Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Staffordshire

  • Staffordshire Coal Mines by Helen Harwood

    It is no coincidence that the industrial towns in Staffordshire lie on or close to the counties coal fields, notwithstanding the 1974 Local authority reorganisation which saw large areas of South Staffordshire become part of the West Midlands authority.

    Foxfield Colliery. (Staffordshire Coal Mines, Amberley Publishing)

    Prior to the eighteenth century the majority of people worked in agriculture while the making of pottery – coal excavated from surface seams fired the kilns – and iron smelting was carried out on a local hand produced basis. For example, in the sixteenth-century coal from the South Staffs coalfield was used to fire small scale iron forges. However, the large quantities of sulphur produced by coal led to the pig iron being brittle. Lord Paget of Beaudesert built probably the first blast furnace in the Midlands circa 1560 on his Cannock Chase estate fuelled by charcoal, resulting on pressure on the surrounding woodland to meet demand.

    It was Abraham Darby in nearby Shropshire who, in the early eighteenth century created the process of using coke from coal to manufacture iron. The demand for coal grew rapidly as coke reduced the cost of pig and wrought iron so allowing larger blast furnaces to be built.

    Following on from drift mines dug into hillsides vertical “bell pits” reaching some thirty- to- forty -feet down gave access to deeper coal reserves. A narrow shaft about 4ft-6in in diameter led into the seam where miners dug the coal from both sides creating a bell-shape. Meanwhile, sometime earlier in 1698 Thomas Savery developed the first successful steam powered one-horsepower engine. It was used in some mines and branded “The Miner’s Friend”. One was installed in Broad Water colliery, Wednesbury in 1706, but it proved unsuccessful and the mine flooded. However, the majority of pits still relied on waterwheels, windmills and horsepower to keep them relatively dry. Later, in 1712 Newcomes steam engine pumped out water from mine shafts allowing them to be dug deeper. Following on, in the 1770’s James Watt’s engine cut fuel costs enabling mines to become larger and more profitable.

    The Conduit Colliery at Norton Cains. (Staffordshire Coal Mines, Amberley Publishing)

    As the demand for coal grew so did the need to transport it efficiently and the eighteenth century saw the development of Staffordshire’s canal system. The Trent and Mersey – opened 1777 –financed largely by Josiah Wedgwood to move raw materials and finished ware safely followed the valley traversing the North Staffs coalfield. Standing in the way though, was Harecastle Hill near Kidsgrove, however the excavations of Harecastle Tunnel led to the discovery of more coal seams. The introduction of canal transport with the ability to move large quantities of coal lowered the price and demand grew rapidly. In 1836 the Trent and Mersey canal carried 184,500 tons of goods away from the Potteries. Many mine owners like Viscount Dudley Ward financed the building of canals to link with industry, while cutting branch canals to join collieries directly with the network. The Cauldon Canal linked the Cheadle coalfield while the Staffordshire and Worcester and the Dudley canal had links to the local collieries.

    In order to transport the coal from the pithead tramways were laid to the canal wharf with the wagons pulled by horses. Then in 1806 two horse-railways or tramroads were proposed to link the collieries and ironworks around Newcastle-Under-Lyme joining together about a mile south-west of Audley before meeting the Chester canal at Nantwich. The plans never materialised, however in the 1860’s a steam railway built as a branch of the Newcastle to Audley line served the collieries in Apedale. Meanwhile, in 1849 the main Walsall to Lichfield line of the South Staffordshire Railway opened running close to Hammerwich and Uxbridge collieries with a company line linking the Cannock Chase Colliery’s pits to the main line making it more economical to transport coal by rail.

    By the end of the nineteenth century coal mining was growing rapidly to feed the Industrial Revolution. The use of coal doubled between 1800 and 1900 and to be against coal was to be against progress and employment.

    Helen Harwood's new book Staffordshire Coal Mines is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Stafford by Robert Nicholls

    Essex Bridge at Great Haywood, the longest remaining pack horse bridge in the country built by the Earl of Essex to allow Queen Elizabeth I to cross the Trent. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    The writer, Arnold Bennett, says of Stafford: ‘It is England in little, unsung by searchers after the extreme’. However, it has played an important part in the nation’s history and has much to commend it, as many examples in the book bear witness. It is a town people often pass through or by-pass en-route to other places, but my book aims to prove that it worth making the detour to appreciate its hidden gems.

    The central core of Stafford has some pleasant little surprises comprising attractive streets and buildings, a few good tourist sites, and several characterful tea-rooms. It makes for an interesting trip. Parking is plentiful and a walking tour, such as my book offers, is a good choice. Indeed perhaps the biggest ‘secret’ of this book is the town centre itself, unexplored by many.

    A few questions you may ask: Just what is that building outline next to the Parish Church? Where were the town walls? And what is left of them? Is the castle next to the M6 really a Georgian folly? And prepare to be impressed by the largest Elizabethan timber framed house in England.

    Ingestre Church, the design attributed to Christopher Wren, perhaps the only building of his not built for the King. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    Away from the town the surrounding hinterland within the modern-day borough boundaries has its share of surprises too. Aristocratic estates, scenic canals, reminders of past industries and a fair collection of the odd and unusual are all within a 15 mile radius of the town.

    Where will you find the shortest telegraph pole in the world, the longest packhorse bridge in England, a canal built to resemble a lake (or was it ?), and the only church by Sir Christopher Wren outside of London?

    Some of the ‘secrets’ in this book are truly difficult to find without the directions given. The final resting place of the late Patrick, Earl of Lichfield, and a set of medieval glass furnaces reward the patient explorer, whilst another interesting family tomb is almost completely obscured by vegetation. A mile long walk down a muddy track leads to an historic folly that is very ‘far from the madding crowd’.

    Tixall Gatehouse, built to stand in front of Tixall Hall, now long gone. (Secret Stafford, Amberley Publishing)

    In Secret Stafford you’ll discover the answers to these questions, and many more revelations that will surprise you with every turn of the page. Intriguing local connections with famous figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien are also highlighted.

    So it would be a grave mistake to underrate Stafford. It is a place which deserves closer scrutiny.

    I have written local history books since 1985 having produced so far some 16 titles on a variety of topics, mainly concerning North West England. A few years ago I lived for a time just outside the boundaries of the Staffordshire Moorlands, when I researched, wrote and published three titles of a ‘curiosities’ nature in digital form. One of these covered Staffordshire.

    Amberley then offered to publish some of this material. The first of these 50 Gems of Staffordshire was published in late 2017 and Secret Stafford is the second. A further title on the County of Lancashire is to follow. Secret Stafford has required a good deal of extra in-depth research and exploration, but for me this has been a pleasure, as I discovered far more things of historical interest than I had thought existed in the area. I hope that readers will find as much pleasure discovering some of the places it mentions

    Robert Nicholls' new book Secret Stafford is available for purchase now.

  • Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings by Mervyn Edwards

    Former Burslem Town Hall, 1994. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison. It’s a hoary adage that often springs to mind when I consider the buildings of Stoke-on-Trent or indeed any other city. Stoke has a particularly poor building conservation record – which is a stomach-churning but very necessary accusation for me to make, considering the city’s undoubted and abiding reputation for creativity. Like many other areas – though not all – its building stock is a jarring mishmash of just over 190 listed buildings juxtaposed with concrete banana crates, soulless office and residential blocks and some particularly gruesome manifestations of post-war development.

    Part of the problem with Stoke’s architecture in the last sixty years has been the relative lack of originality. When I gaze, glumly, at many new buildings I see a tepid harking back to the past that attempts to give structures a dignity and gravitas. This is perhaps offered as a sop to the traditionalist but fails on two levels. Firstly, it is better to preserve the past rather than copy it. Secondly, we need to be designing exciting, high-quality, visually-challenging buildings that can be our proud legacy to future generations. Stoke is not alone in not having picked up the gauntlet. I never cease to smile when I read Thomas Hardy’s description of the High Street Hall in his 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge (he writes of fictional Dorchester). He scribes:

    “It was Palladian, and, like all architecture erected since the Gothic age, was a compilation rather than a design.”

     

     

    Walkers' Nonsuch factory, 2012. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Truth be told, some of the finest buildings in Stoke-on-Trent ape past architectural styles but are nevertheless a feast for the eye. Burslem Town Hall doffs its cap to several and is one of the city’s most handsome landmarks. However, there are very few post-Thatcher era buildings whose design can be described as being influenced by lateral thinking, eccentricity and daring.

    My book, Stoke-on-Trent in Fifty Buildings (2018) was never intended as a Top Fifty picked in order of merit. It deliberately lists some odd and hopefully annoying choices such as the Walker’s Nonsuch factory in Longton and the Vale Park football ground in Burslem – buildings that are of their time and tell a particular story.

    Port Vale vs Shrewsbury, 2013. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Stoke is sometimes too proud and too parochial to learn from other areas, but I am a huge advocate of comparing and contrasting. When you consider what other cities have achieved, could Stoke not be more madcap and more venturesome? Why can't we have shopping malls as architecturally risky as the Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre or the Selfridges building in Birmingham? Or exciting mixed-use development such as the canalside Nottingham One?   Could you imagine something like Blackpool’s famous Comedy Carpet in Market Square, Hanley? And, rising above it, an iconic structure such as the Dublin Spire? At the very least, can’t we have architecture that teaches, that rips up old paradigms and encourages cultural events or public art?

    Instead, Stoke, along with its development partners, comes up with ideas such as the tidy but timid Unity Walk shopping complex in Hanley – which has now been shelved – and pats itself on the back for its ingenuity. Granted, Stoke is not an affluent city, but if it is truly serious about emerging from the shadows of Manchester and Birmingham then it must find the will and the imagination to reject the safe and the mediocre and embrace pioneering design. It might take its cue from one of Staffordshire’s greatest figures, Reginald Mitchell, who remarked:

    “It is not good enough to follow conventional methods of design. It is essential to invent and evolve new methods and new ideas.”

    Mervyn Edwards' new book Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Finds from Staffordshire by Teresa Gilmore

    Thor's Cave, Manifold Valley, Staffordshire Moorlands. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Over 13,000 finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) as being found in Staffordshire and this book highlights fifty of those finds and their significance to the county. The majority are in private ownership, but some have been acquired by either the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery or Tamworth Castle. The finds I have selected are a personal choice, with them either having come in to me for recording or are of major significance to the county. More information can be found on each find by searching on the PAS database (www.finds.org.uk/database), using the database record number, often prefixed by WMID or another similar combination of letters. Treasure cases are referred to using both their PAS database record number and a reference number which takes the form of yearTnumber, e.g. 2016T1037.

    The chosen finds come from inside the modern county boundary, not the historic one, but include the unitary authority of Stoke-on-Trent.

    Each of the fifty finds should be considered to be ‘Treasure’, either by the legal definition of Treasure or because they were a ‘treasured’ possession.

    Treasure is legally defined as:

    * Any artefact older than 300 years old, with a precious metal content of greater than 10 per cent;

    * Two or more precious metal coins from the same find-spot;

    * Ten or more base metal coins from the same find-spot;

    * Two or more items of prehistoric metalwork from the same find-spot, found after 2003;

    * An item found in association with an item of treasure, i.e. a pottery vessel that held a coin hoard;

    * Anything that could be classified under the original Treasure Trove legislation, i.e. less than 300 years old but hidden with intention to recover, with a significant precious metal content.

    To be recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, finds do not have to be classified as ‘Treasure’. Any archaeological find, over 300 years old, is worth a record.

    Letocetum, Wall near Lichfield. The bath house remains are in the foreground, and the mansio is in the background. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    These finds provide tantalising clues about the lives of everyday people in past societies. From cooking pots to brooches; from ear scoops to hair pins; from coins to weights; from axeheads to bridle bits; each one helps complete our archaeological jigsaw puzzle.

    All artefacts recorded have been found by metal detectorists, field walkers or members of the public. The PAS record includes an identification of the artefact and details of where it was found, with a minimum of a six-figure Ordnance Survey (OS) grid reference (100 metre square).

    Knowing where something has come from can change the understanding of an artefact.

    For instance, a Roman coin by itself can be just a stray loss, but being found alongside other coins and artefacts of similar dating might indicate a settlement.

    A selection of different finds types encountered, not to scale. (C. Birmingham Museums Trusst/Portable Antiquities Scheme, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Responsible detecting is promoted, so landowner permission must be sought prior to detecting. All land in England and Wales is owned by someone, whether it is private, Crown or public. Finds are then reported to a local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for recording on the PAS database.

    We advise that metal detectorists adhere to a code of conduct, recognised by the National Council for Metal Detecting and the PAS. This recommends that permission is sought, the Countryside Code followed and that finds are shown to the landowner and reported to the PAS. The code can be found online at https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/ codeofpractice.

    Scotland is not covered by the PAS, due to different landownership laws. There, all archaeological finds found below ground are considered to be Treasure and must be declared. The Scottish version of the PAS is Treasure Trove Scotland, managed by Historic Scotland and based in Edinburgh at the National Museum.

    Generally most archaeological work undertaken in Staffordshire, and the rest of the country, is the result of development, e.g. a new housing estate or road-widening scheme. The National Planning Policy Framework, in particular Planning Policy Statement Five (PPS5) and its predecessor Planning Policy Guidance Sixteen (PPG16), states that prior to any development occurring, where appropriate, an archaeological investigation has to take place.

    This investigation can take many levels: from a desk-based assessment, which makes reference to previous recorded finds, known standing buildings and sites, to assess the potential for archaeological remains; to trial trenches dug through selected features, like Time Team; through to a full-scale excavation, where a large area is opened up, features sampled and dug.

    Tamworth Castle. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    PAS data contributes at the start, at the desk-based assessment level. Each find recorded by the PAS adds another dot to the map, sometimes supplying dating for crop mark or earthwork features in the area. The more dots there are, the more information we have for an area, so the full potential can be assessed and the right approach can be recommended to the client, such as excavation.

    A strength of the PAS is that, through recording these finds, it means that fields and upland areas not under threat of development can be surveyed. These areas would not get investigated by other means.

    When looking through the PAS database, there is a strong bias towards copper alloy and lead artefact types, as opposed to ferrous (iron), lithic (stone) and ceramic (pottery) materials. This is explained by a discrimination feature on most metal detectors, allowing them to tune out ferrous signals and concentrate on those from other metals, such as copper, lead and precious metals. Most ferrous finds tend to be modern. Lithic and ceramic materials are not picked up by the metal detector, but rely on visual scanning methods, such as field walking or good observation.

    Teresa Gilmore's new book 50 Finds from Staffordshire is available for purchase now.

  • The Servants' Story by Pamela Sambrook

    There were several reasons why I wrote my new book on the servants of Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, the country home of the Dukes of Sutherland. In the early 19th century they were reputed to be the richest non-royal family in England and the largest private landowners in the UK, thanks to their huge land holdings in Scotland. But this is not what attracted me to them. Trentham itself is now only a ruin set in a beautiful landscape and garden, home to a bustling shopping centre. What draws a historian’s interest, however, is the huge family archive which survives in public ownership in the Stafford Record Office. This contains a wide range of records, including a large collection of letters between agents about servants. Surely, I thought, there is enough there to enable research into the people who worked for the family, and in particular enough to let us see them as real individuals, not just caricatures or fictitious representations on television.

    the-servants-story-1 Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, in the mid-ninteenth century, after the rebuildings by Sir Charles Barry. (The Servants' Story, Amberley Publishing)

    I was right! Helped by a good friend of mine, Linda Barton, it has taken the best part of five years to piece together mini biographies of a number of servants. Some of them have their family origins in Staffordshire. One of these was the Penson family, who provided men and women as both indoor and outdoor staff to work for the Sutherlands for at least 200 years. Some of them were highly successful, some had terrible stories to tell. One who experienced both was Mary Penson. She was born in the rural heart of Staffordshire in the hamlet of Standon, a member of the Wrights, another of the long-serving families of Trentham. In 1822 she was just twenty-one when she married Thomas Penson, a quarryman on the estate. In August of the following year she gave birth to a daughter, Frances, who tragically died before she could be baptised. Almost exactly one month later Mary buried her young husband, killed in an accident in the estate quarry. Widowed so young, Mary inevitably fell back on family tradition and went into service. After a couple of years she was set on by the Sutherland family as a children’s nurse, later became the nanny and eventually, in 1847 was taken over by the Duchess of Sutherland as her personal lady’s maid. She became close to the Duchess, accompanying her on her many travels both in the UK and on the continent. It was on one of these journeys that Mary was taken ill. The whole holiday was abandoned, Mary brought back to London, but after a short while the family had to announce that their ‘dear old friend Penson’ was dead. She was buried in the quiet country churchyard at Standon, in a tomb provided by the Sutherlands, for whom she had worked for forty years.

    By contrast many of the Sutherland servants were recruited in London, some from exotic foreign countries. One such was known as Zenon Vantini, described as an Italian, who in 1833 took the post of house steward to the family. No doubt his knowledge of a variety of European countries made him both attractive and useful to the Sutherlands, but the correspondence in the archive shows that he never really fitted into the household. He did not get on with the Duke’s private secretary, a powerful and discreet figure whose letters have a careful, measured tone in great contrast to those of the excited, emotional Vantini. Over a period of ten years they were constantly at war, mainly over the household accounts, usually under the same roof as each other in London or Trentham, sometimes on the family travels through Europe.

    the-servants-story-3 The front entrance to the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood, opened 1841. (The Servants' Story, Amberley Publishing)

    Vantini eventually made his escape from this unfortunate situation in 1841, investing in the newly built Euston hotel, where he installed his wife and eldest daughter as managers while he went north to help set up another huge hotel at the other end of the railway going north-west, the North Euston Hotel at Fleetwood. Although this last was not a success for the Vantini family, Zenon went on to found other hotels, at Folkestone and Paris. He also founded and ran the first refreshment rooms attached to a number of railway stations including Manchester and seems to have been the first to organise an all-in package holiday to Paris and the battlefield of Waterloo, several years before the launch of similar holidays by Thomas Cook.

    the-servants-story-2 Villa dei Mulini, Napoleon's formal house on Elba and the young Vantini's workplace as courier. (The Servants' Story, Amberley Publishing)

    All the time Linda and myself were picking our way carefully through this research we were intrigued by the problem of Vantini’s early life. Where did he learn his skills at running such a sophisticated household to the standards expected by the Sutherlands? There was just one clue, something Vantini had let drop during his stay in Fleetwood – as a young man he had been associated with the household of Napoleon! Neither of us really believed this – he was good at telling jokes was Vantini – but imagine our amazement when, through family history sources, we found this to be true. He was in fact born on Elba, brought up as a page by Napoleon’s sister’s household in Tuscany, and returned to Elba when Napoleon landed as an exile. He became one of the emperor’s couriers, accompanying him on his tours of the island and walking with him along the shore. He even played a part in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. What happened thereafter to the young Vantini, still only in his late teens, is unknown until he turns up in various records in London in 1825.

    Vantini’s career both before and after the Sutherlands is a complex story which I summarise in the Trentham book but which I am now following up in greater detail, to be published later. The story of both him and Mary Penson are just two of a number of narratives of the servants of Trentham which I have included. Individually they are intriguing, heart-wrenching, often frustrating, but together begin to sketch in some of the details of this amazing household.

    9781445654201

    Pamela Sambrook's new book The Servants' Story is available for purchase now.

  • Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs by Mervyn Edwards

    Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs has recently hit the bookshelves. It is my eighteenth published book, my ninth title for Amberley.

    It occurs to me that the nature of a historian’s remit and his duty to view the past objectively and sometimes dispassionately may not always benefit either him or his readers.

    The thought struck me when I was writing the introduction to my book – and peppering what was intended as a brief historical overview with a few opinions and observations based on thirty-five years of socialising in Newcastle hostelries. Such an exercise probably did my mental health a power of good, whilst offering readers a few interesting perspectives to chew on.

    However, there was no real danger of my book lapsing into a nostalgia fest. With a production such as this, the reader will generate his or her own nostalgia in any case, cooing over the photographs and shedding a tear over long-lost, much-loved pubs.

    newcastle-under-lyme-pubs-1 The Rigger, 5 May 2016. (Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    For me, it was a matter of particular interest to show how history insists on repeating itself. How the pubs that have survived have gone through cycles of good trade and bad, often dictated by the competence of licensees. How reputations have waxed and waned and how the strategies and advertising blurb of marketing men have been exposed very quickly as gimcrack manoeuvres likely to bring only short-term gain.

    In such circumstances, the conscientious historian sometimes genuflects to the slightly piqued social commentator, lamenting ill-advised and sometimes fatuous changes to the pubs we have loved. The recorder of history stands aloof, viewing these changes in wider context. Other knowledgeable observers, free from such constraints, rage against the machine that brings these changes, destroying our heritage and spitting on our memories.

    newcastle-under-lyme-pubs-2 Old Bull's Head, 2 December 1999. (Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    The chapter in my book featuring the Rigger pub in Marsh Parade, Newcastle, is a great story seen in terms of why it was opened in 1963 – as the Bandstand – and how this totally landlocked pub adopted a nautical theme, complete with ropes, sails and other maritime bric-a-brac in 1970. The pub has long since found its feet as a music venue, and at this chronological distance, the attempt to give it a seafaring image seems risible. However, other pubs have known radical changes over the years, too, notably the Old Bull’s Head in Lad Lane, which embraced the fad for ersatz Irish pubs in the 1990s. Traditionalists battled vigorously against Allied Domecq’s plans – to no avail. All we had left was the sure-fire certainty that the vogue for Irish theme pubs would soon fade and that normal service would be resumed. It duly did, although the about-turn was sharp and jarring. The pub re-opened, bereft of fake shamrocks and harps but now sporting murals depicting old Newcastle: Queen’s Gardens, Holy Trinity Church and other landmarks.  If this was a sop intended to placate traditionalists still hurting over the mock-Irish dalliance, it didn’t work.  Perhaps it was seen by some as manipulative, even patronising. The pub’s present interior is as most people would remember it from years ago: plain, dimly-lit, cosy and genuinely characterful.

    Some of the more popular pubs in Newcastle have been nurtured over time and have grown slowly and organically. They may have their faults, but there’s integrity about them. Think of the Museum or the George and Dragon. However, it is interesting to consider how some pubs and bars that opened in the last twenty years or so didn’t stand the test of time. One venue in Hassell Street has been re-named several times since it re-opened under the name of the Farrow and Firkin in 1994. So why didn’t it last? Was it the silly name, or were the splintered wooden tables and rustic décor to blame? Who knows? What is for certain is that fashions go in and out like the tide, and the minimalist “alehouse” style interior is once again a la mode at the time of writing. Gatsby’s bar in Ironmarket was another that failed – despite its innovative interior design, complete with blood red upholstering and classy chrome fittings.

    Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs charts many of these changes, sometimes with a degree of sadness, but always with a view to explaining why it was that history took certain turns. What were the reasons that led to the opening of the Borough Arms Hotel in the 1850s? How did the Museum get its name? Why on earth did the age-old Star in Ironmarket become known as the Superstar? All is revealed in the book.

    9781445658490

    Mervyn Edwards new book Newcastle-under-Lyme Pubs is available for purchase now.

6 Item(s)