Brickhouse Street, Burslem
The town of Burslem, known as the Mother Town, is one of the six towns that amalgamated to form the current city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire. Among the Six Towns it stands towards the north; south of Tunstall and north of Hanley.
Burslem stands sited on the eastern ridge of the Fowlea Valley, the Fowlea flowing below being one of the main early tributaries of the River Trent. Burslem covers the areas of Middleport, Dalehall, Longport, Westport, Trubshaw Cross, and Brownhills. The Trent and Mersey Canal, one of the sources of Burslem's growth into a major industrial town, cuts through, to the west and south of the town centre.
The West Coast Main Line railway and the A500 road running in parallel further west, form a distinct boundary between Burslem and the neighbouring town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. To the south is Grange Park and Festival Park, reclaimed by the Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival.
Burslem has a Victorian park designed by Thomas Hayton Mawson, and a large amount of reclaimed green space, such as the Westport Lakes and the later legacy of the 1986 National Garden Festival, which imaginatively reclaimed part of the Shelton Bar steelworks site. The Peak District National Park begins just ten miles north-east of Burslem.
The Domesday Book shows that Burslem was a small farming hamlet; strategically sited above a vital ford at Longport, part of the major pack horse track out of the Peak District and Staffordshire Moorlands to the road between the Cheshire plain and London. As early as the late 12th century Burslem is noted for a thriving pottery industry, based on the fine and abundant local clays. Buslem emerged from the Black Death in the fourteenth century as a prospering mediæval town.
In 1536 the Church of St John was built, which still serves as the parish church. Until the mid-1760s Burslem was relatively cut off from the rest of England; it had no navigable river nearby, and there were no good & reliable roads.
By 1777 the Trent and Mersey Canal was nearing completion, and the roads had markedly improved. The town boomed on the back of fine pottery production and canals, and became known as 'The Mother Town' of the six towns that make up the city. The famous novels of Arnold Bennett evoke the feel of Victorian Burslem, with its many potteries, mines, and working canal barges. The Burslem of the 1930s to the 1980s is evoked by the paintings and plays of Arthur Berry.
Burslem contains Britain's last real working industrial district, which is to say a district of houses and factories together all serving one industry, pottery in this case, where factory hands lived within walking distance of their workplaces. Much of the nineteenth-century industrial heritage, with the buildings and character it brought, has survived intact in this district.
A recent report suggested the concentration of pottery-based heritage makes the area the richest stretch of canal for industrial heritage in England.
BURSLEM, an ancient town, with a market held for a long period by custom, and subsequently sanctioned by an act of parliament, is about three miles from Newcastle and two from Hanley, entitled to the precedence of other towns in this district, as claiming to be the mother, as it is the metropolis, of the Staffordshire Potteries.
In the Doomsday Survey - for even in that early date Burslem was a place of some importance - the town appears, as "Burwardeslyn;" and frequent mention is made of it in ancient documents during the Middle Ages.
In 2007 Burslem saw a social enterprise newspaper, Local Edition, become one of the first newspapers to cover the area regularly. The newspaper covered Burslem, as well as surrounding areas including Tunstall, Middleport and Cobridge, giving a voice to the people in the community. The newspaper ceased publication in 2008 and its archive is online.Local Edition archive
Churches in Burslem
- Church of England:
- St John the Baptist
- St Paul's
- St Werburg
- Bethel Methodist
- Hill Top Methodist Sunday School
- United Reformed Church
- Roman Catholic: St Joseph's
At the 1991 census, the population of Burslem was 21,400. A study by consultants Atkins, working from the census data, showed that the Burslem population is steady and has not declined despite a manufacturing decline during the 1980s and 1990s.
Traditional Victorian architecture and Edwardian-period terraced houses dominate the town. New housing developments are underway on the Sadlers Factory site and around Woodbank Street.
Burslem is a multicultural area of Stoke-on-Trent, with a significant Asian population.
Industrial-scale pottery production has drastically declined since the 1970s; but specialist makers and smaller producers of high-value ceramics are thriving. Burslem is emerging as a centre for small, freelance creative businesses working in sectors such as fine art, animation and crafts as well as pottery.
As at Spring 2002, unemployment was running at 4.1% or 1,526 people in the Stoke-on-Trent North constituency; almost the same rate as the western Midlands as a whole. In Burslem at 2001 unemployment was 3.2% and declining. New business park units for the creative industries have been developed or planned.
Out of town shopping centres with free parking have denuded the High Street of its vitality, but the evening economy thrives.
Things for visitors
Some 5 million tourists visit the towns of Stoke-on-Trent each year, supporting around 4,400 direct jobs. Stoke shows its popularity through the number of repeat visits; around 80 percent of visitors have previously been here. Burslem has a variety of strong tourist attractions; Burleigh, Moorcroft, Ceramica, Festival Park, its many authentic English pubs, and the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Visitors come to explore a town celebrated in the works of the novelist Arnold Bennett. Bennett refers to the town and many of its streets with thinly-disguised names, for example Burslem as "Bursley", Swan Square as "Duck Square". It is the setting for one of his most famous works, the Clayhanger trilogy. Burslem's centre benefits from having an almost-intact mediæval street-plan and countless fine old buildings, and a townscape which almost-totally escaped re-development during the 1960s and 1970s.
After years of neglect, the Burslem School of Art has been refurbished and offers several large free art galleries. The free Public Library is currently based in the School of Art, after the Venetian Gothic Wedgwood Institute closed for safety reasons early in 2009. Ceramica is a new award-winning ceramics family attraction, based in the imposing old Town Hall and funded by National Lottery money. The Queen's Theatre has regular concerts and an annual pantomime.
There is a traditional Friday street market, and street carnivals in May and December.