Farewell to Oat Cuisine as Hole in the Wall shuts up shop

The world’s last traditional oatcake shop has closed its doors for the final time – marking the end on an era following council plans to demolish the premises.

The Hole in the Wall oatcake shop in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, was flooded with customers after news emerged that it would close.

The 115-year-old terrace house, which has served oatcakes through its front window since the 1920s, has become an iconic building on Waterloo Street. Continue reading

An Open Letter to Bill Bryson

Dear Bill

I write as a fan. It must be about 18 years since I read your book on finding America ” Lost Continent” and later your books on the UK, Australia and a History of Science. I particularly like the Walk in the Woods” The anecdote about Bear attacks and how to avoid them, the answer being always take a travel companion who runs more slowly than you helps explain why Council leaders pick the cabinets they do.

However I was in a bookshop and thumbed through a copy of “Icons of England” which you wrote an introduction. I wonder whether my expectations would be confounded, unfortunately it was not. Most of the contributions from writers of places were in the South of England. The Berkshire Downs was in there as was the Weald of Kent, South Devon, Dorset, Lands End, Bacombe, West Wittering, Rutland.

In other words the South of England gets a good press as far as what constitutes a national treasure. A few northern places sneak in like the Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes,but what is telling is the omissions. With the exception of London no urban places were mentioned and certainly no cities in the north or the Midlands. I find this gap mystifying and probably reflect the common view probably held since the time of Mrs Miniver that the south is England.

Perhaps I am being slightly touchy about the subject, but no Manchester, no Newcastle on Tyne and no Liverpool. I happen to think the view of Liverpool’s harbour front from Seacombe is one of the great views in the country, but it is up to Scouser’s to press that claim..

However my intention in writing this open letter is to argue in any future book that you do on the “Icons of England” is for an essay on Stoke on Trent- my home town.

This might be thought as some as being a very difficult mission. The general view of the area is dismissive, summed up by a quote by Noel Coward who as a young man appeared at a theatre in Hanley in 1916 and declared that the town was the most depressing place he had ever visited. George Orwell walking north through the area in the winter of 1936 described the drabness of the area thus in February 1936 he describes the streets full of draggled inhabitants and poor shops as he walked through Burslem. At more or less the same time Joseph Priestley in “English Journey” notes the smallness of scale of the Potteries compared with his native Bradford.

However there is another side. When I was at University a friend lent me a copy of John Hillaby’s book from the 1960s ” A Journey through Britain” where he stops off in Stoke. He is entirely sympathetic with the locals and he thought that the people of Stoke some he met in the “Staff of Life” in Hill Street were by far the friendliest he had ever met. This willingness to engage with complete strangers is a very charming quality that people have from the area. If I give one anecdote myself from an incident last December whilst waiting for a bus in Trent Vale where I struck up a conversation with a young man who I thought was not all there. He talked to me about meeting the actress who played Cat in East Enders who had appeared locally. He had won a competition in a local newspaper to have tea with her in the Regent Theatre and was clearly full of himself as he told me how kind the actress was. I told him that I liked his shirt. He said that he was off to see a pantomime. I said something like O yes. He said, “You are supposed to say, O no you’re not”. He was not that simple.

I also believe that there is something to say about some of the pottery towns such as Burslem and the groups of Victorian buildings in the centre of town are as fine as you can find anywhere

And if you are looking for an iconic symbol then I would have thought that both the potbank and the oatcake are two iconic symbols from this very small part of England.

And as for iconic figures who made a profound impact on the English landscape then I give you James Brindley whose 300th anniversary is coming up in 2016. The North Staffs based pioneer canal builder and engineer was certainly a local hero.. He was admired because he represented the self made, practical “sleeves rolled up” strong silent type of Englishman. He was the Scottish writer and social commentator Thomas Carlyle once wrote of Brindley that “he was wonderfully equipped to the fight dragons, be they natural obstacles or human”

So inspiring was Brindley to the writer that he felt him to be the personification of John Bull- and who could be more English than that. In his description of early Victorian society “Past and Present” published in the 1840s he is persuasive in the promotion of Brindley as hero

” The rugged Brindley had little to say for himself, the rugged Brindley, when difficulties accumulate upon him retires silent, generally to his bed, sometimes for three days there in perfect privacy and ascertains in his rough head how the difficulties can be overcome, the ineloquent Brindley Brindley behold! He has chained the seas together; his ships do float visibly over valleys, invisibly through the hearts of mountains; the Mersey and the Thames, the Humber and the Severn. Nature most audibly answers Yeah.

Brindley, Wedgwood, Oliver Lodge and RJ Mitchell the scientific and engineering tradition is yet another reason that the area should be considered a candidate for iconic status.

I’m from Stoke on Trent- somebody had to.


Bill Cawley

Hairy Bikers visit Hole in the Wall

By Pits n Pots Reporter

Gathering footage for their new show, Hairy Bikers Dave Myers and Simon King have been sampling the culinary delights of Staffordshire – at Hanley’s own Hole in The Wall.

The bearded duo said that when they visited the London Road Bakery earlier in the year and asked the people here what they ate, they heard a resounding ‘oatcake’ response, and ended up visiting one of the city’s oldest remaining establishments, which still serves its oatcakes through the window of a terraced house.

The historic shop is, as we have widely publicised, part of an area subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) by the city council, being within an Area of Major Intervention where new housing is planned.

But whilst houses around Glenn’s oatcake shop are being demolished, and the old community disappears, he is still going strong. And yet when I asked him what was going to happen to him and the Hole in The Wall this week, he replied “We haven’t heard anything at all”.

The scenes will be shown as part of the bikers’ series of programmes to be aired on BBC2 in the daytime, following their culinary travels around the UK, concentrating on a different county in each show.

Gods Own Foodstuff.

Its been a long week, what with strange CRB checks, job losses, the EMB meeting decending into chaos and the council vote on all out elections go belly up. we have not had to much time to inject a bit of something lighter, until now.

If there is one thing that all in this city sould be proud of it the Potters Oatcake, by god yes. The Oatcake as kept the city well fed for generations. and we sould hold it high.

When I was in the hospital last year I asked a nurse if Oatcakes were ever on the menu, only on the children’s ward and only as a treat she told me. As the days dragged by I was indeed getting desperate and had to ask the wife for a second favor, (the first one had been to give me some money so at least I got some good coffee, instead of the cheep piddle the NHS serve up)to do the desent thing and bring in some oatcakes for me and the rest of the lads in the bay.

The next afternoon she smuggeled them in, 18 of the little darlings, all with Bacon and Chedder,and they all went in about three momments flat. We had a copper on the the ward  from Leicesrshire, he said he had never had anything so nice in all his life.

A  fews later I was talking with a dietitian at the hospital, she told me that the Oatcake is a very good food, not a lot in there to halm you, it was what you put in the things and I sould try putting blueberry jam in them, no need to tell you that she was not local.I told her she was stark steering bonkers and you had stuff like Bacon, cheese, sausage, that sort of stuff.

In the summer the local paper ran an item about a company making a film about the local food such as Oakcakes, they wanted people to enter a competition to find the best filling. With no intention at all in entering I drove the Sentinels website and indeed the wife round the bend trying new concoptions. By far the best new one I come up with was Black Pudding and Brown Sauce, followed by Spam and Cheshire Cheese. I would not recomand Hot Dog Sausage and fryed egg, not good at all and the after mouth that  night was dreadful.

Anyway I sould have gone to that competition, The Sentinel reported a few days later that a woman who pitched up and filled them full of Custard and Jam, again I don’t think the woman was local. I mean, you want that kind of stuff, you get yourself a Pancake.

And another thing, it has been pointed out to me that some folk are not cooking there Oakcakes right. Get this, some now put there Oakcakes in the Microwave oven, and not, as the founders of this fine city did and bang them under the grill. I know all us pits and potters are good potteries men and women, please if you see anyone doing this please kill them. One more thing, please don’t get your Oatcakes from the local supermarket, the product’s ok but not a patch on going down to the local Oatcake shop and getting the fantastic things fresh, right off the griddle.

So I will hand this load of old rubbish over to you.. whats the best filling, sould the cooking of oatcakes in the microwave be a criminal offence, can you dip them in Lobbie without getting covered in the stuff and where are the best shops to get your hands on gods own food.