Category Archives: History and Heritage

LLEWELLIN’S KIDSGROVE: First Impressions

Saint-Thomas's-The-Avenue-Kidsgrove

In 1922, the Rev Frederick George Llewellin, a graduate of Durham University, became the Vicar of Kidsgrove.

Frederick wrote a book “The Lighter Side of a Parson’s Life” about his ministry in the parish and the boat people he married in St. Thomas’s Church. In this edited extract from the book, he describes his first impressions of Kidsgrove and The Potteries:

Ignoring all prophesies that I would not stand the strain for more than three months, I accepted the benefice of Kidsgrove in autumn 1921.

The parish is six miles north-east of Stoke-upon-Trent and ten miles south-west of Crewe. Thus, we are outside The Potteries, and I am glad that we are. The pottery people are so terrible in their cynicism. Observing that I had “come from the country” one of them asked me if I would like a nice calendar. Naturally, I said “Yes” and thanked him most heartily for his generous offer.

But what diabolical plot was ever so cruelly played upon an unsuspecting yokel. My wife and I opened the envelope containing the calendar when the postman brought it.

Like most women, my wife hates spending money to replace broken crockery. You can imagine the look on her face when we saw he had sent us a calendar with a picture of a large black cat dancing a on a breakfast table and smashing all the best cups and saucers. Underneath the illustration, the villain had arranged for this inscription to be printed:

Good luck to the cat that breaks the crocks
In pieces very small,
For things like this they do us good
And benefit us all.

There are about 5,500 parishioners in Kidsgrove. Most of them are employed in the coal mining industry, in engineering, in the chemical industry or on the railway. Some work in the pottery industry and travel daily to factories in Tunstall and Burslem.

Last, but certainly not least, I have a small “moving population” of boat people known locally as the “Bargees”. People who have read the stories about these “Water Gipsies” by L. T. Meade already know something about my Kidsgrove Bargees, of whom I am intensely fond.

Post: Copyright 2020 North Staffordshire Heritage

(Photograph of St. Thomas’s Church, Kidsgrove © Copyright Galatas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

North Staffordshire Merits World Heritage Site Status

Harecastle-Tunnel-Trent-and-Mersey-Canal

Betty Cooper’s researches prove there is no “historical reason” to prevent North Staffordshire’s Industrial Landscape becoming a World Heritage Site.

During the 18th century, North Staffordshire was at the cutting edge of England’s economic development and the growth of world trade. Historians have forgotten the role pottery manufacturers, like Wedgwood, Adams, Minton and Spode, played in transforming a collection of small towns and villages into an industrial area of international importance.

James Brindley’s Trent and Mersey Canal “kick-started” the Industrial Revolution, which made Britain the workshop of the world. The canal tunnels and the railway tunnels, between Kidsgrove and Chatterley, are one of the world’s most significant feats of civil engineering.

The Primitive Methodist Church was founded at Mow Cop. Primitive Methodism gave “the six towns” their unique culture and a way of life that was vividly described by Arnold Bennett.

Burslem’s heritage equals that of other places in Britain that have World Heritage Site status. Its “old town hall” is one of the best examples of Victorian civic architecture in England and Wales. The Wedgwood Institute’s terracotta facade is an inspiring tribute to the men, women and children who worked in local industries.

If North Staffordshire’s Industrial Landscape became a World Heritage Site, it would revitalise the local economy. World Heritage Site status would attract inward investment, create employment and halt Stoke-on-Trent’s economic decline.

The photograph shows the entrance to James Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel, which was called the eighth wonder of the world when it was constructed in the 18th century.

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Tunstall Town Hall and Covered Market

Tunstall’s historic market hall is one of the few remaining Victorian covered markets in the United Kingdom.

Designed by architect George Thomas Robinson, the market hall cost £7,651 13s 1d. It was opened by the chairman of the local board of health, Thomas Peake, on the 2 December 1858. Trading commenced two days later on the 4 December.

