Higher Education

I recently went on a school trip to Stafford Grammar and had an excellent history lesson from the brilliant Mr Bateman, whose knowledge and enthusiasm were A* (or whatever the equivalent is now the grading system has been changed).

Burton manor

The school was founded in 1982 at Burton Manor, a Victorian house built on the site of a medieval manor, where some of the Whitgreave family (perhaps best known for their connection to Moseley Old Hall and the escape of Charles II) lived until 1720. In 1851, Francis Whitgreave bought back the ancestral home and commissioned Edward Welby Pugin to build a new house in Neo-Gothic style. Pugin junior based the new Burton Manor on his father’s house at Ramsgate and incorporated some genuine Gothic alongside his Victorian version including a stone cross excavated from the Grey Friars site in Stafford over the porch. A chancel window from the same friary is also believed to have been taken there and broken up and used in a rockery.

Burton manor cross

There was restoration work taking place so I got to see the cross close up! Or perhaps I should say close down?

We had a look around the grounds and there was no obvious sign of the broken window but after a bit of impromptu weeding, Mr Bateman did show me another interesting feature. Stonework carved with the biblical quotation ‘He who drinketh this water shall thirst again’, surrounds a spring, now covered by a metal cover. My well hunting expert friend Pixy Led has no record of a spring of any spiritual significance on this site, and so perhaps it was a practical feature given the Pugin treatment?

Burton manor spring

Spring cleaning

In Whitgreave’s day, all this was fields – a  report in the Staffordshire Advertiser in September 1866 describes how the family’s coachman, George Murray, died as a result of exasperating a bull while out picking mushrooms nearby. It was the rural setting that attracted the British Reinforced Concrete Engineering company, owned by the Hall family who wanted to relocate from Manchester and were looking to build a new factory nearer to their newly acquired estate in Market Drayton and wanted somewhere with room to create a model village for their employees.

They acquired the Burton Manor estate in the 1920s, and built their Art Deco factory on Silkmore Lane. A photograph taken just before it was demolished in 1991 can be seen here on Staffordshire Past Track.   The original plan was to provide high quality housing for workers along with a school, church and cinema but the scheme was only partly realised. Less than half of the planned two hundred houses were built and in place of the proposed leisure facilities, Burton Manor was used as a social club for workers and extended to add a ballroom with what Mr Bateman told me was once the largest sprung dance floor in the county.

As the name suggests, the company made products to strengthen concrete structures and during the Second World War assisted with the building of harbours and runways. This wasn’t their only contribution to the war effort. When the Mayor of Stafford launched the Stafford and District Spitfire Fund in August 1940,  announcing in the Staffordshire Advertiser that, ‘£5,000 is required to purchase one of these machines and I am confident that this amount will be very quickly raised in the district’, BRC managing director Mr Butler pledged that the firm would contribute £10,000 if the town met its target. The money flew in, with even the Luftwaffe inadvertently making their own contribution to the fund with £343 raised from people paying a shilling to see the remains of a German bomber on display in the meat market. In October 1940, Lord Beaverbrook wrote to the Mayor to, ‘thank the people of Stafford and District for their magnificent contribution to the strength of the Royal Air Force, which is a noble tribute to our airmen’ and Spitfires R7229 and R7263 were given the names B.R.C Stafford I and B.R.C Stafford II respectively. Spitfire AB842 was called ‘The Staffordian’.

The stories around these and the estimated 2,600 other presentation spitfires are fascinating, particularly as those contributing could name their plane. Almost every town and city raised money for at least one and named theirs accordingly, including of course Lichfield, whose Spitfire BL812 was shot down whilst being flown by John Gofton on 3rd February 1943, I believe. Other names are more intriguing and my own personal favourite is ‘Dorothy of Great Britain and the Empire’ which was paid for soley by women called Dorothy, who took part in a chain mail fundraising scheme. I’m curious about the numbers of the aircraft too – why do the BRC planes have the letter R but The Staffordian has the letters AB?

