Recent BLHS Talk - North Staffordshire Women

Last week's BLHS talk was by Mervyn Edwards. His topic for the evening was 'North Staffordshire Women' and Mervyn chose five women with very different roles, providing a fascinating contrast and a very entertaining evening's talk.


First up was Hannah Dale who lived between 1881-1892. She came from Dales Green, Mow Cop and Mervyn showed moving photographs of her weighing 165 Kg (that's 26 stones in old money) at just 9 years of age. She was exhibited and exploited as a fairground freak because of her weight and age, but then died just two years later.

Next was Sarah Wedgwood (1734-1815). Mervyn described the courtship between her and Josiah Wedgwood and the complexity of winning approval from her father, Richard. Sarah inherited wealth from her father when he died as her brother had also died. This inheritance bankrolled Josiah's scientific work and business activities as well as the design and building of their house and that of his close associate, Thomas Bentley.

Millicent Duchess of Sutherland (1867-1955) came next. She was a socialite, a poet and a writer. She liked hunting, fishing and horses. One of her houses was Trentham Hall and, in 1895, Mervyn showed a picture of her attending Hanley Park Horse Parade.

Amongst other things, she campaigned to reduce the amount of lead in the glazes used in the pottery industry. She also helped to establish hospitals in Belgium and France during WW1. She campaigned for holidays for children in Hanford Hills, to get them away from the smoke and grime of the Potteries in its heyday, and Mervyn went on to explain how Arnold Bennett had parodied her in Bennett's book The Card.

Millicent was followed by Fanny Deakin - the famous political activist. Born in Silverdale, she lived there all of her life. She married Noah who was a miner at Silverdale colliery who in later life was to suffer a serious industrial accident that incapacitated him. We learned that Fanny had championed compensation for Noah and this paved the way for future reform of compensating industrial injuries in the mining sector. Fanny was the first woman to be elected onto Wolstanton Council as a Labour member in 1923 and she went on to play an important role in the General Strike of 1926. She campaigned for better maternity care of women and, successfully, for free milk for children under five.

Last but not least came Clarice Cliff (1899-1972), the ceramic designer, who was born in Tunstall. She became famous for her brightly coloured ceramics and she developed the ‘Bazooka Horse’ - a ceramic sculpture that was shown at carnivals such as the one at Middleport.

A very interesting, informative and engaging talk. Thanks Mervyn.