Meeting Reports - 2005
Greenway Moor (Biddulph Moor) and the Saracens - 21st November 2005
An Evening's Walk to Biddulph Old Hall - 18th July 2005
My Ancestor was a Coalminer - 20th June 2005
Living in a Country House: A Day in the Life of a Victorian Country House - 16th May 2005
The Course of the River Dane - 18th April 2005
Staffordshire Ghosts - 21st March 2005
In Search of Uncle Harry - Finding WWII Ancestors - 21st February 2005
The Water Supply to the Trent & Mersey and Caldon Canals - 17th January 2005
Greenway Moor (Biddulph Moor) and the Saracens - 21/11/2005
Despite being a very foggy and cold evening a record number of members and guests turned out to listen to Mr Sherratt talk on the “Saracens and Greenway Moor”. Well over 60 people packed into the library and by 6.20 p.m there was standing room only!
Mr Sherratt began by outlining the various theories that have abounded over the years with regards to the ‘origin’ of the folk of Biddulph Moor. The most famous of these legends is that of Moorish stonemasons being brought back from the crusades by Orm of Biddulph. These exotic looking slaves, with their dark features and slight build eventually became the Bailey family of Biddulph Moor - or so the story goes!
Sleigh, in his ‘History of the Ancient Parish of Leek’, of 1862, says: “one of the Lords of Biddulph, a Knight Crusader, is reputed to have brought over in his train from the Holy Land a Paynim whom he made bailiff of his estate, and from whose marriage with an English woman the present race of ‘Biddle-moor’ men is traditionally said to have sprung.” S.A.H.Burne in 1909 writing in Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club, recalled a visit to Biddulph Moor in 1893 and describes the local people. However, the conclusion in this instance was that they were descended from gypsies.
Stoke-on-Trent Coroner, Fred Hails raised speculation when he said that in 19 years, he had seen a significant difference in the blood groups of the deceased of Biddulph Moor than in the rest of North Staffordshire.
The most recent probe into the legend took place last year when Radio Four aired a programme about tracing ancestors. Blood samples were taken from various people who could trace their family back some generations up on the Moor, and their D.N.A. was tested. The results were inconclusive. We are none the wiser. Mr Sherratt’s opinion lies with gypsies. Perhaps it is best to leave it as a bit of a mystery.
A whistle stop tour of Greenway Moor followed. Mr Sherratt proceeded to take us round the moor with numerous illustrated slides which he had taken whilst out on his bike. (He described himself as being “slightly knackered” on his return!). I recognised many places - but not always their names. We started at ‘Brick Bank’ - the top of Park Lane, and made our way to Rock End after a slight detour down Lodge Barn. Over the Trent to Crowborough Farm from the 1560s. On to Lask Edge and Greenhouses, reputedly built in 1551. On to Molehouse, Wright’s Farm, High Bent and Whitefields. Places seen on maps but not often visited - and what beautiful places these stone farmhouses are. What a wealth of old properties we have in the area. Horton Hay House, Firwood, Wickenstones, Knalow, Nailor, Robin Hill. What wonderful names! Nag’s Row, Fortunes of War, Spode, and Beckfields. At every one, Mr Sherratt had a tale to tell- of petty disputes, even murder. Buildings that were once shops, post offices, police houses and butchers.
Despite the odd stubborn slide that refused to move along the projector and the occasional upside down view, Mr Sherratt presented us with very enjoyable evening.
An Evening’s Walk to Biddulph Old Hall - 18/07/2005
Derek Wheelhouse and Roland Machin led twelve members on the annual walk. Fortunately, we were not accompanied by ‘rain’ - although the sky was cloudy and grey!
Beginning at ‘The Talbot’, Mr Wheelhouse gave a potted history of the inn. Moving then down to the Mill Pond, Mr Machin discussed the remains of the mill and the improvements undertaken at the mill pond. The group then ambled down Fold Lane, taking in views of Mr Bateman’s walk from the Grange and his bridge, recently restored, and the associated tunnel to the Old Hall, which goes under the road. Mention was made of ‘Gibacre Bridge’ - which is apparently the shortened form of ‘Gibson’s Acre’. Past ‘Lee House’, home for many generations of the Gosling family.
On reaching the main Congleton Road, members dashed across, over the bridge and up to the railway lines. Here Mr Machin, recalled memories of a train derailment in the early 1950s, caused by a speeding driver! A while was spent talking about the railways of the area, then back down to the main road and north to join the public pathway up alongside the ‘clough’ and on to Biddulph Old Hall.
Mr Wheelhouse had kindly arranged for us to be met by the current owners of the Hall, Mr Nigel Daly and Mr Brian Vowles. We approached along the yew avenue which gave us a tantalising glimpse of the romantic ruins. The owners allowed us to wander around the ruins and talked of their restoration work and the many problems they had encountered. This alone was a magical event for members, most having only ever viewed the ruins from a distance. The evening became truly memorable when the owners invited us inside to see the amazing restoration work being carried out internally.
It was obvious from the enthusiasm and passion that both Mr Daly and Mr Vowles have for the Old Hall, that we are very lucky to have such talented and dedicated people taking care of an integral part of Biddulph’s history.
From here, the group moved on to the ‘Moor House’, where we were met by the owner, Mr Boulton. Parts of the property are very old, with records going back to the ‘Winkles’. Ownership passed on to the Stoniers - and it is with this family that most associate the Moor House.
With light fading fast, the group walked down through the fields to the Elmhurst pumping station and then back to the car park. Thanks must go to Derek and Roland for organising a superb walk, and also to Mr Daly, Mr Vowles and Mr Boulton for giving their time and knowledge!
My Ancestor was a Coalminer - 20/06/2005
The evening’s talk was given by Mr David Tonks, the author of a recently published book entitled “My Ancestor was a Coalminer”. He has also contributed articles to family history magazines.
Mr Tonks was brought up in a colliery village in East Durham and has coalminers as ancestors on both the maternal and paternal sides of his family. One of his aims in researching for the book was to see if coalmining families conformed to the stereotype of ’feckless, on strike and with large families‘.
The talk began with a general overview of coal mining nationally - he briefly discussed topics such as Bevin Boys, Nationalisation, strikes and privatisation.
The body of his talk considered the characteristics of mining families - the types of houses they lived in, the role of women within the family, sports and pastimes. The importance of music in their lives, the development of colliery brass bands, along with the miners links to Methodism and the role of religion were also discussed.
Other aspects such as ‘migration’ were considered briefly. Migration must have played a significant part in the lives of many of our Biddulph ancestors - discussion afterwards amongst members indicated that many had ancestors who had migrated to North Staffs from the West Midlands and more recently from the North East.
The final part of Mr Tonk’s talk centred on sources of information, both primary and secondary. From biographies to Commission Reports and Acts of Parliament and even to the most recent stage production of “Billy Elliot”.
A lively question and answer session took place afterwards between Mr Tonks and members. Although his talk was centred on research conducted in the North East, it was obvious that many of his findings could be applied to North Staffordshire miners.
Living in a Country House - 16/05/2005
- A Day in the Life of a Victorian Country House
“Living in a Country House - A Day in the Life of a Victorian Country House’ was the subject matter of Mrs G. Mitchell’s fascinating talk.
Around 20 members and guests enjoyed a highly informative and entertaining talk. Mrs Mitchell’s discussion was based on a country house, the likes of Lyme Park or Tatton, those huge stately piles that are now under the care of the National Trust.
The country house was usually empty for many months during the summer when the owners and the bulk of their staff, moved to the ‘town house’, or in later times, to the ‘seaside property’. Mrs Mitchell carefully explained the reasons for the move away from the country for the summer season.
Left to preside over the country residence, the house keeper had the important role of ‘showing round’ guests, usually introduced by ‘letter’. National Trust visitors are therefore not the first visitors to view such grand properties! Mrs Mitchell reminded us that in “Pride and Prejudice”, Elizabeth Bennett and her Aunt and Uncle, went to ‘view’ Mr Darcy’s house whilst the owners were away.
As an example, Mrs Mitchell described a ‘house party’, at a country house, at around 1870, when such houses were at their peak. Although the Mistress may have invited only 25 guests - 50 would appear as each guest would bring a servant. The inclusion of a ‘ball’ would also mean the invitation of many more on the night - always held on a night with a ‘full moon’.
For the scullery maid, the day began very early. She had to clean the range, light it and take the cook a cup of tea. The housemaids, would then appear, well before guests woke, to clean downstairs, light the fires in the guest’s rooms and prepare their hot water for washing. Once the guests had gone down for breakfast, then there were the chamber pots and the slops to empty. For the servants, life must have been an endless round of hard work with meals to serve, tables to clear, washing, cooking, cleaning, mending and always ‘on call’.
Life for the aristocracy at such events was also discussed by Mrs Mitchell. Conventions of the day, the role of women, and fashion were considered.
Numerous factors contributed to the decline of the country house. The period 1874 to 1894 saw a number of poor harvests, which led to a decline in revenue from the estates held. Death duties were introduced and the county councils, instigated in 1888, started to take the control of areas out of the hands of solely the land owner. With World War I, life changed drastically for many, and with increased education, the vote and new job opportunities, life ‘in service’ ceased to appeal or to be an option.
A lively question and answer session followed.
