Stoke-on-Trent Local History


Federation of the six towns
31st March 1910 saw the federation of the
six towns to form the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent


next: Town Halls - the battle for the civic centre 
contents: Index page for Federation

What is Federation?

Federation of Stoke-on-Trent

The Federation of Stoke-on-Trent is a unique occurrence in the history of English local government in that it is the only occasion when several towns have been amalgamated into one county borough. The history starts in the early 19th century and ends with the formation of the county borough of Stoke-on-Trent in 1910.

There were four main periods of activity:-

1) the early proposals made in the first half of the nineteenth century which resulted in greater co-operation between the Potteries towns over law and order

2) the County plan of 1888, which attempted to form the six towns into a county

3) the first federation attempt in 19001903, which started as a resurrection of the county plan and ended as a failed attempt at the formation of a county borough

4) and the final federation process between 19051910


The background to Federation

By the early part of the nineteenth century the six towns that were eventually to form Stoke-on-Trent (namely Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, Fenton and Longton) were all established settlements. 

However despite all being in a small geographic area and with a common industry, pottery, there was little political or social co-operation between them. Prior to the nineteenth century local government was mainly still based on the parochial and manorial systems in use since the Middle Ages. 

In the Potteries towns this led to each of the townships having varying forms of government. 

For example, Tunstall was parochially within Wolstanton and manorially part of Tunstall manor. 
Burslem although manorially was also a part of Tunstall manor, parochially it was part of Burslem parish. 
It was against these failing regimes, e.g. Tunstall manorial court lapsed in 1813, that the first stages in the long road to federation began.

The earliest changes were seen in Hanley and Burslem -  In 1813 the Hanley Market Act gave statutory control of Hanley market to a board of trustees and away from the manorial control. Less than a decade later, in 1825 the Hanley and Shelton Improvement Act and the Burslem Markets, Lighting and Police Act for Hanley and Burslem respectively, empowered a board of commissioners with control over policing and lighting and the ability to levy rates for these purposes.

Important steps as they were none were directed towards any form of co-operation between Burslem, Hanley or any other of the Potteries towns.

1) Early proposals at co-operation

The first tentative step towards co-operation was taken in 1817 when a meeting in Hanley called for future joint public meetings called by the head constables of the various settlements to be held in Hanley. This was the first instance of a call for greater law and order in the Potteries although there seemed to be little other interest in co-operation.

The Reform Act 1832 - Apart from the establishment of the boards of commissioners in Hanley and Burslem nothing further occurred until the 1830s. But then a renewed interest in incorporation was stimulated by the passing of the Reform Act 1832. 

This created the parliamentary borough of Stoke-upon-Trent which would elect two members to parliament. Although named the parliamentary borough of Stoke-upon-Trent, it actually comprised Stoke-upon-Trent itself together with the townships of Hanley, Shelton, Lane End, Fenton, Burslem, Tunstall, Rushton Grange, and the hamlet of Sneyd. 

The significance of the act was that for the first time and for one important reason only - electing members of parliament, the townships of the Potteries became one. 

Shortly after the introduction of the Reform Act a Municipal Corporations Bill was introduced which proposed that the new parliamentary boroughs should be granted charters of incorporation. The bill failed with the prorogation of that Parliament and neither were the Potteries included in the reforms of the later Municipal Corporations Act 1835 but enough interest in incorporation was stimulated for several meetings on the subject to take place. 

The Staffordshire Advertiser reported on one meeting in Burslem that incorporation would lead to one town having undue influence over the others, a theme that was to recur for many years. The same meeting in Burslem did however resurrect a theme from the meeting before 1820 and that was the promotion of law and order in the Potteries, the meeting calling for the appointment of a stipendiary magistrate.

Only two years later the people of Fenton voted in favour of incorporation of the borough but further meetings in Stoke and Burslem came out against incorporation but did reiterate the desire for a stipendiary magistrate. Later in the same year a further call for better policing was made at a meeting chaired by the Duke of Sutherland. 

