One of the mightiest Anglican churches to have been demolished in the last half-century was the soot-blackened St Paul’s in Dale Hall, with its lofty, pinnacled tower.
One of the so-called Waterloo churches, it was located at a distance from the town of Burslem ‘in the midst of fields without roads’ and its foundation stone laid in 1828.
On that occasion, the venerable Enoch Wood – remember the name – waxed rhapsodic on the transformation of Burslem in his lifetime.
The church was consecrated in 1831, and those readers who remember it will recall its pollution-ravaged stonework, one of the reasons – according to some – that triggered its demolition.
Perhaps mining subsidence – which proved to be the death of so many fine buildings in the Potteries – also had a part to play in its demise.
However, the strength of the walls may also have been compromised on account of one man’s determination that the age in which he lived should be remembered.
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Pottery manufacturer and antiquarian Enoch Wood (1759 – 1840) was Burslem’s leading civic figure within his own lifetime, and described by some as the Father of the Staffordshire Potteries.
Following his death, Wood still had the capacity to surprise those who came after him.
Being a ceramics collector with his own private museum, Wood buried time capsules of pottery ware and mementoes of his own time beneath the new buildings of Burslem – some of which have been rediscovered.
When, in 1879, workmen were pulling down an old wall to the rear of the Conservative Club – Burslem’s Big House in Moorland Road, as we would know it today – they found several cavities in the wall.
In the niches were discovered several interesting items and a revealing plaque: “This wall was built by Thomas Wedgwood, son of John Wedgwood of the Big House.
“Near this will be found specimens of various articles of the manufacture of the neighbourhood, which may in future time give pleasure to the possessor. June 20th, 1810.”
Elsewhere was written the name of Thomas Wedgwood’s friend and collaborator in this minor project: “Enoch Wood fecit.”
Wood placed a metal casket containing several coins under the Meat Market, opened in Market Place in 1836 and demolished in the late 1950s.
In recent years, the Time Team archaeological experts undertook a dig on site and discovered a great deal of old pottery on site.
In 1974, the old St Paul’s church in Dale Hall was taken down, with one local periodical reporting at the time that the evidence of the demise lay “in the huge chunks of masonry still in the grounds, looking like an ogre’s rockery garden.”
The demolition of the old church was reported to have taken about 12 weeks with three or four men working on it constantly.
As the wrecking team ploughed through the stonework, vintage china that had been secreted in wall cavities began spewing out of the building, a little above ground level.
Much of it was smashed in the process of demolition, but in all, about 250 pieces were taken away and archived in what is now the Potteries Museum, where it was washed and catalogued.
Among the pieces were a black basalt of the Duke of Wellington and a jasperware plaque of the Descent From The Cross from Ruben’s painting.
The church that Enoch Wood knew was very popular among succeeding generations of worshippers, as emphasised by readers’ letters to TWWW.
Steve Adams, who was a choirboy at St Paul’s in the early 1970s, wrote in 2011: “It was like a cathedral in size. The vicar was Eric Hamlyn, who was relatively young, about 40 years old.
“He tried to get couples to have the choir sing at their weddings. We got paid 2s. 6d and the lads used to score the bride out of ten for good looks.
“The choir, the people and the vicar gave the church a sense of belonging.”
And what of the new – and surviving – St Paul’s church that replaced the 1830s model?
The Staffordshire Magazine described it as “simple and beautiful,” though historian Bill Morland, writing in 1978, likened it to “an outsize hot dog stall.”