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100 years of federation

Accountant was breath of fresh air

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....

The most important seat in Stoke-on-Trent’s council chamber is the first one to the right facing the Lord Mayor. It is the seat normally occupied by the leader of the council. And in recent times it belonged to such civic titans as Ted Smith, Ron Southern, Jim Westwood, Arthur Cholerton and Sir Albert Bennett. It was where Fred Geen sat on 28th January 1915 when he rose to answer an accusation of dishonesty. Geen, sporting an Edwardian moustache, an accountant and a man of principles higher than his high-wing collars, stared fixedly at his accusers. As he waved an arm in a gesture of dismissal, he promptly dropped down dead at the age of fifty-seven. Such is the burden of responsibility that our elected representatives carry.

Frederick Geen
Frederick Geen

“Geen came to politics through chartered accountancy,” says Potteries’ historian Steve Birks. “Having built up a successful business, which still thrives in Liverpool Road, he came to prominence when he successfully challenged the stranglehold of Stoke’s auditors in a year-long campaign of frenetic politicking. From then on he was never out of civic limelight, whether overseeing the completion of the Kings Hall or entertaining royalty at his fine mansion called Cliffe Ville. There’s no doubt Frederick Geen was a top politician.”

 In the dying years of the Victorian age Geen represented the business ratepayers of Stoke town who were infuriated over harsh levies the council applied to their properties.

At the annual meeting of the borough auditors in 1898 Geen, as mayor, launched his daring bid to unseat the town executive who happened to be his trading competitors John Broady and George Herbert Stringer, accountants who had been returned unopposed since the borough of Stoke-upon-Trent had been incorporated in 1874.

“John Broady was the son of a brewer’s agent who later took over his father’s civic responsibilities,” Steve continues.
“His partnership with George Herbert Stringer, the principal accountant to the North Staffs Railway Company, sealed Stoke’s monopoly over rail communication for the best part of two decades. Together these two men controlled the town’s financial administration until Fred Geen decided otherwise. His success generally breathed some fresh air through the smoky streets of Stoke and he was elected to the office of mayor for the borough three times, 1897, 1899 and 1903 on the strength of his popularity.

Geen though was a committed anti full-federationist, preferring a civic partnership with Stoke, Fenton and Longton instead. But his early proposals fizzled out through lack of support.”


The federation of the Potteries’ towns had been an issue for many decades. In an informative summary in the appendix of People of the Potteries published by Keele University in 1985, researcher Reg Edwards traces the first attempts back to 1835. He writes that Stoke-on-Trent MP, John Davenport of Burslem, strongly recommended a single Potteries’ county borough, but failed to convince his fellow Boslemites. Even then, it seems, people chose parochialism rather than unity.

“From 1850 federation schemes came up regularly,” says Steve. “It was a complicated progression blighted by arguments over different town ratings and ownership of assets such as sewage and water with each town fighting its own corner. It became very messy which may have been the reason that the commissioners favoured Frederick Geen’s new proposals.”

According to Edwards, Geen’s new plan laid out solutions for the phasing-in of each town’s ratings over 20 years during which time the fixed assets of each town would remain in individual liability. Geen desperately wanted Stoke to be the administrative centre, but Hanley spiked his plan with alternative proposals while Burslem simply sulked in silence.

“Records show that in 1896 Geen had offices in Glebe Buildings,” says historian Richard Talbot. “These were at the entrance of Kingsway so he was in close proximity with the town hall. His home was also in a prominent place above the Catholic Church overlooking the valley and town. The house was built by John Tomlinson (1772-1838) in 1808, an important Stoke solicitor who succeeded in getting Stoke Rectory placed on statute. It was a superb mansion with extensive gardens, country walks and tennis courts. It became Geen's palace where, in 1913, he entertained King George V and Queen Mary after they’d formally opened the Kings Hall. In 1922 the estate was acquired by local nuns for the Dominican Convent and was central to St. Dominic's High School before being demolished in 1988. The land now is occupied by Tolkien Way residential district.”


Geen’s business partner was Frederick William Carder. Among their clients were many famous potters as well as Stoke City FC.

Kings Hall, Stoke
Kings Hall, Stoke

“After federation in 1910 Geen left Carder in full control and immersed himself in civic duty driving the infant authority to new heights,” says Steve. “Geen became the second mayor of the new federated borough from 1911 to 1913 after Cecil Wedgwood. Some say he alone created Stoke town hall as the centre of administration. But there’s no question that he facilitated the design of the impressive council chamber. What magnificent irony then to die in the place of your greatest achievements.”

more on Frederick Geen

see the battle for the federation town hall

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19 Jan 2009