The Crown Hotel – Part One

The Crown Hotel in 1810
The Crown Hotel in 1810                                                                               

The Crown Hotel – Part One by  Philip Leason                                   of the Stone Historical & Civic Society

Moving on from the book shop, we come to the Crown Hotel, once one of the premier hotels of North Staffordshire that played host to the many celebrities of their day. The Crown had originally belonged to Earl Gower of Trentham. When the old Crown Inn was destroyed by a fire, he decided to ask the young architect, Henry Holland, to draw up the plans for the replacement building. Holland was working on improvements to the Earl’s Trentham estate under his employer, the legendary Lancelot (“Capability”) Brown.

Whereas Brown undertook the main planning it was Holland’s job to design the bridges, temples etc. to be incorporated into the landscape. Holland later married Brown’s daughter. Henry Holland went on to design many high profile buildings in London – Brooks Club, the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and Carlton House, the town residence of the Prince of Wales. He also designed an addition to a villa in Brighton which was also owned by the Prince and was later altered by the architects William Pordon and John Nash to become the Royal Pavilion. The Crown Inn became a Hotel in 1834 and until 1830 the south High Street was originally Market Street.

Earl Granville sold most of his Stone estate in April 1871 and the Crown Hotel and Crown Meadow were purchased by the brewers Messrs Glover of Longton for £4,000. Glover’s were subsequently taken over by John Joule and Sons and so too the Crown to become the flagship of Joules. Over the years the Crown has undergone various alterations and improvements … the old Assembly Room was extended in 1921 to create the ballroom we know today. A contemporary report stated:

“The room is now enlarged and rebuilt has quite the most handsome interior of any similar room in the district, and is 66 ft. long by 31 ft. wide, being beautifully proportioned. The decorations are of a Georgian character, with a barreled ceiling divided by beams into five panels, sub divided into smaller panels, with ivy-leaf decoration. There is a large reception room coloured to match the ball room, lighted by reflected electric light from an alabaster pendant of Weston manufacture. The contractor was Mr William Smallwood and the architect Mr John S. Redman (of Messrs. John Joule and Sons). (Many of our older readers may remember that there used to be an alabaster works at Weston). The old stables used when the Crown was a coaching inn were converted into garages and advertised as “accommodation for 30 cars and an inspection pit.”

Crown-1900
The Crown Hotel in 1900

And in 1974 a mail coach travelled from London as part of the Congleton Charter Celebrations stopped at the Crown as it would have done in the past and it was a magnificent sight to see it at the rear of the hotel. A later improvement saw the arrival of the “The Jervis Bar” (after John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent) replacing the “old Crown Tap” which this featured a mural of Sir Francis Drake painted by the artist Eric Tunstall R.I. And on Christmas Eve 1954 an oil painting of Earl St. Vincent, again by Tunstall copied from a painting by Francis Cotes R.A. in the National Portrait Gallery, was hung in the gentlemen’s smoking room.

The painting was subsequently hung in the Jervis Room but it was sadly stolen a few years ago. In another refurbishment the old Writing Room became the oak room – the name that it still retains today. However in the 1980’s refurbishment the room became part of the bar. During the 2nd world war the ballroom was decorated with murals depicting dancers painted by William Stobbs. These were subsequently covered by wallpaper during a later renovation of the hotel, but more about this later. During one of the renovations in the 1970’s, the revolving doors of the main entrance to the hotel from High Street were removed.

As a child these always fascinated me … and for many readers, their disappearance was seen as an end of an era. And it wasn’t only the bars etc that have been updated- the bedrooms too. Reading the various leaflets we can see how the bedrooms have been upgraded over the years. In the 1950’s we had

“There are 12 bedrooms at the Crown and all have beds with spring interior mattresses. Hot and Cold water is laid on in all rooms. Ample bathrooms and toilet facilities are provided; a private telephone is installed in each bedroom.”

By the 1960’s there were thirteen bedrooms and the additional facilities included a shaver point and an electric fire with two shared bathrooms on each floor. In 1981, the16 self-contained bedroomed annex was formally opened by the Chairman of Wedgwood’s, Sir Arthur Bryan.The then hotel owners, Bass Worthington, had totally refurbished all the bedrooms in the main hotel over the previous year. Standing in front of the hotel and it is hard to imagine that the High Street was once a busy two – way highway. Latterly, before pedestrianisation, the High Street became part of the one way system with traffic passing down past the Crown to join Stafford Street, and directly opposite the Crown, there was Mill Street with a number of industrial units (where Morrisons is today).

As you would imagine, articulated lorries found it difficult, if not impossible, to turn in to Mill Street from High Street to access the businesses – on one occasion the rear of a lorry caught the right-hand pillar of the portico to the Crown threatening to bringing the whole lot down. The rope on the flag pole above this portico had for many years been missing but in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Joules hired a hydraulic platform to restring it so that a Union Flag could be flown on Jubilee Day. (ED. Over the years, I have heard on many occasions acquaintances getting quite heated at the lack of a Union Jack on the Crown … particularly in November. Hopefully this may be redressed, though it looks unlikely at the moment! ) In the 1990’s, the then owners of the Crown – Bass Taverns – decided that it did not meet the criteria for their hotels and the Crown became part of a nationwide sell-off of licenced premises under the Monopolies Commission ruling.

And at Christmas 1991 they were confident that they had found a buyer but by February 1992 the deal had collapsed. (ED. Not dissimilar to the Hotel’s recent history then?). Then the RG Insbruck-Payne Settlement Trust expressed an interest in buying the hotel, to refurbish it and build a multi-storey car park on part of the site. Again this did not come into fruition. and throughout the 1990’s rumours often circulated that the hotel had been sold ( ED. Again – not dissimilar to the Hotel’s recent history then?)

There was then, as now, a very genuine concern from residents as to what was going to happen to the Crown. Given its illustrious past, it has become an iconic venue as the location of the signing of the Trent and Mersey Canal Company (James Brindley & Josiah Wedgwood) and for more than a century, the advertisements on the railway bridges all the way down the A34 from Stockport. On 30th September 1999 it was announced that the hotel had been sold to Carol and James Hall of Barlaston Hall. They immediately vowed that they would restore the Crown back to its former glory and that Mrs Hall, who was and still is passionate about recovering and preserving the built environment, would be overseeing the renovations personally.

This article will conclude in November I hope that the above will be back memories to some readers and will be of interest to others. Please help us to keep the heritage of Stone alive for generations to come. If you have any photographs relating to anything mentioned here please contact Staffordshire Past Track. All photographs will be treated with the utmost care and returned safely to their owner after they have made digital copies.