This blog is devoted to images and recollections of Leek and the surrounding Staffordshire Moorlands from years gone by. I hope you find it interesting. If you have anything to add, please use the comment window or you can email me on

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Rural guide turns the clock back sixty years

A peaceful scene in the centre of Longnor, which a cyclist taking a breather outside the Horse Shoe Inn on the right.  Another Longnor hostelry, the Crewe & Harpur Arms – then in its seventh decade in the care of the Gould family – took a page in the guide to advertise the delights of a good cellar, early morning tea and electric lights.

A fascinating glimpse of rural life in the Moorlands as it was nearly sixty years ago is revealed in the pages of a humble booklet, Leek Rural District, a guide to area as officially authorised by the old Leek RDC back in 1952.

With brief descriptions of the district’s villages and its chief attractions, as well as many photographs of countryside scenes, this slim one-shilling volume harks back to the days when the moorlands were served by the railways, hotels boasted of rooms with electric lighting and Rudyard still had its own open air swimming pool.

Setting the scene in “one of the loveliest zones of the county,” the booklet sings the praises of both Leek – “famous silk town” – and the many quaint villages built from native-hewn stone. A land of crystal waterways and solitary stretches of moorland  where grouse a lapwing flourished.

Describing Leek town itself, the booklet reminds us of a textile heritage which for years had been the town’s biggest employer – but which within two decades would begin a near-terminal decline.

“Leek, of course, is the silk town par excellence, but there are other light industries such as the making of braids, bindings and all the important textile smallwares and dyeing.

“Leek is clean and salubrious, residential even, despite its factories, with lovely country within sight. It has good Georgian houses and pretty cottages. If Leek had not made its name familiar by developing its industries, then it would have earned for itself a place in the sun as a health resort and holiday centre.”

The guide continues to explain that British Railways served Leek and its rural district by the Manchester-Uttoxeter and Leek to Stoke on Trent Lines. The district was also served by several bus companies including the North Western Bus Co, the Potteries Motor Traction Co, Milton Bus Co, Brown’s Bus Co as well as other private firms.

On a general note we learn that the Leek Rural District – which in those days included Norton and Baddeley Green before they were transferred into Stoke on Trent in the Sixties – had an area of 72,623 acres, an estimated population of 16,834 with council rates at 13s 6d in the £. Both electricity and gas were available and the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board supplied water in some parishes with “wells and two small schemes” for the remainder.

Although the area remains as attractive as ever, Leek Rural District ceased to exist in the local government reorganisation of the early Seventies, joining with Leek Urban, Cheadle Rural and Biddulph Urban councils to form the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.

Baddeley Green Motor Co, pictured in 1952, was replaced by a petrol filling station in the early Seventies. In the Fifties, Baddeley Green, then part of Norton in the Moors parish, was at the western edge of the Leek Rural District.


Endon’s two hostelries, The Plough and The Black Horse were both featured in the 1952 guide. At The Plough, kept by HV and F Hill in those days, we can see the mural of village life which, over the years, has undergone several repaintings. At the Black Horse, busiest at the village’s annual well dressing weekend, lunches were available – provided you gave sufficient warning!

Freshwater open air swimming pool, on the Macclesfield Road at Pool End, was still a big attraction in the 1950’s, with the added attractions of music and refreshments, according to its advertisement.

Ilam Cross in the middle of one of the Moorland’s most-visited villages here provides a suitable resting spot for a group of cyclists.

Looking out over Leek from fields beside Ladderedge. These were the days when there was still farmland where today we find Westwood Golf Club, the Wallbridge housing estate and the Barnfields Industrial Estate in the bottom of the valley.

Tom Cooper of Elkstones was typical of the small local bus companies which served the district in the Fifties – thankfully some of those family firms remain.

Upperhulme village with Hen Cloud in the background.

The Green, Wetton, in the early Fifties. The Olde Royal Oak is to the left with St Margaret’s Church in the background.Since posting this I have been contacted by local resident Les Gray who has kindly provided some extra information: "The large dark item sitting on the village green, is a horse drawn snow plough. Just left there for use in winter as and when, when horses stopped being used the same implement was tractor drawn.
It's made in a 'v' shape out of thick wood. Standing behind it is I think  a horse drawn hey making machine of some sort."

Rock Hall – one of rights of the Roaches for more than a century.

Brown Edge businessman Herbert Bourne – who became a prominent member of the rural council – featured his removal and taxi firm in the guide, as did the well-known Leek firm of Norman Ferns.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Alton Towers - packing them in since Victorian times

A railway poster from 1873 tempting Yorkshire folk to sample the delights of Alton Towers and Dovedale. Trains left Leeds at 6am, returning from Alton Station at 7.30 in the evening, the eight-shilling first class ticket including admission to the gardens. The small print includes a warning that the gate keepers were under strict instruction to bar anyone “with articles of any description for sale”.

The two and a half million visitors who make their way through the Moorlands every year to sample whiteknuckle thrills at Alton Towers are following a well worn path.

For the stately Towers and their grounds have been a pleasure-seekers’ place of pilgrimage for close on 150 years. Ever since the gardens were opened to the public in 1860, huge numbers have enjoyed a trip to Alton, whether to picnic amongst the shrubbery in Victorian times, listen to band concerts during the Twenties or enjoy the fairground rides that started to be introduced during the Fifties.

The site itself has a long and distinguished history. Ceolred, King of Mercia held a fortress there as early as the 8th century. The Earls of Shrewsbury took over in 1412 and the estate was to remain in the same family until the 1920’s.

Alton Towers owes its magnificent gardens to the 15th Earl, Charles Talbot born in 1753, who famously “made the desert smile” by employing an army of labourers on the massive landscaping project. No expense was spared in creating gardens with an array of temples, statues, streams, fountains and rockeries – for example, the Pagoda Fountain is an exact copy of the To Ho pagoda in Canton and shoots a spout of water 90ft above the tree tops.

A flashback to more stately times, the Earl of Shrewsbury’s grand coach pictured in the grounds of the family estate at Alton in the 1890’s.

There were sheltered corners for the Shrewsburys’ honoured guests to rest in as they walked the grounds and Charles Talbot even employed a blind Welsh harpist – housed in the thatched Swiss Cottage – to provide a little background music.

The Towers themselves were the subject of similar lavish spending, leading Victorian architect Augustus Pugin being employed on their rebuilding (along with other Shrewsbury-sponsored projects such as St Giles’ RC Church in Cheadle and extensions to Cotton Hall – later to become St. Wilfrid’s College).

Opening of the gardens to the public coincided with the growth of railways and soon visitors from all over the country were arriving by the trainload at Alton Station with its extended platforms to accommodate the extra-long trains. Towards the end of the Victorian era, it’s said that up to 30,000 a day would attend garden fetes in the grounds.

But by the turn of the century, the Shrewsbury family fortunes started to decline and in 1920 the house and land were sold to a consortium of local businessmen led by Uttoxeter estate agent William Bagshaw. On his death the estate was run by his sons Denis and Anthony.
Created regardless of expense, the classic gardens – pictured here following their restoration in the 1930’s – have fascinated visitors since 1860.

With a limited company created to run the estate and the gardens were restored, Alton Towers enjoyed something of a renaissance during the Twenties and Thirties and were once again filled with crowds of visitors. Things changed dramatically with the start of World War II and the house was requisitioned as an officer cadet training camp. The estate was to remain under the control of the War Office until 1951.

In 1952 the Bagshaw family re-opened the gardens to visitors, although by this time the house itself was dilapidated and a tea room was created in the once grand banqueting hall.

Alton Towers’ growth as a theme park dates from the early Seventies when businessman John Broome, who had married Denis Bagshaw’s daughter, acquired a majority stake in the business. The rest is theme park history. Succeeding years have brought ever bigger and scarier rides, a take-over by the Tussauds Group followed by the international Merlin Entertainments Group in 2007 – and a place as one of Europe’s most successful visitor attractions.

The Temperance Refreshment rooms, typical of the many businesses which sprang up in and around Alton village to cater for the influx of visitors.  Guide books of the period encouraged visitors to visit the sights of Alton itself and go for rambles along the Churnet Valley.

Advertisements from the 1932 guide to Alton Towers. Entertainment in this era included a full programme of band concerts featuring prize outfits such as the Burslem Imperial, the Kidsgrove Excelsior and the Famous Cresswell Colliery Band. 

A colourful LMS railway poster from the 1920s paints a grand image of the Towers estate.

Nostalgic scenes from the 1964 season, the year when the Towers cable car opened. Travelling from the miniature railway station to the Chinese temple, the network of four-seater cars were capable of carrying 1,000 people an hour.  As well as fairground rides and rowing boats, one of the park boasted ‘the world’s largest model railway’. 

Monday, 23 November 2009

More on Berresfords buses

If the article below has whetted your appetite for finding out more about the history of Berresfords Motors, let me recommend an incredibly detailed website which has been compiled by Beresfords enthusiasts - it's obviously a labour of love and packed with historical detail, photographs and recollections by folk who were closely associated with the business over the years.

