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Convent Pools

Recently, the continuation of access improvements has consisted of refurbishing the steps at the Stoke end of North Street. The volunteers made them easier to ascend by putting in extra risers. Steps above these, at the top of the slope have opened up access to the convent pools area which we hope to enhance over the next couple of years. With better pathways and more attractive surroundings, the vandalism problem and general deterioration should be halted. Greensteps Action Fund money, and a grant from Living Spaces will help the volunteers financially with this project.

The work on the Convent Pools Area continues. Dredging was completed during February and landscaping carried out. The whole area is clean fresh and ready for the coming season. Bluebells are already showing. Contractors will continue to rebuild walkways. The large wall with the gateway has been made safe. To retain it as a feature, the lower wall and the sandstone coping has been rebuilt to a lower height, although further work may be required in future.

Tree planting was carried out at the end of February.

During 2003, two representatives from Staffordshire Parks and Gardens Trust met us to discuss possible improvements. Walking around the area, many overgrown and hidden features were pointed out to us, and the potential size of the project grew with each rediscovered item. Different directions and aspects could be considered.

Prior to starting the work sponsored by the Living Spaces Grant, a survey to determine whether Great Crested Newts were present in the area was carried out during April and May 2004, having been paid for by Stoke on Trent City Council.

Wildlife

Any project in this newly ascribed Local Nature Reserve must put the preservation of wildlife as top priority. Rare Great Crested Newts are known to inhabit other areas of the park, so an initial survey is necessary. Stoke-on-Trent City Council will pay for this.

May is arguably the best time of year to visit at present, when the bluebells are in bloom, but with improvement, any time of year will provide interest.

History

The Convent Pools were once part of the garden at ‘Cliffeville’ the big house, and then became part of the convent.

The site is documented in 1365 when John O'Gaunt granted its freehold status to Hugh Bowyer & William Brampton. Surrounding areas were Copyhold. The area became known as Castle Cliff, and covered around 70 acres.

The mansion known as Cliff Ville was built by John Tomlinson, a solicitor, in 1808. John Tomlinson died in 1838. In April 1864, F.W. Tomlinson is registered as owning 13 acres of freehold.

Cliffeville then passed to the Stamer family. In 1892 the sale of Cliffeville was authorised under the act of 1889. See p.186 'A History of the County of Stafford vol. VIII J.G. Jenkins' for sources.

Alderman Frederick Geen (accountant and mayor of Stoke-on-Trent) bought Cliffeville in 1898. In 1913, he entertained King George V and Queen Mary to lunch at Cliff Ville prior to the opening of the King’s Hall in Stoke, raising the status of the area as a place to live. He subsequently sold a portion of the grounds and ponds for the Laundry and a road-widening scheme.

Meanwhile, the convent had attained Priory status in 1866, and acquired Cliffeville itself in 1922. The associated school, St. Dominic’s, was attended by many senior local residents who remember when the nuns took them on nature lessons in the pools area. The house was demolished in 1988, and the convent was converted to dwellings for elderly people. A grotto where a statue of Our Lady was placed during religious festivals and processions still stands in a commanding position at the top of the pools.

Research

When the nuns moved out, all the convent records were removed to the diocese archives in Stone. The opportunity for research and discovering old photographs of how the area actually looked is open to anybody interested, and could be useful in finding out the legend of a secret tunnel existing in the area.

Hidden Garden

Many features of the garden area are waiting to be rediscovered, including a stone capped wall with a gateway leading to a hidden garden. There is also the use of local materials to build hard landscaped features, and a possible seating or viewpoint which has lost its view.

Hydraulics

It is intriguing how the water actually gets into and is retained in the ponds. The areas of Hartshill, Harpfields, Spingfields, and Penkhull have been renowned for abundant springs. It is assumed that local geology has been harnessed to produce them along perhaps with extraction of building or industrial materials. Stew ponds were another possible theory. Some dry channels can be found by anybody who looks hard enough, so the water levels have probably fallen over time.