These calls were heard and in 1839 two acts of parliament were passed, the Staffordshire Potteries Stipendiary Justice Act and the Staffordshire Potteries Improvement and Police Act. The effect of these acts was to create boards of commissioners with the same powers as the acts of 1825 had done for Hanley and Burslem. With these amendments to local policing and justice, the issues of co-operation and federation between the various townships quietened down for several decades.

2) The County plan of 1888

Between 1840 and 1888 there were some changes in local government and the end of the parochial and manorial systems...... 

  • The townships of Stoke-upon-Trent, Penkhull and Boothen were formed into the borough of Stoke-upon-Trent in 1874,

  • Longton and Lane End became the borough of Longton in 1865, 

  • Hanley and Shelton became the borough of Hanley in 1857 

  • Burslem became a borough in 1878. 

In Tunstall and Fenton the board of commissioners had been superseded by local boards of health in 1855 and 1873 respectively.







The Local Government Bill 1888 - The introduction of the Local Government Bill in March 1888 caused much debate in the Potteries about the place of the town in the proposed council structure. The bill proposed the creation of county councils across England and Wales and the granting of county borough status to towns with a population exceeding 100,000. County borough status would allow those places to govern themselves independently of the county council.

Against control by Staffordshire.... Consensus in the Potteries was against becoming under the control of Staffordshire County Council and the idea developed of the Potteries seeking to become a county in their own right. Accordingly a proposal was submitted to the Local Government Board on 2 July 1888 for the creation of a county of the Staffordshire Potteries. However on 9 July 1888 it was proposed to amend the bill to reduce the population requirement for county borough status from 100,000 to only 50,000; if adopted this amendment would enable Hanley to become a county borough in its own right while the rest of the towns would come under the control of Staffordshire. 

On 13 July 1888 Captain Heathcote, MP for Staffordshire North West, moved an amendment to the bill that...... 

"The district of the Staffordshire Potteries, comprising the municipal boroughs of Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, Longton, and Burslem, the urban sanitary district of the Fenton Local Board of Health, and the urban sanitary district of the Tunstall Local Board of Health, the six towns comprising the Pottery District should be formed into a county under this Bill." 

Hanley becomes a County Borough 

  In response the President of the Local Government Board, Charles Ritchie proposed that that the matter be resolved by way of a provisional order bill in the next Parliamentary session and that he would undertake to introduce such a bill. William Woodall, MP for Hanley supported the amendment but accepted Ritchie's assurance. However he was also bound to protect Hanley's interests and moved that Hanley be added to the proposed list of county boroughs, but would surrender that right if all of the Potteries were to become a county borough or county in their own right. Ritchie re-iterated his hope that the matter could be resolved by way of provisional order bill and with that both amendments were withdrawn.

The bill received Royal Assent on 13 August 1888 and Hanley was listed among those places to be granted county borough status. 

The corporation of Hanley did not decide how to proceed for several months but in February 1889 they opted for Hanley to take its county borough status, effectively killing the county proposal or even the county borough proposal. 

Why Hanley corporation decided that way is not recorded but some years later it was reported in the Staffordshire Sentinel that it was because Stoke corporation insisted that the administrative centre of the new county be in Stoke, not Hanley, something that Hanley could not agree too.

Apart from an abortive scheme proposed later in 1889 by Longton for Stoke, Fenton and Longton to become a county borough, the events of 18881889 proved to be the last attempt at federation until the 20th century.

3) First federation proposal 19001903

Stoke makes a proposal...  In December 1900 Stoke town council proposed a meeting with 'a view to federal action'. 

The invitation was sent to:-

the boroughs of Hanley, Stoke, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Longton, and Burslem, 

the urban districts of Fenton, Tunstall, Audley, Kidsgrove, and Smallthorne,

the rural districts of Stoke and Wolstanton, and 

the parishes of Milton, Chell, Goldenhill, Chesterton, and Silverdale. 

The meeting took place in February 1901 and resolved 'that it was desirable in the interests of North Staffordshire to form a federation of local authorities' , an indication that thoughts still turned towards implementing the county plan. 

