Phase two of museum has entertained us for generations…

Prince Charles officially opening phase two of the City Museum and Art Gallery in June 1981.

Prince Charles officially opening phase two of the City Museum and Art Gallery in June 1981.


Whether or not these bids will be successful remains to be seen but, whatever the case, there are few better places to take the children on a wet afternoon during the school holidays than this cultural oasis.

It’s half-term and, predictably, it’s raining – so which venues do parents fall back on to keep their youngsters entertained?

Libraries and museums, of course.

Where would we be without the themed craft workshops for kids while mum and dad enjoy a cappuccino and five minutes’ peace and quiet?

We are blessed in Stoke-on-Trent with a number of terrific venues which have helped to entertain us for generations.

Chief among them is the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which was opened in its present form on June 3, 1981, by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

Prince Charles reacquainted himself with the Bethesda Street venue in February 2010 when he returned for a sneak preview of items from the Staffordshire Hoard, which were due to go on show to the public days later.

Originally known as the City Museum and Art Gallery, the building was first officially opened by Alderman Horace Barks in October 1956 on the site of the former Bell Pottery Works.

Phase two of the project – the enlarged venue given a Royal seal of approval – involved the creation of a far more impressive piece of architecture than its 1950s predecessor.

As a nod to the many brickworks which had been dotted across the Potteries, bricks were extensively used in the project.

The focal point, of course, is the long relief above the entrance – made from more than 6,000 specially-shaped bricks – which depicts the industrial heritage of Stoke-on-Trent.

Images include kilns and potters at work, miners and a pithead, a horse and cart carrying coal, as well as canal boats.

A year after it opened the venue was awarded the title Museum of the Year – around about the time yours truly first set foot in the place.

When growing up I was fascinated by the natural history section (the stuffed animals in particular), the recreation of a Victorian street, the medieval burial casket from Hulton Abbey and, of course, the city’s Spitfire.

When the museum first opened the then Evening Sentinel carried a weekly Museum Pieces feature which included a photograph of an artefact from the museum’s extensive collections along with a story explaining the significance of the item.

The purpose was to highlight forthcoming exhibitions but, more importantly, showcase some of the thousands of artefacts – the bulk of which, at the time, were pottery ware.

There simply wasn’t the space to display everything and so these articles were a little window into the unseen world of the museum’s archives.

Over the years the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, as it is now known, has gained a reputation for more than simply a world-renowned collection of ceramics.

In RW 388, it boasts a Spitfire which is 85 per cent the original aircraft that rolled off the production line almost 70 years ago.

In the Staffordshire Hoard, it owns one of the most important archaeological finds ever in the UK.

Of course, for tourists, the unrivalled pottery collection remains a huge draw.

The city council is currently working on various bids for funding to enhance and transform the museum into a more interactive, more modern attraction which makes the most of its most prized assets.

Don’t miss 12 pages of nostlagia in the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday

Advertisements

Hoard bid a golden chance to leave a fantastic legacy

Ever since it opened its doors in 1981 I’ve always thought we have been very fortunate to have the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery on our doorstep.

As museums go, I think it’s a bit special.

No, I don’t mean the decorative brick façade celebrating our industrial heritage… I’m talking about what’s inside.

For starters, the museum boasts the world’s best collection of Staffordshire ceramics.

But, at the risk of blaspheming, I’m not that interested in looking at cups, saucers, plates and vases – no matter how old they are.

However, Hanley’s museum does have a Spitfire. Now you’re talking. This is the fighter plane that turned the tide of the Battle of Britain and was designed by our very own Reginald Mitchell, from Butt Lane.

Find me a lad who isn’t impressed by the sight of this beautiful, deadly machine with its Browning machine guns and Merlin engine.

If that doesn’t float your boat then how about the local history section or the exhibits relating to ongoing archeological work taking place at Hulton Abbey?

Still not convinced?

How about some gold? To be more precise, artifacts from the largest ever find of Anglo-Saxon gold treasure – The Staffordshire Hoard.

From February 13 that’s what will be on show at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

To put the find in context, I will quote Leslie Webster, formerly of the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum.

He said: “This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England… as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries. Absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospel or Book of Kells.”

Enough said.

As someone fascinated by the Anglo-Saxon period, I can’t tell you how excited I am.

Thus I was delighted to hear that Stoke-on-Trent City Council was putting in a joint bid along with Birmingham to buy the hoard and ‘keep it local’.

The authority is spearheading a major campaign to raise the £3,285,000 needed to buy the 1,800 gold and silver artifacts so that they can be kept and displayed in the region.

The council is asking for public donations and for local businesses to support the bid.

The catch is, we only have a couple of months to raise the necessary funds. At a time of great financial hardship, this request may come way down many people’s list of priorities but this really does represent a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It is a chance to bequeath upon future generations a wonderful archaeological legacy of worldwide significance.