The market hall was known locally as “The Shambles”. Traders who had stalls there sold meat and fish, poultry and game, fruit and vegetables, hardware and household goods, groceries and dairy produce, shoes and clothing.

In the early 1880s, the market’s main entrance in High Street became unsafe, and the market hall’s roof started to collapse. One-third of the market hall was demolished, and a new town hall was built on the site. A free Renaissance-style building, the town hall was designed by Absalom Reade Wood, one of North Staffordshire’s leading architects.

While the town hall was being built, Wood regenerated the remaining two-thirds of the market hall. He gave it a new roof and relaid the floor. New stalls were erected, and the market hall was redecorated.

Tunstall’s new town hall was opened by Thomas Peake’s son, John Nash Peake, on the 29 October 1885.

After the opening ceremony, a civic luncheon was held in the town hall’s assembly room. Later, the band of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and the members of Burslem Prize Choir gave a promenade concert in the market hall. In the evening there was a football match in Phoenix Park, and the day ended with a grand ball in the market hall.

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

This drawing of Shelton Bar is taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Scenes From the Past: Shelton Bar (1873)

A drawing of Shelton Bar taken from Griffiths’ “Guide to the iron trade of Great Britain” which was published in 1873.

Scenes from the Past: Tower Hill Colliery (Harriseahead)

This photograph, taken by Malcolm Street at the beginning of the 21st century, shows the remains of Tower Hill Colliery in Biddulph Road, Harriseahead.

During the 19th Century, tramways carried coal from the colliery to a coal wharf in Congleton and to a wharf on the Macclesfield Canal at Kent Green in South Cheshire. The coal taken to Kent Green was loaded onto canal boats that took it to Goldendale Iron Works in the Chatterley Valley.

(Photograph: © Copyright Malcolm Street and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

The Pottery Industry in the 1960s

During the 1960s, The Potteries was a hive of industrial activity. Skilled crafts-persons working in the six towns made the best pottery in the world.

About 90% of the bone china, earthenware, tiles, porcelain, bricks and sanitary ware produced in the United Kingdom came from Stoke-on-Trent.

Pottery workers were proud of their skills and expertise. They took pride in their work, and the ware they made was exported all over the world.

The seeds of North Staffordshire’s industrial development were sown in the 14th century.

Iron ore was mined in Tunstall and at Apedale. Small pot banks, which used local clay to make earthenware, were scattered in isolated villages throughout the district. There were coal seams near the surface, and miners risked their lives working in drift mines and bell pits to get coal to fire the ware.

Industrialisation came to The Potteries in the 18th century when entrepreneurs like Josiah Wedgwood, William Adams, Josiah Spode and Thomas Whieldon built factories that produced good quality ware which was sold at prices people could afford.

During the 19th century, the pottery industry and the coal mining industry expanded rapidly. The population increased and the six towns we know today were created. New factories were built and the smoke from numerous bottle ovens and kilns polluted the atmosphere.

As late as 1939, the pottery industry used 1,500,000 tons of coal to fire its ovens and kilns. After the Second World War, coal fired bottle ovens and kilns were replaced by electric or gas fired tunnel kilns. Between 1945 and 1966, many small firms closed and others amalgamated to form large companies. In 1966, there were about 66,000 people employed in the industry of whom 48,000 were women.

(The photograph was taken in the warehouse at the Gladstone Pottery Museum (Longton) by J. Rutter and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

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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

Tunstall – An Anglo Saxon Village

Anglo-Saxon Village

Tunstall is one of the oldest towns in The Potteries.

The town’s “Old English” name indicates that it dates from the late 6th or the early 7th century.

“Old English” place names are descriptive. They describe the settlement and tell us the main occupation of the people who lived there. The word “Tun” means an enclosed farmstead, hamlet or village, and “Stall” is derived from the “Old English” word “Steall” which means a place with pens or sheds where cattle were kept for fattening.

