John Ward, the author of “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent” published in 1843, was born at Slawston in Leicestershire on June 22nd, 1781. John who became one of North Staffordshire’s leading lawyers served his articles with an attorney in Cheadle.
Qualifying in 1808, he moved to Burslem and set up his own practice.
At the time, Britain and her allies were at war with France. Napoleon’s army had defeated the Prussians. English troops, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, were fighting a rearguard action in Portugal and John joined the Longport Volunteers, a unit formed to help defend the Potteries if the French invaded.
In 1811, John married Anne Rice from Ashby-de-la-Zouch. They had one son, William, who died of pleurisy in 1847.
An able lawyer, he quickly established a large practice and acted for leading industrialists and large landowners including Admiral Smith Child and his grandson Sir Smith Child. Like all successful lawyers, John made enemies. Burslem pottery manufacturer Enoch Wood accused him of professional misconduct. John sued for defamation and Wood was ordered to pay him £100 damages.
A devout Christian, John was churchwarden at St. Paul’s in Dalehall, a church he helped to build. Erected on land given by William Adams, the church was consecrated by Henry Ryder, the Bishop of Lichfield, on January 19th, 1831. Costing £2,000 the medieval Perpendicular style Hollington stone building was designed by London architect Lewis Vulliamy who also built Christ Church, Cobridge.
The Reform Act 1832 made Stoke-upon-Trent a Parliamentary Borough giving it two Members of Parliament. Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Longton and Fenton were included in the constituency. In 1837, local historian Simeon Shaw, using John’s archives, began writing “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent” which he hoped to publish in monthly instalments.
Rewritten and edited by John, the first eight parts were printed under Shaw’s name. A financial dispute arose between Shaw and his publishers. They refused to print any more instalments until John agreed to take over the series and complete the work. He wrote the last 12 parts and all the instalments were made into a book “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent. John was acknowledged as the author but all profits from its sales were given to Shaw.
Politically a Conservative, John was one of Burslem’s improvement commissioners who were responsible for providing street lighting and policing. The town’s market trustees made him their clerk. He arranged for them to buy land in the town centre where they erected a meat market. Opened on October 1st, 1836 the market hall was a Romanesque style stone building designed by architect Samuel Ledward.
Large-scale riots took place in Staffordshire during August, 1842. Armed troops were used to maintain law and order. Men and women who had been arrested were taken to Stafford gaol. The Crown employed John to help prosecute them. They were tried by Special Commissioners, who were High Court judges, sitting at Stafford.
John remained in practice until he died at his home, Furlong House in Burslem, on June 3rd, 1870. He was 89 years old. His funeral took place at St. Paul’s, Dalehall and he was buried in the churchyard.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010