North Staffs News

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REACTION: The fire at The Leopard, Burslem.



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North Staffs News
North Staffs News
Following the dreadful event in Burslem last Saturday, the fire at The Leopard, North Staffs News has asked a number of people for their reaction.
The Leopard was a meeting place for minds at the start of the Industrial Revolution. It is playfully referenced in the novels of Arnold Bennett. It had been a much-loved venue until its closure at the start of the pandemic. More recently it had been bought by a property company and was earmarked for ‘development’.
If beyond repair, The Leopard will be a huge loss to the city.
What impact will this event have on the Mother Town, Burslem? What is its significance in light of the current debate about local heritage and the telling of Stoke-on-Trent’s story?
Our guest contributors for this special edition of North Staffs News share their reaction and thoughts.
Jerome - The Editor
The cover photo for this issue is by photographer James Rogers, taken at a Burslem Lights Night event.

Annette Cartlidge - Our Burslem
Annette Cartlidge represents Our Burslem, an online community group and movement of local people actively advocating for Burslem, the Mother Town of The Potteries.
Annette wrote:
I can’t describe how helpless I felt when I met June (June Cartwright, founder Our Burslem) in Queen Street on Saturday afternoon after she called me to say that there was smoke billowing from the back of The Leopard. We both stood in tears watching the Police and Fire Service take charge of the situation.
As we walked away from the scene arm in arm, we both said that as a town, we’d hit rock bottom.
As the hours went by, the outpouring of concern and love for both The Leopard and Burslem filled social media. Everyone wanting to do something but feeling at a loss at what we could actually achieve.
In early 2021 The Leopard was offered for sale by Enterprise Inns. I submitted an Asset of Community Value (ACV) nomination to the Local Authority, on behalf of Our Burslem which, with the help and support of local people, was passed in February that year.
Although we achieved ACV status for the building, a private sale was already proceeding. Despite helping the current owner find a suitable tenant to manage the pub section of the building whilst the back of the building could be developed, The Leopard’s doors remained closed, with no apparent sign of reopening or improvement.
And so, to the shocking discovery made last week of the finding of a cannabis farm in the building, and then to Saturday and the fire that ripped the heart out of The Leopard.
I’m not a local historian, just someone who grew up in the town and am very proud to say so. However, what I do understand is the unique heritage our town has, and why it’s so important.
The Leopard was not just a Burslem pub, but a meeting place of entrepreneurs and innovators like Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley, who shaped our world. A story which is not just locally, but nationally and globally relevant, and is not something to let go of lightly.  
Which is why, this morning, I’ve contacted Historic England and the Local Authority to reach out for guidance on how this important building can be saved.
Let’s not give up just yet on this magnificent piece of heritage. Let’s do everything we can to save it and work together to find a way to bring it back into community use. After all, who are we as not just a town, but a city and a county without the likes of Josiah Wedgwood?
Editor: There’s more comment from members of Our Burslem later in this bulletin.
Alasdair Brooks - Chief Executive Re-Form Heritage
Alasdair is Chief Executive Officer at Re-Form Heritage, ‘an independent charity which specialises in the restoration and rejuvenation of heritage buildings at risk of decay or demolition.’
Re-Form Heritage owns and manages Middleport Pottery in Burslem.
Alasdair gave context to The Leopard’s historic significance to Stoke-on-Trent and revolutions in 18th century industry.
Alasdair wrote:
One of the reasons why the Leopard Hotel is so special is that it’s a rare survivor of the period when the six towns of Stoke were transitioning between a regionally significant pottery centre and an internationally significant centre of ceramics production that dominated global trade in the late 18th and 19th centuries. This is symbolised by it hosting the crucial March 1765 meeting between Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Bentley, James Brindley and Erasmus Darwin that led to the construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal.
Just a year later, Wedgwood (then based at the adjacent Brick House Works, now the site of Burslem’s Wedgwood Institute) would secure Queen Charlotte’s approval of his new creamware, helping to transform production and trade in the Potteries.
So quite apart from its role in Arnold Bennett’s Five Towns novels, this is a site that’s threaded through the history of both Burslem and Stoke.
Andy Perkin - Potteries Heritage Society
Andy Perkin represents Potteries Heritage Society, ‘an independent group of individuals who care about the towns and places that make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent, its history and its future’.
He expressed his concern that what has happened at The Leopard is not a rare incident, but commonplace for the city’s disused historic buildings.
Mr Perkin said:
“The fire at The Leopard is shocking but not surprising.
"Shocking because of the damage to such an important part of our heritage and a key landmark, and also because the building’s potential for development has been long been recognised by those supporting the regeneration of the mother town.
Not surprising, unfortunately, to those of us with a passion for historic buildings in the city, as we know that once buildings fall into disuse - not heated or adequately secured - it is only a short time until they start to decay, fall down or become vulnerable to arson and abuse. An ongoing problem and a growing list of tragedies.“
Mr Perkin suggested that disused historic buildings like The Leopard should be regarded as assets, valuable to the city’s future.
He said: "Listed building status and registering assets of community value can only do so much. These buildings need caring and enlightening owners, investment, and a vision that will inspire local people.”
Prof Ray Johnson MBE - Arnold Bennett Society
Ray is Vice President and Chair of the Arnold Bennett Society, and Emeritus Professor of Film Heritage and Documentary at Staffordshire University.
Ray encouraged readers to ‘Breathe In!’, writing:
The terrible shock of the heart-breaking fire at the Leopard Hotel in Burslem has taken the town’s breath away. Burslem is hurting. But breath can be taken in again. And remember: the first deep breaths of the Industrial Revolution in transport and communication were taken in that historic building.
Josiah Wedgwood met the engineer James Brindley there in 1765. They breathed in and from that meeting came the planning and construction of the first great canal in the land – the Trent and Mersey: “The Grand Trunk” – from which sprang the whole network of canals which linked the Potteries to the world and eased the way for international trade generally.
For the 300th anniversary of James Brindley’s birth it was a privilege to perform in The Leopard as Josiah, in my one-man play ”Wedgwood and Brindley: Chalk and Cheese” - to recreate that meeting in the very building where they met, and to relate the importance of Staffordshire as the ‘centre of the world’ in generating some of the greatest thinkers, writers, engineers and scientists in the “Age of Enlightenment”.
The Leopard was important then and it’s important now. It has its place in world history – and literature: to the worldwide readers of Arnold Bennett’s novels and stories the Leopard lives as “The Tiger”.
As Chair and Vice President of the Arnold Bennett Society I was proud to see the blue Arnold Bennett plaque mounted above the main entrance two years ago. The blue plaque remains prominently on the saddened frontage, and we hope to retrieve it ready to re-mount it in due course on the front of a restored Leopard.
The Leopard must be saved – and this could also act as a flagship project to lead other ‘pushes’ needed to breathe new life into the Mother Town. Whatever it takes: if people work together, attract the support of the impressive action groups Burslem is blessed with – and get the support owing to the town by ‘the powers that be’ - then it will be done. It may be a long and very hard push, but…
Breathe in!
Our Burslem - members comment
Our Burslem
The Mother Town this evening ❤️❤️ thanks to @Dan_Townley for the photo and for the #community for fabulous your support 🎄🎅🎄#Burslem #stokeontrent
Our Burslem is an active online community of local people, all advocating for Burslem, its history and its future.
Here are more members’ comments, forwarded to North Staffs News.
Magician Chris Stokes ran entertainment ghost tours at The Leopard for more than 10 years, he said: “It’s an absolute tragedy to see centuries of history and tradition wiped out in this way. The Leopard is irreplaceable, not only from a historical perspective, but also because of its reputation as one of the country’s most haunted locations. Taking guests around the abandoned hotel was a joy, even if it was always tinged with a little apprehension. It’s heartbreaking news for everyone in the area.”
Kate Roberts said: “The council needs to prioritise the city’s buildings of architectural and historical significance. They should make stricter rules and enforce them to protect our heritage buildings from neglect and deterioration.
"Such disasters affect the quality of life and morale of everyone who lives in Burslem. This fire will impact on the mental health of the residents and business owners who are doing their best to preserve the Mother Town.”
Daniel Shaw said: “The police and media keep referring to The Leopard as a pub or former pub: it’s not just a pub, it’s much, much more than that. 
"It’s a monument to the industrial revolution, to Wedgwood, Darwin, Brindley, to engineers and entrepreneurs, innovators, writers, poets and artists, potters and miners, politicians and clerics, brewers and railway workers, posties and seamstresses, butchers, bakers, oatcake and pie makers, partygoers and mourners, all the people who made Burslem the beautiful Mother Town it continues to be.
"The Leopard is a glorious reminder of the role played by the people of the Potteries in creating the modern world. It’s all encapsulated in the bones of the Leopard.”
Adrian Rhodes said: “As not only a member of Our Burslem, the resident DJ/Karaoke host, and regular customer of The Leopard, and a good friend of the former landlord and landlady, I am absolutely devastated to see what has been allowed to happen to such an important and historical building with links not only to Burslem and the pottery industry, but to the whole of Stoke-on-Trent’s heritage.
"All we can now hope is that the council planning team stipulate conditions on any future development at the rear of the property to include the provision to rebuild and restore The Leopard public house back to its former glory.”
A final thought.
It’s not just the recorded lives of people, it’s also the objects, artefacts, and buildings of a place that help to tell its valuable story.
When we damage, lose, or just wrap up the fabric of our times and pack it away, our story is so much harder to tell.
Jerome - the editor.
With huge thanks to all that have contributed to this bulletin.
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