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

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Meeting Reports - 2008

St. Lawrence’s Parish Church - 15th December 2008

Some Ephemera Relating to Biddulph - Local History by Serendipity - 17th November 2008

Presenting Your Family History Research - 20th October 2008

The World in a Garden - 15th September 2008

A Summer Walk to the Cloud from Timbersbrook Car Park - 16th June 2008

Further Developments at Biddulph Old Hall - 19th May 2008

Victoria Colliery Past and Present - 21st April 2008

AGM and Family History Meeting - 17th March 2008

Arnold Bennett - Fact and Fiction in the Five Towns - 18th February 2008

Biddulph Grange - The Future? - 21st January 2008


St. Lawrence's Parish Church - 15/12/2008

Derek Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the December meeting of the Society on Monday the 15th. The well attended meeting was addressed by Mr. John Sherratt giving another of his Christmas Talks and Slide-shows, this year on the subject of “St. Lawrence’s Parish Church”.

Anyone who has attended one of John’s talks and slide shows will know that he packs an immense amount of information and images into his allotted hour (and in this case and hour an a half) and what follows is a brief summary of the evening.

Mr. Sherratt began with a summary of the History of the Church beginning with a timbered building which originally stood on the rising ground or burial mounds that existed at its present site. This building was replaced by a Saxon building possibly in stone which became a shell around which the later Church was built. There were four major changes over the following centuries. Firstly, the extension to the Church which followed the Norman Conquest, which would probably have been reflected in the building of a choir, nave and pews. Saxon churches tended to have seating round the walls from which the saying “gone to the wall” may come. The second change came with the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The Abbots of Hulton Abbey were involved in administering the Church at this time and the conflict between Roman Catholicism and the fledgling Church of England would have been reflected in the removal of some effigies, for example, Mr. Sherratt believed a carved wooden effigy of Christ on the Cross was removed from the Rood Loft. The Biddulph and Bowyer families were involved in rebuilding the Church at this time. The chancel was rebuilt. Originally it was to have a gallery on both sides but only one was built. During this rebuilding a small Chancel Chapel was constructed which is where the Heath memorial now stands.

A third change occurred during the English Civil War. Cromwell”s troops were very active in the area and are believed to have damaged a number of the Church’s stained glass windows. The Church would have reflected the more austere buildings and seating arrangements favoured by Roundheads. However, on the Restoration of Charles II the local population having more Catholic tastes would have moved the pulpit back to the Nave and replaced the Altar in the Chancel. These changes would have been tolerated with the Act of Uniformity in 1662 and the use of the Authorised Version of the Bible. The building would spend the following one hundred and fifty years going into a gradual decline with a shortage of funds and general neglect.

The arrival of James Bateman in 1824 from Westmorland when he bought the Biddulph and Knypersley estates would lead to a change in the church”s fortunes. A major refurbishment was completed in about 1836 giving Biddulph the church as it appears today. Fortunately, when James Bateman arrived he put his son John in charge and this ensured that the work by the architect and the builder Thomas Trubshaw was overseen and that funding for maintenance was available. The Bateman’s and later the Heath family, ensured that the Church was kept in good order and that many of the early relics were maintained and that additional features including a full set of bells were introduced.

The changes made by John Bateman and Thomas Trubshaw would have reflected the changes in church architecture and politics of the time. Many features of the old church were stripped: oil paintings were removed, the box pews cut down with seating allocated according to the seniority of the families in the local community, the floor was tiled and reinforced (it had once fallen in as people were buried under the Church floor), the Altar would have been moved to under the east window and the choir moved into the chancel, and the roof was doubled framed to strength the building.

Other changes at this time included the opening of a number of crypts in the corners of the church and the Bateman and Heath families would bury family members there. There are also said to be crypts below some of the large graves to the north side of the Church. If you have never visited Biddulph Church it is well worth a visit to find the evidence of centuries of worship on the site. Inside the west door is a list of Vicars of the Parish dating from 1376 and the Reverend Blacklow. There are also charity plaques which give details of the bequests local citizens made to help the poor. Look on the Church tower for the four coats of arms including those of the Mainwairing and Biddulph families. There are also believed to be over forty coats of arms carved about the building. In the Chancel Chapel is the grave of Lady Bellot with the inscription “64 and dead”. Finally, the east window is believed to have been rescued by the vicar and saved in pieces when Cromwell”s troops damaged the Church.

Mr. Sherratt then considered the present appearance of the Church with a series of slides and copious amounts of information he has gleaned from the Record Offices, Parish Accounts, the writings of Richard Biddulph, the history of the Bowyer, Biddulph, Bateman and Heath families. The slide show detailed the Church from all angles but due to a series of misfortunes during the photo session some of the detail had to be embellished by Mr. Sherratt’s commentary.

An interesting question and answer session followed the talk followed by mince pies and coffee. Mr. Wheelhouse thanked John for his talk and took the opportunity to thank the members and guests for attending and wished everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. He announced that the next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the 19h January when Mr. Nigel Bowers will talk on the subject of “Recording History - The Voices of Local People”. The meeting will be held in Biddulph Library and will start at 7 p.m.

Some Ephemera Relating to Biddulph - Local History by Serendipity - 17/11/2008

Derek Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the well attended November meeting for the talk by by Mr. John Anderson, local historian and curator of the Chapel Museum at Mow Cop. His talk was entitled “Some Ephemera relating to Biddulph - Local History by Serendipity”.

