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

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Current Meeting Reports - 2021

Mr. Andrew Van Buren “My Life in Show Business” - 20th December 2021

Mr. Peter Durnall “Biddulph and Knypersley: Now and Then” - 15th November 2021

Mr. Bill Ridgway “Down Memory Line” - 18th October 2021

Mr. Michael Turnock “Bradley Green and the Bradbury Coalmasters” - 20th September 2021

Mr. Adrian Lawton “When Uncle Tom Came to Buy a Train.” - 20th September 2021


“My Life in Show Business” - 20th Decembember 2021

The December Meeting of the Season was held on Monday the 20th of December 2021 at 7 p.m. in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph. Mr. Gerald Worland introduced the speaker Mr. Andrew Van Buren whose talk was entitled “My Life in Show Business”

This report does not reflect the demonstration of showmanship of Andrew and is mainly taken from the Van Buren website. If you want an entertaining speaker for a meeting then do not hesitate to contact him as he is highly recommended.

Andrew Van Buren was, as the saying goes “born in a trunk”, in other words he was born into a theatrical family who toured the world as grand scale illusionists, his parents were known as Fred Van Buren and Greta. His first time on stage was actually at six weeks old - in the Great Room Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London. He worked in amazing shows with his parents, who were not only magician illusionists but also the creators, inventors and builders of new illusions. Andrew experienced life not just on stage but also behind the scenes in summer seasons, on film sets, and touring around the world. He gained performance and practical experience whilst watching from the ‘wings’ and learning from the celebrities, stars and other amazing speciality acts of the time. This all allowed Andrew to serve a childhood apprenticeship, gaining invaluable experience within the entertainment industry. All before branching out into performing his own act at a very young age.

Andrew’s father Fred, who was born in Sandbach and his journey into show business started from when he was four years old. Sent along to the local butcher’s shop, returning home he told his mum that “the butcher is selling elephant meat!” but his mum explained that no he wasn’t, it was a poster advertising a circus. Fred was taken to see Chapman’s circus, which made a lasting impression on him “From that moment on I was bitten by the show business bug!” he explained.

Annually the family would visit the amazing Blackpool Tower Circus, then there was a chance meeting with the locally based circus proprietor Bob Gandey, who took young Freddie under his wing and started teaching him about show business and its history, which is where he first heard about the man who created the circus Philip Astley.

Poster 1: The birth of the ‘Vanishing Motorcycle & Rider’

When Fred eventually returned from doing his National Service in the 1950’s he finally took the plunge and turned completely professional working at Gandey’s circus in 1953 for Bob’s son Joe Gandey. In 1955 Fred met Connie Greta, who started assisting him in the shows. Then in 1956 they started concentrating more on the magic and illusions - working as The Yoxani’s. The act really started going places.

In 1961 Fred and Connie Greta were married, just prior to a summer season in Llandudno Wales, which was to be with comedy musical film Star George Formby, who sadly died a couple of months before the season, replaced by his brother Frank Formby. November 1961 they appeared on their first television show which was the BBC’s “The Good Old Days,” broadcast live from the City Varieties Theatre in Leeds. Going on to perform at Brighton Hippodrome with singing star Dorothy Squires as top of bill. Then in 1962 the Amazing Yoxani’s became Van Buren and Greta.

Fred’s ultimate illusion is the famous and unique ‘Vanishing Motorcycle & Rider,’ invented in 1976 whilst at the Spa Pavilion Felixstowe in summer season with Windsor Davies & Don Estelle of “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” fame. During the first week of January 1977 the Vanishing Motorbike illusion was televised for the first time on the BBC as a close to the Magic Circle Christmas show.

Through the 1980s the Van Buren family appeared in France with the famous circus show Le Voix Du Nord, toured South America, performed a season at Chessington Zoo World of Adventures with circus Hassani, in Kelvin Hall Glasgow, Gaiety Theatre, Douglas Isle of Man, toured with Fossett’s National Circus in Ireland, plus seasons with Bob Gandey’s grandson – Philip Gandey’s shows, as well as developing new shows to tour theatre, leisure centre, outdoor gala’s and even in presenting the shows in 3000 seating big top tent.

