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

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Meeting Reports - 2015

The Historian’s Christmas Address – The Unusual History of Biddulph - 21st December 2015

Till the Boys Come Home - Biddulph Valley Goes to War - 16th November 2015

An Illustrated History of the Dye Works - 19th October 2015

The Feuding Foden's - 21st September 2015

Geological Gallery at Biddulph Grange - 15th June 2015

American Troops in Biddulph - 18th May 2015

Crime on the Canals - 20th April 2015

AGM and Research Evening - 16th March 2015

The Leek double sunset and the importance of the Bridestones to Pre-Historic peoples - 16th February 2015

Quakers of the Staffordshire Moorlands - 19th January 2015


The Unusual History of Biddulph - 21/12/2015

The Christmas meeting of the 2015/2016 season of the BDGHS was held on the 21st of December in Biddulph Library at 7.00 p.m. when Mr. John Sherratt’s gave his Christmas Address with the title “The Unusual History of Biddulph”. The talk was a retrospective look at the life of John as he grew up in Biddulph with contemporary photographs of his family, homes they had lived in and the alleys and lanes of the Town that he grew up in.

John Sherratt’s great grandfather, Charles, worked for Mr. Bateman at the Knypersley Park Farm Building (photograph of the Farm Barn below).

One of the first photographs shown was of John’s Uncle Jack Wedding in 1943 to Mary Sutton which was held in Brindley Ford Chapel. Mary unfortunately died and Uncle Jack remarried one of her sisters. Another photograph was of John’s father standing in front of a Dennis E40 bus belonging to the Invincible Bus Company whilst parked on Wharf Road. Next was a picture of John’s Auntie Lizzie who was married to Bertram Connaught Sherratt and ran Biddulph Moor Post Office in 1940’s and 50’s. His parents at this time, 1948 at the time of his Auntie Maureen’’s wedding, were living at Moor View Bungalow when his brother Lester was two years old.

The family moved to 59 Tunstall Road with a tin bath in the scullery and outside earth closet emptied by the Council. Next door were the Hammonds and Freddie Brown, nearby was Sammy Dean the decorator; Annie Bennett who was organist at Knypersley Church; Gertie and Molly Breeze; and Stan Jukes whose could singe you hair when he cut it. John walked to school down John Street, Well Street, Moorfield Avenue, the clay path and would call for a pennyworth of toffee at Cheetham’s store. In the summer John would visit his Grandma’s house at Gillow Heath an old thatched cottage with apple trees. Whilst his mother was cleaning for the Peake family or Doctor Ferguson John would be free to walk up Mow Lane, which was always wet with sand, and go swimming (dog paddle and breast-stroke) in the canal or camping in Willett’s Wood. Back on Tunstall Road he would do errands pushing Iana in a wheelchair to Knypersley Cricket Ground, collecting a pint of milk from Edgar Sutton at Tatton Farm at the top of Tunstall road and collect 5lb of potatoes and 1lb of Lard from the William’s. Trevor Williams had a horse, called “Tom” and cart to do deliveries. John also had to avoid bumping into Captain Robinson, the truant officer, when he wandered to his Auntie Lizzie’s house on Biddulph Moor. The photograph below is the rear of the houses near 59 Tunstall Road, Biddulph

Another place to avoid was Taylor’s the dentists – Old Mr. Taylor was of the old school and a frightening prospect whereas Young Mr. Taylor was preferred. John would run errands down West Street (known as Monkey Street) for Jim Blackett and Miss Davis who lived near the entrance to the allotments. By Sam Deane’s House at the top of John Street is a rare Edward VIIth red Post box. The Durber family lived nearby and also Bill Salt and John’s Uncle Tom Sherratt who didn’t speak to the family at all. Other neighbours were Miss Stott who had a chip shop where John would buy a 1d of chips. John Cumberbatch lived opposite but unfortunately died in an accident at Whitfield Colliery. At the old Manse lived Dr. Ferguson and Dr Dobie and by the John Street entrance was the Beech’s house who were coal merchants. Next to an oat cake shop was the white house where the Elk’s lived.

John’s walk to school took him past Mellors End, a hut on Moorfield Avenue belonging to the Willdes, Cheetham’s Shop, George Rhodes Garage, the home of a coal miner, Bill Reynolds, and the Tall Oaks where Mr. Chaddock lived. John remembers that Cheetham’s shop had a petrol pump in the wall and a number of old enamel sighs. Well Street had a large house for one of Heath’s manager and Heath Street was named by Jane Bateman and later renamed Knowlestyle. From Higgs Farm a pony and cart would travel the area collecting potato peelings to feed pigs. Down on the Recreation ground there was an air raid shelter – useful during the First World War when the Luftwaffe dropped land mines in the area. John Street was where Mr Bones Griffiths, a tall man, and his wife lived with Malcolm, Alan and Madelaine. It was also the site of Sellar’s Garage where John would be sent to order the coal. At the bottom of John Street was a tip where a shaft and a seam of coal broke the surface.

All these reminiscences were illustrated with many excellent photographs of the areas of Biddulph in which John grew up. He then answered a number of questions and shared anecdotes about early Biddulph with the audience. Mr. Roland Machin, the Chairman, thanked John for his talk and pointed out the many documents which would also be available to view when the meeting broke for tea and biscuits.

Finally, Mr. Machin presented John with the Society Bursary for his research into Biddulph history and his series of lectures over the years.

Mr Machin also reported that Richard Dean’s “Victorian Biddulph Map Book” is now on sale at £6.95 and had a successful book launch on Saturday the 19th of December. It is now on sale at Biddulph Library and The Picture Book in Leek.

Till the Boys Come Home - Biddulph Valley Goes to War - 16/11/2015

The latest meeting of the 2015/2016 season of the BDGHS was held on the 16th of November in the Methodist Chapel at the Victoria Centre, Biddulph at 7.30 p.m. The meeting was the first performance of a play written by local author, Bill Ridgway, entitled “Till the Boys Come Home - Biddulph Valley Goes to War”. The play reading was a homage to the men from Biddulph and the surrounding area who gave their lives in the First World War.

The songs which were led by members of the Kingfield Ladies Choir – Edna Ferriday, Anthea Howell, Geraldine Outhwaite, Helen Tildesley and Thelma Williams - included ‘Roses Are Blooming in Picardy’, ‘They’ll never believe me’, ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’, ‘Pack up Your Troubles’, ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’, ‘Goodbye-ee’ and ‘Keep the home fires burning’. With Mr. Terry Williams singing a solo verse of ‘They’ll never believe me’ before the audience joined in with the second verse. Mr. Williams also sang the song ‘I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls’. Mr. Bill Ridgway played the piano accompaniment for all the songs.

A synopsis of the play:

The narrator [played by Geraldine Outhwaite] started by giving the date - June 28th 1914: Calvin [played by Alan Heathcote] and John [played by Philip Leese] are on the early shift at the Black Bull Colliery and discuss the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand when they are joined by Will [Barry Stanway].

July 23rd 1914: At St. Lawrence’s Church the Reverend Roland Bateman [played by Terry Williams] delivers his sermon. Francis [played by Brian Lear] and Jim [played by Gerald Worland] then discuss the sermon and reflect on the situation in Serbia, Germany and Russia and the recent inclement weather in the Biddulph Valley.

July 26th 1914: A report in the “Chronicle” is read by a journalist [played by Joan Mason] detailing a slowdown in trade but such good weather that various local attractions are busy and people are taking cheap weekends to Blackpool and Rhyl. A second report this time from the “Daily Mail” is read by a journalist [played by Kath Walton] which warns that Serbia with its ally Russia and Austria with its ally Germany are preparing to fight.

July 27th 1914: Aubrey [played by Roger Carter], Francis [Brian Lear] and Jim [Gerald Worland] are at Knypersley Cricket Ground discussing cricket and the position in Serbia.

July 28th 1914: Calvin [Alan Heathcote] and John [Philip Leese] discuss the possibility of war as they work on the late shift at Black Bull Colliery – Calvin outlines the position in Europe and John talks of the atmosphere in Biddulph and the threat of war.

July 29th 1914: At a meeting of the Biddulph Highway Committee the Chairman Mr. F. W. Dean [played by David Tildesley] discusses the bad behaviour of buses travelling down Station Road and the parlous state of the road between Black Bull and the Railway Hotel with committee members including Will and Francis.

July 30th 1914: Will, Francis and Jim meet in the Biddulph Conservative Club to discuss the possibility of war.

August 3rd 1914: Sir Edward Grey [played by Frank Harris], Foreign Secretary address Parliament about the grave situation in Europe.

On the same day: The Housekeeper at Biddulph Grange [played by Geraldine Outhwaite] overhears a conversation between Robert Heath and his son on the mobilisation of British troops.

On the same day: Sir Edward Grey [Frank Harris], the Viscount Grey of Falloden, states “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

August 4th 1914: The journalist at the Daily Mail [Kath Walton] details the Government’s declaration of war.

