Biddulph & District Historical & Genealogy Society

Meetings in 2007

 Knypersley Hall and Its Owners - 17th December 2007

 Growing up in Biddulph in the 1950s and 1960s - 19th November 2007

 Genealogy Night - 15th October 2007

 Further Along the Tracks - 17th September 2007

 The Annual Walk 2007 - 18th June 2007

 The Fustian Mills of Congleton - 21st May 2007

 The Whetstone Mine - 16th April 2007

 AGM and Genealogy Meeting - 19th March 2007

 Using Newspapers for Family and Historical Research - 19th February 2007

 The Biddulph Valley Railway - 15th January 2007

 Reports for 2006 meetings

Knypersley Hall and Its Owners - 17/12/2007

Derek Wheelhouse, Chairman of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society, welcomed everyone to the Christmas meeting of the Society on Monday December 17th and introduced the evening’s speaker, Mr. John Sherratt, with an illustrated talk on ‘Knypersley Hall and Its Owners’.

Mr. Sherratt’s talk was in two parts - a family history of the early owners of the hall including the decline in fortune of the owners in the 19th Century followed by a slide show of the site of the hall and the present occupied out-buildings.

Orm of Darlaston owned the lands of Overton, Middleton, Nether Biddulph and Knypersley and they were willed to four individuals. Alured was granted Knypersley in a roundabout way but he was granted the Manor in 1194. His wife Janice out-lived him by many years and in 1272 the land was then granted to his son William. He married Majorie of Old Moreton Hall but of their children, Roger died in infancy, Alan was murdered mysteriously in Knypersley Wood and William was married in 1302. With no sons the male line ended and a daughter married a Booth in 1378 and the estates of Knypersley, Apedale and Fenton were merged into the one family. At this time Knypersley Hall was a wood and stone building occupied in the 1300s by Sir William de Knypersley. He appeared to have been well off paying six shillings in tax in 1333. He was also paying a charter fee to Newcastle of 7s 8d per year before he died in 1378.

His heiress Katherine de Knypersley married Thomas Bowyer in 1379 and was still living in 1433. William Bowyer of Knypersley married Margaret Trubshaw of Trubshaw. In 1494 a Thomas Bowyer who was married to Janet Cotton was in charge of Knypersley and fined 6d. for a misdemeanour. The Bowyer family were the local Whig or Tory MPs and also JPs and fortunately managed to steer a course on the right side of the warring factions in the Civil War. The family had many links with the other known families in the area - John Bowyer who died in 1506, for example, married Elizabeth Leveson of Wolverhampton and other Bowyers married into the Wedgwood and Rudyard families. John, the eldest son of 5 daughters and 3 sons, on his marriage to Elizabeth Levenson, was linked to the Dukes of Sutherland and she brought a dowry of £200. He moved from the old Hall to live at Biddulph Grange Farm and was the first to exploit the local ironstone and coal. He had many sons who went into the Church and became vicars of Biddulph and Gnosall but as the family grew they moved back to Knypersley to enlarge the Hall. John Bowyer, son of William Bowyer of Knypersley (1476-1541), first married Elizabeth Bucknall of Sidway and his second wife was Anne Bowyer of Sidway (1495-1530) who later married John Wedgwood (circa 1490-1555) in 1512.

By 1541 the new brick and timber building had six rooms downstairs and 5 more above. In 1560 the 1st baronet enlarged the hall into a 3 storey country house fitting the latest cast iron window frames. Inventories of the Hall and the will of Sir William Bowyer list four pages of bequests and items. An extensive list of fixtures and fittings included oak furniture, feather beds and bolsters, suits of armour and horses and valued the property and contents at £1,600. Sir John Bowyer, 2nd Baronet was born on April 25th 1653 the son of Sir John Bowyer MP, 1st Baronet and Mary Milward. He married the Hon. Jane Murray, daughter of Henry Murray and Anne Bayning, Viscountess Bayning of Foxley, on July 10th 1672. He succeeded to the title of 2nd Baronet Bowyer, of Knypersley, Staffordshire in July 1666. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford University, on July 9th 1669 with a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree. He held the office of Sheriff of Staffordshire from 1677 to 1678, the office of Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Warwick from February 1677/78 to January 1678/79 and the office of Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Staffordshire from 1679 to 1681. He was buried on July 18th 1691 at Biddulph and his will (dated February 16th 1687/8) was probated on April 20th 1695.

Sir John Bowyer, 3rd Baronet was born in 1673 the son of Sir John Bowyer, 2nd Baronet and Hon. Jane Murray. He had succeeded to the title of 3rd Baronet Bowyer of Knypersley in July 1691. He died in May 1701 at the Priory, Warwickshire, unmarried. He was buried on May 10th 1701 at Biddulph, Staffordshire. He died intestate and his estate was administered to his mother on May 19th 1701.

Sir William Bowyer, 4th Baronet was born on the July 23rd 1654, the son of Sir John Bowyer and Mary Milward. He married Anne Dale, daughter of George Dale and Millicent Dakeyne, before 1672. He succeeded to the title of 4th Baronet Bowyer of Knypersley in May 1701. He died in February 1702, without surviving male issue. He was buried on February 17th 1702 at Biddulph. His will (dated June 20th 1701) was probated on April 30th 1703 at Lichfield. On his death, his baronetcy became extinct and the extensive earlier list of items had been frittered away and this last of the Bowyer Baronets left a will where the principal items were a goat and a wife.

With no sons the estates were split and shared amongst the daughters. Jane had the estates of Norton and Anne those at Meir. Dorothy lived at the Hall and married a Mr. Gresley from Apedale who was heavily involved in sponsoring James Brindley in building canals. When Nigel Gresley got into financial trouble he sold Knypersley Hall to a Mr. Bateman. In improving Biddulph Grange the original Knypersley Hall was stripped of facing stones and other features of the Hall appeared all round the Biddulph valley. The present ‘Hall’ is being restored and converted into 3 houses but many of the occupied houses known as the Hall are the converted stables, laundry or coach houses of the old Hall.

The Slide Show started with a map of 1840 which shows the Old Knypersley Hall with three fish pools, deer park and three access roads - one from Park Lane on the corner with Mill Hayes Road, one across the fields further down Mill Hayes Road in the direction of Knypersley Pool (now a footpath) and one from the bungalows at the top of Tunstall Road near to Cowlishaw’s building.

Other pictures included:

  • Home Farm on the approach to the Hall. (Like the White House it was once thatched)
  • Two tithe barns similar to the coach house and built of Tudor brick which have been knocked down.
  • The Hall with Chapel - a Mr. and Mrs. Lovatt lived in what was the former laundry.
  • Views of the Hall taken in 1976 when Terence Weaver and his father lived at one end of the house.
  • Many of the present occupied buildings are in the converted stables and hay loft.
  • The west end of the house had a stone boundary wall which has since gone.
  • The Hall had metre thick stone walls which can be seen at the entrance to the extensive cellars. The floors of the hall were supported by huge oak beams.
  • New houses have been built on the site of the old barns. Nigel Gresley built a number of new buildings including a blacksmith’s shop. The Whinpenny coal seam was also exploited by a bell pit near to the site of the garden centre (now closed).
  • Robert Heath occupied the house and amongst the fixtures and fittings was a large cast iron fire back which had to be repaired.
  • The Hall was gradually stripped of features - the front door can be seen at Park Middle School. There were extensive gardens with features similar to Biddulph grange - tunnels using large Rock End stones. There is also a roundabout of yew trees but unfortunately many of the garden features are now overgrown.

A number of questions were taken before Mr Wheelhouse brought the evening to close by inviting the audience to enjoy a mince pie with a cup of tea or coffee.

Growing up in Biddulph in the 1950s and 1960s - 19/09/2007

Derek Wheelhouse introduced the evening’s speaker, Mr. Peter Shreyhane, with an illustrated talk ‘Growing up in Biddulph in the 1950s and 1960s.’ This was another well attended meeting as there were no seats left in the Library when Peter began his talk promptly at 7 p.m.

Peter was born into a close knit community at 15 Newfield Road, Tunstall where the front street and cobbled back passageway were his early play ground. His family included aunts and uncles who lived in nearby streets but with other relatives who lived far away at Leek and, what may well have been abroad, down in Birmingham. Amongst the photographs of Peter as a young lad were the VE day Newfield Road street party and with his father on holiday on Llandudno Pier in 1949.

His first visit to Biddulph was to the wedding of one of his cousins at St Lawrence’s Church when the bride had to be sent ‘around the block’ whilst the vicar from Mow Cop was collected in his Wellingtons to take the ceremony, the vicar of St. Lawrence’s having forgotten to provide cover whilst he was away on holiday. In 1955 his parents bought a detached house on rural Conway Road with drafty metal window frames and much needed coal fires. After Tunstall, Peter believed Knypersley was a country village and that the total population of the Biddulph Urban District Council, which included Brown Lees, Gillow Heath, Knypersley and the Moor, at that time was around eleven thousand people. There were then very few houses - the large estate off Park Lane not being finished until the late 1950s. When he traveled back to Tunstall on the Wells’ bus service he did notice the pits and Cowlishaw Walker but the area still looked open and rural.

With nowhere to play Peter wandered into the Knypersley field and was invited to play football by Mick Plimmer who has remained his closest friend. Mick introduced him to the cricket and football team and both sports have been life-long passions. At that time the North Staffs League had many famous professionals - Wes Hall at Chell, Frank Worrell at Norton, along with Sonny Ramadhin and Roy Gilchrist from the West Indies. Frank Tyson, one of the fastest bowlers of all time played at Knypersley in the fifties, before going on to play for England. Peter’s first game was for Knypersley Juniors against Congleton Juniors and all these years later he still turns out for his local cricket club. Knypersley Victoria football team was managed by the trio of Messrs. Harry Garsden, Dick Stringer and Harry Sutton in the early 1960s. Peter remembered Lenny Price and his brother Alan who were stalwarts of the football team. Len was centre half and captain and also had a white van, in which he took the team to away games. One match day Len turned up at Knypersley without his van leading to much muttering between Dick and the Harry’s.

Harry Sutton: "Where’s your van, Len?"
Len: "Sold it."

The next week, when the team was pinned up, Len’s name is missing. On match day:
"Who’s got the strip?"
"Lenny."
"Who’s got the ball?"
"Lenny!"

Without kit and equipment the team are doing badly when Harry Sutton said to Lenny "Oh, now we anna dropped you Len, we are just resting you." The next week Lenny was back as centre half and captain.

The Bog’s Lane Bus waiting to travel to Biddulph from Greengates Street, Tunstall in 1963 (Bog’s Lane was the junction of Station Road and Halls Road)

Peter then detailed the local places of entertainment. Many of his audience recognized his story of the ‘Scratch’ and sitting in the 1/9d of Barber’s cinema on King Street. As well as dances at Biddulph Town Hall he would also travel to Barber’s or the Ritz in Tunstall, the Crystal at Newcastle or the Queen’s at Burslem. A close knowledge of bus timetables was required to get home safely from some of these venues. Another destination was the Victoria Hall Wrestling where Billy Two Rivers or Count Bartelli entertained. Count Bartelli wore a mask which he vowed he would only remove if he was defeated, despite the fact everyone knew he kept a garage in Crewe. Wrestling always finished exactly on the dot of 9.30pm, so people could catch the last bus home. In his late teens on Sunday Peter would walk to the Staffordshire Knot for a beer or after rowing on Tunstall Lake retire for a couple of pints at the Sneyd Arms.

Another favourite occupation was going to watch the Vale. He was there when Port Vale played Aston Villa on Saturday the February 20th 1960 and with 49,000 crammed into the ground watched the Vale lose 1-nil. Later he travelled down to London to watch the match against Fulham.

One of Peter’s first jobs was as holiday relief for the Biddulph Post Office. He provided cover for Jack ‘Fopper’ Middleton who never swore, using the expression fopping instead. Jack’s round was Gillow Heath and he tore around, at express pace on a GPO bike, which sported an Esso Tiger Tail.

Another local character was Herbert Crowe. He was a conductor on the North Western buses that ran to Congleton. He whistled all the time and liked plenty of fresh air on his bus and would open all the windows, even in winter, muttering "I can’t stand a stuffy bus". He also often called into the cafe in Biddulph High Street between trips and was popular because he would play records on the juke box.

Peter met his future wife at Crewe Teacher Training College and moved north to live in Sunderland in 1968. Before making one journey north his car refused to start. Peter then described the local garage at Knypersley Crossroads which was kept by Percy Lloyd and his family. Peter called at Percy’s on his way to school at Knypersley, where he was teaching for a year in 1966, to explain the problem. "Leave it with me, Luv" was all Percy said. At lunchtime, Peter popped over to the garage to see if it was ready. "Got me puzzled as this one, Luv" was all Percy would say. Peter explained that he needed the car to drive to Sunderland at 3.45pm. "It’ll be ready" said Percy, "I’ll stake my reputation on it". And it was.

Peter’s final slides showed how he still remembers these happy early childhood and teenage years in Biddulph. They showed the figures of Jackie Middleton, Herbert Crowe and P.C. Higginbottom all featuring on Peter’s model railway. People who attended the meeting will realize this is a brief report of the many anecdotes that Peter told.

Derek Wheelhouse thanked Peter for his very interesting talk; for the memories he evoked with his pictures and the many props including cricketing equipment and bus memorabilia he had brought along.

Genealogy Night - 15/10/2007

Thank you to the many members and guests who attended the meeting on October 15th meeting on 'The Family History of the People who Lived and Worked on Biddulph High Street'.