In 1993 The Van Buren family performed in Blackpool Tower Circus, for this Fred and Andrew put their heads together to create a new act “Ancient & Modern,” Fred and Connie Greta played the part of the old magicians, who were constantly interrupted by Andrew - the young whizz kid illusionist on roller skates, unicycle and finally motorbike, on which Andrew was then made to disappear, the old timers getting the last laugh.

Poster 2: Andrew Van Buren and his assistant Kelly work with The Amazing Van Burens (Father Fred and Connie) on the same bill

Andrew’s childhood was to be spent both backstage and on stage, touring in theatre shows, with circus, on film sets and TV studios before launching his own career, that took him around the world.

Once established in his own right Andrew then took over performing the family magic and illusions, taking on the role of magician and illusionist but with the addition of quality specialty act style circus skills. When these skills were combined it created something totally new, the illusion show with a twist of Variety and Circus. Fred and Connie officially retired from performing in 1997, although they still continued a close involvement with the shows, Fred still building props and creating new effects with Andrew for his shows, Connie Greta keeping her eye on them both.

Poster 3: Mr and Mrs Van Buren perform at the Blackpool Opera House

After many successful years working around the world, in 2009 Andrew Van Buren began the process of resurrecting the name of Philip Astley as a lifeline for the ailing town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. In 2018, the 250th Anniversary of Philip Astley creating the circus, the Philip Astley Project was inaugurated. Word spread globally with celebrations and recognition overflowing from Newcastle-under-Lyme to London, all around the UK, into Monaco, Hungary, Brazil, France, Spain, Canada, Australia and more. Andrew was proudly involved in the unveiling of a plaque to Philip Astley in Monte Carlo by HSH Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie. For more details about the Philip Astley Project and its amazing team please visit

In 2019 Fred Van Buren and Connie Greta were awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme for their lifetime in show business and initial work in raising awareness of Philip Astley. Sadly during 2020 Connie Greta Van Buren passed away.

A long and interesting question and answer session followed including a look at showmanship, education and the future of live circus and shows. Mr. Gerald Worland then thanked Andrew for an interesting evening with an invitation to return and talk to the Society about the Philip Astley Project.

The Next Meeting of the Season will be held on Monday the 17th of January 2022. The Meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Stations Road, Biddulph. The speaker will be Mrs. Geraldine Outhwaite will present her talk “The Hospital Where Everyone Smiles: When Biddulph Grange was a Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital.”

Biddulph and Knypersley: Now and Then - 15th Novembember 2021

The November meeting of the BDGHS was held on Monday the 15th at 7 p.m. in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph. The speaker Mr. Peter Durnall showed a series of photographs to show the changes in the Biddulph Valley in the last 200 years.

Mr. Durnall’s talk began with a thank you to the people who had given him the postcards which he has attempted to reproduce in the last few months by visiting many local landmarks with his camera. The Gerald Worland Collection, which is now held in the Society archives, includes some postcards which go back to 1902 and a couple of sets of early glass slides of the area.

The talk started with views of the Bradley Green High Street, the name of Biddulph being adopted in 1930. Weatherspoon”s reminded the people of Biddulph of the original name when they built a new pub on the High street. Knypersley Church and cross roads and pictures of the Red Cross in the Knypersley Church also indicated a change of name here. Comparing the postcards of Knypersley St John’s Church, which was built in 1849 for John Bateman as a private chapel, with a modern view showed the site of the former smithy which was last used as a smithy in 1947 and demolished in 1967.

Photograph: An early picture of Knypersley Church (Aldi on the right).

Next came the Knypersley Cricket Pavilion which was built in 1905 with a donation from Mr. George Harding, the Managing Director of Robert Heath and Sons, on his retirement from the company. The playing field itself was purchased by the club for £1,100 in 1919, when Robert Heath and Sons sold off most of their farms, houses and land in the area. The Pavilion is dedicated to the Lowe family many of who played for Knypersley and Staffordshire. Mr. Levi Lowe was the head groundsman for many years and worked well into his 70’s.

Over-looking the Cricket Ground was Knypersley Hall which was bought by James Bateman senior in 1809. Over the hill is the Serpentine Lake and the Warder’s Tower which was built for John Bateman of Knypersley Hall in 1828. There were a number of black and white and colour photographs of this area. Mr. Durnall had replicated most of them and included a set of photographs taken inside the Tower which is now only a home for Daubenton bats. In 2009 the Landmark Trust purchased the Tower from Staffs County Council for £1 on a 99 year lease. Greenway Bank became a country park in 1978 and Mr. Durnall worked here as a voluntary warden from 2008 for ten years. A number of his photographs appear on the new information boards in the Park.

