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

buildings in Tunstall
 


next: Tunstall Town Hall
previous: Tunstall Park
contents: index of buildings in Tunstall


No 5 -  Tunstall 
The Boulevard

[ location map

 

 

'Downtown and the Silver Screen'

 

Growing up in Packmoor, ‘my town’ was Tunstall. I spent many hours in Tunstall Park. I used to go to the dentist at Tunstall Health Centre. I used to buy my records from ‘Replay Records’ on the High Street. It was also the place of many firsts for me. My first job (apart from my paper round) was at the former Co-op supermarket, fetching trolleys in and stacking shelves. I did my work experience while I was at high school at a Tunstall-based architect’s practice. And my first trip to the pictures was to the old Barber’s Palace on the Boulevard. Tunstall means a lot to me.

When visiting the town, I always felt that I had ‘arrived’ once I turned right at the end of Victoria Park Road onto the Boulevard (formerly Station Road; the Boulevard is a much better moniker). The Boulevard might not be a classic urban street in the sense that Deansgate in Manchester or Princes Street in Edinburgh are, but the approach to the heart of Tunstall along the Boulevard always gave me that sense of arrival, even though the route is severed by a by-pass.

 

 

 

 

 

The Boulevard, Tunstall
The Boulevard, Tunstall
in the mid 1950's renamed from Station Road

on the left flats which were built on the site of Barbers Picture Palace

 

Google Street View


 

 

The growth of the eastern extremities of Tunstall began during the 1870s with the construction of the Potteries Loop Line, and Tunstall Station (hence the Boulevard’s former name). The introduction of this important connection between the towns of Kidsgrove and Hanley led to an increase in development, in particular the laying out of Victoria Park and building of a range of public buildings by the prolific A.R. Wood, one of the city’s most prominent architects and Borough Surveyor.

 

 

The Victoria Institute, Public Baths and Fire Station from Greengate Street

The Victoria Institute, Public Baths and Fire Station from Greengate Street
'a fine example of Victorian-era paternalism'

 

In 1880, the area was still an area of wasteland and earthworks, and the Boulevard was just a small lane called Mill Street. In 1890, the Victoria Institute and Jubilee Buildings were built to designs by Wood to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, with the public library moving there in 1891 where it has remained to this day. 

It was also home to an art and science school, a museum, public baths and also a fire station: a fine example of Victorian-era paternalism.

 

The development of this public service hub led to the neighbourhood becoming a very popular place to live, and a series of terraced properties were built, including Stanley Street and Park Terrace, which dates from 1893.

 

 

Park Terrace from the War Memorial Gardens

Park Terrace from the War Memorial Gardens



The late 1890s saw the transformation of a small recreation ground connected to the public baths, which eventually led to the laying out of the War Memorial Gardens. An obelisk sits at the heart of the gardens bearing a plaque commemorating the fallen of both World Wars. The War Memorial Gardens are a wonderful green urban oasis along what is now a heavily trafficked road, and provide a lovely outlook for the residents of Park Terrace.

 

 

The War Memorial Gardens - a wonderful green urban oasis

The War Memorial Gardens - a wonderful green urban oasis 

Bing Maps

 

 

 

Remembering the Fallen of Two World Wars

Remembering the Fallen of Two World Wars

 

 

However, as with the nearby Victoria Park, in recent times, the War Memorial Gardens have been allowed to fall into an appalling state, and have only recently seen some attention thanks to a concerted and passionate campaign for action from concerned local residents.

Opposite the War Memorial Gardens is the scene of my first encounter with the Silver Screen, the site of the former Barber’s Palace cinema. Barber’s Palace was a large Art Deco picture house, and was built by George Herbert Barber in 1909. Barber was a strong advocate of religious and temperance subjects, and began to give lectures. Eventually he began to use moving pictures instead of slides, leading to the building of his first cinema in Tunstall, where he built a second. He went on to build further ‘palaces’ between 1909 and 1913 in Hanley, Fenton and Biddulph. He also went on to build another five in Buckinghamshire.

Barber was an interesting and influential character. As well his cinematic ventures, Barber spent many years on the local political scene, serving as member of Stoke-on-Trent City Council for 23 years, including a stint as Lord Mayor in 1929-30. He was also the author of two books ‘Small Beginnings’, and ‘Early Days of Chemical Recoveries from Coal’, and went on to make early air flights around Europe, Palestine, Egypt and Russia.

But for this particular young kid from Packmoor, his most important contribution was his first ‘Barber’s Palace’.


Barber's Station Road Picture Palace

Barber's Station Road Picture Palace 
1920's 

The derelict Barber’s Palace, 1993 
with it’s altered Art Deco façŤade

 

My generation is probably the last for whom a trip to the pictures had a sense of magic. I will never forget my first visit, and the excitement I felt entering the strange and mystical building. The film I saw was E.T. some 30 years or so ago, and I was enchanted. I also cried like an English footballer at the World Cup when the alien cleared off home.

 

Films and cinema was still special back then. Computer generated special effects may be impressive, and the Hollywood stars slick, but the whole package – including the mass marketing through today’s multi-media sources – just has no soul. Everything is almost force-fed to you, and so the build-up of excitement as the opening of a new film approaches is gone. Film today is less art and more product.

 

And the same can be said about the buildings in which you have to watch Hollywood Blockbusters these days. The Potteries once had a host of fine cinemas. Now you have to pay a visit to the monstrous Festival Park to ‘the Odeon’ and sit in an awful tin shed, eating popcorn that is more like cardboard. This apparently is progress. Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old?

 

Whilst my memories remain, Barber’s Palace has gone. Replaced by a crappy block of CABE-era flats which take advantage of the views over the War Memorial Gardens from their frontage on the Boulevard, but which also ‘enjoy’ stunning views of Brittain Adams’ depot and warehouse, and the arse-end of the vile Alexandra Park development.

 

Back over the road brings us to the Victorian-era public service hub that is the Victoria Institute and Jubilee Buildings, and further examples of the municipal neglect that blights the Potteries. The Victoria Institute still stands proud, but is now just home to the town’s library and a vast amount of disused space, whilst the building’s fabric continues to decline. 

 

The public baths off Greengate Street – another building close to my heart, the place where I learned to swim – have been officially abandoned by the City Council, and a community group that proposed the formation of a trust to take them from the council’s hands have given up the ghost, citing a lack of support from the council and the local community. An incredibly sad state of affairs. So much for the Big Society.

 

 

 

Tunstall Public Library, Queen Victoria Jubilee Buildings

Tunstall Public Library, Queen Victoria Jubilee Buildings 

 

 

 

Tunstall Public Baths: 19th Century paternalism; 21st century abandonment

Tunstall Public Baths: 19th Century paternalism; 21st century abandonment

 


To the front of the Victoria Institute is where my trip downtown terminates: an underpass that takes you from the Boulevard, under the by-pass, and into the heart of Tunstall. So much has changed over the past 30 years, but at the same time so much has stayed the same.

 

 

an underpass that takes you from the Boulevard into the heart of Tunstall.

an underpass that takes you from the Boulevard into the heart of Tunstall.

 D.P. 18 March 2012

 

 

 



next: Tunstall Town Hall
previous: Tunstall Park
contents: index of buildings in Tunstall


 

 

 

Related Pages


Tunstall - Station Road and the Loop Line

Potteries Railway Loop Line - Tunstall

Public Swimming Baths, Tunstall

Tunstall Fire Brigade 

Tunstall Library - the Victoria Institute

'Libraries gave us power'