It gave everyone a chance to see the hard work that has been done in preparing a book on the Biddulph High Street, including:

  • A display of the current information which will remain in the Biddulph Library for a couple of weeks. If you have any information you would like to add, please talk to the Library staff who will pass the information on to the Society
  • A chance to discuss with the compilers of the book some of the information already collected.
  • A 30 minute digital slide show of Biddulph High Street ‘Then and Now’ using some of the photographs available.

Elaine’s display will remain in Bidulph Library until the beginning of November 2007. The next time this information will be available will be with the publication of a book by the Society: "goowin dine th’ grayn" - A History of Biddulph High Street.

In early November a display by Kath Walton and Margaret Fernyhough will replace it. This will show the early results of research into some of the named fallen on Biddulph’s two war memorials.

Further Along the Tracks - 17/09/2007

Derek Wheelhouse introduced the speaker, Mr. Roland Machin, whose illustrated talk ‘Further Along the Tracks’ was on the history of the Biddulph Valley Railway. The Society had had to turn people away from the talk Roland gave in January 2007 and it was decided to repeat it as the first of this season’s meetings.

Mr. Machin gave his audience the details of three books which would help with further research: Joseph Kennedy’s Biddulph [By the Diggings] which has a good chapter on the Biddulph Valley Railway; Allan Baker’s Industrial Locomotives of North Staffordshire; and, William Jack’s Chatterley Whitfield.

In all the proposals and planning for the Biddulph Valley Railway (BVR) the movement of coal and not passengers was the paramount driving force. There are a number of books which cover the tramways which criss-crossed Biddulph Valley and the proposed extension to the canal to connect Knypersley reservoir and Cauldon canal. However, Mr Machin’s talk concentrated on taking a journey using photographs and maps from Milton to Congleton on the North Staffordshire Railway and to describe the private lines which crossed this north to south route.

A plan in 1853 proposed a line leaving Congleton Station from the North and passing through Lee Forge, Gillow Heath, Knypersley, Milton, Bucknall and Fenton Manor before connecting to Pratt’s Sidings in Stoke-on-Trent. Not all of the plan was adopted and Mr. Machin began the journey at Milton where the branch line, a double track, went north towards Norton, Whitfield and Victoria Colliery at Black Bull. Coal was first moved on part of the line on the August 3rd 1859. The line was opened to Congleton in August 1860 and transported the first passengers in 1864. At Whitfield a private line was built to cross the BVR to take coal on a more direct route under High Lane and Pittshill to Tunstall and Pinnox; a cheaper alternative to the NSR tariff for all the way to Stoke and then north again. Photographs of engines travelling under High Lane at Chell showed trains of coal trucks climbing the steep gradients out of Whitfield Colliery on completion of the line in 1870. At Ford Green the usual smart station and signal box of the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR) was surrounded by branch lines and sidings for the movement of coal. The majority of passengers were miners traveling in Robert Heath’s ‘Nigger’ trains three times a day from Congleton to Victoria, Whitfield and Norton collieries.

A second miners’ train ran from Tunstall to Chatterley Whitfield, known as the ‘Monkey’ train, as the coaches had been acquired second hand in 1908 from Renshaw’s of Etruria who had produced them for the Barnum and Bailey travelling circus.

Next stop on the journey was at Black Bull Station on the BVR. All of the buildings pictured have now been removed following reclamation and landscaping but the line is now an attractive linear walk right through to Congleton. Black Bull was a hub for coal transport on the line which included branches to Birchenwood, Childerplay, Packmoor, Turnhurst and latterly Cowlishaw and Walkers engineering works.

The line went past Robert Heath’s ironworks in a deep cutting. Heath’s in its heyday produced some of the best cast iron in the world. Here a fleet of locomotives built at Biddulph were engaged in shunting round the clock. A tank engine bought from The Falcon Engine and Car Works at Loughborough in 1886 was the first prototype. It was put into service and several copies were made at the ironworks up until 1926 (an early form of industrial espionage). Photographs of well-maintained engines hauling coal and coke trains near Packmoor in the 1950s and climbing from Birchenwood showed the Heath engines to be hard-working and reliable. When a larger engine was needed to do this return trip to Birchenwood, a 0-6-0 engine was bought in 1885 from Black, Hawthorne and Company of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and numbered 11. By 1915 copies of this engine, numbered 15 and later 16 were in service based at the sheds of the Victoria Colliery.

In addition to large quantities of coal for industrial and domestic consumption, another cargo carried on the line was sand from Congleton and Biddulph which was used in the West Midland foundries to the south or for glass making in St. Helen’s to the north. A sand train was pictured leaving Heath Junction Signal box on its way south. From the sidings at Victoria Colliery the line was single track to Bradley Green / Gillow Heath Halt, later Biddulph Station. The station had an NSR station building with limited facilities for passengers in the form of a covered awning, a booking office and a porters hut with a urinal, a goods shed, an agricultural society building and a manned level crossing. The photograph shows the station after regular passenger services had been terminated in 1927. The remains of the original platform adjacent to the station building can be seen and the awning originally joined the building on the left to the main structure.

The line now passed Biddulph Church to a halt at Forge Crossing, where an infamous accident occurred which was blamed on 'rotten sleepers' and a number of ‘new’ photographs of the recovery of the engine and trucks have been added to the presentation. Past the ‘Blacks Head’ Public House, Mossley, where coal was used as currency when the shunting was done, until Congleton Lower Junction was reached - with its water tower fed from the canal and allegedly full of fish. From here trains descended the 1 in 40 incline to Congleton Brunswick Wharf where the NSR and Robert Heath both had a goods yard. It became more apparent why there was little passenger use. The Biddulph train had to double back on itself to get into Congleton Station. It wasn’t until the meeting was shown pictures of various enthusiast trains that many people other than miners appeared in the presentation. However, these special trains kept interest in the line alive until the final closure in the late 1960s. An interesting question and answer session followed which included former signalmen and drivers contributing anecdotes on their experiences on the BVR.

Derek Wheelhouse thanked Mr. Roland Machin and Mr. Paul Blurton, who helped by preparing the slides, handouts, maps and displays. He reminded the meeting that any pictures of the railway would be grateful received as they add to the knowledge of the movement of goods and passengers on the BVR. Since the January meeting over 100 ‘new’ photographs (some already included in the talk) have been handed to Roland.

The Annual Walk 2007 - 18/06/2007

Mr. Roland Machin led this year’s Summer History Walk with the assistance of the Chairman and Secretary. A heavy shower met the thirty plus walkers who turned up at Smokies Way on Monday June 18th. However, as the walk started the rain eased and it became a balmy summer evening with an occasional shower. The four mile circular walk on the west side of the Biddulph Valley (BV) was within the northern portion of the 1597 Mainwaring Estate Map and to the west of the Biddulph Brook.

For those walkers who didn’t catch all the information about the historic use of the Mainwaring land or anyone who would like to attempt the walk at their own pace, here is a guide to the walk - the letters inserted into the route correspond to the information given below.

