Monthly Archives: August 2011

John Livesley A Potter From Shelton Who Fought in The American Civil War


The American Civil War


Thousands of Britons took part in the American Civil War (1861-1863) fighting and dying for both the Union and the Confederacy.

Many were ex-soldiers who had fought in the Crimean War (1853-1856) while others were civilians from all walks of life who crossed the Atlantic to fight for a cause that they believed was just.

Writing home, an Englishman serving in the Union Army told his family:

“The Corporal of our detachment is an Englishman who celebrates today as the anniversary of “Inkerman” and wears his medals on his jacket, including the Victoria Cross, with silver bars, possibly the greatest honour an Englishman can earn.

“He was a Sergeant Major in the Rifle Brigade, and I can assure you he is by far the best soldier in our company.

“I find it worthy of mention that there are about 20 Englishmen in our company (about a fifth of its strength) and although we are small in proportion, every Sergeant is English excepting the Quartermaster Sergeant who is Scots.”

One of the men from North Staffordshire who fought with the Union Army was John Livesley.

Born in Shelton in 1838, John was the son of a local pottery manufacturer.

In January 1864 he went to the United States and enlisted in the 6th Regiment New York Cavalry.

His military career ended a few months later in August 1864 when he was wounded and taken to hospital where an arm and a leg were amputated.

John returned to Stoke-on-Trent and became a grocer in Lichfield Street, Hanley. He married Ellen Twigg in 1866 and died four months later aged 29.

History does not tell us how many Britons took part in the American Civil War,  but we do know that 67 of them who fought in the Union Army were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, the United States of America’s highest military award for bravery in the face of the enemy.

James Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel

Brindley Tunnel (2)

The Trent and Mersey Canal, which runs from Preston Brook near Runcorn to Shardlow in Derbyshire, follows a route surveyed by James Brindley.

It took 600 men eleven years to construct the canal. Work began on July 26th, 1766 when Josiah Wedgwood cut the first sod near Tunstall Bridge at Brownhills in the Chatterley Valley.

Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel that took the canal through Harecastle Hill between Chatterley and Kidsgrove, is a feat of civil engineering which merits World Heritage Site status in its own right.

Described as the eighth wonder of the world when it was opened, the tunnel’s historical importance has been ignored by both the City of Stoke-on-Trent and the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

One of the first canal tunnels to be built, it was 2,880 yards long and nine feet wide.

There were branch tunnels leading to underground loading bays in collieries and mines where small boats were loaded with coal or ironstone. These tunnels which ran directly from the main tunnel into the mine workings are the earliest known examples of true horizon mining.

Opened in 1777, the Trent and Mersey Canal was a commercial success and it quickly became one of England’s major inland waterways.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel could not cope with the number of narrowboats using the canal. The tunnel was too narrow to take boats going in both directions.

It took about two hours for a boat to pass through the tunnel. Bottlenecks developed at Kidsgrove and Chatterley where boatmen were forced to wait until they were allowed to enter.

The tunnel did not have a towpath. Narrowboats were “legged”  through the tunnel by men lying on their backs and moving the boat along by “walking” with their feet on the roof or on the side of the tunnel.

A second tunnel, designed by Thomas Telford, was constructed between 1824 and 1827 by civil engineering contractors Pritchard & Hoof. The firm specialised in building canal tunnels and Daniel Pritchard said that with the exception of the Brindley Tunnel the rock at Harecastle Hill  “was much harder than the rock any tunnel had ever been driven in before”. Brindley’s tunnel remained in use until 1914 when subsidence made it unsafe.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2010

Photograph © Copyright Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Werrington Industrial School

Despite the harsh sentences imposed on young offenders, juvenile crime increased dramatically during the 1850s.

Neither birching nor imprisonment deterred. Realising that a new method of dealing with juveniles was needed, Parliament created residential industrial schools for boys and girls likely to become professional criminals. Magistrates’ Courts were given the power to send children under 12 who had committed criminal offences and young persons under 14 who were homeless or who had been found begging in the streets or who were beyond parental control to industrial schools where they received an elementary education and were given vocational training.

An industrial school for boys opened at Werrington, a village on the outskirts of The Potteries, in January 1870. Benjamin Horth was the superintendent, and his wife was the matron. Boys worked on the school farm or in a workshop where they made shoes. Farm produce and shoes were sold commercially, and the boys were paid wages. The money they earned was put into a savings account and given to them when they were released.

Discipline at Werrington was maintained by a system of rewards and punishment. The boys were divided into three divisions – first, second and third. Good conduct marks were given for good behaviour. After six months at the school, a boy was placed in the third division and given a farthing for every 12 marks awarded. Continued good behaviour enabled him to progress to the second division, where every 12 marks gained were worth a halfpenny. When promoted to the first division, boys received a penny for every 12 marks obtained. After they had been in the first division for six months, boys, who had not been punished for breaking school rules, were put in the merit class which entitled them to an extra 24 marks a month.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the maxim of Victorian parents and teachers. Punishments at Werrington were just as severe as those imposed by the courts. A list giving details of the punishment a boy would receive if he misbehaved was displayed in the classroom. For the first offence of dishonesty or falsehood, he forfeited 18 good conduct marks and was given six strokes of the cane, for a second offence he lost 36 marks and received four strokes of the birch and for a third he lost 144 marks and was given 8 strokes of the birch.

Absconding was the most serious offence. The first time a boy absconded, he forfeited 36 marks and was given six strokes of the birch. Those who absconded a second time lost 72 marks and received eight strokes of the birch. Boys absconding a third time lost all the good conduct marks they had earned and were given 12 strokes of the birch.

Despite the severity of these punishments, less than 5% of the boys who had been sent to Werrington got into trouble with the police when they left at 16.