Ellis Bevan has been an active member of the business community of Stoke-on-Trent over the years, as Chair of the Chamber of Commerce; Councillor and eventually Lord Mayor. He has also been an active campaigning voice in the city; successfully preventing the proposed demolition of Longton Town Hall. In 1986 he took his battle against Staffordshire County Council to the High Court and won, helping ensure listed status for the building.
By 1980, there were three Bevans outlets in the Potteries, two in Longton, one in Shelton and a fourth in Stone. It seems inconceivable now, but at that time Longton alone supported four independent record shops. In addition, Legendary Lonnie plied his trade in Stoke and Mike Lloyd, Terry Blood and Lotus Records traded in Hanley. But by the end of the decade, the independent record store was struggling, unable to compete against the big players. Bevans was the only survivor, kept aloft by the same determination and business acumen that helped save Longton Town Hall.
Now it seems the tide is turning once more. Downloads and online sales have dealt a serious blow to the big high street chains. But the independent record store is enjoying a revival, spurred on by an interest in vintage collectibles and the increasing recognition of vinyl as the most superior medium for music sound quality. Bevans was well-placed to enjoy a new lease of life. But by 2012, at the age of 86, Ellis Bevan was ready for a break. Enter Tom Mitchell.
Tom had been working on a book, Retracing My Vinyl Footsteps, which found him scouring second hand record shops and charity shops in an attempt to buy back every record he’d ever owned. Based in Manchester, but born and bred in Longton, he came back to Bevans for a copy of Owd Granddad Piggott, a record he’d loved as a kid. In the book he recalls:
One day in 1977 our Karen came rushing into the back kitchen. “Mum! Mum! There’s a policeman outside Mrs Perry’s house and he’s talking to an old man and writing things down and there was somebody taking a picture with a camera and I think he’s been arrested and…”
“Shift from under my bloody feet”.
When we duly acquired our copy of Owd Granddad Piggott, the cover showed a grubby old man in a mac, being questioned by a copper outside what was clearly the entry next door to Mrs Perry’s house…
As a teenager, Tom bought his first records at Bevans. And pin badges and patches for his denim jacket. Thirty years later he asked Ellis if he could buy his business. The shop re-opened as Bevans of Longton on 14 July 2012, selling records, cds and tapes, beginners’ and intermediate guitars and music accessories and memorabilia.
Evening Sentinel, Friday, April 27, 2012
Bennett Precinct offers more solutions than a City Sentral
I LOVE Longton’s Bennett Precinct. Well I suppose there has to be someone, I hear you say. But this space was the Potteries’ first in the critical stages of regeneration and still represents the perfect design in retail connectivity between seller and buyer.
IN STORE: Bennett Precinct, Longton, pictured in 1975. Inset top, town planner James Plant with his plan for the complex.
What you see in the inner walkways relates perfectly with its outer aspects. And its postmodernist environment makes for comfortable visiting in surroundings much like an envelope turned inside out.
After the war, the civic leaders of many bombed-out European cities got down to rebuilding their urban centres at a time when America was pioneering out-of-town shopping.
This was a chance for young architects across the war-torn continent to seize the moment and rebuild as Christopher Wren had done after the Great Fire of London.
And they created traffic-free precincts with light and airy glass-fronted shops. Coventry was one of the first, led by a talented planning officer, the 29-year-old architect Donald Gibson.
Of course none of Stoke-on-Trent’s town centres were affected by the war. And yet there were many who wished it so.
I’ve heard people complain many times that had the Luftwaffe bombed Stoke-on-Trent, it would have impelled the remodelling of the impossible six towns linear settlements into a radial city.
You can see the reasoning of this, for even nearly 70 years on, civic leaders are still battling parochial antipathy against city centre inclination.
Under council leader Albert Bennett, many changes were planned in the 60s for ‘a great leap forward’.
The largest and most involved transformation was reconstructing Longton’s town centre, which really was an ugly blot on the landscape, with potbanks, waste tips and open marl holes sharing space with high street shops.
The city’s chief planning officer, James Plant, decided Longton needed precinct shopping after the manner of Coventry.
Plant was certainly no Donald Gibson. But his designs to obliterate every building, both treasured and disposable, inside the borders of Stafford Street and King Street, and replace them with a completely new shopping concept was, in my opinion, nothing short of genius.
The Bennett Precinct, built by Ian Fraser & Associates, was opened on September 1, 1965 and named after the council leader.
By every standard, Longton’s new town centre was declared to be the best of the district’s retail and commercial architecture.
The entire project contained 100 shops and stores facing out to Longton’s main roads, as well as a promenade of central arcades complemented with ground level integrated car parks. Its beauty, though, was enhanced by the way it fitted in with the existing central shopping area and civic market hall.
Bennett Precinct has stood the test of time. Similar projects were half-heartedly tried in Burslem and Stoke. But the old parochial feelings and financial constraint restricted their development.
In those two towns, similar designs pathetically went nowhere in embracing the ethos of societal needs.
Precinct planning was a needs-must European model, and that’s what makes it distinctive.
For me its appeal is its outdoors character, in the established usefulness and simplicity of shopping, and in particular its distinctive localness. Proof of its success can be seen in the number of shops that have kept the faith and remained contributors to Longton’s identity.
Among these is the unbelievably iconic Bevans music store. It recently featured in a movie about 60s music. And stepping inside is still an adventurous journey into the past – and it should be preserved as a museum.
When designing efficient and likeable retail and community centres, the council should have looked no further than Longton’s Bennett Precinct.
In my view the city’s whole community would be better served by single town investment rather than a City Sentral dedicated to M&S.