Shutters close on the Hole in the Wall

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A slice of Britain: The only oatcake shop left in Stoke faces demolition, bringing more than a century of tradition – in the name of regeneration – to an end

Shouts of "Hiya, duck!" and "Do you want brown sauce with that?" float through the window, along with the smell of sizzling sausages and bacon. The mood at the Hole in the Wall in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent is upbeat, and the banter comes as thick and fast as its servings of steaming oatcakes.

So you would never guess that yesterday was one of the saddest days in the history of the 115-year-old establishment, said to be the last traditional oatcake shop in Britain. From today, the shop has closed for good.

Beneath the banter, the pain caused by the closure – the result of "regeneration" – is clear. Brenda Capewell, 59, who has worked at the shop for nine years, has a smile for everyone who comes by, but the tears come quickly when her thoughts turn to the next day. "I feel upset now," she says as she wells up. "I love it here. The customers are great. And everyone who works here is fantastic. We have a joke and a laugh and there's never a dull moment."

She sets off Sue Fowler, who has run the shop with her husband Glenn and son Rob for 30 years. "I just can't think about it," she says, wiping tears from her face. Another order comes in and breaks the sombre atmosphere. "Two dozen oatcakes and one with red sauce please," a voice calls out – and it's back to the grill.

Customers begin queuing before 6am for their chance to get hold of the shop's last ever oatcakes. By 11am more than 100 people are waiting patiently in the sunshine. As the day progresses the snaking line barely shrinks. The Fowlers say it was like this all last week, and on Friday alone they produced more than 4,000 oatcakes to try to meet demand.

It hasn't been all work: there have also been plenty of presents, cards and flowers. One former Hanley boy, Paul Bamford, 61, catches the 7am train from his home in Hastings to get his final fix of the Fowlers' handmade oatcakes. Placing his order of one filled with double bacon and cheese and four dozen to take away, he says: "It's criminal that it's closing. This is part of our heritage. I've been coming here for more than 10 years and it's the interaction that people like, being able to talk to people and see the things being made."

George Ormston, 79, says he has been coming to the shop since he was a boy and his father and grandfather had come before him. "It hasn't changed at all. My dad used to bring me every weekend," he says.

The Hole in the Wall is an ordinary red-brick, end-of-terrace house. But it has become famous for keeping to an age-old tradition, selling from its front window the pancake-style oatcakes, which are synonymous with North Staffordshire – and not to be confused with the Scottish biscuits that share the same name. With its aerated, floppy texture, the Staffordshire snack is more akin to a French galette and is served filled with bacon, sausage or cheese – or all three.

When the Hole in Wall opened more than a century ago, the potteries, collieries and steelworks of Stoke-on-Trent were still thriving. Many of these businesses have since died, and with the closing down of the Fowlers' shop there is a fear that oatcake sellers will go the same way.

This weekend's closure marks the end of a four-year battle to save the shop from demolition as part of a £2.3bn regeneration scheme. Developers have already seen off most of the shop's long-standing neighbours on Waterloo Street. The Fowlers were offered a move to newer premises, but say the higher costs would have pushed them into debt. "At our time of life we didn't want that," says Glenn, "so we just took the money they offered and decided to call it a day."

Employee Lee Caroll, 50, is angry that his livelihood and a historic Stoke institution will go at the same time. "I've just lost my house because of regeneration and now I've lost my job because of it."

Glenn faces the end with resignation. Amid the orders and the emotion he is stoic, philosophical: "We're just trying to get through the day."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick