Contributed by Jim Worgan
Part I – Sir Nigel Gresley Canal 1775
Mining has produced the Apedale landscape that can be seen today and it is mining that for centuries has been at the heart of local community life. But the seams of history are just as rich as the mineral deposits that produced the wealth. Apedale’s history runs parallel to that of the industrial revolution in that it was one of the first centres of industry to appear in the 18th century in North Staffordshire and one of the first to disappear in the 20th century. Now this is a truly post-industrial landscape and there is little evidence today of the fierce drama that has unfolded in this tranquil spot over the past 250 years.
In the 18th century Apedale was part of the estates belonging to the Gresley family of Knypersley Hall. The area was littered with both coal mines and furnaces whose growth was restricted by a lack of suitable means of transport to the ever expanding town of Newcastle under Lyme. Roads were virtually non-existent and the only means of transport was by horse and cart, pack horse or primitive wheelbarrows.
Although plans were well advanced for the Grand Trunk Canal (Trent and Mersey) it was Gresley who obtained permission for the first canal in North Staffordshire by an Act of Parliament (George III of 13th April 1775). “for the construction of the canal some three miles long from their coal mines in Apedale to Newcastle under Lyme”. Work on the canal was probably completed by 1776. It was on one level and had no locks as such save for the stop locks near to the Apedale iron works. At least three bridges were built over the canal, which terminated at a coal wharf close to the present paper shop to the west of the current A34 and just south of the derelict Hanging Gate public house, at Holditch, Loomer Road and on the Apedale road near to Burley.
The act allowed Gresley the rights to control its price of coal in Newcastle under Lyme and to sell to the inhabitants for the sum of 5 shillings (25 pence) per ton for 21 years and then 5 shillings and sixpence (27.5 pence) per ton for a further 21 years thereafter.
Around 1812 the collieries at Apedale were almost exhausted and new arrangements were introduced and for six years from 1812 coal was to be supplied to Newcastle under Lyme from the Bignall Hill mine as well as from the Hams mine at Apedale at 7 shillings and sixpence (38 pence)
Although the canal was an immediate success in that it greatly reduced the cost of coal by bulk transport its success was short lived. The coal wharf on the A34
continued to operate until the late 1840’s which indicated that the canal was still in operation.
In 1852 the North Staffordshire Railway constructed a line from Stoke Station through to the ridge at Hartshill onto Newcastle under Lyme (along part of the bed of the Newcastle Extension canal, of which more later) and westwards to join it to Silverdale and Newcastle under Lyme (terminus by the current Homebase store) at Knutton junction. In 1856 a branch was constructed to serve the collieries in the Apedale valley and much of what remained of the canal fell into disuse. Part of the canal survived as a pond serving the blast furnaces at Apedale iron works until their closure in the 1930’s. Few traces of the canal remain today but a small dry section can still be traced behind Apedale Heritage Centre occupying the site of the Great Row mine.
To Be Continued………………….
Contributed by Jim Worgan