David Proudlove's
critique of the built environment of Stoke-on-Trent


‘The Unknown Legends’

The Oxford Modern English Dictionary defines ‘gentrification’ as “the social advancement of an inner urban area by the arrival of affluent middle-class residents”. Such a process is normally driven by speculative high-value housing development, and although you probably wouldn’t describe Norton-in-the-Moors as an inner urban area, you could certainly argue that this former coal mining community is undergoing such a process; the village itself has been ludicrously renamed ‘Norton-le-Moors’, the origins of which are a mystery to me, and new nearby executive housing developments have been christened ‘Norton Chase’ and ‘Norton Heights’ respectively.


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Norton-in-the-Moors, to give the village its real name (although in the 1800s the village was known as ‘Norton-on-the-Moors’) is where the city meets the moors, and has its roots in coal being home to Norton Colliery (now home to the aforementioned housing developments) and a neighbour of Chatterley Whitfield. The community also played an important role in the rise of Primitive Methodism, founded by Stoke-on-Trent-born Christian converts Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, the ‘ranters’ hosting the third of their infamous ‘Camp Meetings’ in Norton-in-the-Moors in 1807.

It is a relatively small place, though is home to a large number of council properties, built to house those displaced from slum clearance programmes in inner urban areas during the early 20th century.


Church of St Bartholomew on Norton Lane
Church of St Bartholomew on Norton Lane

Built in 1737 by Richard Trubshawe, this undated drawing by T.P Wood shows a classical building with a short brick tower and ball finials.

© William Salt Library (Staffordshire Views VIII-108)

The area’s most notable landmark is the Church of St Bartholomew on Norton Lane, which emerges spectacularly as you move down Smallthorne Bank towards Ford Green. This attractive brick and stone parish church originates from 1738 (though significantly rebuilt in 1914), built by Richard Trubshaw, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the Potteries. Perched atop a hill, the church offers expansive views out towards Smallthorne and Burslem to the west, and stunning views of the southern Staffordshire Moorlands and the Peak District beyond to the east. It is an attractive location, and you can understand the attraction for house builders and their gentrification of the former colliery site.


Although in need of a little TLC, St Bartholomew's churchyard is a very attractive and peaceful local greenspace (it was also for me a late night drunken shortcut from the Duke in Norton Green, and more of that later).

Churchyards and cemeteries are often ignored as local open and green spaces, but they can play a very important role in people’s lives, reinforcing local distinctiveness and sense of place. However, this is now beginning to change: the Government’s design advisor the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has recently published a briefing paper Cemeteries, churchyard and burial grounds which considers the importance and role that such spaces play, and discusses issues such as maintenance.
This report can only be good news for churchyards as local authorities and other bodies wrestle with withering budgets, increased repair bills, and infuriating red tape.


The Duke of Wellington, Norton-in-the-Moors
The Duke of Wellington, Norton-in-the-Moors

This public house dates back to before 1843 and was originally three rooms wide by two rooms deep but now has modern extensions attached. It stands on Endon Road which was formerly known as Leek Road.

© The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Staffordshire Past Tracks

The cause of my drunken hops through St Bartholomew’s churchyard is its location midway between my watering hole of choice, and the home of an old friend of mine.

The Duke of Wellington, or simply the Duke, was the favourite haunt of two old friends (Bobby M and JH; pseudonyms, but you know who you are) and me, and I can honestly say that I have lost count of the hours spent putting the world to right through the bottom of a glass, before either weaving my way home along Knypersley and Bemersley Roads, or staggering back to Bob’s via the churchyard for a quick coffee and a few tunes while waiting for a cab. I would not be where I am today without the time I spent in this part of the world.

The Duke is no more, of course, gone the way of many public houses throughout the Potteries. Owned by profit hungry breweries, or even worse, ‘pub chains’ (people that know the price of everything and the value of nothing), and run by ‘tenants’, screwed to the floor by high rents and high priced stock; the Duke eventually fell, as others continue to fall. The shell still remains, the bricks and mortar, but its soul is gone: the Duke is now a private, as opposed to public, house.

And as the Duke endures, so do my memories; good days, good nights. Good times. Good, good people. While the sun sets in the west, in this part of the world it is closer to dark, St Bartholomew’s casting longer shadows as the light slips away but these were our times, and we came alive! As street lights twinkled like stars in a northern sky, we sang our hearts out and were legends, and laughed at our freedom; the joys of being young. And so now, when I see the church tower rising on the horizon like a daffodil emerging in spring, I think of old friends, unknown legends.

David Proudlove     16 February 2008

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