Last Friday night, I made my way to the Emma Bridgewater Factory to hear Tristram Hunt speak at Stoke’s very own literary festival, Hot Air 2016. The factory itself was the perfect setting; the central courtyard had been accessorized with a gazebo-turned-box office and the factory shop was transformed into an author’s book-signing spot. All the while, the cafe continued to refresh each visitor and I even saw some glasses of wine which I’m certain aren’t usually on the menu- how posh!
Hunt’s talk was held in The Meakin Room; a large whitewashed room with exposed beams and brickwork, albeit a little hot once the 200ish guests were all seated. Matthew Rice, Emma Bridgewater’s husband and author of one of my favourite books, “The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent” introduced Tristram to the stage with a string of jokes about how he had finally been given the opportunity to host a talk, now there was no one else available…
The session was based on one of Hunt’s books, ‘Ten cities that made an empire’ and together we explored the role that cities as varied as Boston, Mumbai and Hong Kong played in the creation of the British empire. He began with the horrific slave trade triangle of Boston, Bridgetown & Dublin, and then continued on to the opium trade that criss-crossed between the cities of British India and Hong Kong.Both examples continue to reinforce the darker nature of British imperialism and its ruthless pursuit of power and influence. After a trip right across the globe, we finally arrived in Liverpool. Once a crucial part of the British empire, it found itself on the wrong side of the country when the empire collapsed and we looked to Europe. In a particularly bizarre turn of events, Hunt argues that the city now finds itself depending on primarily Chinese and Indian capital to fuel its regeneration effort- the very countries that Liverpool exploited in order to build its wealth!
The discussion was particularly poignant with regard to the EU referendum and the questions from the floor certainly reflected this. Nevertheless, Tristram argued that the original British empire model is not one that can or should be repeated and I fervently agree. The British empire was built on exploitation and destruction, the remains of which can still be seen today all over the globe, whereas the European Union offers hope for the future through open dialogue and problem solving between countries.
Overall, I am mightily proud and impressed with Hot Air 2016. It was fantastic to hear one of Stoke’s MPs discussing one of his own interests and the factory was a hive of activity. What’s more, the impact of the festival extended far beyond the factory walls with authors visiting local schools and colleges and festival fringe events taking place all over the city. Sometimes, it feels a real struggle to encourage city-wide engagement with anything other than football, but I’m confident that Stoke-on-Trent’s Literary Festival has captured the imagination of both residents and visitors from further afield.
For more information about Hot Air 2016: