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).
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.
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?
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?
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