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

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Fond memories of my one encounter with the Queen

I remember the day quite clearly. It was Thursday, May 1, 1986 and yours truly, my mum, younger brother Matthew and my nan and grandad waited in the weak sunshine for the arrival of a very special visitor from Stoke Station.
I have to admit I wasn’t that keen on flowers and I certainly didn’t understand the term ‘regeneration’.
Nevertheless, we had just bought season tickets to the National Garden Festival which had transformed a 180-acre eyesore which had, until 1979, been the site of the Shelton Bar steelworks.
After five years of planning, earth-moving and landscaping and millions of pounds of Government funding, the Garden Festival – billed as a celebration of the best of British gardening – was ready to receive its Royal seal of approval.
I had never seen the Queen before and even 14-year-old me, besotted with football and Dungeons & Dragons, was excited as we stood in the drizzle with 14,000 other people waiting for Her Majesty to arrive.
I had never seen so many police officers and I remember grandad telling me they were worried about the threat of a terrorist attack.
We didn’t have a great spot in the crowd, if truth be told, and I remember craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the monarch as she stepped out of a shiny black Rolls-Royce.
She was wearing a vivid blue woollen coat and a black hat and seemed to have a fixed grin as we waved our Union Flags and Garden Festival carrier bags like things possessed – convinced that she was waving at us.
We listened to the opening ceremony during which the Queen said some very nice things about Stoke-on-Trent and told us she thought pottery pioneer Josiah Wedgwood would be proud of what had been achieved at Etruria.
Then she joined civic dignitaries for a one and a quarter mile train ride around the Garden Festival.
That’s when most people lost track of Her Majesty and, like us, went off to explore the remarkable site.
My brother had his picture taken with children’s telly witch Grotbags and I was chuffed to have met Central TV news presenter Bob Warman.
We marvelled at the strange waterfall made of Twyfords bathroom ware, enjoyed having a nosey around the new show homes and were thrilled to be taken on a cable car ride.
Then I remember great excitement as parachutists paid tribute to the Queen by dropping in, unexpected, on Festival-goers.
The Red Arrows also flew over the site and left a red, white and blue vapour trail which was pretty cool viewing to a teenager like me who was still harbouring dreams of joining the RAF when he left school.
After touring the festival site the Queen made her way over to the new Beth Johnson Housing Association complex in Etruria Locks – arriving in style aboard a red, white and blue narrowboat decorated with flowers.
As the boat went by, dozens of Sentinel employees could be seen waving from the newspaper’s new offices next to the Festival site.
This was the first and only time I laid eyes on the Queen and, having shared the occasion with my family, the memory is all the more special to me.
Since then I’ve been fortune enough to chat to Prince Edward, meet Prince Charles and Princess Anne and take photographs of the late Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry during a visit to Alton Towers.
However, I remain a great admirer of the Queen who, through all the trial and tribulations of the last two decades has remained a dignified and reliable ambassador for both the monarchy and Britain.
Whoever succeeds her certainly has big shoes to fill and I dare say we will never see the like again – both in terms of Her Majesty’s longevity and grace.

Let’s enjoy a knees-up we’re all (sort of) invited to

I’M DETECTING a lot of apathy, a good deal of cynicism and just the faintest aroma of outrage about the forthcoming royal nuptials.
There are plenty of people only too keen to tell you why they don’t give a monkey’s about two super-privileged individuals tying the knot.
Others will cry foul at the public money being lavished on this grand affair to celebrate the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton during this time of austerity.
Then there are those to whose only interest is that they may get a day off work – or be paid extra for going in on what has been declared a national holiday.
I think this is a real shame and that some people are rather missing the point.
The royals are, as always, an easy target for critics but I have to confess I have a real soft spot for the monarchy – unlike many of my colleagues, it seems.
I guess this dates back to the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 when, as a five-year-old, I attended a party down the street at Marie MacDonald’s house.
It is one of my earliest happy memories – a blur of Union Flag bunting, triangle sandwiches, cakes, jelly and ice cream, and lots of sunshine.
Four years later, I was one of the generation of Potteries schoolchildren who collected coins, ceramic money boxes and first day covers of stamps commemorating the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.
My mum’s still got them all.
Even to a young lad from Sneyd Green, Diana seemed like a breath of fresh air for the House of Windsor and like so many others I fell under the spell of the awkward, pretty princess.
When the fairytale ended in divorce and very public recriminations I felt saddened – not only for those involved – but also that those fond memories of national togetherness had been scrubbed away.
Suddenly all the memorabilia seemed cheapened and the reputation of the royal family irredeemably tarnished.
Over the years, through my job, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Prince Charles, Prince Edward and even the late Princess Diana herself.
Granted, the latter was a brief conversation during a Sunday afternoon visit to Alton Towers with the two young princes but it is still indelibly stamped on my mind.
When Diana died I wasn’t afflicted by the strange, paralysing phenomenon of the national out-pouring of grief.
In truth, I found the whole spectacle of people shedding tears for someone they didn’t personally know rather bizarre and unnecessary.
However, I felt sorrow at the tragic waste of life and my thoughts turned to those left behind – principally Princes William and Harry.
Say what you like about their silver-spoon upbringing and their unique forces careers but I have an awful lot of time for the two lads who followed that gun carriage flanked by Welsh Guardsmen which carried their mother’s coffin through the streets of London.
Yes, they enjoy a lifestyle the rest of us can only dream of but, in truth, I wouldn’t swap places with them for a life so regimented and microscopically-scrutinised.
Having said that, I admire the monarchy and I’m truly glad we have one.
It is one of the few things which makes the United Kingdom different and yes, it does the tourism industry in this country no harm whatsoever.
The royal family is also, like sport, one of the few things which has the potential to bring us together in celebration and foster a sense of national pride. Heaven knows we need a little bit of that right now.
So forget the mealy-mouthed nay-sayers. Forget business owners. Forget the unions. Forget the arguments over Bank Holiday pay.
Let’s enjoy April 29 for what it is – a wedding to which we are all (sort of) invited.
Let’s buy some new crocks with pictures of Wills and Kate, stick up some flags and be happy for a young couple in love.
Yours truly will be at his daughter’s school in the run up to the big day, hosting a celebration party for 200 children with cakes and jelly and bunting.
They won’t care about the cost to the taxpayer or who designed the bride’s dress.
But they will be happy for the happy couple – and make a few memories that might just last a lifetime.

