Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Mitchell Memorial Theatre

The Mitchell Memorial Theatre on Broad Street in Hanley was built after the second world war and honours the memory of Reginald Mitchell the designer of the Spitfire.

An appeal was launched in March 1943 and the theatre was built entirely with public donations.

Mitchell was born at Talke in Stoke-upon-Trent in 1895. At the age of 21, in 1916, after apprenticing at a locomotive works and studying night classes, he went to work at Supermarine Aviation Works in Southampton. There he designed seaplanes, and by 1936 he had developed the Spitfire.

For many reasons the Spitfire was revolutionary, and continued to be modified after being put into service by the Royal Air Force in 1938. Used as a fighter, a fighter-bomber and photo-reconnaissance plane, the Spitfire XIV had a top speed of 440mph and could fly to altitudes of 12,200m, and during 1944 shot down more than 300 German V-1 missiles (the flying bomb or 'doodlebug').

Today the theatre is still in active use. It is small, seating a maximum of 380 and shows productions by diverse amateur groups many of which are youth groups.

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The initial reference in 1948 to the appeal was that:

"the Spitfire Mitchell Memorial [Stoke on Trent] Fund has been instituted for the purpose of making provision for the establishment and maintenance of a Centre for the education and recreation of persons of both sexes up to the age of 20 years and other ancillary purposes",

At the launch of the appeal for donations (reported in the Evening Sentinel Monday March 1st 1943)

"(the Lord Mayor) thought the best memorial which could be given was one which would help the youth of the country tackle the jobs which would be theirs in the future. He wanted youth to have the opportunity of doing things for themselves, not to feel that it was the State's duty to manage to "spoon feed" them."

Mrs Mitchell responded:

"My husband was a great believer in youth, and he always thought it should be given every chance, here we have a scheme which is far-sighted, far-reaching and which, in spite of the ambitious appeal, is bound to produce an enormous dividend. I am sure you will give it your sympathetic consideration, and that you will see that it will be a great success."

Their son Gordon Mitchell himself in the Royal Air Force said:

"I know from personal experience how very lacking were the facilities in some towns and cities before the was. A glance at the details of the suggested building is sufficient to show that it is all that any young girl or boy could wish for, providing recreation for all tastes."

Sir Francis Joseph (the Sherriff of Staffordshire)

"Sir Francis said that Reginald Mitchell's work saved England, because he gave to the magnificent pilots of the Royal Air Force the machine which enabled them to save Britain and to retain for it our place in the sun. In honouring Reginald Mitchell, we were also honouring the men who have done a great work for England."

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