However legal opinion was sought, the advice received being that the county plan was unlikely to succeed and expanding the county borough of Hanley to include the other Potteries towns was a more viable proposition. 
Accordingly in March 1902 representatives of the four boroughs and two urban districts met and agreed unanimously that...... 

"the principle of federation of the Pottery towns by the constitution of a county borough should be adopted, subject to the resolutions passed by each authority for the preservation of their respective interests"

Hanley proposes expansion of the County Borough of Hanley ... Later in 1902 Hanley council made a formal proposal to the Local Government Board for the expansion of the County Borough of Hanley to include not only Stoke, Burslem, Longton, Fenton and Tunstall but also Smallthorne Urban District, Wolstanton Rural District, and the parishes of Milton, Goldenhill, Chell, Trentham, Stoke Rural, Caverswall and Stone. 

Only Longton council supported this proposition.... because at the same time Sir Hugh Owen, a former secretary to the Local Government Board, presented to the six towns committee a scheme of financial adjustment. 

- Under this scheme the net assets of each town were to be calculated by deducting outstanding debts and liabilities from the values of its various properties. The net assets which each town should contribute according to its proportion of the rateable value of the new borough were to be calculated; those towns whose net assets showed a deficiency would compensate, by differential rating, those towns contributing net assets in excess of their proper proportion. 

- While five of the towns awaited a report from Alderman Frederick Geen of Stoke on the implications of the Owen proposal, Fenton immediately decided that the it would impose undue hardship on the town and withdraw from all discussions on federation forthwith.

- Geen's report appeared in July 1903 and increased opposition to the whole idea of federation. A poll of ratepayers in Burslem came out strongly against federation so Burslem council withdraw from the scheme to be followed shortly afterwards by Stoke.

Faced by such strength of feeling Hanley council felt compelled to withdraw its submission to the Local Government Board bringing the first attempt at federation in the twentieth century to an unsuccessful end.

4) Second federation proposal 19051910

Longton proposes confederation....... A second proposal to federation was instigated by Longton town council in 1905. At a conference of local authorities the delegates from Longton again raised the question of confederation but the proposal was not well received.

Undaunted Longton council amended its proposal to.... 

"On the grounds of sanitation, education, and other matters of common interest it is desirable that the parliamentary borough of Stoke-upon-Trent should be formed into one municipal borough on some equitable basis, and that the other authorities concerned be invited to take the subject into their consideration" 

Stoke in favour - Fenton against.... The parliamentary borough of Stoke-upon-Trent meant Longton, Stoke and Fenton and while Stoke town council were in favour, the voters of Fenton were not and overwhelmingly voted against the proposal.

Despite this Longton and Stoke submitted their proposal to the Local Government Board in early 1907 and a local enquiry was held soon after in Stoke. The inquiry reported back quickly and in April 1907 informed both Stoke and Longton councils that the scheme proposed was not comprehensive enough and that there ought to be another conference of all six towns to discuss a more comprehensive federation scheme. 
The meeting was organised for July and was addressed by John Burns, president of the Local Government Board, who called for a number of local conferences to agreeing a scheme for federation of all six towns.

Tunstall refuse to participate, Fenton waivers, Burslem against.....

The conferences were held except in Tunstall where the council refused to participate. Fenton council made it clear that it would not support any proposal that did not have the support of its electorate and in Burslem a vote was held, which with a high turnout of 74% voted 3:2 against federation. The events surrounding this last poll were in the words of the Staffordshire Advertiser "unprecedented" with both sides making every effort to ensure their supporters voted. 

With Fenton, Tunstall and Burslem all opposing federation it was left to Hanley, Stoke and Longton to submit proposals to the Local Government Board. For procedural reasons, only the submission made by Longton was valid and it was on this proposal that the local inquiry was held in January 1908.

Tunstall now in favour, Burslem walks out of talks..... Before the inquiry opened a poll was conducted in Tunstall where the ratepayers of the town showed themselves to be in favour of federation. As the council itself had voted against federation it decided not to oppose or support federation but instead to achieve the best deal it could for the town. The inquiry opened on 8 January 1908 and lasted for three days, it was chaired by Major Norton, an officer of the Local Government Board. Norton's appointment itself caused controversy as the delegation from Burlsem walked out on the first day on the grounds that Norton had already declared himself in favour of federation. 

Fenton & Staffordshire County Council - against
Tunstall - 'don't know'
Burslem - walk out
Hanley, Stoke, Longton - in favour

The walkout did not disrupt the hearing but it left only Fenton and Staffordshire County Council opposing the plan, with Tunstall neutral and Hanley, Stoke and Longton in favour. The bulk of the inquiry was concerned with rating schemes generally based on the Owen or Geen proposals from the previous federation attempt.

Rating scheme causes change in voting..... Less than six weeks after the inquiry closed, on 23 February 1908, the Local Government Board issued a draft provisional bill for the federation of the six towns. This was not unexpected but the rating scheme proposed differed from the schemes discussed during the inquiry and included a complicated valuation of the properties belonging to each municipality, something that none of the towns wished to do. 

Hanley, Longton and Tunstall supported the draft order 
Stoke, Fenton and Burslem all opposed it.

Focus of federation proposal moves to London

With the issuing of the draft order, focus of the process moved from the Potteries to London. The Local Government Provisional Order (No. 3) Bill was introduced into the House of Commons in July 1908 by the Select Committee on Private bills chaired by Sir George White and received its third reading on 31 July 1908. The bill had received significant amendment during its passage through the House of Commons most notably in introducing a complex, differential rating system for a period of 10 years. 

The proposal pleased very few of the interested parties. 

The differential system was welcomed but a period of 20 years was preferred and the complicated valuation required of all public assets was not welcomed. As a result Tunstall withdrew its support for the order leaving only Hanley and Longton to promote the bill in the House of Lords. Neither council was particularly in favour of the financial settlement but felt honour bound to promote the bill, having been the principal promoters of the scheme.

The House of Lords Select Committee assigned to deal with the bill was chaired by Lord Cromer and sat in November and December 1908. After several sittings the committee declared several important decisions...... 

 - It reaffirmed that federation would be to the benefit of the people of the Potteries, that a differential rating system for a fixed period was required, 

- that asset valuation in each town should be abandoned and, most importantly, 

- the committee reserved to itself the ability to decide a course of action should the parties not be able to reach an agreement. 

This last point was important because without it all disputes would have to be passed back either to the Local Government Board or the House of Commons and with prorogation of Parliament on the horizon, this would lead to delay which would jeopardise the whole bill passing through Parliament in that parliamentary session.

Reluctant agreement made made on rating system..... On 16 December 1908, less than a week after the committee made its announcement, the six towns informed the committee that an agreement had been reached and that a differential rating system for 20 years had been agreed, no valuation of assets would be undertaken and that each town on its own was responsible for discharging any loans it had outstanding on 31 December 1907.

With this agreement reached the committee redrafted the bill in the terms agreed by the towns and it was passed by the House of Lords on 19 December 1908. Returned to the House of Commons the bill was passed by the Commons the same day with Royal Assent being received on 21 December 1908.

The Local Government Provisional Order (No. 3) Confirmation Act came into force on 31 March 1910. The new council consisted of 78 councillors representing 26 wards, the first mayor of the county borough of Stoke-on-Trent was Cecil Wedgwood.

 North Stafford Hotel - Winton Square the location of the first meeting on 1st April 1910


Cecil Wedgwood the first mayor of the 
county borough of Stoke-on-Trent

Arms were granted to the new county borough in 1912. 
They were made up of devices previously used by the constituent six towns


The county borough was to be short lived as on 1 July 1925 the county borough of Stoke-on-Trent became the City of Stoke-on-Trent under letters patent from King George V dated 5 June 1925.

text: Wikipedia article "Federation of Stoke-on-Trent"

next: Town Halls - the battle for the civic centre 
contents: Index page for Federation