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

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Current Meeting Reports - 2022

The BDGHS Annual General Meeting - 21st March 2022

Jonathan Fryer introduces Ray Johnson's film the "Sneyd Pit Disaster" - 21st February 2022

Geraldine Outhwaite "The Hospital Where Everybody Smiles" - 17th January 2022


The Annual General Meeting - 21st March 2022

Report of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the BDGHS held on the 21st March 2022. The Chairman of the Society, Roland Machin, began the meeting by explaining that the AGM in 2020 had been cancelled due to the outbreak of Corvid. Since then the committee have met and sustained and maintained the cohesion of the Society. The Society has continued with regular publications; book sales; website updates; a regular Newsletter; some small scale research; and, collaboration with Town Council initiatives including the cataloguing of the Biddulph Museum artefacts. In fact, by September of last year meetings recommenced with talks by Bill Ridgway, Michael Turnock, Peter Durnall, Geraldine Outhwaite, Andrew Van Buren and Jonathan Fryer.

This image dating from around 1900 shows the extended Horton family who were resident crossing keepers from 1864 and railway employees over several generations up until the railway closed in 1968 and who subsequently owned the property from 1971 and which featured in Mr. Machin’s talk (see below).

David Outhwaite, Secretary of the Society, explained that there had been two difficult years balancing concerns for our members’ health and still keeping the Society going. What helped was the Committee of the Society continued to have quarterly meetings but more importantly a Newsletter was produced throughout the period by Elaine, Kath and Madelaine with many members contributed information and articles and even acting as guest editors. Additionally, four new books by Mr. Colin Rodgers; Mr. Maurice Grocott and Mr Gordon Lomas; Mr. Adrian Lawton; and, Mr. John Hancock were published and even book launches were successfully held. A number of new books will be published this year starting with Mr. Michael Turnock’s “Bradley Green Village and the Bradbury Coal Masters” which is about to be sent to the printers and will be launched hopefully in April.

As Kath Walton has stepped down from the role of Treasurer, the Secretary outlined the key features of the accounts for the year ending 31st January 2020 and the two years ending on the 31st of January this year. They were that 2020 had been a successful year and that even though no membership fees were taken in the last two years the Society still had a healthy bank balance. The Society also managed to make a one-off payment to have Mrs. Price’s 8mm films converted to a digital medium and saved in the National Archive.

Elaine Heathcote, the Society Archivist, explained that although the Society had been gifted some large selections of material in the past two years it was the help with research for a number of Society members that had helped her through the Covid years. A large collection of local photographs have also been donated and added to the website. Elaine invited any of the members to contact her for information to aid their personal research in either family or local history.

The Chairman then thanked Kath Walton for her many years working as Treasurer of the Society as she stepped down from the role and was pleased Kath will continue as a member of the Committee. He then proposed the election of members of the Committee and all the present officers and the committee members were re-elected unopposed. Mr. Derek Wheelhouse as President; Mr. Roland Machin as Chairman; Mr. Michael Turnock as Deputy Chairman; Mrs. Rosalind Hulme as Treasurer (but not Committee member); Mr. David Outhwaite as Secretary and Webmaster; Mr. Elaine Heathcote as Archivist; Mr. Adrian Lawton; Mrs. Madelaine Lovatt; Mrs. Kath Walton; and, Mr. Gerald Worland as Committee members.

The Society then discussed the future venue for meetings and although there was sympathy for the idea of continuing at the Biddulph Library the vast majority of members voted in favour of meeting at the Victoria Centre. Finally, in any other business, Mr. Barry Stanway requested help with a project he had begun a number of years ago - the restoration of the Shepherd’s or Butter Cross outside Biddulph and it was agreed the Society would assist in this on receiving the documentation. The Chairman then pointed to the various essays and articles that had been written by members in the last two years, some of which had been published in the Newsletter or on the website. A number of projects were then presented. Mr Machin began by expanding on his work, assisted by Elaine Heathcote, into the family that lived at Forge or Horton’s Level Crossing, North of Biddulph on the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR).

Then Michael Turnock described four projects he had been involved with or that were about to start. Firstly, his work on the Biddulph Gas Works, which can be found in the Essays section of the website, has led to a close working relationship with members of the Whalley family. A recently acquired photograph from the family is of a wedding party sitting in Thomas Street, Biddulph (see below).

Wedding photograph taken in Thomas Street off Congleton Road near Charter Vets. The Marriage of Morgan Jones and Annie Holland took place at St Lawrence’s Church in 1916.

A second project which has taken all the lockdown period is “Bradley Green and Bradbury Coal Masters” which will be published soon and that will be Michael’s sixth publication for the Society. Michael’s third project was working with other members of the Society on cataloguing of the Biddulph Museum artefacts given to the Biddulph Town Council by the late Robert Worrall’s estate. A large spreadsheet was created by Adrian Lawton which can be seen in the Society Archive. Amongst the many tens of photographs which have been scanned from the collection is the one below. Can you tell where the photograph was taken?

Can you identify where the above photograph was taken.

The fourth and final project Michael is working on is the story of Albert – once again with other members of the Society - the name given to the soldier on the war memorial which celebrates its centenary in April when the Society meeting and a talk in Biddulph Town Hall will broadcast the research which is currently taking place.

Finally, Madelaine Lovatt described the 1921 Census Project and sought volunteers from the membership to assist in collating, copying, comparing and describing the main features of the survey. The aim is to use a grant from Staffordshire Moorlands Art Panel to download information from the 1921 Census and compare it to the situation in 1911, to track the changes in the population, the workforce and the families as they were affected by the First World War and the virulent Spanish flu which followed. The Society hopes to look at the Biddulph High Street and some adjoining streets and create a record of the changes that were taking place.

The Next Meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 25th of April 2022 and will start at 7 p.m. in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph. Mr. Adrian Lawton and Mr. Michael Turnock will talk about Albert and the Centenary of Unveiling of the Biddulph War Memorial which was performed by Corporal J. J. Gibson on 29 April 1922.


“Sneyd Pit Disaster - 21st February 2022”

The latest meeting of the Society was held on Monday the 21st of February 2022 in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph at 7 p.m. Mr. Jonathan Fryer introduced Professor Ray Johnson’s film about the “Sneyd Pit Disaster: January the 1st 1942.” After a successful book launch for his book “The Small Mines of the Biddulph Valley,“ organised by the Society in Biddulph Library the previous Saturday, Mr. Fryer kindly returned on Monday evening to give the members some background to the film by way of introduction and then answered questions at the end of the film show.

In introducing the film Mr. Fryer outlined a number of major disasters that have occurred in the area and the nature of the Sneyd Colliery Disaster where the cause was an ignition of coal dust, possibly caused by a failure on the tramway running tubs of coal to the pit head. The commemoration of such disasters throughout the Staffordshire Coalfield is important but Mr. Fryer wanted to stress that it was the total death toll from the coal industry that should also be remembered and considered. For those of you who want to see the names of the many thousands of miners who died in the main pits of North Staffordshire then you can consult Mr. Mark Caswell’s “Index to Mining Deaths in North Staffordshire 1756 - 1995.” From his research Mr. Fryer reminded the audience this book may not include the fatalities that occurred in some of the many bell pits, drift and small adits that would have been found along the edges of the Biddulph Valley.

Sneyd Colliery - Shaft 3 is to the left of the chimney and is where all the bodies recovered from the disaster were buried.

Ray Johnson’s film, available from the Staffordshire Film Archive, looked at the Sneyd Pit Disaster. It is a documentary dedicated to the memory of the 57 men and boys who lost their lives on New Year’s Day 1942. A day most superstitious miners would not normally work on - but this was wartime. The explosion at Sneyd is put into the context of war with explanations by experts from Apedale Heritage Centre and local historians. There are many interviews with local people involved in the incident, family members and friends of the men lost and tributes to the rescue team. Film, photographs and memorabilia - and a memorial service at Hamil Road Methodist Chapel - give insight into this fateful tragedy. Most moving are the personal memories of people who witnessed the events of January 1st as the explosion ran around the galleries of the whole colliery. The film ends with arguments for the need for a public memorial to the tragedy, and when the required funding was eventually raised by Keith Meeson, a memorial was unveiled in 2007.

