Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Leopard

Yesterday we visited the first of the two buildings we had chosen from the twenty one different venues opened up across the Potteries for the Heritage Open Days weekend. This was the place that had recently been in the news locally because the new owners had discovered something rather wonderful at the back of a cupboard. Their find, behind a false wall, was a door leading them to two corridors of over 50 bedrooms built in the 1870s and left untouched since they had been closed off in the 1950s.

The Leopard stands on the market place in Burslem opposite the old town hall building which now houses the Ceramica project. It has stood on this site in one form or other for around 400 years. According to our guide for the afternoon, who was suitably or perhaps unsuitably (given the state of the building) dressed for the occasion in a flowery, lacy late 18th century style costume, records for the year 1640 show the building was three cottages. It had certainly become one building and an inn by 1765 because it was here, according to Josiah Wedgwood in one of his letters, that in March of that year, he dined with canal engineer James Brindley . The inn, at this time, was owned by Ellen Wedgwood, a relative of Josiah whose Ivy House Pottery works stood opposite, where the modern Ceramica building is now. It was in 1857 after years of neglect that Mary Lees took over as owner and gradually turned The Leopard from a small inn to one of the most prestigious hotels of the area and known locally as ‘the Savoy of the Midlands’.

We were taken into the dining room where Wedgwood and Brindley would have discussed plans for the Trent and Mersey Canal and where centuries later ceramic designer Clarice Cliff met with her married lover at an intimate corner table. Then it was up to the bedrooms, firstly the 18th century front rooms with bowed windows out onto the market place and into the room where, according to our guide, Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgwood had stayed. Then we went through the door and into the old, neglected part of the building.

Two corridors of bedrooms in great disrepair, two bathrooms and two toilets on each floor. The top floor corridor along which we were allowed to walk was home to nesting pigeons and other birds. The owners hope to bring at least one floor back to it’s former glory as a hotel but being listed it is difficult to get around planning permission and the modern day need for en-suite facilities. Photography was difficult and after taking one photo of the outside, I kept my camera firmly in my bag but Paul managed to get a few photos, particularly of the different wall coverings still intact in some of the rooms.

In his some of his novels local author Arnold Bennett called The Leopard, The Tiger and the town of Burslem, Bursley. No doubt he would have used the place himself on his visits back to his home town. There was, of course, talk of ghosts two upstairs and that of a murdered servant in the cellar and apparently a television series called 'Most Haunted' is to record a programme from here later in the year. I didn't feel any ghosts but then what sensible ghost would come out when around 40 people of all ages and sizes were tramping around their patch?


  1. This sounds a really interesting building, how on earth did they manage to mislay 50 bedrooms!!? Surely it must have been obvious from the outside that they were there? I have to say that I can't see why they shouldn't have planning permission to restore the rooms with provisos about it being done sympathetically - it certainly beats having the rooms deteriorate beyond repair through neglect.

  2. this really confirms it:
    you are the most adventurous person I know!!