Federation of six towns left Stoke stuck on a decline
ASKING the question: Has the town of Stoke-upon-Trent benefited from the federation of the six towns? – anyone today shopping in the town (or what is left of it) would think it was a joke.
But Stoke, as I remember it, was not always so run-down. It used to be one of the thriving towns of North Staffordshire, where people were proud to have the civic offices at their front door with all the officialdom and of Royalty and the like visiting Spode, Carlton or Minton factories, then dining out at the imposing town hall. The new King's Hall built in 1911 was part of the 'civic plan' to make Stoke the head town of the Potteries.
Around this new King's Hall, was to be a new shopping concept with the demolition of the old Thomas Wolfe pot works and the creation of Kingsway into a row of prestigious shops leading into Glebe Street and back again into Church Street. Despite ambitions plans, people for some reason chose to ignore it and instead kept to the same shopping route of Campbell Place and Church Street.
Upon reflection, maybe the King's Hall and with it the important visitors were the only benefit Stoke gained from federation. There were certainly no improvements to manufacturing. Now even that has gone and with it have followed its customers. Perhaps, as it is in its final stages of decline, the town may eventually be best remembered for the manufacture of the large rubber whale at the Dunlop works, for the 1956 film Moby Dick!
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Stoke catered for most needs. It had one large department store, Harrison's, and a further large store higher up Church Street, Fleets. If you bought something from Fleets you were thought well off. Shame this store is now replaced by such a title as Dirty Dick's Kitchens, while Harrison's is a kind of gaming/bingo shop. Just below Harrison's stood the Metropole Hotel, once advertising at the turn of the century as a temperance hotel. Another shop with the unusual name of Peacocks Bazaar on the corner of the old market and the Co-op Emporium in Liverpool Road, was built in Stoke's heyday in the 1920s where money somehow disappeared into the ether on a wire called a 'Dart Cash Carrier'.
The old Newcastle canal, which ran through the town along London Road, passed under Campbell Place. The tunnel still exists just below the pavement and the bricked-up entrance can still be found around the back of the shops in Kingsway. It was approached by a side passage next to Shaw's Wet Fish Shop on the 'Bridge' as the centre road over the canal was called. This old tunnel, if opened up again, could be converted into a 'cavern' type bar bringing people back into the town as a very unique feature.
Stoke boasted four cinemas. The Majestic in Campbell Place had two different main feature films each week and then on a Saturday morning it was 'ABC Minors' a club for children which cost 6d downstairs and 9d for a seat in the balcony. Here we all sang 'we are Minors of the ABC' to the tune of Blaze Away. Further up in Hill Street stood the Danilo cinema, a beautiful art-deco building opened just as the Second World War started. In Kingsway was The Gordon Theatre, built for opera and named after General Gordon of Khartoum. It became the Hippodrome cinema and later the Gaumont.
Lastly was The Princes in Wharf Street, which boasted the largest screen in the Potteries at one time. At the front there were benches for children. No paper admission tickets here, but metal discs around the size of an old 1d. As the cinema was backed up to the canal, patrons were often amused by a scuffle around the ankles as the rats ran around in the dark after any bit of food deposited on the floor.
During the 1960s came the idea for the creation of a ring-road from the top of Flemming Road at the side of what is now Sainsbury's, which went through the back of Hill Street to link up into Hartshill Road at its junction with Shelton Old Road.
Like many plans for Stoke, it never materialised in the end and Stoke continues, despite federation, to be stuck in a spiral of decline.