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

The Essay Page


For Excerpts from Books, Newspapers and Periodicals click on Articles on the Menu bar.

Mr. Terry M. Mahoney “Struggle for the Sky” - written on the 29th April, 2019

Mr. Michael Turnock “Biddulph Gasworks - A Brief History” - written in September 2020

Mr. Michael G. Bond “Biddulph Old Hall, Staffordshire” - written in March 1971

Mr. W. Jack “A Brief Glimpse at the North Staffordshire Colliery Scene of 1928” - written in Spring 1974


“Struggle for the Sky” by Mr. Terry M. Mahoney

This informal essay has been written in response to the experiences of 2nd Lt. Machin, an RFC / RAF pilot-in-training in preparing for the 1917 - 1918 air war over France. The “Flight Training Notes” of J. E. Machin as recorded in his Royal Flying Corps (RFC) issued notebooks as compiled by the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society (BDGHS) acted as the primary source. The effect on pilots-in-training of what turned out to be a toxic mix of selection, instruction and aircraft characteristics is discussed against the backdrop of the desperate measures taken to turn around an almost lost air war. The intent is to present not so much of a ‘revisionist’ glance at RFC training but to illustrate the bravery of a young man who attempted to beat, but sadly did not overcome, the odds to fly for his country.

Major General Hugh Trenchard, Commander of the RFC in France, demanded replacements daily for his front-line fighter squadrons and rigidly enforced a ‘no empty chairs’ policy. He was determined to expand his force to shoulder equally with the army the burden of their 4:1 loss rate against Germany. In September 1915 the RFC fought the battle of Loos with only 161 aircraft but by July 1916 had engaged the enemy in the first battle of the Somme with a force quadruple that size. The RFC were so desperate to find pilots to fill available seats that entry was eased significantly and transfers encouraged from other units. The requirement for a Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) pilots licence was dropped, entry age was lowered from 19 to 17¾ years old and medical examinations focused on motivation rather than health. There were instances of front line pilots suffering blackouts being sent back as instructors and many candidates deemed unfit for Army service being accepted into the RFC.

However it was evident that by November 1916 the RFC flight training scheme was broken. Commanders reported that new pilots were unwilling to fly above 8000 feet, had no idea how to operate the Vickers and Lewis machine guns in the air and exhibited poor signalling skills. Pupils named aircraft parts by rote, spent many hours studying instrumentation in minute detail, but were not taught how to handle their aircraft safely or operate equipment in the air. Major Robert Smith-Barry, himself a Central Flying School graduate who had experienced these failings first hand, became a champion to these under-trained pilots. He became a thorn in the side of Trenchard who regarded him as an irritating hindrance to RFC expansion. Nonetheless it was finally agreed to overhaul the training scheme.

From late summer 1916 to mid-1917 many appeals were made by the RFC to cavalry, infantry and artillery regiments for transfers. The RFC viewed Horsemanship akin to airmanship, infantry sharpshooters akin to air gunners and artillery men as potential observer-bomb aimers. However senior Army officers on the ground reacted badly to these initiatives, holding their best men back for the ongoing Somme offensive, and only offering those that ‘did not fit in’ or were considered ‘disreputable’ as RFC candidates.

The RFC still had an 800 shortfall on a requirement for 5,841 pilots in summer 1917 as casualties rose and the service expanded. Few skilled and experienced front-line pilots could be sent back to train others, and the battle-weary who returned resenting these ‘rest periods’. Therefore cadets faced de-motivated or inexperienced instructors. Some of which were so embittered, exhausted by months of teaching dawn until dusk and the pressure to push cadets through, that they falsified records. Many retrospective testimonies show hours on type and cross country flights which were never performed were added to student reports and incredibly less than 5% of trainees failed what were acknowledged to be tough written examinations. Subsequently those pilots, scoring undeserved average to good grading at flight school, were easily caught out by squadron commanders at the front witnessing their poor performance. Consequently 27% of the 500 pilots per month reporting to squadrons were either grounded or returned home for re-training. Records also indicate some, along with others who failed to graduate, were even recycled as instructors to reduce strain on the schools.

By mid-1917 the systematic approach of Smith-Barry developed at the school of special flying at ‘Gosport’ had only been introduced on a trial basis to a few Training Depot Stations (TDS). The ‘Gosport’ approach standardised on dual control aircraft types, introduced offensive tactics into the cadet programme and initiated a mandatory one week instructor course. The TDS taught cadets the basic flying skills and included role related training, such as day bombing, before posting graduates on as replacements to the operational squadrons. Cadets were required to operate both the Vickers and Lewis machine guns, fly 20 hours solo including two landings, undertake a cross country flight of not less than 60 miles, climb to 8,000 feet, descend land and stop the aircraft within 50 yard circle before earning their wings.

The ‘Gosport” training scheme was effective in forcing pilots to manage dangerous situations in the air. Pre-‘Gosport’ trainees wrecked 9.75% of aircraft on a given day with 1 fatality per 790 flying hours. Subsequently wrecks per day reduced to 3.11% and fatalities reduced to 1 per 1340 hours for the same 20 hour solo requirement. Significantly only 55% of ‘Gosport’ trained pilot’s successfully qualified, the first of which joined combat squadrons in November 1917 during the battle of Cambrai. Notwithstanding these improvements relationships were still poor due to the Edwardian school master distance between instructor and pupil in the segregated mess halls of these training establishments. Unlike the Canadian camaraderie British instructors did not share their experiences or socialise with pupils. Personal grit, determination to succeed, the will to survive and pure luck got pupils through training alive even at the end of the war.

The pre-‘Gosport’ style of flying was an individual sport where cadets were encouraged to teach themselves by performing ‘stunts’ involving solo loops and rolls but advised to avoid spinning. The Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough had isolated the cause of spinning and developed recovery techniques as early as June 1917. However these techniques were not disseminated until the beginning of 1918 and even then many instructors did not include spin recovery in their syllabus.

Nonetheless the instructors had recognised that strong gusting winds could induce stalling and spins in under-powered training aircraft flown by novice pilots. Flying was limited to the early morning or late afternoons to take advantage of the calmer conditions. However if the wind increased above 5 mph or gusted whilst students were airborne inevitably 5 or 6 aircraft daily would crash upon landing. In 1918 one training airfield averaged 24 crashes per flying day, resulting in at least 1 fatality and several pilots seriously injured.

It is unlikely that 2nd Lt. Machin benefited from the ‘Gosport’ improvements. His RFC notebook is filled with copious detail on aircraft construction, engine and instrumentation, bombs and guns, signalling and mapping but little on aircraft handling. This rote learning appears to reflect the pre-‘Gosport’ approach. It was also noted his training included the Be2, DH6 and DH9 but not the Avro 504K standard trainer. Flight experiences and instruction style were not described.

The ‘Flight Training Notes’ source indicates that he completed elementary training at the Central Flying School Upavon near Andover Hampshire. He is said to have completed 20 hours on BE2e and ‘Airco’ DH6 bi-plane trainers before moving on to advanced training on the new DH9 light bomber with 123 Squadron. This embryonic Squadron moved to Duxford on the 1st March after its formation at RAF Waddington on the 1st February, 1918. The mission was to work up on DH9 day bombers in preparation for deployment to France on the 2nd October. However, probably due to unsuitability of the DH9 for combat and the need for fewer re-enforcements in France, the squadron was temporarily disbanded on the 17th August, 1918.

