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

Ladywell, Tunstall
- 'a town of courts, wells and windmills'

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

The road to Tunstall from Brownhills leads through St Mary’s and Ladywell areas of Tunstall, the most northern of the Six Towns. 

“The Sneyd’s were the owners of 1,250 acres of land in the manor of Tunstall in the 18th century,” says historian Steve Birks. “However, only a relatively small part of this was situated inside the town indicating the extent of the parish. The Sneyd holdings were mainly Holly Wall Farm and Tunstall Farm.” 

Tunstall Farm was later owned by Mary Younge with land on the east side of it owned by the Smith-Child’s of Newfield Hall. Later, seven acres were sold to the Williamson brothers where Goldendale Ironworks was built. Some of this was divided to make Tunstall cemetery in 1868. 

“The Manor itself can be dated from 16th century covering among others Chell, Oldcott, Wolstanton and Burslem,” continues Steve. “But the court sat here from 1274 until Tudor times when it was held elsewhere in the manor until it finally closed in the middle of the 18th century.”

The original Tunstall court house stood in Cross Street renamed Oldcourt Street in the 1950’s. According to some records it was demolished in 1888.  

“There are some inaccuracies that may not be resolved,” says Tunstall author Don Henshall. “It has been suggested for instance that the old Fryar’s Pottery at the corner of Oldcourt Street and Roundwell Street may have been the court house. Victorian-styled architecture dispels that. But it is possible it might have stood on this site.” 

Tunstall manor court leet
Tunstall manor court leet

A lot has changed in Tunstall over recent times, and continues to change. Although the court goes back centuries the town itself isn’t that old. 

“It was established to serve manorial business,” continues Don. “Population was sparse and fragmented and the location must have been convenient for the overseers of the estates. In 1810 for instance there were just over fifteen-hundred inhabitants many of whom arrived with the canal and industry. Twenty years later the population had risen to 3,673, and in 1851 it was a bustling 9,500.”

A subsequent courthouse and market was built in Tower Square as it is now known. Steve Birks points out other elements of the court’s jurisdiction. 

“The court was responsible for the upkeep of the pinfold to impound stray animals, a common occurrence in earlier times,” adds Steve. “In 1782 the pinfold stood at the junction of Furlong Lane and High Street. Later it moved to the west end of Clayhills Road. The official responsible for this was called a pinner, chosen at the court leet.” 

What is the court leet, I ask. 

“It was an historical court in England and Wales,” answers Steve. “In medieval England the Lord of the Manor exercised certain jurisdictional franchises. The most important of these was the frankpledge and it’s policing. A court leet was a court of record whose duty was not only to view the pledges but to try offenders in jury courts. Here a town steward acted as judge with administration activity executed by a bailiff. The courts leet fell away on the arrival of magistrate’s courts.”

Tunstall was also noted also for its market with a windmill standing on high ground in Pierce Street near Jefferson Street. 

a sketch of the old Tunstall windmill
a sketch of the old Tunstall windmill

“These names have been changed, they were formerly Windmill and Cooper Street,” says Don. “And it’s an area prominent for its spring wells that stood beneath dozens of criss-crossing terraced streets which were demolished in the 1980’s.” 

At the town end of Pierce Street an imposing detached town house still has the old ceramic street nameplate attached in defiance of modernisation. 

“It was a doctor’s house and surgery before my father Clement bought it some sixty years ago,” says the owner Catholic funeral director Paul McGough. “When the Scared Heart Church was being built the indomitable Father Ryan, knowing my father worked for H&R Johnson as a carpenter, persuaded him to make a coffin for a poor parishioner. At the next Sunday mass Father Ryan announced that the town needed a Catholic undertaker and that my father was setting up a funeral business. He couldn’t get out of it if he’d wanted to.”

The McGough’s are a big Tunstall family founded by Paul’s great-grandfather. 

 “Michael Mcgeogh came to North Staffordshire from Carrick McCross in County Monaghan,” explains Paul. “Apparently he was tramping through Staffordshire from Liverpool when he took a rest on Yarlet Hill outside Stafford. While he was saying his rosary something made him turn back. He walked to Newcastle, took a job on a brick works and soon got married. One of his children was my grandfather Peter who settled in Tunstall and was a town councillor for forty-five years. He was a JP and a Papal Knight.” 

The McGough family are deeply committed to Tunstall and its prevalent Catholic faith.

“Apparently my great-grandfather saw a crowd of people walking along the road to Stafford one day,” recalls Paul. “He stopped them to ask where they were going and they told him they were off to the gaol to make sure they had a good view of the last public hanging. Michael remonstrated with them and managed to persuade many of them to turn back.”

Don Henshall outside C McGough & Sons funeral directors in Tunstall
Don Henshall outside C McGough & Sons funeral directors in Tunstall
the old sign for Windmill Street remains on the wall

The house at the end of Windmill Street has been lovingly preserved by the McGough family. Its five reception rooms still have the original chair rails, 18 inch deep skirting boards and delightfully moulded plaster corbels lining the arched door frames. The back rooms are separately defined as servant’s quarters in a touch of period history.   

“We found wells when we renovated the yards,” says Paul. “But we capped them. The old house stood in its own gardens. Then the terraces were built around it. There were also stables and a hayloft in space we’ve converted for the business.” 

MacGough’s house lingers in a historic corner of Tunstall near where the old court once stood. Hopefully it will remain undisturbed for many years to come.

next week: Greengates, Tunstall

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next: Adams & Ggreengates
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see more on Tunstall

24 March 2008