The Staffordshire Hoard would undoubtedly also have a huge economic impact on the Potteries – attracting tens of thousands of tourists to a Cultural Quarter definitely worth the name.

To give you an indication of its pulling power, when 80 artifacts from the hoard went on display in Birmingham in September more than 40,000 visitors viewed the exhibits in under three weeks.

This is why I’d like to think that each and every one of us will get behind this fund-raising campaign.

Back in May I was banging on about the Wedgwood Museum, which had been short-listed for the £100,000 Arts Fund prize.

A month later the Barlaston attraction scooped the prize and I’m pretty sure Sentinel readers played their part in its success by voting in the nationwide poll.

We have all, at times, criticised the city council for its largesse and questioned the expenditure of public money on such things as art works.

However, if ever a local authority arts venture deserved our wholehearted support as we aim to celebrate the centenary of the Six Towns in style, then the bid for The Staffordshire Hoard is it.

We must be more proud of our stunningly-rich heritage

Until this week I thought I was reasonably well versed in the history of the Potteries.

Then I met the Reverend Robert Mountford, founder of City Vision Ministries in Burslem and a passionate local historian.

He’s a bit like TV favourite Simon Schama… having taken the drug ‘speed’.

In 25 minutes Robert raced through his presentation on the history of what we now call ‘the Potteries’ from the time of the Celts to 2009.

The truth is, he could have talked for hours. And hours. Such is the fascinating story of how North Staffordshire became the unique, diverse and ultimately flawed conurbation it is today.

Simple things stood out for me. For example – do you know where the name Stoke-on-Trent originates and what it means?

I have to confess, I didn’t.

Well, the first centre of Christian preaching and worship in the area (as early as the 7th Century AD) was situated in the valley at the place where the infant River Trent met the even smaller Fowlea Brook.

Stoke Minster now stands on this site. The name given to this ancient place of meeting and worship was ‘Stoke-upon-Trent’.

The name ‘Trent’ was originally Celtic and meant ‘the trespasser’ or ‘the flooding river’. ‘Stoke’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘stoc’, which meant in the first instance ‘a place’, but carried the usual, secondary meanings of ‘a religious place, a holy place, a church’, and ‘a dependent settlement’.

Thus the name Stoke-on-Trent could actually be translated as ‘the holy place upon the flooding river’.

I don’t know about you, but I quite like the sound of that. And the fact that the city’s roots can be traced back more than 1,400 years.

Of course, North Staffordshire’s history goes back much further than that.

Chesterton was a Roman fortress which archaeologists estimate was probably occupied from the late 1st to early 2nd Century AD.

Which means we have almost 2,000 years of history to talk about.

So why don’t we? Why are we so poor at trumpeting our rich past?

Is it because we are so often told that we shouldn’t keep harping on about the past?

Is it because critics blame our current social and economic difficulties on our inability to embrace change?

‘Why call yourselves the Potteries’, they say, ‘when there is so little of that industry left to be proud of’?

We may be resistant to change, but – conversely – there is certainly also something in the DNA of the average potter which makes him or her reluctant to crow about the area’s history and achievements.

Why? We should be shouting it from the rooftops.

Why isn’t every local school teaching Roman history through the eyes of the legionnaries based at Chesterton during the Flavian period?

Why aren’t all our children taught about the monks of Hulton Abbey?

Why isn’t the most important period in North Staffordshire’s history a bigger part of the curriculum in local schools? Aren’t Josiah Wedgwood, his mate James Brindley and the roots of the Methodist Church (which have direct links to trade unionism in this country) worth talking up?

What about the stories of the tens of thousands of local people who lived and died around the pits and pots on which the city built its worldwide reputation?

What about Burslem’s Second World War Victoria Cross winner Lance-Sergeant Jack Baskeyfield, and Butt Lane’s Reginald Mitchell whose Spitfire turned the tide of the Battle of Britain?

Shouldn’t they be lauded in our classrooms? I think so.

I had a truly brilliant history teacher at Holden Lane High, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. (That’s you, Geoff Ball).

Thus, this isn’t a criticism of the teaching profession. It’s more a plea for us, as a city, to strike the right balance between history and progress.

I suspect more tourists would visit us if we simply made more of our heritage.

“Come to see our factory shops”, we should say. “But don’t miss out on our interactive history trail.

“Learn about the Celts and Romans who lived here, sample the ruins of our Cistercian monastery, walk in the footsteps of the great pioneers of the Industrial Revolution, visit the birthplaces of the captain of the Titanic, an Arnhem hero, and the man whose aircraft defied the Luftwaffe.

“Oh, and don’t forget to pop in for a drink at Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor’s pub, drive past Robbie Williams’s old house and have your picture taken alongside Sir Stan’s statue. Have a nice trip!”

Welcome to North Staffordshire. (Not just that place on the way to Alton Towers).

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday