All that’s changed in 30 years is the oatcake fillings… and the prices

The year was 1982. Glenn Fowler was driving up and down Waterloo Street, Hanley, trying to find an oatcake shop.
In the end he had to ask a local to point him to the location. There was no signage – just a window and a curtain.
Glenn, a joiner by trade was 30 at the time, but had recently been running a chip shop.
He didn’t know it back then, but Glenn was about to take over what was to become the last Hole In The Wall oatcake shop in the Potteries.
Having done the paper work, the owner showed Glenn how to make up one oatcake ‘mix’… and then promptly retired to Lytham St. Annes.
Glenn said: “Looking back now it was a big gamble. Purchasing the business cost us £30,000 which was a lot of money in 1982.
“We had been shown the books but there was no proper accountancy and I shudder when I look back at the risk we took.”
Fortunately, Glenn and his wife Sue were able to call on Sheila Hickson – who had worked for the previous owner.
Glenn said: “Sheila was invaluable really. She kept us right. It was crucial that we kept the customers happy in those early days and she made sure the mixture was the right consistency and texture.”
Glenn says the business was profitable from day one because he and Sue always ran a tight ship.
Back then they were selling just plain oatcakes and pikelets.
That all changed thanks to a local copper.
Glenn said: “There was a policemen who used to call round and ask us to put a bit of cheese on an oatcake for him. We used to buy a little block just for him.
“That was the start of the demand for fillings which became a huge part of the business.
“That is what has really changed over the last 30 years because, fundamentally, the business itself and the processes involved are exactly the same as when we took over. These days, however, rather than just plain oatcakes and pikelets people want bacon and cheese and sausage and all sorts of things.
“In the end we were buying 12 or even 14 five kilo blocks of cheese because of the amount of filled oatcakes we were selling.”
The Hole In The Wall closed on March 25 after a lengthy campaign to preserve this little piece of Potteries heritage.
Waterloo Street is in a regeneration zone and the shop – part of a row of terraced properties – will be demolished to make the area ready for redevelopment. Glenn and Sue didn’t want to pack in. There was even a suggestion that their shop be dismantled and rebuilt brick-by-brick in a different location – possibly at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
There are, of course, still plenty of oatcake shops across North Staffordshire but Glenn’s was the last Hole In The Wall – echoing a tradition of the Potteries delicacy being sold through the windows of people’s homes.
He said: “Our last day was incredibly emotional. We had queues of people, huge bulk orders to complete and scores of cards and flowers from well-wishers. We have no plans at the moment. We are still trying to clear the place out.
“We’re extremely proud of the business, and of having played a little part in an historic industry and we’ll miss all our customers who have become friends.”

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