Go to to find out more

Monday, 16 November 2009

Berresford's battled to stay on the road

One Berresford’s first buses pictured with driver Ernest Chadwick (left) with Tom Smallwood, the firm’s first conductor who went on to serve as driver for more than quarter of a century. (Photo courtesy Mrs M Berresford).

The Cheadle Road, Cheddleton depot, which Berresford’s built in 1940, pictured probably in the late Fifties. (Photo courtesy of the Old School Tea Rooms, Cheddleton).

Look carefully at the old bus depot on Cheadle Road, Cheddleton and you can just make out a rusty letter ‘B’, the last remnant of Berresford’s, a word synonymous with local bus services for more than half a century.

With vehicles that would often resemble museum pieces and a business style that typified a company battling against the odds, Berresford’s Motors nevertheless played a huge part in local lives in the days when many more folk relied on public transport.

It’s now more than twenty years since the firm closed for good, but mention the word Berresford’s and the memories still rumble out – school journeys on an ancient double decker creaking and swaying under the strain, day trips to North Wales breaking down within sight of the grey coast, and years of aggravation over the depot’s ever-growing collection of rusting hulks.

The Berresford’s story dates back to February 3, 1923, when Mr JM ‘Jim’ Berresford started operating his14-seater bus from Randles Lane, Wetley Rocks. The first route was Leek to Hanley via Cellarhead, Weston Coyney and Dividy Road. Later in the year, the route was changed to run through Werrington, creating a service which, together with Leek to Longton, would be a mainstay of the Berresford’s timetable until its closure in 1987.

The obstacles facing the fledgling bus company were many: poor road surfaces scattered with the nails from horses hooves would play havoc with tyres; overhanging hedges scratched the paintwork; droves of cattle would impede progress; and a shortage of spare parts.

But Jim Berresford was typically resourceful – take the time in 1925 when a large tree fell across the road at Cheddleton. Assisted by some of his passengers, Jim cut through the branches with a borrowed saw and the bus continued on its journey.

The family’s engineering ingenuity was apparent right from the early days. In 1926 Jim built a complete chassis from spare parts, fitted it with pioneering low pressure balloon tyres and then bolted on a 26-seater body. The re-use of old parts and the cannibalising of one vehicle to make another was to become one of the hallmarks of the fleet, especially after the founder’s son Mr J A “Jimmy” Berresford – himself a talented engineer – took over the company.

Jimmy had become a director of the firm in 1938 and a couple of years later a spacious new depot and workshops were built in Cheadle Road, Cheddleton. The years of the Second World War presented many challenges. Vehicles, parts and workers were in short supply, Jimmy was away in the forces and when his father fell ill, the Ministry of Transport appointed managers to run the business. However the company managed to play its part in the war effort, not least by carrying bus after bus load of workers to ordnance factories at Swynnerton and Radway Green.

The post–war years brought something of a boom for the business. New – or at least nearly new – vehicles were bought and were soon filled with passengers. In 1947, for example, Berresford’s buses travelled an incredible 370,000 miles and carried 679,000 passengers, including hundreds of textile workers transported every day to and from mills in Leek. At the same time, the company also built up a fleet of coaches to take local folk on popular day trips to the seaside resorts.

Engineering ingenuity coaxed decades of service from classic red and cream-painted double-deckers like these.

Workers from Berresford’s Motors and Leek-based Byrne Bros pictured at a company dinner in the early Sixties. (Photo courtesy of the Old School Tea Rooms, Cheddleton).

But the growth was hard won, as Jimmy’s widow, Mrs May Berresford, recalled. “Everyone was working long hours and we always fighting the PMT for licences for new routes. Everything we applied for they objected to,” she said.

“Because spare parts were so expensive we re-used parts from the old buses. Nothing was every thrown away and eventually there was a huge stock of them behind the garage,” said Mrs Berresford, who still lives in the family home a matter of yards from the old depot.

Other independents eventually joined the Berresford’s fold. In 1960, they took over the old-established Leek firm of Byrne Bros, well known for its immaculate dark blue and grey coaches. In later years, other acquisitions included Smith’s Tours of Waterhouses, Tatton of Leek, Mosswood Coaches of Wetley Rocks, Poole’s Coachways of Alsagers Bank and Stonier’s of Goldenhill.

But the battle with its much bigger Potteries-based competitor never diminished. Shortly after Jimmy Berresford died in April 1987, a merger with the PMT was announced and the fleet was quickly reduced.

The final day of operation at Cheddleton was September 4 1987, the last bus to return to the depot being the 23.05 from Longton, suitably decorated by its driver, Tim Machin. Amongst its passengers were several local transport enthusiasts paying tribute to one of the most memorable names on the roads of the Moorlands.

• Pictures from Berresford’s past are on show at the Old School Tea Rooms, Cheddleton, where owners Carol and Bill are building a collection of village memorabilia.

Mr Jimmy Berresford receives his chain of office as chairman of Cheadle Rural Council in 1963, from retiring chairman Coun. RL Carr (right). Also in the picture are vice chairman Coun. N Heathcote (left) and clerk Mr HW Henson. As well a keen district, parish and county councillor, Mr Berresford served as a JP, chaired the local tax commissioners and was an enthusiastic Rotarian. (Photo courtesy Mrs M Berresford).

Some of the Berresford’s fleet rusting behind its Cheadle Road depot in the early Eighties. The collection of old buses, used for spare parts over the years, attracted growing controversy amongst local residents and became a place of pilgrimage by vintage vehicle fans.

The garage as it looks today – remains of the original sign just visible above the main door. Owners John Pointon & Sons plan to turn part of the site into leisure facilities.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

When Werrington's windmill still turned

Werrington windmill in 1905 – the small turbine on top was used to generate electricity.

Few of us have time to give it more than a glance as we travel along the busy Ash Bank Road, but Werrington’s circular brick tower has a special place in Moorlands history as the district’s last remaining windmill.

Although windpower has gained new importance in the search for renewable energy sources, windmills have been used for centuries to grind corn and minerals.

Staffordshire may have had many more watermills than the wind-powered variety, but local expert Dr Barry Job has identified over 130 windmills within the county boundaries, nearly half of which date from before 1700. Of these, just two were in the Moorlands: at Dilhorne, now long disappeared, and the one at Werrington.

Thanks to Dr Job’s research, we know that Werrington windmill dates from 1730. When advertised for sale in 1804 it was described as “a powerful corn mill consisting of four pairs of mill stones and one flour machine,” that came complete with warehouses, drying kiln, stables and two acres of land.

By 1845, owner John Fynney was so proud of his mill that he commissioned a jug to be made showing the four-sailed mill on one side and the Windmill Inn on the other. Subsequent owners included the Rev. Charles Stephen Hassell who lived at the nearby Fox Earth mansion.

The mill was very much a local landmark, as illustrated in 1876, members of the newly-formed Leek Cyclists’ Club chose it as the destination for one of their very first club runs. Club documents tell us that just five enthusiasts cycled to Werrington, took refreshment at the Windmill Inn, viewed the nearby Reformatory and then, courtesy of the miller, climbed to the top of the windmill from where they enjoyed a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

By the 1880’s the mill is thought to have ceased grinding corn, however it was then put the more unusual use of grinding coal – probably from some of the small collieries in the area – to be mixed with bitumen to make briquettes.

By 1905, which is when our old photograph was taken, the mill was in a near-derelict state, its sails long gone, but topped by a miniature turbine used to generate electricity for the pub next door. The board over the pub door tells us that Edwin Biddleston was licensee at the time.

What we see today is the remaining four-storey tower, although because the ground around it has been raised over the years we don’t get a true idea of the building’s original height. Inside, the main shaft which linked the sails to the grinding stones, is believed to be still in place.

The mill as it looked in 1962.

The castle-like top dates from the Second World War when the mill was used as a lookout by the local Home Guard detachment – their shelter remains on the roof. The brickwork was restored in the mid-Eighties by the Midlands Electricity Board, which had bought the mill in 1952. At the same time, the MEB also installed a standby generator and radio masts.

Nowadays the mill, owned by E.ON Central Networks, is overshadowed by a telecommunications tower twice its height and is almost surrounded by village shops.

The district’s only other windmill lay directly north of Dilhorne village and, according to Dr Job’s research, was first shown on a map in 1775. Between 1854 and 1872 the miller was Silas Jackson, but by 1900 the mill had ceased to appear on maps.

Apart from Werrington, only two other windmills still stand in North Staffordshire. A sandstone tower at Kidsgrove and the 35-feet-high brick windmill at Meir Heath which local residents are successfully campaigning to preserve.

Will the Moorlands see the return of the windpower? Only about a mile away from the old mill, two wind turbines have been erected close to Cellarhead crossroads and provide power to the adjoining glass workshop. And with windfarm appearing nationwide, it’s perhaps just a matter of time before our own windswept moors are generating electricity.

Nowadays the mill is hooked up to Central Networks power and communications equipment.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

150 years of the Co-op in Leek

Some of the founding fathers of the Co-op movement in the Moorlands, pictured at the time of the society’s jubilee in 1909.

Nowadays the cottage on Clerk Bank, Leek shows no outward sign of the place it holds in the town’s history. Yet this modest house was the setting for the birth of an organisation has played a part in the lives of local people for 150 years.

