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


'Symbols of Unity, Division and the Potteries' Heart of Darkness'
- page 1 -

"31st March 2010 sees the centenary of the Federation of the Potteries’ Six Towns, which saw the County Borough of Hanley come together with the Municipal Boroughs of Burslem, Stoke and Longton, and the Urban Districts of Tunstall and Fenton to form the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent. 

There is no doubt that there will be much celebration of this important event in the history of the city, and also much reflection and consideration of the difference that this six-way marriage has made. It would be a great tribute to the event if the City Council could use the Federation’s centenary as the catalyst to kick-start the much needed regeneration of the city; I wait with bated breath."


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"The story of the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and indeed the Federation can be told by the Potteries’ incredible thirteen town halls, and two civic centres. Of course, not all of these buildings are still with us, but those that are, are great symbols of past civic pride and extravagance, and the present spiral of decline. And they are also symbols of both the unity and divisions that exist within our city.

The first town hall constructed in the Potteries was in Burslem around 1761, on what is now Market Place. The building displayed all the hallmarks of typical Georgian architecture, and it is no great surprise that amongst the subscribers to the buildings’ erection was the Wedgwood family. The building was eventually demolished in the 1850s, to be replaced by a new town hall, more of which later.

The illustration shows the first Town Hall in 1843.
Burslem’s first town hall, in 1843
"Peace rejoicings at Burslem, Staffordshire, 1814"
'Peace rejoicings’, 1814

Town hall number two was built in 1794, and was at the heart of a development on the edge of Stoke by local landowner John Ward Hassells. A series of streets to a grid-iron layout were built between what are now Honeywall and Campbell Place, and amongst these streets was a central square which housed a new town hall and a market.

 Stoke's first town hall in Market Place off Market Street (now Hide Street)
Stoke Town Hall Number One

Stoke’s first town hall went on to play host to the town’s first art school during the early 1850s when the town built a new town hall, but this was also moved when Minton built the Stoke School of Art in 1859. The building was eventually demolished shortly before World War II.

It is likely that Tunstall’s first town hall was built around the same time as Stoke’s, though no accurate records would appear to exist to confirm this.

Tunstall town hall in Market Square c.1885
Tunstall’s first town hall,
photographed c1885

The building was located at the centre of what is now Tower Square, and was similar in style and stature to Newcastle’s Guildhall.

As Hanley grew, it too built itself a town hall in the early 1800's along Town Road. Unfortunately there are no known photographs or images of the building, and no real records.

The Potteries’ next venture into new civic architecture and public building came in 1834 when Stoke started work on its new town hall. It took an incredible sixteen years to complete the building.

Stoke Town Hall
Potteries Town Hall Number Five

Designed by Hanley-based architect Henry Ward, Stoke Town Hall is the largest of the Victorian-era municipal buildings. A classical tour de force faced in ashlar, its impressive central block, with its stunning main entrance, was completed in 1834. Its north wing was completed in 1842, and the south wing in 1850. The heart of the building was originally a market hall but in 1888, this was rebuilt to include the council chamber, mayoral parlour, and municipal offices. The Kings Hall extension was added in 1910.

Longton’s first town hall, and the Potteries’ sixth, was built in 1844 at the junction of Market Street and Commerce Street on Times Square, and eventually became a court house. The building was eventually demolished and replaced with the current town hall after less than twenty years.


Longton Court House (previously Town Hall), Commerce Street c.1875
Longton’s first town hall c1875


Twelve months after the completion of Longton’s first town hall, Hanley completed its second, a beautiful classical edifice on Fountain Square. Although an impressive piece of architecture, the council moved out in 1886, and the building was taken on by Lloyds Bank who opened a branch there. Lloyds still remain on the site, though the building has long since been replaced. 

Postcard of Hanley’s second town hall on Fountain Square

In 1852, the Mother Town commenced work on its second, and the Potteries’ eighth town hall, and five years later, Lemington-based architect G.T. Robinson completed what is known as the Old Town Hall.

The Old Town Hall was built on the site of Burslem’s original town hall on Market Place, a neo-classic masterpiece that is possibly the most impressive piece of civic architecture in the Potteries.

However, since the Federation, the Old Town Hall has had a worryingly varied life, being used as a leisure centre, the inspiration for a massive hit single by Potteries pop legend, Port Vale shareholder, and Los Angeles resident Robbie Williams, and the home to the City Council’s infamous Millennium project, Ceramica. Ceramica’s future always seems to be uncertain despite the attraction’s excellence, and as such, so is the Old Town Hall’s.

Former Town Hall, Burslem
The Old Town Hall, Burslem: the Mother Town’s second
and the Potteries’ eighth, and a Grade II* Listed Building

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previous: Villages of Vision