Biddulph & District Genealogy & Historical Society Biddulph Grange by Kath Walton

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Meeting Reports - 2012

A Victorian Christmas - 17th December 2012

Can You Hear Me? - 19th November 2012

Who Do You Think You Are? - A Biddulph Biography - 15th October 2012

The Saxon Hoard - 17th September 2012

A Summer Walk around Mow Cop from the Ash Inn - 18th June 2012

Forty Years On - 21st May 2012

The History of Mow Cop - 16th April 2012

Mr. John Whitehurst - 20th March 2012

The Limestone Workings at Newbold - 20th February 2012

Wharf Road, Biddulph - 16th January 2012

 


A Victorian Christmas - 17/12/2012

The December meeting was held on Monday December 17th in Biddulph Library. The library was full as the chairman introduced Mr. David Littler who presented a talk entitled ‘A Victorian Christmas’.

Mr. Littler started by explaining that his wife couldn’t be present, but that she, as a Bailey, did have connections with Biddulph and was very sorry she wasn’t able to attend. What followed was a description of all the elements of a modern Christmas with an explanation of when and where they had first appeared in English tradition. The history of Christmas as presented by Mr. Littler did not match most of the pre-conceptions of the audience and the dates that the various elements of Christmas began led to many animated discussions.

The origins of the now traditional Christmas Celebration, distinct from earlier pagan winter holidays, date to sixth century England. By the middle ages, it was a well established important holiday, with traditional pageantry, customs, music and feasting all its own. Customs from pre-Christian days were incorporated into the Celebrations, and many still remain.

However in 1647, the English parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal, all festivities were banned by the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry on what was supposed to be a holy day to be immoral. The ban was lifted only when Cromwell lost power in 1660.

“A Jolly Christmas” A Victorian Christmas Card with Father Christmas making children’s toys. Notice the green Christmas cloak hanging on the back of the door.

Christmas Day was traditionally seen as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. However, many aspects of the celebration have their origins in the Pagan traditions of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These include bringing pieces of evergreen trees into homes, lighting fires, holding parties and eating special foods. When missionaries converted the inhabitants of these countries to Christianity, many of these customs were included in the Christian celebrations.

There are many Christmas symbols. These include leaves and berries from the holly tree and mistletoe bush, pine trees, candles and small lights. On estates, for many years, it also included the selection of a large log as a Yule Log to burn at Christmas. Figures associated with the season are Father Christmas or Santa Claus, the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the other characters from the Nativity story. Presents and Christmas food, such as turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies also symbolise Christmas. A special mention should be reserved for the robin red breast. This small bird, with its red feathered breast, is at its most beautiful in the middle of the winter and is often seen as a decoration on Christmas cards, wrapping paper and cakes.

Mr. Littler explained that at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated. Many businesses did not even consider it a holiday. However by the end of the century it had become the biggest annual celebration and took on the form that we recognise today. The transformation happened quickly, and came from all sectors of society.

Many attribute the change to Queen Victoria, and it was claimed her marriage to the German-born Prince Albert introduced some of the most prominent aspects of Christmas. However, it was Queen Charlotte, wife of George the III who started this tradition Mr. Littler believed. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating round a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition that was reminiscent of Prince Albert’s childhood in Germany. Soon many of the richest homes in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, sweets, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts.

In 1843 Henry Cole commissioned an artist to design a card for Christmas. The illustration showed a group of people round a dinner table and a Christmas message. Queen Victoria sent a Christmas card to all her staff. At one shilling each, these were pricey for ordinary Victorians and so were not immediately accessible. However the sentiment caught on and many children – Queen Victoria’s included – were encouraged to make their own Christmas cards. In this age of industrialisation colour printing technology quickly became more advanced, causing the price of card production to drop significantly. Together with the introduction of the halfpenny postage rate, the Christmas card industry took off. By the 1880s the sending of cards had become hugely popular, creating a lucrative industry that produced 11.5 million cards in 1880 alone. The commercialisation of Christmas was well on its way.

A second Christmas “industry” was borne in 1848 when a British confectioner, Tom Smith, invented a bold new way to sell sweets by using crackers – traditional Christmas crackers. Inspired by a trip to Paris where he saw “bon bons” – sugared almonds wrapped in twists of paper – he came up with the idea of the Christmas cracker: a simple package filled with sweets that snapped when pulled apart. The sweets were replaced by small gifts and paper hats in the late Victorian period, and remain in this form as an essential part of a modern Christmas.

Decorating the home at Christmas also became a more elaborate affair. The medieval tradition of using evergreens continued, however the style and placement of these decorations became more important. The old custom of simply decking walls and windows with sprigs and twigs was sniffed at. Uniformity, order and elegance were encouraged. There were instructions on how to make elaborate synthetic decorations for those residing in towns. In 1881 Cassell’s Family Magazine gave strict directions to the lady of the house. “To bring about a general feeling of enjoyment, much depends on the surroundings. It is worthwhile to bestow some little trouble on the decoration of the rooms”.

Gift giving had traditionally been at New Year but moved as Christmas became more important to the Victorians. Initially gifts were rather modest – fruit, nuts, sweets and small handmade trinkets. Estate workers and carpenters would produce rocking horses or doll’s houses for the children of the family – perhaps producing copies for there own children. The gifts would originally be hung on the Christmas tree, however, as gift giving became more central to the festival, and the gifts became bigger and shop-bought, they moved under the tree.

The Traditional Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square given annually since 1947. The tree has provided a central focus for the Trafalgar Square traditional carol-singing programme, performed by different groups raising money for voluntary or charitable organisations.

The tree remains until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas, when it is taken down for recycling. The tree is chipped and composted, to make mulch.

At the base of the tree stands a plaque, bearing the words: This tree is given by the City of Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the years 1940-45.

While carols were not new to the Victorians, it was a tradition that they actively revived and popularised. Most carols would be sung by estate workers going from house to cottage before ending up at the “Hall” for a “feast”. The Victorians considered carols to be a delightful form of musical entertainment, and a pleasure well worth cultivating. Old words were put to new tunes and the first significant collection of carols was published in 1833 for all to enjoy.

Mr. Littler’s final topic was the Christmas feast which had its roots from before the Middle Ages, but it’s during the Victorian period that the dinner we now associate with Christmas began to take shape. Examination of early Victorian recipes shows that mince pies were initially made from meat, a tradition dating back to Tudor times. However, during the 19th century there was a revolution in the composition of this festive dish. Mixes without meat began to gain popularity within some of the higher echelons of society and became the mince pies we know today. The roast turkey also has its beginnings in Victorian Britain. Previously other forms of roasted meat such as beef and goose were the centrepiece of the Christmas dinner. The turkey was added to this by the more wealthy sections of the community in the 19th century, but its perfect size for a middle class family gathering meant it became the dominant dish by the beginning of the 20th century.

The final element that the Victorians transformed was the idea that Christmas would be centred round the family. The preparation and eating of the feast, decorations and gift giving, entertainments and parlour games – all were essential to the celebration of the festival and were to be shared by the whole family. While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book “A Christmas Carol” is credited with helping to popularise and spread the traditions of the festival. Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness encapsulate the spirit of the Victorian Christmas, and Mr. Littler believes they should be very much a part of the Christmas we celebrate today and not the commercialised version that many families now aspire to.

Mr. Roland Machin invited questions from the audience, which were many and varied, and then he thanked Mr. Littler for his thoroughly entertaining talk.


Can You Hear Me - 19/11/2012

The November meeting was held at 7pm on Monday November 19th in Biddulph Library. There were no empty seats in the library as the Chairman of the Society, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. John Robinson in his full regalia as Town Crier of Biddulph and Fusignano, who presented a talk entitled ‘Can You Hear Me?’

Mr. Robinson has been the Town Crier for Biddulph since 1994 and was appointed by Biddulph District Council when George Brown was the Major. The town hadn’t had a Town Crier for fifty years; Mr. Robinson’s predecessor’s last job had been to proclaim the end of the Second World War. The Biddulph Town Crier has a number of set jobs throughout the year which include the Mayor Making, Armistice Day, Civic Sunday, the Remembrance Celebrations and the Christmas Lights. For each of these events and the many charity events that he attends Mr Robinson writes a proclamation. The length of the proclamation or Cry is between seventy five and one hundred and twenty five words. The Cry is also used in competitions between the many Town Criers throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

Mr. John Robinson rings the bell whilst his wife holds the scroll at the Whitehaven 300 Years Competition.

You will have to ask John why the other Criers were light-heartedly chanting the thunderbirds theme as he left the stage.

Mr. Robinson’s talk was peppered with wonderful local stories and anecdotes none of which your writer has decided to report. He would like, if you have a chance, for you to enjoy the talk on another occasion. One point, before reporting on Mr. Robinson’s history of Town Criers and the Loyal Company of Town Criers, was that it was a surprise to many at the meeting that Biddulph has never had a hotel at which visiting Town Criers, who attended competitions, can stay.

A Town Crier, or bellman, makes public announcements in the streets. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat. Mr. Robinson has had a couple of outfits and the present one is predominately red, green and blue. Over the years he has worn a number of tricorne hats and these were passed around the members of the audience. He also has the town badge of Biddulph on the right and Fusignano on the left panel of his coat.

Criers use a hand bell to attract people’s attention and shout the words “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” before making their announcements. Mr. Robinson explained the word “Oyez” means “hear ye” which is a call for silence and attention and derives from the Anglo-Norman word for “listen”. Hence the title of the talk “Can you hear me?” was an apt one.

Since Ancient Greek and Roman times, it has been necessary to have a trusted person with a clear, loud voice to deliver news and instructions to the population, many of whom could neither read nor write. Many local councils in England and Wales reinstated the post of town crier from the mid 1990s onwards (for example, Chester). It is believed that it wasn’t until the early Middle Ages; from the reign of William the Conqueror in England after 1066, that a more formal system of Town Criers was recognised. Town Criers are “Royalists” and assaulting a Town Crier is a treasonable offence. Before television and radio it was the Town Crier that provided the news to the mass populace, today the role is more as special interest and tourist attraction. Early policing, before the Police Service of Sir Robert Peel, would be undertaken by the Crier - when breaking up a fight he rang his bell and that may be the reason that some public houses became known as The Bell. After a Crier read a proclamation it was then nailed onto a post for the literate individuals to read and hence the term to Post a notice.

Many Criers are honorary appointments or may be employed part time by the Council. There may be around 150 towns in England and Wales with town criers who perform ceremonial duties at civic functions like Mr. Robinson. In some cases, such as in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, the town crier is also the Tipstaff. Often the role of Town Crier was passed down from father to son for many generations, and it was seen as a position of some standing in the community. So the Town Crier, Mr. Robinson explained, is highly educated, able to read and write, and is usually married as it is the wife’s job to carry the bell. Many Criers will also be asked to Cry at charity events and for these a special Cry will be written. Mr. Robinson recently wrote a Cry for “Help for Heroes” which has been adopted by the charity for publicity and further use.

The badge of the Loyal Company of Town Criers which Mr. John Robinson helped to design and now wears with pride. When the next competition arrives in Biddulph the Criers are scored on the following six points:

  1. Confidence and bearing
  2. Diction and inflection
  3. Sustained volume and clarity
  4. Content
  5. Engage audience
  6. Appearance

With the advent of modern communications - newspapers, radio, TV and the internet, you may be mistaken for thinking that the Town Crier should have become a doomed species. Town Criers are now in great demand for civic ceremonies, charity functions, tourism events and commercial ventures, where their colourful costumes, imposing presence and historical significance are greatly valued. There are also many friendly competitions to find the best Town Crier! However, most Town Criers like Mr. Robinson agree that they do the job principally because they enjoy keeping an ancient tradition alive, and consider it an honour and a privilege to serve their town and community they represent.

Mr. Roland Machin invited questions from the audience and Mr. Robinson, amongst other answers, explained the colours of his official uniform; how he writes the excellent Cries, which are his trademark; and, how he remembers them. Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Robinson for his unique insight on the role of the Town Crier and for an entertaining talk to the History Society.


Who Do You Think You Are? - A Biddulph Biography - 15/10/2012

At the October meeting there were no empty seats in the library as Mr. Derek Wheelhouse, introduced Mr. Roland Machin, normally the Meeting Secretary of the Society, whose talk “Who Do You Think You Are? A Biddulph Biography” looked at the life of his father, Mr. John Machin.

Mr. Machin’s talk weaved together two strands of information which reflected the life of a man who would have preferred a career in engineering but who had had to work in the family bakery in Biddulph. This passion for engineering, however, was partially satisfied by a keen interest in scale model steam railway engineering. John, known as Jack Machin was born on December 6th 1899 into a family of bakers. His father Frederick had started a bake-house at the rear of 44 High Street, Biddulph and his grandfather John had been a grocer and baker in Bridge Street, Biddulph from the early 1870s. When Grandfather John’s first wife died in 1867, he remarried and his two marriages produced what Roland described as a tribe of 22 children.

Frederick was living with his widowed mother in Albert Street when he married Mary Alice Copeland in 1893 and by the early 1900s he lived with his wife and had four children; Alice, Harry, Jack (John) and Laura. All the children helped in the business and they lived at 44 High Street, where in 1906 a bake-house, stable and shed were erected at the rear of the premises. Members of the tribe including Frederick’s younger brother, Ebenezer, played a vital role in developing the bakery using flour from Biddulph Mill and later flour purchased from Joseph Rank and Spillers with smaller deliveries from Hovis and Allison’s.

Jack Machin and his brother Harry both signed on during the First World War serving with the Royal Flying Corps. Jack was a motorcycle dispatch rider and engineer. When a John E. Machin, a 2nd Lieutenant of 123rd Squadron Royal Air Force, died on the 29/5/1918 (and who was later buried in St. Lawrence’s Churchyard, Biddulph) and the Ministry, on checking Jack’s age, he was returned home as under-age.

Harry Machin at the controls 1917. Roland showed the meeting the RFC cap his father had worn as a despatch rider.

During the early 1920s, Frederick Machin purchased Newpool Villa at Knypersley as the family home and all the family, including Alice and her husband, Will Taylor the local blacksmith at Knypersley, but with the exception of Harry, moved there. Harry had married Mary Ellen Lees and they continued to live above the shop. 1920 was a pivotal year in Jack’s career as it was when he had to choose between a career in engineering, and being disinherited by his father, or continuing to work for the bakery.

When Frederick Machin died in 1943 Harry and Jack were partners and Harry’s son, Cyril also became a partner. After the Second World War, Cyril and his wife Grace made 44 High Street their home and Cyril was entrusted with the financial and smooth running of the business. Over the years many Machin’s and local people were employed by the bakery. For example, Ebenezer Machin, after working in the bake house from about 4.30am would deliver bread to Biddulph Moor. On his retirement, Jack Machin (partner) took over the round with van boy Bertie Biddulph, but with a motorised van.

During the 1950s bread was delivered by Bedford and Trojan vans to all the local areas – Biddulph Moor, Harriseahead, Packmoor, Knypersley and so on, at all hours of the day and early evening. Eventually one van was assembled from parts of three Bedford vans which had delivered bread throughout the Second World War. The local nature of the business was demonstrated at Christmas when the bake house coke ovens were used to cook the customers’ chickens, turkeys and geese. The family employed many local Biddulph people and characters. Head foreman was Robert Holland and John Orme was deputy head confectioner. There was Jack Williams, Eddie ‘Currant Bun’ Evans, Walter Lowe, Harry Basson, Eric Machin, Donald Shallross, Cyril Shaw, Bill Gumby, Ken Gibson, Ray Pruden, and more.

From the late 1940s the grocery shop was run by Cyril and Grace Machin who lived at the property until the early 1960s. Then despite the fact that Machin’s, as a business was still making a profit and had a loyal customer base, with both Harry and Jack approaching retirement, the offer from the council to purchase 44 High Street, was something to consider. The grocery was closed on March 21st 1964 and the bakery and grocery shop were demolished to make way for the Key supermarket and more recently Sainsbury’s development.