The meeting now travelled north to St. Lawrence&rsqou;’s Church, braved the heavy snow falls of 1940, to a series of interesting postcards and photographs indicated the changes that have occurred around the Church and School House. Surprisingly one postcard of the Church was posted in Loughborough in 1906 to Miss l. Brookes, Pattingham, Wolverhampton. Travelling up Grange Road to visit the photographs of the Talbot the next building featured was Biddulph Old Hall. There are many collections of photographs and postcards of the Old Hall. Mr. Durnall was given permission to record all the changes made to the house by Mr. Brain Vowles and the late Mr. Nigel Daly. As the photographs were shown the meeting was fortunate to have Mr. Vowles in the audience and he kindly answered a number of questions about the features of the house and extensive grounds.

The Tower at Biddulph Old Hall was a project that Nigel Daly had been passionate about. It was not only the restoration itself, but the opportunity it presented to create a small Prayer Room or Chapel on the middle floor of the tower. Nigel wanted it to be a chapel of reconciliation for the forces that brought the Elizabethan Mansion to ruin. The double height, or Banqueting Room, at the top of the tower we intended to dedicate to the memory of Robert and Caroline Bateman, with all their collected artefacts and drawings placed for all to see. In memory of Nigel a collection has been started to complete the work.

Postcard and Mr. Durnall’s Photograph: The Tower of Biddulph Old Hall

Below the Hall, next to the Talbot, was the Corn Mill which has been demolished for some years. This has been the subject of research by Elaine Heathcote and the Society hope to publish this work in the New Year. One of the postcards of the mill was Biddulph based being the work of J. Rowley who recorded many of the features of the Valley.

To the right of Grange Road is Elmhurst built for Rev Henry Holt by his uncle James Bateman in the 1840s. The next large set of postcards and photographs were of the Biddulph Grange both in its original form as a large family home and then later as an Orthopaedic Hospital and as a stepping stone into the National Trust Gardens.

An Old Postcard and Mr. Durnall’s Photograph of Biddulph Grange Garden

Note how well the Yew Walk has been restored by the gardeners working at the Grange

Mr. Durnall finished with a miscellany of old pictures and postcards of Biddulph and then answered a number of questions on his photographic history of Bradley Green and Biddulph. Mr. Roland Machin, the Chair of the History Society thanked Mr. Durnall for the many hours he has spent recently walking around the area taking photographs which made the comparisons of then and now more interesting.

Please note: There will be a Book Launch in Biddulph Library on Saturday the 18th of December 2021 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. A new book by local author Geraldine Outhwaite about six local “Remarkable Women” will be on sale. The women are: Maria Bateman, Marguerite Bennett, Ellen Bourne, Anne Brindley, Emma Darwin and Sarah Wedgwood. Have your copy signed by the author. Also available: Two recent books from the BDGHS “A History of Brindley Ford School” selected from the School Log Books by Mr. Maurice Grocott (Acting Headteacher when the School closed in 1983) and “Growing Up In Biddulph” by Mr. Colin Rodgers.

The Next Meeting of the Season will be held on Monday the 20th of December 2021. The Meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Stations Road, Biddulph. The speaker will be Mr. Andrew Van Buren “My Life in Show business.”

Down Memory Line - 18th October 2021

The October meeting of the Society was held on Monday the 18th of October 2021 when Mr Bill Ridgway presented the illustrated talk “Down Memory Line: Personal Recollections of the Whitfield-Longport Mineral Railway” with readings by Mr. Adrian Lawton.

Bill Ridgway was born in London but was evacuated during the Second World War and came to live in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. His childhood was spent with the Chatterley Whitfield Railway line as a backdrop to his life - providing the playgrounds and early noise of locomotives and wagons filled with coal moving past his home. With all the regeneration work in the Biddulph Valley it is now difficult to image the miles of sidings, the constant clanking of small locomotives and grime that this rail created. The line was built to link the investments in coal and iron of Mr. H. H. Williamson who had recognised the value of the Biddulph Valley Railway and a connection was made from the Colliery shortly after it opened in 1859.

This eventually proved to be a burden because in order to feed the blast furnaces at Chatterley, vast quantities of coal were sent on the Biddulph Valley Railway via Milton to Stoke and thence by the N.S.R to Chatterley Junction to the North of Longport which proved to be very costly to the Company. With the coming of the N.S.R. Loop line to Tunstall by 1874 and the branch from Tunstall to Longport by 1875, a solution to the problem was sought.

A decision was made to construct a Railway from Chatterley Whitfield Colliery to the Pinnox area of Tunstall. Work commenced in 1874 and was complete by 1876, but the connection with the Biddulph Valley Branch remained. The savings in both cost and time to the Company were tremendous and the line continued in operation until April 1964, when following the closure of the Branch from Tunstall to Longport, it ceased operation. If you would like to read more about the railway the definitive book “A History of the Chatterley Whitfield Railway” by William Jack III was published as the History Society’s Transaction No. 13 of December 2018.

The readings by Mr. Adrian Lawton to illustrate each element of the talk are taken from Bill Ridgway“s book “Potteries Lad.” The journey in Mr. Ridgway’s talk began at the pit with its mountainous pit waste heap.

1. The Pit: The site of Whitfield Colliery with its tall smoking chimney was criss-crossed by railway lines to connect it to the Biddulph Valley Line, the Loop Line, lines to Milton and Pinnox. Hundreds of owner operated coal trucks and little local made copies of steam engines like ‘Edward VII’ shunted about the site .

View near the Tunnel mouth from the footbridge looking towards the pit.

Picture Source: Staffordshire Past Track

Adrian: “From our front garden the eastern skyline was pierced by the chimney and spoil heap of Chatterley Whitfield Colliery. I often wandered through the coal sidings, lingered by ‘Roger’ or ‘Edward’ hissing steam in readiness for the climb to Chell, and listened to the clank of a cage as it spun between winding house and pit. The tip grew higher be the day, the spoil-loaded hopper and counterweight simultaneously ascending and descending as it reached the summit and noisily discharged another load of dross.”

2. The Wasteland: An area of rough land between the pit and the tunnel mouth on High Lane. Bill and his brother Michael now lived in a new home on Chell Heath and this was there playground.

Adrian: “It was 1947, and with spring came the thaw. I was seven, and my days were bright with possibilities. No land was safer than my land. The coal trains’ comforting chunter, the pit-hopper’s distant clang and the roar of the Port Vale crowd defined my world. I crossed the footbridge and found a pond. You didn’t have to wait long for the first newts to appear, or the electric blue damselflies which sparked among the reeds. My old Tunstall home lay discarded on the edge of memory.”

3. The Tunnel: this was under High Lane and was just over 400 yards long but the landscape at each end remained one of railway sidings and trucks to feed the voracious smelters. There was a castellated steam vent just west of High Lane which remains in the garden of a bungalow built on the roadside.

The Tunnel from the east side - when you walk the Greenway you can still see the detached house on the skyline.

Adrian: “It wasn’t only the coal trains that went through. Local youths also did the trip, and those who hadn’t done it were treated with disdain. My brother was invited to add his name to this illustrious list. He’d tagged on to an older gang who’d made the trip before. At the entrance they peered into the dark interior. Far ahead, a glimmer of light marked the end, with Little Chell Lane and the park a stone’s throw away. In a quest for glory, they plunged in while I stayed at home with that week’s Eagle. I’d done it all before.”

4: The Schools: Chell Primary School was on the site of the Care Home on High Lane and Hanley High School is now an Academy. At Hanley High School Bill Ridgway took and passed his 13 plus exam and after Grammar School became a teacher. He was to find out later that his future wife Margaret, who also was a teacher, had attended the girls class at Chell Primary School.

Chell Primary School, now demolished but similar to the school at Black Bull.

Adrian: “My Junior School classroom at Chell was a high-raftered cube of dingy plaster. Rows of desks faced a blackboard and easel, and an assortment of cupboards had their places by the walls. Headmaster Quinton was rarely seen. We were taught by Polly Rubberneck who occasionally used a cost-effective stick if the need arose.”

5. Little Chell Crossing: This features on the cover of Bill Ridgway’s book with the quote “It was 1947, and we’d just been to see our new house being built in Chell. When we reached the crossing at Little Chell Lane we had to wait for ‘Roger,’ one of the pit tankers, to chug back to Chatterley Whitfield.” We see him sitting on the fence waiting for the engine with his mother pushing Michael in the pram.

Adrian: “When the mood took me I went down to Little Chell Lane, where the line crossed the road. Here the engine would halt while the shunter made sure the way was clear before proceeding. Between Tunstall Park and Mill Hill estate was a sprawl of sidings, which the train would negotiate before disappearing under a concrete bridge below the Catholic Church in the direction of Scotia Road.”

6. Tunstall Park: It is now hard to image the coal wagons going past the end of the park towards the site of Pittshill Station but the park with its lake and boathouse, tennis courts and cafe stood in the shadow of the Catholic Church.

Tunstall Park Postcard

Adrian: “The line ran alongside the children“s playground at Tunstall Park where there were two slides and a lethal device we called a witch’s hat which rotated on a cone and flung the unwary across the red ash. On the lake, all the boats would be on the water. And the boatman really did shout: ‘Boat number three, your time is up.’ The clock tower still guards the main gates, with the glacial boulder we slid down a few steps away.”

7. Station Road: Once again this hive of railway activity including Tunstall Station is only marked by a signal left in the grass behind the block of flats built on the site of Barber’s Picture Palace on the Boulevard which was originally Station Road.

Tunstall Station and sidings

Adrian: “Barber’s Picture Palace seemed out of place amid the worthy buildings along Station Road, the Railway Station, Jubilee Buildings and Market Hall bore the confident stamp of their Victorian planners. But Barber’s was an interloper in a world of pit heaps and shraff tips. Once the music crackled and the curtains parted, unreality became the new reality. Then it was back home on Wells’ bus, a penny each way.”

8. Pinnox and Scotia Road: A large number of people lived on Pinnox Street surrounded by railway bridges and cuttings which ran through the Dudson’s factory or builders merchants.

Pinnox Sidings looking towards Brownhills

Adrian: “In the last year of the war we were living in Pinnox Street. The Loop Line viaduct spanned two streets and a timber yard. An alley separated my aunt’s back yard from a range of sheds and sidings, part of the Whitfield mineral line serving Silvester’s and a large pottery at the bottom of High Street. The shunters plodded like ponderous beetles from point to point as I watched.”

Pinnox Street off Scotia Road, Tunstall

9. Brownhills: A branch line took the mineral line past the Girl’s High School and linked Chatterley to the Canal and the Westport Lake.

Adrian: “I first discovered girls at the jazz club in Burslem. And they all seemed to have come from Brownhills this famous school for girls built in the grounds of an old hall and skirted to the north by the mineral line, which by that time had survived the complexity of the Pinnox sidings en route to either Greenhead or Longport. My wife to be Margaret, then Warburton, was one of this illustrious band. Dr Bright ruled the school with a rod of iron.

Brownhills was a place of note on the Mineral Line’s route. After passing under a couple of road bridges just below the school gates, it’s destination was near at hand, and the engines could give a brief pant of relief before a journey back to Whitfield with the empties.”

10 Westport Lake and Longport: Mr. Ridgway illustrated this part of his talk with recent pictures of the rail bridge over canal; the line by the lake; and, views of lake and route of the railway including remaining buffers and discarded wagons.

The line at Wesport Lake (before the track was removed)

Adrian: “The mineral line followed the Scotia Brook around the school, passing under the road we always called the Sytch. An overgrown branch ran close to the Trent and Mersey Canal, at one time serving Brownhills Colliery. The rest skirted Westport Lake. The trains ran into a final complex of sidings before handing over to main line engines bound south to Stoke or north to the Cheshire towns and Manchester.”

The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 15th of November 2021 when the Speaker will be Mr. Peter Durnall will show a series of photographs to show the changes in the Biddulph Valley in the last 200 years. The Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph.

Bradley Green and the Bradbury Coalmasters - 20th September 2021

The first meeting of the 2018/2019 season of the Society was held on Monday the 20th of September when Mr. Michael Turnock presented a short talk on “Bradley Green and the Bradbury Coalmasters.”

The first meeting of the new season of talks at the Biddulph History Society (BDGHS) was held at the Biddulph Victoria Chapel on the 20th of September 2021 and featured two short talks. The first on the Bradley Green and the Bradbury Coalmasters was given by Mr. Michael Turnock.

