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

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

Meeting Reports - 2013

Murder and Mayhem 1354–1895 Whitemoor, Biddulph Moor and Congleton - 16th December 2013

The Great World War Camps of Cannock Chase - 18th November 2013

The Bridestones Revisited - 21st October 2013

Changes in a Lifetime - 16th September 2013

A Summer Walk to Greenway Bank from the Nelson Inn - 17th June 2013

George Formby – His Life and Music - 20th May 2013

Maps for Local and Family History - 15th April 2013

AGM followed by a Series of Short Films - 18th March 2013

A Big Bang at the Brymbo - 18th February 2013

 


Murder and Mayhem 1354–1895 Whitemoor, Biddulph Moor and Congleton - 16/12/2013

The November meeting was held at 7pm on Monday December 16th 2013 in Biddulph Library. Mr Roland Machin introduced a Christmas lecture by Mr. John Sherratt, “Murder and Mayhem 1354–1895 Whitemoor, Biddulph Moor and Congleton”. John’s wide ranging talk illustrated by photographs was a catalogue of local murder stories. I have chosen just one and will use the press accounts of the day as they provide interesting reading.

The Murder of Thomas Brough by John Brough in 1845, in Biddulph, Staffordshire, England 1845

Staffordshire LENT ASSIZES, 1845
Friday, 14th MARCH, to Thursday the 20th, 1845
SENTENCES OF THE PRISONERS, TRIED BEFORE The Right Hon. Sir FREDERICK POLLOCK, Knight, and THOMAS JOSHUA PLATT, Esquire

CHARLES SMITH FORSTER, ESQ, HIGH SHERIFF

John Brough 39 – Wilful murder of Thomas Brough, on the 3rd January, 1845, at Biddulph – To be EXECUTED on SATURDAY morning, 5th April, 1845

1st newspaper account, Times Newspaper, January 14, 1845: “Fratricide in Staffordshire”

The County of Stafford has become the scene of another shocking murder, and there is too much reason to fear that the diabolical crime was perpetrated by a brother. The murder was committed on the night of Friday week, at a place called Biddulph, in the Moorlands, about six miles from Tunstall, and three or four miles from Congleton. The condition of the unfortunate parties was that of small farmers. Thomas Brough, the deceased, lived at the New Brent Farm, in the parish of Biddulph. It would appear that he was a man who, by parsimonious habits, had succeeded in accumulating some little property, and was the owner of Whitefield Farm, which is situate near his own house. Whitefield Farm had been in the occupation of his widowed mother and his brother, John Brough, for a little more than 12 months. The mother was the recognized tenant, though, it would seem, that the brother John managed the farm, and was applied to for the rent when due.

On Friday afternoon, the 3d inst., about dusk, a distress was put in by the direction of Thomas Brough, at Whitefield Farm, for rent due to him, amounting to £29 12s. In consequence of some conversation which one of the bailiffs had with the mother and John Brough, the bailiff sent for Thomas Brough, in order to come to an amicable settlement, if possible, without enforcing the distress. The deceased Thomas Brough shortly afterwards came to Whitefield, and had some conversation with his mother and brother as to the rent due. There does not appear to have been any quarrel between the two brothers in the house, but the deceased complained very much about his rent not being paid, and intimated that he must have it. He also refused to return two boxes, which had been removed by the bailiffs to his house, until the following morning. The two bailiffs left the house, and the brothers remained in conversation.

Shortly afterwards Thomas Brough went into the fold, where some further conversation ensued. He was about to leave, when his brother John said, “Stop a bit, I will go an kin (kindle) my lantern, and will go with you as far as the barn, and sweep two or three cats up.” According to the evidence of his nephew, who lived at Whitefield, John Brough then returned to the house, lighted the candle in the lantern, and went towards the barn; and his brother Thomas walked down the meadow towards his own house. Thomas Brough was not afterwards seen alive. As he did not return home, his wife became alarmed, and, assisted by other persons, made various inquiries after him until a late hour that night, but nothing was heard of him until Saturday, about noon, when his body was accidentally found in a sandpit on Biddulph-moor. He was quite dead.

The inquiry as to the cause of death, which was commenced on Tuesday, terminated yesterday at the Talbot Arms, when, from the evidence adduced, little doubt was entertained but the prisoner had murdered the deceased by inflicting several severe blows on the head with a hammer. The jury returned a verdict of “Wilful Murder against John Brough” and he was committed for trial at the next assizes.

2nd newspaper account, Times Newspaper, March 21, 1845: “The Crown Court Hearing before Mr. Baron Flatt.”

John Brough, aged 39, farmer, a powerful athletic man, was indicted for the wilful murder of his brother, Thomas Brough, at Biddulph, on the 3d of January last. Mr. Yardly and Mr. Huddlestone appeared for the prosecution; Mr. Allen conducted the defence.

The particulars of his offence, which happened at Biddulph, a very wild district of Staffordshire, and peopled by a very primitive class of inhabitants, were fully detailed in The Times at the period of the inquest. The deceased, a person of saving habits, but of passionate temper towards his relatives, resided at High Bent, where he had acquired several small estates, one of which was occupied by his mother and her second son, the prisoner. His determination to look after his own interests occasioned the lamentable catastrophe which produced his violent death by the hand of his brother. A year’'s rent amounting to nearly £30, was due from his mother for these premises, to recover which debt a distress was put in on the 2nd of January, when two boxes of wearing apparel belonging to the prisoner and another brother, James Brough, were seized, and carried away to the residence of the deceased by his bailiff, in spite of the tears and entreaties of the mother for time and forbearance.

This adverse proceeding appears to have produced a collision between the deceased and the prisoner, a man of mild and affectionate disposition, who had joined in his parent’s ineffectual appeal for mercy. The two brothers quitted their mother’s presence together, after the removal of the boxes, and Thomas was killed, according to the statement of the prisoner, by a blow on the back of the head with a stone hammer, at the distance of 120 yards from the house, where the marks of blood were discovered by several witnesses. The prisoner communicated the fatal consequences of the blow to his brother James, who resided with a farmer four miles from the place of the murder, and from whom he requested assistance in concealing the body. James Brough refused to comply with this request, and the corpse was found on the Saturday morning in a deep pit, about three quarters of a mile from the residence of the prisoner.

Mr. Allen, in a speech which was listened to with continued attention, urged that the evidence for the prosecution was more consistent with a verdict of manslaughter than murder; attributing the death of the deceased to a blow in a sudden conflict, after the brothers had quitted the house, and not to an act of premeditation on the part of the prisoner.

The Jury retired at 2 o’clock, and returned into court at 7 o’clock with a verdict of Guilty, accompanied by a recommendation to mercy on account of the previous good character of the prisoner.

After the usual proclamation for the silence had been made, Mr. Baron Flatt passed sentence of death on the unhappy criminal, imploring him to make the best use of the short space left him in this world, and admonishing him to expect no mercy on this side the grave.

3rd newspaper account, Times Newspaper, March 24, 1845: “Forfeiture of a Felon’s Real Estates to the Crown”

In the month on January, 1845, Thomas Brough, of Biddulph, in the county of Stafford, was murdered by his brother John, who struck him on the head with a hammer, and afterwards put him in a sack, and carried him upwards of a mile and a half and threw him down an old stone quarry, where he was found by some boys.

At the spring assizes following, the murderer was tried and convicted, and afterwards executed, having confessed the crime, and acknowledged the justness of his sentence.

Thomas Brough, at the time he was murdered, was seized in foe of an estate at Biddulph, which, in consequences of his brother (the brother) being his heir-at-law, descended to him, but by his attainder the same became vested in the Crown by escheat.

In the consequence of the escheat the widow of the murdered man was left destitute.

The circumstances having been represented to the Lords of Her Majesty’s Treasury by the widow, their Lordships directed that a commission should be issued to find Her Majesty’s title to the estate, which was accordingly issued, and bore date the 24th day of February last, directing Messrs. U. Corbet, J.M. Mahoe, and R.P. Tyrwhitt, and two other commissioners, or any three of them, to inquire of what lands and tenements John Brough, the murderer, died seized.

The three commissions above named entered on the inquiry on Saturday, the 20th inst., at the Swan Hotel, in Stafford, when, after the jury were sworn, and charged with the nature of the inquiry, Mr. H.B. Raven, from the office of the solicitor to the Lords of Her Majesty’s Treasury, examined the following witnesses:

Mr. Charles Hodges, of Burslem, in the Staffordshire Potteries, proved the execution of the conveyance of the estate to Thomas Brough.

Mary Brough, the mother of Thomas Brough, proved her marriage; that Thomas was her eldest, and John her second son, and consequently the heir-at-law of her son Thomas.

Hannah Brough, the widow of Thomas Brough, proved her marriage, of which there was not any issue; that her husband at the time of his decease was seized of the lands and tenements in question; that several years before her husband was murdered he made his will, which he gave into the care; that she locked it up in a dresser drawer, from whence she took it after his decease, and handed it to her solicitor, Mr. Redfern, of Leek.

Mr. Abrabam Kershaw Kelmister, an attorney at Leek, proved the execution of the will, which being read, it appeared he gave and devised all his real and personal estate to his wife; but at the time he was not possessed of the estate in question, consequently the same did not pass by such devise.

Mr. Thomas Redfern, a solicitor at Leek. Produced certificates of the marriage of the father and mother of Thomas and John Brough, of their baptisms, and the marriage of Thomas Brough with his present widow.

Mr. William Stonier, of Biddulph, proved the value of the estate. Whereupon the Jury found that the said John Brough, immediately on the commital of the murder, was seized to him and his heirs of the estate in question, and that the same were holden by the said John Brough of Her Majesty in free and common usage, in right of her Regal crown, but not subject to any services or rent in respect thereof, except fealty; and that by reason of the premises the same had devolved unto Her Majesty as an escheat, by virtue of her prerogative Royal.

By the finding of this verdict the estate becomes the property of the Crown, and the same is accordingly seized.

The widow of the murdered man has petitioned the Crown to grant the lands to her, which, it is supposed, the Lords of Her Majesty’s Treasury will recommend to be done, subject to the same being liable to the payment of her late husband’s debts, if any are owing.

4th newspaper account, Times Newspaper, March 31, 1845: “The Biddulph Murder.&Rdquo;

The accounts which have appeared in several of the London papers with respect to the confession of John Brough, convicted of murdering his brother at Biddulph, in North Staffordshire, are incorrect. Yesterday afternoon the unfortunate man made a statement, from which it would appear that he had no deliberate intention of perpetrating so foul a crime, and scarcely supposed that the blow he inflicted could prove fatal. He, yesterday evening, made the following statement, for which we are indebted to the Staffordshire Advertiser.

After describing what took place when his brother Thomas came to the house, the conversation about the boxes, &c. Thomas’s refusal to listen to his mother’s entreaties, and the departure of the two bailiffs the prisoner said, “Thomas shortly afterwards left. I followed him and kept begging and entreating him to let me have the boxes back again. I promised he should have the rent. He said he would not let me have them again that night; but he would consider of it by the morning, or by tomorrow at noon. A little hammer, for breaking stones was reared up against the stone wall in the meadow. As I went along I took it up, and held it in my hand while talking to him. We stood still a little bit.

“Then we talked side by side talking to each other. I kept on asking for the boxes back again, and said he should have his rent if he would only let the matter drop. He still refused. His selling us up and getting papers printed about the sale of the stock and things on the farm, and his taking away the boxes, aggravated me. I then struck him on the head one blow; whether on the back or on the side I’m not sure. I do not know whether he had his back or his face turned towards me at the time. He stood a little bit after I hit him and then fell down. I do not remember whether he spoke after the blow was given. I took the hammer part of the way up the meadow and then flung it away.

“I then went straight home. I lighted a candle and went to the barn with it. I swept up some oats, and shut the barn-door. The barn is about 40 yards from the house. I went to the cowhouse and looked at the cows and calves. I then went into the house, and sat me down by the fire. My mother and the little boy were there. I remained but a few minutes and then got up and walked to the meadow to see whether my brother Thomas was gotten up and gone home. He was sitting up. I stood looking at Thomas, and I perceived a person at the contrary side. Thomas was in a bit of a hollow. The person I saw stood on the top of a bank. He was looking straightforward in the direction where Thomas was. I was frightened lest he should see me, and stooped down by a ditch, a little distance off from Thomas. The person was about 20 or 30 yards off. I was about five or six yards off from Thomas.

“Thomas was sitting on a place that sloped down to the ditch, and I afterwards heard a splash in the water from Thomas’s falling in. It is possible for a man to slip down into the water even if he had not been hurt. At this moment I saw the person who had been looking towards the place where by brother was, move on; I heard this step, and thought he was coming where Thomas was. If he had come to his help, I think Thomas would have lived. I was afraid to go myself, and went off home immediately as fast as I could and washed myself. I walked out again, and called on Ishmael Lancaster, and told him what my brother Thomas had done with the boxes. Lancaster went with me to where my brother James was employed in service at a farm house about four miles from our house. Lancaster, and my brother James and me, after stopping a little while with James, came back to our house. On our way, we had to pass my brother Thomas’s, and I asked James to go in and inquire if my brother Thomas had come home. I thought he perhaps might have recovered and got home again. James said he had not come home, and that they had heard nothing of him since he went over to the Whitefield. Lancaster left for his own house just before we got to Thomas’s. James and me went to our house together. I said to James ‘I am frightened by Thomas not coming home. I fear I have killed him, as I’ve hit him with a hammer.’ James said ‘Oh surely you have not done such a thing!’ As we went along we met my brother Thomas’s servant, and a young man with him. James asked them where they had been. They said, ‘To see there Thomas was.’ The servant swore before the coroner that James called Thomas at this time ‘Gunner-o-Brough’ but; he was mistaken. I told the coroner so at the time. (This is correct.) I told James he had better go with me and see whether Thomas was dead.

“I said he must help me carry him off further from the house, as folks would think I had killed him from his being so near at hand. James said he could not go near him if he was dead. James then went into our house while I milked three cows. Afterwards I went in. James soon after left, saying to my mother and me, he could not stop all night. I went across the fields with him, about five minutes walk, towards my brother Thomas’s house. James tried the door, and it was locked. No one answered. We parted by Thomas’s yard gate. I walked back home again, and James went to his master’s. I sat up by the fireside all that night. I went out about 5 or 6 o’clock the next morning before my mother came down stairs. I returned to the meadow to the place where I left Thomas the night before. I found his head and arms, and half his body in the water. His feet were upon the bank.

“I pulled his body out of the ditch by the feet. I carried it in my arms several yards, and then lifted it into a barrow, which was close to our house. I wheeled it a little distance and then carried it again a considerable way, and put it on the edge of a pit, and let it roll down to the place where it was found. I then returned towards home. On my way back I wheeled away the barrow which I had left behind when I took the body to the edge of the pit. I declare most solemnly I did not intend to kill my brother, or even to strike him, ten minutes before I did so.”

The execution of Brough is fixed for Saturday next, but strong hopes of a commutation of punishment are entertained.

5th newspaper account, Times Newspaper, April 3, 1845: “The Fratricide at Stafford”

The following is a literal copy of the declaration that has been made by John Brough, who is now in the county prison at Stafford, under sentence of death for the murder of his brother, Thomas Brough, on Friday evening, January 3, 1845.