Anglo Saxon Tunstall was built on a sandstone ridge overlooking the Chatterley Valley near the spot where Green Lane (Oldcourt Street and America Street) crossed the old drove road (Roundwell Street) from the Staffordshire Moorlands to Chester. Green Lane which ran from Leicester to Warrington was an important highway that linked the East Midlands with Merseyside.

All traces of Anglo Saxon Tunstall have disappeared although historians believe it was an enclosed settlement protected by a ditch and a wooden palisade.

Two old field names, God’s Croft and Church Field, which survived until the 19th century, support the local tradition that there was a church in Tunstall many centuries before the Wesleyan Methodists erected a church in America Street. Another old field name, Cross Croft indicates that there could have been a wayside cross where markets were held.

Calver Street, which runs between Forster Street and Oldcourt Street, takes its name from Calver Croft a place where there were cattle pens for calves born on the journey from the Staffordshire Moorlands to Chester.

Towards the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century, Tunstall became part of Staffordshire’s New Forest.

Today when we think of a forest, we picture a place covered by trees. In medieval times a forest was a large tract of land where the King and his friends hunted for deer and other beasts of the field.

Staffordshire’s New Forest, which extended from Tixall in the south to Mow Cop in the north, may have been founded by William the Conqueror. The forest was not an area of continuous woodland. It was the King’s hunting ground which included:

  • woods and grassland
  • hills and moorland
  • towns, villages and hamlets
  • farmland, open fields and rough pasture.

The forest had its own laws designed to protect the beasts of the field and the vegetation they ate.

Offenders against Forest Laws were brought before special courts. The penalties imposed by these courts were brutal and savage. For killing a beast of the field, a poacher could be sent to the gallows, have his eyes torn out or have his hand cut off.

The illustration shows an artist’s impression of an Anglo Saxon settlement.

FOCUS ON KIDSGROVE: The Brindley Tunnel

Brindley Tunnel (2)

The Trent and Mersey Canal runs from Preston Brook near Runcorn to Shardlow in Derbyshire It was built by James Brindley and his brother in law Hugh Henshall.

It took 600 men eleven years to construct the canal. Work began on July 26th, 1766 when Josiah Wedgwood cut the first sod near Tunstall Bridge at Brownhills in the Chatterley Valley.

The Brindley Tunnel that took the canal through Harecastle Hill between Chatterley and Kidsgrove is a feat of civil engineering which merits World Heritage Site status in its own right.

Described as the eighth wonder of the world when it was opened, the tunnel’s historical importance has been ignored by the City of Stoke-on-Trent and the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

One of the first canal tunnels to be built, it was 2,880 yards long and nine feet wide.

Branch tunnels led to underground loading bays in collieries and mines where small boats were loaded with coal or ironstone. These tunnels which ran directly into the mine workings are the earliest known examples of true horizon mining.

Opened in 1777, the Trent and Mersey Canal was a commercial success, and it quickly became one of England’s major inland waterways.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the Brindley Tunnel could not cope with the number of narrowboats using the canal. The tunnel was too narrow to take boats going in both directions. It took about two hours for a boat to pass through the tunnel. Bottlenecks developed at Kidsgrove and Chatterley where boatmen had to wait until they were allowed to enter.

The tunnel did not have a towpath. It was a legging tunnel. Narrowboats were “legged” through the tunnel by men who lay on their backs and used their feet to “walk” along its walls.

A second tunnel, designed by Thomas Telford, was constructed between 1824 and 1827 by civil engineering contractors Pritchard & Hoof. The firm specialised in building canal tunnels. Daniel Pritchard said that except for the Brindley Tunnel the rock at Harecastle Hill “was much harder than the rock any tunnel had ever been driven in before”.

The Brindley Tunnel remained in use until 1914 when subsidence made it unsafe.

Copyright 2010 Betty Cooper and David Martin

Photograph © Copyright Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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