On the same day: Calvin, John, Francis, Jim and Aubrey declare “It’s War.”

Early September: Lord Horatio Kitchener sends an urgent communique to the Lord’s Lieutenants of the Counties, looking to enlist 100,000 additional men. [This letter is read by Bill Ridgway]

About the same time: Calvin, and John and Will discuss whether they should enlist.

Early September: A journalist [Joan Mason] describes the scene as the first recruiting meeting is held in Biddulph Public Hall. (see photograph on the right)

September 10th 1914: Captain Roland Mainwaring [played by Terry Williams] and Robert Heath [played by Philip Leese] address the meeting in the Public Hall and are later questioned by Will about the payments to be made to the wives and children in the absence of their husbands.

September: John talks about the failure to enlist many men and the attempt to recruit men as a Biddulph Company of Sportsmen.

September 19th 1914: Mr. Richard Harding [played by David Tildesley], Heath’s right hand man, addresses a meeting at the public Hall to recruit people from Biddulph, Brindley Ford, Newchapel, Packmoor, and Mow Cop to a new reserve battalion of the 5th North Staffordshire Regiment.

September 20th 1914: The housekeeper at Biddulph Grange [Geraldine Outhwaite] describes the enthusiastic “send-off” for the recruits.

On the same day: Colonel Hall [played by Frank Harris] welcomes the men to Butterton Hall camp. Then the Sergeant [played by Steve Condliffe] describes the training and arrival of the new uniforms. Wilfred Arthur Brown [played by Adrian Lawton] has to explain the pie he is carrying, before being told everyone is to go home for a few days before they are posted.

September 21st 1914: Colonel Hall [Frank Harris] reports on the state of the war and quotes from a letter written by Biddulph Councillor Shaw’s son who is fighting in France with the Rifle Brigade before dismissing the men entrusting them to God’s care.

November 30th 1914: Calvin and John are at Dover waiting for a ship to France. John explains if he hadn’t had a pint at the Gardeners’ Arms he’d still be cutting coal. Will joins them to tell them Arthur Heath’s son has been killed in a cavalry charge. Then Wilfred [Adrian Lawton], who hasn’t even been to Rhyl, also joins them to explain his mother has now sent a meat and potato pie. Then the Sergeant [Steve Condliffe] rounds them up to embark on their ship.

The narrator speaks the lines “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row.”

Then the cast, choir and audience read out the names of the 82 soldiers from the Biddulph area who died in the Great War. The narrator recited the fourth verse of the poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) which was published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914 and which begins “They shall nor grow old as we that are left grow old.”

The production ended with the singing of “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. The audience were offered tea or coffee provided by Elaine Rice, representing the Royal British Legion, and her helpers.

Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Biddulph Historical Society thanked everyone for creating such a memorable evening.

Admission to the play reading was two pounds but the audience gave generously and the Society has been able to give all the proceeds of the evening, £312, to the British legion Poppy Day Appeal.

Emeritus Professor Ray Johnson, former Professor of Film Heritage and Documentary at Staffordshire University, filmed the performance for “posterity” and the Staffordshire Film Archive. A DVD of the evening’s performance will eventually be available to purchase from the History Society.

Mr Machin also announced that Richard Dean’s “Victorian Biddulph Map Book” is now on sale at £6.95; that there will be a book launch in Biddulph Library on Saturday the 19th of December between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and finally, that this view of Biddulph in 1876 will certainly make an excellent Christmas present.

Programme Notes

A Play by Bill Ridgway, entitled “Till the Boys Come Home - Biddulph Valley Goes to War”.

First Performance on the 16th of November 2015 in the Methodist Chapel at the Victoria Centre, Biddulph at 7.30 p.m.

The songs which were led by members of the Kingfield Ladies Choir – Edna Ferriday, Anthea Howell, Geraldine Outhwaite, Helen Tildesley and Thelma Williams. Mr. Terry Williams singing a solo verse of “They’ll never believe me” before the audience joined in with the second verse. Mr. Williams also sang the song “I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls”. Mr. Bill Ridgway played the piano accompaniment for all the songs.

Cast in order of appearance: The narrator [Geraldine Outhwaite]; Calvin [Alan Heathcote]; John [Philip Leese];Will [Barry Stanway]; Reverend Roland Bateman [Terry Williams]; Francis [Brian Lear]; Jim [Gerald Worland]; A “Chronicle” journalist [Joan Mason]; A &dquo;Daily Mail” journalist [Kath Walton]; Aubrey [Roger Carter]; Francis [Brian Lear]; Jim [Gerald Worland]; Biddulph Highway Committee Chairman Mr. F. W. Dean [David Tildesley]; Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary [Frank Harris]; Biddulph Grange housekeeper [Geraldine Outhwaite] Lord Horatio Kitchener [Bill Ridgway]; Captain Roland Mainwaring [Terry Williams]; Robert Heath [Philip Leese]; Mr. Richard Harding [David Tildesley]; Colonel Hall [Frank Harris]; and Sergeant [Steve Condliffe].

An Illustrated History of the Dye Works - 19/10/2015

The second meeting of the 2015/2016 season of the BDGHS was held on the 19th of October in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society had a few announcements including; firstly, that Richard Dean’s ”Victorian Biddulph Map Book“ will be available soon and certainly it will make an excellent Christmas present, and secondly, would members who have a part in November’s play please note there will be a final run through on the 2nd of November in the Victoria Centre at 7 p.m.

He then introduced the evening’s speaker, Mr. Bruce Wright, with a talk entitled “An Illustrated History of the Dye Works.” Mr. Wright’s links to the Forge Colour works on the Congleton Road North of Biddulph are through his grandfather John Henry Wright who worked at the factory. His talk began with a well-researched genealogy of the Beckett family who owned the Biddulph factory and originally came from Manchester. James Marshall Beckett had been born on Swan-street and with Ambrose Beckett they traded as a boot and shoe makers from No. 49. In 1849 the partnership was dissolved and a new business grew. Whilst Ambrose continued to make boot and shoes and his factory on Cheetham Hill employed 20 men, James Marshall Beckett moved to 171 Deansgate, and later to Miles Platting.

Photograph on the left: Manchester 1830’s

John (also known as Jack) Hampden Beckett was born in 1855 in Manchester and married Emily Adeline Armstrong in 1878. There children were Hampden Beckett born in 1879 at Manchester; Marguerite Beckett born in 1881; Muriel Beckett born in 1883; and Doris Gordon Beckett born in 1884 all at 37 Woodlands Road, Crumpsall, Lancashire; Nora Adeline Beckett born in 1887 and Harold Ambrose Beckett both born in 1889 at Wilmslow, Cheshire and then Olga Beckett born in 1893 at Corbar Hill House or when John had moved to Corbar Hall, Fairfield, Buxton.

Photograph on right: Corbar Hill House, Buxton

This ‘potted’ version of Mr. Wright’s talk shows that a family living in the squalid parts of Manchester could by trade move to buy a mansion in Buxton in a lifetime. Whilst looking for information on Swan-street I came upon the following document “The Age, Sex, Recoveries and Deaths of 443 Patients treated for Cholera in the Swan-street Hospital, Manchester, between the 24th of June and the 9th of December 1832“ which makes the Beckett family’s survival even more remarkable.


Age Sex Recoveries Deaths
Male Female Male Female Male Female
5 9 14 5 6 4 8
10 18 12 10 5 8 7
15 16 11 10 5 6 6
20 9 15 6 13 3 2
25 10 17 6 12 4 5
30 18 25 10 13 8 12
35 18 25 7 14 11 11
40 12 18 4 9 8 9
45 22 24 17 12 5 12
50 22 21 8 12 14 9
55 25 12 5 5 20 7
60 10 10 3 4 7 6
65 5 16 0 3 5 13
70 7 7 3 2 4 5
80 6 5 1 0 5 5
90 1 2 0 0 1 2
100 0 1 0 1 0 0
208 235 95 116 113 119
TOTAL 443 211 232

Mr. Wright then moved onto the history of the Beckett industrial connection with Biddulph and this was illustrated by some remarkable early aerial photographs and site views of the various colour departments. In 1917 the site was acquired a manufacturer of pigment colours for use in the manufacturing of printing inks and paints, also more recently for PVC and the plastics industries. A steady building programme began in the 1920s: a hand, coal-fired Lancashire boiler was installed for steam production; a laboratory, fitting shop and small garage followed; with a weighbridge for vehicles, a larger building for colour production including large wooden vats connected to water and steam pipes and run off pipes and smaller dissolving vats also connected to the large making vats; filter presses, drying stoves and grinding mills were later added. The factory produced dyes, including Prussian Blue, which was the company’s mainstay. Even in the 1970s, the Biddulph Company was one of only two in the country to make this colour, and provided 9% of the world’s market. Many other colours were also produced and were used in book binding, leather, rubber, paint, ink, cloth, and plaster, among other materials. In 1979, there were signs that all was not well and on the 12th of June 1981, the factory finally closed and the site became derelict.