The Route

Turn left over the former railway line (A), past the end of Akesmore Lane and climb the gentle hill of Wedgwood Lane (B). At the top of Wedgwood Lane turn right and then cross the road to find an overgrown path just before the first house on the left. Pass through the stile into the field and walk straight down the field (C) to the bottom gate with a stile to the right. Turn left on the lane and after a short distance right at the triangular junction up the track towards Congleton Edge (D).

Walk through the farmyard of Beacon House (E) and follow the track round to the right which passes through a gate and runs in a straight line along the side of the hill with the wall and hedge on your left. A gate leads to a climb to the right (F) and the track then swings left and right to a gate in the wooded hedge. Don’t go out into the next field but through the galvanized gate on the left into the wooded bridleway which climbs up towards Nick i’th Hill. At the top you join the Gritstone Trail and turn right. (If you want to walk to Nick i’th Hill turn left. You can then retrace your steps back to the bridleway but continue straight down the track with the woods on your left.)

The track continues down to Woodside (G) and then a path takes you through the wood. Cross the stile out of the wood and then go straight ahead into the field and when the farm comes into view on your right go around the footpath sign in the field and down to the kissing gate. Turn right and walk down the gated road past Whitemore Farm and down towards Lower Whitemore Farm (H) and the BV Way.

At the foot of the hill there is a sharp left turn which leads to the ornate tunnel under the railway. There is a path which runs parallel to the railway in the corner of the turn or you can go under the tunnel, turn left up the steep steps to the BV Way and then turn left again towards Biddulph. Both the path and the BV Way meet at the old railway station house at Horton’s Crossing Railway Cottage. One hundred and fifty yards further up the BV Way there is a path into the wood on the left which winds to the site of Biddulph ‘Castle’ (J), a Motte and Bailey structure in the curve of the River and the A527 Biddulph to Congleton Road. Retrace your steps through the wood to the BV Way and turn right back to Horton’s Crossing Railway Cottage. Turn left and follow the track around to the left. This straight track on Bailey’s Bank (K) leads through the trees with Mount Pleasant Farm on the right, to a road junction where you turn left to rejoin the BV Way.

At Marsh Green Crossing turn right back onto the BV Way. Just below the railway crossing was Marsh Green Farm (L), but continue up the BV Way (M) and you will return to the car park on Smokies Way.

GPS Way Marks

StartSJ8813658355Smokies Way Car Park
BSJ8801258578Wedgwood Lane
CSJ8804958793Pear Tree Croft Colliery
DSJ8804458983Marshfield Gate
ESJ8778559239Beacon House
FSJ8785059683Crabtree Coal Seam
F2SJ8777959890Nick i'th Hill
GSJ8799860069Woodside
G2SJ8823360411Turn above Whitemore Farm
HSJ8855660157Lower Whitemore Farm
JSJ8869959641Horton’s Crossing
KSJ8894059462Bailey's Wood “Biddulph Castle”
K2SJ8868059323Marsh Green Railway Crossing
EndSJ8813658355Smokies Way Car Park

Points of Interest

A. Gillow Heath Station house. The platform by the car park was built for excursions when most of the passenger traffic had ceased. The original platform is in the fenced garden of the station house opposite.

B. Wedgwood Lane – the hollow on the left is a continuation of Akesmore Lane (formerly called Moldy Street or Moody Street) - a road shown on the 1597 Mainwaring Estate Map.

C. Site of Pear Tree Croft Colliery belonging to John Bayley, reported for sale in the Staffordshire Advertiser in 1842 (almost certainly because all workable coal had been got). A late 17c. document records several seams of coal at Gillow Heath, one being the Pear Tree Croft Roe 7 feet thick seam (almost certainly the Bullhurst Coal). The line of the footpath follows on or near the outcrop of the seam.

D. The Bullhurst seam is close to the surface at this point but was worked at a depth of some 450 yards at what was the Victoria Colliery. As you walk up to Beacon House you cross the outcrops of the Bullhurst, Winpenny, Diamond, Silver, Brights and King coal seams.

E. Beacon House, so named after a family named Bacoun, is shown on the 1597 map. It has a timber cruck frame within the present structure and may once have been similar to the White House off Akesmore Lane. This was the last of the Mainwaring Biddulph farms to be sold although the family still own Willocks Wood. Whetstone was once worked from a footrail sited to the east of the house.

F. Site of outcrop of the Crabtree coal seam (named after Crabtree farm close to the Grange where it outcrops on the other side of the valley). Nick i’th Hill Spout and the depression to the south west were formed by a sub-glacial water course running along the south west boundary of the West March.

G. Lies on the line of the Staffordshire Way and Gritstone Trail which is also the line of the outcrop of the Two Feet coal seam. Rising ground to the west is the result of the resistant Chatsworth 3rd Grit, and the old quarry here is in the Rough 1st grit Rock, the same as that in the Hurst quarry below the Troughstone Hill. A limited source of ironstone occurred in the vicinity of the Two Feet coal seam on both sides of the valley. A considerable quantity of iron rich slag was found close to Woodside suggesting it was once the site of a 16c. bloom-smithy.

H. Above Lower Whitemore Farm, the 1597 map shows a substantial building at this point, a site that would be well worthy of investigation. From here one looks down upon Bosley Brook Gardens and the site of a 16c. bloom-smithy which was later to become an Elizabethan glass works for a short time.

J. Bailey’s Wood. In the centre of the wood there is the site of a 13c. Motte and Bailey castle and possible home of the Biddulph family before the building Biddulph Hall.

K. Bailey’s Bank. A road is shown on the 1597 map leading to Lower Whitemore Farm. Another road north of Bailey’s Wood ran eastwards and crossed the Biddulph Brook at Bann’s Bridge to connect with the bottom of Fold Lane. The present road was made when the Biddulph Valley Railway was constructed in the late 1850s. It has been suggested that Bailey’s Bank is a roman road, however, this seems most unlikely as in 1597 the road led nowhere other than Lower Whitemore Farm.

L. The site of Marsh Green Farm, the 1597 Mainwaring map shows seven buildings on this site and together with Gillow Fold (eight properties) they were the largest communities in this area.

M. Take a close look at the footbridge on this section of the BV Way - it was made using 30 foot lengths of N.S.R. railway track.

The Fustian Mills of Congleton - 21/05/2007

Derek Wheelhouse introduced the speaker for the meeting on May 21st 2007, Mr. Lyndon Murgatroyd who was presenting his slide-show about fustian and the local mills involved in its manufacture.

Mr. Murgatroyd began his talk by explaining how he had written his book, 'Mill Walks and Industrial Yarns', to record the social history of Congleton’s mills and the production of silk, fustian and modern fibres which had once dominated the area. Copies of the book, which is an interesting and detailed history of the mills and businesses of Congleton and District are available at £15 from Congleton Museum (all the proceeds going to support local charities).