Jack retired to his home in Pool Fold and pursued full time his interest in building and occasionally running steam locomotives on a track round the garden of the house. The entire track was laid to run engines and trains which had often taken many years to construct. Jack would work in his shed and have a number projects on the go, building from plans, altering and re-building, wheeling and dealing parts like boilers and frames. Roland believes his father’s initial interest came from watching the colliery engines shunting in the Valley and then it had spread through correspondence with a number of famous pioneers of scale model railway building.

Bing was a German metalworking company founded in 1863 in Nuremberg, Germany, by two brothers, Ignaz and Adolf Bing who diversified into toy production in 1880. It was their live steam powered toys in which Jack took an interest. It was being possible to buy the plans, the parts and complete models that interested him. Bing’s first trains hit the market in the 1880s. The “Nuremberg Style” of manufacturing toys on steel sheets with lithographed designs that were stamped out of the metal, formed, and assembled using tabs and slots, was perfected by Bing. This manufacturing method remained in widespread use well into the 1950s, long after Bing had disappeared.

Bing produced numerous items for export which were then sold either under its own name or for other companies. Bing produced trains styled for the British market for Bassett-Lowke of Northampton with a range of live steam engines including stationary engines, railway locomotives, road vehicles and boats. The railway locomotives in live steam, clockwork and electric models were realistic models of full size engines.

World War I forced Bing out of the export market at its peak and although exports recovered by 1927, Bing was in serious financial trouble and the company’s president, Stephan Bing, and his son, left the company. Initially going to work with another Nuremberg-based toy firm, the Bings, who were Jewish, soon fled to England because of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Stephan Bing helped to start the British company Trix.

With his interest in trains Jack corresponded with Bassett-Lowke, the son of a Northampton engineer who started in business in 1898 or 1899, specialising in model railways, boats and ships, and construction sets. Bassett-Lowke had started as a mail-order business selling Bing models, although they designed and manufactured some items themselves. During the First World War while the company is known for model trains, it had a long history of contract manufacturing model ships which were used for “ship recognition” – the series was abandoned in 1916 possibly due to rationing of metal.

The first 15-inch steam locomotive, test run on the Eaton Hall Railway, in 1905 was Little Giant. Unlike other engines on the line it was a replica of a main-line loco, built for a public miniature railway at Blackpool. It was a quarter scale 4-4-2 Atlantic tender engine, though not an exact copy of any particular prototype. This engine still exists in private ownership and other similar engines can be seen at Rhyl – and as Roland said “It is one of the few reasons for visiting Rhyl”.

In 1909 along with Henry Greenly W.J. Bassett Lowke started and edited Model Railways and Locomotives Magazine. Jack would correspond with Henry Greenly and others, buying drawings and parts – often trading completed projects of his own. The Railway Magazine would be ordered from Rowley’s the newsagent and one of Roland’s first regular jobs was to collect a copy each month. The cost of materials and the production of cheaper copies by rivals led to a decline in Bassett-Lowke’s fortunes starting in the late 1950s; sometimes people would browse the firm’s free catalogue and buy similar or nearly identical items elsewhere at lower price. Bassett-Lowke the company ceased retail sales and sold its shops, including one at High Holborn in London, to Beatties and went out of business in 1965.

Henry Greenly who died in 1947 is best remembered for his miniature locomotive designs on which he had worked closely with many engineering companies including Bassett-Lowke and Captain J.E.P. Howey of Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch fame. Roland produced a number of copies of the magazine, plans for locomotives and a series of Bing engines and coaches. In Biddulph, Jack had his engine shed in the garden and infrequently ran engines through the long cutting he had so patiently dug after returning from the hot bake-house. He enjoyed the building and machining that model engineering requires and he had the skill and ingenuity to adapt and create these masterpieces in miniature. He sadly died on March 15th 1970 leaving a legacy of service to the people of Biddulph in the bakery and a hidden talent for engineering.

Mr Jack Machin with his favourite engine, London Midland and Scottish Railway Royal Scot no. 6100, in the garden of his home in Biddulph.

Mr. Wheelhouse thanked Mr. Machin for his interesting talk, peppered with local knowledge and anecdotes, which did display the similar sense of humour that Mr. Machin believed he had inherited from his grandfather Greenhalgh. Mr. Machin then answered a number of follow-up questions before the meeting broke for tea and biscuits and taking a look at the mementoes and models on display.


The Saxon Hoard - 17/09/2012

The first meeting of the new season held on Monday September 17th in Biddulph Library. There were no empty seats in the library as the Meeting Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. Stephen Dean, the Principal Archaeologist for Staffordshire, who gave a talk on the 'Saxon Hoard'.

The first part of the talk was entitled “Trusting the Ground with the Treasure of Warriors” The title reflected Mr. Dean’s belief that the Hoard of precious artefacts may have been hastily buried in a pit to avoid falling into the hands of an approaching enemy. Mr. Dean explained that the items are the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found. More importantly, it includes many items which have never been found in Europe before. It was discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield. The items were discovered by Mr. Terry Herbert when he was searching an area of recently ploughed farmland belonging to Mr. Fred Johnson.

The discovery was publicly announced on September 24th 2009, attracting worldwide attention. An official website set up to showcase finds from the Hoard received over 10 million views in the first week after the announcement. Whilst Birmingham Archaeology continued to process the find, items from the Hoard were displayed at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until October 13th 2009, attracting 40,000 people. Andrew Haigh, the coroner for South Staffordshire declared the hoard to be treasure trove, and therefore the property of the Crown. A further selection of pieces from the Hoard was displayed at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. Key items and numerous smaller pieces were then taken to the British Museum, London, where cataloguing, and some initial cleaning and conservation work commenced.

Hilt fitting of a sword showing the use of garnet mushrooms and inter-laced gold. The inter-locking animal pattern has also been found as an illuminated panel on a Bible.

Excavation work was funded by English Heritage who contracted Birmingham Archaeology to do the fieldwork. Ploughing had scattered the artefacts, so an area 9 by 13 metres was excavated in the search. Because of the importance of the find, the exact site of the hoard was initially kept secret. A geophysical survey of the field in which the hoard was found discovered what could be a ditch close to the find. Although excavations revealed no dating evidence for the feature, further investigation is planned. In total over 3,900 pieces were recovered. A final geophysical survey using specialist equipment provided by the Home Office did not suggest any further artefacts remained to be found.

The hoard was valued at more than £3 million, and has been purchased jointly by the Birmingham and the Potteries Museum and Art Galleries after a public appeal was started to keep the Hoard in the Midlands. The Pope made an offer to purchase the whole collection on behalf of the Catholic Church. So far experts have only managed to inspect and clean 15% of the find and it will take many, perhaps five more, years to complete. The work of the artefacts is so fine and accomplished; it’s hard to believe that craftsmen created the items before the use of magnifying lenses or glass discs. The average quality of the workmanship is extremely high using Byzantine gold which is 85% pure and is especially remarkable in view of the large number of individual objects, such as swords or helmets. Many kilos of gold, silver and garnets were used to create the objects and they were sourced from Russia, Sri Lanka and India. The pieces are incredibly made – many use mushroom shaped garnets (often with a gold film at the back to make them sparkle) with gold filigree work and a style of construction called cloisonné.

Mr. Dean presented maps of the area of south Staffordshire where the hoard was found and the importance of the A5 (formerly a Roman Road) which passes very close to the site. Tamworth, Lichfield and the present village of Wall are the nearest settlements to the find. Then as on Time Team Mr. Dean presented the geo-physics, etc., which he displayed to show that the only set features other than A5 were a curved ditch and double ditch to the north of the find. Experts have produced a range of theories as to where the hoard came from and how it came to be deposited, and whether the objects were made for Christians or pagans. Mr. Dean does not believe the Hoard is part of a bigger Palace or similar site and so there won’t be more to find here, however, there may be other hoards left behind by rich warriors who didn’t survive the battles of this period.

Mr. Dean then continued to answer three questions – all of which related to dating the material:

  1. When the items were made. The artefacts have been dated to the 7th or 8th centuries, placing the origin of the items in the time of the Kingdom of Mercia. The hoard does not include coins – which would probably have been melted down; no sword blades – but plenty of sword decorations, like pommels of which there are more than ninety; few buckles or ceremonial pieces; and, no evidence amongst the hoard of feminine items. There are some folded crosses which may have been removed from religious texts but they do not aid dating the material.
  2. When they were brought together. Mr. Dean believes that one King of Mercia may have been responsible for amassing the hoard – either for himself or as a reward, a payment to swordsmen who fought to expand Mercia from being one of the seven areas of England between 680 and 740 A.D. to controlling the country from the River Humber in the north down to East Anglia and Kent.
  3. When laid in the ground. Mr. Dean believed that the hoard was an “Angst” hoard. Like Samuel Pepys who buried a parmesan cheese during the Great Fire of London, a “warrior” from Tamworth(?) rode east along the A5 looking for a site to bury his treasure when the armies of Kent, East Anglia and Wales marched together towards Tamworth to seek revenge for forty years of oppression. Then unlike Pepys, who had chance to look but never found his cheese, the warrior didn’t have chance to look as he perished in the subsequent battle. “It is assumed that the items were buried by their owners at a time of danger with the intention of later coming back and recovering them.”

In late March 2010, a team of archaeologists carried out a follow-up excavation on the site, digging 100 metres of trenches and pits in the field. However, Mr. Dean believes there is no more gold or treasure to recover from the site, and the aim of any further excavation would be to look for dating and environmental evidence. Archaeologists hope to use this evidence to determine what the landscape looked like at the time that the hoard was deposited. Whatever happens, Mr. Dean believes the hoard will “alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England.”

The items are presently housed at:

  1. Potteries Museum
  2. Birmingham Museum
  3. British Museum

And, on travelling display or visit the website.

Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Dean for what had been a seventy five minute tour de force which presented a comprehensive, interesting and exciting look at a collection of garnet and gold objects which will change our view of the Dark Ages. Mr. Dean answered a number of follow-up questions before the meeting broke for tea and biscuits.


A Summer Walk around Mow Cop from the Ash Inn - 18/06/2012

The annual guided walk of the BDGHS took place on the 18th of June 2012. Over forty members of the Society had an enjoyable walk round Mow Cop on one of the few dry evenings in June. Organised by the Secretary of the Society, Mr. David J. Outhwaite the route of around two miles took a leisurely two hours. Mr. Philip Leese who spoke to the Society at the April meeting of the Society about his books on Mow Cop described the people, places and history to the walkers. Many thanks go to Philip and all the members for making the evening memorable. The new season of BDGHS talks will begin in September.

If you would like to do the walk under your own steam here is the map and walking instructions. Enjoy your summer.

Start from the Lower Car Park of the Ash Inn.

Walk up to the pub and carefully cross the road and take the right hand path through the cycle barrier towards Bank Chapel.
Walk 110 yards up the path to Chapel Bank - turn left to the Bank Chapel.
Walk on up Chapel Bank for 130 yards and it becomes High Street.
(Please note that after a further 40 yards it becomes High Street again?).
A further 180 yards and you arrive at the Coronation Mill and opposite is the "Old Post Office".
Turn left and after 30 yards Parson's Well is on the right with a view down to the Cheshire Plain and the Tunnel entrance.
Turn right onto Woodcocks Lane and after ten yards on the left is the Primitive Methodist Chapel (built 1860 and extended 1882).
After 20 yards turn left on to Primitive Street.
Walk 100 yards down the hill and then the road turns to the right.
After 36 yards is Bourne Street on the right with views on the left of the Cheshire Plain and Merseyside.
You then pass Well Street on the right and it is 120 yards to the crossroads with Top Station Road (down the hill was the North Staffordshire Railway station).
Go straight on at the Mow Cop Community Church on the track know as Close Lane with views to the Cheshire Plain including the Macclesfield Canal.
After 200 yards you come to Wood Street where you turn right up the hill.
After 200 yards you come to the end of High Street on the right.
Turn right onto High Street and after 40 yards you find Squires Well on the left.
A further 25 yards and you are at the Finish Line of the Killer Mile and have a first clear view of Mow Cop Castle on the left.
Retrace your steps to Wood Street and turn right up the hill.
After 90 yards you pass the Gritstone Trail sign on the right and a further 25 yards turn left onto the Gritstone Trail.
Pass the sign which states that Grindley Brook on the Cheshire Way is now 35 km away.
After 60 yards on the track take a path on the left and after 60 yards you meet the Old Man of Mow and the Quarries.
Remember to look to the west and north at the views across the Cheshire Plain and the Lancashire Hills.
Retrace your steps to Wood Street.
Optional section – turn left and walk 100 yards up the hill and at the top you can see across the Biddulph Valley into Derbyshire. On the left is the site of the WWII radar post.
Retrace your steps and return to the path you took to the Old Man of Mow on your left.

From the Gritstone Trail Path to the Old Man of Mow walk 25 yards down the hill and then turn left at the Gritstone Trail sign to Mow Cop Castle.
Keep to the track and after 160 yards you arrive at a roundabout behind the Castle.
It is 40 yards and 35 steps up to the Castle's panoramic views and the steps to the Castle entrance.
Return down the path and steps to the roundabout (take care if it is wet underfoot) and take the path opposite - to the left of the garden shed and bench.
The path winds to the right down six steps and after 60 yards turn left and take the path between the fields (not straight ahead down past the covered reservoir).
After 70 yards by a yellow conifer is the memorial on the right to the two pilots who crashed into the hill in 1988. Back on the path continue for a further 140 yards above the gardens of the houses on your right.
The path meets another path, turn right down the hill towards St. Thomas' Church.
Drop down around 100 yards with steps, then carefully cross the road to the Churchyard.
Go behind the church and down the churchyard and take the first path on the right and after 100 yards is the grave of Hannah Dale.
Retrace your steps to the Church gate. Turn left and after 50 yards Church Lane goes down through Harriseahead to Newchapel.
Go straight on for 200 yards and you arrive at Castle Stores - remember to look at the views to the east and south with the Tramways to Towerhill and Stonetrough.
Go down a further 200 yards and you arrive at Chapel Bank on the right.

The next 175 yards down to the Ash Inn does not have a footpath and is very narrow - I recommend you turn right and walk up to Bank Chapel and retrace your steps down the footpath to the Ash Inn (take care crossing the road).

Enjoy the walk and if you would like further information there is a short guide available from Biddulph Library.


Forty Years On - 21/05/2012

On Monday the May 21st a packed library was welcomed by Mr. Roland Machin, who introduced Mr. Harold Bould, who was returning to Biddulph after being away for many years.

As a background to the talk here is a short history of the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR) based on Mr. Bould’s talk and the 1971 book on the NSR by Rex Christiansen and R.W. Miller. North Staffordshire was a thriving industrial area before the arrival of the railways.In the 18th century the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal (T&M) allowed materials required by the pottery industry – clay, coal, bone and lime to be brought into the area and pottery to be taken away. It was also the T&M that built the first railway in north Staffordshire which was a plateway from Caldon Low limestone quarries to the canal basin at Froghall in 1776. However, in 1845 at the time of the Railway Mania, the Potteries was still without a railway, although the surrounding towns of Stafford, Crewe, Derby and Macclesfield were all connected to the fledgling railway system. Two local railway companies put forward plans:

The Staffordshire Potteries Railway promoted a route from Macclesfield to the main line of the Grand Junction Railway at Norton Bridge plus a spur to Crewe.

The Churnet Valley Railway promoted a line from Macclesfield to Derby with a branch to Stoke.

However, Parliament suggested a pause of a year “to afford time for consideration and for maturing some more complete scheme for the accommodation of that important district”. The two companies decided to join forces to make a new approach to Parliament and the NSR was born, its prospectus dated the April 30th 1845.

On the June 26th 1846, the NSR Acts were passed: The North Staffordshire Railway (Pottery Line) Act provided for the construction of the line from Macclesfield to Colwich with branches to Norton Bridge, Newcastle, Silverdale and Crewe; the North Staffordshire Railway (Harecastle and Sandbach) Act provided for the construction of the line from Harecastle to Sandbach; and, the North Staffordshire Railway (Churnet Valley Line) Act authorised the construction of the line from North Rode to Burton, a branch from Tutbury to Willington Junction near Derby, and the line between Uttoxeter and Stoke.

There was a ‘cutting of the first sod’ ceremony in September 1846. John Lewis Ricardo, Member of Parliament for Stoke on Trent and chairman of the NSR Company, buckled the silver spade. but construction had begun. The Consulting Engineer, George Parker Bidder had by February 1847 some 1,318 men and 60 horses working between Macclesfield and Colwich and they had removed 80,000 cubic yards (61,000m3) of earth, driven 843 yards (771m) of tunnel heading and erected 12,000 yards (10,973m) yards of fencing. Work continued apace and by the April 3rd 1848 the first freight trains were run and passenger services started on April 17th 1848 and the first passenger train left the temporary station at Wheildon Road, Stoke, hauled by locomotive no. 1 Dragon, heading for a temporary station at Norton Bridge on the London and North Western Railway (LNWR).

The opening of the line gave the Potteries a railway link with Birmingham and London which made it an instant success with the public. Profits for the first two months were £1,668 - ‘exceeding expectations’. The first permanent station in Winton Square, Stoke was opened on October 9th 1848 which became the headquarters of the NSR.

Stoke-on-Trent Station and Hotel were completed in 1848 to the design of H.A. Hunt of London in a style referred to as ‘robust Jacobean manor-house’. A variety of architectural styles could be found on the NSR which included the italianate station at Trentham.

Mr. Bould showed a number of pictures of the stations and track. He also emphasised the speed with which the lines were laid and trains began to run. In fact the time taken to construct the railway was unbelievably quick once a Parliamentary Act was obtained. For example the line from Stoke Junction to Uttoxeter was authorised on June 26th 1846 and was open to passengers and goods on the August 7th 1848. The line from North Rode via Leek to Uttoxeter was completed on August 13th the following year (1849). Perhaps the navvies who had spent years digging canals transferred their skills to railway building. The navvies did cause some local difficulties with such a large body of working men attracting the local women who ‘visited’ the sites. The Church was worried for the souls of all concerned and many hundreds of bibles were issued by the Bishop of Lichfield. The local chapels, who were already working with hardened working men from all parts of the country working as miners, invited the navvies to chapel or preached amongst them.

Another amazing fact was the speed with which the lines began operation. As a section of line was brought into use it would be inspected to ensure safe use. However, the NSR began operation after inspection where they had still to complete the second track and which had only rudimentary signalling. This was exacerbated by the fact that very few railwaymen were recruited from other railway companies. Local policemen or former soldiers were recruited as station masters and without signal posts the safety of passengers relied on drivers stopping a few hundred yards from a station and then being flagged to the platform if clear. The massive increase in railway construction lead to a shortage of workers but as Frank Oakes, who was in charge of traffic stated, “The efficiency of the men on the Knotty was proved by the fact that we can boast we never had a major disaster.”

A postcard showing that passengers have always complained about the railways – notice the station staff playing cricket and the passengers waiting for the donkey to pull the train.

Over the years there would be competition between the NSR and LNWR, however, the NSR adopted all the rules concerning the running of trains from the LNWR. Although many other railways worked in competition with the canal the NSR bought the local canals to provide alternative means of transporting both bulk goods and continuing the transport of finished goods, particularly fine china and pottery, by barge to Liverpool or south on the T&M Canal. Only the canal from Cauldon Low to Uttoxeter was lost as the railway developed, with much of the track to Uttoxeter laid on the canal bed and the freight offices transferred from canal to railway use.

The NSR was always interested in moving passengers, which would supplement its freight income. For example, not long after the halt at Mow Cop opened there were plans for a theme park at Mow Cop. Money was spent on the railway’s hotels and Rudyard Hotel and Lake became a common venue for thousands of pottery people – so much so that the local land owners for some time successfully stopped may of the days out. Any other national event would have a ‘Special’ running – a day out at Alton Towers or a day horse racing at Uttoxeter. The completion of the narrow gauge Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway (L&MVLR) also brought an influx of tourists keen to sample the peaks of Staffordshire and Derbyshire. A 20th century construction, the L&MVLR was built through the Hamps and Manifold river valleys, to Hulme End near Hartington. (Although the L&MVLR was nominally independent the NSR both worked and operated the line).

In fact, passenger and freight services both came to the Railways aid in fending off the attempts of the LNWR to take it over. The opening of the loop line from Stoke to the various suburbs and villages created a commuter line un-precedented in the history of railways with over one hundred trains per day. The Potteries Loop Line from Etruria via Hanley, Cobridge, Burslem, Tunstall, Pitts Hill, Newchapel and Goldenhill to Kidsgrove Liverpool Rd. opened to traffic in 1873. Its fame came from several mentions and a description of a journey on a Burslem to Hanley train in Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale.

Freight traffic also improved by nearly forty percent when the Biddulph Valley Railway was completed and this coincided with another low point in the constant battle with the LNWR. Once again although the Biddulph Valley Railway had only two scheduled services a day it would regularly have specials travelling from the Potteries to Congleton and beyond.

As well as some very interesting slides of the maps, buildings and excursions of the railway which illustrated the talk, Mr. Bould also brought in a huge collection of postcards, tickets, time-tables and even an engine and station lamp which the members could inspect at the end of the meeting.

Mr. Bould answered a number of questions and led a discussion of some them before the meeting chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, thanked him on behalf of the BDGHS for such an interesting talk. The meeting broke for tea or coffee and many members took the opportunity to view all the items Mr. Bould had brought with him or discuss anecdotes and stories from their own experience of the NSR.


The History of Mow Cop - 16/04/2012

A packed Library was welcomed by Mr. Roland Machin, who introduced Mr. Philip Leese, local author and historian, who presented a talk on the History of Mow Cop. Mr. Leese has written two books on Mow Cop but as he explained it was really one book which the publisher asked him to split into two halves. The first was Mow Cop – A Living Village and the second the recently released Living on the Hill. The first looked at how the villagers earned a living and the second concentrated on social history of Mow Cop. As Mr. Leese explained as soon the books were published a number of new and interesting information appeared – two C18th watercolour prints, the historical record in the photographs of Mr. Frank Sanderson and more memories of local people. Whilst the books included the mining, millstone and fustian industries; the story of Hannah Dale and recollections of Mr. David Oakes and many other local people they could not be described as a history of Mow Cop. When he was asked by the BDGHS to do a talk on Mow Cop Mr. Leese decided to try and collate all the historical data he could to present a chronological review. However, as with all historical research the further back you go in time the greater the gaps between the pieces of information.

In early pre-Roman history it was believed that Mow Cop had a burial chamber similar to the Bridestones and this was the border between two ancient tribes. There is mention of quarrying for stone and mining for coal in the Roman period but it isn’t until 1586 there is a detailed mention of millstone mining and a description of the area as comprising waste and common land farmed as smallholdings with a large area of woodland, for example, Roe Park Wood.

In 1692 the local families the Wilbraham’s and Sneyd’s on the Staffordshire and Cheshire side of Mole Hill are mentioned. There are large gaps however in the historical record at this point and the research at Cheshire Record Office would be an interesting project for a history society but is not the sort of research that Mr. Leese enjoys. For example, although the ‘Castle’ at Mow Cop exists and there are a number of often quoted stories about its building and preservation there are no documents at all to give a definitive history. It is believed that Mow Cop Castle was built as a summerhouse in 1754 for Randle Wilbraham of Rode Hall allegedly to have been built to enhance the view from the newly constructed Rode Hall three miles away. He employed local stonemasons John and Ralph Harding and it was said they were paid 1 shilling a day, paid with leather money and one of the members of the family lost a hand while constructing the castle.