Mr. Roland Machin thanked Bruce for an excellent talk and then asked for questions from the audience before the meeting broke up for tea and biscuits. Once again the members were treated a meticulously researched talk which is “highly recommended” and when Mr. Wright gets his research published it will be a highly entertaining book.

The Feuding Foden's - 21/09/2015

The first meeting of the 2015/2016 season of the BDGHS was held on the 21st of September in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society had a few announcements including:

1. His first announcement was that Mr. David Moore, who so expertly maintained our website, is critically ill and that our thoughts are with him and his family.

2. In the summer the Society has been busy and produced a number of new Transactions and Geraldine Outhwaite’s new book “Marriage in the Biddulph District” would be on sale at the end of the meeting. More are on the way including Richard Dean’s “Victorian Biddulph Map Book.”

3. He asked Bill Ridgway to make an announcement which was that members who have a part in November’s play should make sure they give him there contact details to arrange a run through.

Then it was time to introduce the evening’s speaker and as it was Family History month the subject of the talk would be "The Feuding Foden’s" given by local Cheshire writer Mr. Allan Littlemoor. Before starting Allan explained that the talks he now gives are done to raise funds for the charity DEBRA which is a Charity to support children who suffer from epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is a group of genetic skin conditions which cause the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch. Painful open wounds and sores form where this exceptionally fragile skin is damaged and a result secondary infection and extensive scarring are factors that people living with EB often have to face.

He explained that he had written his book ‘The Feuding Foden Family’ based on his experiences working all his working life for the Sandbach based manufacturer of steam and latter diesel lorries. It is the story of how and why two parts of the same family, Foden and ERF, chose to build their different trucks in the same Cheshire Market Town and was published by The Foden Society, priced at £10.95. The book is also available from the Chronicle Office in Congleton. So as not to spoil the book or steal the majority of the talk, which is now highly recommended by the BDGHS, if you see Allan is going to repeat it - here is a potted version of the company’s history and Allan’s part in it.

So how had he started at Foden’s? Allan left Winsford Grammar School in October 1954; he was already working part-time on a farm and thought he would be a farm labourer. His dad had other ideas and when he went to the chapel one Sunday, George Dean who was a Trustee of the Chapel and General Sales Manager at Foden told him to report at 10 o’clock on Monday morning. Here he met Arthur Thomson, former sprinter and cyclist, who was Labour Manager and weighed about 25 stones - so big in fact that he had a a desk with a cut out to sit at. After some argument about apprentice recruitment, Allan was taken on as an Engineering Apprentice and given a job in the laboratory. He was to spend his entire working career at Foden’s, being made Head of Personnel in 1972. His research for his book came from being in the right place at the right time as he could observe all the extended Foden family at close quarters.

The Original Founder: Edwin Foden was born in 1841 and became apprenticed to the agricultural equipment manufacturing company of Plant & Hancock who made ploughs and mincers for turnips. He left the company for an apprenticeship at Crewe Railway Works but returned to Plant & Hancock at the age of 19. Shortly afterwards he became a partner in the company. On the retirement of George Hancock in 1887 the company was renamed Edwin Foden Sons & Co. Ltd. The company produced massive industrial engines, as well as small stationary steam engines and, from 1880, agricultural traction engines.

First War Prosperity: The 5 ton steam wagon was entered in the war trials just before the First World War; although it didn’t win because it couldn’t drive over boggy ground, it did use list fuel and less water and so it’s sales as a road haulage vehicle rose dramatically. With an order from the War Department for over one thousand vehicles, money rolled into the Foden family very rapidly and they all became very rich. All the managers at this time were relatives or married to members of the Foden family. When the war ended the War Office sold off vehicles at less than half price and this had a disastrous consequence for the Companies finances. Production at the factory was reduced from 5 days to eventually only one a week. The family started to fall out and Edwin’s sons were blamed by his widow, Black Annie, for the problems. Billy emigrated to Australia and Edwin Jnr. eventually started his own firm.

The two companies: By 1930 Edwin’s son, Edwin Richard, (known simply as E.R.) could see the future lay in diesel power. In late 1932 he resigned from the Board of Directors and subsequently retired; he was 62 and ready for retirement, having spent his entire working life at Foden’s. His son Dennis could not afford to resign, but was not prepared to let things ride; however, with financial input from across the immediate family a new company was set up to design and produce diesel lorries. George Faulkener, related to Dennis by marriage, became Works Manager and Ernest Sherratt, both ex-Foden employees, helped to design a new diesel wagon. Edwin Richard Foden was persuaded to come out of retirement and head the new company which became known as ERF. However, Foden also then realised that the future was diesel, and changed their production almost immediately, though the production of steam vehicles continued in diminishing numbers until 1934. Their first diesel vehicle was the Foden F1 introduced in 1931 and regarded as the "first commercially successful type of diesel lorry".

Family Photograph: The Foden Family, outside the Elworth factory, c.1961. From L to R. (1) James Edwin Foden, son of William Foden. (2) William Foden, son of the founder Edwin Foden. (3) Reginal Gordon Foden, son of William Foden. (4) David Colville Foden, son of James Edwin Foden. (5) Hugh Foden, son of David Colville Foden. The vehicle is the "Pride of Edwin" a 5 ton compound engined wagon that is now held by the Science Museum in their Wroughton store.

New competition and the decline: Foden and ERF, like many traditional British manufacturers, then struggled in a changing market for lorries. The continental companies starting putting driver comfort first – having travelled in a Foden from Rotherham to Derby in the 1970’s to arrive to find myself deaf and shaken to bits I understood the problem [DJO]. A massive new production facility was developed in the early 1970s on a green field site, adjacent to the Foden works. A combination of this expenditure and the economic downturn of the period saw Foden’s run into financial difficulty in December 1974. It was given support by Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Foden’s struggled as its home market continued to be depressed. It was 1977–78 before Foden returned to reasonable profitability and large MOD contracts to supply military vehicles helped with this recovery. After a period in receivership in 1980 the company was acquired by the American firm PACCAR which later acquired British Leyland and DAF.

When Kenworthy bought Foden for £18m the workforce of 2,000 was made redundant and when Peter Foden sold ERF to Western Star the company had gone from producing 19 lorries a day to 19 to a week. A Court case followed as Western Star and MAN fell out over the grant which ERF had received when it tried to move production to Wrexham. The last Foden was produced in July 2006, putting an end to 150 years of Foden truck manufacturing. The final vehicle to roll off the production line at the factory in “Leyland” was an 8x4 rigid, which was delivered to the nearby British Commercial Vehicle Museum. The Foden site in Sandbach was run down and production moved to Leyland and then the land was sold for housing. The ERF site followed and it is now an ALDI store and more housing.

Questions asked included the present status of the Foden’s Band; which Allan had been Chairman of, its name and sponsorship. Allan explained that the family had allowed the band to use the family name which had been opposed by Kenworthy when they took over. Then he explained that sponsorship by the Britannia Building Society had ended when 99% of their budget was transferred to the building of the new Stoke City Ground. Roland thanked Allan for an excellent talk and a fitting start to a new season for the BDGHS and invited everyone to take tea and biscuits and chat to Allan if they had any further questions or pieces of information.

Geological Gallery at Biddulph Grange - 15/06/2015

The last meeting of the 2014/2015 season was held on June 15th in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin, had a few announcements and then he handed handed over to Mr. Derek Wheelhouse who introduced Helen Wilshaw and Daniel Atherton to give their much awaited talk on the “Geological Gallery at Biddulph Grange”.

Helen began by outlining the recent history of the Gallery which even in 1962 was described as being in a “sorry state”. Although it survived almost fully intact when the Hall was converted from home to Hospital and then to a National Trust property one end of the Gallery had been knocked down at some stage. It was acquired by the National Trust in 2002 and by then all the exhibits including fossils had been removed, many to Keele University. It then continued to decay as there were no funds to do any more than survey the building. Holes appeared in the floor as it was built on top of a double corridor of what looked like servant’s passages and storage areas. Then two and a half years ago a visitor appeared and offered a large sum of money to the National Trust for the renovation of the Gallery. Helen was commissioned to do a report to give an estimate for the renovation and as part of the subsequent three year programme Daniel Atherton was recruited in year two to find more information about the Gallery’s history and use. A laser map of the gallery and the underground passages was produced and this was shown to the meeting. Mr. Richard Dean has a photograph of the Gallery just after the time of the fire and this is produced below with the Gallery marked.

So although the structure can be saved, even though it is built on an earlier building which can’t be entered because of problems with asbestos, there are more questions which need to be answered. This is where Daniel comes in and his task was to search for more information on the what, when, why, and so on, questions from the available documents held in various libraries round the country.

In short, there was little information to be found amongst the remaining papers of James Bateman (1811 to 1897) but searching local and national newspapers and the Oxford University and Bodleian Library did produce some interesting information. So here are the short answers to some of the questions:

When was it opened to the public? On August 20th 1862 when a bazaar was held at 5pm to raise money for Biddulph Moor Church.

What did it look like? A long corridor divided into six days each with fossil evidence of what was occurring at that time. In Bateman’s writing the word ‘Day’ could also be inter-changed with ‘Epoch’.

What influenced Bateman? We know he was a skilled botanist who published Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala in 1837 and was accepted into the Royal Society in 1838. He read Classics at Oxford University between 1829 and 1834. Daniel’s research also shows he was involved in trying to rebut the arguments of the Oxford Movement which was attempting to introduce the various Roman Catholic articles of faith into the English Protestant Church.

Why was it built? The middle of the 19th century was a time of great change and discoveries. Darwin’s book the Origin of the Species led to a polarisation of thought and in many cases an entrenchment of the religious ideas of the time. Bateman was a member of the National Club which was a broader response to the Catholic revival. Bateman saw Catholicism as a threat and began to speak in Burslem and Stoke-on-Trent about this danger, talking of “Raising the Moral and Social Conditions of Man.” The Gallery seems to be a response to the changes at the time and reflect his Christian belief: “I can look at no scientific subject from a non-religious point of view, and that (is) not so much for the sake of religion as for the sake of science.... You might as well attempt to study mathematics without Euclid as to solve many scientific problems without the light which Scripture throws upon them. If we are prohibited from looking at scientific subjects from a Scriptural point of view, the Book of Nature would be a universal blank, and the works of nature razed and expunged.” (from The Staffordshire Advertiser, December 12th 1857).

Which people were having an influence on Bateman at the time? The lecture above is one of the first examples of James Bateman’s public engagement with the subject of geology and the story of Genesis. His views are influenced by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins who was responsible for some of the carvings in the Biddulph Grange Gardens. Hawkins may have shown Bateman a set of six large pictorial views or ideal representations of the six days (or epochs) of the creation which Hawkins illustrated by specimens and drawings. These drawings unfortunately have not yet been found.

Secondly there was Hugh Miller a geologist and evangelical Christian with fiery ginger hair and piercing blue eyes. Miller took part in many public lectures and Bateman’s geological interpretation appears to be based heavily on Miller’s lecture The Two Records: Mosaic and Geological a talk given from 1845 which promoted the idea of recreational science, demonstrating that “an interest in science was compatible with and supportive of moral development.” This lecture was published by Miller’s wife in 1857 a year after his suicide. Miller’s house on Church Street in Cromarty is now a National Trust Property.

The Gallery as it is now.

So what was the Gallery like? Daniel quoted from Miller’s talk and the following extracts demonstrate most effectively Bateman’s interpretation and the resemblance to the layout of the Gallery is striking.

“Day One: In the Mosaic narrative we found that the earliest era of our planet darkness was on the face of the deep, and the fossil remains of the period consisted exclusively of creatures unprovided with organs of sight. Then light beamed forth. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of, or, according to Gesenius, impregnated the waters. In proof of this, geology showed that animated beings were brought into existence furnished with organs of vision suited to that dim age.” Fossil examples in this image include corals, molluscs and trilobites. (Note: Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, February 3rd 1786 to October 23rd 1842, was a German Biblical critic).

“Day 2: Moses told us in his narrative that the dense noxious fogs which encircled the planet rolled away and pure wholesome air was left between the ocean below and the firmament above; and geology showed that the earth was purified and that a race of air-breathing creatures began to appear.” Fossil examples: Small Devonian fishes or Brachiopods.

“Day 3: Moses said that dry land and plants and fruits were created; and geology showed by fossil remains that this was the great woody era of our globe, when it was covered with a rank and luxurious vegetation requiring shade and moisture for its development.” Fossil examples: Calamites Stigmaria and various other plant life.

“Day 4: The sun’s bright beams first gladdened the earth and the clouds were dispersed; and geology showed that corresponding with this period a great change took place in the character of the vegetation. Instead of rank ferns and reeds, fruit bearing trees were found, and the operations of the sun’s rays were shown to have been felt on muddy shores and in the dispelling of briny waters and the deposition of salt.” Fossil examples: fossilised footprints, Labyrinthodont, very large crocodile.

“Day 5: Then Moses passed on to describe the great Saurian era, when God in his inscrutable providence caused the waters to bring forth moving creatures abundantly, and then, without any reason apparent to man, swept them all away; and geology showed that this was the age in which immense numbers of monstrous creeping, flying and swimming reptiles covered the earth.” Fossil examples: Ammonite, dragonfly and ichthyosaur skull.

“Day 6: Then came the sixth day, in which the lesser mammalian quadrupeds appeared, and last of all man himself whom God created to have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and fishes of the sea.” Fossil examples: Mammoth tusk and humanoid skulls.

Was there a Day 7? Daniel explained that it had been asserted that the hospital removed this bay however he believes there was a Day 7 and quoted the following two sources, firstly Kemp’s description from 1862 which states: “Advancing into the Gallery, it will be found treated in a way quite unique, and is singularly illustrative of the great geological facts of the globe.... The whole is distributed into days, supposed to correspond with the six (so called) days of the Mosaic cosmogony.”

Secondly the following from the North Staffordshire Field Club’s Jubilee Volume of 1865 which serves two purposes, confirming size and influence: “The wall is divided into seven panels, and in each panel are inserted a large number of very fine specimens of the fossilised organic life of each epoch. The first panel, that above the non-fossiliferous rocks is of course blank, but the next panel is labelled ‘First Day’ and displays the Silurian and Old Red Sandstone fossils and so on through the various days in conformity with Hugh Miller’s theory.”

Finally, are there still questions to answer? Obviously there are many unanswered questions:

  1. The role of Edward Cooke
  2. Where did Bateman acquire the fossils?
  3. What was Miller’s role?
  4. When did Bateman hear about him?
  5. Why create a Geological Gallery?

In the questions and discussions which followed the talk the audience discussed the political, social and religious upheaval of the time. The meeting discussed the proposition that the Gallery was built to support Bateman’s belief that it was his duty to “raise the social condition of the people.” Finally, as the Gallery was used as a public entrance, is it the garden Bateman's Eden that is the Seventh Day?

Mr. Machin thanked Helen Wilshaw and Daniel Atherton for an excellent, thought provoking talk and reminded the meeting that this unique piece of history is just one of the many in the Biddulph area.

American Troops in Biddulph - 18/05/2015

The May meeting was held on May 18th of in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society, introduced Mr. Eric Cox, whose talk on the America Troops in Biddulph Mr. Machin believed should stir many memories for the older members of the audience. In fact, if you do have any recollections or family stories then please contact Eric whose research continues.

Mr. Cox began by explaining why the troops were in Biddulph. In the build-up to the D-Day landings and in the months after American troops were stationed in towns and villages throughout England, and Biddulph was no exception. Between February and July 1944 The Quartermaster Truck Companies were in Biddulph and they were housed in buildings throughout Biddulph.

These were some of the units billeted in Biddulph from a list compiled by Philip C. Grinton, Santa Monica, California:

Biddulph91Quartermaster Battalion M Headquarters
Biddulph176Quartermaster Battalion M HQ & HQ Detachment
Biddulph514Quartermaster Group
Biddulph3908Quartermaster Truck Company
Biddulph3936Quartermaster Gasoline Supply Company

The first Americans stationed in Biddulph were African-American soldiers. At this time the segregation laws still applied in America and the British War Cabinet, in order not to offend their American allies, accepted the American rules of segregation of African-American and white soldiers. The official stance of the British Government was that citizens should “avoid becoming too friendly” with GIs although this was mostly ignored by the ordinary British people. It is estimated that the African-American population of Britain swelled ten times with their arrival in 1943-44 and many British men, women and children had never seen an “African-American” man before. Mr. Cox explained this was certainly the case for nearly all the residents of Biddulph.

At first the soldiers served only as truck drivers bringing supplies of food and ammunition to the fighting units. This was the case in Biddulph as various Quartermaster Companies and Mobile Headquarters were set up in preparation for the D-Day landings (June 6th 1944). In the case of the African-American soldiers in Biddulph they were restricted as far as The Castle Inn to the north and Brindley Ford to the south. However, many enterprising locals managed to smuggle people out to Congleton or into the Potteries. The African-American servicemen in England routinely found themselves involved in scrapes, fights and fracas with their white American colleagues and Mr. Cox explained that many people in Biddulph remember the tension which existed between the two factions.

The American soldiers contributed greatly to the local economy of Biddulph as they were paid five times as much as their British counterparts and had plenty of food at a time of rationing. The public houses in Biddulph and surrounding areas were frequented although the segregation of African-American and White soldiers proved to be an issue. Locally, however, Mr. Cox suggested that the coal miners had a great affinity with the African-American soldiers and stood up for them against the racism which existed at the time. It was also well-known in mining communities the support given to the striking South Wales miners by Paul Robeson, the world-renowned singer, actor and early civil rights activist, prior to the outbreak of war in 1939.

The Americans during their stay visited local landmarks such as Mow Cop Castle. They frequented the “Biddulph Palace” (Biddulph Scratch) although people remember the African-American GIs were only allowed upstairs (the best seats). Dances were held in the Cross Street factory and The Drill Hall in Wharf Road which were organised by the local ARP (Air Raid Precautions).

In order to provide accommodation for the American soldiers any available space in old mills, church halls and buildings was used. The mills and St. Andrews School house at the bottom of Station Road, and the old Band Club housed soldiers while the officers were billeted at The Fairhaven (now The Roaches School) in Knypersley and if anyone had a spare room they were asked to help with accommodation. The half-constructed Bateman Girls School was used as a temporary barracks and parade ground. People remember there was a baseball diamond still marked on the playing fields after the War.

In October 1944 the 87th Division of the 345th Infantry Regiment arrived in Biddulph Moor and stayed a month. Because of the casualties the American Army had to include the African-American soldiers in the Infantry Regiments. It was only after the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 that General Eisenhower, who was severely short of replacement troops for existing military units (which were totally white in composition) made the decision to allow the African-American soldiers to pick up weapons and join the white military units to fight in combat for the first time. The 87th Division wasn’t a logistical unit but a fighting unit.

The history of the 87th can be found in this booklet (right). “This is the story of the 87th Infantry Division - the Golden Acorn Division - and its participation in the European Phase of World War II. The vicious baptism in the Saar; the snow-mantled hills and icy forests of the Ardennes; the Luxembourg defence; the flaming rupture of the Siegfried Line; the Kyll and Ahr; the smoothly executed Moselle crossing and the capture of historic Koblenz; the brilliant forced passage of the Rhine; the irresistible surge eastward across Germany to the borders of Czechoslovakia! These stirring events are all recorded here for you and yours, and all who may, to read and cherish. And if your blood warms as you read, remember those who spilled their blood as the Golden Acorn earned the “Can Do” commendation of its brilliant corps commander.” Their commander Major General Frank L. Culin, Jr., wrote “I am truly and humbly grateful for the high privilege of command of this fighting division. With a mounting pride in the achievements of the past, I ask the living, determined that our noble dead shall not have died in vain, to turn firmly toward the future, ‘Stalwart and Strong’”.

Many of the soldiers were eighteen years old, it was the first time away from home and they were apprehensive about having to go into battle. The kindness shown by the Biddulph people who invited the American soldiers into their homes is well remembered. Thomas Burgess, a 19 year old in the 345th, wrote “There were dances where we learned the Hokey Cokey (“Put your right arm in and your right arm out”) and I remember quite well going to a lecture or presentation on the history of the area including Mow Cop castle as well as the fish and chips served in rolled up newspaper and sprinkled with vinegar. Did not care for the warm beer though.”

The soldiers of the 87th Infantry Division (Company D) were billeted in old fustian buildings in Biddulph Moor (the ERF building) while the officers were housed in the Miners Welfare building. Accounts show that the facilities were very basic or non-existent and in order to have a shower the soldiers marched to the coal miners baths (which were situated at what is now the entrance to the Victoria Business Park). For many of the people of Biddulph it was the first time they had met anyone from America. Their images of Americans, like elsewhere in the country, were based on what they had seen on the silver screen, gangsters and heroes! Friendships were made and people continued to correspond way after they had left.

When the 87th left they were replaced by the 742nd/743rd Field Artillery Battalion, in 1944, who left shortly afterwards to join the theatre of war in mainland Europe.

The 742nd Field Artillery Battalion in action at Bruyères on October 18th 1944.

Mr. Cox gave many examples of the effect the American troops had on the Biddulph people but I can only include the following two write-ups from two Americans who were stationed in Biddulph. The first is an extract from “The Road to Victory” by David Colley in a section headed ‘Americans in Biddulph’. “More than a million American troops were stationed at bases and bivouac areas throughout the Kingdom; many of them isolated villages on the south coast. By D-Day the strength of the American forces in Great Britain numbered more than 1,527,000. To maintain this massive fighting force, more than 5 million long tons of supplies had to be landed. The men of the 514th immediately went to work as they hauled material from depots to ports and from ports to depots.”

‘I Company’ was encamped at Biddulph in Staffordshire near the River Trent and the Bridestones, a Neolithic burial chamber where, legend says, a Viking warrior and his English bride are buried. This was strange stuff for these soldiers from the New World. The men of ‘I Company’ were welcomed by the people of Biddulph. “We were invited everywhere; and considerable effort was made to keep us entertained. The facilities of practically every organization that could be of service, was made available to us,” Corporal Brice recorded. The Central Methodist Church established a canteen, and the British Women’s Volunteer Service provided a games room with table tennis, darts, a piano, radios and magazines.

Almost nightly dances were held and the girls came from all of the neighbouring towns to attend them. Sometimes the 514th Band Group would play and things would really get gay in response to their torrid rhythms and harmonies. African-American troops often were permitted into towns and villages only accompanied by one of their officers. Even then the African-Americans frequently were accompanied by one of their snowdrops (MPs) who were present to ensure that white and African-American did not mingle.

Secondly, here are the memories of Liz Richardson, a Captain in the American Red Cross Women. Her story is told in the book “Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys: An American Woman in World War II” edited by James H. Madison. “Captain Liz Richardson arrived in Britain in July 1944 as part of the Volunteer American Red Cross Women. There were nearly one million GIs stationed in England and it was her job, along with 205 others, to go round the country, as a Club mobile hostess (in a vehicle called The Kansas City) visiting the US troops handing out free items: doughnuts, cups of coffee, packets of cigarettes, chewing gum and magazines. She and her colleagues provided a touch of home-American girls with whom the boys could talk, flirt, dance and perhaps find companionship with.”

She referred to making doughnuts as ‘doughnut slinging’. In December 1944 alone they served 4,659,728 doughnuts to their troops. She wrote many letters to folks back home telling of her experiences and she also kept a diary. Liz visited and stayed in Biddulph in November 1944 and there are several entries in the book. Her landlady was Annie Greenhalgh. She writes “Our landlady was a sweet old lady whose husband just died and we go about at night with candles (no electric lights) and she puts hot bricks in our bed to warm them and wakes us up with a cup of tea”

“The country is beautiful, slightly reminiscent of West Virginia, even without the sun. The people are most cordial, much more so than the Midlanders. I wish you could see this house - a perfect example of Victorianism from the flowered pitcher in our room to the steel engraving of two dogs by the seashore. I am sitting by the stove this morning, a remarkable built-in sort of contraption enclosed in a mantel piece.”

“Last night we attended an Officer's Dance in the local town hall, a very proper officers’ dance, attended by the local gentry, including the Lord Mayor with a seal. The band, a GI divisional one, was wonderful. We've also been to a GI dance.” She describes celebrating Thanksgiving Day, a couple of days before the GIs left. “Uncle Sam came through with Turkey and all the fixings, even pumpkin pie.”

She describes befriending Dr. and Mrs. T.C. Murphy and in response to their kindness she gave Mrs. Murphy two pairs of silk stockings, a wartime gift of immense value. She managed to explore the local area on her bicycle and describes how she came across Biddulph Castle (Biddulph Old Hall) and having a tour and learning about the history of the place.

Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Cox for an excellent entertaining evening and a number of questions and reminiscences were discussed before the meeting broke for tea and biscuits. If you have any information for Eric then please contact him on 01782 514896 or by email.

Crime on the Canals - 20/04/2015

The April meeting was held on April 20th when Mr. Philip Leese gave a talk entitled “Crime on the Canals”. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society, introduced Mr. Leese who has written a number of books on the area including two on Mow Cop. At present he is working on a history of Kidsgrove which will be an interesting read when it is published.

Mr. Leese began by explaining that Kidsgrove was a quiet village before the arrival of the Trent and Mersey Canal (T&M). With its neighbouring village of Hardings Wood it was known more for parcels of woodland and open fields and vistas of the Cheshire Plain. This was a picture which remained until the canal and then the collieries came from about 1775. The roads at the time were dreadful, and Devon clay came by river and then by packhorse. The pottery left the factories on packhorses or mules and of ten tons of pottery loaded it was normal for only one ton to be saleable at its destination.

Photograph: the two tunnels at Kidsgrove – Brindley’s on the right and Telford’s on the left.

Josiah Wedgwood heard about the Duke of Bridgewater and his canal near Worsley and he decided that this was the perfect way to send out finished pottery and to bring in clay. Earl Gower of Trentham and other business men became involved and the new Trent and Mersey canal was authorised. When James Brindley, the chief engineer of the scheme, came to survey the area Kidsgrove was a problem, being at the highest level in the canal and with the obstacle of Harecastle Hill. As the tunnel was built, coal was removed from seams in the hill and in 1775 the first Harecastle coal was sent to Birmingham. The one and three-quarter mile legging tunnel took ten years to complete; Brindley died in 1772 and the tunnel was finished by Hugh Henshall and officially opened in 1777.

