Tunstall – An Anglo Saxon Village

Anglo-Saxon Village
An Artist’s Impression of an Anglo-Saxon Settlement

Tunstall is one of the oldest towns in The Potteries.

The town’s “Old English” name indicates that it dates from the late 6th or the early 7th century.

“Old English” place names are descriptive. They describe the settlement and tell us the main occupation of the people who lived there. The word “Tun” means an enclosed farmstead, hamlet or village, and “Stall” is derived from the “Old English” word “Steall” which means a place with pens or sheds where cattle were kept for fattening.

Anglo-Saxon Tunstall was built on a sandstone ridge overlooking the Chatterley Valley near the spot where Green Lane (Oldcourt Street and America Street) crossed the old drove road (Roundwell Street) from the Staffordshire Moorlands to Chester. Green Lane which ran from Leicester to Warrington was an important highway that linked the East Midlands with Merseyside. All traces of Anglo-Saxon Tunstall have disappeared although historians believe it was an enclosed settlement protected by a ditch and a wooden palisade.

Two old field names, Gods Croft and Church Field, which survived until the 19th century, support the local tradition that there was a church in Tunstall many centuries before the Wesleyan Methodists erected a church in America Street. Another old field named Cross Croft near where Madison Street joins America Street indicates that there could have been a wayside cross where markets were held. Calver Street, which runs between Forster Street and Oldcourt Street, takes its name from Calver Croft a place where there were cattle pens for calves born on the journey from the Staffordshire Moorlands to Chester.

Towards the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century, Tunstall became part of Staffordshire’s New Forest.

Today when we think of a forest, we picture a place covered by trees. In medieval times a forest was a large tract of land where the King and his friends hunted for deer and other beasts of the field.

Staffordshire’s New Forest, which extended from Tixall in the south to Mow Cop in the north, may have been founded by William the Conqueror. The forest was not an area of continuous woodland. It was the King’s hunting ground which included:

  • woods and grassland
  • hills and moorland
  • towns, villages and hamlets
  • farmland, open fields and rough pasture.

The forest had its own laws designed to protect the beasts of the field and the vegetation they ate.

Offenders against Forest Laws were brought before special courts. The penalties imposed by these courts were brutal and savage. For killing a beast of the field, a poacher could be sent to the gallows, have his eyes torn out or have his hand cut off.

Tunstall Windmill

old-windmill-tunstall-stoke-on-trent

Tunstall Windmill was a corn mill.

It was built in 1813 on land that became known as Millfields which was on the north side of Roundwell Street between America Street and Dunning Street.

A track led from America Street to the mill which at one time was surrounded by a circular loading bay where carts were loaded and unloaded.

W. J. Harper mentions the mill in his book “By-Gone Tunstall” published in 1913.

In this edited extract from the book, Harper writes:

Of course, there were no houses near the mill in the earlier years of its history, save three one storey workmen’s cottages seen on the left of the drawing. In later years the mill yard was fenced in, and gardens were provided for the cottagers . . . When the mill went into disuse the corn room was used as a practice room by members of Tunstall’s drum and fife band.

Harper knew John Bickley, a member of the band, who remembered rehearsing in the corn room. John told him that a man and his wife lived at the mill. One evening the couple began to argue. During the row, the woman walked out. She didn’t come back, and her husband spent the night alone in the mill.

There was an old mine shaft nearby, which was full of water. The next morning, the woman’s body was found in the shaft. She had committed suicide.

The mill was demolished in 1855.

Tunstall's Victorian Town Hall and Covered Market

Hidden behind the town hall, Tunstall’s historic market hall is one of the few remaining Victorian covered markets in the United Kingdom.

Designed by architect George Thomas Robinson, the market hall cost £7,651 13s 1d. It was opened by the chairman of the local board of health, Thomas Peake, on the 2 December 1858. Trading commenced two days later on the 4 December.

The market hall was known locally as “The Shambles”. Traders who had stalls there sold meat and fish, poultry and game, fruit and vegetables, hardware and household goods, groceries and dairy produce, shoes and clothing.

In the early 1880s, the market’s main entrance in High Street became unsafe, and the market hall’s roof started to collapse. One-third of the market hall was demolished, and a new town hall was built on the site. A free Renaissance-style building, the town hall was designed by Absalom Reade Wood, one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

While the town hall was being built, Wood regenerated the remaining two-thirds of the market hall. He gave it a new roof and relaid the floor. New stalls were erected, and the market hall was redecorated.

Tunstall’s new town hall was opened by Thomas Peake’s son, John Nash Peake, on the 29 October 1885.

After the opening ceremony, a civic luncheon was held in the town hall’s assembly room. Later, the band of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the members of Burslem Prize Choir gave a promenade concert in the market hall. In the evening there was a football match in Phoenix Park, and the day ended with a grand ball in the market hall.