At this stage it is useful to discuss the relative flying characteristics of these aircraft and their effect on pilots-in-training. The ‘e’ model of the Royal Aircraft designed ‘Bleriot Experimental’ BE model 2 inherited its ‘inherently stable’ characteristics from previous c and d models. The c model proved sluggish in combat, and in spite of providing a stable platform to enable the pilot to simultaneously fly, spot and photograph, was too easy a prey for the Fokker Eindeker and was withdrawn. However the evolution of dual control in the d model and improved manoeuvrability of the ‘e’ model in 1917 yielded relatively lower accident rates as a lead-in trainer to the DH6.

The DH6 was a tandem single cockpit trainer manufactured by the Aircraft Manufacturing Company ‘Airco’ based on Geoffrey De Havilland’s deliberately ”safe” design in 1916. Powered, in common with the BE2 Aircraft, by the reliable RAF1A 90 hp engine and with the ability to disconnect dual control from the student it proved popular with the instructors. Critics argued however that it was ‘too safe’ to make a good trainer, being stable in improperly banked turns and able to ‘crab’ at low speed without stalling. Plainly ‘Its reaction to inexpert piloting was too gentle to prepare pilots for combat aircraft’ and was superseded in late 1917 by the Avro 504K as the ‘Gosport’ standard trainer. In contrast to his DH6 trainer which was arguably ‘too safe’ the DH9 type subsequently flown by Machin during his light bomber operational conversion at 123 Squadron, was demonstrably a ‘less than safe’ aircraft. The evolution of which will explain why.

The War office, faced with increased German raids over London in summer 1917 and an inadequate response by a hand full of short range DH4 light bombers, retaliated by doubling the size of the RFC to 200 squadrons equipped largely by bombers. Geoffrey De Havilland rose to this light day bomber challenge by offering his DH9 design. The DH9 promise was 20% longer range carrying the DH4 460lb bomb load at 20,000 feet with the benefit of common parts to shorten production time. A total of 4,630 DH9 Aircraft were immediately ordered off the drawing board entering service in November 1917. However manufacturing delays on the intended American L-12 liberty engine resulted in a switch to the readily available 300hp Adriatic engine made by Galloway Engines of Dunfries, a newly opened factory for BHP (Beardmore Engines). It was to be an Adriatic powered DH9 bomber or no bomber at all according to the ministry. However given the novelty of the aluminium Monobloc cylinder design used on the Adriatic and the inexperience of Galloway in volume production 90% of Monobloc output proved faulty. Modifications were introduced to resolve the development issues and speed up production which in turn induced further problems. Air maintenance records showed break up of con-rods right across the inspectors stamp, exhaust valve burn-out, and ongoing cylinder block defects continuing throughout service use notwithstanding the 140 modifications introduced to improve matters.

The Adriatic was de-rated to 230hp for improved reliability with corresponding reductions in service ceiling and bomb load. Although reluctantly accepted into service this unreliability proved fatal in killing more DH9 pilots during low level manoeuvring than in combat. The author’s analysis of the 45 DH9 crashes in England during 1918 shows all were fatal due to fire upon nose down impact. The large petrol tank immediately behind the engine always burst upon impact with fuel spreading and igniting. The majority (60%) of crashes occurred due to stalling at low level when turning into land and a smaller proportion (19%) due to low level stalls at take-off. The causality was a combination of engine failure and pilot error with un-related in-flight incidents, including wing break-up during dives, accounted for the remainder. Low speed manoeuvring in heavy underpowered aircraft at low height demands keen pilot anticipation due to the effects of aircraft inertia and air turbulence. Responsive torque is also required, from an overheated air cooled engine, to quickly get out of trouble as a last resort. By mid-1918 Trenchard considered the DH9 outclassed by the enemy due to its under-powered unreliable engine and recommended its withdrawal from service.

The month of May 1918 was unusually hot (26˚C) for early summer in Cambridgeshire. Severe thunderstorms had passed over the area and ground moisture was evaporating under the hot sun making for slightly bumpy flying. On the 29th May, 2nd Lt. Machin was returning from a local training flight without his observer on board. His DH9 tail number D2803 of 123 Squadron stalled on approach to landing at Duxford, nose-diving after experiencing engine trouble and caught fire on the ground according to his RAF casualty record: ‘The cause of the accident was in our opinion probably due to the result of the pilot losing control of the machine, but from the charred state of the machine it is impossible to have any definite finding’.

Machin (age 24) was killed instantly, one of the 45 pilots who lost their lives that year, training on the DH9.

The judgement of these RFC investigators, on reflection, seems unduly harsh on the pilot given the track record of the engine that powered his aeroplane and the quality of training he received.

Notes to selected photographs in ‘Flight Training Notes

1. Frontispiece and the later photograph shows 2nd Lt. Machin in front of a DH9 light bomber, the Adriatic engine prominent on the nose, the forward pilot’s cockpit and rear observer’s position, less Lewis gun, clearly visible. Machin at this stage is no longer a cadet but a 2nd Lt. pilot-in-training without the wings emblem which is normally worn on the left breast of the RFC jacket.

2. Harry Machin in the cockpit of ‘Wombwell’ a Bristol Fighter. Insignia ”A” (usually meaning A flight) and tail number F46xx denoting a Bristol fighter F2b. ‘Wombwell’ or Broom Hill was a standby airfield near Barnsley Yorkshire used by 33 Squadron Home Defence flying BE2 and FE2 aircraft against the Zeppelin raids. 33 Squadron was headquartered at Gainsborough Yorkshire with A, B and C Flights based at RFC stations Scampton, Kirton-in-Lindsey and Elsham Wolds respectively.

3. J. E. Machin, presumably in his class of ten, identified as cadets by the white bands on their service caps, posed as Upavon ‘C flight’ billeted in Hut 43 , they are wearing the so called RFC ‘maternity’ jacket designed with non-protruding buttons to prevent snagging on the aircraft rigging.


1. Bruce J.M., 1989, RAF BE2e: windsock data file 14 (Albatross Productions: Berkhamsted)
2. Bruce J. M., ‘The De Havilland DH9’ Flight Magazine (6th April, 1956) pp 385-389.
3. Jefford C.G., 1988, RAF Squadrons: a comprehensive record of the movement and equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their antecedents since 1912 (Airlife Publishing: Shrewsbury)
4. Mackersley I., 2012, No Empty Chairs: The short and Heroic lives of the Young Aviators Who Fought and Died in the First World War (Phoenix: London)
5. Morley Robert M., 2006 ”Earning their wings: British Pilot Training 1912 -1918” Thesis University of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon pp 8-120.
6. Outhwaite David J., 2018, Cadet J. E. Machin: The flight training notes of one of the first RAF pilots (Published by the BDGHS). The book has been created by converting 201 pages of hand written notes in exercise books written by Cadet Machin during the First World War.
7. Skeet M., 1998, RFC training Aerodrome Forum [, accessed 11th April, 2019]
8. Casualty records - story vault RAF Museum [http://www.rafmuseum/storyvault, accessed 11th April, 2019]
9. WW1 Aircraft tail numbers [, accessed 11th April, 2019]

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A Lockdown Project - September 2020.

Complied by Michael Turnock along with Derek Wheelhouse and Adrian Lawton.