Royal mix-up a real missed opportunity to mark 100 years

My picture of Princess Diana on the log flume at Alton Towers. Picture copyright Smith Davis Press.

My picture of Princess Diana on the log flume at Alton Towers. Picture copyright Smith Davis Press.

Through my work I’ve been very fortunate (if you like this sort of thing) over the last 20 years to have met several members of our royal family in the flesh.

I’ve chatted to Prince Charles, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew and – here’s my trump card for use against people who like to name-drop – met the late Princess Diana.

Back in my days as a cub reporter I was tipped off by a national newspaper that Princess Di would be taking her boys to Alton Towers one Sunday afternoon.

I raced over to the theme park in my little yellow Metro, paid to get in as any punter would, and then set about trying to find the royal party.

Alton Towers is a surprisingly big place, you know. After half an hour of me running around like a headless chicken, Diana, William and Harry sailed past me on the Log Flume.

I caught up with them, said hello, ignored the withering looks from their minders and snapped them all as they walked past me.

My story and pictures of them on various rides were used in The Sun and the Daily Express the following day and I was chuffed to bits.

However, as a proud Englishman, I have to say that nothing can top seeing the Queen up close and personal.

I first saw Her Majesty at the National Garden Festival here at Etruria in 1986.

I also met Grotbags the TV witch and Central News anchorman Bob Warman on the day.

No offence to either but, for me, seeing Liz just shaded it.

I was 14 at the time and I remember standing in the rain amid the throng and doing my level best to attract the Queen’s attention by waving and shouting – all to no avail, of course.

Despite the bizarre nature of some of the exhibits – a fountain made of toilets springs to mind – the Garden Festival was, for Stoke-on-Trent, an unmitigated success.

It kickstarted the regeneration of a huge parcel of land close to the city centre which is now the thriving retail and business park we all take for granted.

Indeed, where do you think yours truly is sitting while typing this? (The Sentinel’s HQ moved from Hanley to Festival Park in 1986)

What a shame it is then that Her Majesty won’t be coming up in March to help us celebrate the centenary of the federation of the Six Towns.

I can’t help but think that this is something of an own goal.

The word was that the Queen was definitely coming up in the New Year but someone, somewhere seems to have dropped a right royal clanger.

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t know the centenary was coming up, is it?

You would have thought that the Lord Lieutenant, the city council and Buck House could have got their collective act together to make sure the Queen was in town to give the royal seal of approval to a special day for Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall.

Is anyone prepared to hold their hand up and take responsibility? No, I thought not.

We may well get a visit from another member of the royal family but if any occasion merited a visit from the Queen it was our centenary, don’t you think?

What a great lift it would have given to Potters to have Her Majesty drop in and say hello as we struggle through the worst recession in living memory.

Despite what the anti-monarchy brigade might say, I’m a huge fan of the Windsors and of royal visits.

Having the Queen here in 1986 and again when the refurbished Regent Theatre opened its doors in 1999 created a huge buzz.

There’s no politics to such an event – just flag-waving, happy faces and a moment in the sun for a city that has suffered more than most during the current economic downturn.

These occasions remind the rest of the country that there’s more to Stoke-on-Trent than ailing potbanks, ill-health and council cock-ups.

At least, we all think there is.

It’s just a shame we won’t be able to remind our wonderful monarch at a time when it really matters.