Not many students and staff attending Staffordshire University’s graduation ceremonies, which are being held on the Trentham Estate, will know that Trentham Hall could have been home to a leading Russell Group university like Manchester and Birmingham.
On February 12th, 1890, Francis Elliot Kitchener, the headmaster of Newcastle High School, attended the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner at the North Stafford Hotel.
While proposing the toast to “the staple trades of Staffordshire”, he suggested establishing a University College in Hanley which specialised in chemistry and engineering. Both the Sentinel and Thomas Turner (Staffordshire County Council’s director of technical education) supported the idea.
However, nothing was done until 1900 when a Council for the Extension of Higher Education in North Staffordshire was set up to help finance Oxford University’s Extension Courses in the region.
Taking up Kitchener’s idea, the council launched a public appeal to build a North Staffordshire College in The Potteries.
The proposed college, which would have had University status, was going to run full and part-time degree courses, train teachers and provide vocational training for men and women working in industry and commerce.
Although the estimated cost of the college was £20,000, there was wide spread support for the project.
By the end of 1904 pottery manufacturers, colliery owners, professional bodies and local town councils had promised to give between £10,000 and £11,000 towards the cost.
Staffordshire County Council offered to give £12,500 if matching funding could be raised. The Council for the Extension of Higher Education in North Staffordshire made plans to launch a final appeal. Before the appeal was launched, the Duke of Sutherland stepped in and offered to give Trentham Hall to the county council if it agreed to establish the college there.
Believing it had achieved its objective, the Council for the Extension of Higher Education disbanded and the county council made plans to transform the hall into a regional college.
While these plans were being made, a campaign to reform local government in The Potteries by replacing its six local authorities with a county borough council was gaining momentum.
Realising change was inevitable and that responsibility for education would be taken from it and given to the new county borough, Staffordshire County Council withdrew its support for the North Staffordshire College.
Hanley, which was already a county borough, refused to take over the project and the county council erected temporary buildings to house a mining school and a pottery school on land near Stoke Station.
At the end of the First World War another attempt to give The Potteries a University College failed.
The mining school and the pottery school became the Central School of Science and Technology, one of the technical schools in the region from which Staffordshire University can claim its descent.
Copyright David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2013