The Course of the River Dane - 18/04/2005
This evening’s meeting should have been a talk by Mr Harold Gilman on the “History of Great Moreton Hall Estate”. However, Mr Gilman had to cancel at the last minute. Fortunately for the Society, his friend, Mr Warren, stepped into the breach! Around forty members and guests listened instead to a delightful talk about the River Dane.
Any discussion of a river has to start at its source - so we began up on Axe Edge, where the stream soon cut through the gritstone landscape. This ‘youthful’ stage of the River Dane is seen cutting it’s way through a man-made landscape of spoil heaps and abandoned coal mines, an area quarried from Roman times. Dry stone walls abound along with the occasional ‘sheep flap’ - too small for today’s crossbred sheep. On through what was once the forest of Lyme to the three shire heads where the boundaries of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire meet. Trees are becoming a more prominent feature of the landscape now and the Dane is able to support trout. Gradbach saw the first major mill on the banks of the Dane. Employing at one time 200 people, it gave rise to the need for a chapel to serve their spiritual needs. The chapel still remains. A former mill owner’s house, within the grounds of Gradbach mill has become a Youth Hostel.
Numerous tributaries join the Dane. Black Brook joins just before Lud’s Church followed by Clough Brook a little further on. Skirting around Wincle and Danebridge the Dane flows on through a lusher landscape. Mr Warren embellished the talk with numerous tales of features to be found along this stretch - murder at a farm house where now only ruins remain, of Folly Mill, built three times in the same spot only to be washed away in times of flood, and of the Ship Inn and the tale of how it got it’s name.
On to Gig Hall and Feeder Cottage, where part of the Dane flows to Rudyard Lake and ultimately on to the North Sea whilst the Dane flows on eventually to the Mersey!
Hug Bridge spans the Bosley road, the A523, and the Dane begins to wind it’s way around the Cloud, alongside the works at Bosley. Despite the numerous grinding activities at Bosley, the Dane remains unpolluted and able to support a diverse range of wildlife. Under the viaduct and on to Colleymill Bridge the Dane meanders on to Havannah - once an area of busy mills. Joined by the Howty in Congleton, the Dane passes through Congleton and then Radnor. Skirting Somerford, the Dane continues through the Cheshire plain’s rich agricultural landscape on to Holmes Chapel and Northwich where it joins the Weaver. A journey of 42 miles eloquently led by Mr Warren and illustrated by many beautiful slides.
Staffordshire Ghosts - 21/03/2005
Mr Doug Pickford visited the Society to talk about “Staffordshire Ghosts”. A very popular speaker, he enthralled about 25 members and guests with his tales and legends.
Accompanied as always by his pickle jar, Mr Pickford began by discussing the origins of his interest in the unexplained. As a child he can recall seeing a photograph taken in the 1920s of a shooting party at Swythamley Hall. The photograph included his Grandfather who was the new gamekeeper at the hall - and also the old gamekeeper who had died before the taking of the photograph. As Mr Pickford said, it could have been the result of trick photography. Whatever the cause, it triggered a lifelong interest in the study of things unusual.
Mr Pickford then moved forward many years to an evening in the 1970s when he was at home with his wife at Rudyard. At that time they couldn’t afford to have a phone installed. At around 2.00 a.m he was awoken by a shadowy figure standing at the foot of the bed. Mr Pickford leapt out of bed, convinced that they had a burglar. The lights went on, his wife was awoken, but there was no sign of a burglar. Ten minutes later they were back in bed and just nodding off to sleep, when there was a knock at the door. A policeman was on the doorstep with the news that his father had just died and please could he go over to his Mum’s. Was it coincidence that he had awoken at approximately the same time that his father had died?
The group discussed as to what exactly a ghost could be and a number of possibilities were considered. There is the idea that sometimes the appearance of a ghost can be a warning. Some ghost tales are indeed little more than warnings - don’t stray off the track or ‘Jenny green teeth’ will get you, as will the ‘Mermaid’ up on Morridge. these are undoubtedly tales created to prevent people from taking a dangerous route. Does the memory of a repetitive human action leave some sort of ‘footprint’, that some people can see long after that particular human activity has ceased?
Mr Pickford used the tale of a Leek Christmas party to illustrate this idea.
One afternoon in the 1950s, ‘Adam’s Butter Ltd.’ was in the throes of a Christmas party held for the children of their workforce, at what was once an old mill. Mums were busy in the kitchen preparing the party tea and the children were enjoying themselves playing organised games. Suddenly, an elderly lady appeared through the wall, walked across the room and out through another wall! The Mums screamed but the children were highly delighted and thought the lady quite a ‘cool’ character. It later transpired that the lady had appeared many times before.
Many tales followed: Lilac Cottage between Leek and Macclesfield, the three Congleton spinsters, the Cistercians at Leek and of course, the famous tale from the 1980s of the Bank Manager and the Bridestones.
