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The Ghostly Firefighter

There is much demolition going on in Hanley at the moment – after a number of false starts, much prevarication and abandonment of improbable projects, a sprawling and ugly 1960’s shopping centre is finally getting its long overdue just desserts in a wasteland of twisted girders and shattered cement.

No-one will be sad to see it go, as it probably already looked dated by the time it was opened in the mid-1960’s, and over the years it became more and more decrepit, not to mention a magnet for antisocial behaviour, as traders moved out A looming grim presence of stained concrete and broken glass, home to flocks of unhealthy looking pigeons, its only recent claim to fame was as a ready made film set for a production described as “post apocalyptic zombie horror.”

Tucked away down its furthermost side stands a short row of neglected and forlorn terraced houses, remains of the nearest end of a street which was bisected by the building of the ring road. Formerly home to a number of small businesses, they have been in their present state for a good number of years, and appear to be destined for demolition in the near future. Through one of the open doors I can see a handsome Minton-tiled hall floor, a sure sign of it having once been a superior class of terraced house.

The end building was formerly occupied by a hairdressers which I used to frequent in the late 1980’s. The owner had, through immense hard work, stripped out the upper floor to create a stylish and modern salon, which was a real pleasure to visit. After he moved out, I watched the signboard outside become increasingly effaced by the weather until it finally became illegible, and soon even the bare board will be joining a heap of broken bricks.

The hairdresser, I’ll call him G, told me strange tales of mysterious knocks and bumps in the building, including on one occasion a client arriving to ask why there would be a fireman downstairs in the hall. A fireman not of present times, but his Victorian counterpart no less, resplendent in brass helmet and buttoned up tunic.

In former years, Hanley Firestation was situated literally over the road, and it would appear that some of the houses in the street opposite ( of which this is a remnant) were rented out to members of the fire service, having been fitted out with an interior alarm system.

Perhaps the ghostly fire fighter still returned to keep alert for the ringing of the fire bell ; and perhaps when the building is no more, he will realise that he is no longer required to be on duty, and will be at rest.

Even so, whether he exists or not, I still look out for him each early morning as I walk past.

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