From an industrial grime to splendid green space, how the Garden Festival reinvigorated part of the Potteries and left its mark for future generations


It may have only been with us for only a short while, but the presence of the Garden Festival at Etruria, found a place in our hearts and left a lasting memory in our minds.

Even the name lives on in the guise of the ‘Festival Park’ – built on the land where the event was held.

Now looking very different to the sprawling parkland, the finished site was opened in 1986, with the Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival becoming the second of its kind in the UK.

Launched on May 1, the event ran until October 26 of the same year.

I can recall my own grandad, after working at the ‘Mitch,’ taking up a part-time position at the Garden Festival. I recall him looking after bonsai trees.

The site it was built on had previously been the home of the Shelton Bar Steelworks for 148 years.

At a cost of £5 million to buy back the land from British Steelworks, a large proportion of the expense was spent on dealing with the contaminated grounds and mineshafts.

The festival itself cost £18 million. However, there is still disagreement over how much of the affected site was actually cleaned up.

Around 300,000 trees were planted as part of the project and, running through the festival site, was a 24in gauge railway which had five stations where people could get on and off.

When the Garden Festival ended, the entire railway was sold to the Bygones Village museum in Fleggburgh, Norfolk.

Today, the site is Festival Park, which opened for business in 1995.

However, despite the increase in commercial retail park space, the greenspace and woodland, as well as the pools, have been mostly kept and maintained.

With many large businesses favouring the Etruria area, Festival Park has continued to expand, which would not have been possible without the investment in creating the Garden Festival more than 30 years ago. And although the event is long-gone, it still generates warm memories for many.

What this project did successfully was to bring together commnities from across the Potteries – and from further afield – to establish a solid foundation for the future of the area.

It led to the creation a new ‘economic hub’ in the Festival park, left an extensive green space to be explored and, as a result, created a long standing legacy.

Did you or family and friends work at the Garden Festival site in 1986, and what memories do you have of tit? To share your recollections get in touch with Adam Gratton at The Way We Were, Sentinel House, Bethesda Street, Hanley, ST! 3GN or call 01782 864255 or email: adam.gratton@reachplc.com





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