Before 1750 the tanning industry and the production of points (the silver ends on shoe laces) dominated in Congleton. From 1750 to 1860 cotton and silk were dominant, then between 1860 and the 1950s fustian cutting replaced cotton, from the 1930s to 1970s toweling and clothes using newer fibres, and now only Berisford’s Ribbons remain. One of the earliest cotton mills was the Dane in Shaw Mill at Buglawton which was owned by Richard Martin from 1784. Two silk industries, throwing (creating the silk thread) and spinning were present in Congleton and Macclesfield until 1860 when the Cobden / Chevalier Treaty came as a final straw, to an industry that had failed to invest in new machinery, by removing the tariff on the much cheaper French silk. With many empty mill buildings suitable for the cutting of fustian the owners introduced the industry to the area as a replacement for cotton throwing.

Fustian requires cutting using a sharp knife to cut the loops on the cloth whilst walking along the twenty two yard long tables. When all the loops are cut the cloth was sent to Manchester where it would be singed to create velvet (the majority of the best cloth was used for coffin linings).

Coronation Fustian Mill at Mow Cop

The workers, usually women, would walk miles each day to produce the cloth - using candles fastened to their caps to see what they were doing. They were believed to rub margarine into their thighs to avoid getting sore and be covered in white powder at the end of the shift as the lime (used to stiffen the cloth) floated around the cutting room. Children would be introduced into this atmosphere at a young age, the babies of the cutters would be placed in baskets under the cutting table.

In 1940 a mill in Havanna introduced one of first mechanical cutters which used a continuous loop of fustian cloth and a fixed knife on a cross bar. The last fustian mill in the area, the Congleton Cutters mill of Fegg Hayes, closed in 1973.

Mr. Murgatroyd then explained that he would take a photographic tour around Congleton and show the meeting the site of some of the mills and introduce some of the owners, workers and stories that he had collected.

  • Swan Bank Mill and Mill Pool: This was a steam driven silk throwing mill which employed over 400 people, damaged by fire in 1876 and being re-built as the Conservative club (the original building was where the Antrobus Street Car Park is now).
  • Cross Street Mill has had a variety of uses since being built for silk throwing and fustian - an agricultural machine shop, the Electric Picture Palace with seating for 600 people, an ambulance station and more recently Cross Street garage.
  • Daneside Mill on Ropewalk was used for cotton manufacturing, silk throwing, silk spinning and fustian cutting. The mill was demolished around 1910 and is now the Maxpress car park.
  • Providence Mill was built in 1913 as a fustian mill by Mr George Hill. His superstitious wife noticed it had 13 windows and 13 steps to the first floor and asked that it should be altered but was told to do so would be tempting Providence. Robert Halstead later bought the mill to manufacture children’s clothing and it was in use until the 1980s when Maxpress used it for printing bingo cards. It was derelict in 2003 and then bought by Dane Housing and used for accommodation.
  • Dane Bridge Mill of 1845 has had a chequered history being used for both silk and fustian. Later it was owned by Conlowe’s makers of ‘Conforma’ and ‘Condura’ or ‘Judy Frocks’.
  • Royle Street Mill was built by Thomas Vaudrey and used for silk and later fustian. It was steam powered from 1826 and it’s more recent use since the building was reduced to two storeys has been as a snooker hall and garage.
  • Royle Street Corn Mill of 1875 was built using the seasoned timber of galleons and was also used by Alfred Hurst for making ice cream before its present use by Threadfast producing screws, nuts and bolts.
  • Bridge Mill on Royle Street was built as a fustian mill and was later owned by a Mr. Cliffe, blouse maker, who had a reputation as a tyrant employer, switching on the lighting as late as possible and charging employees for broken equipment (including needles). More recent uses were as a paper manufacturer (1971), printed circuit boards and as a carpet warehouse.
  • Salford Mill at the bottom of Rood Hill was built as a silk mill for Nathaniel Barton, used as a fustian mill by Edward Knapper (amongst others), and after a variety of other uses it now houses Jantex Furnishings.
  • The Old Mill built in 1752 as a silk mill has now been demolished and the site is being used for housing (to the east of Jantex). Mr Nathaniel Pattison, a London merchant banker, invested £5000 in the building which was 5 storeys tall, had 375 windows and used a 19’ waterwheel built by James Brindley. His ‘partners’ were John Clayton (silk throwster), the Rev. Joseph Dale and son Edward Dale (all from Stockport). It ran until 1830 when bought by Samuel Pearson who built a second identical building and converted them both to steam power. Sold in 1899 it was bought by R. H. Lowe from Leicestershire who manufactured clothing. In 1935 there where problems of subsidence with the Old Mill and Lowes built a new mill, ‘Roldane Mill’ and transferred the equipment to it. The top three storeys were taken off in 1939 and when Lowes ceased trading in 1996 the mill became derelict. Unfortunately this second oldest mill in the U.K. was demolished in 2003, the same year as the Roldane Mill was destroyed by fire.
  • The King’s Mill and built by Royal Charter of 1272 but its exact location is not known. The Corn Mill was just behind the eastern end of the Old Mill and was leased by Congleton Corporation to a number of millers from the 1350s onwards. It survived for many years from the 1890s being run by the same family, the Ormes, until damaged by a lorry in 1912 which led to its eventual demolition in 1966.
  • The Victoria Mill on Worrall Street, the starting place of Berisford’s the ribbon manufacturer in 1872, was built for John Hall (silk throwing in 1822. From 1987 it was turned into a shopping complex.
  • Perseverance Mill was built as a fustian mill for John Shepherd in 1890. It was also used by Bateman’s shirts (1906-1959), Derek Rose pyjama manufacturer (1960-1998) and is now headquarters of Dane Housing.
  • Meadow Mill was built for Charles Pedley as for silk throwing in 1864. It was also used as a fustian mill by Shepherd’s and later became Edgar Hallet & Co., makers of clothing and uniform braid from 1914 to the 1950s. It is now Beth Johnson Housing Association flats.
  • Fair Mill was probably a fustian mill from 1890, which after a variety of other uses became Bert Hood, cardboard box makers, in 1974 and now is the Meadowside Medical Practice.
  • Riverside Mill on Mountbatten Way was built in 1890 for James Collinge (fustian cutter). In 1906 Andiamio & Co moved its production of Marsuma cigars here from Havannah. After being used by a number of other clothing manufacturers in the 1950s Bodycote used the buildings in 1982. The renovated buildings have been converted into offices some being used by the Congleton Council.
  • Stonehouse Green and Brook Mills (the latter also known as Solly’s and Bossons Mill) was built by George and William Reade in 1875 for silk throwing and incorporated a powered silk weaving mill. The mills have had a variety of uses including Folkespeare, a tie manufacturer, who took over the premises in 1941. Bosson’s makers of the much sought after plaster cast figures started in one room of this mill. Having stood derelict Stonehouse Greenj mill was demolished to become the Safeway (now Morrison’s) car park and the other buildings are presently being converted into flats.

