Stoke-on-Trent - photo of the week


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'The Hole In The Wall' is the last surviving front-room oatcake shop in Staffordshire.

'The Hole In The Wall' is the last surviving front-room oatcake shop in Staffordshire.

At the premises in Waterloo Street in Hanley the actual baking area which is an unusual shape would at one time have been the kitchen of the house.

In years gone by, every room had a function - the living room was used to sell drapery

photo:  Jan 2009

The shop sells oatcakes out on to the pavement, originally from a sash window,
The shop sells oatcakes out on to the pavement, originally from a sash window,

photo:  Jan 2008

Due to 'renewal' of the local area, the surrounding terrace houses are being demolished to make way for new housing - the Hole in the Wall oatcake shop is in the clearance area:


photo: BBC web site

"Oatcakes are a type of pancake made with oatmeal which has been a staple for the working classes in Staffordshire for over 200 years.

Between six in the morning and two in the afternoon from Thursday to Sunday every week hundreds of people queue for their oatcakes.  People have been coming to the Hole in the Wall shop in Waterloo Street in Bucknall, Stoke-on-Trent, for over 100 years.

"It's an institution, the Hole in the Wall, they shouldn't get rid of it," says Keith Jones, a taxi driver who has been buying his oatcakes here for longer than he cares to remember. He describes the oatcake as the national dish of the Potteries. "It's just a Stoke thing, it's North Staffordshire, it's a tradition."

The Staffordshire oatcake looks nothing like its Scottish cousin. It's made into a batter from oatmeal, flour, milk and water, and then is ladled on to a griddle and made into a circular pancake.  Imagine a French crepe and you're not far off. It's usually served for breakfast with cheese, bacon, sausage or eggs.

 
photos: BBC web site

In the 19th Century they were sold from the front rooms of Stoke's terraced houses. Some of these houses evolved into more permanent shops, with a hatch through which the oatcakes were sold on the street.

 

Factories dismantled

The Hole in the Wall is the last of a dying breed. It sells about 2,500 every day.

"There were a lot of them. There were a couple around the corner here, but as time's gone on they've closed down and become houses," said the Hole in the Wall's owner, Glenn Fowler.

Oatcakes are also popular in Cheshire, Derbyshire and parts of north Wales but they have become synonymous with Staffordshire and especially Stoke-on-Trent.

"It is possibly the last traditional oatcake shop in the world," said Fred Hughes, a local historian who hopes that the Hole in the Wall can be saved, even if it has to be moved brick by brick

Unfortunately over the last five years we've seen these important factories dismantle and move out of Stoke-on-Trent, big names like Spode and Royal Doulton.

"They've all gone, and the oatcake shop was part of that, because it was part of the community."

Most of the old terraced houses surrounding the Hole in the Wall are already boarded up ready to be knocked down. The Renew North Staffordshire scheme is spending 2.3 billion on regenerating the area, and says it will consider moving it.

"The place has been here something like 100 years, so it takes a lot to destroy it," said Mr Fowler. He and his customers want it to stay where it is, and hope that the new buildings can be erected around it."

BBC web site - Feb 2008

photo:  Jan 2008