The canal was the making of Kidsgrove. John Gilbert the elder, agent for the Duke of Bridgewater, had bought the Clough Hall Estate in Kidsgrove, and his son John, a mining engineer, took over from his father in 1795 and built a wharf at Hardings Wood; coal could now be mined and sent out in bulk by canal. Harecastle coal was sent to the Potteries, and the Potteries boomed because pottery could now be sent in large amounts to all parts of the world. By 1812 Wedgwood pottery was sold in America via the Port of Liverpool.

The canal brought prosperity to Kidsgrove, and rows of cottages were built for the miners and their families. However the first tunnel, which could only be used one way at a time, became a bottleneck. A timetable for use of the tunnel was drawn up, and it was decided that another tunnel was needed. In 1824 Thomas Telford was asked to build a second tunnel, and this tunnel, which was much bigger and also had a towpath, was completed in 1827. There were now two canal routes - one was used for southbound boats and the other for northbound ones. Trade increased and in addition to clay, coal and pottery the canals carried lime and limestone, bone (for the manufacture of porcelain), wheat, salt, manure (‘exported’ from town to country), timber, flint, groceries, nails and cheese.

In 1812 John Gilbert died, and the Clough Hall Estate was bought by Thomas Kinnersley; at this time Kidsgrove really began to expand. Canal architecture was needed, bridges and locks, and the workmen brought in to do this drank beer, as too did the boatmen, and canal side pubs appeared. In 1831 a canal to Macclesfield, Marple and Buxworth or Bugsworth Basin (one of Britain’s largest inland ports at the time) was connected to the T&M at Kidsgrove.

Photograph: Clough Hall the home of the Kinnersley Family.

Kidsgrove was already an industrial village when Thomas Kinnersley inherited Clough Hall and his father’s coal mines at Birchenwood in 1819. The miners lived in terraced cottages called rows and there was a small Methodist Church, which had been built during 1815 by lay preacher Sammy Kelsall and his daughter. The Kinnersley’s home, Clough Hall, was a mansion erected by John Gilbert, junior, at the beginning of the 19th century. Surrounded by parkland and walled gardens, the hall had over 40 rooms, including two dining rooms, two drawing rooms and a breakfast room. During 1829, Thomas Kinnersley married Anna Dixon from Daisy Bank Hall, Congleton. The marriage took place at Astbury Church and the couple spent most of their time entertaining or being entertained by the county set. While he was enjoying a hectic social life, Kinnersley’s industrial empire was being expanded by his manager Robert Heath. New mine shafts were sunk and in 1833 the Clough Hall Ironworks was created when four blast furnaces were built at Birchenwood. Thomas was the local squire and benefactor, and he built St Thomas’s Church in the Avenue in 1837. Clough Hall with its gardens, boating lake, walks and carriage drive provided an ideal setting for the life of a prosperous country squire. Thomas Kinnersley lived at Clough Hall until he died in 1855, and his widow continued to live there until her death in 1877.

So where was all the crime in these idyllic mining villages? Certainly it isn’t in evidence in the genteel society of the Hall. In 1841 a report on Kidsgrove prepared by Samuel S. Scriven for the Children’s Employment Commissioners stated: “Some five or six years ago the inhabitants of this place were said to be in a state little removed from barbarism, notoriously ignorant, vicious and depraved and as much a terror to the surrounding countryside as the now equally notorious people from ‘Biddle Moor’.

About this time Mr. Kinnersley (the owner of Kidsgrove’s ironworks and coal mines) erected at his own expense an exceedingly elegant and commodious church together with a Sunday School for both sexes. He appointed the Rev. Wade to the living and shortly afterwards established a day school for boys and girls with a master and mistress who worked under the Rev. Wade’s supervision.

The character of the people is now totally different from what it was. They attend church regularly. They are steady and domesticated at home. At work they are industrious and hard-working and respectful and obedient to their superiors.

Those miners I have spoken to appear to be conscious of the blessings bestowed upon them by Mr. Kinnersley. Judging from their own admissions and from reports of what they were like, I should say they must indeed be an altered people.”

Photograph: St. Thomas’ Church at Kidsgrove.

Here again the Reverend Frederick T. Wade held his first Church service on Sunday May 7th 1837. Men, women and children flocked from all parts of Kidsgrove to witness and participate in the first service – it was a new experience for most of them, not only to walk along the beautiful tree-lined carriage drive, but also to take part in divine worship. The following description of the Reverend Prebendary Frederick Wade was given in the Staffordshire Advertiser in 1875. “Mr. Wade is a good example of a true-hearted, honest, straightforward, Protestant clergyman of the old school; plain, earnest, highly educated. It is a pleasure to sit under him and listen to his almost faultless oratory. True, he has faults; who has not? But they are so hidden by his excellence as not to be conspicuous. Some persons of the raving and ranting class would say that he lacks fire, and to seriously compare his stately delivery to the excited, vehement, pantomime action of some, would be morally impossible, because while in some people’s ideas, he lacks vigour in his delivery at times, not even this class can complain, when he is stirred by his emotions or by the enormity of the sin he is denouncing. In conclusion, we must say that none have been more unremitting than Mr. Wade in his efforts for the welfare of his parish. Hence he has won a popularity which is as great as it is well deserved.”

In fact when in 1830 there was a reported outbreak of crime in Kidsgrove and then, in 1839 Christina Collins, travelling by boat from Liverpool to London to join her husband, was raped and murdered - according to the stories in Harecastle Tunnel, but actually further south on the canal, near Rugeley - and her ghost, the Kidsgrove Boggart, is said to haunt the section of canal by the tunnel entrances. Three of the boat crew were hanged, and one reprieved. The response, since this crime occurred on a Sunday, of the Reverend Wade was that the companies should stop Sunday working to allow boatmen to attend church, and so hopefully change their ‘depraved’ habits. Some companies did stop Sunday working and trade on the canals decreased, but within a few years Sunday was again a normal working day for boatmen.

So the boatmen and colliers are good Christian men working hard and diligently for the mine owners. They are now distant cousins of the inhabitants of the other local villages. It is obvious that not everyone is employed as it is reported that locals often waited at the mouth of the tunnel, offering to do the bargee’s legging for him, in exchange for a consideration. The village has more than seven public houses including The Crown and Thistle landlord William Beech, The Roebuck Commercial Hotel - Lawrence Dale, The Plough Inn - Ann Emmons, The Lamb Inn - John Harrison, The Harecastle Hotel - Elizabeth Poyser, The Wellington Inn - William Thomas and The Swan Inn - J.H. Hancock.

Reports show that colliers and ironworkers were paid in tokens that could only be used to buy poor quality food and shoddy goods at inflated prices from the shop the Kinnersley’s owned. A miner’s life was hard and dangerous as semi-naked men, women and children worked underground. Men, who wore leather caps, worked at the candle lit coalface. Women and children were harnessed to coal wagons which they pulled along low, narrow, dimly lit, rat infested tunnels from the coalface to the bottom of the mineshaft. Neither Kinnersley nor the sub-contractors he employed to dig the coal cared about safety as they were only interested in profits. Risks were taken and accidents causing death or serious injury occurred frequently.

Their wages were paid monthly at the Plough Inn on a Saturday afternoon. The innkeeper employed a fiddler from Tunstall to entertain them. After being paid, many men and women who had worked underground from dawn till dusk for 23 consecutive days remained at the inn and took part in a drunken orgy that lasted until Monday night.

The boatmen were only paid on completion of the journey; shortages of water in the summer delayed payments and ice stopped the boats in the busier winter season. Fines for failing to work a boat through the Harecastle Tunnel in less than three hours was £5. The queues and queue-jumping caused by delays at the tunnel often led to fighting and brawling.

Mr. Leese gave some excellent examples of the sort of crime that wasn’t being noticed by the mine owner or his local parson. Robbery with violence occurred regularly especially to those walking the tow-path or owning a public house. At the same time the Reverend Wade claimed there was no need for policemen in his Parish; the Trent and Mersey Canal has its own force to protect cargoes from pilfering both by boat crews and loaders, and in one court case of 1853 there are five policeman named in the report. If you see Mr. Leese is doing this talk again please go and listen to the stories of James “Badger Faced Jimmy” Dodd, David “The Pie Man” Grainger and George “The Sugar Man” Swarbrick who were examples of the criminals in the area. Also, pity the poor tally boy counting the load into a barge, hit by the boatman for over-estimating the load and the colliers or loaders for under-estimating what had gone in. Finally, if you want to pilfer cargo then remember if you take a ton of coal you can replace it with canal water.

As usual this report only covers a small part of the talk and the audience was royally entertained by Mr. Leese who gave his audience an evening of wide ranging characters and stories. Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Leese for an excellent, illuminating talk and a number of questions were asked before the meeting broke for tea and biscuits.

AGM and Research Evening - 16/03/2015

The March meeting was held at 7pm on Monday March 16th 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 the website.

Mr. Machin also took the opportunity to send Mr. Turnock the best wishes of all the Society’s members for the full recovery of his wife after her recent admission to hospital. Sadly, Mr. Machin had to report that one of the founder members of the original Biddulph History Society, Mr. Harry Page, BEM, died on January 6th 2015. [See photograph on the right] As a tribute, the Secretary of the Society has proposed bringing together all Mr. Page’s writings on local history as Transactions no. 9. If you have memories of any of Mr. Page’s “Excursions” or other research for the Society would you please pass any information to David Outhwaite.