“From the time that Thomas and me went out of the house at the Whitefield farm to the time I was in again, I am certain that 10 minutes had not elapsed. It was only two minutes’ walk to the spot where Thomas laid after I had struck him. I did not go out of my way to get the hammer I hit him with, but I went close to it as Thomas and me walked to the meadow. When I took up that hammer I had no thought of striking him with it, I am sure. It was in consequence of Thomas’s saying at last (after I had begged him again and again to let me have the boxes that night), ‘It is of no use your speaking anymore about them, you shall not have them again to-night’. It was this that aggravated and provoked me, and caused me to hit him. Thomas was very angry when I kept asking him for the boxes. If it was the last word I had to speak, I declare that I had no intention to strike him until the moment when I gave him the blow, and why I took up the hammer I am not able to say.”

The prisoner informed the Rev. Thomas Sedger, the chaplain of the prison, of the reason why he (the prisoner) wanted the two boxes that night. Thomas Brough, it would appear, had promised to consider about them, whether he would let him have them by the morning or noon of the next day. The reason designed by John Brough for wishing to have them returned immediately is the following: “I wanted,” says he, “to go with Thomas, and fetch the boxes from his house that night, because I did not like to be seen by folks carrying them in the day time. I did not want any other person to know about my brother taking them off. I declare, as a dying man, that if Thomas had allowed me to have them that night, I should not have hurt him. I had never intended to strike him.”

Notable Public Hangings in Stafford

April 5th 1845 John Brough (farmer). Aged: 39
Murder of his brother, Thomas, at Biddulph.

June 14th 1856 William Palmer (surgeon). Aged: 31
Murder of John Parsons cook - he was the first person to be convicted of poisoning by strychnine.

December 26th 1864 Charles Brough (collier) Aged 24
Murder of George Walker at Audley - Charles Brough was the nephew of John Brough hanged in 1845.

August 7th 1866 William Collier (farmer) Aged 35
Murder at Whiston Eaves - he was a poacher and shot the landowner’s son.  When they first tried to hang him the rope slipped and he fell through the trapdoor. He was dragged back up on the scaffold and hanged at the second attempt.

William Collier was the last person to be hanged outside the gaol. In 1868 an Act of Parliament prohibited public executions.

John showed the depth of the research he had done on the subject by illustrating all the documents relating to the murder of Thomas Brough and gave the names and roles of the local constabulary and other officers of the law involved. The case also illustrated the importance of a man’s box of possessions as opposed to the place where he lived. It also shows the treatment of the widow and the relationship of the individual to the State represented by the Crown, it demonstrated the independence of the judge in denying a call by the jury for mercy and the fact that London Society regarded Biddulph in the 1840s as a very wild district of Staffordshire, peopled by a very primitive class of inhabitants.

Roland Machin thanked John for his talk and the usual eventful slide show which has become a tradition of Christmas as the mince pies available at the end of the meeting.


The Great World War Camps of Cannock Chase - 18/11/2013

The November meeting was held on Monday November 18th 2013 in Biddulph Library. All the seats were full and the Society Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. Stephen Dean, Staffordshire County Council Archaeologist, whose talk was “The Great World War Camps of Cannock Chase”. Mr. Dean began by describing the Chase camps and the practice trenches dug to prepare troops for action in the mud of Flanders fields.

In the autumn of 1914, after an agreement between the land owner Lord Lichfield and the Government, construction began on two large camps on Cannock Chase. The camps which were built initially as training camps for two regiments of soldiers were known as the Brocton and Rugeley Camps. Labour was brought in from all parts of the country and from Ireland and surprisingly there were a number of labour disputes during the construction. With their own water supply, sewage systems, rail and road links the camps became small towns larger in size than nearby Rugeley or Cannock. They had their own church, post office, theatre and a bakery as well as amenity huts where the troops could buy coffee, cakes and play billiards. When completed the camps could have held up to 40,000 men at one time but it was unlikely they were ever completely full. It is believed upwards of 500,000 men passed through the camps including trainees, billeted troops (including the New Zealand Rifle Brigade) and many German prisoners of war.

Mr. Dean believes that although their are archaeological remains across Cannock Chase ranging from prehistoric monuments to medieval iron workings the Chase Camps are now more important as they represent a picture of history from one hundred years ago about which there is little basic information. In fact, the area could be as important a site as Stonehenge in term of human history. A major archaeological survey and excavation was commissioned by Staffordshire County Council and the local archaeological group in 2006 which revealed the extent of survival of the camps. The survey identified remains of former hut bases and other structures surviving as earthworks and concrete platforms. Many of the former roads and railways which served the camps survive fossilised within the existing footpath network or as upstanding earthwork features. The excavation of some of the rubbish dumps revealed evidence of everyday life on the Chase, from broken military issue crockery, beer and pop bottles and boot polish containers to spent drill rounds.

One feature of the camps which has been in the news recently is the remains of former practice trench systems used for training the troops. At the beginning of the conflict both sides expected to be fighting a war of movement and indeed the British Army arrived with large numbers of cavalry. Following several inconclusive battles lines stabilised and dug down to avoid shell, sniper and machine gun fire. Combat experience and a developing understanding of conditions at the front filtered back to the training camps in France and England and troops were instructed in the location, construction defence and attack of trenches. Recently revealed on the Chase is a scaled terrain model of a section of the Western Front which is thought to be the only surviving example of such a model and it represents the village and environs of Messines in Belgium. The village occupied a ridge in the generally flat Belgium landscape and formed a strategically important point in the German defensive line. The village was captured by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade with horrendous German casualties as Allied troops dug tunnels under the village and exploded large mortars which devastated the area. Returning to Britain the New Zealand troops constructed the model as a teaching aid but also as a memorial to one of the most successful Allied offensives of the Great War. The model has now been covered again to preserve its fragile state but photographs and models are kept at the visitor centre on the Chase.

One of the best records of the Chase camps comes from the postcard drawings of Erskine Williams who was a soldier during the Great War who spent time training at Brocton Camp. He enlisted in 1916 he opted for service as an Army Bandsman and joined the band of 11th Division of the British Expeditionary Force, playing the oboe. Throughout his time in the army Erskine drew numerous sketches of the people he met and the places he spent time. He sent many of these home to his family as postcards, giving them an insight into what his daily routine in the army involved. Erskine Williams was demobilised in February 1919 and like many who served in the Great War he never mentioned the war to his family and his sketches, both of his training days at Brocton and the later ones of his time in France, are the only record of his experiences of the Great War. Daphne Jones, Erskine’s daughter, wrote a book which included his illustrations and postcards Bullets and Bandsmen: The story of a bandsman on the Western Front.

You will also find more examples of the cards on the Staffs PastTrack website where they are broken into categories. Food & chores: The soldiers were responsible for the preparation of their own food and for keeping their living quarters clean. Training: The main task of the camps was to provide military training to young men to prepare them for trench warfare on the Western Front. Time off: There was still time to participate in sleeping and waiting for news from home there was even time to track down the local public houses!

One other source of information on the Chase Camps were the soldiers of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade who fought at the Somme and the Messines Ridge. The NZRB were a valuable source of combat experience and the 5th Battalion was transferred to Brocton Camp in September 1917 to train fresh drafts. Named the ‘Cannock Chase Reserve Centre’ the camp was commanded by Major-General Davies. One of the training staff, ‘Robbie’ Robertson later wrote “Some four miles away was the historic county-town of Stafford whose people proved to be eminently kindly and hospitable. The camp itself was thoroughly equipped for all branches of general and specialist training, the open spaces offered ample scope for close order work, while the climatic conditions, combined with the nature of the soil, gave a realistic touch to the frequent rehearsals in trench routine and attack and defence.” General training included: formal drill, bayonet fighting, protection against gas, physical training, musketry and the all-night occupation of trenches. Specialists were also trained at the camp including Lewis gunners, signallers, scouts and bombers. Many of the features associated with these training regimes survive upon the Chase as earthworks including practice trenches and large rifle butts. This was to be their home and headquarters and the high opinion in which Stafford held the NZRB resulted in the brigade presenting its colours to the town before their return to New Zealand in May 1919.

Following the war, the camps became akin to ghost towns, the rows of huts stood empty in an unaccustomed quiet, disturbed only by the sighing breeze swinging a loose door or rattling a window. Gradually, at the request of Lord Lichfield, the huts were sold off and were transported to their new locations by horse and cart, ending Cannock Chase’s contribution to military history. In fact one member of Mr. Dean’s audience still has two huts in her garden.

Once again this talk was a tour de force of information and your correspondent has only noted some of the contents. A question and answer session followed before Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Dean on behalf of a very appreciative audience. He also asked Mr. Dean to return and talk about his further research on Cannock Chase.


The Bridestones Revisited - 21/10/2013

The October meeting was held at 7pm on Monday October 21st 2013 in Biddulph Library. Despite the bad weather it was standing room only as Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Angela Baskeyfield who gave an illustrated talk entitled “The Bridestones Revisited”.

Angela was born in Biddulph and whilst studying Archaeology at Southampton University remembered the “Bridestones” and did her dissertation on this local stone barrow. In a wide ranging talk full of facts, examples and interesting details Angela explained the history and story of this chambered cairn built in the Neolithic Stone Age on the nearby moors.

It isn’t possible to report all the information given and your reporter has decided to look at just two elements of the talk – the culture of the people who built the Bridestones and some of the stories that surround their recent history. The New Stone Age or Neolithic Period is defined as the time when European people stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers and took up agriculture as a way of life. Around 4000BC the ideas and technology of farming, and perhaps some of the first livestock, crossed the Channel and arrived in Britain. Farming quickly spread across the British Isles, a social revolution every bit as eventful as the Industrial Revolution some 6000 years later. The people could build boats and arrange to transport animals across the Channel and in the north of England the settlements spread across the country and into the northern part of Ireland. Many of the best example of Neolithic architecture can be found on the Scottish Islands, particularly Orkney, but the general temperature made Scotland a more temperate land.

Neolithic farmers settled in stable communities, cleared land, planted wheat and barley, and raised herds of domesticated sheep, cattle, and pigs. Areas of heaviest settlement were the hills and the Bridestones are to the south of that rocky outcrop with views over the Cheshire Plain, the Cloud.

Photograph 1: Camster, Caithness – a long barrow cairn.

These Neolithic settlers originally lived in rectangular log cabins and although communities were small, they were communities, so people could and did indulge in large projects requiring group participation, such as the building of communal graves (long barrows), causewayed camps, and henges. Long barrow sites started off as small rectangular enclosures of earth banks topped by a timber palisade which were used as a mortuary enclosure. Within this was built a wooden room-sized mortuary chamber with large supporting posts. Sometimes a grand timber entrance was also built along with an avenue of wooden posts. Human remains were placed in this chamber, sometimes all at once and sometimes over a period of time. Rarely are whole skeletons found and it seems that only long bones and skulls survived until the final interment. There was also evidence of trade between peoples as polished stones – including Jadeite from the Italian Alps – are found in the barrows.

In many cases, weathering and ploughing during the intervening centuries along with early archaeological excavations and looting have left only the stone parts of the chambered monuments extant whilst some earth and timber long barrows may only survive beneath the surface. Others however are still visible in the countryside as barrows between 15m and 125m long and surviving to heights of 4-5m. In those long barrows that do contain appreciable quantities of human remains, their concentration in just one small part of the overall structure has led some to argue that the long barrow was not merely a repository for the dead but also a general monument acting as a territorial marker, a place of religious offering and a community centre. Chambered long barrows however do appear to have been primarily intended as burial sites.

Photograph 2 Entrance to Skara Brae.

The Bridestones consisted of such a chambered cairn, built in the Neolithic Stone Age and running east to west just north of Dial Lane. It was described in 1764 as being 100 metres long and 11 metres wide divided into three separate compartments, of which only one remains today. The remaining compartment is 6m long by 2.7m wide, and consists of vertical stone slabs, divided by a now-broken cross slab. The cairn was also said to have a stone circle to the east with four portal stones; two of these portal stones still remain. There is a drawing by the Reverend T. Malbon of 1776 showing 16 standing stones pointing to the sunrise.

Ten years earlier the state of the site was recorded by Henry Rowlands in Mona Antiqua Restaurata. “There are six upright free stones, from three to six feet broad, of various heights and shapes, fixed about six feet from each other in a semicircular form, and two within, where the earth is very black, mixed with ashes and oak-charcoal. It is apprehended the circle was originally complete, and twenty-seven feet in diameter; for there is the appearance of holes where stones have been, and also of two single stones, one standing east of the circle, at about five or six yards distance, and the other at the same distance from that”.

“A little west of the above stones are two rough, square tapering stones 4ft 3in broad and 2ft thick, standing at the north and south angles of a kind of artificial stone cave or chest. This is paved with broken pieces of stones about 2½in thick, overlaying some pounded whitestone about six inches deep; two inches of the upper part of which are tinged with black, supposed from ashes falling through the pavement which was covered with them and oak-charcoal about two inches thick, along with several pieces of burnt bones. The sides of the cave, if I may so call it, were composed of two unhewn stones about 18ft in length, 6in in height and 14in thick at a medium. Each of them is now broken in two.”

“There is a partition stone across the place, about 5½ high, and 6in thick. A circular hole is cut through this stone, about 19½in in diameter. There remains another place of the same construction but smaller and without any inward partition, about 55 yards distance from this. There was a large heap of stones that covered the whole, 120 yards long and 12 yards broad. These stones have been taken away from time to time by masons and other people for various purposes and in the year 1764 several hundred loads were carried away for making a turnpike road about 60 yards from this place, which laid it open for examination.”

Although the site is now protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument it is being allowed it to be covered by rhodedendriums it has been largely defaced by subsequent farming, supposed careful reconstruction, for example, Professor Fleur of Manchester University in 1936 and 1937, use of the stone for other projects and accidents.

The largest single ransacking of the monument was the removal of several hundred tons to construct the nearby turnpike road. Stones from the monument were also taken to build the nearby house and farm; and it has been claimed that other stones were used in the ornamental garden in Tunstall Park. The holed stone was broken some time before 1854; the top half was found replaced in 1877, but was gone again by 1935. While the southern side of the main chamber was originally a single, 18ft long stone (5.5m), it was split in 1843 by a picnicker’s bonfire. Of the portal stones, only two remain, one of which is broken and concreted back together. This was reputedly caused by an engineer from the Manchester Ship Canal, who used the stone to demonstrate a detonator.

Photograph 3: The current view of the stones.

In assessing the talk, Chairman Roland Machin wearing his academic hat, gave full marks for the content, illustration and relevance and asked the meeting to thank Angela in the usual way. A number of questions were taken before the meeting broke for further discussions and a cup of tea.


Changes in a Lifetime - 16/09/2013

The first meeting of the new season was held on Monday September 16th in Biddulph Library. There were no empty seats in the library as Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. Peter Shreyhane who gave an illustrated talk entitled “Changes in a Lifetime”.

Peter Shreyhane was born in Tunstall at the end of the Second World War and lived at Knypersley for a number of years before moving to the North East to continue his teaching career. He has travelled down to Biddulph regularly and given two talks on his experiences of growing up in North Staffordshire for the Society. His latest talk was a look at the massive changes in all areas of life that he, and many of his audience, had witnessed in the last sixty years. Rationing was still in place in the 1950s and was represented by a tray of plates handed round the audience containing 2oz of butter, cheese, bacon, and so on. Although more foods were coming into the country it didn’t completely finish until 1954. For example, tea was still on ration until 1952, sugar and eggs until 1953 and cheese and meats until 1954.

Peter’s talk was a mixture of reminiscences, anecdotes and any number of jokes, supported by facts, and was wide ranging in the subjects covered. The following is a list of some of the points made and is in no way a full transcript of a most enjoyable evening’s entertainment. This photograph shows Peter standing on a stool by the back door watching his mother talking over the garden wall to their next door neighbour Eva Gater. The picture is taken from the foot of the back yard by the outside toilet and the lane running along the back of the terrace row which in summer was a football field or cricket pitch. In fact, in front of the house would also be used for sport and play but straying too far up the street would be tolerated unless you went too far and you would be told to “Get back up your own end.”

Holidays in the 1950s and 60s were taken by train to the North Wales coast. Llandudno Pier and Rhyl saw the men wearing suits and as many as 744,000 holiday makers going to Rhyl with a train arriving every five minutes. Now the search for the sun sees people flocking to the airports for cheap flights to the beaches of southern Europe. One of the reasons the train was used for holidays was the lack of cars giving clear streets where pedestrians and cyclists held sway. Peter was a page boy at St. Lawrence’s Church in Biddulph in his NHS glasses and the number of people getting married at this time was a much higher proportion than there is now. People now live together without being married, more are being divorced or there are families of single parents and this has changed the types of housing being built. Fewer people live in each house and the aging population has created many bungalows with single occupants.

Within these houses people have changed the dolly tub and mangle for some superb washers. Along with refrigerators there are also many pieces of equipment in all parts of the house – Peter asked his audience to list the microwaves, mixers, DVD players, and so forth. There had also been a revolution in television from seeing the BBC test card and watching the potter’s wheel turn to the intermission music there are hundreds of channels on the digital and satellite services. This from a single occasional BBC transmission and the introduction of ITV in 1955 and BBC2 in 1965. Colour was introduced for Wimbledon in 1967 and now viewers can watch a flat screen as large as a tennis court.

As there was little to watch on television and few cars then, evenings out and courting were determined by the times of buses. This also had the effect of keeping people in local areas and people would then marry the girl next door or next street. All buses at this time had conductors and they were often characters who entertained the passenger whilst handing out the tickets from a ticket rack. Peter’s first car was a grey Austin A35 which he often tinkered with himself but would usually end up at Knypersley garage asking the professionals to sort it out – but his vehicle didn’t have heaters or climate control, comfortable seats, satellite navigation, and so on. In fact, apart from a speedometer the only other indicators were the trafficators, and when you thumped the door frame to make the arm jump out if it went straight away your battery was fully charged. A picture of the M1 with two cars and a van occupying the six lanes reminded Peter of the time he was told of the police having to go to the central reservation of a motorway to remove the family picnicing there (in the days before barriers).

Another area of massive change had been in shopping. From the limited choice in the local stores on unique high streets, now there are supermarkets with customers choosing products in aisle after aisle or even over the Internet. Another unfortunate consequence of the changes has been the homogenised nature of most town centres where a list of shops can be guessed before you arrive. Whilst travelling round from Hanley another change Peter noticed was the disappearance of so many industries which had employed so many. Many people now worked in service industries instead of heavy industry. Steel, coal and the pot banks had been the big employers, two out of three of these industries have gone. Some figures to show the change nationally in 1905 there were 3,384 pits employing 780,000 people and producing 225m tons. By 1950 there were only 901 pits who employed 691,000 people and producing 220m tons. In 2004 there were only 19 pits left employing 6,000 people and producing 27m tons (now only 3 pits are left). The only benefit would appear to be the reduction in air pollution, both in the greening of the Potteries and the reduction of diseases which shorten the life of both the workers and the families living in the surrounding streets.

For those in work one of the leisure activities was football. At a time when players like Jimmy Hill were attempting to improve the wages of the players, local teams like Port Vale could have 49,000 fans turning up at the Hamil Road ground to watch the team play Aston Villa. Football also took Peter to London for the first time. The talk included a wonderful picture of the well dressed potter up for the Cup. Other local entertainment was provided by the local cinema or scratch; wrestling on a Saturday when, if the final bout started after 10:15pm it would end in a knock out before 10:30pm to let the fans catch their buses home; and a trip fishing perhaps to Tunstall Park Lake. One major social change has been the reduction in smoking and the laws which ban smoking in public places. Smoking reduced from 70% to 40% from the end of the war to the turn of the century. Now, although as many women as men smoke, you can go out for a meal or a drink without your clothes reeking of smoke. Peter then talked about the NHS which has grown into a “National Treasure” performing more and more life saving procedures.

Changes in policing and the subject of education where then discussed before the audience where asked a couple of questions. If the first number is 64 and the second is 79 what do the numbers represent? They are the change in life expectancy in the last fifty years. If 1917 equalled 24, and 1952 equalled 255 and 2011 equalled 9,736 what do the figures represent? In this case they are the number of telegrams sent to people reaching one hundred years of age. Peter’s final point was that one of the biggest changes in the period was the change in what people expect, the ever changing and increasing expectations.

Mr. Machin thanked Peter for his excellent talk which was a wonderful start to the new season of the History Society. So many memories of the area had been conjured up in an hour and everyone was invited to look at the objects Peter had brought with him to illustrate the changes.


A Summer Walk to Greenway Bank from the Nelson Inn - 17/06/2013

If you fancy doing a short walk from a local pub here is the route of this year’s history walk by the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society. It is a walk of either 2½ or 3½ miles depending on whether you include walking around the Serpentine Pool. You will need stout shoes and there are some short but steep climbs and overall it can be classed as Moderate.

Laminated copies of this walk are available from Nelson Inn – but, please return them when you complete the walk.

Start from the Nelson Inn on Brown Lees Road, Biddulph.
Leave the Nelson Inn on Brown Lees Road and walk 400m to Prospect Way and turn right into the Victoria Business Park. Pass Rapiscan (on the right) and then turn left near Baker Bus and walk 300 metres to cross Tunstall Road at the pedestrian crossing.

Turn left and walk towards Rhodes Garage then turn next right towards the Victoria Terrace. Turn left and right to go down the rear service road of the terrace. Walk down the terrace and you will find a stile in the left corner at the end. Go diagonally left to a stile in the corner of this field. Climb the style and walk down the field by the left hand hedge to a tree in the bottom corner. Over a stile and walk down the drove road between mature trees.

Take care by the gate, a load of bricks and tiles have been dumped. Use the gate to join Mill Hayes Road and turn left past the fishing pool and line of four cottages. Walk on the right of the road to face the traffic and take care.

After you have walked 120 metres turn right between two beech trees with a footpath sign into the fields. Stop in the field and you can look back to the hill and to the right the stable block of Knypersley Hall.

The Manor of Knypersley was held by the de Knypersley family from ancient times, until Katherine de Knypersley, heiress to the estates married Thomas Bowyer late in the 14th century. The Georgian style country mansion was a substantial three storey, seven bay mansion which was remodelled about 1847 when the top storey was removed. The Bowyer Baronetcy became extinct with the death of the 4th Baronet in 1702. His daughter and heiress Dorothy married Sir Thomas Gresley Bt in 1719. The Gresleys sold the estate in about 1809 to the noted horticulturist John Bateman, who developed the gardens but who in about 1840 moved to begin a larger project with his son James Bateman at Biddulph Grange.

Walk on the right of field towards a single pylon before turning right by an old holly bush to follow the path. There is a short steep hill to climb. Go through the metal gate into the next field. The path is about 200 metres long (in total) and passes a hill on the left with two large beech trees (and one which has recently fallen) before coming to the stile by the wood. Cross the stile and the path descends between the trees, it is rutted with tree roots and slopes down the hill. Take care. After the path has descended to the next stile you will find a circular path which goes around the Serpentine Pool.

It is a one mile circular walk, if you do want to walk around the pool turn left here and look for a sign to the Visitor Centre near the end of the circuit to rejoin this walk.

Turning right onto the circular walk, head towards a sleeper bridge, pass another path on the right and the path climbs up to a sign where you turn right to the Visitor Centre. Take a path which climbs steeply up through the trees and rhododendrons to a set of steps. You stay on the fenced path up to the tree line. Climb the steps and turn sharply right and then left up to a bench, past an outcrop of coal. Still climbing you turn slightly right onto a cobbled path until you arrive at a pair of wooden field gates.