City of Lichfield spitfire.jpg

Lichfield Spitfire (from Lichfield DC collection)

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is you never quite know where things will lead. It was medieval history, in the form of the stone cross from Greyfriars which took me to Stafford Grammar but thanks to my visit, I’ve found myself learning about early examples of corporate social responsibility and crowdfunding.  I may have just finished my degree, but my education continues…

(Also, before anyone says I need a lesson in photography, my camera was broken, so apologies for the far from picture perfect images!)


Thanks once again to Mr Bateman for showing us around






7 thoughts on “Higher Education

  1. Some of the names of presentation Spitfires were very quirky – Skysweeper donated by Hoover Ltd, and Nippy donated to by Lyon’s Tea House in honour of their waitresses. Lovely blog post. Really got me interested in looking into what happened to these aircraft.


  2. When I read that a firm, probably owned by a family, decide to provide housing and schools, and even a model village for their employees, I become cynical; is it for the benefit of the employees or the employer. So what is the case for Mr Ernest B Hall and the BRCE Co?

    Although Grace’s Guide says the BRCE Co were located Manchester in 1919 and Stafford in 1926, 1943, 1958, and 1961, there is evidence that firm existed before this date in London in 1912. At that time “Messrs Hall and Pickles” of the BRCE Co were the sole manufacturers of electrically-welded steel mesh, heavily galvanised fencing. In fact Ernest Hall and his brother had acquired the firm of BRCE Co in Trafford Park, Manchester in 1908.

    The firm of Hall and Pickles Ltd. was established in the year 1812, and still exists today….”Founded by John Hall the Fourth, Hall & Pickles began two centuries ago serving a very different industrial market than that of the new millennium. Through seven generations of the Hall family, Hall & Pickles has evolved through consistent investment and innovation into the market leader we are today. From humble beginnings back in 1812 Hall & Pickles are now one of the largest independent stockholders in the United Kingdom with an annual turnover in excess of 120,000 tonnes and over £50 million.” http://www.hallandpickles.co.uk

    So around 1925 the firm BRCE Co was part of an empire, and along with Hall and Pickles were limited Companies, probably the family possessing majority shares.
    The BRCE Co purchased the Burton Manor Estate and applied for planning permission to build a considerable number of dwellings. Now, the Ministry of Health had stated that housing must be working-class and therefore the houses would be limited to £650 each, and resale was not allowed. As there was a desire to bring business to the area the permission was approved and a payment of £75 per house in respect of 37 houses being erected by BRCE Co on Burton Manor Estate to assist private enterprise. The BRCE Co later queried this assistance but were told that £75 had been clearly stated. They also questioned the position of the sewer main, and said that they were not willing to defray the cost as they thought it was the council’s duty to make the necessary provision.

    Around that time it seems the Council wanted to build a school and received a letter from the BRCE Co…”The company have purchased the Burton Manor Estate, upon which they propose to build a considerable number of houses, and they are anxious that the style of the architecture of the school should be in conformity with the other buildings. The Company is, we believe willing to provide an adequate site for the school free of cost, and we, therefore feel that the Local Education Authority should meet the wishes of the Co in the matter of style as far as possible…..Mr Hall thought that in an emergency it was possible to provide part of the Estate for temporary use of school purposes.”

    Ernest B Hall’s residence was Hales Hall, Market Drayton. It looks like he may have been a collector of art and was interested in the breeding of horses and freisans. In June 1938 he was the Chairman of the National Association of Iron and Steel Stockholders. I cannot find any evidence of the desire to create a model village, and Ernest Hall died leaving Effects of £167,401.


  3. Ah, as an avid reader of footnotes I missed an important one, it could be the source of theory of the “model village.”

    To the Manor born…July 27, 2006…The Staffordshire Newsletter.

