to retain its established influence over the rapidly growing pottery towns. It held this power through its monopoly of the tolls,” adds Steve.  

But the demands of the potters for their own turnpikes were irresistible, and by 1763 they had their own turnpike roads one of which went from Burslem along Westport Road through Brownhills. 

“This was then called Hill Street and later Liverpool Road. In bypassing Newcastle it became the preferred road from all the Six Towns through Burslem to Church Lawton,” says Steve. “This route made the Packhorse Lane from Burslem to Newcastle somewhat redundant.” 

And so Packhorse Lane was eventually closed by the great potter Enoch Wood who built his home and his pottery across it before financing the laying of the present Newcastle Street. Wood’s Fountain Works closed in 1850 and over generations was subdivided and let to a variety of potteries and other businesses.

“We came to Packhorse Lane in 1997,” says influential pottery designer Lorna Bailey. “We rented the former Crown Ford pottery until 2004 which once would have been on the side of the old road and part of Wood’s. It was a formative place for me, where I began to produce the Lorna Bailey range. I suppose I have a soft spot for it because I was going through a lot of experimental designs at the time, and it was where my work started to be recognised.” 

As in the case of many Stoke on Trent manufactories, buildings were re-let as tenants came and went.  

Old Ellgreave Pottery Burslem England
Lorna Bailey
Old Ellgreave Pottery Burslem England

“Our business began as LJB at the Ellgreave Works,” recalls Lorna’s father Lionel. “Interestingly Ellgreave also stood on Packhorse Lane when the lane reached to Longport. When we started I acquired some of the assets of Wood and Sons Pottery including Ellgreave where Charlotte Rhead once worked.” 

LJB produced traditional hand-painted Toby Jugs and decorated ware. Lorna spent her time away from college working in the business trying out her own designs. It’s amazing to consider that she is still only 30 years of age, and yet in such a relatively short period of time her established brand name seems to have been around for years.  

“Packhorse Lane’s Crown Ford Works was formerly occupied by the Turner family – the father of Anthea and Wendy Turner. It was then Turnercraft joinery,” recalls Lionel. “The whole of Wood’s was once a hive of industry with the Co-op admin offices, Garner’s stationers and Staton’s Fireplaces, even a car repairer added to the diversity. And before this some of Enoch Wood’s Fountain Works were occupied by a chap named Eddie Waszec who ran Bowbell Pottery. Now the whole site has been flattened. But still, the views have improved no end as a consequence.” 

Yes the views have improved but they are not exactly the views our forefathers looked upon.

“There are still plenty of obstructions looking from the top of Packhorse Lane,” says Steve, “In Enoch Wood’s time the lane drifted west over a pleasant vale called Spens Green. Here Wood built a fine house roughly in the region of St Joseph’s RC church in Hall Street. The manufactory was a magnificent edifice. It had high crenulated walls that must have looked like a crusader’s castle from a distance. Wood’s pottery overlooked the original Dale Hall, the home, since the 15th century, of the Burslem family. Of course that wouldn’t have been there in Wood’s lifetime. Dale Hall was probably near to where St Paul’s new church is today. They certainly picked the best aspects of the lovely valley crossing what was then a much cleaner Trent tributary.”

The nameplate at the entrance betrays nothing of Packhorse Lane’s importance. And yet the past still haunts its still visible cobblestones.  


“You can see how mineral wealth drew us here in the first place,” muses Lorna. “And you can see why economic ups and downs caused some to succeed and some to fail while the buildings changed hands. And Packhorse Lane still tells the story of where we came from and where we’re going to.”


Packhorse lanes and turnpike roads


next week: Dimsdale and the old Roman Road

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
next: Dimsdale and the old Roman Road
previous: the Victorian suburb on the way to Burslem


19 February 2008