The Wilbraham family are said to have used the summerhouse for picnics but in the mid 1800s, a dispute started with Ralph Sneyd of Keele Hall. Sneyd claimed that part of the summerhouse was built on his land, and that part ownership should therefore fall to him. The court heard that at the turn of the 19th century, the Wilbraham family moved up to Lancashire and when they returned some 50 years later the summerhouse had fallen into a bad state of repair. The court also heard that while the Wilbraham family had been away, Gordon Reece, a steward for Mr. Wilbraham, had maintained the summerhouse as an ornamental ruin. Reece told the court that in 1824 part of the walls had been restored and the door replaced at a cost of £4 4s. It was also worked on in 1841, but it was not until the family returned that the full restoration had taken place, at a cost of £34. It was eventually ruled that because the boundary cut through the land that the summerhouse was built on, both parties should share the building, and the cost of its upkeep.

Perhaps the biggest influence on the development of Mow Cop was the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal (T&M) in 1775. As well as millstones and aggregate the village became a mining settlement with coal being taken by tramways to the wharf on the T&M Canal at Red Bull. Later, when the Macclesfield Canal was completed in 1831, tramways ran down from the outcrop and deep mines on the Staffordshire side of the hill to Astbury and North Rode wharves. In the early 1800s John Gilbert proposed that a block of Limestone be carried up to Mow Cop to be carved as a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson (unfortunately it didn’t occur). However at about the same time a local preacher, Hugh Bourne, had decided that the many ungodly miners between Newchapel and Mow Cop should be saved. Working as a carpenter at Stonetrough Colliery he initially planned a camp meeting at Norton in the Moors but it was held in May 1907 at Mow Cop and many thousands attended. A month later and a second meeting was held and a tabernacle was built for the preachers – interestingly the speakers were only allowed fifteen minutes each. Thus began the close connection between Primitive Methodism and the Mow Cop area. However, it is interesting to note that most of the people attending the camp meetings came from the Cheshire and not the Potteries side of the hill.

With the population growing there is the first mention of William Jamieson who owned most of the quarries. As well as millstones there was a need for stone block for building houses which explains the large number of stone cottages on the hillside. Some of the stone was ground down by ‘sand punners’ to a fine powder used in the pottery industry. By 1840 there is a large population of people living and working at Mow Cop and the neighbouring pits. Chapels and a church are built and amenities – pubs and shops develop – followed closely by education for both adults and children. There is also some tourism – the arrival of the railway at the foot of the hill in 1848 led to visitors – very fit visitors – climbing the steep hill to take in the view of the Cheshire Plain afforded by the Castle Hill. In 1851 a large plantation is chopped down to provide space for additional housing. So what is the population of Mow Cop at this time – unfortunately it is very difficult to say exactly. Peter Hill in his book Urban Villages in the North Staffordshire Coalfield produces a large number of figures but Mr. Leese has researched some of the statistics and it is difficult to be certain as the population was recorded from 3 sides of the hill – Odd Rode, Briaryhurst and Biddulph. It is however possible to show between 1841 and 1871 the population of miners seems to increase at the expense of agricultural workers, for example in 1861 the roll of students at Woodcock’s Well School all 109 children had parents working at three local pits. Just to muddy the water there are many verbal records of the miners spending time getting in crops on a good summer’s day instead of digging for coal.

Young women were also gaining employment in the textile mills and everything looked well until the 1870s when a number of problems hit the main industries. Milling stones were no longer required for local mills – imported grain being milled by roller mills at the ports and guaranteed employment in the local small mines was hit by imported coal and this led to a series of long and expensive strikes. By 1881 the conditions are so bad in the local economy that for the first time the census mentions empty houses at Mow Cop. Being a hardy and resilient people the population recovers – fustian mills arrive and bicycles allow the miners to cycle down to Black Bull, Birchenwood and Talke. Another setback is the 1893 Moss Pit explosion which sees 300 miners losing there jobs. However as the roads get better, using aggregate from the quarries, Frederick Harper’s bread van appears in the village in 1907 just in time for the Centenary Primitive Methodist camp when more that 100,000 people turn up for three days of celebrations. Post cards and celebration plates are sold in the thousands.

The depression years see an end to many of the small shops in the village, an end to all of the local collieries as Robert Heath amalgamates only the largest producers to supply his furnaces, and textiles particularly fustian goes out of style to be replaced by artificial fibres. The National Trust is given the Castle to care for in 1937 and pays for some large scale restoration work to the base of the monument. Mow Cop becomes a dormitory village with just a couple of shops, a church and a chapel. By the time of the 2007 ‘Camp’ at Mow Cop the crowd is measured in 100s. People travel to the Potteries, Macclesfield and Manchester for work.

This is just a summary of a talk packed with anecdotes and observations which the packed audience in the Library was privileged to hear. Mr. Leese answered a number of questions and led a discussion of some them before the meeting chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, thanked him on behalf of the BDGHS for such an interesting talk.


Mr. John Whitehurst - 20/03/2012

A packed Library was welcomed by Mr. Roland Machin, who introduced Mr. Ian Doughty from Congleton Museum with a talk illustrated by slides on the local polymath Mr. John Whitehurst.

Born on the April 10th 1713 he was the eldest son of John Whitehurst who was a clock maker and prominent citizen of Congleton. John Whitehurst (Senior) held many local positions in the town and also founded a successful clock-making business. His father also fostered an interest in geology when taking him for long walks in the Derbyshire Peak District. He was also interested in the sources of copper, an essential mineral for the brass used in clocks and heavier bearings as many brass founders had to move premises as local sources were depleted.

One of the first questions Mr. Ian Doughty asked was “Why didn’t John take over the family business in Congleton letting his younger brother James run the firm?” Instead, he set up in Derby about 1736 where he presented a turret clock to the corporation for installation in the new Guildhall thus gaining his freedom to trade as a burger living and working in Iron Gate. He married Elizabeth Gretton in 1745 and worked as Church Warden of All Saints in 1761-62 and continued to live in Derby until 1780.

He was one of the foremost scientists of his day, father of modern geology and founder member of the Lunar Society along with Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt and others (see below). This raised Mr. Doughty’s second question “Why did so many young men from the Midlands become the Elite of the Age?” Closely followed by a third question “Why did the Lunar Society feature so many men we can describe as polymaths?” As a clock maker and engineer, Whitehurst’s innovations included the round dial long case clock, a standardisation of parts and the manufacture of components to very high tolerances. He also made compasses, way-wisers, timers for pottery kilns, pyrometers and barometers. One of Whitehurst’s most important achievements was in geology; in 1763, he sent Benjamin Franklin (an occasional visitor to his Derby house) an outline of his theory on the origin and formation of the earth, which was later published.

John Whitehurst painted by his friend Joseph Wright

The links to other members of the Lunar Society can be seen from his inventions. His work on strata facilitated the prospecting and mining of minerals such as coal, lead and copper and he had a stake in the extraction operations of Anthony Tissington, proprietor of a very prosperous mining company which owned mines not only in Derbyshire but also in Yorkshire, Durham and Scotland.

Another area of further research which can be added to the first three questions is “Why do the Cheshire families have such strong links to Ireland?” It is believed, for example, that between leaving Congleton and setting up in Derby John worked in Ireland probably with the Parnell family.

In 1799 John Whitehurst was elected as a Member of the Royal Society, which was given its Charter by Charles II in 1666 and he obtained the position of Stamper of the Money Weights at the Royal Mint under an Act of 1780, finally leaving Derby for London. He died in 1788 leaving his property and clock making business to his nephew, John Whitehurst young son of his brother James who had succeeded to his father’s firm in Congleton. In a sense this closed a circle back to his roots.

John Whitehurst was a founder member of the Lunar Society which met on the first Monday after the full moon so there was moonlight for the journey home across the rutted roads. The Lunar Society would meet in Birmingham and become the main intellectual powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution in England. So who were some of the other members of the Lunar Society?

William Bloye’s statue Boulton, Watt and Murdoch, in central Birmingham.

1. Matthew Boulton, FRS (September 3rd 1728 – August 17th 1809) was an English manufacturer and business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt. In the final quarter of the 18th century the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the mechanisation of factories and mills. Boulton applied modern techniques to the minting of coins, striking millions of pieces for Britain and other countries, and supplying the Royal Mint with up-to-date equipment.

