Monday, December 28, 2009

Watery Llama

Where Josiah Wedgwood, the Staffordshire Sentinel and every shopper from across Stoke-on-Trent came, so White Llama has followed. We find ourselves in Etruria, in a marina in the middle of Festival Park.

Etruria is all new-build, only appearing on the map some two centuries ago. Wedgwood named it after the influential civilisation where all the pots were made when he left Burslem to start a new factory. The air was cleaner in Etruria and it was handy for his new family home and the canal that winds along the ancient valley between Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle under Lyme. The commute to London, so swift by train, is slower by canal, with a staircase of locks between the marina and the station.

Some time later Wedgwood's factory was sinking and the smoke had caught up with Etruria, so it was off to Barlaston with Wedgwood and Etruria was left to be taken over by the fiery pools of Shelton Bar. In 1984 the site was developed for a national garden festival. This became Festival Park, a city playground with marina, pub, water park, cinema, disused Quasar, ski slope, drive-in restaurants and one giant shed for every clone store known to man. This sucks the six towns dry of shoppers, a tragic hurdle to those who wish to see Hanley become more like Birmingham. Stoke people go where the parking is free. The Sentinel did a Wapping and built its own shed on the old Wedgwood site, with giant printing presses that supply many of the daily newspapers to the north of the UK.

Not being connected with one of the old towns, Etruria's communities feel a little disjointed, but are well-established despite the upheavals of change. There are the old terraces with their last-remaining pubs across the dual carriageway, newbuild estates and then the friendly residents of the marina who seem to live in a parallel universe to the retail frenzy all around. All a little quieter since a high court order banned racing and cruising from Fezzer, ending this modern-day version of the towns' romantic monkey runs.

Inbetween all the sheds, behind Wedgwood's house and the ski slope, are hidden hilly grounds - permission to roam kindly granted by St Modwen - round every corner a faux-ancient ruin or soft green glade, totally ignored by everyone except the odd dog walker and grafitti artist. In front of Wedgwood's house a neglected relic from the Garden Festival: a thin ornamental tower of local brick and tile, two ponds, stone pillars and then a trail of water features leading the eye irresistibly, like a 1980s Taj Mahal, to Waterworld. If you tire of exploring Festival Park, there are the canals which lead in many scenic directions through Stoke's backs.

And so, despite not being a real place, Etruria has just about everything you could want.


Andrew said...

Interesting, I go to Festival Park most days (I work there) but it seems that there are parts to it that I haven't explored. I shall have to take my dog there and take some photos.

Anonymous said...

Also the place where photography was (nearly) invented: