Category Archives: Focus on Kidsgrove

FOCUS ON KIDSGROVE: The Harecastle Tunnels

Harecastle- railway-tunnel- north-portal-south-tunnel-kidsgrove

Two railway tunnels, three cuttings and a defile took the North Staffordshire Railway Company’s mainline under Harecastle Hill which separated Kidsgrove and Chatterley.

The first trains ran through the cuttings and the tunnels on 9 October 1849 when the section of track linking Kidsgrove with Stoke opened. Before reaching the first cutting, trains travelling south from Kidsgrove to The Potteries crossed a bridge over the Trent and Mersey Canal. As the train went over the bridge, passengers looking out of the carriage windows could see the two tunnels that took the canal through the hill.

The Canal Tunnels

The first canal tunnel was constructed by James Brindley and his brother in law Hugh Henshall. It opened in 1777 and was 2,880 yards long, 12 feet high and 9 feet wide. The tunnel was so narrow that boats travelling in opposite directions could not go through it at the same time. Boats going south had to wait at Kidsgrove until it was their turn to enter the tunnel. Boats going north had to wait at Chatterley until the ones coming from Kidsgrove had passed through. Because it was not wide enough to have a towpath, the boats had to be “legged” through the tunnel.

As traffic increased, the delays caused by long queues of boats waiting to go into the tunnel infuriated local industrialists. Faced with the possibility that pottery manufacturers would build a railway, the canal’s owner, the Trent and Mersey Canal Company, decided to construct a second tunnel at Harecastle. The company employed Thomas Telford to build it. The new tunnel cost £112,581 and was opened on 30 April 1827.

The Railway Cuttings and Tunnels

Railways came to The Potteries in the mid-1840s when the North Staffordshire Railway Company was founded. Trains that the company planned to run linking Stoke with Macclesfield and Crewe had to go through Harecastle Hill. Civil engineering contractor, Thomas Brassey was employed to build two railway tunnels and make a series of cuttings between Kidsgrove and the Chatterley Valley.

The first cutting a train travelling south from Kidsgrove to Stoke came to was a narrow roofed cutting, called a defile, near St. Thomas’s Church and Kidsgrove parsonage.

The defile was about 150 yards long. It had stone walls and a brick roof to prevent noise from trains interrupting church services. When it left the defile, the train passed through a cutting which was about 300 yards long and about 75 feet deep before entering a short tunnel called the North Tunnel. The tunnel, which was 183 yards long, took the railway under Boathorse Road. On leaving the North Tunnel, the train went into another cutting that led to the South Tunnel which was 1,768 yards long.

The northern entrance to the South Tunnel was near where Boathorse Road changes its name to Nelson Bank. The tunnel ran through the hill to Chatterley where its southern entrance was in a cutting near Lowlands Road. Although built at a higher level than the two canal tunnels, for most of its length the South Tunnel ran between them.

Building the South Tunnel

Brassey employed about 1,600 men to build the South Tunnel. No less than 15 shafts were sunk from the surface of the hill to the level of the tunnel. Because of the hill’s undulating nature, the shafts varied in depth from 25 to 60 yards. At the top of the shafts, there were steam engines which lowered building materials for the men working below and brought soil to the surface. Before the work started, an underground roadway was driven into the hill to take supplies to the men building the tunnel. 

The roadway, which civil engineers called a drift, was six feet wide and six feet high.

Workers began to construct the entrances to the tunnel at Kidsgrove and Chatterley. At the same time, gangs of men were digging the tunnel northwards and southwards from the bottom of the shafts. The part of the tunnel they built linked the shafts which became air vents when it opened. 

Offices, stables, a few cottages and a mill for grinding cement were erected on the summit of Harecastle Hill. The bricks used to build the tunnel were made by brickworks in the Chatterley Valley. A tramway was laid over the hill to take bricks to Kidsgrove.

The South Tunnel took two years to build, and it is estimated that 15 million bricks were used in its construction.

Copyright 2020 North Staffordshire Heritage

(Photograph of the north portal of the South Tunnel at Harecastle © Copyright Jonathan Hutchins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

FOCUS ON KIDSGROVE: The Brutal Murder of a Little Girl

On Friday, July 31st, 1868, a 40-year-old furnaceman, William Hancock, stood in the dock at Stafford Assizes charged with the wilful murder of Mary Ann Whitehurst at Kidsgrove on June 10th, 1868.

The court heard that Mary, a little girl about ten years old, was the daughter of one of William’s neighbours.

On the evening of June 9th, Mary was playing with William’s children. She obtained permission from her father to sleep at the accused’s house overnight.

Mary went to bed at about 9.30pm. In the early hours of the morning, the household was woken by William. He was shouting and attempting to attack his wife. Terror-stricken, William’s wife and children ran out of the house, leaving Mary there.

William jumped out of his bedroom window into the street. Being unable to find his wife and children who had taken refuge with their next-door neighbour, William went back into the house where he saw Mary.

He caught hold of Mary and dragged her into the kitchen. He picked her up by the legs, held her upside down and battered her head on the kitchen floor until she was dead.

Medical evidence presented to the court showed that William was suffering from delirium tremens and did not know what he was doing when he killed her. The jury said he was insane and the judge ordered him to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Copyright 2020 North Staffordshire Heritage

FOCUS ON KIDSGROVE: The Legend of the Kidcrew Buggett

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the legend of the Kidsgrove Boggart was one of the best-known ghost stories in Staffordshire.

Known locally as the “Kidcrew Buggett”, the ghost lived in one of the two canal tunnels which took the Trent and Mersey Canal through Harecastle Hill between Kidsgrove and Chatterley. People who claimed to have seen the Boggart said it was a headless woman who wore a blood-stained white dress.

The Boggart rarely left the tunnels. When it was seen in Kidsgrove, colliers believed that there was going to be a mining disaster.

The Story’s Origins

An article published in the City Times during the 1930s says the legend began when a woman passenger on a canal-boat was murdered by a boatman in the Telford Tunnel.

Murder in the Telford Tunnel

Before the railway was built, a Kidsgrove woman who wanted to make a journey had too much luggage to go by stagecoach.

She decided to make the first part of her journey by canal-boat from Harecastle. As soon as the vessel entered the tunnel, the boatman murdered her and cut off her head. He buried her body at Gilbert’s Wharf (Gilbert’s Hole) a place in the Telford Tunnel where coal and ironstone were loaded into boats.

When the woman was reported missing, the police traced her to the canal-boat. The boatman was arrested, tried for murder and executed. Before he died, the boatman admitted killing her. Although he told the police where they could find the woman’s body, local people believed that her spirit haunted the place where she was killed.

The photograph shows the Kidsgrove end of the Harecastle Tunnels as it was in the 1950s.

Copyright 2019 North Staffordshire Heritage