It was here in 1859, in premises formerly occupied by a tailor named Armitt, that the founding fathers of the Leek and Moorlands Industrial Provident Society – later renamed the Leek and Moorlands Co-operative Society – opened their first grocery shop.

A history of the society’s first fifty years is recorded in a special souvenir booklet printed to mark its jubilee in 1909, telling the enterprising story of those provident pioneers and illustrated with photographs of the Co-op’s Leek empire of a century ago.

The idea of a Leek and Moorlands Co-op is thought to have been first discussed amongst workmen employed by Miles Simpson. The textile manufacturer had recently moved to Leek, bringing with him employees who had been involved with a similar co-operative venture in the Middleton district of Manchester.

Twelve men were found to become the first one-pound shareholders, some putting in a shilling a week until they reached the total. These pioneers then set about decorating and furnishing the little shop on Clerk Bank and, with the help of their wives, stocked it with goods for sale.

The Clerk Bank cottage, second from left, was site of Leek’s first Co-op shop, opened in 1859, but quickly proved too small.

This shop on Overton Bank was headquarters of the local Co-op for many years. Today it's a bar.

While its founders organised themselves into a properly-run committee, the shop went from strength to strength and by the early 1860’s proved much too small for the number of customers it attracted. The pioneers decided to move across the street to premises on Overton Bank which had been in use as a grocery and provisions shop for many years.

Managed by William Horne, the shop opened only in the evenings and on Saturday afternoons, the business being run of voluntary basis until the late 1860’s when the committee started to pay themselves 3s 3d a quarter. Members of the society were issued with metal checks which they had to produce in order to draw their dividend from the shop’s “profits”. Trade was strictly cash only, although in later years, members were allowed to buy goods on a modest amount of credit and a new bookkeeping system replaced the metal checks.

Although the Overton Bank shop did not open in the daytime until 1875, its success prompted the committee to look for even larger premises and in 1880 a second grocery store was opened in Ashbourne Road (then known as London Road).

The building included a bakehouse so that the Co-op could start selling its own fresh bread, fuelling further growth in trade and expansion across the town. A Penny Bank “for the encouragement of thrift among the children of members” was opened in the Ashbourne Road building in 1880, the following year the Overton Bank shop gained a boot and shoe department, and in 1881 a grocery branch was opened at Ball Haye Green. This rapid growth saw sales nearly double from the £5,768 in 1879 to £11,886 five years later.

Expansion during the late Victorian and Edwardian era moved on apace with new branches opening in Picton Street, St Edward Street, Buxton Road and Mill Street, and the central premises in Ashbourne Road being replaced in 1899 with an impressive Sugden-designed building which still stands today.

The Picton Street grocery store was built in 1893, now the site of its modern-day successor, a Co-op Late Shop.

The Ball Haye Green was the Co-op’s first venture outside the town centre and opened in 1882.

Bound closely to Labour principles, the Co-operative movement was always more than a budding retail empire and so the Leek pioneers’ activities went beyond mere shopkeeping. It prided itself on working conditions and rates of pay, employees were encouraged to join a trade union and the society also led the way in granting shop assistants a half-day holiday. In 1896 a Women’s Guild was formed which became very active in social reform and a decade later helped start a Women Workers’ Union in the town.

As the twentieth century commenced the Co-op was set fair for its growth into a major force in the shopping with more than 2,000 members and total sales nearing £50,000 a year. The bakehouse was busier than ever – Co-op bakers being assisted by such luxuries as electric motors and lighting, and the society’s ever-growing list of goods now included coal. Bought directly from collieries, the coal was taken out by the Co-op’s own team of horse-drawn carts based in modern stables in Field Street. By 1908 the Co-op coalmen were delivering more than 70,000 sacks of coal a year.

As the decades progressed stores were to spring up in every neighbourhood as the Co-op societies became shopkeepers to the nation. But that retail revolution may never have happened in Leek if not for the enthusiasm of those pioneering founders and their little shop on Clerk Bank.

Leek and Moorlands Co-op’s central premises in Ashbourne Road, designed by Sugdens and built at a cost of £4,000 in 1899. The building was restored in 1997 by Staffordshire Housing Association and re-named Pennybank House

The Drapery and Boot Department opened in St Edward Street in 1897. It had a room set aside for boot and shoe repairs, a service transferred ten years later to one of six cottages owned by the society in Talbot Street.

Workers in the Co-op’s busy bakehouse in Ashbourne Road pictured in 1908.

A detail of the Sugden-designed Co-op headquarters on Ashbourne Road, Leek