Rescue workers and the families waiting for news

This is a list of the fatalities on the day and the list includes fathers and sons, neighbours and miners from all over the area and not just the close community which lived next to the pit near Moorland Road in Burslem.

The information in this table has been merged from the brass plaque which is now in the Hamill Road Clowes Methodist Church, where an annual remembrance service is held on the first of January, and the stone plaque on the monument opposite the Queens Theatre in the Market Place at Burslem.

To aid family history research you can download this table as an Excel spreadsheet and sort it by job title, address and age by clicking the link below.

Names of Casualties at the Sneyd Pit Disaster

The Next Meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 21st of March 2022 in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph at 7 p.m. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society will preside over the Annual General Meeting and then three short talks will follow. These will introduce the recent work of both Roland Machin and Michael Turnock, and then Elaine Heathcote and Madelaine Lovatt will also describe a new project based on the 1921 Census which members of the Society will be able to join and research.


“The Hospital Where Everybody Smiles - 17th January 2022”

Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society held a meeting on Monday the 17th of January 2022 in the Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph. The speaker was Geraldine Outhwaite with a talk entitled “The Hospital Where Everyone Smiles: When Biddulph Grange was a Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital.” An interesting talk on this subject began which included many facts and figures which fully illustrated and illuminated this unusual period in the Grange’s History and that first appeared in her book published in 2020.

This write-up will cover a small part of the evening’s entertaining journey covering only five key areas based on the characters that peopled the talk. Geraldine began by quoting a sentence from a book written in 1983 by Anne Ferris sold to help the Grange League of Friends to raise funds to restore the gardens, vandalised when the hospital closed, which eventually came under the control of the National Trust in 1991. “Much has been written concerning the gardens at Biddulph Grange, rather less about the house or those who have lived in it and very little about the hospital.”

The first character from the talk, who Anne Ferris also wrote to when compiling her book was Sir Harry Platt. The Lancashire Education Committee (LEC) purchased the hospital for the nursing and treatment of the crippled children of East Lancashire. It was the first dedicated orthopaedic hospital for children provided by a local authority and the county had a great need for such an institution. Sir Harry Platt was a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon who had been at the helm of the Grange hospital from its beginnings when under the auspices of the LEC. In 1914 he was appointed surgeon to Ancoats Hospital, Manchester, where he organised the first special fracture department in Great Britain.

Photograph: Sir Harry Platt with patients, nurses and colleagues at the Grange.

On the outbreak of the First World War he became a Captain RAMC and was appointed by Sir Robert Jones, the then Army consultant in orthopaedics, to be surgeon-in-charge of a military orthopaedic centre in Manchester. It was there that he acquired his considerable experience of nerve injuries and undertook studies in bone-grafting. He showed great organising ability and later described himself very truthfully as a contemplative man, more of a physician, and “not naturally a great craftsman.“ He later fostered many other institutions - the Ethel Hadley Hospital, Windermere, and the Children’s Hospital at Biddulph Grange. In 1920 he became consultant orthopaedic surgeon to Lancashire County Council and surgical director of the Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry, and in 1932 orthopaedic surgeon to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, subsequently to become its first Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in 1939. He held all of these posts until his retirement and, with the inception of the NHS, he also served on the Board of Governors of the Manchester Royal Infirmary from 1948 to 1963.

In 1871 it was Robert Heath, a local industrialist who bought The Grange. Robert Bateman and his sons had by the 1860s used up their savings creating the gardens. Heath and his family lived there for over twenty years. In 1896 a catastrophic fire burned down so much of the house that it had to be restored with the aid of the architect Thomas Bower. After WW1 the house became unsustainable for the Heaths to run.

In 1921 Heath Jnr. offered the house to the North Staffordshire Cripples’ Society for conversion to a hospital. However it wasn’t until 1928 when Lancashire Education Committee took it over that it began to function as a dedicated children’s orthopaedic hospital. So, the history of the Grange as an orthopaedic children’s hospital got off to a shaky start initially. It was not until the LEC took it over that its hospital life began. Then it had 90 beds and 3 wooden wards for the crippled children of East Lancashire.

There was quite a demand for this type of dedicated hospital for children, as the numbers of children, for various reasons, suffered bone and osteo problems. Throughout the 1930s, Lancashire continued to improve and maintain the house, hospital and gardens.

Then in October 1933, following another nation-wide outbreak of poliomyelitis, an extra ward was added to help with the rehabilitation of those extra sick children, affected by the disease. In Sept 1937 work commenced on the building of a new hospital with supporting services: this consisted of 3 wards, 1 on the ground floor and 2 on the upper floor with an operating theatre in between. (The original operating theatre was in the present tea room.) The total number of beds available at this point was 96. So by 1939 the modern children’s hospital was opened.

The next two characters in this story are the Matrons Rochelle and Cleator. Matron Rochelle (later Mrs. Titley M.B.E.) took up her duties in 1928 and remained in post until 1951. She was from Hanley originally but was a former school nurse and health visitor working in Rochdale. She maintained the highest possible standards. Under her tenure The Grange was a close community of nursing, medical and domestic staff, many living in the upper floors of the house as well as working together.

Everything was done to make the children’s stay in hospital a happy one with activities taking place that did not occur in other hospitals. e.g. Santa came at Xmas with presents, there were pantomimes, Nativity plays, May Day celebrations, outings to the sea-side and Rudyard Lake, Brownie and Scouts to join and many more activities. There was a boy’s ward, girl’s ward and babies’ ward and a teaching staff employed to teach the children. Her Senior Sister was Sister Bateman.

Matron Cleator (on the left) and Matron Rochelle

When Matron Rochelle retired in 1951, she was succeeded by Matron Cleator. She carried on Matron Rochelle’s work with its concentration on the education of the children and keeping them occupied in their hospital stay, as well as getting better of course, but as well as running The Grange, she also ran a pre-nursing course for nurse cadets. She also enjoyed the social gatherings that The Grange put on for the staff at Christmas and in the summer including the pantomimes and summer pageants.

A most moving part of the talk occured when Geraldine introduced Mr. William Mason from Lancashire who had been a patient in the hospital for 2 years when a child. Geraldine read William’s notes of his stay which outlined his time as a patient. The outdoor wards, the teaching sessions, the walks in the grounds and looking forward to the visits of his parents and grandmother travelling down from Lancashire by train to Congleton. There are other reminiscences in Geraldine’s book of former patients. Geraldine would like to thank Mrs. Rosemary Rogers for getting in touch with information about William and escorting him to the meeting.

Our fifth character is a composite of a number of head gardeners. When Biddulph Grange became a hospital the gardens near to the house over time did undergo drastic changes which have been regretted by the garden enthusiasts. The upper terrace, the Eastern terrace with its music room, the rose parterre, the verbena parterre, the cherry orchard and the dahlia walk were all lost during the course of time as ward extensions were built to the East of the house and the terraces to the South were simplified.

However, the rest of the gardens continued to be maintained to a high standard, for the next sixty years, by three able, successive Head Gardeners, namely: - Bill Shufflebotham, Fred Hancock and Eric Bowers and their respective staff. Much is owed to their dedication and they enabled the National Trust to see how much of the lay-out of the original Victorian gardens remained.

Eric started work at the Grange when he was 14, in 1943, and was still working there (then as head Gardener) in 1991 when the NT took over. Robert (Bob) Hudson began work at The Grange on the 1st of October 1978 as a young apprentice and is still working up to the present time. He spoke however about his memories of the Grange when it was still a functioning hospital and up until The National Trust took over the gardens to restore them to their Victorian splendour. Eric Bowers was the head gardener when Bob started at The Grange. Geraldine also spoke to Nigel Bowers about what he remembered about the work that his father Eric did. (Eric passed away in 2015.)

A lively question and answer session followed the talk which included the memories of many of the audience who had relatives that had been patients when the hospital became a male orthopaedic one. The hospital began taking general cases as the health of the number of children in Lancashire improved with better diet and care under the N.H.S.

The Chairman of the Society, Mr. Roland Machin, thanked Geraldine for her illuminating talk, shining a light on a long chapter in the development of the history of the Grange.

The Next Meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 21st of February 2022 in the Biddulph Victoria Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph at 7 p.m. Mr. Jonathan Fryer will introduce Professor Ray Johnson’s film about the “Sneyd Pit Disaster: January the 1st 1942” and answer questions about his new book “The Small Mines of the Biddulph Valley.”

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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