The Problem of Former Industry

Chatterley Whitfield is a former coal mine on the north-eastern periphery of Stoke-on-Trent. The site is a unique liminal condition: to the west – separated by a slag heap - lies the city, to the east lies open countryside. It was here in 1937 that the mine produced 1,000,000 tons of sellable coal in a year – the first in the UK to do as such. The mine workings were, and still are, substantial. Five shafts, their winding gear, workshops, boiler houses and amenity buildings stand as relics to a former industry – little changed since the site’s closure in 1986.

There is a sense at the colliery that time has stood still, that the city has turned its back on the site, its heritage and its legacy. The structures – which are nationally typologically unique – are slowly decaying. What protection they have has concerningly been downgraded by Heritage England in some cases. The Friends of Chatterley Whitfield, a charitable trust who seek to manage the legacy of the site, have grand plans for what the site could be; their aspirations are almost palpable. It’s a pity that the site’s owner, Stoke-on-Trent city Council, whilst a safe pair of hands, fail to invest in the site’s future.

In the broader sense, the site struggles to be unique. In the words of one volunteer, “Stoke is full of abandoned industrial buildings. It’s a hard case to make that one building deserves more protection than another”. The site’s location hasn’t helped with visibility. Being situated on the periphery of the city, it can be forgotten and ignored – an issue to be dealt with later. Equally, its peripheral location has something to do with why it is so well preserved. The relationship of industry and landscape is deeply profound – it is much as it was a century ago.

There are two main issues at Chatterley Whitfield. Firstly, the site represents a significant dimension of the cultural and social heritage of the city – how should this history should be addressed? Secondly is the primacy of a large site falling into irreversible disrepair – the function of the site becomes nebulous – what should it be used for, and by whom? The set of conditions at Chatterley Whitfield are distinct and yet common to Stoke-on-Trent – whatever decision is made as to the site’s future will set a significant precedent to development in the city.