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

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Meeting Reports - 2014

The Historian’s Christmas Address – The Bateman’s of Biddulph - 15th December 2014

Greenway Bank: Past and Present - 17th November 2014

A World War I Research Evening - 20th October 2014

The William Salt Library - 15th September 2014

Developments at Biddulph Old Hall and the Book on the Life of Robert Bateman - 16th June 2014

A Summer Walk around Bursley from the Leopard Inn - 9th June 2014

The Spitfire Conservation Project - 19th May 2014

The Great War – Memories from Biddulph - 14th April 2014

AGM and the Genealogy Night - 17th March 2014

Pluck’t from the Burning - 17th February 2014

Oklahoma – Much More than a Musical - 20th January 2014


The Historian’s Christmas Address – The Bateman’s of Biddulph - 15/12/2015

The Christmas meeting was held on December 15th 2014 when the Society welcomed back Mr. John Sherratt for “The Historian’s Christmas Address – The Bateman’s of Biddulph” with a talk and slide show which added to the Society’s knowledge of the family which lived and worked at Biddulph Grange in the 19th century.

To the north of Kendal in the Lake District is the village of Burneside. It is a village dominated by a paper mill which has belonged to the Cropper family since the 1800s. James Cropper of Dingle Bank Liverpool and his wife Ann Wakefield, daughter of James Wakefield of Kendal, started the paper making business. Their son James (1823 to October 16th 1900) was an English Liberal politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1880 to 1885 who was also a J.P. and Deputy Lieutenant for Westmorland and was High Sheriff of Westmorland in 1875. The business prospered and a series of Cropper’s served as High Sheriff of Westmorland; Charles James Cropper of Ellergreen, Kendal (1905); James Winstanley Cropper of Tolson Hall, Kendal (1928); Anthony Charles Cropper of Tolson Hall, near Kendal (1950) and most recently Sir James Anthony Cropper KCVO of Tolson Hall (born December 22nd 1938) is the current Lord-Lieutenant of Cumbria.

Tolson Hall, which has been the home of the Cropper family from the 1900s, is important as it was also the home of James Bateman of Biddulph. The Hall was built in 1638 for Thomas Tolson, a local tobacco merchant. It contains a room with some 17th century panelling, one panel is dated 1638 and the glass in one of the ground floor windows has the wording "God by this meanes, has sent what I on this house have spent" together with some illustrations of some tobacco pipes. It is also rumoured that, built into the thickness of one portion of a six foot thick wall a small room was discovered. Legend has it that this may at one time have been used as a priest hole, when Protestant administrators came visiting.

Although it is often thought that the Bateman’s made their money in the Biddulph Valley, in fact, the family were originally from the Lake District and were extremely rich before they ventured into North Staffordshire. This was the area of research that John Sherratt had spent the year undertaking. The Bateman family descended from a Randall Bateman who lived at Garth Row Farm near Burneside and the family was involved in many different ventures including producing Kendal Green cloth. Randall Bateman died in 1622 and his sons and grandsons, who all tended to be called either James, John or William, began to buy further properties and the list included Garth Row, Coppice Howe Farm, Gillthwaite Rigg, Garnett House, Brow Foot, Bank End and Tolson House Farm. James and John Bateman also started selling malt for brewing and built a fleet of carts to do the deliveries. Mr. Sherratt produced many documents at this point including original account books for 1747 and 1751 for the James Bateman businesses. In 1769 a Thomas Bateman was running Kendal lawnmowers (sheep) over 700 acres. Some further papers on the family were found at Chester Record Office and in the Record Office at Kendal when John visited the area. There were also very detailed accounts of when two of Randall’s descendants, John and William Bateman, fell out and they agreed to split the estate in two.

The Bateman’s had become a rich and powerful family and when Thomas Bateman, Esq. of Tolson Hall, in the county of Westmoreland, died in 1730, he was succeeded by his eldest son. This was John Bateman, Esq. of Tolson Hall, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Brandiwaite, Esq. of Carlinghill, in the county of Westmoreland, (direct lineal descendant from and inheritor of the estates of Robert Brandiwaite of Carlinghill, keeper of the Tower of London for James I and secretary to Sir Richard Weston, K.G. Lord Treasurer of England for Irish affairs). They had two sons, James, his successor, and John who died unmarried in 1810. Mr. John Bateman died in 1783.

His successor, James Bateman, Esq. of Tolson Hall, married Margaret, daughter of Edward Nicholson of Kendal, merchant, and grand-daughter of the Rev. William Nicholson, of Old Hutton, by Margaret, first cousin to Secretary Cragg. They had a larger family with John his successor; James who was born in 1784 and died in Germany in 1800; Elizabeth who married William Thorpe, Esq. of Manchester; Margaret who married O.P. Wathen, Esq. fifth son of Sir Samuel Wathen of Woodcheater in the County of Gloucester; and Susanna who married Richard Gould, Esq. third son of Thomas Gould, Esq. of Northaw, in the County of Hertfordshire. Mr. James Bateman died in 1824, and was succeeded by his eldest son John.

The next John Bateman, Esq. of Knypersley Hall in the County of Stafford and of Tolson Hall, in the county of Westmoreland was born on October 21st 1782. He married Elizabeth, second daughter of George Holt, Esq. of Redivals in Lancashire on May 30th 1810. They had an only son, James, born on July 18th 1812. Their estates were recorded as:

  1. The townships of Strickland Kettle, Skelsmergh, and Burneside, Westmoreland, first acquired in 1622 and 1752.
  2. The townships of Manchester, Salford, and Redivals, Lancashire, first possessed in 1793. This was the home of both cotton mills and foundries which specialised in parts for mining pumps. William Sherratt, an engineer, is credited with keeping the firm profitable.
  3. The townships of Knypersley, Upper Biddulph (including the manor of Knypersley, the great tithes of the parish of Biddulph, and the perpetual advowson of the vicarage of Biddulph), Wolstanton, Horton, Rushton Spencer and Norton-le-Moors, Staffordshire, first possessed in 1809.
  4. The township of Stroud, Gloucestershire, obtained in 1818
  5. The townships of Congleton and Buglawton, Cheshire, acquired in 1823.

In 1841 the census records that John and Elizabeth Bateman are living at Knypersley Hall, with James who was 25 and his wife Maria, and James’s brothers, John and Roland, and with many local people employed as staff. John Bateman died in 1858 and was succeeded by his son James.

In 1861 the census records show James Bateman is living at Biddulph Grange with his sons John (33) and Robert (20) and many servants whilst his wife Maria is living on the Isle of Man. By 1871 the census record shows that James Bateman and his wife are living on Hyde Park Gate in South Kensington (still with six servants). They have little money left having spent the equivalent of millions of pounds on the Grange in the preceding years and the Biddulph estates have been sold to the Heath family. In this short time the family links with both Staffordshire and Cumbria end apart from the interesting story of Robert Bateman, the painter, who lived at Biddulph Old Hall.

Mr. Sherratt then showed his pictures of Tolson Hall, Strickland Ketel, Cumbria which is about a mile west of Burneside on Hollins Lane (just off the A591). There were a series of slides showing the gatehouse on Hollins Lane, which was built sometime round 1800, which has towers with turrets and arrow slits, being built as a folly. It was probably built when the Hall passed to James Bateman, who also commissioned the Elba monument in the field a few hundred yards away.

The monument was erected in 1814 and it was built by the Tories of Kendal, in response to the Castle Howe monument in the centre of town. It was designed to glorify the imprisonment of the Emperor Napoleon, but he escaped before the memorial’s plaque was put in place. It took 100 years for the originally intended inscription to appear, when Charles Cropper paid for the plaque to be made and mounted on the monument. In the grounds of Tolson Hall there is also a Whalebone Arch which some believe was put there by the Bateman family whose maritime connections are said to have included a whaling captain. This would place the bones’ arrival in the early part of the 19th century, which is consistent with a 1905 photograph showing the bones already tattered and weather-beaten. Curiously, the whalebone arch is reflected in the design of an old gateway to Tolson Hall nearby.

The final set of slides were details from many of the documents Mr. Sherratt has acquired including notebooks, legal papers and maps which were now so fragile they had to be handled with white gloves. It was exciting to see and read the comments made on the events of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries written in such a clear copper plate script.

Mr Machin thanked John for his excellent talk and for the detailed research and visits to Kendal which produced such a wide variety of interesting information, pictures and artefacts. The meeting then broke for a welcome cup of tea and mince pies.

Greenway Bank: Past and Present - 17/11/2014

The November meeting of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society was held on Monday November 17th in Biddulph Library. The meeting, like a Saturday morning film club of the ‘ABC minors’, began with a short presentation by the Society Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, inspired by the recent work of the Great War Group of the BDGHS, and detailed the lives of his relatives who had been members of the early Flying Corps and led to a short discussion of the problems involved in mounting guns on the early biplanes without shortening the propeller.

The Chairman then introduced Mr. Peter Durnall who started with one of his excellent wildlife films showing the changing of the seasons at Knypersley Pool. A valley of ancient woodland, streams, bluebell woods, woodpeckers, dippers, swans and grebes, now known as the 114-acre Greenway Bank Country Park. The main feature, which followed, was a very well researched and detailed history of Greenway Bank Hall and the associated pools. It was also a history of the early canals and the feuds between the local landowners as the boundaries of the two major estates ran along the centre line of both reservoirs. Many hundreds of interesting slides including old maps, bills of sale, postcards and photographs followed and your correspondent cannot do justice to the amount of information that was included in the next 70 minutes.

Here are some of the notes on the families involved and a few of the pictures. The valley was once part of the Knypersley Hall estate and was partially owned in 1778 by Hugh Henshall, brother-in-law of James Brindley, the engineer in charge of completing the Trent and Mersey canal. He created two lakes at Greenway, the upper in 1781 being fed by the Trent via a leat from Knypersley. The larger lake, Knypersley Pool, was created in 1828 to feed the Caldon Canal via the Trent. Hugh Henshall, engineer, was the Inspector of Works for the Trent and Mersey Canal which was built in the 1770s. The left hand side of the valley was inherited by Hugh Henshall Williamson, a local man who lived nearby at Greenway Bank Hall, who was mining in the Whitfield area. His mining activities at this period are somewhat uncertain but it is most probable that Williamson first made use of the existing mining sites and shallow shafts. You will still find boundary stones with the initials ‘HHW’ today.

A second player was James Bateman who was born on July 18th 1812 at Redivals near Bury in Lancashire, the son of John Bateman (1782-1858) of Knypersley Hall in Staffordshire and Tolson Hall in Westmorland, and his wife Elizabeth (née Holt), daughter of George Holt of Redivals. On April 24th 1838 he married the Hon. Maria Sybilla Egerton-Warburton, daughter of Rowland Egerton-Warburton of Norbury in Cheshire. At first James Bateman and his wife lived at Knypersley Hall, where he grew a large collection of orchids. They had three children: John, Rowland and Robert.

John Bateman (1839-1910) was born at Biddulph Grange on March 19th 1839. He was educated at Brighton College in Sussex, and then at Trinity College in Cambridge which he entered December 1st 1856. He became a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for Staffordshire and Essex. He died on October 12th 1910. Rowland Bateman (1840-????) studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he matriculated on December 15th 1859 aged nineteen, graduating Bachelor of Arts in 1864 and Master of Arts in 1867. A third son, Robert Bateman, was an artist and subject of the recent book by Nigel Daly. He had two daughters, Charlotte Bateman and Katharine Bateman who married Ulrick Ralph Burke.

James Bateman was a 19th-century landowner, amateur gardener and keen orchid collector. He was responsible for several books on the subject including the Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, published between 1837 and 1843. From about 1840, he built a mansion and made a remarkably exotic, compartmented garden known as Biddulph Grange. When James Bateman moved in he began to use the money inherited from his father’s coal and steel business and built up a notable garden for the display of his extensive plant collection with the help of his friend, the painter, Edward William Cooke. A drive was built in 1850, by James Bateman, from Biddulph Grange through Tinkers Clough and passed the Warder’s Tower (built 1828), down to the dam. The house was burned down in 1896 and rebuilt by the architect Thomas Bower. James Bateman and his wife left Biddulph Grange in 1869, moving to a house at Hyde Park Gate in London, and then in 1884 to Springbank, Victoria Road, Worthing, Sussex, where he died on November 27th 1897. He was buried on December 2nd 1897 in Worthing cemetery.

The third player, and perhaps the most ruthless at acquiring the valley’s assets was Robert Heath who bought Biddulph Grange from James Bateman and his sons in 1871. By 1872 Robert Heath, living at the time at Biddulph Grange, had also acquired Greenway Bank and Knypersley Hall.

Robert Heath and his wife Anne had nine children (only eight are recorded here). He was the son of Robert Heath (1779–1849) and Jane Plant (1782–1861) being born in 1816 in Burslem and dying in 1893 in Harrogate, Yorkshire. He married Ann Beech (by licence) in Tunstall in 1843 and they had the following children:

1844 - Birth of daughter Mary Heath who died in 1872
1848 - Birth of son William Heath who died in 1872
1851 - Birth of son Robert Heath
1852 - Birth of son Sir James Heath JP MP
1856 - Birth of son Col. Arthur Howard Heath MP
1857 - Birth of daughter Alice Jane Heath
1860 - Birth of daughter Florence (Flo) Gertrude Heath
1866 - Birth of son John Everard Heath

His son Robert Heath (1851) married Laura Fielder at the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, Chester, in 1875 and he died at Barlaston, Staffordshire in 1932. Whilst living at Greenway Bank they had a son born in 1876, Robert William Heath, but unfortunately Robert Heath’s wife died in 1897.

Robert William Heath (1876) was born at Greenway Bank, Norton and died in Biddulph in 1954. In 1900 he married Phyllis Martin in Wilmslow Parish Church and they had two sons, Robert Edward Heath (1901) and John Heath (1907). Phyllis died a year after Robert William Heath in 1955.

Robert Edward Heath, who was born in 1901, was single in 1938 when he went to the USA as a Lloyd’s Underwriter on business and there is no evidence he married but he lived until he was 70, dying in Leek in 1971. His brother had little to do with Greenway Bank being born in Chelsea in 1907 and dying in Sussex in 1965.

The Greenway Bank House was demolished in 1973. The grounds were acquired by Staffordshire County Council to be a country park. Knypersley Reservoir is still a canal feeder reservoir to supply water to the Caldon Canal, along with two others at Stanley Pool and Rudyard Lake. Designed by Thomas Telford, it was constructed by the waterways engineer James Potter. There were a number of problems both during and after construction with settlement of the dam, and a number of repairs had to be made. It is the only reservoir along the course of the River Trent, but as all of the inlets are unnamed, it is only downstream of the dam that the river formally becomes known as the Head of Trent.

There are two adjacent lakes at the site, the upper one being the Serpentine Pool which feeds the lower Knypersley Pool or reservoir. The Serpentine Pool was almost filled in and an SOS campaign was required to save it from the County Council plans. The Serpentine dam was rebuilt in 1990 and in 2006 substantial improvements were made by British Waterways, and it is currently operated and managed by their successors, the Canal & River Trust, as part of the Caldon Canal group.

A Jubilee Arboretum was planted at the head in 1977 and close to the site of the former house there is a little grotto with tufa arches (a soft porous limestone) but little of the 19th-century designed landscape survives. Greenway Country Park has lakeside walks, Gawton’s Stone and Well to visit and the Warden’s Tower. There is also a visitors’ centre which gives information about wild fowl and other wildlife to be seen.

Mr. Machin thanked Peter for his excellent talk and after a number of questions were answered the meeting broke for a welcome cup of tea and biscuits.

The pictures used in this report are from the archives of the BDGHS.

A World War I Research Evening - 20/10/2014

The October meeting was held on Monday October 20th 2014. The evening attracted many people from Biddulph interested in the research that has been undertaken by the BDGHS into the soldiers from the Biddulph area who died during the Great War.

The well-attended meeting included a chance to see WWI films and slides provided by society Great War researcher Michael Turnock. Thanks go to Peter Durnall who provided the projection equipment to show the films.

Members of the Society and many visitors had the chance to:

  • Find information about their relatives and how they and Biddulph were affected by the Great War.
  • Go online to see the information available on those soldiers who died in the battles across the Channel. Thanks go to Matthew in the Library who allowed the use of the Library computers to visit both the Biddulph Research and the numerous sites providing information on the First World War.
  • Talk to members of the Great War group of the BDGHS: Michael Turnock, Elaine Heathcote, Kath Walton and other members of the Great War Research Group.
  • Thanks go to Geraldine Outhwaite who ran the Society’s Book Stall in the absence of Mike Dawson through illness.

All the information on the men of Biddulph who died during the Great War is now been uploaded to the website. Many thanks again to David Moore, our web master, who has been busy adding this information and the new historical maps.

The Great War research project is gathering pace. All the men named on local memorials have been researched and their stories added to the site.

The next phase is to research the ‘Recruitment’ of local men and this is to begin shortly. The Great War Research Group would like information on those Biddulph men who served in the war and returned. If you have any information then please attend a Society Meeting.These are held on the third Monday of each month at 7pm in Biddulph Library. If you would like to help to do the research you are always welcome to join the group and if you would like to sample some of the stories that have been written then please follow this link here.

The William Salt Library - 15/09/2014

The first meeting of the new season was held at 7pm on Monday September 15th in Biddulph Library. The Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. Randle Knight who gave an illustrated talk entitled “The William Salt Library”. Mr. Knight explained that the Library is a registered charity supported by Staffordshire County Council which is currently housed in premises on Eastgate Street in Stafford. The core of the library, which opened in 1872, is the large collection of printed books, pamphlets, manuscripts, drawings, watercolours and transcripts built up by William Salt (1808-1863), a London banker. Originally housed in the former premises of the Stevenson Salt Bank in Market Square, Stafford, it moved to its present home in 1918. The library continues to collect and preserve printed material relating to Staffordshire and represents a major source for local and family history in Staffordshire. The original collection was the lifetime work by William Salt, whose hobby and passion was to collect anything and everything relating to the county of Staffordshire.

Considering how may paintings and sketches were commissioned by Salt this is the only picture of William Salt. Mr. Knight explained that William Salt’s freedom to collect the information on Staffordshire was the product of the prudent financial management of his ancestors. In a very detailed talk supported by a series of portrait slides the meeting was introduced to a catalogue of Staffordshire’s great and good. It also included the people William Salt met whilst living in London which allowed many documents about Staffordshire to be moved from Diocesan Records, Somerset House, the College of Arms and research by the Society of Antiquities. William Salt would employ people to collect information, one such was Captain Thomas Fernyhough, a Military Knight of Windsor, who spent six years transcribing documents in London before sending them to Stafford. One of the books is the only copy of the 1676 Compton Census for the Lichfield and Coventry dioceses. Many of the sketches and paintings commissioned were of the Churches of Staffordshire and this reflected the Salt family interest to support the buildings of the Church of England in the County. Later the Salt family also supported the non-aligned churches with donations to maintain the fabric of their buildings.

The following is a small part of the family history of the Salt family. William was one of the ten children of John Stevenson Salt (1777 to 1845). John S. Salt was the son of Thomas Salt (died 1788) of Rugeley, Staffordshire who had married in 1800 one Sarah Stevenson, granddaughter of William Stevenson, founder in 1737 of Stevenson’s Bank in Stafford. The bank was established at Cheapside, London in 1788. John S. Salt became a partner in the bank, which in 1801 was renamed Stevenson and Salt. In 1867 it merged with Bosanquet & Co. and later with Lloyds Banking Company. It was when Lloyds Bank moved to its present site in the Market Square in Stafford that the original bank building could be used to house the Library. John S. Salt owned estates at Weeping Cross, Stafford where in 1813 he built the White House, and at Standon Hall, Staffordshire and he served as High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1838. His ten children included Thomas Salt (b. 1791) his heir, who replaced the White House with a new mansion, Baswich House, built in 1850 (and demolished in March 2009) and whose son was Sir Thomas Salt Bt. MP (1830). Another of the ten children was William Salt’s brother the Rev. Joseph Salt (1810-1862), Rector of Standon, Staffordshire from 1845.

The son of William Salt’s eldest brother was Sir Thomas Salt, 1st Baronet (1830-1904) who was a banker and Conservative politician. Salt went on to be a director, and later Chairman, of Lloyds from 1884 to 1896. He was also Chairman, from 1883 to 1904, of the North Staffordshire Railway. He was also chair of the New Zealand Midland Railway Company in 1889. He was returned to Parliament for Stafford in 1859, a seat he held until 1865, and again from 1869 to 1880, 1881 to 1885 and 1886 to 1892. In 1899 he was created a Baronet, of Standon, and of Weeping Cross in the County of Stafford. His estates included Baswich House built by his father in 1850 and Standon Hall which his son later rebuilt in 1901. He died in April 1904, aged 73. His youngest son was a Major General in the Army and his granddaughter was the diplomat Dame Barbara Salt, DBE.

William Salt began his collection by acquiring the papers of the 18th century Staffordshire antiquary, Rev. Stebbing Shaw, who had started to write three volumes of Staffordshire History and had published Volume One in 1801. Volume Two was growing so large that only the first half was completed before he stopped writing. The manuscripts then went astray and ended up in the possession of a Birmingham Brass founder and William Salt purchased the documents in 1831. He also acquired items from contemporary local antiquaries such as Edward Thomas, the schoolmaster at Sandon, and James Broughton of Shenstone and Handsacre. Salt also brought together a significant collection of views of the county, commissioning artists such as John Buckler and Thomas Peploe Wood, as well as collecting earlier engravings and drawings relating to the county. His interest in heraldry led to close working with Thomas William King, York Herald at the College of Arms. He became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1842. In 1857 he married Helen Black and went to live at 23, Park Square East, near Regents Park. Salt died after collapsing on December 6th 1863 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. Mr. Knight visited the grave in the over-grown part of the cemetery and was requested to re-tell the anecdote at the end of the meeting.

William Salt left all his collections to his wife and five years later she had them catalogued for sale. At the last minute the sale was halted having come to the attention of William Salt’s nephew, Titus Salt MP, the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire and he persuaded Mrs. Salt eventually to donate his books and manuscripts to the County of Stafford. Unfortunately William Salt’s collection of coins, including many Staffordshire tokens and examples from the Stafford mint, had already been sold. The library is supported by the Friends of the William Salt Library. As well as raising funds for the library to enable it to purchase items for the collection, the Friends also help in practical ways, such as packaging and cleaning items in the collection. Colin Dexter undertook much of the research for his eighth Inspector Morse novel “The Wench is Dead” (published in 1989) at the library. Dexter recalled that he spent “a good many fruitful hours in the library” consulting contemporary newspaper reports of the murder of Christina Collins, on which the novel was based. He subsequently became patron of the library’s 135th anniversary fund-raising appeal.

Mentioned earlier was the work of the artists John Buckler and Thomas Peploe Wood. This is Wood’s painting of Martin Street, Stafford. Both were commissioned by William Salt to record local views before they disappeared as industrialisation swept them away. Wood himself was born on New Year’s Day in 1817 in the village of Great Haywood, and spent much of his youth in nearby Colwich. Wood perfectly fits the stereotype of the ‘romantic artist’ as he was poor, largely self-taught, but inately talented. From 1836 through to the early 1840s Salt sent him everywhere in Staffordshire, from Tipton in the south up to Burton-on-Trent, the Potteries and the Moorlands. For each picture Wood produced William Salt paid ten shillings, along with £5 a year expenses. Much of the world that Thomas Wood observed and captured in these years has gone forever, the ancient timber houses he saw in Cannock, Penkridge and Stafford and country houses of Tixall Old Hall, Tittensor Manor, Manley Hall have gone. Wood suffered from ill health throughout his life, and succumbed to tuberculosis at the young age of 28. There was an exhibition of his work at the Shire Hall in Stafford in 2009. The excellent catalogue, compiled by Mr. Randle Knight, is still on sale in the County Record Office.

A question and answer session followed and Mr. Knight explained the current situation surrounding the possible closure of the Library. He explained that the Eastgate Street site although a glorious building isn’t really suitable for the storage and display of the collection. The Library Trust hopes the collection will be moved into the County Archives in an adjacent building and join with the Staffordshire & Stoke-on-Trent Archive Service. Mr. Knight was thanked for an interesting and enlightening talk by the Society Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin. The talk should encourage the members of the Society who haven’t visited the Library yet to make an effort to do so.

Developments at Biddulph Old Hall and the Book on the Life of Robert Bateman - 16/06/2014

The June meeting was an addition to the season and was held at 7pm on Monday June 16th in Biddulph Library. Mr Roland Machin welcomed a full house of members and guests, and there were no spare seats even on this balmy summer evening. The interest in what Mr. Nigel Daly and Mr. Brian Vowles are doing at Biddulph Old Hall is always popular and this meeting wasn’t an exception. Mr. Machin thanked the pair for agreeing to speak to the Society again and for the ceaseless work that is being done to restore the hall and the amount of research they have undertaken in the ten years since they bought the dilapidated building.

Mr. Daly is a natural communicator and teller of stories and asides that coloured the talk and Mr. Vowles corrected rare mistakes or answered points of interest and questions whilst in command of an excellent slideshow presentation. In his book The Buildings of England: Staffordshire Sir Nicholas Pevsner wrote that Biddulph Old Hall was “A late 17th Century house of no pretension which is attached to an Elizabethan Mansion sacked in the Civil War”. (Staffordshire (1974): ISBN 978-0-300-09646-0). This statement Mr. Daly believes does the building a disservice and he outlined the contents of his talk in answering the question “Where are we after 10 years?” There were three strands to the talk:

  1. Things they have learnt through the renovation of the fabric of the inhabited house
  2. Things they have learnt about the Elizabethan Mansion through the restoration of the tower, documentary and scientific research, and investigation of the ruins
  3. Discoveries relating to the artist Robert Bateman and his association with the house

Did Biddulph Old Hall look like this? One of Mr Daly’s architectural drawings.

With a series of photographs Mr. Daly showed how the inhabited house was not a unified structure built after the Restoration in the late 17th century, but that it had had three distinct phases of construction. Firstly, an early single cell feasting hall with kitchen below, built about 1490–1520. Secondly, a late 17th century addition partly constructed with materials from the ruined mansion, and thirdly, an early 19th century double storey wing constructed as a Catholic chapel in about 1840 and later adapted by Robert Bateman as an artist’s studio. In fact the schism between the Catholic and Protestant faiths in England is reflected in many features of the buildings.

The second part of the talk detailed the things the pair had learnt about the Elizabethan Mansion through restoration of the tower, documentary and scientific research, and investigation of the ruins. This includes what the tasteful renovation of the tower taught them and what other information they have found about the mansion. They now believe the tower itself was an addition to the body of the building begun in about 1530 and was to be matched by a second tower as witnessed by the different plinth height and corbelling of the flues. The date stone of 1580 on the porch probably represents the last phase of construction of a plain symmetrical building begun about 1520-30.

It seems certain the north side of the mansion was three storeys high whilst the tower originally had three or four floors, but was re-floored after the attack (English Civil War) with six floors and a staircase. The top floor room of the mansion was accessed off the ‘leads’ and was a small double height space with a fireplace and a viewing gallery. Take a look at the photograph of the Tixall Gatehouse which may be a similar building. At Biddulph Old Hall the floor at the middle ring of windows formed a bay off the long gallery of the mansion which took up the whole north side at third floor level. Finally, the lower section was used as service accommodation which accounts for the ‘porthole’ windows which were originally unglazed. It is possible the east side of the house was timber framed as there are no upstanding ruins and the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) findings were much more fragmented and incoherent.

In coming to these conclusions they have consulted, and shown round the hall, Mr. Mark Girouard an authority on English Elizabethan architecture. Mr Daly also believes that he can prove a family connection between the Biddulph family and the Earls of Shrewsbury. Why is this important? A stonemason and later architect Robert Smythson could have been involved in the building and/or design of Biddulph Old Hall. In the light of the family connections and its architectural characteristics it is “highly probable” that Robert Smythson was involved in the design of the mansion as the building features a small central courtyard, offset corner bays on a symmetrical composition, a kitchen in the lower ground floor (unusual at the time), and balustrade near flat parapets with a crenelated stone screen which give access to banqueting rooms.

Smythson worked almost exclusively for a close circle of people with connections to his key patrons, the Earls of Shrewsbury, mostly in the north and east Midlands, Derbyshire and south Yorkshire. Who was Robert Smythson? He was an English architect (1535–1614) who designed a number of notable houses during the Elizabethan era. Little is known about his birth and upbringing - his first mention in historical records comes in 1556, when he was stonemason for the house at Longleat, built by Sir John Thynne (circa 1512-1580). He later designed Hardwick Hall, Wollaton Hall, Burton Agnes Hall, and other significant projects. Historically, a number of other Elizabethan houses, such as Gawthorpe Hall have been attributed to him on stylistic grounds. He died at Wollaton in 1614 and is buried in the parish church there; his memorial includes these words &;dquo;Architecter and Surveyor unto the most worthy house of Wollaton with divers others of great account.”

Another possible building he was involved with was at Tixall. The manor of Tixall was held for many years by the Littleton family until 1507 when the Littleton heiress married Sir John Aston. The medieval manor house was replaced by Sir Edward Aston, High Sheriff of Staffordshire, in about 1555 and the Gatehouse was added in about 1580. The Gatehouse is a three-storey rectangular structure, the balustraded facade of which is decorated with three orders of twinned columns. There are four octagonal corner turrets topped with cupolas and weather vanes.

Tixall was the family seat of the Lords Aston of Forfar. On the death of the sixth Lord Aston the estate passed to his sister, who had married Thomas Clifford. Clifford replaced the old house with a new mansion in about 1780 but retained the Tudor Gatehouse. Several local families were descended from the Astons, including the Levetts of Lichfield (and later of Wychnor Park). The Cliffords sold the Tixall estate to Earl Talbot of nearby Ingestre Hall in about 1835 and thereafter the property was let out to tenants. The Hall itself was demolished in 1927 leaving only the Gatehouse standing, and the estate was broken up when sold off piecemeal in 1960. In 1968 the Landmark Trust bought the Gatehouse which, following restoration, is now available for holiday lets.

The third part of the talk was about Robert Bateman and his association with the house. Mr. Daly explained the restoration of the house and the connection to Robert Bateman had become the basis of one, if not two, books. The first is about to be published The Lost Pre-Raphaelite: The Secret Life and Loves of Robert Bateman by Nigel Daly (ISBN: 978-1908524386). Here is the description of the book from Amazon.

“When the author bought a falling down fortified house on the Staffordshire moorlands, he had no reason to anticipate the astonishing tale that would unfold as it was restored. A mysterious set of relationships emerged amongst its former owners, revolving round the almost forgotten artist, Robert Bateman, a prominent Pre-Raphaelite and friend of Burne Jones. He was to marry the granddaughter of the Earl of Carlisle, and to be associated with Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, and other prominent political and artistic figures.

But he had abandoned his life as an artist in mid-career to live as a recluse, and his rich and glamorous wife-to-be had married the local vicar, already in his sixties and shortly to die. The discovery of two clearly autobiographical paintings led to an utterly absorbing forensic investigation into Bateman’s life.

The story moves from Staffordshire to Lahore, to Canada, Wyoming, and then, via Buffalo Bill, to Peru and back to England. It leads to the improbable respectability of Imperial Tobacco in Bristol, and then, less respectably, to a car park in Stoke-on-Trent. En route the author pieces together an astonishing and deeply moving story of love and loss, of art and politics, of morality and hypocrisy, of family secrets concealed but never quite completely obscured. The result is a page-turning combination of detective story and tale of human frailty, endeavour, and love. It is also a portrait of a significant artist, a reassessment of whose work is long overdue.”

As a sample of the response to the book here is a review by Allen Staley, Professor (Emeritus) of the History of Art at Columbia University, New York, and author of The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape.

“The Lost Pre-Raphaelite is fascinating and engrossing book, as well as an important contribution to our knowledge of Victorian painting, Victorian gardening, and the crippling rule of Victorian social convention. Remembered because of his contemporaries’ admiration, Robert Bateman, with only a single intriguing work in any public collection has until now been an extremely difficult artist to see, truly a “Lost Pre-Raphaelite”. Daly has fleshed him out with biographical information and a corpus of often beautiful (and beautifully reproduced) works, largely unearthed by his determined sleuthing, and has composed a totally unexpected but convincing portrait of the man, which bears directly upon the content of his otherwise often inexplicable pictures. This is not a book by an art historian, but perhaps a better book for that, written with an engaging freshness and originality which make it a pleasure to read.”

As you can see the book is being well received and Mr Daly’s work, with its connections to Biddulph and the Bateman’s will make an excellent Christmas present. There were too many photographs which could have been used to illustrate this report, suffice it to say that if you get the chance should the talk be repeated, do not hesitate to attend. An interesting question and answer session followed. Mr. Machin then thanked Mr. Daly and Mr. Vowles again for a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a lot of further discussion was held over the tea/coffee and biscuits.

Nigel Daly: The Lost Pre-Raphaelite: The Secret Life and Loves of Robert Bateman 2014 (ISBN: 978-1908524386)
Mark Girouard: Robert Smythson & the Elizabethan Country House 1983 (978-0300031348)
Robert Smythson

A Summer Walk around Bursley from the Leopard Inn - 09/06/2014

The June Walk was held on June 9th 2014. This year it was led by Mr. John Shapcott an expert on the life and works of Mr. Arnold Bennett.

Enoch Arnold Bennett was born on the May 27th 1867. His infancy was spent in genteel poverty, which gave way to prosperity as his father succeeded as a solicitor. From this provincial background he became a novelist, playwright, journalist and critic of international stature. Mr. Shapcott also added he was unique in that he also wrote film scripts but for the silent movies which he preferred. His enduring fame is as a chronicler of the Potteries towns, the setting and inspiration for some of his most famous and enduring literary work and the place where he grew up. He died of typhoid in 1931 and his ashes are buried in Burslem cemetery. In many ways, Bursley has remained unchanged and you can easily recognise places and buildings he mentions in his ‘Five Towns Novels’.

For more information on his life visit the Arnold Bennett Society web site which aims to further the appreciation of his life and works. Information included in this write-up comes from the Arnold Bennett Society’s “Bursley Trail” Leaflet.

The evening’s walk started and finished at the Leopard Inn, Market Place which is one of the oldest inns in Burslem, frequently mentioned by Bennett as The Tiger Public House. (A map of the walk produced had been produced by David Outhwaite). It has been a public house in continuous use since at least 1765 as this was the year when Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley met to discuss building the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Here is Arnold Bennett’s description of Burslem from Clayhanger 1910. “In front, on a little hill in the vast valley, was spread out the Indian-red architecture of Bursley - tall chimneys and rounded ovens, schools, the new scarlet market, the high spire of the evangelical church ...the crimson chapels, and rows of little red houses with amber chimney pots, and the gold angel of the blackened Town Hall topping the whole. The sedate reddish browns and reds of the composition all netted in flowing scarves of smoke, harmonised exquisitely with the chill blues of the chequered sky. Beauty was achieved, and none saw it”.

Turn right out of the Leopard and stop at the Post Office Vaults and across the road is the Wedgwood House once the home of two of Josiah Wedgwood’s uncles. It features in Bennett’s writing as the Conservative Club to which Darius Clayhanger turned after leaving the Liberal Club. An imposing listed building now in need of renovation.

Cross the road and stand in front of Ceramica which stands on Wedgwood Street and was the site of a brewery and the Shambles which was referred to in the Old Wives’ Tale. “In these barbaric days, Bursley had a majestic edifice ...for the sale of dead animals”.

As one of the walkers, David Sheldon, remarked, “eyes up”. Look above the shop fronts to see the old facades of the buildings. Look back at the house on the corner (Absolute Staff) as above it is the typical accommodation for the shopkeepers. On the opposite side of Wedgwood Street are the Old Post Office (1937) and next to it the Queens’ Theatre (another former Town Hall). Known in Bursley as the Blood Tub (Snagg’s Theatre); “melodrama and murder and gore, the Five Towns’ own form of poetry” were apparently performed here. To the left hand side of the road beyond the memorial to the 57 workers who died at Sneyd Colliery no. 4 Pit on January 1st 1942, are the manufactory of Edward Challinor (1869) and the Royal Stafford Pottery. Turn left and walk along the side of the present Town Hall to the monument to Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897). Stand at the main door of the Old Town Hall with the Golden Angel on the top. This listed building, erected in 1854, dwarfed the town in Bennett’s day. However, when the smoke from the bottle ovens cleared the Angel could be seen from all the surrounding area. (Photograph of the Angel by Kath Walton).

To the right is the Liberal Club (1902/3) with its red terracotta tiled front (former Car Insurance Brokers), now walk on to the New Inn on the corner of Westport Road known in Burlsey as Sytch Bank, in the attic dormer window Rudyard Kipling’s father worked as a designer. Turn right and you pass Ye Old Town Inn and Queen’s Chambers to stand opposite the Hill Top Chapel front labelled “Burslem Sunday School” with the derelict Hill Top works (1814) just beyond. Down Hill Street is the brick St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Now return along Westport Road past the White Hart (1889), Old Fire Station and the former Fountain Place Pottery of Enoch Wood (1879).

Use the pedestrian crossing by the District Bank (Nat West Bank) to enter St. John’s Square and stand by the ornate drinking fountain. Looking down the square to the former Woolworth’s, on the right is the Duke William Hotel, a terracotta building of 1884, the Bull’s Head and next door, on the first floor, the leaded windows of the dancing class from ‘The Card’ (Vale Dry Cleaners). On the left is the home of John Baines (1882) (Justice Club) and on the corner Daniel Povey’s Sweet Shop.

On the corner of William Clowes Street is the early home of Arnold Bennett. John Baines’s shop, where Provincial Racing stood, is unaltered above ground floor level. Bennett wrote, “I had lived in the shop and knew it as only a child could know it.” Critchlow’s chemist shop was on the right and was later a part of Woolworth’s.

Turn left onto Queen Street where the Market Hall was on the right. Halfway down Queen Street on the left are the narrow entries of The Cock Yard and Bugg’s Gutter (No 10). Part of the walk taken by Edwin and James Yarlet in Clayhanger, it is the area behind the Wedgwood Institute and also incorporates Clayhanger Street.

Stop in front of the School of Art (1905) and opposite is the Wedgwood Institute which once housed Burslem Endowed School which was attended by Bennett 1877-1880 and by Cyril Povey (Old Wives’ Tale) and Denry Machin (The Card). Unaltered and cleaned to reveal its ornate elevations, this is a listed building. Now empty and a former Library it was erected in 1863 and features a statue of Josiah Wedgwood over the main entrance whose Brickhouse Works once occupied the site.

Go up Clayhanger Street to the right of the Institute and you will find the 60 rooms of the Leopard. Return to Queen Street and pass the 1960s building that is being refurbished and stop in Swan Square. This is one of the oldest public places in Burslem and Bennett often refers to it as Duck Square and the Duck Inn where the hand-bell ringers used to meet. In fact, the Swan Hotel has been rebuilt since Bennett’s day, but the name has remained. From right to left you have the Queen’s Head (1885), Kismet Restaurant and the blue house which is the scene of Clayhanger’s Printing Works, home of Darius Clayhanger, the first steam printer in Bursley. Across Liverpool Road is the George Hotel another building to gain mention in the Five Towns novels where it appears as the Dragon Inn. Here Edwin Clayhanger went with Big James to his first ‘free and easy’ night out and was excited at seeing his first clog dancer! The George Hotel was rebuilt in 1929 on what is now known to have been the site of an Elizabethan building. (Photograph courtesy of Kath Walton)

Take the pedestrian crossing over the Liverpool Road and walk to the yard of the Swan Bank Church. The present Central Methodist Church was rebuilt in 1970, but the Sunday School is still as Bennett knew it when he attended the Infants’ School there. The building figured prominently in Anna of the Five Towns, Clayhanger and Old Wives’ Tale.

Continue towards the Wedgwood House and Red Lion but turn right at Lloyd’s bank and walk up Moorland Road. Pass the Congregational Church (1905) and stop at the former cinema (Pickering’s Fishing Tackle) notice the slope down the hill on the side to the entrance door. Pass the Staffordshire Potteries Stipendiary Commissioners Magistrate’s Office, the Moorland Pottery and the Alexandra Buildings of 1897. Cross the bridge over the Potteries Loop Line and enter the recently refurbished Park by the ornate gates and water fountains (Councillor Bowden 1897) and stand by the fountain. The park appears in many of Bennett’s books and at the top of the park are the bowling greens and band stands.

At the end of the walk sandwiches and a drink in the Arnold Bennett Suite gave members the chance to discuss the evening and a collection was taken for the Douglas MacMillan charity which John Shapcott supports.

The Spitfire Conservation Project - 19/05/2014

The May meeting was held at 7pm on Monday May 19th in Biddulph Library. Mr Roland Machin welcomed a full house of members and guests to the meeting and introduced Professor Ray Johnson who gave an illustrated talk about the Spitfire conservation project in Hanley Museum.

Operation Spitfire involves a group of volunteers who are committed to raising funds to help with the ‘restoration’ of Spitfire RW388 which is kept at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. It is a three-pronged project, firstly, to replace all the damaged parts of the Spitfire and then repaint it – not to prepare it for flying but as a source for engineers to use as the template of the original. Secondly, the project aims to inspire a new generation of engineers by engaging and involving the local community through visits to local schools with pupils of all ages, and thirdly, refurbish the gallery in order to bring the Spitfire Gallery itself “to life” with a new feature, a fully working Mk 5 Spitfire cockpit simulator.

One of Professor Johnson’s many roles has been to film elements of this journey and create promotional material. As he said, “he wants to let people see history in action and not just read about what happened in books – showing people information of its time.” He started his talk with a film about the local engineer who designed the Spitfire, Reginald Joseph Mitchell who was born at 115, Congleton Road, Butt Lane and whose birthday was on May 20th May 1895. He attended Queensberry Road High School and then Hanley High School, where his understanding of mathematics and technical drawing, enabled him to gain an apprenticeship at the Kerr, Stewart Locomotive Works at Fenton in 1911.

As the First World War raged, Mitchell successfully applied for a position as personal assistant to Hubert Scott-Paine, director of a small aviation firm, Supermarine Aviation at Woolston, Southampton in 1917. From the 1920s he was a member of the design team, and later Chief Designer, producing the Schneider Trophy-winning seaplanes which broke the world air speed record on no fewer than five occasions. These designs would be the basis of his most famous creation the Supermarine Spitfire.

When the company was taken over by Vickers Ltd in 1928, it was written into the contract that Mitchell should stay with the company for at least five years such was his reputation. Vickers tried to get Mitchell to co-operate with one of their top designers but Mitchell refused and stayed at Supermarine. The other designer was Barnes-Wallis who produced the Wellington bomber and the bouncing bomb.

Mitchell had a mixture of qualities. With people he did not know he often appeared shy. However, on his own ground within Supermarine, and with people he knew, he was a supremely able and confident manager who would not suffer fools gladly. Mitchell was particularly interested in safety and all his machines were above all safe to fly and to land.

The most commercially successful of Mitchell’s designs at this time were the big Southampton and Stranraer flying boats for the RAF which kept the company going through the economic depression. Following a medical check-up, Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer but if anything it seems to have galvanised him into even greater efforts at work and at play. He started flying lessons in December 1933 and got his pilot’s Licence in July 1934.

In a series of four short films Professor Johnson outlined the early history of the Spitfire and its use during the Second World War and the aerial battle we now call the “Battle of Britain”. The Type 300 Spitfire was designed to meet the Air Ministry’s requirement for an interceptor fighter with short take-off and landing, a speed of 250mph and clear forward visibility. A second film matched the country pursuit of hare coursing to the chasing of a Heinkel bomber by a Spitfire to the war time song “Run, Rabbit, Run”. The third film, a propaganda film, showed the relationship between the dogged performance of the Spitfire as viewed from the war-torn towns and country. Finally, a film dedicated to the hard work of the women who put together the wings and fuselage in factories all over the country and merged into a sales promotion film of the Spitfire flying dangerously low during a flying display.

Mitchell devoted most of 1935 to work on the Spitfire which was at this stage being developed by Supermarine as a private venture. The Spitfire prototype, with the serial number K5054, first flew on March 5th 1936. Piloted by “Mutt” Summers, it was reported to handle beautifully. In later tests it reached 349mph. Even before the prototype had completed its official trials the RAF ordered 310 Spitfires, the success of Mitchell’s design was assured. The naming of the new aeroplane was done by the directors of Supermarine; they were thinking of calling it the “Shrew” but decided to keep the name given originally to the type 224, the “Spitfire”. Mitchell’s sister-in-law, Elsie, remembers him saying, “Bloody silly sort of a name.”

It was in 1936 that Mitchell was again diagnosed to have cancer. In February 1937 he went into hospital in London but returned to his home soon after. Mitchell had to give up work, however he was often seen watching the testing of the Spitfire prototype at Eastleigh airfield from his yellow Rolls Royce motor-car when he should have been at home resting. He flew to Vienna for treatment in late April 1937 but returned to England at the end of May.

During the last months of his life he liked to sit in his garden, admire the flowers and listen to the bird-song. He died of cancer on June 11th 1937 at the age of 42. R.J. Mitchell had one son, Doctor Gordon Mitchell who told his father’s story in two books R.J. Mitchell - World Famous Aircraft Designer and R.J. Mitchell - Schooldays to Spitfire.

So Mitchell didn’t see the unfolding of the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 when 700 serviceable aircraft repelled the German Luftwaffe and stopped plans for the invasion of Britain. He didn’t see the pilots with very few flying hours relying on his Spitfire to bring them safely home. He didn’t see the women working long hours in the factories as mechanics and engineers assembling his plane. He didn’t see the ground crew who could re-fuel and re-arm a Spitfire in less than fifteen minutes to continue the fight. He didn’t see David Niven’s character, fresh from a dog-fight with German Messerschmitt fighters, push back the cockpit canopy of his Spitfire and shout at the sky, “They can’t take the Spitfires Mitch! They can’t take them!”

So Operation Spitfire RW 388 is looking for your help in creating a fitting memorial not only to the Spitfire, but to R.J. Mitchell and the role of engineering. For this reason the new Spitfire gallery will also showcase the real-life engineering projects – centred on the Spitfire – which are being run in local schools for boys and girls to encourage them to see engineering as a career option. So having senior pupils mentoring a propeller workshop for primary school children or having local school children re-create the iconic Spitfire in acrylic using CAD computer technology in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) will become common place.

An interesting meeting came to an end with many questions and answers. On the type of mark of Hanley Spitfire and its service record and a discussion of the term “preservation” which continued after Mr. Roland Machin had thanked Professor Ray Johnson for his talk and the meeting had broken up for tea and biscuits.

The Great War – Memories from Biddulph - 14/04/2014

The April meeting was held at 7pm on Monday April 14th in Biddulph Library. Mr Roland Machin welcomed a full house of members and guests to the meeting and introduced Mr. Michael Turncock who was to share his research into the Biddulph men who served in the Great War. Michael has been collecting information into these local men for many years and you may remember a publication by the BDGHS which Michael wrote called “A Packmoor Hero: John Harold Rhodes VC.”

With the Centenary of the Great War there has been a clamour for more information and this summer sees a number of Great War related history fairs including the BBC Radio Stoke World War One Family History Day at the King’s Hall in Stoke on Saturday June 21st. The BDGHS has also brought together a number of interested members who are putting local history stories together for each year of the Great War and making it available via this website. As well as doing research Michael, with his wife, has visited the graves of Biddulph men who are buried across the battlefields of Europe. They always leave a floral tribute and one of the graves they visited was that of Second Lieutenant John Slack of the Northumberland Fusiliers who died on May 27th 1918, aged 26 years who is buried at Ville aux Bois. There will be more of his story later.

Michael began his talk by showing a slide of the list of 500 Biddulph men who served in the Great War which can be found in St. Lawrence’s Church. Of the 500 Michael knows that 73 did not return and slowly the stories of these soldiers and their families is being told. This list is not the most comprehensive and Michael believes the actual number of local men who died will be higher. Unfortunately the Soldiers service records of many of the dead of the Great War were destroyed by German bombing during the Second World War.

Michael then outlined some of the sources by showing examples of Chronicle and Sentinel articles and photos of local soldiers which provided either a boost to morale and information on how the war was going. Surprisingly volunteers and later conscripts could end up in one of up to 30 different regiments and even their initial training could begin at say Chelford Barracks or Butterton Hall, Newcatle-under-Lyme and then disperse them to all part of the country. Michael’s talk always returned to the individual and his story and the first part included those of many local men. Sergeant Major Shore, Sergeant George Doorbar, Private William Biddulph, Private Abraham Millward (9th Cheshires), Lance Corporal Radford (Welsh Guards), Private Jack Wilshaw (K.O.Y.L.I.), Gunner William Rowe, Lance Sergeant Charles Yorke, and that of Lieutenant Voltelin Percy Heath (Royal Horse Guards) only son of Sir James Heath who was born on January 10th 1889 and died on September 4th 1914 from wounds received during the retreat from Mons and who is buried at the Chateau Baron in France. Other sources of information are, of course, the various war memorials in the area which include the one at St Lawrence’s Church of 1921 and the Town Memorial in Albert Square, Biddulph of 1922. There are also memorials in the local chapels and other churches around the area, for example, Biddulph Moor and Knypersley. The first part of the talk ended with Geraldine Outhwaite reading of the ominous warning sermon of the local preacher at the unveiling of the town memorial.

For the second half of his talk Michael introduced the meeting to the story of three local men and he has kindly given me permission to retell them here.

1st Soldier Story: John Barnett Slack. This is a very sad fateful story which finishes in the most beautiful of French countryside. Our soldier is John Barnett Slack, a serving Manchester policeman before the Great War. He lived with his father Henry at Tunstall Road, Biddulph, as his mother Sarah Ann had died a few years earlier. In August 1914 John was already fulfilling an important position however by November the following year he enlisted in the army as a private in the Royal Engineers. After training, his unit was sent to France where he served until January 1917 then he returned to England for officer training.

John was attached to the Artist Rifles 28th battalion London Regiment for his officer training. He gained his commission and then as 2nd Lieutenant Slack he returned to the front in November 1917 where he was transferred to an infantry battalion, the 1/5th Northumberland Fusiliers part of the 50th Division, the “Fighting Fifth” as they were known. This division was fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres where they had an awful time with heavy losses, the battalion was decimated, although they spent until March 1918 in the Ypres Salient, then John’s battalion, along with five divisions of exhausted battle disabled troops, were moved south for recuperation and refit into a quiet area between Soissons and Rheims in the French sector of the Western Front. This area is known as the Chemin des Dames, and is in the most beautiful countryside of rolling hills and woods, situated in the valley of the River Aisne.

Here in May 1918 an awful twist of fate accrued; this supposed quiet safe area was to become the battlefield of the Aisne, a name relatively unknown, unlike the Somme or Passchendaele. Unaware to the French and British command, behind the high ridge the enemy were amassing a large army and at 1.00am in the morning on May 27th 1918, the enemy bombardment opened and by 4.00am the infantry attacked. The 50th Division in which John Slack served endured a terrible ordeal.The enemy were held at first but soon dense waves of assault troops broke the British line. This quiet area became a nightmare and in this action, near the village of Pontavent, John Slack at the age of 26 fell on the battlefield.

He had survived the dreaded Ypres Salient only to die in this quiet valley whilst at rest. Originally Lieutenant John Barnett Slack was buried by the Germans in their cemetery at Pontavent and only after the armistice was he transferred to the British Cemetery at Ville aux Bois. Michael and his wife made a visit to this cemetery, taking the photograph above, on a battlefield tour in 2001 to remember a brave local soldier.

2nd Soldier Story: William Bailey and Gunner William Henry Nixon – Gunner Nixon’s photograph on the right – a story of two soldier pals from Biddulph Moor.

This story is taken from our family history booklet using the personal recollection of William Bailey as told to his relatives. William Bailey was born in 1895 at Biddulph Moor, a miner and farm worker, son of James Richard also a miner, farmer and antique dealer and mother Ann living at the time at High Bent Farm, The Hollands. His pal William Henry Nixon who worked at Robert Heath’s Iron Works and living with his parents Jonathan and Mary of Birch Tree Farm. His father was registrar for Biddulph district.

Both joined the army in early 1917 training at Sheffield and Newcastle-upon-Tyne with the Royal Field Artillery. With training complete the pals were ready for war and in July 1917 they entrained for the channel ports attached to “B Battery 51st Artillery Brigade” as a replacement draft. On the Western Front at Arras they joined their unit as artillery to the 9th Scottish Division. Soon to fight in the Third Battle of Ypres, in this battle to gain Passchendaele the division had many casualties, and it was in an area near Adler Farm that William Henry Nixon was wounded.

His wounds were serious, in both arms and legs. Before being taken to the advanced dressing station at Duhallow his pal William Bailey saw him lying in a place he later described as similar to “Staniers (Stanways) Lane, Biddulph Moor” and according to the Biddulph Chronicle of November 10th 1917 “there was very little hope from the outset.” Gunner Nixon died soon after from his wounds, on October 13th 1917. He is now at rest in the beautiful Duhallow British Cemetery near Ypres. Life went on for the others in “B Battery” and after a short rest period the 9th Division were ordered south to fight in the Battle of Cambrai.

The photograph to the right is of Uncle Will Bailey with Julie and Albert taken in 1969 – all photographs are courtesy of Michael Turnock.

The battery were on new ground now. William Bailey and his other mates had become experienced artillery men and their 18-pounder field guns gave a good account. Unfortunately they also attracted the enemy attention too well. On what is believed to have been November 30th, William, along with two other artillery men from the Potteries, were on the battlefield when a low flying German aeroplane, (a string bag as the men called them) spotted the pals. They took cover in a shell hole but the German airman dropped a stick grenade, (a potato masher), on the artillery men which killed the pals of William outright.

One of the pals always wore a belt with army badges on it; he told the others if anything happened to him they must take the belt. William was so upset and stunned he could not take belt and did not realise he himself had been wounded until he stood up and saw his putties were turning red from blood running down his back. He soon became weak and realised he must quickly seek medical help. With enemy all round he was in grave danger and armed only with a grenade.

The aid post was in the distance so he started to crawl towards safety. On the way he met an armed enemy soldier who turned out also to have serious wounds. William had pulled the pin from his grenade in readiness but seeing no danger threw the grenade into a shell hole where it exploded safely and both men went their separate ways for treatment. William was treated in France for the serious shrapnel wound to his back.

He was eventually transferred to Blighty for more surgery and recuperation at the Merryflats War Hospital in Govan, Glasgow where he stayed until the late summer of 1918. William Bailey did not return to the front. He had survived the Great War. Remember the grenade? He kept the pin and on his return home it always hung on a beam in Springfield Farm, Over the Hill, Biddulph Moor. Although always troubled by his wound he lived to be 84 years and died in 1979. Sadly his medals were lost and the family would dearly wish to see them again.

The meeting were enthralled by Michael’s talk and an animated question and answer session followed. If this is a sample of what Michael and the Great War Research Group can produce then the Society and the people of the Biddulph area are in for an interesting four years. Roland Machin thanked Michael for a truly fascinating and inspiring talk.

AGM and the Genealogy Night - 17/03/2014

The March meeting was held at 7pm on Monday March 17th in Biddulph Library. Mr Roland Machin welcomed the members to the Annual General Meeting and presented his Chairman’s report. He started by saying the BDGHS continues to be buoyant and in good health. This was mainly as a result of the excellent commitment, co-operation and goodwill he received from the Committee that includes Derek Wheelhouse, David Outhwaite, Kath Walton, Elaine Heathcote, Michael Turnock and Madelaine Lovatt. He was also grateful for the attendance of so many people who come on a regular basis. He also stated again that the BDGHS is very well served by the expertise of David Moore who maintains and has revamped the website.

The Chairman then outlined the meetings and speakers, who embrace a wide spectrum of local history, starting with the last meeting of the summer when John Whaley gave his highly entertaining presentation on the life and music of George Formby. This was followed by a very enjoyable guided walk which took us to Greenway bank and refreshment at The Nelson in Brown Lees Road. The winter programme, starting in September had included presentations on the First World War huts on Cannock Chase from the County archivist, Stephen Dean. Angela Baskeyfield described her detailed academic research on the Bridestones. Local talent including John Sherratt, Geoffrey Brown, Bill Ridgeway and his team have provided the Society with first rate presentations to date this year.

Next month sees Mike Turncock who will enlighten us in April with his research into Memories of The Great War. To come in May, we look forward to welcoming Professor Ray Johnson who will talk about the Spitfire conservation project in Hanley Museum. In June, Nigel Daly and Brian Vowles will bring us up to date with the restoration at Biddulph Old Hall to coincide with publication of their eagerly awaited book and also in June we plan to follow in Arnold Bennett’s footsteps with an evening walk round Burslem led by John Shapcott followed by refreshment at the historic Leopard.

The Secretary’s report included an update on the publications and sales of the Society’s books. The Treasurer’s report was circulated by Kath Walton. It showed the Society was still in good health and that there had only been a small fall in funds mainly due to the fact that the Society hadn’t produced a publication in the last twelve months although a number of books are in the pipeline. The only change that was proposed was that the charge for non-members attending the meetings would be raised to £2 whilst membership remains at £5 annually. The Archivist’s report included a list of newly acquired books, articles and artefacts which Elaine Heathcote has added to our collection. Elaine also outlined the new website and the increase in visitors as more information and maps have been included. The next step will be to add more of the photographs and documents in the collection so they can be accessed on-line.

The meeting then moved onto the Election of Officers. Mr. Derek Wheelhouse will remain as the honorary President. As all the present officials of the committee have expressed their willingness to continue and no other nominations have been received Mr. Machin asked for a proposer and seconder and the following were duly elected:

Chair Roland Machin.
Secretary David Outhwaite.
Treasurer Kath Walton

The meeting then broke up into a number of different elements which occupied the full extent of the Library. These included:

  1. The genealogy evening when members and non-members could use the Library computers to research any of area of history they are interested in. The PCs were busy all evening and the BDGHS thanks Matthew and his staff for setting the machines ready for use.
  2. There was a slide show of 50 images selected by Elaine Heathcote from the archives. These included the photograph above which is the marriage in July 1921 of Miss Laura Heath to Mr. H.D. Crewdson. The picture is taken outside Biddulph Grange and will feature in a forthcoming publication on Biddulph marriages over the decades based on the display in the Library.
  3. There was a second chance to see Mr. Bill Ridgway’s “Dramatic Presentation - Pluck’t from the Burning” as a film, recorded at the February meeting by Professor Ray Johnson, was also shown. Many thanks to Peter Durnall who brought in his projector and theatre sound system.
  4. A large table of maps that belong to the Society some of which are now available to view on the website.
  5. An even larger table of books and manuscripts both from the archives and the collection of Mr. John Sherratt were available to view.
  6. Geraldine Outhwaite attended the meeting to discuss her latest book “Brownhills, the Beatles and Beyond” which had its launch in the Library on proceeding Saturday, March 15th. A number of ‘old girls’ and those who travelled to the “Place” and “Top Rank” in the 1960s were seen in animated discussion.
  7. There was also a raffle to boost Society funds when the prizes included jars of jam and a choice of local history plates.

    Due to the late arrival of the Easter Holiday the next meeting of the Society will be held on April 14th when Michael Turnock will talk about “The Great War – Memories from Biddulph” The Meeting will be held at 7pm in Biddulph Library, Tunstall Road, Biddulph and admission is now £2 but free for Members of the Society (Annual Membership £5). Please note this is one week earlier than usual – on the Second Monday of the Month.

Pluck’t from the Burning - 17/02/2014

The February meeting on Monday February 17th 2014 and was the first performance of Mr. Bill Ridgway’s “Dramatic Presentation – Pluck’t from the Burning”.

The society chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. Bill Ridgway to the large expectant audience as the writer of a number of plays about local eminent characters all of which the History Society had helped to promote. There has been a long association with Mr. Ridgway which included the first performance of his play about Mr. James Bateman and another Victorian naturalist Mr. Edward William Cooke in 2010; a second on the relationship between Mr. Arnold Bennett and his French wife Marguerite which was presented as part of the Border History Fair in Biddulph in 2011; and, this third play a story of the origins of Primitive Methodism.

Mr. Ridgway introduced the members of the cast for the play reading with, in alphabetical order, Frank Harris Esq. in various roles including Daniel Shubotham; Geraldine Outhwaite in various roles including that of Hugh Bourne’s mother; William Ridgway Esq. in various roles including that of Hugh Bourne’s father; David Tildersley Esq. as Master William Clowes; Helen Tildersley in various roles including that of William Clowes’ wife; and Terry Williams Esq. as Master Hugh Bourne.

The play reading lasted a good hour including the singing of a number of verses from Primitive Methodist hymns to a harmonium accompaniment and was well received by the audience who had many discussions with the writer and his cast over the tea and biscuits at the end of the meeting.

A potted history of the Primitive Methodists and its two main leaders.

For those who want more information visit the Biddulph Library, Engelsea Brook Museum or look out for the next performance of Bill Ridgway’s play reading.

Government Building with Oil Derrick [photo: Geoffrey Browne]

Pointon’s Farm and House was the first place used by the Methodists in Mow Cop.

Preachers used to come to the house fortnightly to take services, but they sometimes failed to arrive. This happened on July 12th 1801, when Hugh Bourne was persuaded to preach. The house filled with people and, as it was a warm day, they also spilled out onto the hill side. A few years later Hugh Bourne became the founder of Primitive Methodism when he called a camp meeting at Mow Cop which lasted for over fourteen hours.

Hugh Bourne was born on April 3rd 1772 at Ford Hayes Farm, Bucknall. In 1788, after basic training as a carpenter, Hugh moved to the nearby mining village of Bemersley and was apprenticed to his uncle as a wheelwright. After ‘serving his time’ learning the trade, Hugh specialised principally in making and repairing windmill and watermill wheels. Bourne’s conversion at the age of twenty seven led him to join the local Wesleyan society at Burslem. He continued as a wheelwright but, after a period of group bible study, soon became a Methodist lay-preacher.

By 1800, Bourne had moved a short distance to Harriseahead, a mining village near Biddulph. To engage with people, Bourne developed a style of open-air preaching, combined with public confession of sin, group prayer, and hymn singing. This was clearly distinctive from the Wesleyan norm and provided the template for the later Camp Meetings. One notable achievement of this revival was the religious conversion of Burslem-born William Clowes (1780-1851), the other joint founder of Primitive Methodism.

William Clowes was born in 1780, in Burslem in North Staffordshire, which was the centre of the pottery making industry. He became a master potter by trade and earned a good wage. In his youth he led a decadent lifestyle marked by drunkenness, swearing and violence. He wasted his money and ran into debt, but was also a champion dancer.

He joined with Hugh Bourne and others in promoting open-air Camp Meetings from 1807 onwards. Because of his involvement in, and commitment to these events, he was expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists in 1810. This expulsion resulted in Clowes and Bourne beginning a separate movement which took the name Primitive Methodism in 1812.

Oklahoma – Much More than a Musical - 20/01/2014

The January meeting was held at 7pm on Monday January 20th2014 in Biddulph Library. Mr Roland Machin introduced a talk, “Oklahoma – Much More Than A Musical” by Mr Geoffrey Browne.

Early last year Mrs. Ann Browne had to go to Oklahoma and during a 10-week stay she and Mr. Browne took the opportunity to study this central southern state. Oklahoma State is the 20th most extensive, the 28th most populous of the United States, with a name derived from the Choctaw words ‘okla’ and ‘humma’, meaning “red people”. On November 16th 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state to enter the union with its residents known as Oklahomans or, informally “Okies”, and its capital and largest city Oklahoma City.

Mr. Browne took many photographs which featured in an excellent slide show. The main impression from the pictures is of a dry, red dust landscape to the distant horizon. This is the main topography of the state with small mountain ranges, prairie, mesas, and eastern forests, as most of Oklahoma lies in the Great Plains and the U.S. Interior Highlands – a region especially prone to severe weather as thunderstorms and tornadoes develop and wreak havoc in the season.

The population of Oklahoma is a mixture of English, German, Scottish, Scotch-Irish, Black (15%), Hispanic (15%) and those of Native American ancestry, with more than 25 Native American languages being spoken which is second only to California. The state is located on a confluence of three major American cultural regions, which historically served as a route for cattle drives, a destination for southern settlers, and a government-sanctioned territory for Native Americans.

The history of Oklahoma probably starts with native peoples who travelled through the Plains as early as the last ice age with ancestors of the Wichita and Caddo Indians living in the area. The westernmost centre of the Mississippian culture was Spiro Mounds which flourished between AD 850 and 1450. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado of Spain travelled through the state in 1541, but French explorers claimed the area in the 1700s, remaining under French rule until 1803, when all the French territory west of the Mississippi River was purchased by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. During the 19th century, thousands of Native Americans were expelled from their ancestral homelands from across North America and they walked to settle in the area including and surrounding present-day Oklahoma. The Choctaw was the first of the Five Civilized Tribes to be removed from the south eastern United States. The phrase “Trail of Tears” originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831. The area, already occupied by Osage and Quapaw tribes, was called for the Choctaw Nation until revised Native American and then later American policy redefined the boundaries to include other Native Americans. By 1890, more than 30 Native American nations and tribes had been concentrated on land within the Indian Territory or “Indian Country”.

In the period between 1866 and 1899, cattle ranchers in Texas strove to meet the demands for food in eastern cities and railroads in Kansas promised to deliver in a timely manner. Cattle trails and cattle ranches developed as cowboys either drove their product north or settled illegally in Indian Territory. Increased presence of white settlers in Indian Territory prompted the United States Government to establish the Dawes Act in 1887, which divided the lands of individual tribes into allotments for individual families, encouraging farming and private land ownership among Native Americans but expropriating land to the federal government. In the process, railroad companies took nearly half of Indian-held land within the territory for outside settlers and for purchase.

Government Building with Oil Derrick [photo: Geoffrey Browne

Major land runs, including the Land Run of 1889, were held for settlers where certain territories were opened to settlement starting at a precise time. Usually land was open to settlers on a first come first served basis. Those who broke the rules by crossing the border into the territory before the official opening time were said to have been crossing the border sooner, leading to the term ‘sooners’, which eventually became the state’s official nickname.

During the 1930s, parts of the state began suffering the consequences of excessive farming, extended drought and high winds. Known as the Dust Bowl, areas of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and north western Oklahoma were hampered by long periods of little rainfall and abnormally high temperatures, sending thousands of farmers into poverty and forcing them to relocate to more fertile areas of the western United States. Many travelled to California but some were turned back at the border. Soil and water conservation projects markedly changed practices in the state and led to the construction of massive flood control systems and dams; they built hundreds of reservoirs and man-made lakes to supply water for domestic needs and agricultural irrigation. By the 1960s, Oklahoma had created more than 200 lakes, the most in the nation and added to these were protected areas for Bison and the native long horned cattle.

Government Building with Oil Derrick [photo: Geoffrey Browne

Oklahoma is now a very rich state with a growing population and Oklahoma City is a mixture of very new tall sky-scrapers, like the Devon Energy Tower, and many refurbished neo-classical brick buildings.

One surprising feature is that the State Capital has an oil well in its grounds. The state has been a major producer of natural gas and oil for over one hundred years but agriculture is still a major part of the economic base, along with aerospace, energy, telecommunications, and biotechnology. In 2007, the state’s centenary, it had one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, ranking among the top states in per capita income growth and gross domestic product growth.

Other milestones in Oklahoma’s history include in 1927 the campaign to create U.S. Route 66 when a Oklahoman businessman Cyrus Avery, known as the “Father of Route 66” used a stretch of highway from Amarillo, Texas to Tulsa, Oklahoma to form the original portion of Highway 66. Avery then spearheaded the creation of the U.S. Highway 66 Association to oversee its planning.

In 1995, Oklahoma City was the site of one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in American history. The Oklahoma City bombing of April 19th 1995, in which Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated an explosive outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killed 168 people, including 19 children.

The lasting memory of Oklahoma for Geoffrey and Ann is of very friendly people, panoramic prairie grasslands where there had been severe drought, and pinyon pines, red cedar (junipers), and ponderosa pines grow nearly dry rivers and creek beds. Marshlands, cypress forests and mixtures of shortleaf pine, loblolly pine and deciduous forests dominate the state and include the eastern red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana) which Geoffrey found can cause severe allergic reactions. They visited just a handful of Oklahoma’s fifty state parks, six national parks or protected regions, two national protected forests or grasslands, and a network of wildlife preserves and conservation areas. Six percent of the state’s 10 million acres (40,000 km2) of forest is public land, including the western portions of the Ouachita National Forest, the largest and oldest national forest in the Southern United States.

The centre of Oklahoma City they found had little traffic and it was very easy to drive about the State. The history and culture of the Indian people is well represented in the area and is far from the view presented in early Western novels and films. In fact, Oklahoma had some of the earliest Colleges and a University in America that were created by the native Americans. The Indians have a hundred years of tradition on the plains, forests and farms with a system of tribal rules. In 1821 they had a first written language devised by George Guest, a Cherokee silversmith. They saw many examples of Indian art and culture including the statues outside the Oklahoma Government Building. Finally, the Indian tribes were able to set up casino’s which in 2011 contributed 3.5bn dollars creating jobs and paying for health care. The cowboys, also, still have a presence in the large cattle pens down by the railway lines.

Roland Machin thanked Geoffrey for his fascinating talk and was glad a “reporter” of such stature had been able to visit Oklahoma and spend his time gathering such a volume of useful information and photographs during the visit. He also wished Ann, Geoffrey’s wife a full recovery after her course of treatment. A number of questions were answered before the meeting broke up for a welcome cup of tea and biscuits.

For those who would like to read the diary of a Biddulph man who went to make his fortune in America then the Society published Transaction 7 “From Bradley Green to Massachusetts”, written by Enoch Whalley at £5 for the A4 copy. Copies available from Biddulph Library.

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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Created by the late Mr. David Moore