A Tale of Six Towns Songs of Praise


A Tale of Six Towns

David Grant explores the six towns that make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent and the legacy of some of the area's greatest names, such as Josiah Wedgewood.


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Transcript


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Today, I'm managing to be in six places at once.

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Can you work out where I am and how I'm doing it?

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Well, here's a couple of clues.

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Cue music.

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# I'm loving angels instead. #

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Coming up -

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pots, pits, and postage stamps,

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and the daughter of football legend, Stanley Matthews.

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Plus music from Kristyna Myles, Stuart Pendred,

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and six cherished hymns.

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Any guesses where I am yet?

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Well, I'm exploring six towns while in one city.

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No, I'm not suddenly Superman.

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I'm in Stoke-on-Trent!

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In 1910, the towns of Hanley, Burslem,

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Longton, Stoke, Tunstall, and Fenton

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came together to form Stoke-on-Trent -

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still often called "the Potteries"

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after the industry that once defined it.

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The name "Stoke" comes from an Old English word "stoc",

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which had several meanings,

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including "place of worship."

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The first stone church was built here

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around 1,200 years ago.

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And this could be the remains of a cross

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from the original Saxon church!

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This church isn't quite that old.

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It's the Methodist Central Hall and it's stood here in Longton -

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the most southerly of the six towns,

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since the mid-19th century.

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Our first hymn also dates back to that time,

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when Robert Walmsley wrote these beautiful words.

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In the Old Testament, God says to the prophet Jeremiah,

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"As the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand."

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The message is that no matter

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how messed up our lives have got, God can remould us.

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Which is more than I'm going to be able to do for this pot.

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HE LAUGHS

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At one time, there would have been more than 4,000 brick kilns

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on the Stoke skyline.

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About 46 of these remain today - like these ones

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at the Gladstone Pottery Museum.

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Beautifully preserved, they give a real sense

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of what a pottery would have looked like in days gone by.

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Everything from teapots to toilets were made here.

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One of the most recognisable names and designs is Wedgwood.

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Josiah Wedgwood was born here, in the town of Burslem.

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He started his business here, too, leasing his first premises in 1759.

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Josiah Wedgwood was born, literally, in the churchyard pottery,

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which was adjacent to St John's Church in Burslem.

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But his mother, Mary Stringer, was, in fact, Unitarian.

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And Unitarians were classed,

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at that stage,

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as a dissenting religion

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from the Church of England,

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although highly respected.

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And he was to be extremely interested

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in the whole of the dissenting movement -

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those men who were prepared to push out the boundaries of education,

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and to do things for the benefit of mankind.

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And when he built his new purpose-built

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Etruria manufactory,

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he also built housing for his workers.

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Similarly, he was extremely good about providing healthcare.

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The life expectancy of a potter at that time was 34 years

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the majority of them dying

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from what is rather graphically described as potter's rot.

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It was inhalation and absorption of lead.

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And Weslie, when he comes to the area,

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writes that he's met a young man by the name of Josiah Wedgwood

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who makes his workman wash their hands and faces,

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and, he adds, that he's small and lame but his soul is near to God.

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His greatest example of humanitarian activities

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was his huge support for the abolition of slavery.

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He, of course, also manufactured thousands of small medallions

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showing the manacled kneeling slave

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and the motto, "Am I not a man and a brother."

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And he freely distributed those,

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both here and in America,

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to anybody who would support that course.

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Our next hymn is also associated with the struggle to end slavery.

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It was written at the height of the American Civil War,

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when the author, Julia Ward Howe, heard some Unionist soldiers

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singing "John Brown's Body Lies A-mouldering In The Grave".

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She thought such a great tune deserved more uplifting words.

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Well, she certainly achieved her aim.

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All over the Potteries, there are places like this one in Longton

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selling a local culinary delicacy - the Staffordshire oatcake!

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I don't know what it is. I'm going to find out.

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It's a savoury pancake that you can put anything that you put on bread.

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It all began with colonial times

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when the soldiers came back from India

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and tried to recreate the chapati but failed.

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Ended up with an oatcake and became very popular and a local delicacy.

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Our next hymn was written by Emily Huntington Miller

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with children's voices in mind.

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But the words are so lovely that people of all ages can enjoy it.

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The most famous literary son of the Potteries is Arnold Bennett.

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His novels were closely based on the lives

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he witnessed here in the latter half of the 19th century.

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His most famous novel was Anna Of The Five Towns.

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Why five instead of six?

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Because Arnold Bennett left out of this place - Fenton.

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Pottery wasn't the only industry in Stoke-on-Trent.

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The six towns that make up the city, were all originally built

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along the clay and coal seams.

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This was the site of Glebe Colliery.

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Now, the word Glebe means land belonging to a parish church.

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And this area was associated

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with the Glebe lands of the Church Of St Peter-Ad-Vincula.

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This church, now known as Stoke Minster,

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is in the town of Stoke itself.

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People have worshipped on this site for over 1,200 years.

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The original church was built near the River Trent,

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so people would literally have come Down To The River To Pray.

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# As I went down in the river to pray

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# Studying about that good ol' way

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# And who shall wear the starry crown?

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# Good Lord, show me the way

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# O, sisters, let's go down

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# Let's go down, come on down

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# O, sisters, let's go down

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# Down in the river to pray

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# As I went down in the river to pray

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# Studying about that good ol' way

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# And who shall wear the starry crown?

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# Good Lord, show me the way

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# O, fathers, let's go down

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# Let's go down, come on down

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# O, fathers, let's go down

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# Down in the river to pray

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# As I went down in the river to pray

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# Studying about that good ol' way

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# And who shall wear the robe and crown?

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# Good Lord, show me the way

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# O, mothers, let's go down

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# Come on down, don't you want to go down?

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# Come on, mothers, let's go down

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# Down in the river to pray

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# As I went down in the river to pray

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# Studying about that good ol' way

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# And who shall wear the starry crown?

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# Good Lord, show me the way. #

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Tunstall is the most northerly of the six towns,

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and nearby is a clue

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to why the pottery industry here was so successful - transport.

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There are more miles of canal in Staffordshire

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than in any other county in England, including the Harecastle Tunnels.

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When the first one was built in the 1770s,

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it was twice the length of any other tunnel in the world.

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I'm going to take a look.

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-Can I catch a lift?

-Of course you can, David.

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-Thank you.

-Where to?

-Harecastle Tunnels.

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Excellent, that's the way I'm going.

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The first tunnel didn't have a tow path,

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so the boatmen used to have to lie on their backs

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and push the boat through with their feet.

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Fortunately, this one's got an engine.

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Our fifth town is the town of Stoke, itself,

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where the artist and sculptor, Arnold Machin was born in 1911.

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Now, you might not realise it,

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but you're already very familiar with one of his works.

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In fact, if you sent a letter in the last 45 years,

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you've probably licked the back of it.

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My uncle Arnold was a fascinating man.

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Of course, as a young child you never appreciate what he had achieved,

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you know, you think everyone's uncle did a picture of the Queen

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that appeared on the stamp.

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He came from a potteries family.

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His father and his older brothers were already

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working in the potteries and he was going to be an apprentice.

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-So, he was from a working-class background?

-Oh, completely.

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I mean, at the age of 16, he was at Minton's gilding plates.

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At the time, working for Minton, they had a worker's library.

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And he educated himself.

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The big thing that I think, actually,

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really pushed him forward was actually the war.

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The Second War.

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Because of what had happened to his brothers

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in the First War, he was a conscientious objector.

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So, when Arnold received his call-up papers - the bit of document

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that said, you now, "Mr Machin, present yourself for a medical."

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You had to go along. If you didn't go along, you were sent to prison.

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So, while his health was very poor,

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and he knew he was going to fail the medical,

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he decided not to go, because that was principle.

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So, he stuck to his principles.

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He was put in front of the magistrate in London

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and then sent to Wormwood Scrubs for 12 months.

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He was a deeply spiritual man and a great deal of his art at that time

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was entirely religious in nature.

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I mean, St John the Baptist was his best known piece

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that was produced in the '40s.

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And that was entirely driven by his experiences with a war.

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So, can you explain how a conscientious objector

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goes in two decades, from that status

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to being the person commissioned

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to design the most iconic image of the Monarch.

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In the early '60s,

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the Mint decided that they had to start designing decimal coins.

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Arnold set to work with some other designers

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and produced the best thing the committee had seen.

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John Betjeman was involved

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and the story goes that he said,

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"He's made her Majesty look a little bit sexy."

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And then, the same time, the Stamp advisory committee

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were meeting to look at changing the design of the stamps.

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When people look back at this age,

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and they're looking for something to put on the poster

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that says "the age of Elizabeth", it will be his head that'll be used.

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It's that iconic figure.

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# O Lord my God

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# When I in awesome wonder

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# Consider all the works

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# Thy hand hath made

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# I see the stars

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# I hear the mighty thunder

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# Thy power throughout the Universe displayed

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# Then sings my soul

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# My Saviour, God, to thee

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# How great thou art

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# How great thou art

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# Then sings my soul

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# My Saviour, God, to thee

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# How great thou art

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# How great thou art

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# How great thou art

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# How great thou art. #

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The town of Hanley

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is now considered to be the city centre of modern-day Stoke-on-Trent.

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While some people flock here at the weekends

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to do their shopping, the fans of Stoke City Football Club

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head for the nearby Britannia Stadium,

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and I'm off there now

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to meet the daughter of Hanley's most famous son -

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footballer Stanley Matthews.

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He was a great dad.

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Very loving, very family-orientated.

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Lots of things we did quietly. He hated to be in the public.

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What was his proudest moment?

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As far as we're concerned,

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it's the 1953 cup final.

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Right, tell us about that.

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Blackpool were 3-1 down with about ten minutes to go.

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We thought, really, it was all over.

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And then it was just magical.

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We all expected it to be extra time.

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But the last goal in the last minute.

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He ran down the wing using his speed, like he does.

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'Matthews beat the defence,

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'centred for the South African Bill Perry to score the winning goal.

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THEY CHEER

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'For Blackpool, it was like a boys' school story come true.

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'Congratulations to Blackpool,

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'and from the whole world of sport to Stanley Matthews.'

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Was he a man of faith?

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He didn't talk about it, but he was.

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He never asked God to help him win a game.

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But I know he would ask him to give him strength.

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Like we all need strength.

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He thanked God for the gifts that he had given him.

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But he didn't think he was anybody special

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he reckoned he got to use these gifts

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for the benefit of everybody else.

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During the '50s, and into the '60s, he was doing something else

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that people didn't know about, as well, wasn't he?

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Yeah, he was going over to South Africa.

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He went to coach, and he coached the black people in Soweto.

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He loved the people, and he went back every year.

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It was quite dangerous to go in there for a white man,

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but it was fine.

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They actually loved him.

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They called him the black man with a white face.

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Getting football coaching from Stanley Matthews

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was a rare glimmer of hope for boys growing up in Soweto,

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boys like Paradise Moeketsi.

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During the Apartheid, as a young boy,

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it was very difficult.

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Very difficult.

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It was so bad that one can think

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he was born in the wrong time.

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We were unprivileged.

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You know, we were living in shacks, and we didn't even go to school.

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We didn't have any hope of changing to become a better person.

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You're good players, yes. You've got to work hard.

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You've got to work. You've got to work.

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That opportunity to be taught by him, it was a big blessing,

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and hence, today that man changed our lives.

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We didn't even have money, to buy a real ball,

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so, we used to have plastic and fill it with some papers inside.

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It must look round, and so we played.

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So, that was the only thing that was making us so much happy.

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And that was the only thing that was giving us hope.

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Stanley's influence helped Paradise turn his life around.

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And he's now a football coach in Johannesburg,

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passing on the legacy.

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After he gave us a pep talk, that man, he changed my heart.

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And I changed for the better.

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You know, I started to believe that God is alive.

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Loving, heavenly Father,

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we pray for our city -

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rejoicing in its history, the skills of its people...

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..and new signs of regeneration.

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We pray for our friends and neighbours,

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that they may find inspiration and fresh hope in their hearts and lives.

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In the Saviour's name.

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ALL: Amen.

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It's time to say goodbye from the Potteries.

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Did you know that the word "goodbye"

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comes from the phrase "God be with you"?

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And that's our final hymn today.

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Next week, Aled introduces a Big Sing spectacular

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from the Royal Albert Hall.

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5,000 voices sing

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some of Britain's biggest hymns -

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and there'll be great music from special guests -

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Alfie Boe and Jaz Ellington.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:33:550:34:01

David Grant explores the six towns that make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent and the legacy of some of the area's greatest names, such as Josiah Wedgewood and Stanley Matthews. He also introduces cherished hymns from Longton Methodist Central Hall and performances by Kristyna Myles and Stuart Pendred.


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