Local History

The district of Biddulph was created in 1894 and is made up of seven small settlements – Biddulph, Gillow Heath, Knypersley, Biddulph Moor, Bradley Green, Brown Lees and Biddulph Park.

village-signs-all-6Click here to read more about the village signs. All illustrations courtesy of J Deane

This is a brief tour of the Biddulph Valley, a beautiful part of the Staffordshire Moorlands. By following it you will learn more about the area and, how, over the years it has played its part in the history of the country. There are links to other areas which will give you more details about aspects which you find interesting.

How the valley got its name

The valley contains rock – millstone grit, coal, iron sand, clay and wood and has been inhabited for at least 5 000 years. It was visited because of the resources it contains.

It was the Anglo Saxons who named it Bydelph. “By” (near) and “delph” (the digging place) Evidence of quarrying can be seen all around the valley – Troughstone Hill is a good view point and old quarry site. Views across the Cheshire Plain and the Welsh mountains, Jodrell Bank, Manchester and the Wrekin can be seen from here.

Troughstones-frm-GrngPoolTroughstones from Grange Pool. photo courtesy of P Wilshaw

The sand from Hurst Quarry was used in the steel making process and the quarry is still in use today. “Hurst” is an Anglo Saxon word meaning “clearing in the wood”. Another good view point is Job Wills Rocks which has steps cut into the side.

The valley is also a major watershed for the whole of England. The River Trent rises at Biddulph Moor before making its way via Knypersley Pool and Stoke on Trent to the east coast. Streams which flow to the north and into the Biddulph Brook join the Dane and eventually arrive on the west coast. (It is said that the rain running down the west side of Newpool Road will end up in the Irish Sea while the gutters to the east deliver their water to the North Sea.)

The first visitors

In the northeast corner of the valley near the Cloud you can see the remains of an ancient burial place made around 4 500 years ago. The Vikings gave the name to the site. They called it “Breitha” or Broadstones and uncovered the long barrow they found there hoping to find treasure. We now call this place “Bridestones” and the site can be visited at no cost.

The Anglo Saxons settled in the valley around 650. It as they who found coal and nodules of iron here. They named the hill that overlooks the western side of the valley Mow Cop meaning Bald Hill. (No castle there then)

The Anglo Saxons were Christians and built, and worshipped in, the church on the site of the parish church of St Lawrence. It was probably a small thatched building at that time and is thought to be destroyed by the Vikings around 900.

The Vikings certainly visited here giving Knypersley (Rocky Meadows) and Gillow Heath (Gil’s Hill Heath) their names.

Viking raids were followed by the Norman invasion. The Norman king, William the Conqueror, organised a network of castles across the country and a wooden building was created in the Biddulph Valley. In 1967 the site of the motte and bailey castle was excavated and amongst other evidence of use 12th century pottery was found. The site of the castle can be seen at the north end of the town opposite the junction of Fold lane with Congleton road. There is no sign of any building, the mound or motte is all that remains.

The last 1000 years

William the Conqueror gave land to people who helped him. The Biddulph valley was given to Grifin and eventually divided into four manors owned by the Lords who were the great grandchildren of Grifin.

The manors were Knypersley, owned by Alwid who adopted the title of de Knypersley.

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de Knypersley Coat of Arms.

The Bidulph Park area was called Overton and owned by Edward de Overton.

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de Overton Coat of Arms.

Thomas inherited the land near the church and became known as de Biddulph.

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de Biddulph Coat of Arms.

Robert was given Lower Biddulph which is where Gillow Heath is now though later the owner of this manor was the de Verdon family.

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de Verdon Coat of Arms.

A local legend says that the boys’ grandfather , Richard the Forester went of fight in the Crusade of 1089 and that he returned with Saracen slaves. Skilled stone masons they became involved in a number of building projects in the country. They took up residence at Greenway (known now as Biddulph Moor). They carved stones in the churchyard of St Lawrence were believed by many to be their work but they have been dated as having been made 300 years before the Crusades.

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Carved Stones. photos courtesy of J Deane

A church has stood in this place for over a thousand years. After its destruction by the Danes around 900 it was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. The belfry tower is all that remains of that time. Its oldest possession is the Norman font.

In the 13th century much of the land around Biddulph came under the control of the monastery at Abbey Hulton. Sheep were grazed here and many places owe their names to that time. Sheep farms were called “granges” which is how Biddulph now has a house named Biddulph Grange. Fold Lane, mentioned earlier, reflects the practice of bringing the sheep down off the hills in the winter for shelter in a fold, and the Butter Cross, or Shepherds Cross after the farmer on whose land it stood, was probably used as a meeting or market place in the Middle Ages. It may also have been a gathering place for worshippers.

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Shepherds Cross. photos courtesy of D Bailey

 

In 1548, during the reign of Henry VIII, the Biddulph family built a new home. Later, in 1589, during the reign of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, two towers were added. Although castle-like it was never intended to be defended but to be a smart new addition to the Hall. However during the Civil War the Royalist Francis Biddulph, his family and its Brereton cousins were attacked by Cromwell’s troops; first by muskets from Congleton Edge and later by cannon – the Roaring Meg – from the area by the church where they caused much damage to the stained glass windows. Still unable to persuade the family to surrender the soldiers moved to the higher land to the east of the Hall where continuous firing and a hit which shook the walls caused the family to surrender.

The family was driven from the Hall and imprisoned in Stafford and Shrewsbury. After the restoration of the monarchy Francis Biddulph was one of 16 men in England to be awarded the Royal Oak Knighthood by Charles II. The Hall remained a ruin.

Francis’ family was almost wiped out by plague, he himself survived to die in1668. He is buried in St Lawrence churchyard.

The Plague

There are several places in the Valley that are related to the fear of plagues. The Red Cross in Knypersley Churchyard, the Weeping Cross at St Lawrence. This was discovered buried at Gillow Heath and was repositioned at the church a little over a hundred years ago. The cross probably relates to the Black Death of 1347-9 when half the population of the country was wiped out. To avoid the enclosed spaces of the church, where infection would spread, these churches were used as gathering places for the clergy to preach to the people.

The troughs opposite the Buttercross in Grange Road and Marsh Green Road were placed there to hold vinegar, which acted as a disinfectant, into which coins to pay for food were placed by plague victims.

A plague victim who had a miraculous escape from death was Gawton (or Gorton) who was servant at Knypersley Hall when he became ill. Forced to leave the hall he went to live in a cave near Knypersley Pool. He bathed each day in a spring now known as Gawton’s Well, drank fresh water every day and recovered. Gawton stayed at Knypersley Pool living as a hermit until he died several years later.

At the time when the Biddulph family was building the Hall , others were manufacturing glass in a factory near to Lea Forge – between the site of the castle and the Hall. Many pieces of Tudor glass were excavated from the site by the Biddulph History Society in the 1960s.

Other homes were built too. Some were of stone but some were made from other local materials – wood, wattle and daub. One such home still stands in more or less its original form. The White House – a private dwelling is off Akesmoor lane in Gillow Heath and can be best seen , without disturbing its owners from the Biddulph Valley Way.

Another notable landowner in the 1600s was Sir William Bowyer, MP for Staffordshire, who lived in Knypersley Hall, now demolished.

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Bowyer Coat of Arms.

He, with his family, donated money for the stained glass windows which were damaged during the siege of Biddulph Old Hall. The pieces were saved and now form part of the east window. Sir William was not a Royalist. He actively supported Cromwell during the war but saw the error of his ways just in time to welcome Charles II back to the throne.

His death occurred in 1640 when he was buried in the church of St Lawrence. There are four bodies In the tomb, the last having been placed there in 1666. The tomb is decorated with 20 shields and there is a wall of brass showing Sir William, his wife Ann and his 15 children – 8 sons and 7 daughters.

1745 saw the Scots soldiers heading through the Biddulph valley to join Bonnie Prince Charlie, their leader, in Derby. The Jacobite Rebellion, as it was called, failed , and the retreating soldiers retraced their route across Lask Edge. A drummer who wandered away from his companions was shot at a good distance – probably 100yards – by an English infantryman. The hill where the death took place is known as Drummer’s Knob or Cob (both words mean hill.)

1810 brought the first move which was to change the life and appearance of the Biddulph Valley forever. The coal -rich Knypersley estate, owned at that time by Sir Nigel Greasley, was bought by James Bateman, grandfather to the more famous gardening expert. James’ son John, moved from Manchester to Knypersley Hall in order to keep an eye on his father’s business interests in the area and began a programme of improvements to the Hall and its grounds.

The lake had been expanded earlier to service the nearby canal network, but now the family added glass houses in which to grow the orchids for which they grew famous. An ornamental tower – The Warden’s Tower – was built on the banks of the lake to help the keeper guard the herd of deer introduced into the park and the numerous ducks on the lake from the poachers. A bridge was built across the extended lake and later a carriage way from Biddulph Grange to the Knypersley Estate.

John Bateman had the church of St John the Evangelist at Knypersley built and also the parsonage opposite and a school, now the church hall on the corner of the crossroads. Local materials and labour were used and the pulpit of St John’s is made from one piece of millstone grit from Biddulph Moor.

The forge which stood adjacent to the church was unfortunately demolished in the 1960’s.

The lime trees which border the main road, planted by the Batemans were, however saved from a similar fate by the efforts of the local people and in particular the staff and children of Knypersley First School who designed an alternative road widening scheme to that originally intended.

James Bateman, the younger, son of John, moved to the vicarage of St Lawrence and began to expand and develop both the house and grounds. Together with a gifted artist, Edward Cooke, he built the magnificent gardens we can enjoy now which have been wonderfully restored by the National Trust who opened the Gardens to the public, after years of neglect, in 1991.

The areas around the Grange were a marshy waste. The ground was drained, lakes, pools and streams were created, trees planted and areas designed to provide the perfect growing place for rare and exotic plants brought into this country on the instructions of James Bateman and via Kew Gardens with whom both Edward and John worked closely.

Local stone brought by the tramways from Biddulph moor was used to create a totally new landscape, tunnels, glens and secret gardens.

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Biddulph Grange Gardens – house and lily pond. photo courtesy of P J Durnall

 

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Biddulph Grange Gardens – lime avenue. photo courtesy of P J Durnall

 

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Biddulph Grange Gardens -  china. photo courtesy of P J Durnall

 

When the Batemans moved south for Maria’s health, the Grange was bought in 1872, by Robert Heath.

The house was badly damaged by fire in 1895 and later in 1903 the boating lake was created both to provide water to fight fire if necessary and to create a hydro-electric power system to provide energy for the estate. This was lost for many years and “rediscovered” in 2000.

The house was converted into a hospital in 1923 and used during the second world war to treat officers wounded during the D-Day landings of 1944.

The local MP and industrialist Robert Heath was responsible for the greatest changes in the life and appearance of the valley. Before the industrial revolution arrived here, there were around 200 houses and the people were generally involved in occupations connected with farming. The development of the pits and iron works (in 1857) created a huge labour market and therefore a vast house building programme. Terraced houses for the workers and larger ,grander homes for the bosses were built. Shops were opened in Bradley Green – where the High Street is now.

Links between Stoke-On-Trent and the canal system in Cheshire were developed in order to bring in raw materials and carry away goods produced here. A new toll road was made to run through Biddulph to Congleton and the Biddulph Valley Railway was opened in 1858.

When the new urban district of Biddulph was created, the villages and hamlets of the Biddulph Valley were brought together under their one name – Biddulph. This is the name of the town now.

There is very little to see of our industrial past. The pit has closed and the iron works before that. Industrial estates have taken their place.

The gardens at the Grange fell into disrepair and neglect and were taken over in 1988 by the National Trust while the woodlands to the east were converted by the District Council into a country park.

The railway closed in 1968 but is now the Biddulph Valley Way – a walkway and part of National Cycle Route 55. It is managed by the District Council and forms a traffic – free route through the beautiful Biddulph countryside from Stoke-On-Trent in the south to Cheshire in the north, with views to the east of the moors of the Peak District and Congleton Edge, Mow Cop and the end of the Pennines to the west. There are many bridle paths, lanes and tracks to follow through and around the valley and beyond and a host of pubs with names which may now mean more to you – The Roaring Meg, The Top of the Trent, The Royal Oak, The Bradley Green and The Biddulph Arms.

The area has two country parks – the first referred to earlier at Knypersley is called Greenway Country Park is what remains of the Knypersley Hall estate. This area has lakeside walks, Gawton’s Stone and Well to visit and the Warden’s Tower, mentioned earlier. There is also a visitors’ centre which gives information about wild fowl and other wildlife to be seen.

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Greenway Bank Country Park -  pool. photo courtesy of P J Durnall

The second is Grange Country Park and was once part of the Biddulph Grange Estate. This park is now cared for by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and is free to use. There is a visitors’ centre where information about the park and the hydro electricity scheme can be found. Many walks are mapped out and there is a cave at the end of the mile walk – once the entrance to Sprink Bank Tunnel, built by James Bateman for his game keeper to use so that he could patrol the woods and not be seen by the poachers. There are also ponds, streams and wildlife areas to explore. In July each year there is Folk in the Park, organised by Biddulph Folk Club.

The Countryside Club provides activities for 6 – 12 year olds.

The club meets monthly and membership is free.

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Biddulph Grange Country Park. photo courtesy of P Wilshaw