Mr. Murgatroyd then fielded a number of questions from the audience including the story of the Solly’s steps and the explanation of the dry chute Victorian toilet at Stonehouse Green Mill. Mr. Derek Wheelhouse, the Chairman of the Society, thanked Mr. Murgatroyd for his excellent talk and hoped the members of the Society had enjoyed this introduction to the mills of Congleton and fabrics produced in the area. He also noted that Society members may now be persuaded to join one of Lyndon’s walks around the public houses of Congleton. Anyone interested in either walking around Congleton’s mills or public houses should contact the Congleton Museum or Information Office for details.

If anyone has information about the fustian mills of Biddulph; the owners, workers or dates when the mills were in use, then please write a letter to the Chronicle or arrange to meet a member of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society - leave a note with the staff at Biddulph Library or you could attend our next meeting in the library in September.

The Whetsone Mine - 16/04/2007

Derek Wheelhouse introduced the speaker for the evening Mr. John Hancock and his slide-show presentation about the Whetstone Mine, Mow Lane, Gillow Heath. Mr. Hancock first stressed the need for local people to take every opportunity to record local people, places and industry. His talk, for example, was based on photographs he took in 1970 when a member of a local history society asked him to visit the mine and make a record. At the time he hadn’t envisaged that within 10 years an industry that had worked profitably for over 100 years would disappear almost without trace.

Mr. Hancock explained that his talk wouldn’t be a history, nor a detailed geological survey or explanation of mining techniques; but, a series of images of his journey by candlelight into the mine with his brother in law Mr. Harold Moss (a long time foreman at the mine). The talk started with a map showing mining activity recorded on the Abandonment Plan of 1976 with the entrance to the mine on Mow Lane, Gillow Heath. Because of the folding of the rock in the area some of the coal, clay and sand deposits are angled up to ninety degrees to the earth’s surface. These bands of rock run from the north-west to south-east and the tunnel to the Whetstone deposits runs at right angles to these strata.

Charles and James Lancaster had first worked the area from the 1860s, and brick and bottle ovens were still in use until the 1940s. The coal seams provided the heat to fire the bricks, tiles and rough earthenware pots that were produced. Further into the mine was the band of whetstone which was believed to be the best in the U.K. and the majority of this stone was exported. The later owners of the site were a Mr. Peake and a company from Scotland.

So what is whetstone? It is a fine-grained, very hard sandstone with a high silica content of up to 95%. The peculiar property of whetstone is that, after grinding, it has a glass-like smoothness and does not scratch the surface of the material it is being used on. It was also used in the printing industry to smooth down copper plates and as an abrasive for sharpening. During the 20th century, the following mines were operational - Mow Cop, Hill Lane, Freehay, Hollington, Park Lane, Audley, Gillow Heath and Oxhay. The meeting was later to hear that whetstone was sold to NASA as a coating for the American Space Shuttle.

Back to the tunnel, where the entrance was a brick built structure next to the bottle oven and dressing sheds. A track and a pulley system descended down the first 1 in 4 slope to a depth of 65 yards. There was a passing place for the tubs of stone at this level before a second tunnel at 1 in 3 continued to a depth of a further 75 yards into the hill. As the tunnel descended it crossed at right angles various coal, marl and clay seams. The first of these was the Bathurst coal seam, followed by the Wimpenny coal seam, the Bee coal seam, two seams of marl, Silverwood coal seam, Little Cannel coal seam, King coal seam and finally the whetstone seam. To the south east of the main Whetstone workings are some exploratory tunnels which are below Beacon House. One problem in the mine was the flow of water which drained away towards The Falls and pumps were used to lift the water from the workings. Also flowing into the workings was a strongly acidic and corrosive water which must have worsened the air which flowed from an air hole built close to Mow Lane.

The whetstone seams which were about 20 degrees short of vertical were worked in 800 yard long strips of up to 45 yards in height. The width of the seam was cut into piles and a series of piles was worked using Jigger picks and drills to break the rock into as large a stone as possible (up to half a ton). A drill and then mild explosive were used on the seam to create an 8 foot by 5 foot pile which was cut into reverse steps into the seam. The rocks were then carted away on tubs to the surface where they were dispatched to Scotland for processing. It was estimated that each strip would take forty years to extract and when the mine closed, it was half-way along the third strip.

Mr. Hancock showed the meeting some of the products of the Whetstone mine included earthenware and examples of the different polishing stones.

During questions Mr. Frederick Peake was mentioned as well know owner of the mine, present owner of Underwood Farm and former maker of brown teapots. A couple of the workers at the mine, Mr. Kenny Grimwood and Mr. Jack Wright were amongst the last of the miners, which in its heyday of the 1920s had a total staff of twenty working underground. Finally, Mr. Hancock revealed the name and introduced to the meeting the man who 37 years ago asked him to record this living history - Mr. Arnold Gibson (a former Chairman of the Historical Society).

Mr. Derek Wheelhouse, the Society’s current Chairman, thanked Mr. Hancock for his interesting and enlightening candle lit tour of the Whetstone mine.

AGM and Genealogy Meeting - 19/03/2007

Derek Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the meeting which started with the Society’s AGM. Mr. Wheelhouse summarized the main events of a successful year and detailed the main discussion points for the meeting.

First, he asked the Treasurer of the Society, Mr. Brian Nightingale, to outline the audited finances for the year (thirteen months) ending on the 28th of February 2007.

The main points were:

1. An improved bank balance.

2. The moving of the Society’s financial year end to February the 28th.

3. A grant from Biddulph Town Council towards the purchase of a digital projector which will become increasing useful.

4. Very good sales of the Societies existing publications.

5. The Society's most recent book ‘The History of Biddulph’ was now in profit having covered its cost of printing and was still selling well,

6. The introduction of a new membership list and start date for the payment of fees. In future all existing members will pay there £5 annual subscription on the 1st of March each year. Any members joining the Society during the year will then pay a pro rata payment to bring all membership subscriptions to a common date. The cost of the meetings will remain at £0.50p for members and £1 for non-members.

Mr. Wheelhouse then thanked the members of the Committee of the Society for their hard work through the year. He also thanked Irene Turner for her help with the sale of Society publications and use of the Library facilities and David Moore for presiding over the web site and updating its content. All the present members of the Committee were proposed for re-election and seconded by the meeting. Mr. David Outhwaite as Secretary of the Society, Mr. Brian Nightingale as Treasurer, Mrs. Elaine Heathcote as Archivist, and Mr. Roland Machin, Mr. John Sherratt and Mrs. Kath Walton as Committee members. The Secretary then thanked the Chairman for his leadership through the year and proposed Mr. Wheelhouse should be re-elected, which the meeting duly seconded.

