Pounding the streets of Stoke-on-Trent
in search of a buried past

Normacot - 'an ancient and important history which dates back to the Domesday Book'

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....

   There's possible no other place in Stoke-on-Trent that has been more in the forefront of change than Normacot. Neolithic remains and Bronze Age pottery said to be the oldest recovered in North Staffordshire have been found here.

In 1960, a famous hoard of Roman coins was unearthed in a garden at 698 Lightwood Road. Normacot is noted in the Domesday Book. The names of celebrated families litter its history - Audley, who gave it to the Hulton monks. John Hunt, of Longton Hall, who developed its iron industry, handing it on to the Foleys, and the Leverson-Gowers, Dukes of Sutherland.

There were hundreds of coalmines culminating in the giant Florence Colliery, named after the Duchess of Sutherland. A principal Roman route, an important transport road, and now the A50 highway all passed through it. It was an important centre of the Christian faith; nowadays it is Longton's centre of Islamic worship. Where do you begin to tell the story of such a multi-faceted location?

The Church of the Holy Evangelists
The Church of the Holy Evangelists
photo -2006

"I'm told that Normacot grew around the furnace," explains parish priest Father Paul Blanch, "Although it is an ancient part of Stoke-on-Trent, it is surprising that there wasn't a dedicated church in Normacot until the 2nd Duke of Sutherland commissioned the distinguished Gilbert Scott to build one in 1847.
"Scott produced a wonderful reflection of an old English church, and if you look at photographs taken at the turn of the century, you can see the rural aspects of dusty lanes wandering past to Meir and Longton along Furnace Lane and Watery Lane. You can't make comparisons with how it looks now."

The Church of the Holy Evangelists is silent to the outside noise of Upper Belgrave Road and the persistent comings and goings of neighbouring Longton Cottage Hospital. But the architecture befits its time, suspended by circular arched pillars, a wagon-headed roof and raftered ceiling. There is warmth inside, generated by locally-quarried sandstone, and newness made by substantial repairs after the east end was badly damaged by fire 10 years ago.

"Like all Christian churches there have been better days," says Father Paul. "Our congregation has fallen. And yet funerals are increasing. I suppose families want to come home to a place they have affection for. "And surprisingly, baptisms are increasing as well. So perhaps there are better times ahead."

Many streets have Scottish names in tribute to the Sutherlands. And many of these streets have been reoccupied by a buoyant Muslim community surrounding its place of worship, the Gallani Noor Mosque, in Chaplin Road. Asian late shops abound.

"My family has owned this shop for 21 years," says Mrs Kaur, in Rothsay Road. "We are one of a number of businesses in the centre of a community which is largely Asian these days. But we all get along."

The Normacot public house
The Normacot public house
photo - 2006

Across the road. Kath Jackson has lived in Normacot for 32 years.

"Naturally there have been massive changes around here," says Kath. "When I first came everyone was British, and Normacot was known as the posh end of Longton. The mixed community gets along fine. In fact the biggest division has been caused by the A50 road. "That has completely cut Normacot in two. You just.don't know what's happening now on the other side around Uttoxeter Road."

You can't help sympathising with Kath's statement. It's not the first time I hear it while walking around the long terraced rows. The few lunchtime customers in the Normacot pub still lament the loss of important community buildings such as the Alhambra Cinema, and indeed the demise of the public house.

"I don't come out a lot now," says one, supping a pint while attempting to crack his newspaper crossword. "Banning smoking has caused untold problems. Well just look around you."

He may be right. The huge room, one of four massive bars in a 1935 ostentatious pile mirrored to match the Kings Arms, at Meir, looks more inharmonious than the mosque.

Landlords Chris and Laura Probert have been here for 12 months.

"Yes it is a big pub, but we do get a fair trade at weekends," says Chris. "It has to be admitted that the community change has had an effect on trade, but the pub still gets used by the locals who live close by and from farther afield."

Normacot is a place of diverse irony. For instance, Queensbury Community Centre, the Victorian school which Reginald Mitchell attended, shares reachable space with the mosque and the incongruous pub.

Gilbert Scott's church is associated with the family of Vera Brittain; a plaque dedicated by Shirley Williams MP says so. And close by was a house occupied by Oswald Moseley when his wife Lady Cynthia was once MP here. In Normacot, history is never far away.

"At almost every point in the development of Stoke-on-Trent you can find reference to Normacot," says historian Steve Birks.

"It really must have been an important industrial area with a combination of water, power, iron, limestone and wood for charcoal, ensuring Normacot was a place of early industry in Staffordshire.

"There's evidence of this going back to the 16th century. But when the Foleys owned it, the output of iron through the furnaces doubled from 300 tonnes of pig iron a year. "This is amazing because it represented 2.5 per cent of the total national output."

"Just think, Normacot was one of the country's biggest iron producers in its time. But its impact on the landscape was terrible. The Ludwall spring was dammed to provide a polluted lake to power forge hammers. Most of the Lightwood Forest was decimated for the quantities of charcoal required for the furnace. Ironstone ', and coal pits honeycombed the district, and waste was dumped everywhere. By the end of the 16th century though, the furnace ceased."

"Is Normacot an important place in the city?" "Yes it is, without question.


on the history of Normacot


next week: The Foley

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
next: The Foley
previous: Meir


11 December 2007