With a folder of papers and a cardboard box on the table in front of him Mr. Anderson began his talk by defining ephemera. Although strictly speaking ephemera means ‘lasting for a day’ Mr. Anderson broadened this definition to mean objects of a temporary nature and explained all the items he would show the meeting which would make a trail of history from the 17th to the 20th Century, from a marriage to a murder, and all had a connection, however tenuous, with the Biddulph area.

The first item was an Indenture, a written agreement between people written twice on a single parchment which was signed by the parties concerned and then cut in two using a wavy line to make the document unique. This indenture dated July 14th 1671 was a land settlement between John Bowyer of Biddulph Grange and Richard Baker of Bishton on the marriage of John Bowyer and Mary Baker. The parcel of land was at Bucknall and would pass by subsequent marriages to the Sneyd family and later the Sparrow family who had extensive iron and mining interests in the Potteries.

Item two was a deed dated December 3rd 1765. At this time the conveyancing of property involved having two deeds on consecutive days - which marked the passing of ownership like a baton in a relay race - a deed of lease and deed of sale. The parcel of land involved was in Burslem the home of the first Methodist Chapel, then later the Allcock Pottery and it is now being used for new housing. The document is important for the signatures of the people purchasing the land. They include Thomas Wedgwood, William Lockett, William Stonier of the Hurst Biddulph, Joseph Smith and Matthew Maer from Stockport who was involved in the spread of Methodist Sunday Schools. The site, bought for £20 10s, was the site of the first Methodist Chapel in North Staffordshire. This deed came from the solicitors Hollinshead and Moody but originals and copies can be found in Hanley at the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives.

A bill for the supply of coal to Eaton Hall near Congleton was item three. It detailed six months of deliveries of coal and slack to the Antrobus family from pits owned by John Bateman. When the Hall and grounds were sold for the extraction of sand it was full of documents of every kind - bills, dog licenses, and so on. Although they were offered to Cheshire County Archives the amount was so great that only a selection was saved. Items scavenged from the site occasionally appear for sale on the ‘ephemera’ market. Obviously John Bateman and his son James are names synonymous with Biddulph Grange. John retired to the Vicarage estate at Biddulph round about 1809. A rich man, he made his fortune installing steam engines in the Lancashire mills, with his partner William Sherratt. Unfortunately, the fortune was spent on the creation of the Biddulph Grange Gardens by his son James.

Item four was a plate made to celebrate James Bateman”s twenty first birthday on July 18th 1832. It was made at the Spode pottery and probably bought by John Bateman to mark his son’s coming of age.

A rare Methodist bible which belonged to John Bateman was item five and like many family bibles which contain pressed flowers or family documents this one had a lyric for a song. To be sung to the tune of God Save the Queen it was dated March 9th 1860.

The next item was a battered tea pot which Mr. Anderson believed he had bought for £60. Without its lid and in a sorry state it was found along with the rest of a tea set in a house in Basford and presented to the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum. What makes the tea pot rare and collectable is the transfer printed below the spout which has the inscription “Pinnox Colliery 1860’. The local names connected with the Pinnox Colliery are Hugh Henshall Williams when his brother Robert had other collieries, for example, Tower Hill. Hugh Henshall died in 1867 and the tea pot appeared in a sale catalogue of 1871.

Item seven comprised newspaper cuttings from the year 1876. The first detailed the trial of Mr. Daniel Capper who was fined five shillings on the May 8th 1876. The fine didn’t deter Mr. Capper from drinking as he was arrested on the August 14th of the same year and found guilty again of drunkenness. When tidying up at Biddulph Methodist Church on Station Road, Biddulph, Malcolm Hargreaves found, behind a cupboard, a Bradley Green Primitive Methodist Exercise Book of 1801. Although the pupils name had been erased the calculations of compound interest can still be attempted. Another Chapel item is number nine, the Primitive Methodist Official Handbook of March 16th/17th 1908. This details all the classes of work which could be entered in the Annual Fete. Of equal interest are the pages of trader”s adverts for the businesses of Bradley Green High Street.

On September 28th 1914 Bill Onions sent a postcard, perhaps to his sister, a Miss S. Onion of High Street, Newchapel. It shows a group of young lads standing to attention in a field somewhere near Stafford after walking for four hours to enlist to fight in the Great War.

The final item was a programme for the “Messiah” which was dated Saturday January 10th 1953. Among the artists listed are Miss Gwen Massey and Mr. Frank Walton. Ten years later Gwen Massey would admit she murdered Mrs. Mary Walton at Rudyard after meeting her for a meal at the ‘Plough’ at Endon. Surprisingly she managed to drive Mrs. Walton’s body up to Mow Cop Castle through the snow blizzards and leave her by her Mini estate. She then walked back to Green Lane, Rudyard in these treacherous conditions in her high heel shoes. When the police found traces of blood and a lump hammer near to her house she was taken for questioning at Leek Police Station and admitted to the crime.

So Mr. Anderson came to the end of his talk and fielded a number of questions from the audience about deeds and other legal documents. Mr. Wheelhouse expressed the audience”s thanks and reminded Society members that if they would like to see some of the items again they can contact Mr. Anderson and arrange a viewing. He also reminded members of the Society that the Chapel Museum, Hillside, Chapel Bank, Mow Cop is well worth a visit.