2. Erasmus Darwin, who wrote “A fool you know, is a man who never tried an experiment in his life” was one of the greatest polymaths. George III asked him to be his personal physician but he declined, preferring to stay where he had settled in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

3. Thomas Day of London was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford from the age of 16 where he met Richard Lovell Edgeworth, during a vacation. They were influenced by the work of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who denounced corruption and endeavoured to return to the simplicity of nature. Although Day studied law and was called to the bar in 1775 he never practiced. He spent his life as a philanthropist, writer and political essayist.

4. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass armonica. He formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania. He also had time to visit England and attend a meeting of the Lunar Society.

5. Samuel “John” Galton Jr. FRS was born in Duddeston, Birmingham and despite being a Quaker he was an arms manufacturer and lived at Great Barr Hall.

6. Richard Lovell Edgeworth born in Bath in Somerset and died at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, Ireland. An Anglo-Irish inventor his mechanical inventions included possibly the first attempt at telegraphic communication, the creation of various sailing carriages, a velocipede (cycle), a perambulator (land measuring machine), a turnip cutter, a one-wheeled chaise, and a phaeton (a four-wheeled open carriage). Edgeworth also wrote Practical Education (1798), written in collaboration with his daughter, which argued that children should be given a strong motive to learn and that the pace should be adjusted to the child’s age and ability discouraging learning by rote. Four times married, Edgeworth had 22 children!

7. William Murdock was born in Old Cumnock near Ayr and died in Birmingham. A Scottish inventor, the first to make extensive use of coal gas for illumination and a pioneer in the development of steam power. He worked for the engineering firm of Matthew Boulton and James Watt in their Soho works at Birmingham. In Cornwall to superintend the fitting of Watt’s steam engines he experimented in distilling coal and in 1792 lighted his cottage and offices with coal gas. Returning to Birmingham about 1799, he perfected further practical methods for making, storing, and purifying gas. He also made important improvements in the steam engine including and various modifications to the arrangements of shafts and flywheel. He experimented with compressed air and in 1803 constructed a steam gun and he retired from business in 1830.

8. Joseph Priestley was one of the most remarkable thinkers of the 18th century. Best known today as the scientist who discovered oxygen, he also made major contributions in the fields of education, politics, philosophy, and theology.

9. William Small was born in Forfarshire, Scotland in 1734 and attended Marischal College, Aberdeen and was awarded his MD in 1765. At the age of 23 he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at William and Mary College, Virginia, then one of Britain’s American colonies. One of his students was Thomas Jefferson. In 1764 Small returned to Britain armed with a letter of introduction to Matthew Boulton from Benjamin Franklin where he established a medical practice in Birmingham. Between 1765 and 1775 he acted as Boulton’s doctor and became a close friend of other members of the Lunar Society. His knowledge of mathematics, mechanics and chemistry provided him with an important intellectual role, advising on the development of the steam engine, engaging in chemical experiments alongside Boulton and Keir and designing clocks. He also involved himself in cultural activities helping to bring the Theatre Royal to Birmingham in 1774.

10. James Watt was sent to Glasgow to learn the trade of a mathematical-instrument maker and established his business there. He developed a reputation as a high quality engineer and was employed on the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Caledonian Canal. In 1763 Watt was sent a Newcomen steam engine to repair and noted a way of making it more efficient. He sought a partner with money and asked John Roebuck to provide financial backing for the project and went into partnership with him.

11. Josiah Wedgwood was an English potter, founder of the Wedgwood company, credited with the industrialization of the manufacture of pottery. A prominent abolitionist, Wedgwood is remembered for his “Am I Not A Man And A Brother?” anti-slavery medallion. He was a member of the Darwin-Wedgwood family and grandfather of Charles and Emma Darwin.

12. William Withering was born in Wellington, Shropshire, trained as a physician and studied at the University of Edinburgh. He worked at Birmingham General Hospital from 1779. He treated a patient with dropsy (swelling from congestive heart failure) and noted the remarkable improvement that the taking of a traditional herbal remedy had. He identified that the active ingredient in the mixture came from the foxglove plant now known as digitalis, after the plant’s scientific name. In 1785 he published An Account of the Foxglove and some of its Medical Uses.

Sun dial on St. Peter’s Church, Congleton presented by John Whitehurst.

The links between all these men point to a joint interest in medicine, manufacturing and geology and the use of the most accurate measurements possible. For example, as Mr. Doughty stated, when Mr. Wedgwood was inventing glazes the temperature of firing is critical and Mr. Whitehurst could provide an accurate measurement.

Mr. Doughty answered a number of questions before the Meeting Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, thanked him on behalf of the audience for such an interesting talk.


The Limestone Workings at Newbold - 20/02/2012

A packed Library was welcomed by Mr. Roland Machin, who introduced Mr. Len Kirkham with a video presentation and information about the limestone workings at Newbold. To coincide with the talk the BDGHS has produced its sixth Transaction bringing together all the information the Society has on the mining of limestone in the Astbury area.

The video explained the layout of the Limeworks before going underground into the shafts and tunnels of the area. The map below shows the tunnel and the two shafts used to access the tunnel complex are just above Limekiln Farm. The heavily contoured area into which the tunnel appears to end is now the flooded lake – see the diagram below.

The Astbury Hydraulic Limestone Works was an example of small-scale mining for minerals that local industry and agriculture was once based upon and was just over the border in Cheshire. The folded nature of the geology along the Congleton Edge produced a ready supply of limestone and clay just below the surface. No mine plans are known to exist, there is a paucity of documentary evidence and most surprisingly, given the unique nature, no geological survey of the mine is known. The Lime Works lie on land farmed by the Potts family at Limekiln Farm since circa 1880. Both land and mineral rights of the area have been in the ownership of two distinct estates up to the 20th century. Limekiln Farm and adjacent lands were in the ownership of the Egerton’s, Dukes of Bridgwater, and the Cheshire land owning family of Shakerly-Ackers. It was with cooperation of Mr. Potts that the exploration of the shafts and tunnels took place.

A brief history of Limetone mining can be divided into three phases. Phase 1 was surface working at the northeast end of the site and appears to be the earliest area worked, and when surface working was exhausted due to the increase of cover, the stone was mined directly below the quarry from drawing shafts and a shallow drainage adit. The shafts were driven southeast approximately 150 yards from a stream gully into the limestone, probably circa1750. The works when exhausted are likely to have remained idle for some years, possibly due to the considerable capital investment required to re-site the kilns and to strip surface rock to reveal the limestone for quarrying. In 1805 the powerful industrialist family of Gilberts, agents for the Egerton’s, Dukes of Bridgwater (Lead 1989), took over the Newbold Astbury Limeworks in partnership with the Williamson’s who were related by marriage and were business partners of James Brindley. Three years after the purchase, the limekilns were described as supplying a large district to the south east of the county with this lost valuable commodity. By 1808, Gilbert and Williamson offered the lease to persons able to superintend the whole concern, presumably after development of the big open cut, now the lake. The period 1808 to the 1870s was likely to have been the most profitable phase, due to the low cost of large-scale surface extraction.

The third and final phase of working was a much more ambitious undertaking which involved a large financial investment and the whole infrastructure above ground was rebuilt below Baytree Farm adjacent to the brick and pipe works. A 560-yard long adit level of a section big enough to take horse-drawn wagons was driven from Baytree to the new workings under the quarry (now the lake), with three vertical shafts that drop down onto the level.

The shafts identified by Mr Kirkham and his team were the No. 1 shaft midway up the level collapsed in recent times but is known to have been of square section and brick-lined at the top, 4ft square by 50ft deep. This was clearly an air-shaft, and would have allowed the adit level to be driven both ways. Access to the tunnel was made through No. 2 shaft, nearly 90ft deep by 4ft in diameter may have been driven at a later date, to accommodate a pumping mechanism. The third shaft is 120ft deep by 8ft in diameter, brick-lined to the bottom, and was proved to go deeper by probing. It was probably a pumping sump while double-driving the adit, a theory supported by the direction of the few shot holes to be seen. Having accessed the tunnel and drained the partly flooded section between No. 2 and No. 3 shafts Mr. Kirkham could confirm that the No. 3 shaft was completely blocked with rubbish, including an old motorcar. Mr. Kirkham’s survey established the in-fill to total 16ft or 9ft above the roof of the level. To gain access Mr Eric Potts volunteered to 'haul up the rubbish' with his vintage tractor using a headgear and 300ft of old SRT rope which was duly threaded over the pulley. An escape way was then excavated up through the rubbish and a ladder placed for the bag fillers to descend while winding full bags up. Access beyond the big shaft was made to a major collapse on the Triassic / Lower Limestone unconformity just short of the lake-edge, above the workings. Further exploration was not possible. Further thoughts of digging through into the workings evaporated. The blockage has to be substantial, as the water make throughout is only a gallon per minute.