At the start of this century if you walked down the steps of the Town Hall opposite on the right was the Somerfield Supermarket and then four shops with flats above. Pine Kitchen, a fish and chip shop and cafe; ‘Morning Fresh’ a fresh fruit shop launched by Mr. Bill Summerscale; S. W. Cotton, ophthalmic opticians; and, Swinton insurance. Between the shops and the Conservative Association and Gym was the start of Wharf Road. Past Plimbley Insurance on the left and then next to the bowling green of the Labour Club was Options D-I-Y and the dental practice.

Yew Tree House, Wharf Road, Bradley Green.

This building was the extensive Yew Tree House which had many acres of grounds and was the home of the Bradbury Family. This family is the latest area of research of Mr. Turnock as they were one of the early coal masters, some 20 years before the Heaths, and started the gas works. If you continued down Wharf Road before the Inner Ring Road was completed in 2003 you came to a tree-lined section with the sign of early coal wharfs on each side before coming to the Biddulph Valley Railway line.

Site of the Bradbury Colliery

If you continue a few more yards you came to open fields, see above, which you still do. There is a large field on the left which once was covered with a slag heap. In the far top corner where there is a small copse of trees was the colliery winding gear and a line of cottages (now a farm) built by the Bradbury’s for their miners. These Bradbury miner’s cottages are today partly Woodside Farm. Other cottages in Biddulph are of this period i.e. the rows of 1840s Bradbury’s miners cottages in Cross Street, Cromwell Street and Chapel Street. The row of cottages opposite Saxon tyres was known as Bradbury Row in the 1860s and the name changed to South View by the Biddulph Urban District Council. Wharf Road continued as a dirt road and was crossed by two sidings which joined the Biddulph Valley Railway. The Mine Manager‘s home was the red brick building on the right Woodside Villa.

Map of Bradley Green in the 1880s showing Bradley Green and the colliery

The major member of the Bradbury family involved in Bradley Green was Mr. William Bradbury (1814 - 1872). He was the son of John Bradbury Snr (1792 - 1852) who with his partner Silas Leigh had already been mining at Clayton Colliery, east of Manchester since 1820. They purchased the 70 acres of Staffordshire land from the Ford Family.

William was in charge of the Biddulph mines; Chairman of the Gasworks Company; a Director of Congleton Building Society; a member St. Lawrence’s Church supporter of Biddulph Female Friendly Society; and, supported the proposal to persuade the NSR to bring a railway to Biddulph Valley in 1860. His home Yew Tree House had extensive grounds, a three acre paddock with stables and a coach house employing both a gamekeeper and coachman. When William died (probably whilst visiting Buxton to take the water) and he was buried in Biddulph Church. Being a respected gentleman in Bradley Green, William is remembered with two memorials in the church i.e. a three panel stained glass window and a simple tablet.

Unfortunately, his son was to see the end of the family’s involvement with coal in the Biddulph Valley. The partnership with Silas Leigh was dissolved and imprudent spending led to the mine being acquired by Robert Heath who was the company’s main creditor. Robert Heath continued to work the colliery for about twelve years using it to pump water way which was affecting the workings of the Black Bull mine. It finally closed in 1894 and over the next one hundred years the area returned to a green field. In 2009 Yew Tree was demolished and both the D-I-Y shop and the dentist relocated to other properties on the High Street.

This is a small part of Mr. Turnock’s detailed research with maps, diagrams and family trees to complement the story. When he has completed his work it will be published by the Society.

The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 18th of October 2021 when the speaker will be Mr. Bill Ridgway with a talk entitled “Down Memory Line.”

When Uncle Tom Came to Buy a Train - 20th September 2021

Mr. Adrian Lawton’s talk When Uncle Tom came to England to Buy a Train began with a number of disclaimers but they didn’t distract from an interesting piece of investigative journalism. This report deals with only a small fraction of the evidence Adrian produced to illustrate a remark made when he was much younger “that a family friend from Kidsgrove had travelled on a train pulled by a British locomotive when she had visited her Uncle Tom in Canada.”

Who was Uncle Tom? Thomas Worrall Kent (1922 - 2011) was born in Kidsgrove, the son of John and Isabella Kent. John Kent worked at Cowlishaw Walker and his grandfather was stationmaster at Kidsgrove. Tom won a scholarship to Oxford where he obtained a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He was a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he met his wife Phyllida Anne who was also a code breaker. He later became an editorial writer for The Guardian and The Economist. In 1954 he emigrated to Canada with his young family to become editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. In the 1960s his career led him to join the Canadian government and as deputy minister of regional expansion, he left Ottawa and moved with his family to Nova Scotia to head up the Cape Breton Development Corporation. One of the projects involved in the Corporation’s activities to revitalise the economy was the development of the Cape Breton Steam Railway.

From 1971 to 1977, Tom Kent was President of the Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco). His task was to phase out the unprofitable coal mines and to foster a new economy through diversification and amongst the division’s far-ranging endeavours was its involvement in the tourist industry. Starting in the autumn of 1973, following a very successful first season running a steam train along existing colliery lines, Devco laid railway track from Glace Bay to Port Morien. It was to become one of the premier tourist attractions on Cape Breton Island with a train station, renovated coking ovens, a canteen in an old caboose and a chowder house restaurant. In that first year 14,000 visited the line.

First run in 1973 - Old No.42 at Victoria Junction

Locomotive 42 was a sentimental favourite of many people in Cape Breton. It had worked in the local coal mines until 1963 when it was acquired by a local railway enthusiast and it was later leased to the Cape Breton Steam Railway. The coaches, donated by the Canadian National Railway, were refurbished and maintained at the Devco Railway Roundhouse in Glace Bay.

The line also operated a British Steam Locomotive. But which locomotive? The source of many of the steam engines running on today’s heritage railways was in Wales and not England. Dai Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry acquired 297 steam locomotives for scrapping between 1959 and 1968. Because Dai Woodham decided to concentrate on scrapping railway waggons; most of the steam engines remained untouched; and, he sold most of them a total of 213 on favourable terms mainly to railway preservation societies. If it were not for Mr Woodham, there would be few operating steam locomotives and heritage railways in the UK. By checking the records of locomotives at Barry, Adrian wasn’t able to find a locomotive that had gone to Canada.

However. a second source of steam locomotives was Steamtown U.S.A. Mr F. Nelson Blount, the wealthy founder and owner of a seafood company in USA had a passionate interest in railways and acquired a narrow guage railway in 1955. He then started to assemble a collection of standard guage locomotives. This collection was moved to several different locations but by 1964 his museum, called Steamtown USA, was located at Bellows Falls, Vermont. His wide interest in steam locomotives saw “Repton,” a British engine, enter the museum in 1967. Once again but for one man’s intervention in this case, North America would not have many of the operating locomotives and museums that now exist. After many years of financial difficulties the Steamtown Foundation went bankrupt in 1986 and Congress created the Steamtown National Historic Site and the National Park Service acquired the collection.

“Repton”in its American / Canadian disguise.

So the engine was “Repton” a Schools class 4-4-0 type locomotive, one of 40 named after British public schools, which was built at the Eastleigh works of the Southern Railway in May 1934. It entered service on the Bournemouth route, and spent some time operating between Waterloo and Portsmouth before that line was electrified. It was one of the last of the class to be overhauled by British Railways in 1960, so was considered a good choice for preservation. In December 1962 the engine was withdrawn from service. “Repton,” was then stored at Fratton shed near Portsmouth before moving to Eastleigh Works towards the end of 1964 for storage and restoration.

In 1966 it was purchased and overhauled at Eastleigh and transferred to the USA. It was donated by the purchaser to a museum, Steamtown USA, in Vermont. Later, Steamtown loaned the engine to the Cape Breton Steam Railway in Canada, where it operated a regular passenger service. In 1989, when it was sold, it returned to the UK to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, where it was again overhauled and found to be in good condition and was steamed again in 1990. Clifford Brown who owned “Repton,” donated it to the NYMR in his will. A subsequent overhaul progressed well and by early 2017 the locomotive was once again operational on the NYMR which runs from Pickering to Whitby. It was re-painted in the original Southern Railway olive green livery for the first time when it returned to this side of the Atlantic.

“Repton”: Waiting for you to visit at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

This is just a brief resume of Adrian’s talk and those who would like to hear more can request he repeats the talk at another venue.

The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 18th of October 2021 when the speaker will be Mr. Bill Ridgway with a talk entitled “Down Memory Line.”

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

These web pages are hosted by 1and1, and the site was originally

Created by the late Mr. David Moore