The Chairman then outlined the meetings and speakers in the last year starting with the last meeting of the summer. There were no spare seats, even on a balmy summer evening, as Mr. Nigel Daly and Mr. Brian Vowles of Biddulph Old Hall agreed to speak to the Society again on the work that is being done to restore the Hall and the amount of research they have undertaken on Robert Bateman which was the basis of the book “The Lost Pre-Raphaelite”. The June Walk was also a success as, led by Mr. John Shapcott, an expert on the life and works of Mr. Arnold Bennett, the Society members took a tour of Bursley finishing up in the “Leopard” for supper.

The 2014 season started in September when Randle Knight gave an excellent talk on “William Salt and His Library in Stafford”. October’s meeting was a well-attended and successful WW1 research night, followed in November by Peter Durnall’s illustrated talk about “Greenway Bank - Past and Present”. John Sherratt’s “The Historian’s Christmas Address” was the December talk which added to our knowledge of the Bateman family’s roots in Westmoreland. In January we heard about the “Quakers in the Staffordshire Moorlands” in a talk by Mr. John Anderson and last month Mr. Kevin Kilburn, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, gave a talk on “The Leek double sunset and the importance of the Bridestones to Pre-Historic peoples”. (Thanks go to Mr. Geoffrey Browne for introducing this speaker).

Next month sees Philip Leese visiting the Society for the April meeting to talk about “Crime on the Canals”. To come in May, we look forward to welcoming Mr. Eric Cox who will talk about the “World War Two American Soldiers Stationed in Biddulph”. In June Helen Wilshaw will talk about Biddulph Grange with special reference to the Bateman Geological Gallery and also in June we plan to have our annual walk, this year based in Congleton.

The Secretary’s report included an update on the publications and sales of the Society’s books. Two new publications had been prepared for the meeting – Transactions no. 8 which brings together a number of articles on the growth of the Methodist and Quaker religious groups in the Staffordshire Moorlands and a copy of the Heath Sale Document of 1919. The Treasurer’s report was circulated by Kath Walton and it showed the Society was still in good health and that there had been a small increase in funds, due in part to increased membership and income, some speakers waiving the offered fee and a slight increase in sales of publications. The committee have decided that membership would remain at £5 per year and there should be no change in the charge for non-members attending the meetings which remains at £2. The Archivist’s report explained that although there had been a number of donations to the archive the biggest change had been in the increased size of the new website with a further increase in visitors as more information and maps have been included.

The meeting then moved on to 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 had 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 area of history they are interested in. One machine was dedicated to showing those members without Internet access the increased scope of the BDGHS website. (Thanks to Elaine for this). 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 chance to see a recent film of the Biddulph Grange Gardens and Orthopaedic Hospital.
  3. A large table of maps that belong to the Society, some of which are now available to view on the website, was set up in the Children’s section of the Library.
  4. Mr. John Sherratt brought in a number of new record books and documents to discuss with members.
  5. Geraldine Outhwaite attended the meeting to discuss her latest book on marriages in Biddulph which she has almost completed. Based on a an initial display of information by Elaine Heathcote in Biddulph Library the book now features local photographs and information from the last 100 years. Look out for a book launch later this year.
  6. The Book Stall, which is manned by Mike Dawson, with all sorts of local history books to view and purchase. Thanks to Mike for his support of the Society’s publications.

The Leek double sunset and the importance of the Bridestones to Pre-Historic peoples - 16/02/2015

The second meeting of the BDGHS in 2015 was held on February 16th when Mr. Kevin Kilburn, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, gave a talk on “The Leek double sunset and the importance of the Bridestones to Pre-Historic peoples”.

Mr. Roland Machin started with the notices the first of which was a plea for help. Mr. John Williams is renovating a 1949 BSA Bantam motorcycle and is looking for information about its previous owners who came from the Biddulph/Knypersley area. He is compiling a history of the motorcycle and would like to hear from anyone with information on: Roger Goodwin of Knypersley Hall (the bike was registered to him in 1949); Graham Machin of Ivy Cottage, Greenway Bank (registered in 1950); and then, Miss Glenys Mary Brandreth, 1, Shepherd Street, Biddulph (in 1951) who married and became Mrs. Unwin and moved to Hillside, Betterley in 1954. If you can help, please contact the Society or leave information with Biddulph Library.

Mr. Machin introduced Mr. Kilburn who thanked the Society for the invitation to speak and outlined his interest in archeoastronomy and the sites and alignment of stone circles. The talk was based on one Mr. Kilburn gave at Keele University in May 2012 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Keele observatory. The talk started at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Leek which was built in the early 11th century. For over 150 years the seat round the base of the tree in the Doctor’s Corner (see drawing below) was the favourite spot from where to watch the double sunset. Mr. Kilburn believes that the positioning of the church is not accidental as it aligns with a number of the features of the Neolithic period. Next to the church is Parker House which was the home of Thomas Parker an attorney, who was mayor of Leek in the 17th century. His son Thomas (1666-1732) was the 1st Earl of Macclesfield, who moved to Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire. However his grandson, George (1695-1764), the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, was an astronomer and President of the Royal Society. A contemporary of Thomas was Robert Plot (1640-1695) who was born at Sutton Barne, near Sittingbourne, Kent. A collector of fossils and minerals, alchemist, geographer and surveyor he was the author in 1677 “The Natural History of Oxfordshire”. He was the first curator of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and an Oxford Professor of Chemistry (1863). As secretary of the Royal Society between 1682 and 1684 he was asked to write “The Natural History of Staffordshire” where there is the first description of Leek’s double sunset.

An illustration from the Gentleman’s Magazine of July 1738 based on Dr. Plot’s illustration in the Natural History of Staffordshire.

One of Dr. Plot’s predictions was that the double sunset would gradually disappear as the points at which the sun rises and sets would converge. Considering this claim was made in the 17th century then Mr. Kilburn believed he had to explain two astronomical terms which he did with the aid of a pencil – obliquity and precession. If you observe the sun rise or sun set “by measuring the degree of reappearance from a fixed point, using astronomical equipment and allowing for atmospheric refraction, it would be possible to show the changing declination of the sun and hence the changing obliquity of the ecliptic for future generations.”

Precession changes the position of the North Celestial Pole. Around 4 Billion years ago proto-earth was hit by a Mars-sized object called Theia and it knocked over the earth by about 24 degrees and created the moon. This part of the talk was illustrated by some wonderful slides of the planets and sunsets, but does all this astronomy explain why the last double sunset was seen in 1977? For two centuries the only unobstructed view has been from mid-wall of the church-yard but the trees planted in the 1960s now block the view and clouds below 10,000 metres in Liverpool Bay or lying between Leek and the Isle of Man often obscure the sunset. Theoretically, the reappearance could have been seen from the Doctor’s Corner in 1999 but from the Church this is now unlikely to been seen again. Recent observations of the double sunset: 1870, 1884, 1895, 1927, 1934, 1943-1952 possibly 3-5 times (years unrecorded by the Vicar), 1957 and finally 1977. So owing to changing obliquity since 1999 it is likely that Leek’s double sunset will no longer be seen from this historical site. But was the church built on a hill that had even older significance in prehistoric times?

Drawing of Doctor’s Corner, St. Edward the Confessor Church, Leek.

In 1977 Mr. John Barnatt wrote “Stone Circles of the Peak – A Search for Natural Harmony – a guide book to the stone circles of the Peak District, revealing the intimate relationship between pre-historic man and his landscape.” This was the first book to propose that Peak District stone circles contained astronomical alignments and was followed in 1990 by “The Henges, Stone Circles and Ring-cairns of the Peak District.” In the second book he wrote “To incorporate the sun and moon at important seasonal dates such as midwinter and alignment with a prominent hill or notch on the horizon, would have created an impressive backdrop to ceremonies that may well have taken place at these times of the year.”

There are a number of sites where the alignment of stones points towards the point at which the sun sets. The first important site with this alignment is Arbor Low in Derbyshire which is known as the ‘Stonehenge of the North’. A thousand years ago when Leek’s church was built it may have been deliberately positioned to ‘Christianise’ a much older site of solsticial importance. Furthermore, in the Bronze Age, the midsummer sunset from Cock Low could be seen against the Bridestones ‘notch’. Although the present alignments do not work this is explained by the two astronomical features, obliquity and precession, which basically have led to the sun setting measurably left of where it did in the Bronze Age. A second site in Leek was the Cocklow or Cattes Lowe Burial Mound which was seven metres high and 35 metres in diameter which had been levelled.

An even larger monument is the Bridestones which is the earliest known Neolithic monument in the North West dating from around 3000BC. Architecturally, it is a typical Clyde cairn – long barrow but why is it there?

Map: Distribution of Neolithic monuments in western Britain.

