When Absalom Reade Wood died at his home in Wolstanton on December 21st, 1922, North Staffordshire lost an architect who had given it numerous civic buildings, churches, factories, schools and houses.
Born at Burslem in 1851, Absalom was educated at the Wesleyan Day School and at Hanley Art School. Trained by Shelton architect Robert Scrivener, who designed Hanley’s Mechanics Institution in Pall Mall and Hanley Town Hall, he qualified in the early 1870s and established his own practice in Tunstall during 1874.
A year later, Absalom became the town’s surveyor a position he held until the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent was created in 1910. Working closely with John Nash Peake and the town clerk, Arthur Llewellyn, he modernised Tunstall’s market hall and created the town’s Victorian Civic Centre containing his pièce de résistance, the town hall which was opened in 1885. Other civic buildings he designed include Kidsgrove’s Victoria Hall and the Sutherland Institute in Lightwood Road, Longton which was erected on land given by the Duke of Sutherland.
Absalom’s first commission to design a pottery factory came from his childhood friend Edmund Leigh for whom he built the Middleport Pottery (Burgess, Dorling & Leigh) on the banks of the Trent and Mersey Canal. The works, which possessed seven bottle ovens, opened in 1889 and shortly afterwards he designed a factory for Enoch Wedgwood at Brownhills.
Burslem School Board employed him to design Longport Elementary Schools, Jackfield Infants’ School, Park Road Elementary Schools and the Central School (now Burslem Enterprise Centre) in Moorland Road.
Absalom married Mary Holdcroft, whose father William was a pottery manufacturer. They had five children – two boys and three girls. Absalom and Mary were Methodists. The family worshipped at Hill Top Methodist Church in Burslem which Absalom regenerated in 1889 and at Longport Methodist Church which he designed. His other churches include St. Andrew’s at Port Hill and the United Reformed Church in Moorland Road, Burslem which has a magnificent stained glass window depicting the Sermon on the Mount that shows Christ surrounded by people from all walks of life.
Originally called the Woodhall Memorial Congregational Church, the United Reformed Church, constructed of red brick and red Hollington Stone was erected in memory of William Woodhall who played a major role in founding the Wedgwood Institute. Built to replace an earlier Congregational Church in Queen Street, the building’s front elevation contains a bronze relief of Woodhall set in a carved and moulded panel.
Closely linked with the old Queen Street church and the new church in Moorland Road is the Wycliffe Hall in Wycliffe Street. Opened in 1885, the hall, designed by Absalom, housed the church’s Sunday School and Burslem High School for Girls.
Absalom’s best known building in Burslem is the Art School in Queen Street which has recently been regenerated. Situated opposite the Wedgwood Institute, the school which cost £8,500 opened in 1907. Of classic design with large north facing windows lighting the first floor, the school was constructed of red brick with tawny terracotta facings. A circular terracotta porch supported by columns led into the building whose classrooms and studios surrounded a central hall which had a balcony with a wrought iron balustrade. One of the school’s most famous students was pottery designer Clarice Cliff who attended classes there in the 1920s. Born at Meir Street, Tunstall in 1889, she was educated at High Street School, Summerbank Road School and Tunstall Art School which had all been designed by Absalom.
(Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010)