Presenting Your Family History Research - 20/10/2008

Derek Wheelhouse introduced the evening’s speaker, Mr. Phil Walton, with his illustrated talk entitled “Presenting Your Family History Research”. Mr Walton’s interest in family history began with a photograph and two documents in the early 1970s. One was a marriage certificate for his great Grandfather Samuel Walton to Sarah Tripp and what interested him initially was the occupation of the bride's father (mariner) and the story that he was from Liverpool. The second was a memorial card for a William John Tripp who had died age seven years. His grandfather had said the memorial card was from his mother and in memory of her brother. Mr. Walton’s research at Liverpool Records Office clearly showed, in fact, William was the son and not a brother to Sarah. Did her husband ever know? Mr. Walton is convinced that he didn’t.

His talk then retold his journey from paper records, through spreadsheets, genealogy programmes, on-line genealogy sites, publishing a family tree book and a photo-book, to the creation of his own family history web-site. Like most people building a family tree he had started with a pedigree chart - the listing of you, your parents and grandparents when the number of names doubles with each generation before the brothers and sisters are added at each level. These can create a first hand written family tree which soon requires the roll of wallpaper to record all the siblings and families. In Mr. Walton’s case he had produced a set of four cardboard leaves about two feet square which recorded his family.

At this point the paper record becomes almost unmanageable and has to be split into groups - by families, generations, and so on. A new tool to help the genealogist appeared at this point - the computer and using computer spreadsheets and word processing documents to keep track of the important information and notes. Spreadsheets allowed the records to be searched and made linking family members easier. One new tool that became available at this time was the GEDCOM format. GEDCOM is a generic, database format designed and proposed by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

GEDCOM files allow users to share family history database files between different genealogy programs as code letters are used for an individual’s name, father’s name, date of birth, and so on. As genealogy programs became available, such as Family Tree Maker, these basic GEDCOM files can be imported into the program to create neat family trees. As the programs were enhanced they allowed photographs and complex family relationships to be included. Mr. Walton had managed to acquire a number of free programs and he used PAF (Personal Ancestral File) to create his own family tree. From his PAF files the first attempt at creating a family tree book was made. The main problem was creating a readable story from a set of fairly dry facts. This also involved a number of newly learnt computer skills with the use of formats and columns and the insertion of pictures.

The next step was also driven by the arrival of new computer features - the on-line history site. Tribalpages was Mr. Walton’s favourite. The standard site is free and can be used as family tree software. If you go to the Tribalpages web site you can search through many different family trees. Other sites are available such as Familytreediscovery, Familytreeguide and Myheritage. These are similar and they can be searched when a password is entered. There are a number of other sites which require payments and they include the popular Ancestry site and one that is becoming more popular - Genesreunited. Mr Walton had learnt from experience to be careful uploading information to an on-line site, the problem of putting all your research notes onto a site by accident and the downloading (or stealing) by others of all the painstaking work you have done.

Above is the home page of Tribalpages. At this point the visitor must enter the User ID. After a prompt for a password - which is recommended as an individual option - you are presented with an individual home page. If you want to allow access then you can arrange for a visitor to contact you and seek the password. Among the useful features is a Home tab and then Name Index, this produces an alphabetical list which lists year of birth, year of death, details of marriage and also father's and mother's names. If you click on one of these names then you get further details for the individual. Tribalpages can act as a normal family history programme and GEDCOM files can be uploaded directly to the site. Mr. Walton knows people who use it as their preferred family history programme. If you click on the Edit tab you pass into the edit area where another password is required for entry into the editing system where changes and additions can be made.

Other websites available include Family Tree Discovery, Rootsweb and Myheritage - a family tree creator developed by Alan Mealey. On the Myheritage site clicking on the family tree button creates an attractive looking family tree which can be updated on-line or you can use a GEDCOM upload. Once again it is free to use.

The creation of the web site was another learning process and involved the use of Microsoft FrontPage and another free programme called NVU. The Internet web pages were provided by his Internet Service Provider, once again without charge. The meeting was then taken on a guided tour around the Walton’s Web Site. This includes a family tree, an index of names and sections on local history and can be found by entering “Kath and Phil’s Family History Site” into a web search engine such as Google. To enter the site you will have to contact Mr. Walton for a password.

Mr. Walton reiterated the importance of verifying the family history information that you enter into a programme or web site. He believes that the information you put on the Internet should be well researched and include a reference and source. One of the features of the next generation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 'FamilySearch' web-based genealogy system is that entries must have a verified source for the information. The new system is temporarily accessed at “” and once the system is complete, it will be available, free of charge, to members and the general public at “”.

Finally, with all the information stored on paper, CD or DVD, and website it is important that future generations will have access to it. As Mr Walton said it must be available ‘when I’m gone’ because someone will find the information of use. So it is necessary to identify what is important. Try to make it easy to find, make several copies and identify who might want one, and remember that when people start to 'sort out' things it may mean it will be disposed of.

An interesting question and answer session followed the talk and before bringing the meeting to a close Mr Wheelhouse thanked Mr Walton for his interesting talk which was an excellent introduction to the keeping and presenting of family history records.

The World in a Garden - 15/09/2008

Derek Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the well attended first meeting of the 2008 season. This should have been addressed by Professor Ray Johnson. Derek had to begin by apologising to the meeting and sending condolences to Ray as due to a sad family bereavement he wasn’t able to attend. At short notice it was decided to show a video which detailed the rescue of the gardens at Biddulph Grange by the National Trust with support from the action group, local Councils and the people of Biddulph.

”The World in a Garden” is an eighty five minute video, presented by the gardener Roy Lancaster and made by Channel 4 and Interesting Television in 1992. It captures the story of Biddulph Grange Garden as it was rescued from dereliction and decay in 1988 and painstakingly restored to its original Victorian splendour over four years. The video is based on the Channel 4 television series, which followed the work of researchers, archaeologists, builders, craftsmen, and above all, gardeners who excavated, rebuilt, and replanted this extraordinary garden.

Biddulph Grange Gardens were created as a world in miniature and include countries as diverse as Italy and Egypt, and settings as varied as a Scottish Glen and an American Garden. The most dramatic is China - copying a scene on a willow pattern plate with its bridge and joss house, bamboo-fringed pool and spectacularly colourful temple - according to the sleeve of the Video.

The video, which is no longer available to purchase, can be borrowed from the history section of Biddulph Library for just £1 for the week. Thanks to the continuing local support for the National Trust you can also visit the gardens and see the results of the work which began twenty years ago and still continues.

Just a reminder: The Society has prepared a display on the history of local transport services which will remain in the Biddulph Library until the end of September. If you have any comments to make on the pictures and articles featured then please do not hesitate to talk to the library staff who will pass on all your comments.

A Summer Walk to the Cloud from Timbersbrook Car Park - 16/06/2008

Members met at the Timbersbrook picnic area car park at 6.45pm to take a guided walk around the Bridestones and Bosley Cloud. The walk, which was led by David Outhwaite, Secretary of the Society, takes a circular route which is four and a quarter miles in length.

How to get to the Timbersbrook Car Park from Bidddulph: Travel past St. Lawrence’s Church towards Congleton and turn right onto Grange Road and past the Talbot Public House. At the top of the hill go straight on past Hurst Road on what is now Overton Road. Bear left down the hill toward Overton Hall and then sharply round to the right passing Cherry Lane on the left. Climb the hill with the llama farm on your left and carefully go straight across the main road (Reades Lane). Tunstall Road descends steeply and prepare to turn left by the telephone box to cross Under Rainow Road onto Weathercock Lane. The Timbersbrook car park is on the right some two hundred yards from the junction.

Description of the Walk: Walk through the picnic area to the right of the car park and then climb the steps to Tunstall Road. Turn left up the hill and walk for 200 yards until you reach a footpath on the right. The steps here are both steep and muddy. (You can avoid this steeper climb by going two hundred yards further up Tunstall Road to turn right onto Gosberryhole Lane, opposite Acorn Lane). Gosberryhole Lane climbs up the side of the hill past the steep steps before gradually turning left and climbs over a hill just beyond the path on the left which gives direct access to the Cloud. Note the stone blocks used to reinforce the cart track on this section of the walk. At the foot of the hill turn sharply right and take in the view over the valley on the right across Timbersbrook. After three quarters of a mile turn right at the farm entrance and walk down to the Leek Road and turn left. (It is probably safer to walk on the left of this busy road in single file keeping on the grass verge). After 200 yards turn left into the lane which leads to the Bridestones only a 100 yards from the road. Remember you are walking towards a Neolithic burial chamber the stones of which are now scattered all round the area. When you are ready, walk back to the road and turn left and after 250 yards turn left at Drummers Wood and left again to walk along the Cloudside. As you walk with care watching out for the occasional car and cyclist take a look at the view on the right down into the Dane Valley with Rudyard Lake, Dane Bridge, Bosley Reservoir and Bosley Minn, the BT mast on Croker Hill and the pointed hill to the North which is Shutlingsloe.

Photo courtesy of Jeff and Isabelle Killicoat.

Walk for three quarters of a mile and you will reach a cement track on the left which climbs up to the Cloud. The track then winds round to the left and comes to a steep flight of steps on the right. Take your time to climb the steps and remember you cannot use your hang glider when you reach the top. The path then gently climbs to the triangulation point at the summit. A panoramic view of the Peak District, Macclesfield, the Cheshire Plain, Jodrell Bank, Congleton and Mow Cop can be seen from this magnificent viewing point. On a clear day you can watch aircraft landing at Manchester Airport, pick out the new multi-storey glass hotel in the centre of Manchester, Fiddlers Ferry Power Station neat Ellesmere Port and 38 miles away the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool. Beeston and Peckforton Castles near Chester and the Welsh Hills and the Wrekin can also be seen.

Two paths, one from the triangulation point, go gently down on the left, or one from the edge of the rocks (take care on this single track path) wind down to the wood. Walk down the straight path through the wood and you can join Gosberryhole lane again. Turn right and retrace your steps to Timbersbrook.

With some time spent viewing the Bridestones and taking in the panoramic view from the Cloud this walk should take you two hours at a gentle pace. Please wear stout shoes and carry a waterproof in case it rains or the wind gets up.

Thank you to everyone who joined the walk for making it so enjoyable and to the weather ‘gods’ who gave us the most perfect sunny and still evening to make the most of the views.

Copies of the instructions for the walk and the fourteen pages of notes and information about the Bridestones and the Cloud will be available from Biddulph Library.

Further Developments at Biddulph Old Hall - 19/05/2008

The Library was packed for the meeting which was entertained by a talk on further developments at Biddulph Old Hall by Messrs. Daly and Vowles. Mr. Derek Wheelhouse introduced the speakers and firstly congratulated them on winning the Home of The Year Best Restoration Category award in Channel 4’s Grand Designs Programme with the work they completed on Bletchley Manor, Shropshire. A video of this success was shown at the end of the meeting.

Bletchley Manor, Market Drayton, Shropshire winner of the Grand Designs Award.

Mr. Daly and Mr. Vowles had given a talk on the restoration of the Hall to the September 2006 meeting of the BDGHS. They had outlined the work they had done to make parts of the house habitable, particularly the Great Hall and the Staircase Hall. One of the last questions asked at that meeting had been - is the tower safe? The answer had been an emphatic ‘No’, as large pieces of masonry and glass were still falling and the structure was probably only being held up by internal and external scaffolding.

It was the restoration of the tower which they wished to talk about this evening and some new information on Mr. Robert Bateman they had recently unearthed. Originally the tower had been scheduled as an ancient monument by English Heritage when the pair bought the Old Hall about 4 years ago. This meant that any renovation of the tower was forbidden. As work progressed on the other parts of the Hall more and more people were asking to visit the tower and its deteriorating condition made this unsafe. An architectural and archeological survey of the tower was commissioned and concluded that the tower was about to fall down. When English Heritage were contacted they too believed the tower would fall down. In an attempt to save the tower they approached English Heritage to firstly change the status of the tower and then suggest a suitable way of repairing and maintaining it. The tower’s status was changed partly due to Messrs Daly and Vowles’ sympathetic refurbishment of the other parts of the Old Hall. When everyone was agreed the tower should be saved then the next hurdle was - Who should pay? In December of 2007 a letter arrived offering some funding from English Heritage for the work. In March English Heritage offered to pay 50% of the cost on completion. Work will commence in July of this year.

Detail from the William Salt photograph of Biddulph Old Hall.

The plan is to renovate the tower in four stages:

  1. Carefully point all the stonework on the interior and exterior of the tower.
  2. Place two temporary steel straps round the tower so that a concrete floor can be inserted approximately two thirds of the way up the tower. This will allow the mullioned windows to be reinforced and preserved.
  3. Add services, like lighting and plumbing
  4. Fit a circular oak staircase to the lower floors.

The plan is to re-lead the conical roof and have a viewing platform on the present 5th floor of the tower. The 4th floor will eventually be a multi-faith chapel and library to reflect the ownership of the Hall which had passed from Catholic to Protestant branches of the Biddulph family since the English Civil War. The lower three floors will have landings and a circular staircase which will be used to display portraits and paintings of the Biddulph Family and the Old Hall itself. It may also display the work of Robert Bateman himself.

It was the artist Robert Bateman that the rest of the evening was devoted to. In the previous talk, the Hall in 1871 had been described as including an artist’s studio room on two levels. When the Bateman family sold up and moved to Kensington, London, it had been assumed this included the artist Robert Bateman. However, as more documents about the Hall were found it became clear that Robert Bateman hadn’t left in 1871 but that he had a life-time lease on the buildings until his death in 1922. One clue at the Hall is the carving above one of the entrances with the initials RB dated 1874.

When time allowed Messrs Daly and Vowles began a search of the Internet for paintings by Robert Bateman. It was rewarded when they contacted the Yale Centre of British Art in the United States. Amongst the paintings given to Yale by the collector Paul Mellon was a work called ‘The Pool of Bethesda’ shown at the Royal Academy in 1876. Mr. Daly spoke to ‘Scott’ at the Yale Centre and found that it wasn’t a picture kept in the vaults but one that was always on display. The next clue was the inclusion of Robert Bateman’s work in an exhibition, “The Last Romantics”, which was held in the Barbican Art Gallery, London, from February to April 1989.

Robert Bateman’s “The Pool of Bethesda” shown at the Royal Academy in 1876.

As the research progressed it became clear that Robert Bateman had been an influential artist regularly showing his work at the Dudley and Grosvenor Galleries. He was a member of a Birmingham group and in 1901 the Society of Painters in Tempera. Other members of the group were Walter Crane (1845-1915), whose work is displayed in Manchester Museum, and Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), who came to a sad end in a workhouse. Edward Burne Jones was an important influence on many of the painters in the group and a painting by Robert Bateman ‘The Dead Knight’ circa 1870 shows a lot of similarities to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

A new dimension to the search for the paintings of Robert Bateman was added when information on his marriage to Caroline Octavia Wilbraham (nee Howard) on October 18th 1883 was found. Caroline was born in 1839 and was a daughter of the Howard family of Castle Howard, her father being the Dean of Lichfield and her grand-father the Earl of Carlisle. She had previously married a much older man, the Rev. Charles Philip Wilbraham, on February 15th 1876. The Rev. Wilbraham was vicar of Audley from 1844 to 1874 but he died in December of 1879. On his death Caroline moved to London to live with her mother. In October 1883 she married Robert Bateman and became the subject of a large, 10 foot tall, portrait which now belongs to the art critic of the Daily Telegraph. As many of the allegorical paintings of Robert Bateman have the theme of unrequited love it could be that Robert had been waiting for Caroline for a number of years.

That they lived at the Old Hall is confirmed by a photograph, possibly taken at the Clough, where the couple face each other on the old wooden bridge. They were happily married until they died within ten days of each other in July / August 1922. For part of their married life, from 1890 to 1906, they rented Benthall Hall, Much Wenlock which now belongs to the National Trust and has gardens designed by Robert Bateman. The wills of both Robert and Caroline left their estate to a single nephew.

So was Robert Bateman the lost Romantic painter? Had he been in love with Caroline from 1870? How many more paintings will be found? More research may give the answers. After a short question and answer session Mr. Derek Wheelhouse thanked Mr. Daly and Mr. Vowles for a most enlightening and spellbinding talk.

Victoria Colliery Past and Present - 21/04/2008

The April meeting was held on April 21st in the Biddulph Library. Derek Wheelhouse, Chairman of the Society, welcomed a packed Library to a slide show prepared and narrated by Mr Eric Walley. Mr. Walley had brought together documents, photographs and film clips to tell the story of Victoria Colliery Past and Present.

More importantly he had a working knowledge of the people and the work practices at what many of his audience knew as the Black Bull Colliery and each slide allowed him to give evidence or tell an anecdote. A number of ex-Colliery workers attended the meeting and many faces on the screen were identified and views expressed in a very lively talk.

The talk was divided into five sections: A History from 1900 to 1982, Working Underground, Demolition, Open Cast and the Business Park. Briefly, Victoria Colliery was situated at Brindley Ford, about 2km south of Biddulph and immediately to the west of the main road. Sinking began in the 1850s-60s. There were five shafts: Victoria, 449.8m deep; Havelock, 451.9m; Salisbury 233.5m and two at the Brownlees site (which was situated about 350m west of the main site), 223.9m deep. The mine closed in July 1982.

The colliery was owned by initially by the Batemans and was leased by Robert Heath to fuel his Ironworks. By 1868, for example, in the ten years that Robert Heath first leased the Biddulph Valley Colliery the output had increased from 18,000 to 180,000 tons a year.

During the period between 1888 and 1898, Robert Heath extended his mining undertakings in Biddulph and in 1880 he purchased the free-hold of Knypersley Hall Estate for £149,978 from James and John Bateman. Robert Heath came into full possession of the estate in 1874 and by 1880 when the conveyance was drawn up he had paid £120,000 towards the purchase price.

All the following sections of the talk relied on a collection of photographs and a film clip, some of the photographs and pictures given to Mr Walley will be on display in Biddulph Library until after the May Day holiday.

Here are some pictures to give an idea of the changes at the Victoria Colliery. If you know the names of the miners in the first two pictures get in touch with the Society or leave a message in Biddulph Library.

A group of miners

Conditions underground

Demolition of the Colliery

The Open Cast Site

Victoria Business Park

Mr Walley was thanked for his excellent talk by the Chairman of the Society and a question and answer session led to more interesting discussion.

AGM and Family History Meeting - 17/03/2008

Derek Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the March meeting of the Society on Monday the 17th at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library. The meeting started with the Society’s Annual General Meeting. The Treasurer of the Society, Mr. Brian Nightingale, outlined the audited finances for the year ending on February 28th 2008.

The main points were:

  1. An improved bank balance.
  2. Very good sales of the Societies existing publications.
  3. The Societies most recent book “Goowin Dine th’ Grayn” was now in profit having covered its cost of printing and was still selling well.
  4. Members of the Society will continue to pay £5.00 annually and be given a membership card. Members will in future have free entry to meetings and other events and non-members will pay £1.00 per meeting.

Mr. Wheelhouse then thanked the members of the Committee of the Society for their hard work through the year. All the present members of the Committee were proposed for re-election and seconded by the meeting, Mr. David Outhwaite as Secretary of the Society; Mr. Brian Nightingale as Treasurer and Mrs. Elaine Heathcote as Archivist. Mr. Roland Machin and Mrs. Kath Walton will continue as Committee members. The Secretary then thanked the Chairman for his leadership through the year and proposed Mr. Wheelhouse should be re-elected, which the meeting duly seconded. He also thanked Irene Turner for her help with the sale of Society publications and use of the Library facilities and David Moore for presiding over the web site ( and updating its content.

With the AGM completed the Family History meeting began. Members of the Society manned various tables and allowed member and guests to circulate and ask questions on the following topics:

  • Mrs Elaine Heathcote displayed her photographs and notes about the village of Gillow Heath.
  • Mrs Kath Walton brought the latest information she has collected on the people of Biddulph affected by the two World Wars.
  • Mr John Sherratt had some of his collection of documents and deeds relating to the names and estates of the people of Biddulph and Knypersley
  • Viewing and discussing some of the early maps of the Biddulph area - maps as early as 1831 allow people to identify the homes, farms and businesses in the Biddulph Valley.
  • The slide show of the By-pass construction to accompany a forth-coming book will be shown at a later date.

Arnold Bennett - Fact and Fiction in the Five Towns - 18/02/2008

Roland Machin started the evening by admitting at Biddulph North School he was a late developer in learning to write, as children like him, who were left handed, were caned. He did however learn to read at an early age starting with Biggles, then the Richmal Crompton ‘Just William’ books, before moving to Arnold Bennett at the suggestion of his mother. When he later joined the Arnold Bennett Society he assumed he had read many of Bennett’s works but found he had been a much more prolific writer than he had realized. It was therefore a particular pleasure for him to introduce Mr. John Shapcott, Chairman of the Arnold Bennett Society, with an illustrated talk “Arnold Bennett - Fact and Fiction in the Five Towns”.

Mr. Shapcott firstly outlined the purpose of the Arnold Bennett Society. The main task of the Society is for members to share and enjoy the author’s work by arranging readings, performances and meetings. Then the Society aims to make more of the written output of one of the area’s few authors, with an international reputation, available. Members of the Society hold an annual dinner with an invited speaker. This year it will be the author Deborah Moggach. They have a Christmas show, a conference at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, a study weekend at the Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston where talks and sections of Bennett books are enacted. They are also involved with Churnet Valley Books in the re-publishing of the large catalogue of Arnold Bennett books. As Chairman of the Society John Shapcott writes an introduction to the re-published books; this includes an explanation of the local references that Arnold Bennett makes usually in code, for example, Bursley for Burslem.

