Essay

POLICING THE POTTERIES

Philip Brindley,

POLICING THE POTTERIES

At the age of 14, my mother-in-law began work at Grindley’s, Tunstall -- then known as ‘Clough’s’ -- where she stayed until she retired. As a very young man my father was a ‘mood runner’ or  ‘mould runner’. His job was to extract a newly made piece from the mould, leave the ware to dry, and run back to his master with the mould ready for refill. During the First World War my father was taken prisoner. On his return he went to work with his father in Hanley Deep Pit. He was ‘on the bank’  (at the coal face) until he was 56 years old, when he retired due to ill-health, with dust on the lungs.



As a young man I went into the police force. I was stationed in Burslem. When I worked nights, the start of the shift was marked by the smell of the kilns being fired. There were potteries all around the station, Doulton, Wade, Wade Heath, Sadler’s, Barratt’s. I think Macintyres had just been knocked down, but behind us here [this interview was conducted in Burslem School of Art] was Johnson Matthey. Bleak Works in Cobridge was still in operation too.  Burslem was a lively place in those days. As a young bobby, I would do traffic duty, helping to control it as everyone flooded out of Doulton’s on Nile Street and crossed the main road. It seems unimaginable now -- Burslem is so empty. This is a Saturday morning, and you can count the people we have seen outside on the fingers of one hand. It used to be thriving, with shops, pubs and even nightclubs.Shortly after I started policing, they had a murder on Sadler’s. The force has changed, but in those days our shift was divided into ‘panda drivers’ and ‘town centre lads’. I was a ‘town centre’ man. On the night shift we would go up to Sadler’s and have a cup of tea with the kiln man. There were two of them on nights up at Sadler’s. It depended who it was, but we would normally pop in for a brew at midnight, and for another at 3.00am, so we knew the kiln men very well. One night someone broke in and turned over the offices. The kiln man must have realised something was amiss, and disturbed the intruder, who killed him. We caught the bloke and he was done for murder.



The yard where Les Sharrod worked.

Another chap we visited on our rounds, was Les Sharrod. He was a character from a different era. I’m not sure what he did precisely – it related to the pots in some way – maybe he cleaned up engraving plates. Anyway, it involved metal drums with patterns on them, which he put into various sized vats of acid. Les always wore clogs. There was no heating where he worked. His son-in-law did the day shift, and he did the night shift. He wouldn’t see his wife from one week to the next. He slept at work in a freezing shed on a pile of hessian sacks.



Apart from the sacks, the shed was completely bare. When it was really cold, we would always be grateful for a brew, and Les would stop work and have a chat. I spotted his son-in-law in the street a few years ago, but I don’t know what he does now. Les died in 1975.

We used to keep a huge book that recorded the events of the day. It was known as the Number One, and looked like an old Bible. I was a Detective Constable with Fred Hughes, the local historian, and I remember we cleared out an old cellar at the station, full of old copies of the Number One. I think Fred may have hung onto them -- he knew their historical value. They were going to be disposed of otherwise.Our policing was divided into ‘points’ – there were particular spots where you were expected to be at a given time – for example, you might have to be at the Swann Bank telephone kiosk for an hourly point.

One of our points was up this way. We used to climb to the top of the fire escape at Boots, and at 4.00am they would roll back the roof and pour the molten steel into casts at the steel works at Shelton Bar.



The process would light up the whole of Stoke-on-Trent, a magnificent sight. The steel was made into massive girders. There was never an inky black sky in Stoke-on-Trent. As well as the potbanks and the steel works, there was the ‘eternal flame’ – a brass foundry that burned off the gas at night. After the rounds, my cape would always be covered in dust.



This picture of desolation is the view from behind Boots today. Shelton Bar steel works was further to the right, across the Fowlea Valley.I graduated to being a driver in 1969. In those days sergeants and inspectors were like army people. You could never call your sargeant ‘Sarge’. I can remember someone saying: ‘When I’m on half-pay you can all me Sarge’. I see a lack of discipline in the police force today -- policemen with stubble, and not wearing their hats. It was quite different then.

Today I am an insurance claims assessor. I attended the family history sessions of the Made In England project, and brought in some photographs of former potbanks. I see beauty in these buildings, and in the lives that were lived in them. I always travel with a camera, and if I am driving around and something catches my eye I stop and try to capture it. Some of my photographs are shown in a photo essay coming soon to this site.