At the foot of the unusual shaped No. 2 shaft, an equally curious working was discovered by enlarging a small hole in the side of the level, and in line with the curve of the shaft bottom high up in the side of the main pony-level. One hundred feet down at dip-bottom, a small-section, hand-picked level was revealed in the roof, and after much pumping access was gained into a trial. The film detailed the work undertaken to try and gain access to these underground workings.

The tranquil lake which sits on what was a source
of limestone for hundreds of years.

Mr. Roland Machin then thanked Mr. Kirkham for showing the film and then invited the audience to ask questions about the Limestone works and Mr. Kirkham’s experiences underground in the area, including Mow Cop tunnel. Copies of the video and other filmed explorations underground in the area are available by contacting the Society.


Wharf Road, Biddulph- 16/01/2012

A packed Library was welcomed by Mr. Roland Machin, who introduced Mr. Michael Turnock with an illustrated talk on Wharf Road, Biddulph. Mr. Turnock has photographed the changing face of Biddulph over many years but started his talk with some early maps of the Biddulph area.

The 1759 map includes a Ford Farm, sited just behind the now demolished Labour Club, which was one of the few buildings in this area. The field names used reflect how extensively it was used for coal mining and Ford Farm was bought in 1838 by John Bradbury. By 1840 Wharf Road appears as one of the first roads that left the Turnpike Road at Bradley Green (the other being the road now called Station Road). However, by 1876 you walked from the Oddfellows Hall on the High Street past the houses on the left (now Plimbley's Insurance and Mrs. Bailey's house), then past the Yew Tree Farm estate, then past Bradley Green farm with the brickworks behind and on towards Bradbury's Colliery with open countryside towards Mow Cop. Mr. Turnock's favourite early photograph is of the Bradley Green Motorcycle Club in 1913 – with Wharf Road as an unmade track, Yew Tree cottage and in the distance the Oddfellows Hall.

So starting from the present Town Hall on the opposite side of the road is the start of Wharf Road. At the start of the C20th on the right is the Oddfellows Hall built in 1865 as the home of the Oddfellows Society which provided help in times of need for its 1,300 members before the introduction of National Insurance in the 1890s. Originally it had a small stone façade with a lantern but when the newly formed BUDC bought the building in 1896 a new but ugly canopy replaced them to provide shelter for the North Western bus passengers awaiting Service 25 to Congleton. It was renamed the Public Hall and the council offices handled rent collection and rates, and also the registration of births, deaths and marriages. It was used for dances and concerts including skating whilst still being the home of the Library, Food Office and Ambulance station until the Second World War. By the side of the Hall was the entrance to Machin's bake house where the Machin family baked bread for their High Street shop and other shops in the area. Mr. Turnock still remembers the smell of that lovely bread and children eating the corners from the loaf as they walked home. The end of the public hall came in 1969 when it was the demolished, as Mr. Turnock said "the powers of the day deemed regeneration was required for Biddulph".

Re-building started in 1970 on a complex of flats, shops and a supermarket next to the Royal Oak (formerly The Wheel) and the supermarket was originally a Keymarket – then later Gateway, International, Solo, and finally Somerfield. On the left is the Conservative Club built 1907 and funded by Mr. Heath who in 1909 built the Gym which is used today by a martial art group but has been used for dances and other social events for over 100 years. On the left is Plimbley's Insurance, who moved here opposite the Public Hall in the 1960s the house having been the home from 1911 of the Weston family. On the left at the corner of South View, built as homes for the miners at Bradley Green Colliery, is the St. Lawrence Church Hall which was a very popular Sunday School, home of the Ladies Fellowship and one special social event – the Shrove Tuesday Teas. Today it is the home of Saxon Tyres but there is still evidence of the Sunday School and its use between 1930-40 as a clinic where ration books, milk and orange juice were issued and its being the home of the school dentist.

Turning towards the bypass roundabout on the right was Yew Tree House and the adjoining building used before demolition by the Options store. Yew Tree House was a large house with extensive grounds and home to John Bradury, his wife and 7 sons and their many servants. Bradbury was the colliery owner and son William ran the Staffordshire mines whilst his brother John managed the Lancashire interests. In 1875 William died, John took over all the mines but when he retired to Southport, he handed the running of the Collieries to William's son, another John. In 1882 Bradley Green Colliery was sold to Robert Heath but then closed in 1894. Around 1900 John and Annie Heathcote, High Street butchers lived at Yew Tree House with its extensive gardens, pavilion, tennis courts and parkland. A later owner was William Lancaster a developer and builder and another strong Methodist. One feature of the house was the round house used by church ladies for "sewing bees". In later times commercial interests used part of Yew Tree buildings, Barlow's Fireplaces, a fence maker, a furniture restorer, Biddulph timber and blacksmith Peter Shelly.

Behind Yew Tree House was the builder's yard and workshops of John Edwards. Earlier in 1840 nearby was Bradley Green Farm occupied by Simion Walley, a farmer and local Methodist preacher. The farm's name had changed to Yew Tree Farm after the Great War and became the home of John and Emma Haydon and eventually four sons. The farm of 70 acres covered Haydon Park and Wharf Park and they started a haulage company with horse and carts and in the 1920s they started building a fleet of Albion lorries for nationwide cattle moving. Albion House was on the left built to replace Yew Tree Farm in the 1930s.

On the left after the bypass roundabout was the Staffordshire County Council depot followed by the site of the Bradbury's Colliery with its coal wharf. Here the Council kept snow ploughs, dust or ash carts, a steam roller and tar sprayer. In World War II the fire station housed here, along with the Council store and Mortuary. Next was the railway weighbridge and office for the coal wharf and sidings in use between 1915 and 1930. A siding coming from the Biddulph Valley railway allowed coal trains to be shunted into the coal wharf and then local merchants collected coal with horse and cart to deliver in the district.

Before reaching the colliery site on the right was the 3½ acre garden factory of the Emanuel Ice Cream factory where in its heyday 600 galls per day of ice cream was produced. Sadly only a small area of the paddock isn't now covered with houses. The last of the ice cream factory buildings were demolished in 1999 then being the home of Harry Moss Motor Repair. The rails down to the coal wharf have also been removed, probably in the 1930s. Silas Leigh and John Bradbury bought the Bradley Green colliery and some surrounding land in 1838. From the 1820s they already owned 3 collieries in Lancashire, at Clayton. The colliery in Biddulph was known as Bradley Green colliery with four shafts, including the Rover and Boulder. In 1871 the colliery employed 90 men and 30 boys. The site is now flattened but does include a dirt tip which can be seen from the railway bridge which has a track going under the old iron bridge or over the railway track. Further up Wharf Road or Colliery Road from the B.V.R. railway bridge on the right is Whistler's Wood where the old shafts are said to speak.

Next on the right is Woodside Villa once home of the mining engineer, the 32 year old John Gillstaff from Lancashire. A little later, in 1881, it is the home to colliery manager Mr. Chaddock. Further up Colliery road are Woodside cottages again homes for the Bradbury's workers. Wharf Road then stops at Woodside farm but a footpath continues on towards Akesmore Lane.

The final part of Mr. Turnock's talk was a series of photographs showing the most recent change to Biddulph, the demolition of the buildings between the Town Hall and the Relief Road roundabout which are now the new Sainsbury's store and car park.

Mr. Roland Machin thanked Mr. Turnock for his hard work in recording and then creating such an interesting talk on the history and changing face of Biddulph.



Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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