His first question for the meeting was “Did Arnold Bennett ever mention Biddulph in his books?” He then called on Linda Shapcott to read from the ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’ (1908) where Bennett describes the Staffordshire Moorlands area and mentions particularly the source of the Trent. A section from the ‘The Gates of Wrath’ (1903) read by John has a description of a fictional hall where the character of the owner (Robert Heath?), style of house (Biddulph Grange?) and local features (Mow Cop?) suggest the Biddulph area but he has been unable to find mention of the name of Biddulph in any of Bennett’s published works. The Library in Hanley has a large stock of Bennett’s works and most of the collection has yet to be catalogued and researched but it was here John had found Biddulph mentioned as Bennett describes a rainy journey that he made from Congleton in one of his ‘Journals’.

‘The Card’ (1911) aka ‘Denry the Audacious’ was made into a film featuring Alec Guinness and filmed in the Potteries. The smoky and dirty image of the Potteries which featured in Bennett’s books led to the dislike of his works by many local people. However, the film featured the first role for a young Petula Clark who stayed on Biddulph Moor during the filming. The baby used in the film for the young Denry featured in the local paper, as did Joey the Donkey and four ladies who were cooks at a local school who got minor roles in the film. John then showed the credits for 'The Card' which slowly pan across a smoky scene to the backyard of Mrs. Machin - Denry Machin’s mother - a washer woman. A second film clip of Joey the donkey trotting the streets of Bursley followed. Then the meeting was treated to the enactment of a crucial scene from ‘The Card’ when Denry rushes to Liverpool to deliver the young ‘Petula Clark’ her first screen kiss. Carol and Graham Gorton of the Arnold Bennet Society played the love struck pair and finished with a flourish of first kisses.

John then turned to the novel ‘Helen with the High Hand’ (1910) and the description of the Park in Bursley with its open spaces, trees and band stand. This park opened in 1894 and had originally been purchased by Port Vale FC for the Burslem Football and Athletic Ground for the 1884-85 season. John believed the opening match saw Port Vale beat Everton 6-0. Port Vale obviously later moved to Cobridge. To show how the Park may have looked John showed a clip of the BBC production of ‘Anna of the Five Towns’ (1902) aka ‘Cupid and Commonsense’ which was made in 1985 and featured Peter Davison. Because of the time limit to the meeting it wasn’t possible to show the Pottery factory scene from the same production.

Linda then read a piece from the novel ‘Leonora’ (1903) which described the Bursley Operatic Society’s production of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera ‘Patience’. This was set in Bursley Town Hall where the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra made its first public performance on December 8th 1904 according to the press of the day. If you visit Ceramica in Burslem then you can walk towards the very stage when you enter the old Town Hall.

A clip of film from the ATV production of ‘Clayhanger’ (1910) was then shown which featured the young Clayhanger seeing his first clog dance at a meeting of an all male club at The Dragon at Bursley. Suffice it to say he was mesmerised by the preformance of Miss Simcock a National Clog Dancing Champion. In fact Bennett had researched clog dancing at the variety halls of the period and a National Champion had appeared at Burslem. A second clip of the Elstree Studios production of ‘Clayhanger’ was shown featuring part of the Chapel Centenary celebrations which were held outside the Town Hall. At the meeting the audience there were the first to view part of the recovered episodes which have been carefully sourced from as far away as Paris and made available to the Arnold Bennett Society.

An excerpt from ‘The Price of Love’ (1914) was then read by Linda which described the Moorland Road Cinema. This used more power than any other cinema in the area. It was a place where people could ‘court’, taking the place of the parks or churchyards that had previously been the venue for such trysts. The cinema is now Pickerings of Burslem - Fishing Tackle Specialists on Moorland Road. John warned that care should be taken when visiting the shop as the rear of the former cinema is used for the very smelly production of fishing bait.

With time running out, Roland thanked John and Linda Shapcott for an excellent evening’s entertainment; thanked Carol and Graham Gorton for a wonderful playlet and David Outhwaite, secretary of the BDGHS, for the preparation and showing of the video clips. Derek Wheelhouse, Chairman of the Society, also thanked John and the company and pointed out that time had flown, a good indicator of an excellent meeting, so he felt the Society should invite John to return and continue his tale in next year’s series of talks.

The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the March 17th 2008 when the Society will hold its AGM; this short meeting will be followed by the Genealogy Evening when members and guests can research their family trees or request help/information about local families and historic buildings. There will also be a slide show presentation of the photographs taken during the building of Biddulph by-pass, which have been collected into a forth-coming book “The Meadows Way” edited by Nigel Yates in 2003.

Biddulph Grange - The Future? - 21/01/2008

Derek Wheelhouse said that the evening’s talk was to look at “Biddulph Grange - The Future?”. Derek pointed out that the Grange had now been open for sixteen years and from a quiet start it is now an internationally known garden which puts Biddulph on the world stage. He then introduced the evening’s speaker Mr. Paul Baker of the National Trust at Biddulph. Mr. Baker then explained that the evening would be a look at a new feature for visitors to the house this year which is the geological gallery of James Bateman. The existence of the gallery came as a surprise to many of the audience. As well as describing the gallery, which was acquired by the National Trust in 2002, Mr Baker intended to give the meeting an understanding of the changing world in the late C18th to help understand the gallery’s significance. James Bateman was developing his gallery at a time when the Church’s accepted and enforced view of the earth’s creation was about to be questioned by the discoveries of fossils, rock stratas and the work of Charles Darwin.

