Annette Cartlidge represents Our Burslem, an online community group and movement of local people actively advocating for Burslem, the Mother Town of The Potteries.
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.