Early Meeting Reports
Where there's a Will - There's a Way - 15th November 2004
The Mow Cop Tunnel and Associated Tramways - 18th October 2004
The Caldon Canal - 20th September 2004
Research Evening - 16th August 2004
An Evening's Walk - the Tramways of Biddulph - 19th July 2004
From the Tower to the Tower: Resources and Repositories of Family History - 21st June 2004
Leek - an Old Silk Town- 17th May 2004
The Working Lives of our Ancestors - 19th April 2004
The History of Chatterley Whitfield - 15th March 2004
North Staffordshire Victorian Soldiers - 16th February 2004
A Miscellany of Anecdotes - 19th January 2004
Family History research using the Internet - 17th November 2003
From the beginning: How I started my Family History - 20th October 2003
Open Meeting - 22nd September 2003
North Staffordshire Villages in the Nineteenth Century - 18th August 2003
An Evening's Walk at Knypersley - 21st July 2003
Mysterious Biddulph and the Moorlands - 16th June 2003
The Golden Age of Stagecoaches - 19th May 2003
Churchyards: The Mystery and Intrigue of Monumental Inscriptions - 28th April 2003
Aspects of Biddulph History - 17th March 2003
Family History Sources - 17th February 2003
An Historical Walk Through Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire - 20th January 2003
The Batemans and Knypersley Hall - 18th November 2002
Where there’s a Will - There’s a Way - 15/11/2004
Thirty members turned out on a wet and miserable night to listen to Cath Walton of Leek Historical Society. Her talk was entitled, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” As usual, Cath provided a detailed and informative discussion, of use to both the local historian and the genealogist.
Cath began by discussing the subtle differences between a ‘will’ and a ‘testament’. The former being a document that sets out a person’s wishes as to the disposal of his or her property after death. A ‘testament’ bequeathed personal property. Early wills were also concerned with the fate of the ‘soul’ and the disposal of the body of the person making the will!
The majority of those making wills were wealthy, although those of moderate wealth, especially in rural, farming communities such as Biddulph, also made wills. For married women up until 1882, the situation was somewhat different. Married women could not by law own property. Their possessions were considered to belong to their husbands and, therefore, they could not make a will.
One of the main benefits of studying a will, is that of confirming or acknowledging relationships. They can also shed light on business relationships and dealings and also help to locate properties and family homes. Before 1750, wills often included an inventory listing possessions and values.
Cath considered briefly the problems associated with the study of wills. In addition to the legal definitions and jargon, the handwriting styles were very different and it can take a while for the reader to adjust to the styles.
The complicated process of tracking down wills was then covered, with Cath drawing on her own experiences at Lichfield Record Office.
Finally, we were shown a number of Biddulph wills to help reinforce the points made. The examples covered a large time span - from that of Richard Toft 1573, to an inventory of 1665 of William Fenton’s farm at Wickenstones, and to letters of administration granted to James Beech in 1843. All were fascinating. Of especial interest was the frequency of surnames still present in the town today - such as Cumberbatch, Winkle and Garside.
The Mow Cop Tunnel and Associated Tramways - 18/10/2004
Mr. Jim Worgan’s talk on “The Mow Cop Tunnel and Associated Tramways”, filled the library to capacity. All chairs were taken and staff had to turn away late arrivals as there just wasn’t enough room!
The route of the tramway was from Stonetrough colliery, via Towerhill colliery, to Mow Cop, and the tunnel, and then via a more or less straight and steep descent to the wharf on the Macclesfield canal at Kent Green. On the Staffordshire side wagons on the tramway were horse-drawn, but on the Cheshire side - from the tunnel mouth all the way down to the canal - rope haulage was used. The weight of the coal-laden descending wagons being used to haul empty wagons up the hill. The difference between the weights of descending and ascending loads was counteracted by a brake which operated on the drum round which the haulage rope was wound.
Mr. Worgan began his talk by describing the view of Mow Cop from his office window. It’s rugged landscape had always fascinated him. He happened to come across notes on a social history walk around Mow Cop given by Mr Andrew Dobraszczyc. Accompanying the notes was a copy of the 1900 Ordnance Survey map. This clearly showed a tunnel under Mow Cop. With the help of fellow enthusiasts including Len Kirkham and Big Dave, he became determined to find out as much as possible. Unfortunately, Big Dave has since died, and it is to his memory, that Mr Worgan has dedicated this talk.
The talk took the form of a ‘walk’ - starting at Stonetrough colliery and following the public footpath. Slides showed the raised embankment, all that remains of the tramway from Stonetrough to Towerhill. Brickworks also used to exist close to the Towerhill colliery and Mr Worgan suggested that this could have supplied the bricks used to line the tunnel. A slide of the Grade II listed building at Towerhill created some discussion as to whether this had been the engine house, engineering workshops or even possibly stables. The news, that the building now appears to be undergoing restoration, was met favourably by the audience. Over the road from this building exists a farm - also undergoing major restoration. This was once the weighbridge and office. Mr Worgan had been told that this was where the men received their wages. From here the tramway ascended towards Mow Cop to the entrance to the tunnel on the Staffordshire side of Mow Cop - a little above the Ash Inn. A number of slides showed the entrance. It had been blocked up and was well hidden by undergrowth.
Removing the 5000 tons of water that had collected in the tunnel was a hazardous and difficult job. The water was to within 6ft of the roof. The tunnel was 7ft 9in wide and high and is approximately 400 yards in length. The summit is roughly two thirds from the entrance and at this point, there is a strange, circular construction about 20ft across. Much discussion followed at this point as to the purpose of this construction. Was it for turning the waggons round, rotating rails so that wear could be evened out, turning the horses about or simply to accommodate difficult ground encountered during the tunnel’s construction?
Mr. Worgan skilfully introduced other sources of evidence such as entries in school log books showing accidents on the tramway involving pupils and also indentures. The other vital source of information, oral history was not neglected. Memories of great grandparents’ tales of the tunnel and tramway, reiterated by Mow Cop residents, prove useful in attempting to date when the tramway was still in existence. There are numerous tales of schoolchildren at Castle and Woodcock Wells being able to put their heads down on their desks and to be able to hear the noise of the tramway underground.
The tunnel’s exit on the Cheshire side of Mow Cop was also explored. The walk then descended down through the fields, following the line of the tramway to the wharf at Kent Green, via Brake Village.
A lively and stimulating question and answer session followed. It is however impossible in these minutes to do justice to Mr Worgan’s fascinating talk. Interested members are highly recommended to purchase the excellent video produced about the Mow Cop Tunnel. Copies can still be obtained from ’Chapter One’, High Street, Biddulph, and from Mow Cop Post Office.
The Caldon Canal - 20/09/2004
The evening’s speaker was Mr John Eaves, who gave an interesting talk on “The Caldon Canal” to an audience of approximately 25 members and guests.
The Caldon Canal was built as a branch of the cross country Trent and Mersey canal. It meets the Trent and Mersey at Etruria - the start of Mr Eaves’ illustrated talk.
Fed by water from Rudyard, Stanley and Knypersley reservoirs, the canal winds it’s way through seventeen and a half miles of Staffordshire countryside, from the heart of the Potteries through to Froghall.
In 1962, British Waterways wanted to close the derelict canal. As a result of this, the Caldon Canal Society was formed to fight for improvements and to keep the branch open. With the help of government grants, other societies and volunteer help, the canal has been restored to its present glory.
Mr Eaves had many slides from the 1950s and 1960s showing life alongside the canal and the people who worked on it. Many bottle kilns had remained along the canal up until the 1950s. There were slides of the long-gone J&G Meakin and Johnson works. Those remaining today are due for demolition to make way for an extension to the ring road and housing developments. As the talk progressed from the Potteries conurbation, the slides started to change to stunning countryside views. Undoubtedly, the canal today brings areas of peace and tranquillity to the urban landscape and must be a haven for wildlife.
Mr Eaves skill with the camera has produced a series of the most beautiful scenes of Staffordshire countryside. They make it easy to see why, at the height of the tourist season, an average of 200 boats per week leave from Etruria to journey along the Caldon - a canal which boasts a staircase lock, drawbridges, an aquaduct and tunnels, in addition to breathtaking scenery.
Social and Research Evening - 16/08/2004
The Society held an informal Social and Research meeting this evening. About 25 members and guests met to look at the information relating to local and family history held at the library. There were a number of maps and directories available to view, in addition to census material and local parish registers. Computers were also available, with Irene on hand to help, with access to a variety of genealogical sites.
Some members brought in old photographs. These created a lively discussion as to where and when some of them had been taken! Mr Wheelhouse also had available the collection of old photographs which he hopes to be able to use in the next book. These were all scanned into his laptop.
An Evening’s Walk - the Tramways of Biddulph - 19/07/2004
Despite the decidedly inclement weather nearly 40 members and friends assembled in the Staffordshire Moorlands Supplementary Revenue Facility, formerly known as Wharf Road Car Park, before embarking on Mr. Derek Wheelhouse’s guided walk round some of the sites of the old coal-mine tramways in the area. The tramways in question are:
A) the Stonetrough tramway (ca. 1805), from Stonetrough Colliery to Congleton Moss. This crossed the dip of Biddulph Road, went over the fields to go behind ‘Welsh Row’, across Tower Hill Road, up onto Congleton Edge, across the road, and then, via a long descent reached a coal wharf in Moss Road, the site of which is now occupied by a garden centre. In descending from the Edge the tramway crossed Mow Lane, not too far above the Horseshoe pub.
B) the Falls tramway (ca. 1808) was in two parts, the first linking Top Falls (near Moody Street farm), Falls (Falls farm) and Lower Falls (approximately where Biddulph Station was) Collieries. The second part enabled coal to be taken from the main Falls Colliery to a coal wharf located on Congleton Edge road. This tramway had an average gradient of 1-in-10!
C) the Tower Hill tramway (1832) linked Stonetrough and Tower Hill Collieries to the Macclesfield Canal at Dales Green. This tramway went via the Tower Hill weigh house before turning left through 90 degrees and heading, in an almost straight line for Mow Cop, where a right turn took it to the mouth of the tunnel about 100 yards above the Ash Inn. From the exit of the tunnel, on the Cheshire side of Mow Cop, there was an almost straight and steep descent to the wharf on the canal at Dales Green. The wharf buildings are now occupied by Wharf Plumbing.
On leaving the car park the group walked to the bypass and then along Wharf Road to the course of the railway, and from there across the fields to Akesmore Lane. The first site of note was Yew Tree House, directly opposite to the car park entrance. Yew Tree House was formerly the home of the Bradbury’s - owners of Bradley Green Colliery, whose coal wharf gave rise to the road’s name. As the group made it’s away across the fields the scene of 1950s opencast activity and the locations of various pit shafts were pointed out.
From Akesmore Lane the wet and bedraggled party walked to the site of Tower Hill Colliery, and the famed "engine house". In fact, as Mr. Wheelhouse explained, the building, parts of which are still just about standing, used to house stores, stables and a saddlery, and never housed an engine at all. At this point the Tower Hill tramway crossed Biddulph Road.
A short walk into the dip of Biddulph Road took us to the point where the Stonetrough Tramway crossed the road. To the left is a footpath which leads to the site of Stonetrough Colliery, the starting point for both Stonetrough and Tower Hill tramways. The intrepid band however took the footpath to the right for a yomp across the fields using the track-bed of the Stonetrough tramway, up past the site of Welsh Row, until Tower Hill road was reached. In taking this route the point at which the Stonetrough tramway was crossed by the Tower Hill tramway, en route to Mow Cop, was easily seen.
From Tower Hill Road the party walked to, and then along, Congleton Edge Road. In so doing a number of the tramway’s stone blocks were noted, having been incorporated into dry stone walls. Near the junction with Mow Lane the party were able to look on the Cheshire side of the Edge where the formation of the Stonetrough tramway is clearly visible.
Return to base-camp was via the footpath which commences at Well House Farm, down the fields to Akesmore Lane, noting on the way remains of Falls Colliery. Unfortunately recent changes of land ownership have made surviving tracts of the Falls tramway inaccessible. However the North Staffordshire Railway Study Group, currently researching this very subject, added to existing photographic records earlier this year.
Despite the weather, not too many walkers dropped out, although the numerous stiles on the route certainly stretched out the party. Mr. Wheelhouse’s knowledge of the subject was very much to the fore and we are indebted to him for preparing this very interesting excursion; but better weather for Part Two would be most welcome.
From the Tower to the Tower: Resources and Repositories of Family History - 21/06/2004
The evening’s audience was much depleted due to the football match between England and Croatia. Only 12 members made it to the library to listen to Mrs Vacky Noble’s talk entitled “From The Tower to the Tower : Resources and Repositories of Family History”.
Mrs Noble has a family history that the majority of us can only dream of. By sharing a branch of her ancestry with us she was able to show us briefly the sources of information that she had used - a breathtaking array of manuscripts and documents found in places that many have heard of but are unlikely to ever visit. Places such as the Bodleian Library of Oxford and the Guildhall Library of London.
The story started at the Tower of London with State Domestic Papers of 1714 - indicating that an ancestor held an important position within the Tower. The tale drifted between London and Ireland. Family Historians are always told that Irish records are very difficult to locate. However, Mrs Noble proved that with determination much could be found. One piece of information - a map resulting from a survey of the estate held by an ancestor in Ireland and showing the extent of the lands and naming the tenants - had appeared in an old book about the area. This reminded me of the information gleaned by Mr Wheelhouse, from material attributed to the late Mr Biddulph, who had used the Rev. J. Wilson’s diaries in his unpublished history of Biddulph. These were surveys of the inhabitants of Biddulph Parish in 1779 and 1801. Although the original information no longer survives it has been preserved in a secondary source. Mrs Noble stressed the importance of looking for information in as many and varied sources as possible in order to confirm facts.
Tantalising clues found in an ancestors will, led Mrs Noble to discover an ancestor who was a poet and philanthropist. One poem written by her ancestor told of his early years and upbringing, of how his mother had died giving birth to him on board a boat crossing the Irish Sea during a storm. The same storm resulted in the death of his nurse. Facts that remain preserved in poetry and may otherwise have never been discovered. There were also tales of robbery, lost portraits and even suicide.
The tale started in THE Tower, but finished in the tower situated in the grounds of her workplace - where she met her husband!
Leek - an Old Silk Town - 17/05/2004
About 20 members attended Mr. Ray Poole’s, talk entitled “Leek - an old Silk Town”, the good weather no doubt keeping the numbers down. But those who weren’t able to attend were the losers in that Mr. Poole, from Leek Historical Society, gave a most informative and comprehensive talk on Leek’s development, from the days of Dieulacres Abbey, to the development of the silk industry, and coming more or less up to the present day.
Leek’s origins were very much as a market town, going back to 1208 when King John granted the town its Market Charter. Following that came the period when Dieulacres Abbey was influential. The abbey was originally founded in 1158 at Poulton in Cheshire but was moved to Leek in 1214 to a site to the north of the town, beside the River Churnet. The abbey dominated trade from 1214 until Dissolution in 1539, and subsequent demolition. The stones were used elsewhere and thus few traces now remain.
Perhaps Leek’s next claim to fame was as the home of the Parker Family who live at No. 2 Church Street. In 1666 Thomas Parker was born - ‘Silver-tongued Parker’ - who became MP for Derby (1705-1718). Subsequently he became Lord Chief Justice (1710), Lord Parker of Macclesfield (1716) and the Earl of Macclesfield (1721), before falling foul of the law, being found guilty of fraud in 1725, for which he was fined £30,000, and from which he never recovered. He died in 1732.
Mr. Poole then took us on a street-by-street tour of the town - Church Street, Derby Street, Stockwell Street and St. Edward’s Street (which Edward Pevsner described as Leek’s finest street). Mr. Poole had previously explained that the Leek Improvement Act of 1855 had defined the area of responsibility for the Leek Improvement Commissioners, as being a circle of 1,500 yards radius whose centre was the Market Place lamp-post - giving rise to a circular town! Prominent residents of Stockwell Street included Henry Bermingham and Sir Thomas Wardle who was prominently involved with William Morris’s work in the 1870s. Stockwell Street was characterised by the ‘big houses’ on one side and the homes of the silk workers on the other.
In 1849 William Sugden (b. 1821 in Keighley) came to Leek. He was an architect and his work on the design of the stations for the Churnet Valley Railway brought him to the area. In the following year William’s son, Larner Sugden, was born. After schooling in Yorkshire, Larner returned to Leek in 1866 to be apprenticed to his father as an architect, and thus was formed the famous Sugden & Son (Architects), whose influence on the town was to be profound. The firm had offices in Derby Street. The building still survives, the ground floor now being occupied by Boots the Chemist. Larner was a great supporter of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and so Leek’s development was in sympathetic hands. It was through the S.P.A.B. that Larner Sugden also came into contact with William Morris.
The architectural output from Sugden & Son was both prolific and varied. Mr. Poole showed numerous slides which illustrated this point well. Some of the buildings designed by the Sugden’s are as follows: the Congregational Church with its 130 foot spire, (now Trinity Church), built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style (1863), Myatt’s Mill in Earl Street (1864), Mill Street Methodist Chapel and Ragged School (1870), the Cottage Hospital, in memory of silk manufacturer James Allsop (1871), their own houses in Queen Street, complete with monograms for William, Larner, and for Larner’s French wife (1877), West Street School (extended in 1881), the District Bank, which exhibits a strong Richard Norman Shaw influence (1882) and the Leonard Street Police Station in Scottish Baronial style (1891). This last was probably the last joint venture of the father-and-son team because William Sugden died in 1892.
The Sugden masterpiece was, perhaps, the Nicholson Institute, built in the Queen Anne style, in 1882. The fact that this building is tucked away behind the 17th century ‘Greystones’ is a further indication of Larner’s regard for old buildings. Larner would not countenance demolition of the old building, and so, as the Nicholson’s owned the land to the rear, that is where the Institute was built. Larner cleverly incorporated the busts of Shakespeare, Newton, Reynolds and Tennyson into the building representing 400 years of artistic and scientific achievement from the 16th to the 19th century and embracing literature, science, art and poetry.
In 1899 came the Technical Schools and the Co-operative Society Hall.
Mr. Poole then covered the development of the silk industry showing workers houses in London Street and Fountain Street complete with the well-windowed ‘shades’ in the shared attics which housed the looms which provided work for several families. The large mills of the major manufacturers, the Berminghams, the Broughs, Wardle & Davenport, Brough, Nicholson and Hall, and so on, also featured. The silk manufacturing process was illustrated with scenes of spinning, reeling and weaving, including the big Jacquard looms, which were capable of the finest work, the very noisy ‘braiding sheds’ and finally the cardboard box making sheds, the boxes being used for shipping the finished products.
The decline of the industry came in the 1960s with cheap foreign imports and various takeovers taking their toll. Fire was also seen to be a hazard - both the Clemesha and the Bermingham Mills suffering this fate.
In the lively question-and answer session that followed the conclusion of the talk mention was made of the achievements of Sir Thomas Wardle. Thomas, the son of Joshua Wardle, developed a process for dying Tusser silk - the finest quality raw silk from India. Thus he was credited with almost single-handedly saving the Indian silk industry, and this feat contributed significantly to his knighthood. Thomas’s tetchy working relationship with William Morris was also brought out - but they nevertheless had a great mutual respect and liking for each other, illustrated by several visits made by Morris to the Wardle country residence at Swainsley Hall.
Mr. Poole had presented a very full and most interesting story and we are indebted to him for his first-class talk.
The Working Lives of our Ancestors - 19/04/2004
The evening’s talk was given by retired Factories Inspector, Mr Alan Jones.
Legislation to improve the lot of the working population from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution up until the mid-twentieth century was the core of Mr Jones talk. Many occupations including agriculture, mining and textiles, were considered.
Initially, most people worked, in some form or another, within their own home, especially within the textile industry. With the Industrial Revolution there was a shift from home working to factory working and with this shift came many problems. The first Act to be passed was the 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, aimed at protecting children caught within the apprentice system. Usually orphaned or poor, these children were a source of cheap labour. Living in overcrowded, mixed-sex dormitories, moral safety was the only concern of the governing classes. Although the act did improve their working hours and provided them with some clothing, it’s chief priority was their religious and moral well-being. Enforcement was placed in the hands of the J.P and clergy, who were not paid for this task - thus the Act was a failure. In 1819 The Regulation of Cotton Mills and Factories Act followed. This was an attempt to bring those children employed not as apprentices under the same controls as the 1802 act. The Truck Acts of 1831, 1887, 1896 and 1940 were aimed at preventing the practice of many employers to pay part of the wages in goods or tokens redeemable only in the owner’s shop. People could be paid in part with cloth, flour for example, which was often of poor standard and adulterated. The Truck Acts required wages to be paid in the coin of the realm.
It was not until 1833, with the Act to Regulate the Labour of Children and Young Persons in Mills and Factories, that the Government took enforcement seriously. This Act led to the appointment of four Inspectors by the King.
The Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 showed that the overriding concerns were of the worker’s moral welfare and not his safety. It was discovered that young women working underground were usually scantily clad and working in very close proximity to the opposite sex. Thus the Act prohibited the employment of women and young children underground. Again the law was poorly enforced with small fines being of little deterrent.
The 1844 Factories Act ensured an improvement in the education of children from 8 to 13years. It also brought in safety requirements for some machines. The 1847 Factory Act was also known as the ‘Ten Hours Act’ - limiting the working day to ten hours for women and young persons. 1867 saw a rash of legislation, mainly aimed at bringing many of the newly developed industries within the scope of the 1844 Act. The 1867 Agricultural Gangs Act was in response to the dreadful conditions endured by groups of women and children, who were shifted from farm to farm by unscrupulous Gang Masters. They worked long hard hours for very poor pay, having to walk miles each day. The Act stipulated that no child under the age of 8 could be employed, that the sexes were to be separated and the Gang Masters must be licensed.
The 1872 Coal Mines Regulations Act and the 1875 and 1923 Explosives Acts were more concerned with the safety of the workforce and were a response to the many mining accidents and disasters that occurred yearly. In 1878, with the passing of the Threshing Machines Act the safety of agricultural machinery became a priority and enforcement was placed in the hands of the local Constable.
As we became a nation of shopkeepers, the 1886 Shops Acts applied regulations to the employment of under 18s, but with little regard to working conditions and safety. It wasn’t until the 1901 Factory and Workshops Act that safety and conditions began to be scrutinized. This was a milestone Act, which also covered building sites and docks. By the successive Acts in 1937, 1948, 1959 and 1961, many new requirements were enforced. These still hold good today and form the
basis of much of the Health and Safety requirements that we take for granted.
Over time, parliament has taken a ‘piecemeal’ approach to legislation - acting in response to public concerns and accidents over time. Even today, it still takes a disaster and the loss of human life to prompt action - the cockle pickers of Morecambe Bay being a prime example.
The talk, which was extremely interesting and informative, was followed by a lively ‘question and answer’ session.
The History of Chatterley Whitfield - 15/03/2004
Mr Jim Worgan addressed an audience of about 45 members and guests on the history of Chatterley Whitfield colliery. Mr. Worgan began by briefly discussing the thirty-two years he has spent in the mining industry, mainly as a ‘pen pusher’. His career culminated in the position of curator at the Chatterley Whitfield mining museum, which came to an abrupt end in 1993 with the museum’s closure. Today, however, he maintains close links with the Chatterley Whitfield site through the ‘Friends of Chatterley Whitfield’, a group that is determined to work towards the restoration and regeneration of the site.
The history of mining on the site, which technically should be referred to as ‘Whitfield’ at this point, goes back many hundreds of years. There is mention of coal in documents dating back to 1348. In 1750, a carter from Burslem was recorded as ‘going to Whitfield to purchase coal’. By 1863 there were three shafts on site and by 1871 the owners were the ‘Chatterley Iron Company’. Mr Worgan discussed the need for sidings to be built in Tunstall. As Whitfield is built on a ridge between two valleys there was little land to build on adjacent to the colliery. In 1873 the Managing Director, Mr C.J. Homer was keen to expand the colliery and by 1874 two new shafts, the ‘Institute’ and ‘Laura’ had been sunk. Mr. Homer felt that the Company should concentrate on developing small shafts on the periphery whilst the other directors felt that development should be concentrated on Whitfield. The upshot being that Mr. Homer left.
An explosion in 1881 destroyed the ‘Laura’ shaft and seriously damaged the ‘Institute’, as well as killing 24 men and boys. Twenty-two bodies still remain underground. This led to the Company going into administration, although the colliery continued to survive.
By 1899 the site was under the management of the ‘Chatterley Whitfield Company’ and was thriving. In excess of 950,000 tons of coal was being produced annually. Despite problems with ventilation and shaft capacity in the early twentieth century, by 1930 at least 4000 men were employed, and in 1936, Chatterley Whitfield became the first colliery to produce one million tons of coal per year. In 1938 the pithead baths opened, at a charge of only 6d per week although not all miners took advantage of the baths - a few preferring to take a tin bath in front of the fire at home. Once a month!
By 1947, the colliery was part of the National Coal Board. Then decline set in, closure coming in 1976. This was followed by the development of a museum on the site, staffed by ex-miners. Visitors numbered between 65,000 and 72,000 per year. (I was one of those visitors! I can remember going down in the cage and feeling frightened, wondering how on earth my Grandfather and Uncles had coped with the darkness, the dirt and the claustrophobic atmosphere).
With the closure of Wolstanton in 1986, the underground section of the Museum had to close, although visitors could experience a ‘trip underground’ via a specially constructed ‘shaft’ on the surface, using the redundant railway cuttings which had accommodated the sidings leading up to the ‘screens’. Financial difficulties led to the closure of the Museum in 1993. Many of the buildings on the site are now in a state of disrepair and many mining artefacts have disappeared.
However, the site has been scheduled as an Ancient Monument by English Heritage and at present a scheme is in the pipeline to restore it.
Mr Worgan explained that the ‘Friends of Chatterley Whitfield’ liked to give talks about the colliery in order to help keep the memory of Chatterley Whitfield alive.
It was also announced at the meeting that the society now has a a new Treasurer as Trisha Hempstead has kindly volunteered to take on the role. Brian has produced a financial statement of the accounts. We need to thank Brian for all the hard work he has put into being Treasurer since the Society was formed and wish him a speedy recovery.
North Staffordshire Victorian Soldiers - 16/02/2004
About 45 members and guests attended this month’s meeting - the topic being “North Staffordshire Victorian Soldiers”. The guest speaker was Mr Ken Reay, assisted by Mr Gwilym Roberts. Together they have spent the last ten years searching through old newspapers and other material to trace soldiers from the North Staffordshire area who served in the great wars of the Victorian period. Along with a few other people also interested in this area of military history, they have
formed the ‘North Staffordshire Victorian Military History and Research Society’ - their aims being to find as many nineteenth century local soldiers as possible and to research their lives.
One of the group’s earlier attempts at research was as a result of a memorial in a Cheadle churchyard. The memorial was to a ‘Captain Blood’. The result of this research was that descendents of Captain Blood were traced and a rededication service was held at the church for at least 80 people.
Mr Reay discussed cases of local soldiers in the Crimean, Zulu, Boer and even the American Civil, wars.
The group has produced an index of soldiers from the area from 1730 to 1902, which has been deposited at the Local History Reference library. The group have also conducted a study entitled ‘Letters from the ranks’ - which includes 350 letters from local Staffordshire and Cheshire men.
Sources used for research have primarily been the local newspapers - contemporary accounts and also obituaries. The Staffordshire Regiment and Museum and also the Public Record Office have been additional sources.
The talk was fascinating - Mr Reay is obviously extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject. He addressed the Society attired in the battle dress of a British soldier of the Zulu wars. Mr Reay and Mr Roberts had also gone to much trouble to set up a wonderful display of the soldiers researched and the wars in which they were involved and they even included a display of weapons.
I’m sure that many people went home wondering if any of their ancestors had been involved in any of the Victorian wars and felt spurred on to find out more.
The library has purchased the CD containing ‘Letters from the Ranks’. It is available for members to view, in the library, during normal library hours.
A Miscellany of Anecdotes - 19/01/2004
Despite the dreadful weather, over 40 members and guests attended the meeting. Mr John Sherratt gave a talk on the Victoria Colliery up to 1940. In addition to this topic, Mr Sherratt followed with a discussion on ‘dialect’.
The first part of the evening’s talk consisted primarily of slides of Victoria and other local mines. They included slides of photos from the 1920s of many North Staffs pits - the original photos have long since disappeared, but due to Mr Sherratt’s interest in local history, he surreptitiously took copies of the originals whilst working as a miner! Anecdotes interspersed the slides - for example, the tale of his Grandfather’s death as a result of an accident in ‘Bowling Alley’ in 1910. The poor man was taken up to Biddulph Moor on a cart via Gutter Lane. By the time the Doctor arrived, there was nothing that could be done to save his life. The inquest was held at the ‘Rose and Crown’.
Some of the slides were of the engines and winding gear. I feel sure that Mr Sherratt was exaggerating a little when he said that the brakes could be heard in Congleton. In an attempt to prove his theory he did add sound effects to his talk and we were able to hear the noise of the Victoria winder and brakes. Again, these were recordings made by Mr Sherratt while he was working as a miner.
As for dialect, Mr Sherratt played a tape recording of people recalling memories of Mow Cop, Harriseahead, the Potteries and the Audley area. Some tales had a religious theme while others were humourous. The farming tales in particular had most of the audience ‘crying’ with laughter; stories of two-handed saws being required to cut ‘chonnocks’, pit ponies having to negotiate parsnips - underground(!!), and a farmer assuring his friend that his wife taking a bath in front of the pair of them wouldn’t be a problem: “dunner werry, shay wunner splesh thee”.
Finally, Mr Sherratt had brought along a number of old newspapers and mining books for members to look through.
Once again a thoroughly entertaining talk, delivered in an inimitable style.
Family History research using the Internet - 17/11/2003
“Family History research using the internet” was the title of the talk given by Mr Bill Harrison. About thirty members and guests braved a wet and windy night to listen to Mr Harrison, who is well known for his work on computers and genealogy.
The first point that Bill made was that the information available on the Net to family historians is vast and that his talk would concentrate on exploring the more ‘traditional’ sources. This included civil registration. We were shown UK BMD - which is based on original Registry Office entries. This compares with ‘Free BMD’ and ‘1837 online’ which are based on the G.R.O. indexes, which are compiled from Registry Office returns, and which may not be as accurate or may lack information appearing on the original entry. For Parish information, ‘Family Search’ and the National Burial index (N.B.I.) were discussed.
Bill kindly took us to the ‘Hugh Wallis’ site, which provides a search facility for use with the International Genealogical Index (I.G.I.). This allows you to search by area - a very useful site and one that I shall certainly be trying out.
There are numerous sites devoted to Workhouses and the Poor Law Union, court records, military records and even Monumental Inscriptions. Census records for 1901 and 1881 are of course now on the Net. Cheshire Wills online was brought up on the screen for us all to see. Bill ran through the process of searching for relevant wills and answered queries asked by members of the audience. County Archive sites were considered - it was pointed out that these sites also contained many useful links to other relevant sites. Even some trade directories can now be accessed through the Net.
Another very important area to consider is the ‘mailing list’. Bill recommended ‘Rootsweb’ where there are mailing lists linked to surnames, counties and even occupations to name a few. Having used mailing lists myself, I can vouch for their effectiveness. You can soon discover links around the globe!
Also discussed were the free downloadable programmes - such as ‘Parish Locator’, Legacy 4 and PAF, for recording your family trees - and the The Gazetteer of British Place Names - all of which are very useful for family historians.
Bill finished his talk with a thought provoking comment: “Remember the only thing restricting you on the Internet is YOUR lateral thinking!”
A lively ‘question and answer’ session followed along with a debate on the ‘down side’ of so much personal information being freely available...... Especially if you happen to have a murky and mysterious past!
From the beginning: How I started my Family History - 20/10/2003
About 45 members and guests attended the meeting - the topic being “Researching your Family History”, with Mr David Johnson of Cheshire Family History Society.
Although Mr Johnson had no surviving parents or grandparents to question when he commenced his family history, he was able to glean details from a Great Uncle. A surviving Great Aunt was not so keen to ‘divulge’ information. This made Mr Johnson even more determined to find out about his family roots!
Mr Johnson outlined the sources he has used - from trawling through Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts, to the Genral register Office (GRO), Census Returns and the pitfalls of using the Internet and the International Genealogical Index (IGI), produced by the Mormon Church.
The talk was interesting and informative, not only for those taking their first steps in family history research but also for those more experienced members. It was reassuring to know that I’m not the only one to have followed the wrong family for a number of generations convinced that they were "mine" - only to discover later that I was wrong!
Mr Johnson’s research has led him to believe that everyone will eventually come across one or more of six family characteristics: illiteracy, illegitimacy, insanity, wealth and fortune, fame and criminality.
Methods of collating and recording information - with examples from numerous ring binders and a huge roll of wallpaper detailing half of his pedigree were then discussed.
Finally, Mr Johnson, who is the ‘Bookstall and Events Co-ordinator’ for the Cheshire Family History Society briefly looked at books available to purchase on the bookstall.
Mr. Tony Bonson also spoke briefly about his recent publication ‘Driven by the Dane’ which covers nine centuries of waterpower in South Cheshire and North Staffordshire.
Open Meeting - 22/09/2003
This month’s meeting was the first ‘open meeting’ to be held by the Society. About 30 members and guests came along to browse through the library’s collection of local history material. In addition, there was a display and the computers were also in use.
Census material, Directories, Sale Records and the schedule and copy of the 1840 Tithe Map were all out for viewing. Various local and family history sites were available to view on the computers. A display of articles - some from as far away as New Zealand highlighted the importance of our own website - linking members with the same surname interests and helping and advising people requesting help. There was also an article written by member Valerie Pike entitled “Strokes of Luck”, which was enjoyed by many. Member Betty Machin, who is also Chair of BMFHS had kindly sent in details of their meetings and copies of their newsletters.
The evening was also a good opportunity for members to discuss ongoing projects.
North Staffordshire Villages in the Nineteenth Century - 18/08/2003
Around 30 members and guests were present to listen to Mr Tony Philips of Keele University give his talk on “North Staffordshire Villages in the Nineteenth Century”.
Mr Philips began by discussing the areas under consideration - mainly parishes to the west of the Potteries conurbation - Madeley, Betley, Keele, Whitmore, Maer and Audley and the different means of measuring their growth throughout the nineteenth century. Factors such as population growth, housing density, land ownership, economy and population density were considered.
Mr Philips outlined national trends - that the rural population experienced growth from the early 1800s until 1861 /71 when the trend reversed. By 1871 there was a general trend of outmigration of the young from rural areas.
After discussing work by Denis Mills, who proposes that the development of a rural parish can be linked to a number of factors that determine whether they are ‘closed’ or ‘open’, Mr Philips applied this theory to his chosen parishes. The theory failed in many cases although a pattern could be seen to emerge linked to land ownership. Where a parish had a small number of landowners owning the majority of the land, and where the major landowner was not resident in that parish and where there was coal or other minerals available for development - then that parish experienced rapid growth. Madeley fell into this category perfectly.
On the other hand, where the main landowner was resident in a parish then ‘nimbyism’ came into play, even to the extent of demolishing houses in an attempt to dissuade the ‘working’ classes from moving in! In these cases, the population failed to grow and the parish remained predominantly agricultural. Maer fitted this scenario well.
Mr Philips then introduced data for the parishes of Biddulph, Horton, Endon, Norton, Rushton Spencer and Rushton James, and applied the same theory. Much lively discussion ensued especially between Mr Wheelhouse and Mr Gibson. It was decided that Biddulph was a little different to other parishes under consideration. The old landowners such as the Bowyers and Mainwarings had sold out to the ‘new’ type of landowner - the entrepreneur with an industrial background - who maybe came
into the parish with the intention of making money, but then yearned to be the ‘country squire’! Many questions were raised and the feeling amongst members was that Biddulph and the surrounding parishes could now be viewed in a different light. Mr Philips talk provided us with much ‘food for thought’.
An Evening’s Walk at Knypersley - 21/07/2003
Despite the day being wet and miserable (a typical first day of the school holidays), the evening turned out to be perfect for another of Brian Nightingale’s informative walks. Powder blue sky and gentle evening sunlight were ideal conditions for the three mile walk undertaken by about 35 members and guests - some of whom had travelled from Nottingham after seeing details on our web page.
Although Knypersley is not Brian’s usual ‘stomping’ ground, it was clear that he had researched the area thoroughly and he provided us with many facts and figures - not only with regard to the history of the area but also the fauna and flora.
We started our walk from the visitor centre car park where Brian discussed the Greenway Bank Estate, bought round about 1780 by Hugh Henshall. Later it was to pass into the hands of the Batemans and in the 1870s was bought by Robert Heath. We walked through the arboretum, laid out in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. After taking in the view of Mow Cop, the former Victoria Colliery and Newchapel Church, we descended to the Serpentine. This was built in 1783 as a canal feeder. In spring, the area is famed for it’s marvellous show of bluebells.
The walk progressed past the dam and on to Knypersley reservoir, built by Hugh Henshall in 1827 as the Serpentine was found to be inadequate as a canal feeder. Close to the old bridge, used by carriages coming from Biddulph Grange via Woodhouse Lane and Tinker’s Clough is a former fish hatchery. We soon came to the Warders Tower, built in 1828. This has now been sold to the Landmark Trust who plan to convert it into holiday accommodation. Following the leat - constructed
to supply water to the Serpentine - we walked on to the waterfall.
No trip to Knypersley Pool is complete without a visit to Gawton’s Stone and Well. At this point, history and folklore mix and Brian ran through all the tales linked to both features! From here it was back to Knypersley Reservoir and then on to the road and uphill back to the car park.
Thank you Brian for a super evening. I’m sure that all who took part are already looking forward to next year’s walk!
Mysterious Biddulph and the Moorlands - 16/06/2003
The talk by Doug Pickford on Mysterious Biddulph and the Moorlands entertained about 30 members and guests.
Mr Pickford has been a journalist in the area for many years. One of his interests is that of ‘folk lore’ - of which the Staffordshire Moorlands abounds. He feels that much of local folk lore is still to be rediscovered. To attempt to cover in these notes all of Mr Pickford’s fascinating talk would be foolish, as much was discussed, so only the main points are covered here.
Mr Pickford began by whisking us back to October 31st 1963, when as a young reporter on the Wilmslow Advertiser he was despatched to Alderley Edge, along with a photographer to report on the strange ‘goings on’ up on the Edge. This resulted in him witnessing the crowning of the ‘witch of the North’ - who from her vantage point on ‘Stormy Point’ surveyed her domain - which included, of course, Biddulph! This led to a discussion of a ‘wise woman’, which his great aunt Hannah Pickford claimed to be - with an ability to heal using ‘old fashioned’ remedies. At a recent talk by Mr Pickford at a Moorlands village, a lady in the audience told of her experience with such a ‘wise woman’. She was suffering from a severe sore throat and was taken to the village ‘wise woman’ who recommended that she put a live frog, wrapped in a handkerchief down her throat for a little while. This her mother did and the lady still has nightmares about the experience! Did this remedy lead to the saying: ‘a frog in your throat’?
The speaker then took us on a tour of the Roaches - the ‘Winking Man’ and the Bawd Stone - and the belief by many of it’s healing qualities if one crawled underneath it. This has given rise to the term ‘creep ways’ of which there are many examples. Is our own ‘Gawton’s Stone’ such a creep way? This lead to Mr Pickford discussing ‘Gawton’s Well’ and the ‘Shepherds Cross’, before moving on to the ‘Bridestones’. What a massive monument it must have been originally! Many are unaware that the stones in Tunstall Park were taken from the Bridestones; many questions remain unanswered about these strange stones.
Finally, Mr Pickford could not finish his talk without reference to the Biddulph Moor Saracens! Were they really ‘little people’ or ‘watchers’?
Accompanied on his talk by a vinegar jar, Mr Pickford told a sad tale of a friend! If you missed the meeting and want to find out why you’ll have to ask someone who attended - or get to another of Mr Pickford’s talks! Needless to say, the tale sent a shiver down many a spine!
This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening that explored many local features in a different light.
The Golden Age of Stagecoaches - 19/05/2003
The meeting was not as well attended as usual but nonetheless 22 members turned out on a rainy evening to listen to Mr Steven Booth’s talk entitled “The Golden Age of Stagecoaches”. The talk was based on the Staffordshire locality.
Mr Booth began by discussing the state of roads 300 years ago and his comments made one realise that really, we have little to complain about today with regard to the state of our roads! Most roads then were little more than mud tracks, barely the width of one and a half carriages. However, with the growth of industry, transport links became increasingly important and by the 1730s, the turnpike came into being. With profit becoming the prime motive for developing transport links and with the knowledge and expertise of the great road engineers, Blind John Metcalf, Thomas Telford and John MacAdam, our roads began a transformation. MacAdam in particular, developed a cheap and effective method of road building costing just £88 per mile!
Mr Booth moved on to discuss the part played by the Royal Mail in setting standards and improving roads and bridges. The talk then turned to the subject of Highway Men and their use of County boundaries in order to avoid the jurisdiction of the ‘Hue-and-Cry’. Either that or out-of-the-way hostelries in deepest Staffordshire!
Tales involving stagecoaches proved fascinating. One, occurring on Christmas Day 1836, was the case of three outside passengers, freezing to death. An incident at Strongford Bridge, Tittensor, in October 1799, in dreadful weather conditions, resulted in the stagecoach overturning and three passengers drowning in the River Trent.