What was the geological gallery? James Bateman is remembered for Biddulph Grange Garden, his published work on orchids and his role in the Royal Horticultural Society. He built his gallery sometime between 1856 and 1862 as it was mentioned in an article written by Edward Kemp for the Gardener's Chronicle around 1860. His intention with the gallery was to create a story from the dawn of civilisation to the approaching millennium. On one side, the left, the wall was a geological frieze which ran from the Pre-Cambrian to the Tertiary period. The right hand side had a number of the new geological maps of the earth’s crust. Each bay of the corridor was separated by a roof truss and corresponded to a biblical day of creation.

Day 3 and Day 6 had apertures with fossils including a mammoth bone. The last day of creation was removed when the hospital was built and the gallery became a workshop and occasionally an overflow crematorium. The floor of the gallery was tiled in dark blue, black and red lozenge shaped tiles with limestone inlays which pointed the visitor along the days of Creation. The corridor had seats and tables for the study of the exhibits and it created a completed lesson in geology.

Why build a gallery? In 1835 the interest in geology and the search for fossils and minerals was driving the drawing of maps. The changes in the countryside at this time - the building of turnpike roads, the digging of canals and introduction of the railways - led to a rapid increase in the surveying and recording of the landscape. At this time the practice was way ahead of the theory and the early geological maps of William Smith in 1815 still showed large areas of unknown rocks. Some of James Bateman’s interest in geology and mineralogy was probably the result of his father’s interest in the fossil collection of his neighbour Hugh Henshall Williamson.

There was a great deal of writing at this time on the fossil record. The finding of large fossil bones led Richard Owen in 1842 to invent the term dinosaur for the large creatures discovered. The 1851 London Exhibition included a set of dinosaur exhibits which were moved down to Sydenham in South London. The diaries of Edward Cooke, James Bateman's friend, who helped design the Biddulph garden and its structures show that they both visited the Great Exhibition. It was to represent these changes that James Bateman decided on building a gallery to mirror the research.

What was the religious element? The Duke of Bridgewater started a bursary for research into the fossil record and William Butland at Oxford University (Reader in Mineralogy and also a priest) explained geology and mineralogy with reference to Natural Theology. James Bateman went to Magdalen College around this time and he was a strong evangelical Christian. He would have taken Archbishop Usher's age of the earth at 6,000 years dating the beginning of the world as 4004 B.C. as a given fact. These were however very challenging times and the Church was adapting to the many changes. The year 1829 saw the Catholic Emancipation Act allowing the Roman Catholics to start openly to worship and study. Meanwhile, Trollope was writing his critical studies of the Church’s failings in texts like the Barchester Chronicles showing the un-Christian activities of the clergy.

The geological findings were making it difficult to reconcile the dating of the earth with Usher's set date. The range of beliefs was from the Tractarian catholic extreme through a small group of broadminded liberals to the Evangelical part of the Church of England. Sir Charles Lyell, a former lawyer who turned to geology and found the evidence couldn’t support this creationist view stating that “fossils were evidence that animals had existed many millions of years ago”. His 1830 Principles of Geology is a classic book and was read by Darwin as he sailed to the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s research was to show first hand the truth of Lyell’s work and the &ldsquo;Origin of the Species” published in 1859, many years after it was originally written, is contemporary to Bateman’s Geological Gallery.

The arguments would culminate in the Oxford Debates of 1860 in which Thomas Huxley, a supporter of Darwin clashed with Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, a supporter of the conventional Christian orthodoxy. To explain the theories of the geologists who outlined the successive stratas laid down over the millennium the evangelicals produced the idea of periodic renewal. In other words a catastrophic event occurred when all the topography was replaced and species would die out and be replaced.

In the face of the changing view of the world Bateman stuck to his creationist gallery even as the Bishop of Oxford and Thomas Huxley held there famous debate. In ten years, round about 1870, the British Academy accepted evolution and the geological map and the chronological record would be re-written.

Where is the Gallery? The gallery lies on the North side of the house on the edge of the two former hospital wards. It was used as the entrance to the garden and everyone would be reminded that Bateman still believed in the creation and would probably have talked of the catastrophe theory of evolution.

What happened to the gallery when Bateman left and handed the property to Robert Heath is not known? The lack of estate papers, letters or diaries written by Bateman doesn’t show Bateman and Darwin communicated; however, Darwin used orchids to prove his theories whilst working in Madagascar. One of James Bateman’s known works is a renowned book on the care of orchids. Did the two meet at the Leopard in Burslem - unless more letters or reports are unearthed we will probably never know.

James Bateman died in Worthing in 1897. His garden at Biddulph was an acclaimed horticultural achievement.

The future of the gallery? Mr Baker had an artist’s impression of the gallery in a restored state and discussions have begun into whether the corridor should be lengthened to include the seventh day of creation. Many of the fossil exhibits have crumbled away and may have been damaged by the use of various different cements and fixatives to create the fossil frieze and the blocking of the air vents which maintained the correct atmosphere. Some of the fossils were removed in the 1970s when they were housed at Keele University.

The National Trust intend to identify as many of the original exhibits and recreate the gallery using resin copies to prepare the gallery in time for the Charles Darwin bi-centenary in 2009.

When can you visit? From the 1st of March the gallery will be open on a number of days but not full time. If you wish to view the gallery please make enquiries to avoid disappointment.

The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the 18th of February 2008 when Mr. Shapcott, Chairman of the Arnold Bennett Society, will present an illustrated talk “Arnold Bennett - Fact and Fiction in the Five Towns” which will include some recently re-covered film of some of the author’s works.

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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