Leek has long had a tradition of ghost stories. In the more remote parts of the Staffordshire Moorlands there are an abundance of tales of the supernatural. One of the most popular is that of the headless horseman who races across the desolate landscape between Grindon and Butterton. Another is the story of the mermaid who lures unsuspecting travellers to a watery grave at a nearby pool. So popular is this myth that the local pub – the Mermaid Inn at Morridge – takes its name from the legend.
Closer to home well-known ghost stories include The Leopard Inn at Burslem, the Kidsgrove Boggart and, of course, Molly Leigh. Checkley Rectory was at one time well-known for frequent sightings of ‘Mrs Hutchinson’, the wife of a former incumbent. At nearby Croxden a lady visiting the little church decided not to interrupt the service that was taking place. Meeting the vicar in the lane who was on his way to lock the building for the evening they both returned to find the church empty. A vicar of Caverswall during the 1870s witnessed on a number of occasions unexplainable flickering lights ‘dancing’ above the nuns graveyard between the church and the castle, which he recorded as ‘corpse candles.’
One of the more unusual tales concerned a house at Moddershall took a stranger in one evening who died during the night. Afterwards the unfortunate stranger began to manifest itself in the house. To lay the ghost the roof was taken off, prayers offered, and the roof replaced, which apparently cured the problem.
The Old Empire Cinema in Longton, later a bingo hall before its destruction by fire in the 1990s, was home to a shadowy figure who would appear on the balconies. The middle-aged man was witnessed on a number of occasions by the caretaker during the 1970s while the building was empty.
Also in Longton during the late 1970s at the Gladstone Museum were reports of a grey-haired man with side-whiskers wearing a short brown coat like a smock. The figure must have had a sense of reality as one member of staff called out to it announcing the museum was closing for the evening only to watch the figure disappear. Other members of staff had also seen the apparition, and even a visitor, who being told the museum was closing, replied that there ‘was still an old chap in there.’
No doubt many of the (now sadly demolished) potbanks had similar ghost stories. One that was reported in the Evening Sentinel in March 1967 was at Spode’s Copeland Factory in Stoke. In the article one of the artists, Bill Lane, had been playing table tennis in the canteen one evening. Going to fetch some more balls from an old studio he saw at the end of the room ‘an old man leaning over a bench as if he was painting and as I looked he glanced up. He had white hair, a white moustache, and a white face.’
The article continues that two other members of the firm, Harold Holdway and George Cartlidge, heard footsteps one night shuffling about and coming up the stairs towards the room they were in. Thinking it may have been someone who had no business there they rushed out of the room as the footsteps passed their door only to find the stairs empty. As soon as the couple returned to their work the noises began again in the room above them. ‘We got ready to jump out on whoever it was and at the right moment George and I rushed into the room but it was empty. The door at the other end was bolted.’ A year after the article appeared another employee said that he saw a white-haired old man gliding down the stairs.
Almost everywhere will have its own tale. Of the last two tales one wonders what these potters from the past would make of the current state of the industry. It may be a fair assumption to say that they really are turning in their graves.