It was a very enjoyable evening that culminated in the re-telling of Tony and the pickle jar. Irene was quite insistent that Mr Pickford left the lid firmly screwed on!
In Search of Uncle Harry - Finding WWII Ancestors - 21/02/2005
Around twenty members and guests braved the cold weather to listen to Mrs. R. Grocott’s talk entitled “In Search of Uncle Harry - Finding WWII Ancestors”.
The talk was primarily a snap shot of Mrs. Grocott’s family from the beginning of the twentieth century to the end of the war. She began with her mother’s birth in 1906, followed thirteen years later with the birth of her mother’s brother, Harry. Four weeks later their father died of wounds received in WWI and the family were left in dire straits. The situation was so difficult that Mrs Grocott’s mother had to leave school at the age of thirteen and go to work in the pottery industry. Harry was practically ‘brought up’ by his sister and became more of a big brother to Mrs. Grocott than an Uncle.
Harry was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and to become a soldier. With the onset of WWII, Harry joined the war. His marriage to girlfriend ‘Lily’ quickly followed. Only nine weeks later, on May 21st 1940, he was killed in Belgium, whilst engaged in covering the retreat of the Expeditionary Force to Dunkirk. This was something that Mrs. Grocott was able to discover only at a much later date.
Mrs Grocott’s talk followed the search for his grave, her attempt to piece together the awful events that occurred on May 21st that culminated in Harry’s death and how she came into the possession of Harry’s medals.
Her efforts involved tracking down Harry’s widow, Lily, who had remarried and was thought to have emigrated to Australia. After much fruitless searching through Australian records it transpired that she had remained in England and was living in Hemel Hempstead.
Mrs Grocott’s talk was one from ‘the heart’, full of emotion but not without a measure of gentle humour. It had obviously been a long and difficult task but fortunately, a very rewarding one. Many of us must have ancestors like ‘Uncle Harry’, killed in either WWI or WWII, and I’m sure that this evenings meeting will have spurred us on to find out what happened to them.
The Water Supply to the Trent & Mersey and Caldon Canals - 17/01/2005
Despite atrocious weather conditions, at least 30 members and guests attended this meeting. Society member Arnold Gibson, kindly gave a talk entitled “The Water Supply to the Trent & Mersey and Caldon Canals”.
The ‘Grand Tour’ was the experience that urged the Duke of Bridgwater to consider the use of canals for his own business interests. He developed a canal system to help transport his coal from his Worsley mine to the people of Manchester. So impressed with the results, he enlisted the help of the Gilbert brothers, Thomas and John, in addition to James Brindley, in order to extend his canal system to Runcorn and so to deliver coal cheaply to Liverpool. The success of this venture and the involvement of Josiah Wedgwood led to the creation of the ‘Trent & Mersey’ system.
With Thomas Gilbert’s skills as a barrister, John’s as an engineer and James Brindley’s renowned canal building skills, work began on constructing the Trent & Mersey after an Act of Parliament in 1766. The summit level was the stretch from Etruria to Church Lawton via the Harecastle tunnel. An extension of the Trent & Mersey to Cauldon Low for the transporation of limestone was agreed in 1769. This branch also helped to provide much needed water for the summit. Numerous other Acts followed, and by 1781 work at Knypersley on reservoir construction was underway. In this year, Vicar, Jonathan Wilson made a note that he and his wife went to see the plan of the new reservoir at Knypersley. By 1783, the first reservoir in Britain had been completed - the Serpentine at Knypersley, covering 20 acres and being 30 feet in depth. The Serpentine fed the Trent & Mersey, and was itself fed by a feeder which can be followed back today to the waterfall or weir, beyond the Tower. The supply of water was still paramount for the functioning of the canal system and this necessitated the building of Rudyard reservoir.
James Potter, the son of the resident engineer at Rudyard, was employed to oversee the building of Knypersley reservoir in 1825. It was felt by many, that Potter was too young and inexperienced for the job and consequently Potter was much critisised. A number of problems were blamed on Potter’s lack of experience. By 1828 there was a problem with escaping water. Thomas Telford was brought in to find the source of the problem and he redesigned and repaired various features. However, it wasn’t until 1868 when a well head was replaced, was the problem of leaking water finally resolved.
Mr. Gibson illustrated his talk with numerous old maps and plans, and his own diagrams to help explain the technicalities of canal building. There were also slides of the Serpentine today and as it was before Staffordshire County Council took over it’s upkeep. This provoked a lively discussion on the changes brought about by the council.
Mr. Gibson gave a very interesting talk . I for one, am looking forward to better weather so that I can take a stroll around the Serpentine and Knypersley reservoirs. I’m sure that I will be seeing features there in a different light and with greater understanding.
Local and Family History for the Biddulph area
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