Armitage

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Date:1086 - 2015 (c.)

Description:Armitage is situated in the Trent Valley, close to Rugeley, and adjacent to the Trent and Mersey Canal. The name of this village is known world-wide as a result of the sanitary ware manufactured here for many years by Armitage Shanks. The name ‘Armitage’ derives from 'hermitage', since a hermitage is believed to have been here in the 13th century on a site between the church and the river. The parish also includes Handsacre, meaning Hand’s or Hond’s field or ground.

Armitage is not recorded in the Domesday Survey but Handsacre is recorded as 'Hadesacre' and as held by the Bishop of Chester. It consisted of sufficient arable land for seven ploughs. A moated site is recorded at Handsacre and this was Handsacre Hall.

Drama touched Handsacre during the civil disturbances of the late 14th century. Sir William Handsacre and his neighbour, Sir Robert Mavesyn, were separately on their way to Shrewsbury to join the rival armies of Richard II and Henry of Lancaster, Sir William supporting the King and Sir Robert supporting the usurper, Henry. En route they met. There was a skirmish and Sir William was killed by Sir Robert. Sir Robert himself was killed shortly afterwards at the Battle of Shrewsbury. However, Sir Robert's daughter and heiress, Margaret, subsequently married the son of Sir William, ensuring that peace reigned between the two neighbouring families, despite the death of one father at the hand of another.

In 1666 a total of 52 households were recorded for the Hearth Tax, the largest houses being Hawkesyard Hall and Handsacre Hall. By 1801 the population of both Armitage and Handsacre was 464, rising to 1,318 by 1901.

St John the Baptist's parish church is situated in an elevated position in the village. Originally a Norman church with a tower of 1632, it was largely rebuilt in 1844, again in the Norman style to the design of Henry Ward, a Stafford architect.

Armitage Park, a mid-18th century house, was originally built by Nathaniel Lister. In 1839 it was bought by the widow of Josiah Spode III, who lived there with her son Josiah IV. The house was much improved by the Spodes, as were the gardens. Josiah Spode IV became converted to Roman Catholicism and when he died in 1893, he left the house to the Dominican Order. The chapel was built by the Dominicans, who also built a priory here between 1896-1914 to the design of Edward Goldie. They named it Hawkesyard Priory. The organ case in the chapel dates from 1700 and came originally from Eton Chapel. The Dominicans used the house as a school re-naming it Spode House. Until recently it was used as a conference centre.

As a result of the presence of clay in the vicinity, Dr Robert Plot recorded in his Natural History of Staffordshire in 1686 that clay pipes were made at Armitage. At this time the manufacturing of pottery had not yet become localised in the north of Staffordshire There were also a number of small brickworks in the village. A small pottery was in existence by 1817 and by 1851 this had begun to produce sanitary ware. In 1867, Rev Edward Johns, the Congregational minister in Armitage, bought the business and founded the Edward Johns and Co Sanitary Pottery, later called Armitage Ware. It was eventually to become Armitage Shanks, an internationally renowned company. Edward Johns is buried locally in the chapel churchyard.

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