If the Mail coaches were the elite way to travel then at the opposite end were the stage wagons. Travel in these was much slower but cheaper although passengers were accompanied by cargo. In July 1784, according to the Staffordshire Advertiser, one such wagon was carrying gunpowder. As it approached Talk o’th’ Hill, it exploded. The whole village shook and limbs of passengers and horses were scattered everywhere! The explosion was heard in Congleton.
Finally, Mr Booth summed up with the opinion that travel by stagecoach in winter must have been a dreadful experience, but in summer, travelling in such a way through beautiful English countryside must have been a very special!
Churchyards:The Mystery and Intrigue of Monumental Inscriptions - 28/04/2003
This meeting, which was attended by about 40 members, was entitled Churchyards: the mystery and intrigue of Monumental Inscriptions. The talk was given by Phil Coops and Mike Grose. Between them, they have amassed a great deal of experience in transcribing and recording memorial inscriptions.
The talk was fascinating: many aspects were covered from how to go about starting a project, tips for reading difficult inscriptions and methods of recording the information were just a few. The talk was illustrated with many examples from Cheshire.
The audience was soon made aware of the reasons for starting such a project. Firstly, the most obvious cause of decay of gravestones - erosion from the weather. All stones are affected in different ways and at different rates. Many factors come into play, such as how the stone was cut and where it was sited in the churchyard, to name but two. There is the effect of vandalism to consider as well as the state of the churchyard - is it well kept or has it been allowed to become wild? There is also the case of corporate vandalism, with stones being used to create footpaths within the churchyard and even worse taken away to become infill in road schemes.
Examples were given of family trees constructed purely from monumental inscriptions. Comparisons were made with information gleaned from the corresponding Parish Registers and differences were highlighted showing the immense value such data can be to family historians. The gravestone of a young domestic servant named Mary Malpas was a wonderful example of this. The Parish Register gives only the bare details, however, the information contained on her gravestone reveals that she had been murdered!
This was a thoroughly enjoyable talk which I’m sure will help spur the group on with Volume 2 of St. Lawrence Memorial Inscriptions.
In addition to the main talk there were requests for information on both the Alms Houses, and also Stanways Lane, Biddulph Moor.
Aspects of Biddulph History - 17/03/2003
With a breathtaking speed, Mr Sherratt whisked us around the district. We began at Gillow Heath but were soon hurtling towards Knypersley and then on to the Hurst! The slides hurtled too, with a few landing on the floor. The view of the Wickenstones on their side certainly brought home the reason for their unusual name and provided an eerie aspect.
Mr Sherratt showed many slides taken some years ago that provided much interest to younger members of the audience. A number of members begged him to slow down!
We continued to Tower Hill and the Engine House, New Pool, Knypersley Vale, Fairhaven and Firwood House, Mr Sherratt dextrously handling slides though at at times they failed to respond to his touch. "Got to get this bugger out caused uproar"! An incorrectly placed slide was shown properly by ingenioulsy turning the projector on its side.
Mr Sherratt kindly brought in a number of artefacts for us to peruse - old photographs, maps, wills and plans along with the 1934 register of workers at Biddulph Colliery. The 1960 Chronicle priced at 3d was definitely rated as "a good read"!
A lively question and answer session ended on the topic of dialect which was guaranteed to create interest - for those who could undertsand it that is.
Mr Sherratt has an extensive knowledge of Biddulph History and a wealth of anecdotes that certainly kept the audience entertained.
Family History Sources - 17/02/2003
Approximately 35 people braved a very cold evening to listen to the evening’s speaker.
Mr. Mark Dorrington, Principal Archivist for Staffordshire Archive Service, spoke on the sources available within Record Offices for the family historian.
Mr. Dorrington began his discussion by reminding members that a good place to start a family history is the local library where a selection of books aimed at helping and guiding the family historian could be found. The next, more obvious source is to tackle family members and to record their memories, always working backwards. The importance of noting sources searched, even when nothing of relevance was found was a very valid suggestion.
Mr. Dorrington then discussed at length the many sources available within the Staffordshire Archive Service. Civil Registration, Census Returns, I.G.I, Parish Registers, Banns Registers and Bishops Transcripts were considered with the sort of information that one might hope to gather from these records looked at in some detail. Non Conformism was then discussed, followed by a brief look at Cemetery Registers, Banns and Licences, Bonds and Allegations and finally, Probate Records. A number of internet sites were mentioned during the course of the evening all of which are linked from our own website.
Anyone intending to visit any of the record offices is advised to make an appointment first. Some identifictaion is needed when applying for a readers ticket.
A question and answer session followed during which criminal records and Poor Law records were discussed.
An Historical Walk Through Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire - 20/01/2003
“An Historical Walk Through Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire” was the subject of the evening’s meeting. The talk, was admirably given by our Treasurer, Mr Brian Nightingale.
This historical walk was part of a much longer walk undertaken by Brian and his wife Margaret a while ago. The start of the walk, was in the ancient town of Malpass. From here, they progressed to Beeston and on across the Cheshire Plain to Brereton. His slides of Congleton Edge and the climb up and then down into the Biddulph Valley to St Lawrence and then back up to Biddulph Moor and Trent Head were of particular interest. The walk continued through Staffordshire and on into Derbyshire, finishing at Hathersage. Along the way, Brian entertained us with tales of three cornered chairs, hostelries ‘open all day’, flint mills, Robin Hood and Little John and enterprising women’s groups who organised piped water supplies!
It was a very interesting talk that left many members wishing that they had the stamina to attempt such ventures!
The Batemans and Knypersley Hall - 18/11/2002
At least sixty people attended this evenings talk given by Arnold Gibson on “The Batemans and Knypersley Hall”.
Mr. Gibson began with the Vikings and the well defended site at Gawton’s Stone and went on to discuss the history of the Knypersley area. With the use of many superb slides, Mr Gibson sped through the centuries to the Batemans and their industrial origins before concentrating on their activities at Knypersley Hall and Biddulph Grange. His final slides of Knypersley Hall - as it once was and as it now remains - were a revelation to many members. I for one had not realised what a ‘grand’ property Knypersley Hall must have once been!
Local and Family History for the Biddulph area
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