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Another 'Grand Tour' of the Potteries
- David Proudlove & Steve Birks -

buildings North of the City

next: Brindley Ford First School
contents: index of buildings North of the City - Part 1

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No 1 -  Elm Tree House, Packmoor

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 “It struck me that by using recycled material, a quality coming from its fragmentary nature was imparted to the meaning of the work. I loved the sense of finding a use for something that had formerly been considered useless”- Philip Hardaker

Dave Proudloves musings on the Summer of '85.... 

In recent weeks I have made a decision that will probably change the direction of the rest of my life. After thirty five years, I decided that I would leave Stoke-on-Trent, the place where I was born, brought up, educated, and worked for the first five years of my career to date. The reasons for my leaving are complicated and personal, but although I have left the city, the city will never leave me, and neither will my opinion that the Potteries is an undiscovered and neglected gem. I will always be a passionate advocate for the area, and it will always be a touchstone in how my thoughts and views are formed, my philosophies shaped; though I now reside in Hazel Grove, I am simply a Potter in Exile, and a proud one. To quote the great Ian Brown, “its not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”.

I suppose that when you make momentous decisions, it is only natural to reflect on things; to cast your mind back to memories both good and bad. I have done a lot of that over the past few months, and in particular have cast my mind back to my childhood, and the place where I grew up, Packmoor, and my happiest summer: the summer of 1985.

Though just a small fragment of my life, the summer of 1985 was a huge part of my childhood. When I think about the summer of 1985, I only remember sunny days, tearing around the fields off Mellor Street, fields scarred through past mining activity, my friends and me pretending to be Hannibal Smith, or one of the other Soldiers of Fortune; we were Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, sitting on Horace’s Hill overlooking what I thought back then, was a large, but unremarkable house. 

I finished off a remarkable summer with a holiday to Thornton Cleveleys with my family, walking along Blackpool promenade as the illuminations were switched on, with Tina Turner’s Mad Max tune ‘Beyond the Thunderdome’ rattling round my head. The only blot on the landscape was Stoke City’s appalling 1984/85 season, which saw the Potters enter the record books for the wrong reasons.

Yes, a remarkable summer, and a remarkable, possibly historic year, although I didn’t realise it at the time. 1985 was extremely eventful, events which have shaped the world that we know today: 

British Telecom announced plans to axe the famous red telephone boxes. Nelson Mandela rejected an offer of freedom from the South African Government. 

The Miner’s Strike came to an end. Coca-cola changed its original formula and launched New Coke, only to revert back to the original after less than three months following a negative response from consumers. 

The first WrestleMania was held at Madison Square Gardens. 

We saw the Bradford Fire Disaster at Valley Parade and the death of fifty six football supporters, followed by the Heysel Stadium riot later the same month which killed a further thirty eight supporters. 

Route 66 was officially decommissioned in the USA. The Greenpeace vessel the Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk in Auckland Harbour by French DGSE agents.

Live Aid in London and Philadelphia raised over £50,000,000 towards famine relief in Ethiopia. 

It was the fortieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, was captured in Los Angeles. We witnessed Race Riots in Brixton. 

The PLO headquarters in Tunis were bombed by the Israeli air force. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in Geneva. 

he first version of Microsoft Windows, Windows 1.0, was launched. 

Terrorist attacks at Rome and Vienna airports killed eighteen people and left one hundred and twenty injured

                                                …Bloody Hell!

And it turned out that that “unremarkable house” that I used to look down upon from Horace’s Hill, is actually quite remarkable. Although I didn’t know it back in 1985, that unremarkable house is Elm House, Packmoor’s only Listed Building.


The building itself is quite ordinary, built of brick with a plain tiled roof, and dates from the late 1700s (the older part of the house is probably the rear wing), though it was enlarged in the mid-1800s. Elm House was a staging post for packhorse carriers, and stabling and a forge complete the site. 

It is thought that it is a former farmhouse, though personally, I doubt this, as much of the land in the area wasn’t really fit for farming purposes, and was informally mined, hence the scars and shafts that littered the area.




the frontage of Elm House from Handley Street, Packmoor
the frontage of Elm House from Handley Street, Packmoor


Elm House, Mellor Street, Lane Ends
Elm House, Mellor Street, Lane Ends
Made in Stoke England

photos: November 2011



A further notable event happened in 1985: Elm House gained itself a new, remarkable owner, the sculptor, ceramicist, and mosaic artist, Philip Hardaker.

Philip was born in Harrogate, and attended the Harrogate College of Art before coming to Stoke-on-Trent, to gain a First Class Honours Degree in Fine Art Sculpture from North Staffordshire Polytechnic. Following completion of his first degree, he moved on to London where he gained an M.A. in Fine Art Ceramics from the Royal College of Art, and in 1985 he returned to the Potteries, picking up Elm House, where he has remained working on private commissions and as a consultant for community, education and public arts ever since.

His work is remarkable, truly unique and innovative, using fragments of pottery, glass, and other bits and pieces, that many people would probably write off as nothing more than junk; Philip has been digging up ancient and modern ceramic shards from Staffordshire and all over the world for many years, weaving these fragments of past ages into modern works of art:

“I have been collecting fragments of objects from Victorian rubbish dumps since I was thirteen or fourteen. I was brought up in Harrogate, and I enjoyed digging on the dump…I liked the curious sense I experienced of digging through my ancestors’ past…in the nineteenth century huge numbers of products were sold in ceramic containers – ceramic was the plastic of its day. 

I found many of these objects…and of course, most of them would have been made in Stoke-on-Trent. When I moved to the Potteries, I realised I was living on top of a treasure trove”.

Philip’s work often has political and ecological objectives, communicating comment on historical events. Indeed, the many events of 1985 highlighted above probably proved a great influence on Philip and his work:

“Technology and air-travel has created a smaller world. We are bombarded with imagery over which we have little control. Think of all the information we can take in from one small television screen in just one evening. It would have been unimaginable in a previous era. 

This is the world I live in, and I aim consciously to make my work respond to this complexity…I try to harness both the fragmentation of the objects I use, and their varied and competing histories to create a new critical statement on the world around me. I am a passionate pacifist. I believe arms are immoral, and that war is the cause of nothing but human misery. Do you know how much it cost to buy the European Fighter Plane? £50,000,000, and we ordered three hundred and thirty two of them. But instead of noticing or thinking about this, we use television – shows like Big Brother – to pacify the nation”.

His work is also intrinsically linked with being English, and celebrates the creativity within North Staffordshire, and the past production of ceramics in the Potteries. However, although the philosophies, ideas and messages behind his work have serious meaning, and capture the spirit of the age, it is also laced with humour and irony.

Cathedrals of Tolerance - Philip Hardaker
Cathedrals of Tolerance


Gridoak - Philip Hardaker

Saddam - Philip Hardaker

works of Philip Hardaker

Key works of his include:

  • ‘Cathedrals of Tolerance’: a mosaic of mixed media, containing images from many religions of faith.

  • ‘Gridoak’: a mosaic reflecting the car vs. environment debate that surrounded the Newbury By-Pass dispute.

  • ‘Saddam’: a mosaic of the late dictator from toy soldiers and soft drinks cans, that Philip created before the first Gulf War.

Entrance to ‘Arthur’s Garden’ in Shelton

Entrance to ‘Arthur’s Garden’ in Shelton


In addition, Philip has worked on many community projects and initiatives throughout North Staffordshire, and one of his most impressive contributions is also one of his most recent.

In 2010, Philip was part of a team that created ‘Arthur’s Garden’ in Shelton, a small community space that celebrates the life of local resident, the late Arthur Garside. Philip worked alongside architects Hulme Upright Manning to deliver the project, with his contribution being ‘Python of Peace’, a brick and ceramic bench at the heart of the garden. The £125,000 project was part-funded by the defunct Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder, RENEW North Staffordshire. RENEW will have contributed a very small fragment of their huge multi-million pound budget towards ‘Arthur’s Garden’; indeed, RENEW could have delivered dozens of ‘Arthur’s Gardens’ throughout North Staffordshire without creating too much of a dent in their lead wallet, yet would have helped deliver something of more lasting value than the demolition of thousands of people’s home ever could. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would almost be funny.

There is also a certain sense of irony in the choosing of Philip to work on a project within RENEW’s programme of destruction: Philip’s artistic philosophy is about rescue, reuse, renewal – the complete antithesis of RENEW’s approach to North Staffordshire’s housing stock.




Philip Hardaker?s bench and the 'Python of Peace'

Philip Hardaker’s bench and the ‘Python of Peace’


View of the Caldon Canal from ‘Arthur’s Garden’

View of the Caldon Canal from ‘Arthur’s Garden’

It is Philip’s philosophy of reuse and renewal that even underpinned his choice of home here in the Potteries: over a hundred years ago, no-one was sure whether the future was the internal combustion engine, electric motors, or steam, but it was plain obvious that horses and donkeys were in trouble; this technological revolution meant that the reason for Elm House’s being was gone. But when Philip Hardaker returned to Stoke-on-Trent, he once again found a use for something that had formerly been considered useless. The late Kirsty MacColl had the following to say about Philip Hardaker back in 1997:


“Oceans, memories, driftwood, missiles, plastics, glass, tin, jets, broken plates, compact discs and cars, cars, cars. A beach-comber for the modern age. Let Philip Hardaker lead you into the 21st century with a bee in your bonnet and a lump in your throat”.


Philip Hardaker is one of North Staffordshire’s greatest talents, up there with Josiah Wedgwood, Suzie Cooper, Arnold Bennett, and other migrants to the Potteries such as Reginald Haggar, Susan Williams-Ellis, and Emma Bridgewater. Hardaker is a renewer, a rescuer, the Womble of the Potteries. A philosopher and prophet, and a proud Yorkshireman, but also a proud, adopted Potter.

 D.P. 16th November 2011






Elm House, Packmoor - marked in red - 1890 map
the house is surrounded by collieries, clay pits and brick works

the road layout and Packmoor Methodist chuch are still evident today



Elm House, Packmoor - marked in red - Google Map 2010

the road layout and Packmoor Methodist chuch are evident on both maps






the detail in the gate and gate posts to Elm House show Philip Hardaker's work
the detail in the gate and gate posts to Elm House show Philip Hardaker's work 




the design of the gate includes farming impliments
the design of the gate includes farming impliments 

“It struck me that by using recycled material, a quality coming from its fragmentary nature was imparted to the meaning of the work. I loved the sense of finding a use for something that had formerly been considered useless” - Philip Hardaker




detail of the posts and the corner of the gate
detail of the posts and the corner of the gate 




head on the gate opening handle
head on the gate opening handle 





blue printed pottery fragments surround the faces of comedy and tragedy on the gate posts
blue printed pottery fragments surround the faces of comedy and tragedy on the gate posts  




next: Brindley Ford First School
contents: index of buildings North of the City - Part 1

[ location map




Related Pages

Listed building details for Elm House, Packmoor

Arthur's Garden, Chambelain Street, Shelton

St. Peter's community mosaic bench

Metal Gateway at Berryhill Greenway

external links..

Philip Hardaker's Web Site