A visit to Shelton Bar
In 1973, Shelton Bar was the inspiration for Peter Cheeseman’s documentary-theatre piece, ‘A Fight for Shelton Bar’. It told the story of the long running battle between the Shelton Works Action Committee and the British Steel Cooperation over the BSC’s proposals to close down steel manufacture at the site.
In 1964, £20-million had been spent on making Shelton Bar one of the most modern in Europe. The works were very highly profitable. The proposed reduction of 1972 would have lost 2,000 jobs and raised the Stoke unemployment level by 3%. It was a threat to the whole district. The stage was set for a classic confrontation: a giant nationalised industry pursuing a long-term rationalisation scheme versus a close-knit and committed workforce, dedicated to preserving, in their own words, ‘their history and heritage’.
Stoke-on-Trent’s Victoria Theatre came to the fight in October 1973, at the Action Committee’s request. Over four months Peter Cheeseman and a small research group captured over 100 hours of tape recordings in personal interviews, at Action Committee meetings and at the steel works.
The documentary was staged in January 1974 and remained in the theatre’s repertoire for most of the year. Every night a member of the Action Committee spoke during the show to bring the events up to date. The theatre-documentary played a significant part in the campaign to win a hearing for Shelton’s case. It was a good case, and they won it.
This success was eclipsed in 1978, when the main works site was closed. In 2000, the site was fully closed following being run by Corus. It was then used as a major supplies depot in the £8-billion upgrade of the West Coast Mainline railway – which borders the western periphery of the site. The site is now largely empty following clearance works ahead of a regeneration project by St. Modwen – according to their website, an ‘expert developer and regeneration specialist’. As part of Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), key sites have been highlighted for possible development around the city. Shelton has been split into four sites 177 (19.37 ha), 179 (6.09 ha), 317 (5.12 ha) and 495 (4.78 ha). The total area of the former Shelton Bar site is 80 ha.
How can the Shelton sites be redeveloped with a collective vision towards ensuring long term employment, without an over reliance on any one industry? What industries can collectively support employment figures which are reflective of the 1973 figures as well as population growth? How can such future industries engender associations of place and community akin to the strength displayed by the former Shelton Works Action Committee?