George Orwell on Burslem, February 1936

George Orwell’s short account of Burslem, 80 years ago. He briefly saw part of the town from the roads, while walking and taking buses north through England in early February 1936. That was during the depths of the Great Depression. He arrived in Hanley by bus, in the early morning of 3rd February 1936…

“Frightfully cold, bitter wind, and it had been snowing in the night; blackened snow lying about everywhere. Hanley and Burslem about the most dreadful places I have seen. Labyrinths of tiny blackened houses and among them the pot-banks like monstrous burgundy bottles half buried in the soil, belching forth smoke. Signs of poverty everywhere and very poor shops. In places enormous chasms delved out, one of them about 200 yards wide and about as deep, with rusty iron trucks on a chain railway crawling up one side, and here and there on the almost perpendicular face of the other, a few workmen hanging like samphire-gatherers, cutting into the face with their picks apparently aimlessly, but I suppose digging out clay. Walked on [in]to [the countryside at] Eldon and lunch at pub there. Frightfully cold. Hilly country, splendid views, especially when one gets further east and hedges give way to stone walls. Lambs here seem much more backward than down south.

Spring lambs born in a bitter January in the Moorlands hill-country, to be seen in the fields in early February? That seems highly unlikely, as lambing season arrives in March. But… maybe he was talking about lambs from the spring before.

Burslem in the late 1930s, the road Orwell must have passed along running from left to right:


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