A photograph of Biddulph Gasworks taken in the 1970s, showing the large and small gasholders, and the railway cottages appear on the left. [Source: BDGHS]

A Brief History

Nationally gas works and gasometers were in evident in the 1820s, locally Congleton had a gasworks from 1832. In the Biddulph Valley the works of the Biddulph, Bradley Green and Black Bull Gas Co, Ltd were situated in Chapel Street (Station Road) at Gillow Shaw Brook, this gasworks first opened on the 16th December 1865. Bradley Green Colliery owner Mr. William Bradbury was their chairman and he presided at a dinner held at the Royal Oak in Bradley Green to celebrate the opening of the new works (see report below). His colliery may well have supplied the gasworks with their coal from their own sidings in those early days. References to the gasworks have been found but sadly no old photographs. There was a Mr. B. Furnivall signified in 1872-80 as lease holder of the gas works and we know Mr. Walter Wright worked there in the 1870s. The gas was made in two retorts and stored in a small gasholder, a larger gasometer was built later when the demand increased and three more sets of retorts were built.

In a recorded interview with Derek Wheelhouse during the 1960s, local man Gordon Holland whose family lived at Brockcroft Farm recalls stories of the gasworks during the time his uncle Jim was a fireman and lamp lighter there from c1910. Jim was one of three men working on the retorts, this was very heavy work for these five retorts required over forty shovels of coal beans to feed them, the highest retorts being six or seven foot from the ground and with a ten foot long firebox it took strength and dexterity on the part of the fireman to throw in the coal to the far end of the retort. The sealed and fired up retort would then produce the drawn off gas which had to be separated from the tar, this tar was sold to householders and local companies.

The Holland family at Brockcroft Farm, near to the gasworks in 1890s. [Source: Kevin Whalley]

Photograph left: Mr. Gordon Holland who gave much valuable information to Derek Wheelhouse in 1960.

He lived in Congleton Road Biddulph although his wider family farmed at Brockcroft. [Source: Michael Turnock collection]

“I remember as a lad in the 1940s going with my dad to the gasworks for a can of tar which we used for coating our sheds and hen cotes.” The manufactured gas was now cleaned and pumped through pipes into the gas holder. The burnt off coal would then be raked out of the retort as red hot coke and again this coke was sold on, the whole process was then repeated. Jim Holland also went around Bradley Green on a bike lighting lamps with a pole and later checking the clockwork timers as he also serviced the street gas lamps in the village.

The works had a tall brick chimney for the removal of smoke and fumes, in later years this hexagon chimney was replaced with a smaller one. In the 1920-30s Chatterley Whitfield coal was used in the retorts being delivered from Biddulph station using horse and cart by carter Mr. Whitehurst. Known to his mates as Old Cherry, he lived in Stringer Street and he would work all day moving this coal. In 2010 his great nephew Arthur Whitehurst told me in another interview for a different project of his great uncle also carting coal from Robert Heath’s Wharf Road coal yard in about 1915 using his two horses which he stabled in Stringer Street.

Gordon was asked by Derek if he’d seen any early photographs of the Biddulph Gasworks. He replied he’d been there on many occasions when the works and retorts were photographed and at one time had copies himself but their whereabout is now sadly lost. In my own local history collection there are only a few photos of the gasworks but none detailed and certainly not of the early era, however the BDGHS archive has a good 1960s aerial photograph of the Biddulph gasworks showing the two gasholders (see above). According to Kelly’s Directory the Biddulph, Bradley Green and Black Bull Gas Co Ltd was certainly still operating in the 1890s and there’s a company report and accounts dated 1897 (below) held in the BDGHS archives.

There is also a report of the 1865 opening dinner meeting and the 1867 AGM notes. (These two reports are shown as originally written).

Opening of Biddulph, Bradley Green and Black Bull Gasworks. 16th December 1865

The opening of these works and the first lighting of gas manufactured there was celebrated on Friday instant after a director meeting in afternoon, sat down to dinner at Royal Oak with which did credit to Mr. & Mrs. Timothy Sherratt. {landlord} Mr. William Bradbury chairman of company presided. Mr. R. Spencer Company Engineer believed that in another fortnight all difficulties would be cleared away. Mr. R. Heaton. Projection of Company. The works are situated at Bradley Green, about 2 miles of mains are already laid extending to Biddulph Grange and no doubt before long they will be carried to Red Cross Knypersley and other locations. At present the consumers are amongst private establishments and houses but there’s no reason to hope that the benefits of good lighting will be ultimately extended to the streets of these rapidly increasing locations.

3rd Annual General Meeting 9th February 1867

Reports work completed so far as contracts entered into, mains extended northwards to Biddulph Forge and southwards to Mr. Heath’s works a distance of 2 miles, these extensive works hadn’t been lighted up with gas. For the contract to continue mains to village of Black Bull and Brindley Ford. To accomplish this money borrowed from Bank. £40 profit upon last quarter of year, directors felt assured this would rapidly increase. It was not intention to declares dividend for last year.

These two reports (above) are transcripts of hand written notes copied in the 1960s by Derek Wheelhouse from gasworks reports, which are now lost. These notes recently came to light in Derek Wheelhouse’s own collection.

We know Mr. Thomas Hudson Munro was the manager in 1892 and Mr. James Croxall took over in 1896 until 1900; and, in 1897/8 their Chairman was Mr. T. A. Daniel with Mr. P. N. Barlow the Secretary. By 1900 the Company Secretary was Mr. J. Kennerley. Oddly the Post Office Directory of 1868 shows Muschamp Simpson & Co. as proprietors of the Biddulph Gas Works, which is somewhat conflicting with other research. It appears the works was only just financially viable during the early years and during the Great War it regularly made a loss, £883 in 1916. However a plant value of some £5,000 and it being in a “very fairly good state of repair” was recorded. The company were hopeful an increase in gas demand would soon be seen due to more houses in Bradley Green being required for the workers at Robert Heaths Black Bull iron works.

The Suburban Trade Directory of 1907 tells us the Works was operating under the title Biddulph Gas Company. During the early Great War years the manager was Mr. Harry Simcock who tragically lost his six year old daughter Mary when she ran from the gasworks entrance into the path of the Coop delivery horse and cart coming down Chapel Street. Other known managers were Mr. Hood and then forty four year old Mr. Edward Atkin in 1917. Gordon Holland remembers there being a pear tree in the garden of Mr. Atkin at Gasworks House, Gordon’s uncles field at Brockcroft Farm was situated next to the Gasworks House garden so Gordon jumped over a low hedge hoping for a nice juicy pear but fell straight into the hands of Mr. Atkin who then “tanked him,” Gordon never told his uncle about the incident.

In the November 1908 minutes of the North Staffordshire Railway Co. a proposal to lay a gas main long the Biddulph Valley Line from Brunswick Wharf Congleton to Biddulph was made, this venture was withdrawn a month later.

Above: Minutes of North Staffordshire Railway Company re gas main on Biddulph Valley Line 1908. [Roland Machin collection]

The Biddulph Urban District Council (BUDC) again considered purchasing gas from Congleton gasworks in 1932 although again nothing conspired. From 1908 discussions were held with the BUDC regarding the purchase of the works, although it was 1912 before an offer of £3,500 was agreed, at that time the gas company’s average profits were £225 per year, a report mentioned “only been able to hold its own”. After a further delay the BUDC purchased the works in December 1913 having obtained a £10,000 loan for the works and the construction of new retorts, purifiers, rotary washer-scrubber, station meter house, gas holder, laying new mains and erecting more street lights (see Appendix 1). Their chairman during 1921 to 1924 was Mr. William Butler. BUDC operated the gasworks for twenty five years, mainly at a loss, until they negotiated and agreed to sell the works in 1938 to Gas Consolidated Ltd. (GCL) for £10,000.

Photograph left: Mr. Edward Atkin, Manager 1917-40, and wife Rebecca.

An article in the Congleton and Macclesfield Mercury newspaper of 26th January 1940 reports on those negotiations between BUDC and Mr. Raymond Beech of Gas Consolidated Ltd. The Biddulph Gasworks was still in the charge of manager Mr. Atkin until illness prevented him preforming his duties.

Mr. Bernard Atkin, his son who already worked at the gasworks, then temporarily took over his father’s role. Continuing the newspaper article quotes there were serious problems at the works due to shortage of labour for stoking the retorts. In the war years some delivery vans were converted to gas fuelled due to shortage of petrol.

Roland Machin tells a story of their well-known family bakery, “when the bakers noticed the pressure went low on their gas powered internal combustion engine that drove the machinery in the bakery, they’d send a lad down to the gasworks to ask them to up the gas pressure - supply”.

Gasworks House, former home of the managers, during renovations in 2011. The entrance to Brockcroft Farm was where the cars stand. [M. J. Turnock collection]

Mr. Edward Atkin who had been the BUDC gasworks manager since 1917, after a long illness sadly died in January 1940. Mr. Atkin lived in the Biddulph Gasworks House with wife Rebecca, a daughter and four sons. He was very well respected gentleman, a native of Spalding where his funeral was held. Many floral tributes were received from friends and colleagues amongst them wreaths from Biddulph Unionist Club and Biddulph Urban District Council.

Death of Biddulph Gas Works Manager


Widespread regret has been occasioned in the Biddulph district by the death, following an operation at the North Staffs. Infirmary of Mr. Edward Atkin, Manager of the local Gas Undertaking. Mr. Atkin, who had been ill for some time, resided in Station Road, and was aged 67. A native of Spalding, he was appointed to the managership at Biddulph in 1917 following a period at the gas undertaking in his home town. He was generally liked and respected, and deep sympathy is extended to the widow and family of one daughter and four sons, the eldest of whom is the Rev. Leon Atkin, Congregational Minister at Swansea. Another son, Mr. Bernard Atkin, is a member of the staff at the local gas undertaking.

The funeral will take place at Spalding, probably on Monday.

[Death of Edward Atkin January 1940]

In 1940 Mr. Percy Whalley the foreman at the Gasworks was promoted; he became manager at the works and his family moved home to live in the Gasworks House, previously it’s believed they lived in nearby Station Road. Percy remained manager until he died in 1951, after which Bernard Atkin, son of Edward took over as manager until retiring in 1968.

Photograph of Mr. Percy Whalley manager from 1940 to 1951. [Source: Kevin Whalley]

The supply of gas for Biddulph continued under GCL until the late 1940s when the gas industry was nationalised in May 1949 and organised into twelve area boards, Biddulph came under the West Midlands Gas Board. Soon after a decision was then taken to close down the retorts at Gillow Shaw Brook.

After the retorts closed gas for the Biddulph Valley was obtained from the massive gasworks of the Birchenwood Coal and Coke Co. at Kidsgrove and piped to Biddulph, initially stored in the small gasholder at Station Road. After the Second World War when demand outstripped the storage capacity due to a further increase in house building a decision was taken to construct a much larger grey-green coloured gasholder, this was built in the 1950s.

The main road through Biddulph the A527 was gas lit until November 1957 then a major project was carried out from Brindley Ford to Grange corner to remove the gas lamps and replace them with electric lamps. Electricity had first arrived in Biddulph in 1934. These old gas lamps being of a superior type of lamp were then used in gas lit streets throughout Biddulph. A further little story Adrian Lawton remembers of a large strong well-built gasman whose name alludes him, being able to carry these old heavy cast iron lamps over his shoulder without any help. By 1967 a further development was the introduction of Natural Gas (North Sea Gas) which was being rolled out on a national ten year programme in the UK. Natural Gas came to Biddulph c1971 when home appliances required conversion to the new gas.

The interior of the Gasworks House offered the ground floor as offices and storage, with the family living on the first floor. A report with a photograph from a 1960 Biddulph Chronicle tells of ninety year old Mrs. Rebecca Atkin returning to Biddulph for a stay with her son Bernard the then gasworks manager who lived in Gasworks House. Adrian Lawton recalls as a small boy in the 1950s visiting the Gasworks House with his parents to pay their gas bill to Mr. Bernard Atkin, later bills were paid at the gas agency in Basson’s Post Office on the corner of High Street and Well Street. The Lawton family also collecting a can of tar from the gasworks used to paint the bottom of their backyard wall. Today the Gasworks House has been renovated and is a large family home.

It’s believed the Biddulph Gasworks ceased operations and the large gas holder demolished in the late 1980s. The site in present times is occupied by small commercial premises and housing, only the area of the old gasholder is left abandoned. Congleton gasworks ceased working and was demolished in the mid-1960s when the town’s gas supply came from Stoke on Trent.

The Gasworks from a 1877 plan. [Source: BDGHS]

Other Interesting Photographs

Map above: Biddulph Gasworks Plan of 1944

Photograph above: An Aerial View of Biddulph Gasworks c1960

Photograph above: An Aerial View of Biddulph Gasworks c1960

Although a photo of local buses, it proves the Biddulph Gasworks was still there in 1980 with gas holder in the background. [Source: Adrian Lawton collection]

Photographs of Congleton Gasworks also came to light:

Photograph above: The last days of Congleton Gasworks 1963

Photograph right:

Congleton Gasworks chimney

demolished 1965

Appendix 1


Local Government Board. Session 1913.

BIDDULPH GAS (PROVISIONAL ORDER). (Power to Biddulph Urban District Council to Purchase the Undertaking of the Biddulph, Bradley Green and Black Bull Gas Company Limited, and to Manufacture Gas and Residuals; Purchase of Lands; Supply of Gas and Fittings, and Protection of Same Against Distress; Rates; Borrowing Powers; General Provisions; Incorporation of Acts, &c.)

NOTICE is hereby given, that the urban district Council of Biddulph, in the county of Stafford (in this notice referred to as “the Council”) intend, pursuant to the Public Health Act, 1875, and the Gas and Water Works Facilities Act, 1870, to apply to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order for the following powers (that is to say):-

1. To enable the Council to purchase and acquire the Gas Works and premises, with the freehold land and hereditaments forming the site thereof, and all plant, engine, machinery, utensils, implements, and effects in, upon, or about the premises, and the undertaking, lands, easements, property (both real and personal), rights and privileges of the Biddulph, Bradley Green and Black Bull Gas Company Limited (in this notice referred to as “the Company”), and to confirm any agreement that may be entered into for this purpose or connected therewith.

2. To authorize the Council to maintain and continue the existing Gas Works and plant, and to alter and enlarge the existing Gas Works, situate within the urban district of Biddulph aforesaid by enlarging, erecting, altering and constructing new retort settings, new purifiers, new rotary washer-scrubber, new station meter house, and new gas holder, and from time to time to construct, extend, enlarge, alter, or remove any gas works and dwellings for any persons employed in the said works, and to make, purchase and supply gas within the urban district of Biddulph (in this notice referred to as “the District”) for public and private purposes, and to convert or manufacture, store, sell and dispose of, any coke, culm, asphaltum, pitch, tar, ammoniacal liquor or any other residual product.

3. The lands intended to be used for the manufacture and storage of gas under the said Order belong to and are in the occupation of the Company, and are situate in the parish of and urban district of Biddulph, and may be shortly described as follows:- All that plot of land situate within the urban district of Biddulph, in the county of Stafford, on which are erected the existing gas works and buildings of the Company, which contain by admeasurement 3,202 square yards or thereabouts, bounded on the north by Gillowshaw Brook and land belonging, or reputed to belong, to Ellen Jane Cavanagh Mainwaring; on the east and south by land belonging, or reputed to belong, to Edith Lowndes and Sarah Cope; and on the west partly by land belonging, or reputed to belong, to the United Velvet Cutters’ Association Limited, and partly by land belonging, or reputed to belong, to Edith Lowndes and Sarah Cope.

4. To authorize the Council to purchase by agreement, or take on lease for the purpose of the gas works, such land as may be hereafter required, or to appropriate any lands for the time being vested in them for that purpose.

5. To empower the Council to manufacture, purchase, store and supply gas for public and private purposes within the district, and for that purpose to break up streets and roads and highways, and lay down, maintain and renew gas mains, pipes and other works and apparatus, and to sell or let on hire, supply or otherwise deal in, and fix, set up or alter any prepayment and other meters, engine, oven, stove, range, pipe or burner, or any other apparatus for the use of gas, and to exempt all such articles and things from liability to distress or being taken in execution under process of law or in proceedings in bankruptcy, and to exercise all such powers as are necessary for and incidental to the supply of gas, and to sell and deal in coal, coke, culm, asphaltum pitch, tar, oil, ammoniacal liquors and other residual products and things.

6. To empower the Council to levy rates and charges for the supply of gas, and for the hire and use of meters and fittings, and, if thought fit, to alter existing rates, and to vary and extinguish all rights and privileges (if any) inconsistent with the carrying out of the object of the said Order.

7. To authorize the Council to acquire, hold and use patent rights and licences in connection with the manufacture of gas and residuals arising therefrom.

8. To authorize the Council to make, enter into and carry into effect agreements and contracts with any body, person or local authority for the purchase or sale of gas in bulk or otherwise, and for supplying gas fittings and other things.

9. To empower the Council to borrow money for the purposes of the transfer and taking over the said property and works of the Company, and for the purposes of the gas works and gas supply, and of the Order (including the costs thereof), and to secure the money so borrowed upon the moneys from time to time received by them by way of revenue under the Order, and upon the district fund and general district late of the district or any of them.

10. To prescribe the quality of illuminating power of gas supplied by the Council, and for testing the same, and to exempt the Council from any penalty for insufficiency of pressure defect of illuminating power, or excess of impurity of gas supplied, and to make provisions with regard to prepayment for gas; to enable the Council to refuse to supply gas to persons in debt to them in respect of other premises; to require notice by consumers before quitting premises supplied with gas; to require notice of discontinuance to be in writing; to prescribe a period of error in defective meters; and to make provisions in regard to the payment of interest on deposits, the allowance of discounts to consumers, the making of bye-laws, the use of anti-fluctuaters, the prevention of waste and misuse of gas, and other matters incidental to the objects of the Order.

11. To incorporate with the said Order and to confer upon the Council, with or without alteration, all or some of the powers and provisions of the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847, the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1871, the Lands Clauses Acts, the Local Loans Act, 1875, and the Public Health Acts, or so much of those Acts as may be applicable to the case Of a local authority supplying gas.

12. To do all things necessary to carry on the undertaking of the Council as defined in the Draft Provisional Order.

And notice is hereby further given, that on or before the 30th day of November, 1912, a copy of this Notice as published in the London Gazette, and a map of the land proposed to be used for the manufacture of gas, or of residual products arising in the manufacture of gas, and a plan and section of the proposed new works will be deposited at the offices of the Local Government Board, Whitehall, and for public inspection with the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Stafford, at his offices at Stafford.

On and after the 23rd day of December, 1912, printed copies of the draft Provisional Order as deposited at the offices of the Local Government Board can be obtained at the price of one shilling by all persons applying for the same at the offices of the Urban District Council at Biddulph, in the county of Stafford, and at the offices of the Solicitor and Clerk to the Council at 3, Chapel-street, Congleton, in the county of Chester. Any company, corporation, or person desirous of bringing before the Local Government Board any objection respecting this application may do so by letter addressed to the “Secretary of the Local Government Board, Whitehall, London, S.W.,” to be lodged with the said Board on or before the 15th day of January next ensuing, and a copy of such objection must at the same time be sent to the Clerk to the Council, at his office at 3, Chapel-street, Congleton aforesaid. In forwarding such objection to the Local Government Board the objector or his agent must state that he has at the same time forwarded to the local offices.

© 2020 Michael Turnock

You can download a copy of Michael’s book by clicking on the link below:

2020 Gasworks - A Brief History

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Historical Notes by Michael G. Bond

Biddulph Hall Gardens and Castle Ruins

From which ever approach the visitor takes, Biddulph Old Hall and the castle ruins make a dramatic and unforgettable sight. If approach is made through “The Clough” and the Yew avenue, the castle will suddenly present itself as the pathway opens out onto a flat, manmade plain, lying as a huge green carpet before the gaunt, stirring, Elizabethan front of the castle, the tower and central archway forming a splendid focal point. If approach is from the East along the rugged driveway, a hint of mystery is created as the foliage of trees and bushes tantalizingly screen a full view of the house, until the last bend in the drive reveals the enchanting and ancient sloping roof of the hall, broken by old gables and chimneys, and crowned by the tower, which dominates the building from any angle. Only from the trackway traversing the fields below the site to the West do we get any impression that here was a fortified dwelling, as the stark, west face of the castle dominates the relatively small, adjacent wing of the hall. Only when seeing the site from the West are we tempted to use the term “castle, ” for what must appear a serene and peaceful abode, though the sense of “past history” hangs heavily over the site.

The history of the hall and the history of the Biddulph family are inevitably inseparable. The rise and fall of the Biddulph family was the rise and fall of this great house. Within the very stones here can he seen the Biddulph’s wealth and poverty. The story does not begin here but some mile or so to the South-west, where a hillock encompassed by a ditch, indicates the site of the first Biddulph castle. Here, in the days of the conqueror, must have stood a primitive stockade touched on one side by the valley river flowing into the Dane. How long the Biddulph’s stayed here we are not sure, but the site appears to have been inhabited until the fourteenth century. Did the Biddulph’s build a second castle close to the site of the present church as legend suggests, or did they move to this hillside site? Either theory is feasible, for the ruins which we now see certainly appear to contain masonry from an earlier period than the date stone on the South facade suggests. What we do know for certain is that large scale building took place here in the reign of Elizabeth the first, culminating in the fine south wing in 1580. The material used was stone quarried on the estate, and timber grown close by. The design was a compromise between fortification on the north and west sides, and domestic architecture on the south and east. In all probability the south was the last side to he completed, and shows a strange, provincial rendering of the English renaissance style with its classical details. The north side of the house would have been the main entrance.

Originally the castle is thought to have had four towers. The plan was quadrangular, a central courtyard being surrounded by state and domestic apartments. We can imagine what the rooms of the castle must have been like from the fine large windows they possessed, and there are indications of the great hall, long gallery, and kitchen range.

As the castle was being built, the environs of the building also were undergoing reconstruction. What must have been a bleak hillside was transformed into a flat, grassy area to accommodate the fashionable pastimes of the day. This area was surrounded by banks, perhaps for the seating of spectators.

Thus at the turn of the seventeenth century we see the Biddulph’s at the height of their prosperity which was to be short lived for the Civil War was to bring ruin to them and their castle. As Royalists the Biddulph’s pledged support for Charles the first when he declared war against parliament. In 1643 John Biddulph rode out to fight at Hopton Heath and was killed. His son, Francis volunteered to take his father’s place in the war, and placed Lord Brereton of nearby Brereton Hall in Cheshire, in Charge of his castle at Biddulph. Lord Brereton considered that Biddulph Castle was more defensible than Brereton Hall, and so moved into the castle with his wife and child in 1644. Meanwhile his uncle, Sir William Brereton, the great parliamentarian commander, returning from his victor over Nantwich, heard about his nephew’s defence against the Roundhead cause. He set out with an army to lay siege to Biddulph castle. At Astbury his troops desecrated the church, and after marching through “Nick-O-the Hill” took position on the sloping ground to the west of the castle in preparation for siege. The castle garrison was prepared too, confident in the knowledge that the western side of the castle was the strongest and best defended. After a futile attempt at siege, Sir William quartered his men on the local peasants and sent to Stafford for heavy artillery to bombard the castle walls. Lord Brereton and the castle garrison refused to surrender and re-enforced the castle walls with sand bags.

Among the artillery sent to Sir William’s aid was a large cannon nick-named “Roaring Meg.” The local people became angry at the length of the siege and the inconvenience of having troops billeted on them and advised Sir William that the weakest side of the castle was the east. Thus the parliamentarians moved their positions and “Roaring Meg” and bombarded the house from the east. Few shots were needed, for a well-aimed one struck a major part of the castle’s structure, and so violently shook the building that Lord Brereton’s wife begged him to surrender for the sake of her child’s life. Thus the castle was given up to the hands of Sir William and his parliamentarians, who entered and plundered it, taking many prisoners and weapons.

After the siege was over the castle was slighted, but its complete destruction was caused by the local people, who, seeking revenge on the stubborn castle garrison, ransacked the building and removed much of the fabric. The place was left the sad ruin that we see it today, still with the cannon ball holes marking the walls.

Francis Biddulph was taken prisoner at the fall of Chester and was confined at Eccleshall castle for two years. After the war the family retired to the quiet of their house at Rushton and abandoned their confiscated estate at Biddulph for some years. While at Rushton, they were to suffer tragedy again. Though Francis’ fortunes were greatly diminished, he was still able to maintain an Italian governess for his children. The governess, known as “Singing Kate, ” was to be struck down by the plague in 1643, and she together with some of the Biddulph children, died. Their house was shunned as a pest-house and Francis had to beg for food in Congleton.

After the restoration of the Monarchy the estate was given back to the family. Francis had not the means to replace the destroyed castle, and set about building a modest sandstone manor house onto the north side of the castle ruins in 1670. He re-used both timber and stone from the ruins and carved his initials onto a beam in the new house. His dwelling consisted of a lofty dining chamber, with drawing room and kitchen offices. Above was a range of modest sleeping quarters. A traditional timber staircase rose from a corner of the dining chamber and humble panelling was used to add comfort. At the same time an avenue of yew trees was planted on the top of the Elizabethan mounds in the grounds together with a box avenue. At the opening of the eighteenth century a kitchen wing with two large sleeping chambers above was added to the west of the manor house. Little is known about the estate during the eighteenth century. It was probably tenanted out as a farm, for Francis Biddulph had left for London where his son was married. We know nothing of his end.

Interest in the place seems to have been re-juvenated with the opening of the nineteenth century and the Romantic Movement. The house had a large east wing added to it standing on the site of the ancient chapel. Judging from the religious symbols carved on its exterior, this wing itself may have been used as a chapel. A local artist rented the house which became romantically overgrown and a mock Tudor doorway was added while a number of windows were altered. A flight of exterior steps was added to the east wing and the interior was somewhat altered.

It is to the nineteenth century that we owe the present form of the hall gardens, though much was added and a little modified in the present century. Mr. Bateman, the horticulturalist, is said to have taken an interest in the grounds which have remained pleasantly informal. They have become well known locally for their display of daffodils, bluebells and roses in their season. The garden itself, however, by the fact that much of it is planted over the top of the castle ruins, keeps hidden the answers to many, as yet, unanswered questions. The most tantalizing is, does the secret passage really exist? It is documented in early accounts of the siege as having aided a servant named “Trusty” to provide food for the castle garrison, and the entrance is said to have been discovered and re-sealed not long ago. Only detailed excavation will answer the question.

© M. J. C. Bond March 1971

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By W. Jack

Recent changes in the appearance of the Pottery towns has produced a current phrase - “The Changing Face of the Potteries” - and whilst it must be admitted that the “Grim Smile of the Five Towns” as noted by Arnold Bennett is not by any means as grim as it used to be, it should be remembered that it is not in bricks and mortar and steel and concrete alone that the recent changes which have taken place in the Potteries can be measured, no less changes have taken place in the basic industries of coal, iron and steel, and pottery on which a great number of the people of the Potteries still depend for their livelihood. Great and momentous changes have taken place in the staple industries, and as far as the coal industry is concerned, the extent of the industry as regards the collieries, still at work, the men employed in them and the amount of coal mined is nothing to be compared with what it was forty five years ago. During the past summer, while working on the track of the Foxfield Railway, ‘I have been agreeably struck by the interest shown by my colleagues in the collieries that are no longer working, and it has occurred to me that a brief review of the colliery scene as it was forty five years ago may be of interest not only to them but also to members of the Society as a whole. ’

Broadly speaking, the Pottery coalfield is in the shape of a triangle with Kidsgrove in the north as the apex and with a base line extending from Weston Coyney in the east to Madeley in the west, an area of about a hundred square miles. There were quite a number of collieries on the eastern and western arms of the triangle but it was inside the triangle itself that the major concentration of collieries was situated. A few miles to the south-east and quite apart from the Pottery coalfield was the much smaller Cheadle coalfield. Forty five years ago, this coalfield was already past its peak but there were still three collieries at work in it. In 1928, the collieries at work in the Pottery and Cheadle coalfields were as follows and it would probably be better to list them in relation to the railway lines which served them rather than attempt to divide them into set geographical districts of the area.

Biddulph Valley Line: Berry Hill, Norton, Whitfield and Victoria.

Adderley Green Branch from Botteslow Junction on the Biddulph Valley Line: Mossfield and Adderley Green.

Stoke-Derby Line: Glebe.

Parkhall Branch from Millfield Junction on Stoke-Derby Line: Parkhall.

Stoke-Stafford Line: Stafford Coal & Iron Co. Florence

Loop Line: Hanley Deep Pit, Sneyd and Birchenwood

Stoke-Crewe Line: Wolstanton and Racecourse.