There are good views of the Victoria Row, Cowlishaw Walkers, the Mills and Castle at Mow Cop. Turn right at the yew trees past a grave of a Cairn terrier which died in 1932. The path widens out with yew, beech trees and benches. As you approach Greenway Bank Visitor Centre turn left when you see a metal green gate. There is a good view on the right of Newchapel Church standing on its windy hill.

Robert Heath owner of Black Bull Colliery lived in Greenway Bank Hall, which was demolished 1975.

Join the tarmac path and then turn right by the car park to exit when you have walked past the children’s playground. Continue to the road and turn left. Walk down the hill for about 400 metres and turn right onto a fenced footpath which, after 200 metres, joins Childerplay Road.

Turn right and walk 200 metres towards the garages at the end of the road where it joins Tunstall Road. Turn right up the hill and walk past the two care or retirement homes at the end of Mill Hayes Road. Cross the road at the pedestrian lights at Mill Hayes Farm.

Victoria Colliery, known locally as The Bull or Black Bull after the name of the nearby village, the colliery was the last deep mine in the Biddulph area. The minerals under the Knypersley Hall Estate were leased by Robert Heath from John Bateman in 1857. In 1887 Robert Heath had acquired among other collieries the Brown Lees Colliery where one shaft was deepened in about 1894 and an underground connection was made with the Biddulph Valley Colliery (Victoria) at the same time as the Salisbury pumping shaft was being sunk at Victoria. Thus the Victoria Colliery had for most of its working life three shafts - Victoria, Havelock and Salisbury. Robert Heath also worked the Black Bull and Biddulph Valley Ironworks and also owned the complex which after Nationalisation in 1947 became Cowlishaw-Walker Ltd. After declining fortunes principally due to adverse geological conditions the colliery closed in 1982 with most of the men being transferred to the long life collieries in the area.

Retrace your steps through the Victoria Business Park or back to the Nelson Inn.


George Formby – His Life and Music - 20/05/2013

The May meeting was held at 7pm on Monday, May 20th in Biddulph Library. The Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin introduced the speaker for the evening, Mr. John Walley.

The audience of members and guests were soon captivated by Mr. Walley and his performance of ‘George Formby – His Life and Music‘. Mr Walley began the evening’s entertainment with a song especially written by the George Formby Society to commemorate the life of his hero. Wonderful toe-tapping numbers were interspersed with anecdotes of George ‘the boy’, George ‘the young man’ and George ‘the highly successful film star’.

George was the son of successful music hall performer James Booth and his wife Eliza and was born in Wigan on the May 26th 1904. His father performed under the name ‘George Formby’ and was very popular – well known for his humorous songs and comedy act. George senior was also seriously ill with TB which provided him with his catch phrase “I’m coughing better tonight”. The family were shielded from his acting career and his children never saw him perform on stage. A short clip of a 107 year old recording of George senior was played, which was especially poignant when we were told that soon afterwards, aged only 46, he died. Fortunately he left his family financially secure but his death still led to great changes in young George’s life.

George was born blind and was a sickly child whose sight was restored after a violent coughing fit at the age of three. He wouldn’t go to school and despite the hiring of private tutors, George never fully got to grips with the 3Rs. It was decided that he should be apprenticed as a jockey and use was made of his mother’s contacts in the racing world. On his father’s death and at the end of his apprenticeship, George’s future was influenced to a great extent by his mother. She decided that he should follow in his father’s footsteps and go on to the stage. Although he had never been allowed to see his father in the theatre, his mother insisted he carried on the Formby tradition and six weeks later he made his debut using the name ‘George Hoy’ (his mother’s maiden name). Wearing his father’s old suits and making use of his father’s stage material, George just about made a living. Four long years later, in 1924, two events changed his fortunes.

The first involved a ukulele. He discovered an actor in an adjacent dressing room whiling away time on a ukulele. George, being very impressed with the instrument, bought it and was determined to learn to play it and to use it in his act. The second involved a young clog dancer in the audience by the name of Beryl Ingham with whom he was to fall head over clogs in love! The pair married and at first performed together until Beryl decided that her husband could go far if she managed him. They wrote a song together which was popular amongst their local mining audience in Wigan which was aptly called ’Down the coal ’ole’.

With Beryl’s business acumen and determination, George’s popularity soared and ’Chinese Laundry Blues’ became his signature tune. Recorded by Decca it sold 110,000 records in just 10 days. The film world beckoned – the first written by Beryl and called ‘Boots, Boots’ apparently premiered at Burslem! After a bumpy start, his film career mushroomed, a mere 22 films with fees of £35,000 per film. George Formby became a top box-office star and the UK’s highest paid entertainer.

With the onset of war George went to enlist but flat feet and a weak heart prevented him from seeing active service. Instead, he endeavoured to entertain the troops – his cheery, cheeky songs lifting hearts and gaining fans – even in high places (the Queen Mother was reputedly a fan and Princess Elizabeth had a collection of his records). George’s brother, Frank, joined a tank regiment and was the inspiration for another popular tune, ‘Frank on his tank’.

After the war, a world tour followed that lasted for four years. George and Beryl were seriously rich with beautiful homes and numerous Rolls Royce cars. A heart attack resulted in George having to slow down but he still managed a performance for the Queen where he brought the house down with his rendition of ‘With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock’. This was banned by the BBC until the formidable Beryl pointed out in no uncertain terms that if the song was good enough for the Queen – it was good enough for her subjects!

Beryl was to succumb to leukaemia on Christmas Day in 1960. After her death, George was to confess to a life of hell with Beryl and two months later became engaged to Pat Howson, a 36 year old Catholic school teacher whom he had known for many years. Two days before their marriage, George suffered another heart attack and he died on March 6th 1961. He was just 56 years old.

John Walley was a founder and is now an honorary member of the world-wide George Formby Society. John’s book, ‘George Formby Complete’ was published in 1972. He also owns one of George’s ukuleles, which he plays as a tribute to the great man.

He also brought the History Society’s season of talks to a glorious end – happy, funny songs that were just the ticket to brighten up a dull and cold May evening and to get the audience into ‘holiday mood’. If you are eager to discover more about George Formby then you may just be in time to catch ‘Frank Skinner on the life of George Formby’ on iplayer BBC 4 – which was originally shown on May 19th.


Maps for Local and Family History - 15/04/2013

The April meeting was held on Monday April 15th in Biddulph Library. The Chairman introduced the speaker Mr. Chris Makepeace whose talk was on the subject “Maps for Local and Family History”. Mr. Makepeace has published many large scale maps of local areas and you can visit his website.

He began by outlining how the use of maps for local and family research has increased over the past few years and how in conjunction with census information it is possible to place families in both the urban and rural world because since the late C18th detailed maps have been produced at various and detailed scales. In recent years the rebuilding of many towns has relied on old maps to reduce the problems that could occur – field names may show information which explains why a site never dries out; mining maps can show where the old shafts, often hastily covered, are and why strange events like the draining of the Tunstall Park Lake recently are down to old mine workings. Mr. Makepeace gave many more examples of these phenomena for the area of Manchester which most of his early maps cover. He is a man with all sorts of facts and figures at his fingertips and was a spell-binding speaker on the subject.

Here is a simple history of the development of maps with comments from Mr. Makepeace’s talk. One of earliest maps produced in England was a religious world map or Mappa Mundi which was drawn circa1300AD on vellum (a single calfskin – one and half by one and a third metres). It can be found in Hereford Cathedral. It is centred on the city of Jerusalem as the religious heart of the known world, east is to the top and the British Isles are tucked down on the bottom left of the map. The first map printed from copper-engraved plates known of Britain is Britanniæ Insulæ, drawn in 1546 by George Lily. He was a Catholic, exiled by Henry VIII to Rome, where the map was printed as an illustration for a book on the British Isles written by a Roman bishop.

After a series of religious maps, a theme which runs through the following centuries of map making is there political significance. Town plans were slow to appear in England as most towns were so small as to make a plan unnecessary and it was the sixteenth century before plans began to appear in books. Some of these plans would be to record the property of land owners and explain the enclosure of land which according to Mr. Makepeace went on for a much longer period than is usually thought. Counties were the important administrative area in the sixteenth century and the first English printed maps were a County Series by Christopher Saxton, a Yorkshire estate surveyor born in 1542. There were 34 maps surveyed and engraved between 1573 and 1577 and published in a bound volume in 1579. Two government ministers, Sir Thomas Seckford and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was Elizabeth the First’s spy-master, commissioned the maps for state use and she allowed Saxton exclusive publication of the maps for a ten year period. Many County maps excluded the neighbouring county and so the county border would not show detail and be left unprinted. The first estate maps were essentially diagrams accompanying written descriptions. These were supplemented by enclosure maps which showed areas of communal land to be enclosed by agreement and from 1590, with improved surveying tools, these were drawn with greater accuracy. From 1770 Parliamentary enclosures had legal authority. Tithe maps were prepared following the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836. This act replaced tithes paid by farmers to the Church in kind, that is a tenth of a corn crop, a tenth of the lambs born each year and so on, with a tax based on the value and type of land farmed.

The development of the northern industrial towns during the Industrial Revolution saw the development of maps of many northern cities. Some of these would be used to keep track of the population in case there should be problems with the population. The development of turnpike roads, canals and later railways involved more surveying of land and hence the production of detailed maps. Some of the canal maps used the strip method of map making and a map could be used to determine how long it would take to travel from Great Haywood to Preston Brook. Larger engineering projects required the production of a detailed map, and the one below is of the Manchester Ship Canal which was a thirty-six mile (58km) long link between the industrial centre of Manchester and the port of Liverpool. It was designed by civil engineer Sir Edward Leader Williams. However an important local landowner, Sir Humphrey de Trafford, opposed its construction and work only began two years after his death. This was the final approved plan and Queen Victoria officially opened ‘The Big Ditch’ on May 21st 1894.

Planning Map for the Manchester Ship Canal produced in the late C19th

The Ordnance Survey, England’s government-funded official mapping agency, had modest beginnings. William Roy of the Royal Engineers was one of the officers tasked to produce a survey of Scotland following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-6. He tried to persuade Parliament to authorise a survey of the whole of Britain but funding was not forthcoming. Roy keep himself busy whilst waiting for funds by mapping the Greenwich and Paris observatories. The Principal Triangulation by the Ordnance Survey began with measurements taken in 1790s and many more between 1840 and 1860. The whole was recalculated and published in 1858.

The first maps printed were at a scale of 6in to 1 mile (1:10,560) for military use along the south coast of England but half this scale elsewhere. The final published maps were at a scale of 1in to 1 mile (1:63,360), as William Roy had originally proposed. They used a series of simple local cylindrical projections called ‘Cassini’ projections which are straightforward but do introduce north-south distortions to the country. The southern half of England and Wales was mapped by 1815 and the work was finally completed in 1874.

By the end of the nineteenth century, colour printing had begun and was successfully applied to maps by John Bartholomew. John George Bartholomew’s Half Inch to the Mile maps were first published between 1919 and 1924 and are one of the most attractive maps of England. This map was cloth-backed for serviceability and was the rambler’s companion around the Lake District with it’s height contours beautifully coloured. The Half Inch series was produced up to the 1970s.

The Villages of Thornage, Stody and Hunworth – use a map to find them

Modern maps are now metric but do include many of the features of the early maps. A comprehensive index of symbols allows walkers, planners and historians to navigate round the country. This level of mapping has now been overlaid by the arrival of GPS mapping which allows for much quicker updating of the changes in the built environment and land use. Also available is the Google mapping system which allows you to visit a place and view the local streets like a film. Still available are a range of paper maps which can be used for historical information and these are the maps Mr Makepeace is involved in producing today.

Mr. Machin thanked the speaker for his excellent informative talk which was illustrated by a series of maps and pictures. He also asked if a map of Biddulph for local history use was in the pipeline and if it wasn’t can he propose that it would be very welcome by all the members of the Society and its guests. A series of questions and answers followed before the meeting retired for tea and biscuits.


AGM and a series of short films - 18/03/2013

The March meeting was held on Monday February 18th in Biddulph Library. The Annual General Meeting was followed by a series of short films of local and natural history created by the award winning film-maker Mr. Peter Durnall.

Mr. Roland Machin welcomed everyone to the meeting and began by outlining the past year to the members. The Chairman’s report showed the Society to be buoyant and in good health. This was the result of the excellent commitment, cooperation and goodwill we receive from the Committee that includes: Elaine Heathcote, Madelaine Lovatt, David Outhwaite, Mike Turnock, John Sherratt and Kath Walton. A second measure of success was the attendance of so many people who come on a regular basis. The Society was very well served by the expertise of David Moore who maintains the website on a voluntary basis. The past year had seen meetings and speakers who embraced a wide spectrum of local history: the Society began the Winter programme with a presentation on the Staffordshire hoard from the County Archaeologist. This was a fitting start to a good year and members of the Society also attended the Border History at Burslem in October and made a visit to The National Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port last June which was memorable. Organised by Michael Turnock the Society sends its good wishes to Michael for a speedy recovery from illness. There was also a memorable walk round Mow Cop lead by Mr. Phillip Leese and organised by David Outhwaite.

Reports from the Secretary, Treasurer and Archivist then followed. The Secretary outlined the four new publications which the Society has produced since the beginning of the previous year. He also informed the meeting that Adobe PDF versions of all the Society’s publications were now available and were e-mailed round the United Kingdom and as far afield as Australia and Canada. The Treasurer’s report showed the Society had made a profit over the year, sold more £1000 worth of books and made a donation to Douglas MacMillan of £500. Kath also stated that the number of members in the year had reached sixty and that the annual membership fee would remain at £5. The Archivist, Elaine, had had another busy year – producing a catalogue of the large amount of material kept in the Society archive and gave a list of the new publications which had been added to the list. Spending on new maps and publications had exceeded £200 plus a contribution towards a series of books on local turnpike roads which was almost reaching the required amount.

Mr. Machin then proposed the Election of Officers. He started by stating that Derek Wheelhouse had repeatedly asked to step down from his role as Chairman. More recently the role of Chairman had been split between Derek and Roland, however, to accede to Derek’s request the committee of the Society had decided to ask Derek to be its Honorary President Emeritus. This was to thank him for his excellent work over many decades and his help with Irene Turner in the revival of the society. His wisdom and work is reflected in the strength of the Society today. This was proposed and seconded and passed unanimously by the meeting. It was then proposed that Mr. Roland Machin should be the new Chairman of the Society and this to was passed unanimously. The other Committee roles where then proposed: David Outhwaite as Secretary and Kath Walton as Treasurer. Elaine Heathcote will continue as Archivist and Michael Turnock as Trip Organiser.

This year’s trip will be a visit to the Black Country Living Museum on Saturday June 8th leaving Biddulph at 9:30am and returning at 3pm to arrive back in Biddulph at approximately 4:30pm. The cost, including group discount, will be £23 adult, over 60s £20 and school student £16. Limited to 28 places those who wish to go should bring a deposit of £5 to the next meeting.

The final notice was that the Annual Walk will be on June 17th and will be round Greenway Bank Country Park and Knypersley Pool. Organised by David it will be led by Mr. Peter Durnall who was also the evening’s speaker.

Peter started by showing a short film on Silverdale Community Country Park, Newcastle-Under-Lyme which showed the return of nature to what was the former Silverdale Colliery. The park is characterised by a largely open grassland landscape with a number of distinct level changes created as a result of the stockpiled colliery spoil. The resulting plateaus are separated by steep embankments colonised with natural grass and young tree planting. A small plateau at the highest point of the site, affords extensive views to the surrounding area. Skylarks are already abundant on the site in spring time and great crested newts can be found in the small ponds A large pond known as Furnace Pool, is leased by the Silverdale Angling Society and although not available for public use, many local people are members of the society.

Then the meeting was taken on a day out to Plockton “a village located on a sheltered bay of Loch Carron, surrounded by a ring of hills in the North West Highlands of Scotland, an untamed land of sea and loch, mountain and glen, magnificent in its grandeur and remote tranquillity”. This peaceful Highland community in the Gaelic heartland was once based on fishing and crofting but now draws artists, photographers (and Peter Durnall) from all over the world. A National Trust for Scotland conservation village, Plockton has carefully preserved its heritage, and as the Lochalsh Junior Pipe Band marched up and down the main street, the vista of heather covered hills and clear water whisked you away from the freezing weather in Biddulph.

Then a film about puffins. SOS Puffin is a conservation project based at the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick to save the puffins on islands in the Firth of Forth. Puffin numbers on the island of Craigleith, once one of the largest colonies in Scotland, with 28,000 pairs, have crashed to just a few thousand due to the invasion of a large alien plant Tree Mallow also known as Lavatera, which has taken over the island and prevented the puffins from accessing their burrows and breeding. The project has the support of over 450 volunteers and progress is being made with puffins slowly returning in numbers to breed. Peter was landed with some of the volunteers to make this interesting film but only just escaped the island due to the high swell of the sea.

Finally, Wild North Staffordshire. This film was four years in the making and running for just under 30 minutes this was a natural history of the area – a vast variety of birds and mammals mainly filmed at Knypersley Pool and the Roaches. Peter, a Tunstall lad, explained that his father had taken him fishing at the Pool and walking on the Roaches and this was the start of a lifetime passion for wildlife.

At the end of this beautiful tapestry of a film Roland, as the new Chairman of the Society, read out a letter announcing that the film was the winner of a prestigious Europe wide competition – the letter dropping through Peter’s letterbox on the morning of the screening. Roland thanked Peter both for stepping in at short notice, for his talent for film making and showing his films to the Society.

The meeting then broke up, with a lot of animated conversations taking place over the tea/coffee and biscuits. Incidentally, most of Peter’s films are available for sale – on Monday night he sold out – and the profits are given to “Biddulph in Bloom.”


A Big Bang at the Brymbo - 18/02/2013

The February meeting was held at on Monday February 18th in Biddulph Library. The library was full as Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. John Sherratt who presented a talk entitled ‘A Big Bang at the Brymbo’. The meeting included a number of new faces, guests who had travelled some distance to listen to John’s talk on the Brymbo Colliery Disaster, as the locals called the Holditch Colliery, in Chesterton, Staffordshire.

John’s talk was illustrated with slides. He began by showing plans of the mine and discussed the boring and construction of the shafts: two shafts of 2,000 feet deep sunk in 1912 and 1916. These worked the Great Row and the Four Feet seams of coal. It acquired the name ‘Brymbo’ from its parent firm – a coal and steel company based at Brymbo in Wrexham.

After discussing the problems associated with mining at Holditch – the use of steam power and the fact that it was thought to have been one of the most gas ridden collieries in Britain – John set the scene for the disaster which struck on July 2nd 1937. It was caused by a fire and subsequent explosions, and was exacerbated by a decision from management to risk the lives of mine workers to try to save the coal seam. A poignant slide filled the screen – an aerial view of the colliery taken later that morning showing a crowd of relatives milling around the mine office waiting for news. Apparently the Evening Sentinel had hired a plane to fly over the site to take photographs of the unfolding tragedy.

At about 5.45am on July 2nd 1937, two coal cutter men (Herman Payne and William Beardmore) were working when Beardmore noticed a flame. The flame spread quickly across the coalface into a deadly wall of fire. The two men quickly fled and actually survived the disaster which was about to strike. Of the 55 men working in the vicinity of the fire, all but two managed to escape (William Haystead and Arthur Stanton). The two men became lost in the smoke, which eventually overcame them. The remaining 53 men attempted in vain to extinguish the fire, with the timber supports ablaze and threatening roof collapse, the over-man ordered the stone dust to be dumped and spread about as near to the fire as possible. These efforts also proved futile and so the men retreated further back and took a roll call which revealed the absence of Haystead and Stanton. By now the fire had taken hold and the two men were feared lost.

A series of explosions followed the initial fire and by 7.10am a plan by the manager, Mr. Cocks, was put into action with stoppings to be put on in the cruts (passageways between shafts) using sand, stone and dust. A team inspecting the mine was considering the next course of action but at this point there appears to have been disagreements with the management, who ordered that the location of the stoppings be changed. The original plan by Mr. Davies which involved putting stopping dams in solid ground was revised by Mr. Cocks. The revised plan, which was thought would save the coal seam, was in unstable ground and crucially, also provided air to the fire. It was this decision, by the manager, to change the original plan which resulted in the large death toll.

By 9.10am two government inspectors had arrived. Mr. Finney and Mr. Bloor descended to the pit bottom knowing full well that they were entering a very dangerous situation. Ten minutes later another explosion occurred and this was followed by two more. The eighth explosion was the final and most devastating explosion and resulted in a reversal of the ventilation system. Deaths occurred from the tremendous blast from this explosion and the resulting fire. In all, 30 men lost their lives and 8 were injured.

The later investigation concluded that the “original fire had originated in the coal cutting machine and was due to frictional heat produced by the picks in the cut. The explosions were caused by firedamp.”

Mr. Sherratt went on to discuss the rescue team, led by Mr. Clark, and the memorial set up to honour the dead of the disaster along with other miners killed at Holditch over the years. It was suggested that Newcastle Museum and the Apedale Heritage Centre would be good places to visit to extend knowledge of the disaster.

The thirty men who lost their lives were: H.L. Adkins (35) under-manager; James Alfred Bloor (51) H.M. Sub-Inspector of Mines; John Cocks (57) managing director; Percey Condliffe (35) collier; Josiah Cooke (37) collier; Albert Leslie Cooper (30) collier; Albert Edward Cornes (26) haulage hand; Harold John Finney (41) H.M. Senior Inspector of Mines; J.W. Forrester (40) Hanley Rescue Brigade; Thomas Ernest Harris (46) Hanley Rescue Brigade; John Harvey (39) fireman; John Hassell (35) ripper; William Haystead (45) packer; William Stanley Hodkinson (38) underground mechanic; W. Hough (37) Hanley Rescue Brigade; Frederick John Howle (36) collier; Reginald Jackson (35) collier; Harry Johnstone (34) overman; Ernest Jones (51) fireman; Thomas Henry Jones (28) collier; Samuel Henry Latham (28) Hanley Rescue Brigade; Abel Maiyer (39) underground mechanic; Henry Mitchell (44) underground mechanic; William Pepper (39) fireman; George Thomas Pickerill (30) ripper; Charles Price (33) collier; George Thomas Rushton (41) ripper; Albert Warwick Seaton (26) collier; Arthur R. Stanton (31) packer and Frank Turner (22) underground electrician.

The eight men who escaped with injuries were: Harry Bentley (47) fireman; Harry Birchall (34) collier; Percey Bloor (49) fireman; John Owen Davies (45) manager; George Edwards (29) collier; Job Lightfoot (33) Hanley Rescue Brigade; Frederick Charles Salt (39) collier and George Stanier (37) collier – lists from Wikipedia.

To aid the widows and children a collection was begun and one fund raising event occurred on the October 19th 1937 when the Scottish Football League champions Rangers travelled to the Victoria Ground to play Stoke City in a benefit match for the victims of the disaster, raising £2,000.

As usual, Mr. Sherratt produced a fascinating talk and shared with the audience his extensive knowledge of mining. He also provided a veritable feast of mining memorabilia for the audience to view. Mr. Roland Machin invited questions from the audience, which were many and varied, and then he thanked Mr. Sherratt for his thoroughly entertaining talk.



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

Last updated: On the 1st of December 2017 by DJO