Mr. Frank Harris was given time to outline his plan to bring together all the people he could find with the surname Biddulph. It is hoped to hold a Biddulph family meeting on August the 4th and 5th of this year and if you can help him in his search for Biddulph family members please contact him. [Mr Frank Harris, Biddulph Festival Committee Chairman, Telephone : 01782 517238]

The Society’s display in Biddulph Library from March 10th was extended for another week. The display of the family history of a number of Biddulph families - Cotterill (various spellings), Doorbar (various spellings), Heathcote, Shaw and Wilshaw was proving extremely popular.

With the AGM completed the Family History meeting began. Members of the Society manned various tables and allowed members and guests to circulate and ask questions on the following topics:

  • Creating and maintaining your family tree - many members and guests found links between the various family trees and lively discussions ensued.
  • Viewing and discussing some of the early wills of families from Biddulph - how to find and understand the contents of a will.
  • Viewing and discussing Mrs. Janet Booth’s collection of early Biddulph Funeral cards - this is a fascinating record of the Biddulph area.
  • Viewing and discussing the family histories of those on display in the Library with a member of the family doing the research [Cotterill, Doorbar, Heathcote, Shaw and Wilshaw].
  • Viewing and discussing some of the early maps of the Biddulph area - maps as early as 1831 allow people to identify the homes, farms and businesses in the Biddulph Valley
  • Ruth Hill of Creative Albums demonstrated how to keep and maintain your photographs and records. If you would like further details of the Company and its products she can be contacted on 01782 752317 or email: creative.albums@googlemail.com

This was a very busy and well attended meeting and the Society hopes that in future two such meetings will be held each year, perhaps in the months of September/October and March.

Using Newspapers for Family and Historical Research - 19/02/2007

Derek Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the February meeting of the Society on Monday the 19th. He introduced the evening’s speaker Mr. Geoffrey Browne and the subject of his talk 'Using Newspapers for Family and Historical Research'. Mr Browne is well qualified to speak on the subject as he has worked in newspaper and magazine publication, most recently as the editor of Classic Car Weekly and now works as a freelance editor as he ‘coasts towards some sort of retirement’.

Mr. Browne started by asking what people did with copies of The Chronicle when they had read it. Instead of being used at the local chip shop or start a fire in the grate, as it was when they were younger, it is likely to be put in the recycling box. Before doing that, he asked his audience to take a look through the paper and cut out any pictures or articles that are of interest to them and keep them. Mr Browne showed the meeting one of his cuttings. This was a treasured picture of a former Biddulph Moor resident, who ended up working as a soundman for the Disney studios in America and more importantly playing with the famous Firehouse Jazz Band. Keeping such a scrapbook will be rewarding but may encourage you to find out more and that is when to visit your local paper and browse in the archives.

So how did newspapers start in the U.K. and what changes occurred as the Press became more local. The Romans would have information sheets which would be distributed throughout their Empire but it was the invention of the printing press by Caxton in 1476 that allowed a massive change in the way people learned and the start of a mass production information industry. This great step forward in communication was only repeated with the introduction of the transistor and then computer in the last century. Printing provided the first step forward in knowledge and information which would move political debate and hence national decisions from the small social usually upper class minority to the masses.

Early papers, for example, the Courants would be subject to interference from Government by taxation but as the circulation of papers increased a Free Press gradually spread across the country. Local papers then grew up in the 19th Century.

1795 The Stafford Advertiser one of the earliest local papers

1850 The Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent

1870 The Leek Post and Times

1893 The Congleton Chronicle and Mid Cheshire Advertiser

1946 The Biddulph Chronicle

Mr Browne then showed sample pages from early copies of the local papers. The first edition of the Leek Post and Times had a front page full of advertisements, followed by two full pages on the Franco-Prussian war probably bought from one of the London papers. Local news was relegated to the later pages and be very sketchy. The Congleton Chronicle first front page began in a similar way and the first piece of local news was the death of Robert Heath. The Biddulph Chronicle when first published had little local news and all but one article in the news section were about events in Congleton.

The contrast between local papers of the Great War and the Second World War was demonstrated. During the Great War local papers would be full of articles about the war and lists of local men away fighting in Europe were common. By the Second World War censorship of what could appear in the papers led to strange items being headlined whilst war news and photographs would be censored (the name of an American General whose picture appeared in a local paper, for example, was not mentioned). At the start of the war local papers headlined a sewage dispute between two local councils and presented the Biddulph UDC accounts and members in March.

Headlines and news were in short supply for editions of the local papers during the terrible winter of 1947 and more column inches were filled with a national and local split in the Labour party before the thaw in May when the heroic actions of farmers, midwives and other workers who battled through the elements could be acknowledged.

Mr Browne then turned to the use of papers in research. All the local papers keep bound copies of all editions and in the case of The Sentinel and The Chronicle they are in good condition. The early paper copies of The Leek Post and Times, however, are poor and slowly crumbling away. Researchers are also fortunate that local papers have been scanned onto microfiche and they can be found both at the paper’s offices, in the County Record Office and some Libraries. Unfortunately only The Sentinel and The Chronicle locally has an indexed set of records. At the British Library all published works including newspapers are stored (it is a legal requirement to send a copy to the British Library). The British Library has started, like the London Times and other National newspapers, to transfer newspapers to computer files and put them ‘on-line’ but this will be a mammoth task.

If you wish to use the local papers at the Paper’s office or Library, Mr Browne suggests you contact them first and request a time to visit. The local papers, Libraries and Record Offices are usually very obliging. However whether you are looking for a particular article or name the local news can be patchy. The heyday for local newspapers, Mr Browne believes was the 1950s and 1960s when local papers would report every local happening using a number of dedicated reporters. Pressures on costs and the changes in printing techniques has led to the use of more external sources of information, for example, newspapers now rely on funeral directors to supply a list of family and mourners, and, local photographers for wedding information and photographs.

Finally, Mr Browne advised the meeting that when they set off to research a particular incident to be careful, you can be so easily distracted by other headlines. Instead of finding an article about your family you may return with pictures of the strange Gorsdd ceremonies held at Thor’s Cave by Mr. Sneyd’s Moorland druids or the real reason the wallabies were released up on the Roaches.

An interesting question and answer session followed and Mr Browne was given a vote of thanks by Derek Wheelhouse and a deserved round of applause.

The Biddulph Valley Railway - 15/01/2007

Derek Wheelhouse, Chairman of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society, welcomed everyone to the January meeting of the Society on Monday the 15th. With standing room only and having had to turn some people away, Biddulph Library was packed. He introduced the speaker, Mr. Roland Machin, whose illustrated talk was on the history of the Biddulph Valley Railway.

Mr. Machin gave his audience the details of three books which would help with further research: Joseph Kennedy’s "Biddulph [By the Diggings]" which has a good chapter on the Biddulph Valley Railway; Allan Baker’s "Industrial Locomotives of North Staffordshire"; and, William Jack’s "Chatterley Whitfield".

A short history of Coal in the Biddulph Valley and the Biddulph Valley Railway [BVR]:

Up to 1802

Coal was taken from Biddulph to Congleton by pack horse.

1803

A tramway was constructed between Stonetrough Colliery and Congleton Moss by the colliery owners.

1842

A further line linking Tower Hill Colliery to the Macclesfield Canal at Kent Green was built.

1854

Railway schemes heard in Parliamentary committee. Seal of company granted on 26th June 1854. The authorisation for traffic was given on 24th July 1854.

December 1857

Tenders were invited for the construction of the railway. The quote of £87,500 from William and Solomon Treadwell was accepted.

27th April 1858

First sod of the railway was cut by John Bateman.

3rd August 1859

Deadline for opening set by Parliament. At this stage only a small length of line had been completed. The contractors were still working on the line late into the year.

29thAugust 1860

The first mineral trains ran the whole length of the line.

1st June 1864

First passenger service on the line.

October 1868

Sunday passenger services cancelled.

3rd November 1890

First running of the colliers’ "Nigger Train".

January 1906

First use of powered railcars on the line.

October 1914

Knypersley Halt station opened.

1919

Mossley Halt station opened.

13th July 1925

Mossley Halt station closed.

11th July 1927

Passenger services withdrawn.

1930

Robert Heath works trains stop using the line.

1st December 1963

The spur between Congleton Lower and Congleton Upper Junctions closes. The spur had been used up to 25th September for trains taking coal to the Manchester Ship Canal.

7th December 1964

Biddulph station closes.

1st April 1968

The final train leaves Brunswick Wharf for Stoke.

In all the proposals and planning for the Biddulph Valley Railway the movement of coal and not passengers was the paramount driving force. There are a number of books which cover the tramways which criss-crossed Biddulph Valley and the proposed extension to the Canal to connect Knypersley reservoir and Cauldon canal. However, Mr Machin’s talk concentrated on taking a journey from Milton to Congleton on the North Staffordshire Railway and to describe the private lines which crossed this north to south route.

A plan in 1853 proposed a line leaving Congleton Station from the North and passing through Lee Forge, Gillow Heath, Knypersley, Milton, Bucknall and Fenton Manor before connecting to Pratt’s Sidings in Stoke-on-Trent. Not all of the plan was adopted and Mr. Machin began the journey at Milton where the branch line, a double track, went north towards Norton, Whitfield and Victoria Colliery at Black Bull. Coal was first moved on part of the line on August 3rd 1859. The line was opened to Congleton in August 1860 and transported the first passengers in 1864. At Whitfield a private line was built to cross the BVR to take coal on a more direct route under High Lane and Pitshill to Tunstall and Pinnox; a cheaper alternative to the NSR tariff for all the way to Stoke and then North again. Photographs of engines travelling under High Lane at Chell showed trains of coal trucks climbing the steep gradients out of Whitfield Colliery on completion of the line in 1870. At Ford Green the usual smart station and signal box of the North Staffordshire Railway [NSR] was surrounded by branch lines and sidings for the movement of coal. The majority of passengers were miners traveling in Robert Heath’s "Nigger trains" three times a day from Congleton to Victoria, Whitfield and Norton collieries.


Can you identify where this goods engine is? It may be near Turnhurst Hall but if you can help please write to the Chronicle or leave a message for Roland Machin in Biddulph Library. From the Basil Jeuda Collection

A second miners’ train ran from Tunstall to Chatterley Whitfield, known as the ‘Monkey’ train as the coaches had been acquired second hand in 1908 from Renshaw’s of Etruria, who had produced them for the Barnum and Bailey travelling circus.

Next stop on the journey was at Black Bull Station on the BVR. The extensive number of buildings have now been removed following reclamation and landscaping but the line is now an attractive linear walk right through to Congleton. Black Bull was a hub for coal transport on the line which included branches to Birchenwood, Childerplay, Packmoor, Turnhurst and latterly Cowlishaw and Walkers engineering works.

The line went past Robert Heath’s ironworks in a deep cutting. Heath’s in its heyday produced some of the best cast iron in the world. Here a fleet of locomotives built at Biddulph were engaged in shunting around the clock. A tank engine bought from The Falcon Engine and Car Works at Loughborough in 1886 was the first prototype, it was put into service and several copies were made at the ironworks up until 1926 [an early form of industrial espionage]. Photographs of well-maintained engines hauling coal and coke trains near Packmoor in the 1950s and climbing from Birchenwood showed the Heath engines to be hard-working and reliable. When a larger engine was needed to do this return trip to Birchenwood, an 0-6-0 engine was bought in 1885 from Black, Hawthorne and Company of Newcastle upon Tyne and numbered 11. By 1915 copies of this engine, numbered 15 and later 16 were in service based at the sheds of the Victoria Colliery.

In addition to large quantities of coal for industrial and domestic consumption another cargo carried on the line was sand from Congleton and Biddulph which was used in the West Midland foundries to the south or for glass making in St. Helen’s to the north. A sand train was pictured leaving Heath Junction Signal box on its way south. From the sidings at Victoria Colliery the line was single track to Bradley Green/ Gillow Heath Halt, later Biddulph Station. The station had an NSR station building with limited facilities for passengers in the form of a covered awning, a booking office and a porters hut with a urinal, a goods shed, an agricultural society building and a manned level crossing. The photograph shows the station after regular passenger services had been terminated in 1927. The remains of the original platform adjacent to the station building can be seen and the awning originally joined the building on the left to the main structure.


Biddulph Station - now a private house. The goods shed was last used in 1964 and with the agricultural society buildings were knocked down at about the same time. From the Basil Jeuda Collection

The line now passed Biddulph Church to a halt at Forge Crossing, [near where an infamous accident occurred which was blamed on "rotten sleepers"] and then on to Mossley. Past the ‘Blacks Head’ Public House [where coal was used as currency when the shunting was done] until Congleton Lower Junction was reached - [with its water tower fed from the canal and allegedly full of fish]. From here trains descended the 1 in 40 incline to Congleton Brunswick Wharf where the NSR and Robert Heath both had a goods yard. It became more apparent why there was little passenger use - the Biddulph train had to double back on itself to get into Congleton Station. It wasn’t until the meeting was shown pictures of various enthusiast trains that many people other than miners appeared in the presentation. However, these many special trains kept interest in the line alive until the final closure in the late 1960s. An interesting question and answer session followed which included former signalmen and drivers contributing anecdotes on their experiences on the BVR.

Derek Wheelhouse thanked Mr. Roland Machin and Mr. Paul Blurton, who prepared the slides and handouts. He also took the opportunity to thank a large and knowledgeable audience for their contributions, especially those who had travelled great distances to attend. He also finally thanked Biddulph Council for a recent grant, which the Society put towards the purchase of a digital projector, which had enhanced the evening’s presentation.

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