Key: Neolithic Period o Stone Axes Δ Arrowheads ˙ Buildings

The Bridestones was a large barrow in a similar style to Wayland’s Smithey, the West Kennet long barrow and Cairnholy I. As well as the size of the barrow and the use of stones to point to a solsticial alignment there is now evidence of similar weathered rock art which may be from the Bridestones which was found at Spiral ornamentation at Ramsor Farm, Oakamoor, in 1998 which is now in the Nicholson Institute collection, Leek. The peoples who probably travelled from Scotland would travel from Calderstones (near Liverpool) up the river system which drained into the Mersey via the rivers Weaver and Dane and this places the Bridestones on the watershed between the rivers Mersey and Trent. Other factors could be the copper deposits at Ecton and the flints that came from nearer East Anglia. This made the Bridestones important as it was an overland connection between the Irish and North Sea via the Trent valley.

With a series of photographs and slides Mr. Kilburn showed the various alignments of a number of local landmarks including the Brickbank circle, Pexhill Lane, Henbury, near Macclesfield and the Longgutter circle and the Bullstones (Bullstrang) which date to about 2000BC. Mr. Kilburn also looked at the work on the Bridestones, excavated and restored in 1936-37 by Prof. Fleure and Margaret Dunlop of Manchester University and the Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society research in August 2011.

Since 2003 Mr. Kilburn was asked to investigate other prehistoric sites by Paul and Vicky Morgan the authors of “Pre-historic Cheshire” which has the Bridestones on the front cover. One of these is the site of Marton church which was built circa 1343. Presently the subject of a collection to help save the fabric of the building which is one of the oldest half-timbered churches in western Europe. It is built close to a prehistoric mound in a field opposite the church which was called Cherry Barrow in 1824. Amongst items found when investigating the site were domestic flint implements used as scrapers.

As usual this report only covers a small part of the talk and the audience was entertained to an evening of wide ranging information based on a local phenomenon and landmark. Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Kilburn for an excellent, spell binding talk and before tea and biscuits a number of questions about the double sunset and the Bridestones where asked and discussed.

Quakers of the Staffordshire Moorlands - 19/01/2015

The first meeting of 2015 was held on January 19th when Mr. John Anderson gave a talk on the “Quakers of the Staffordshire Moorlands”. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society, introduced Mr. Anderson to the meeting and he explained that this interest in Quakerism had come from his extensive research into the prevalence of Methodism in this area.

Mr. Anderson began by stating that his research, which usually involved delving into dusty and dirty boxes of documents, had been a by-product of his career as a solicitor. Mr. Anderson had decided to structure his talk on the involvement of three families in the Staffordshire Moorlands: Thomas Hammersley of Basford in the parish of Cheddleton, Robert Mellor of Whitehough in the Moorlands parish of Ipstones, and Joshua Toft of Haregate, just north of Leek. These three families are examples of the 140 Quaker families in the whole of Staffordshire attending meetings in dwelling houses in Leek, Keele, Lichfield, Stafford, Uttoxeter, Tamworth and Wolverhampton in the late 17th century.

George Fox (1624-1691) was the English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the ‘Quakers’ or ‘Friends’ and the Staffordshire Moorlands was a real stronghold of Quakerism in the county with about 200 people attending various meetings in private houses. The 17th century was a time of religious turmoil in Britain and the clashes between the Monarchy and Parliament continued throughout the reigns of James I, Charles I, Cromwell, Charles II and James II. The people saw massive swings from extremes of Catholic teaching to Puritan and Protestant faiths which were not resolved until Parliament declared that the throne was vacant in 1688. Then the Glorious Revolution saw William and Mary declared joint monarchs and Parliament also passed the Toleration Act in 1689. Non-conformists were allowed their own places of worship and their own teachers and preachers; however, they could not hold government positions or attend university.

Photograph on the left: Haregate, the home of the Toft family in Leek, is hopefully to be renovated by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council having been the home and meeting place of the Leek Quakers involved in silk manufacture and button making.

In remote parts of the country the local people would meet in a small town usually on Market Day. In Leek market day was Wednesday and local people and farmers would buy and sell animals, trade in other goods and exchange news and gossip before returning to their isolated upland farms. It was near Leek that a strong Protestant dissent grew in the early part of the seventeenth century, and certainly the provision made by the Church of England up to the 1640s was meagre and defective. Lack of adequate financial resources led to the poor quality of the clergy and of the vicars, curates and lay readers in 20 parishes in the Leek and Moorlands area, nine were described as of low life and drunkards, four were non-resident and four of the curates were stated to be ‘ignorant’.

It is reported that George Fox first came to Caldon “in the moorlands parts” along with Richard Hickock of Chester. Hickock seems to have been responsible for convincing many people to become Quakers and he established meetings for worship centred on four people in the area: William Davenport, of Fould Farm in Leekfrith, a township in Leek parish, Matthew Dale of Rudyard, another township in the same parish, Thomas Hammersley of Basford in the parish of Cheddleton, and Richard Dale, also of Rudyard, in the 1650s. A Thomas Holme, who came into the north of the county in 1660 at Fox’s suggestion, is also stated to have convinced, among many others, Robert Mellor of Whitehough and Joshua Toft of Haregate.

Fox’s second visit to Staffordshire came in 1654 when he visited Thomas Hammersley at Basford. Fox made a further visit in 1663 to Whitehough in the parish of Ipstones where he had a large, blessed meeting and returned again in 1667, where he established the county’s monthly meetings. He was again in the county, at Hammersley’s house and at Whitehough in 1669.

In the 1660s the persecution of non-conformists came under The Conventicle Act of 1664 when a third conviction for attending a conventicle prescribing the possibility of transportation. In 1664 19 Staffordshire Quakers were committed to prison under this Act, described by Friends as the ‘Act of Banishment’. In 1669 five Friends were imprisoned for refusing to swear an oath, then only one more imprisonment for this offence, in 1682. A fresh wave of persecution began in 1670 with the passage of the Second Conventicle Act. It continued throughout the next decade and for some years thereafter, with the authorities, ecclesiastical and secular, waging a sporadic war on Quakers. Staffordshire Friends continued nevertheless to hold their conventicles and in 1675 five Friends, all of whom may be identified as living in the Leek and Moorlands area, were imprisoned for “religiously assembling together”.

Photograph on the right: Whitehough, the home of the Mellor family, was in the late 17th century, a 400-acre yeoman farmer estate.

By 1672 the Staffordshire Quarterly Meeting was in existence but it held its first recorded meeting at Whitehough in the Moorlands parish of Ipstones, probably at the house of Robert Mellor, the leading Friend in that immediate area. The choice of venue is significant, suggesting that at this time the Moorland Quakers were the most numerous and active Friends in the county. Venues of the early quarterly meetings changed, either for members’ convenience or possibly to avoid observation by the local authorities or informers at Whitehough, Basford and Gratton near Leek. It is thought that the remoteness of the area provided some safety from persecution for James Brindley’s Quaker grand-parents, Henry and Alice Bowman from Alstonfield near Ashbourne, who suffered much for their faith, including a period of imprisonment. There is one reference to open-air meetings in Staffordshire: in 1655 once again organised by Thomas Hammersley who as one of the earliest converts held a meeting on Cheddleton Heath. Although they risked arrest and severe penalties under the government proclamation of 1661 and the Quaker Act of 1662 Friends refused to hold their meetings in secret. They pioneered the method of open violation of the law, on grounds of conscience, and by offering passive resistance only would be imprisoned.

Mr. Anderson then demonstrated the links between the various families using wills and other documents and quoted from the work of Denis Stuart who described the growth of the Quakers as being from an “Open Fellowship” to a “Closed Sect”. Initially it seems that many of the Quakers had been very rich ‘Yeoman Farmers’ who started businesses like button-making as well as having land, although where all their money actually came from is still a mystery. The Quakers would purchase land and keep it in trust to pay towards the needs of the local poor. For example, George Howarth in 1690 gave land to the people at Ford and the income for the land is distributed to local needy persons. Their dissident behaviour seems to be the product of the failure of the Church to provide a coherent faith and a persuasive clergy. As the Quaker movement grew it would forge business relationships so that John Toft in Leek opened a silk spinning mill and then worked together with others including the Methodist Wardle family. The money created by the various businesses allowed the development of banks so that by 1834 the families of Fowler, Howarth and Grant opened a branch of their bank in Congleton. However, in trying to keep the ‘open fellowship’ to retain the membership the Quakers would not allow marrying out. For example, John Mellor’s nephew for doing so was disowned by the movement or ‘closed sect’.

Photograph on the left: Quaker meeting houses were uniformly plain and without decoration the Basford meeting house is little more than a barn of the type found throughout the Leek and Moorlands area. To the left is the original farm and at the rear Sneyd Hall.

Mr. Machin thanked John for his excellent talk and for the many documents that he had brought to show the meeting. A number of questions were asked especially about the comparative wealth of most of the local Quaker families and if there were any relationships with the more famous names in Bourneville and York.

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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