The Six Towns Strikes Out for the Cultural Crown
Until I was 17, I lived in the quiet, pretty canal town of Stone, Staffordshire. Then once my final A Level was done, I dragged my enormous suitcase onto the train and set off to discover the world, starting with the intoxicating city of London. My Dad used to call me Dick Whittington or My Gypsy Daughter. He loved to hear about my many travels but I know he was always so happy to see me and I felt the same.
Over the years I visited Stone many times to see my mum, my dad and my aunty Margaret – my kind relatives. But I never lived there again, never wanted to. Yet, when I heard that Stoke on Trent had made the short list for City of Culture 2021, I felt a surge of pride, of enthusiasm and hope.
My dear Dad was a passionate Potters fan, but I only went to the match once, aged eight, when he nearly lost me in the crowd. He worked for Wedgwood in Barlaston for nearly 50 years and was born in nearby Trentham. But we never spent much time in the six towns, preferring to shop and socialize in Stafford, the more upmarket county town, instead.
Sometimes I visited Dad at work, in the stores that he ran with such care and diligence. And often we would walk together on Barlaston Downs, sometimes talking, sometimes silent but always contented in each other’s company.
Almost a year to the day since he died, the winner of the bid will be announced. What a wonderful memorial it would be for this kindest of men, if Stoke-on-Trent would be honoured in such a way.
Now when I go to Staffordshire, it’s to see my mum, who since dad’s death has lived in a residential care home in between Barlaston and Trentham. Mostly I stay in The Upper House, built for Wedgwood family. This solid Georgian house is surrounded by beautifully planted gardens and has wonderful views of the peaceful Downs where Dad and I walked companionably so many times.
Being there has given me much solace over the last 12 months. I like wandering in the grounds, following the straight path through the corn fields or down to Barlaston where we used to stop for tea and scones after a few hours in the fresh air. It’s green and pleasant there, a far cry from the grit and grime associated with the Potteries.
This centre of industry and invention has been overlooked for many years but is still the heart of the Wedgwood empire. A recent visit to The World of Wedgwood, with its elegant tea room and exceptional museum brought the significance of the area home. J.W was a leading thinker of his day as well as being a master potter. He was an inventor and a philanthropist, who took care of his workers. Like my Dad, he would be delighted to see Stoke win the bid and bring new recognition to this neglected area, which is so still so rich in culture.
Visitors come from all over the world to discover the history of British china and to learn how to make it. There are world class museums such as The Gladstone Pottery Museum, set in an original Victorian pottery factory and the excellent Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, home of the Staffordshire hoard and an award winning tribute to local life and history.
The people of the Potteries deserve recognition too. Unassuming, kind and funny they have been quietly making their cultural contribution for centuries. Even the Staffordshire oatcake, the working man’s pancake, merits a bigger place on the culinary stage. Try one as part of The Upper House’s Potters Breakfast while admiring the gentle view across the gardens to the Downs.
Writing this fills me with nostalgia and a strange homesickness for a life from long ago. Although Staffordshire has not been my home for so long, china is still in my blood. I hope so much that Stoke on Trent wins the bid. Not only for its cultural and creative contribution to British life but because it would have made my dear Dad very proud.