    “….the Estate had been selected by a Manchester based firm for an exciting new project……..So as our photographer walked around the Burton Manor area and Silkmore, he was recording a dream – a dream which would employ hundreds of workers and lead to what was hoped would be a new area of Stafford. A cinema, churches, company school and 200 homes for workers were originally planned along with the Silkmore site of the works of BRC, a name which would become synonymous with quality engineering products…

    …The newly-founded company had a parent company which had been in existence for more than a century – Hall Engineering Limited – and one which had a benevolent attitude towards employees. Its aim was to provide pleasanter conditions than an industrial town….

    …..The houses cost between £800 and £1000 apiece – around twice the average price of homes at the time…….The original intention was that the Burton Manor estate would imitate the sterling work complete at Port Sunlight…”

    Well, the BRCE Co was not a newly-found Co in 1926 as it had been in existence since at least 1908, and the history can be seen at the site below. There is also a letter to employees of the BRCE Co written in May 1976 under the title of “50 Years Progress” and written by the Grandson of Mr Hall.

    “….In 1926 the company moved to new works and offices at Stafford. [Eventually, the Manchester premises became too small and plans were drawn up for a new factory and housing estate in Stafford.] Housing was difficult, because mortgage facilities were not quite as easy at that time, and the Burton Manor Estate was built to provide accommodation for the employees and at the same time the Manor House and grounds was purchased to provide recreation facilities…”



  4. Many thanks, now we have some concrete evidence concerning the “model Village,” from no less than the Stafford Borough Council, and in 2013. I think the question remains as to whether the scheme proposed was as grand as the Council make out. What do you think?

    We can now examine the evidence.


  5. Meanwhile in August 1924 one of the other parts of “Hall and Pickles”, the Chatwood Safe Co Ltd are proposing to move to Harlescott in Shrewsbury…

    The Atcham Rural Council decide to borrow £80,000 at 4.75% to advance to the Chatworth Safe Co of Bolton to enable them to carry out a scheme for the erection of 100 houses for workmen who will be employed at the new works which the firm propose putting up at Harlsescott, near Shrewsbury. It was stated that the firm were transferring the whole of their plant to the new works, and desired more room than they have at present for expansion.

    Major Trevor Corbet, chairman of the Council, in reply to a member, said the reason that the Council were asked to borrow the money was that they could do so at a lower rate of interest than the company whose coming into the district would be of great benefit to it.

    Mr Dale said that a director of the company informed him that it would cost £500,000 to transfer the works to Shrewsbury.


  6. September 1942…

    Mr. J. F. Butler, managing director of the Brnish Reinforced Concrete Engineering Company, Ltd.. Stafford, the firm which provided two of the three Spitfires contributed by the town to the RAF fighter strength, has received some details of the magnificent work of the squadron to which BRC Stafford “II” is attached.

    This fighter has completed many hours of operational flying, and to its pilots many parts of the occupied countries have become familiar targets. The squadron pilots have met with many successes in combat with the Luftwaffe. In one month alone they destroyed 20 enemy aircraft, probablv destroyed eight others, and damaged many more, and Staffordians will be interested and proud to learn that the Spitfire earning the name of their town has taken its full share in the squadron’s activities.

    After one particularly successful operation, the pilots reported 12 enemv aircraft either destroyed or damaged. The Spitfires took off for a rendezvous with two other fighter squadrons, with the object of escorting bombers raiding Hazebrouck. Before the target was reached, ten Me’s were seen coming to meet them and the squadron went down to scare them off. then continued on their course. Over the target many Me ‘s were encountered, and the Spitfires split up into groups to meet their attack. During the ensuing dog-fights one pilot shot flown two Germans in remarkably quick succession Another claimed a third and one damaged, and the remainder of the squadron soon accounted for the remaining nine which made their total of 12. The surviving Me ‘s made good their escape into the clouds.

    Successful as this encounter was the squadron, too, suffered loss. One of its pilots failed to return He was the last remaining member of those who joined the squadron on September 3 when war broke out. Later, he was reported a prisoner of war. Still with a front squadron, B R C Stafford “II” is keeping up the good work, and doing it well.


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