Talke Branch from Chatterley Junction: Talk ‘o’ th‘ Hill.

Chesterton Branch from Chatterley Junction: Parkhouse

Market Drayton Line: Silverdale.

Apedale Branch from Market Drayton Line: Holditch, Midland Coal, Coke & Iron Co. (Burley and Podmore Hall Collieries)

Audley Line: Bignall Hill and Madeley (also mineral line to old LNWR main line)

Cheadle Coalfield: Foxfield (mineral line to Blythe Bridge), New Haden (Cheadle Branch) and Parkhall (mineral line to the Cheadle Branch)

The collieries listed above were those actively at work in January 1928. They were all, with one exception, conveniently situated adjacent to the former North Stafford main lines or their associated branches, the one exception being Foxfield colliery. Of all the collieries In North Staffordshire, Foxfield was the furthest situated from any rail link, and in 1893 the colliery company had no option but to build a mineral line nearly four miles long for the conveyance of its coal to the only one available rail link at Blythe Bridge, the Cheadle Branch at that time not having been built. One company, however, chose to ignore its nearest rail link and decided to build a mineral line to a rail link which the owners considered more convenient for their business. This was the Chatterley Iron Co. which took over Whitfield colliery in 1872. At this time, most of the coal from Whitfield went to the Chatterley furnaces via the Biddulph Valley Line, to Stoke and from there via the main line to Chatterley. This was a most circuitous route, so in 1878 the company opened its own line from Whitfield to the Longport spur line which ran from Longport Junction on the N.S.R. main line to Tunstall Junction on the Loop Line. The Whitfield line joined the Longport spur at Pinnox Junction, at which point coal from Whitfield was handed over to the North Stafford within sight of its destination. When the furnaces finished in 1901 and the coal was going further afield to Liverpool for shipping, North Wales, the Lancashire cotton towns and the Cheshire salt people, and with busy wharves at Pinnox, Burslem and Brownhills, the line continued in operation. There were also purely inter-colliery lines such as that from Hanley Deep Pit to Shelton Bar via Granville crossings, the Midlands Co..s line from Apedale through Miry Wood to Podmore Hall and the line from Victoria colliery to Birchenwood, but that very interesting period when the locomotives and trains of several colliery companies roamed over certain of the former North Stafford branches had only recently come to an end.

In addition to the collieries at work, the following collieries were standing derelict but had not at this time been dismantled. They were most interesting sites to visit and comprised the Central colliery and the Meadow pits, both situated just off Dividy Road at Bucknall and Adderley Green respectively and New Hem Heath colliery at Chesterton. When working, this colliery was served by a siding from the Chesterton branch just west of the bridge under the A34 main road. It had no connection with the Hem Heath pit at Trentham. Completely derelict head-gears were standing at Ash Wood, Chatterley; the Sheriffe pit at Silverdale; Great Oak near Bignall End and at Crackley near Chesterton. The shaft below the latter was covered with a concrete slab and used as an air shaft in connection with Parkhouse colliery.

Examples of Headgears - drawn by Molly Mayhew from photographs by the author.

1. Derelict Tandem Headgear at New Hem Heath Colliery, Chesterton

2. Derelict Tandem Headgear at Meadow Pits, Dividy Road, Adderley Green.

3. Working Tandem Headgear at Mossfield Colliery, Adderley Green

4. A Colliery with a Pottery,

Ruined Engine House and Headgear at Adam’s Greenfields Pottery, Tunstall

In the main, pit headgears were in 1928 mainly of steel or wrought iron, but there were still examples of wooden headgears at Glebe colliery, the Fair-lady pit at Madeley colliery, Jamage Main at Bignall Hill, the Railway pit and the Bush pit at Berry Hill colliery, and No. 4 and No. 6 pit at Birchenwood. No. 4 pit had a Goliath pump at the pithead, the only surviving example in the district. There were still several pairs of tandem pits at work in the area. The term “tandem” was applied to a pair of shafts with one cage in each, both shafts being worked by one winding engine. There were two types of tandem pits, (a) with the winding engine between the shafts and (b) with both shafts on the same side of the winding engine, the headgears being usually joined together in one big frame. There was one exception at Mossfield colliery where each headgear was separate. There was no example of type (a) drawing coal but there was a pair in working order in use as air shafts at Parkhouse colliery. Examples of type (b) still at work were to be found at Mossfield colliery with wooden headgears, Park Hall colliery also with wooden headgears, Silverdale colliery with steel headgears, and the Ash and Knowles pits at Berry Hill with steel headgears. The up-cast shaft at Norton colliery was originally a pair of tandem pits of type (b) later singled to one shaft with a brick built air lock but retaining the wooden tandem headgears. There were derelict tandem pits at New Hem Heath colliery, Chesterton, of type (a) with wooden headgears, and oi type. (b) at the Central colliery, Bucknall, with steel headgear, and at the Meadow pits at Adderley Green with wooden headgears. The only surviving tandem pit headgear in North Staffordshire at the present time is the steel headgear at Nos. 14 and 15 pits at Silverdale colliery.

The winding engines at the North Staffordshire collieries at this time were a varied and interesting lot. They ranged from the engines at the Harrison and Woodburn pits at Madeley which were dated 1867 to the latest engines installed at the Hem Heath pit of the Stafford Coal & Iron Co. at Trentham in 1924. There may be older engines than those of 1867 but they have been rebuilt so many times that little, if anything, of the original engines remain. The claim for the 1867 engines is that in 1928 they were in their original forma There were examples of winding engines from long closed pits which had been so drastically modified and rebuilt that they were then performing duties of a type totally different froth those for which they were originally built. At Whitfield colliery there were three examples of former winding engines in use as surface haulage engines for working steep dips at very great distances from the pit bottom. Two of these engines came from Chatterley and the third was from a Whitfield pit which was destroyed by fire and explosion in 1881.

In the main, however, winding engines were of the horizontal type contained in single storey engine houses but the two storey engine house with the winding engine on the second floor had made its appearance in North Staffordshire in 1915. This type of engine house was used in connection with a pit where a brick heap-stead was built round the headgear at banking level at about 20-feet or more above ground level enabling loaded tubs to run on a gentle gradient from the pit to the screens without any assistance, manual or otherwise. The banking level and the winding engine were of course at the same height above ground. This arrangement resulted in engine houses of considerably greater size than before with correspondingly higher headgears. The Hesketh pit at Whitfield has this arrangement and the lattice steel headgear, designed to carry a load of 150-ton, is 80-feet high from ground to pulley level, exclusive of the derrick for lifting the pulleys for renewal. This in turn called for more powerful winding engines and those at the Hesketh pit are a massive pair of horizontal engines made by Messrs. Worsley Mesnes of Wigan with 36" cylinders by 6' stroke. The winding drum is semi-conical so that the loaded cage leaves the pit bottom slower and more smoothly than the empty cage leaves the surface, thereby avoiding all “snatch” and thereby considerably lengthening the life of the winding ropes, and greatly minimizing the danger of breakage.

