'The Education of a Whole Coalfield'

How tutors and students brought adult education into small mining villages in North Staffordshire.

It started with a meeting at the Stoke School of Mining in May 1911. Members of the Oxford tutorial class at Longton were joined by representatives from some twenty neighbourhood mining villages, and Oxford University’s E S Cartwright and R H Tawney. They had gathered to discuss a new venture – one that amounted to, as Cartwright described it, ‘the education of a whole coalfield.'

Cartwright, writing in 1927, states that ‘In 1911, the Longton Class… had come to feel that there was need for a great extension of adult education in the district, and it considered in what direction it could best launch out on an educational campaign. Round the Five Towns (1) lie a number of scattered semi-industrial villages, mostly little mining communities, which at that time – for it was before the days of country buses – were shut off from contact with town amenities, and here was an untouched field.’

It was decided that classes in ten of these villages should be arranged – and so the North Staffordshire Miners’ Higher Education Movement was born.

The Longton tutorial students organised the programme and were themselves the tutors, passing along the knowledge and insight they were gaining from Tawney to the other workers. ‘These new activities were undertaken in the spirit of adventure,’ according to Cartwright.

In its first year, twelve class leaders were required, and of these eight were students of the Longton Class – a miner, a colliery weighman, a potter’s engineman, a potter’s decorator, a railway telegraphist, an elementary schoolteacher, a secretary and a clerk. In this way the Longton Class took the lead in missionary effort, and in starting the local tradition of voluntary teaching by class students.

The programme, begun in 1911 with 10 teaching centres and 200 students, grew by 1919 to 28 teaching centres and 630 students. The North Staffordshire Miners continued to meet and to come to Oxford for many decades.  

For some dedicated students, the Summer Meeting in Oxford was their only holiday during the year.

Photo caption: the North Staffordshire Miners at a Summer Meeting at Balliol, 1954.

(1) The ‘Five Towns’ was a description popularised in the novels and short stories of Arnold Bennet, and describes the ‘Potteries’: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Fenton, Stoke and Longton. Bennet omitted to depict Fenton in his fictions, hence ‘Five Towns’.