There were also three vertical winding engines still working in the district. The type was first introduced to North Staffordshire by C. J. Homer round about 1865 at No. 4 Pit of the Chatterley Iron Co. Mr. Homer was the mining engineer of the company and he appears to have had a particular liking for this type of winding engine and introduced the type to every colliery with which he came in contact. Consequently, engines of this type were to be found at the Institute pit at Whitfield colliery, the New Ubberley pit at Ubberley colliery, and after Mr. Homer severed his connection with the Chatterley Iron Co. and joined the service of the Duke of Sutherland, there were further examples at the Homer and Sutherland pits at Great Fenton, making a total of five known examples, of which those at Whitfield and Great Fenton were the last survivors, but there may have been more. As the name implies, the vertical winding engine stood with the cylinders on the ground and the winding drum high in the roof of the engine house. The engines at Whitfield were built on huge blocks of dressed stone and there was a zig-zag stairway on each side of the engine with landings at certain levels for oiling and maintenance purposes. The danger of fire was an ever present hazard in engine houses of this type as sparks from the wooden brake blocks when the brakes were applied to the winding drum were always liable to set fire to the roof timbers which were heavily impregnated with oil from the whirling drum and grease from the flailing winding ropes. Such a calamity did occur at the Institute pit in 1917 when the engine house roof was burnt off in a spectacular fire and the engines themselves severely damaged. To prevent the possibility of a repeat performance, the brickwork of the engine house was raised several feet and a new steel and asbestos roof fitted. With one exception, Ubberley, which was of plain brick and tile construction, Mr. Homer provided engine houses of great beauty for his vertical winding engines. They invariably had decorative brickwork with domed window frames and sills of stone. The Institute pit engine house was a particularly good example, but his window frames were recessed into the brickwork and a stone coping provided at roof level. The corners of the engine house from ground to roof level were of stone and the highly decorative brickwork was carried out in red and yellow brick. Surely they were the most beautiful engine houses ever built for colliery purposes. Unfortunately, the vertical engines and the engine houses which contained them have all now disappeared and not one example of this interesting, though not very numerous type, has survived.

An interesting variation of the vertical winding engine was to be seen at the Meadow pits in Dividy Road, where half the drum was in a well in the engine house floor and the cylinders and seat for the engine man up in the roof. He obtained his view of the pit head through the rope holes in the wall of the engine house. Another most interesting type of winding engine could still be seen at Berry Hill Top pits where the engine serving the drawing shaft had two winding drums, one behind the other instead of the usual one, resulting in an engine of unusual size. In this case, geared teeth on the outer edges of the drums came into contact with the teeth of a much smaller drum situated between the two winding drums which rotated in opposite directions when the engine was running thus raising and lowering the cages in the shaft. This engine, like the one at the Meadow pits, was the only one of its type, and both have now most unfortunately disappeared.

The remains of a small colliery still survived at Adams’ Greenfield pottery in Furlong Road, Tunstall. This colliery was unique in the fact that it was the only example ever known of a colliery inside a pottery and worked solely for the purpose of providing fuel for the pottery ovens. Though long out of use in 1928, the gaunt single wheel headgear was a familiar sight to Loop Line travellers between Tunstall and Pittshill stations. The most interesting feature about this colliery was the winding engine which had the drum outside the engine house; a rare example and the only one of its kind at this time.

There was at least one example of the use of electricity for raising and lowering a cage in a shaft. The Grange pit which stood on the slopes between Cobridge and the Trent & Mersey canal had been worked for many years by Robert Heath & Son as an ironstone pit drawing the Bassey Mine ironstone. The stone was calcined on the pit bank and the residue carted to Ford Green for use in the furnaces there. The pit had been abandoned for some years and was subsequently used in some connection with the near-by Racecourse colliery and fitted with an early type of electric winder for this purpose. The winder was very slow in operation, but it is interesting to record the use of electricity for winding purposes so many years ago.

A familiar feature of the colliery scene in those days was the wagon of the private owner. Every colliery company had its own fleet of wagons and many customers sent their own wagons to the collieries to collect their requirements. All these wagons had their own distinctive livery and style of lettering and they presented a varied and colourful scene as they stood in the colliery sidings. At Whitfield, in addition to the 8, 10 and 12 tonners of the company there could be seen wagons of the City of Birmingham Gas Dept., Imperial Chemical Industries, Guest, Keen & Nettlefold, Holyhead Co-operative Society, and of coal merchants Renwick Wilton of Torquay, Jones & Wynne of Denbigh, John Nichol of Macclesfield to name but a few. The private owner’s wagon has now disappeared from the colliery scene.

The mechanized method of coal getting had by this time reached North Staffordshire but had not then made the impact that it was to do during the next few years, consequently much of the coal was still hand-got but despite this, the annual tonnage produced by the North Staffordshire collieries was enormous and required an army of industrial locomotives of varying ages and types to deal with it, but there are members of the society far more competent than I to write on this subject. It also required a vast labour force to produce it, some idea of the size of which may be gained from the fact that at Whitfield alone, the average number of manual workers on the books for the whole of 1928 was 4402, of which number 249 were boys under the age of 16 years.

In 1928 there were pit ponies still working down the pits but happily there number was dwindling each year. In that year too, although the motor lorry had already made its appearance, great quantities of coal were still being distributed to home and pottery by horse and cart from numerous coal wharves situated through-out the length and breadth of the district and of which one company, Chatterley-Whitfield, operated no fewer than eight. Most interesting, too, is the fact that at this time there was still one colliers’ train running. This train ran for the day and noon shifts from Greenhead wharf in Burslem to Whitfield colliery with picking-up points at Pinnox and Pittshill wharf. In former years there were several such trains running but the Whitfield train was them last survivor of a very interesting facet of colliery working.

But even in those days, all was not well with the coal industry. The great trade depression had already cast its long and sinister shadow over the industry in general and the coal and iron trades in particular, and in 1928 collieries were on short time. In the early part of that year about one thousand men lost their jobs when Talk ’o‘ th’ Hill colliery closed down and later the same year the now legendary firm of Robert Heath & Low Moor Ltd. crashed taking with it the great iron and steel plants at Black Bull and Ford Green. Fortunately the collieries associated with both these places were rescued and carried on working under the new style of Norton & Biddulph Collieries Ltd., but three other industrial undertakings, the Midland Coal, Coke & Iron Co., Kidsgrove Collieries Ltd. and Park Hall Collieries (Cheadle) were destined to go out of business before the depression had run its course. In passing, it is interesting to note that the old firm of Robert heath & Sons was outstanding in that it built its own locomotives. These were saddle tank engines of 0-6-0 and 0-4-0 wheel arrangement of which one of the latter is now preserved at Shugborough.

Despite all this, however, these were the days when King Coal reigned supreme and feared no competition from whatever quarter it might come; the days too when Stoke-on-Trent was proud of its smoky image, fondly believing that smoking factory chimneys and belching potters’ ovens were the signs of a prosperous and industrious community. There were even smoky post cards to prove it. But no more. Since the last war there has been a great re-think on atmospheric pollution and “clean air” and “smokeless zones” became the slogans for the future. At first, no-one took much notice, but when these slogans were backed by law, the clean air movement gradually got under way and gained momentum to such an extent that for the coal industry the results on the industrial and domestic fronts were most serious, and when the railways, traditionally the industry’s best customer, turned from steam to diesel and electric traction the over-all effect was disastrous and resulted in the closure of collieries, locally and nationally, on an hitherto unprecedented scale in which many local landmarks disappeared and in the course of which the coal industry made a major, if somewhat unwilling, contribution to “The Changing Face of the Potteries”.

© W. Jack

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Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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