Category Archives: Kidsgrove

A child murder in Kidsgrove

On Friday, July 31st, 1868, a 40-year-old furnaceman, William Hancock, stood in the dock at Stafford Assizes charged with the wilful murder of Mary Ann Whitehurst at Kidsgrove on June 10th, 1868.

The court heard that Mary, a little girl about ten years old, was the daughter of one of William’s neighbours.

On the evening of June 9th, she was playing with William’s children and obtained permission from her father to sleep at the accused’s house overnight.

Mary went to bed at about 9.30pm. In the early hours of the morning, the household was woken by William who being in a state of uncontrollable violence was shouting, cursing and attempting to attack his wife. Terror-stricken, William’s wife and children ran out of the house leaving Mary there.

William jumped out of his bedroom window into the street. Being unable to find his wife and children who had taken refuge with their next-door neighbour, William went back into the house where he saw Mary.

He caught hold of Mary and dragged her into the kitchen. He picked her up by the legs, held her upside down and battered her head on the kitchen floor until she was dead.

Medical evidence presented to the court showed that William was suffering from delirium tremens and did not know what he was doing when he killed Mary. The jury said he was insane and the judge ordered him to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Life was hard for Kidsgrove’s miners

A GIRL PUTTERDuring the first half of the 19th century, the life of coal miners was hard. Wages were low. Men, women and children worked long hours in semi-darkness. The work was dangerous. Accidents were frequent. Human life was cheap, and colliery owners put profits before safety.

Half naked men and women worked together at the coalface mining coal and putting it into wagons. Young children were employed to open air doors on roadways leading from the coalface to the bottom of the mine shaft.  They sat alone in the darkness and opened these doors for boys and girls who were harnessed to the wagons which they pulled along the roadway.

In the early 1840s, Samuel Scriven who was preparing a report on child labour for the government visited Kidsgrove. He interviewed several coal miners employed by colliery owner Thomas Kinnersley who lived in luxury at Clough Hall.

One of the miners, 17 years old John Vickers said:

“I have been to work for about four years; first worked at a farm for about four years. My business is to attend at the pit’s mouth and haul away the coals that come up from Delph. I get 11 shillings (55p) a week for wages; mother gets it from me; I get it from the charter master. We work by the ton; I get paid at the public-house. I went to day school for a few months before I worked at the farm; I cannot read or write; I go to church pretty regularly. I come to work at six in the morning and go home about six {in the evening}. I am too tired after work to go to school in the evening; I would rather go if I could; but as I said before, I am always too tired. My father is dead. My mother keeps a child’s’ school. I have three sisters; two of them work in the silk factories at Congleton; the eldest is 18 years; she has 5s 6d (27.5p) a week; the other is 14; she has 3s 6d (17.5p) a week; the youngest goes to the National Day School at Mr Wade’s.  I get my breakfast before I come to work and bring my second breakfast with me; I go to dinner at twelve and have ‘tatees’ and bacon. I always take my hour for dinner and get my breakfast how I can. I never do any night work.”

Potteries criminals feared Wright’s Law

Law (Wright)

A barrister whose attempts to pursue a political career in Parliament were unsuccessful, Harold Wright became The Potteries Stipendiary Magistrate in 1893.

A man who sympathised with the victims of domestic violence, Harold was determined to stamp out wife beating and child abuse in the six towns. Drunken men who had attacked their wives could expect no mercy when they appeared before his court. Even first offenders were sent to prison, and the sentences he imposed made him the most feared magistrate in the district.

Unlike the Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrates in London who sat alone, Harold sat with Justices of the Peace.

Sitting in Kidsgrove and The Potteries, his court committed indictable offences for trial to the Assizes or to Quarter Sessions. It heard matrimonial disputes and tried summary offences.

Burslem and Longton, which were boroughs, and Hanley, which was a county borough, had their own Magistrates’ Courts presided over by borough magistrates. The borough Magistrates’ Courts shared jurisdiction with the Stipendiary Magistrate’s Court, and local police decided whether summary cases were tried by borough magistrates or by the stipendiary court. Knowing that Harold would impose more severe sentences than the borough magistrates, the police always prosecuted professional criminals and habitual offenders before his court.

Harold lived at Aston Hall, a mansion near Stone. His hobbies included hunting, fishing, painting and drawing. Under the pseudonym Snuff, he drew caricatures for Vanity Fair and made sketches of the lawyers who argued cases before his court.

A man who liked animals, Harold supported the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He helped to organise Hanley’s Annual Horse Parade and launched a successful campaign against cruelty to animals in The Potteries – an area where every week between 30 and 40 people stood in the dock charged with ill-treating dogs and horses.

St. Saviour’s – Part One

 

St. Saviour's

St. Saviour’s the “tin church” in The Rookery which was demolished in 2013

Until it was demolished by the Church of England in 2013, St. Saviour’s the “tin church” in The Rookery, a former mining village near to Kidsgrove, was one of the oldest surviving iron buildings in the world. A miners’ church built by miners for miners, St. Saviour’s was one of the churches that helped to bring Christianity to the North Staffordshire Coalfield. At the request of local people living in Butt Lane, Kidsgrove and Mow Cop, we are reposting three posts about the church written by historical geographer Betty Cooper in 2011.

St Saviour’s (Part One)

The first iron buildings were lock-keepers’ cottages erected by canal companies towards the end of the 18th century. Their walls were built of cast iron or iron blocks. They had iron window frames and wrought iron sheet roofs.

Wrought iron corrugated roofing sheets were invented in 1829 by civil engineer Henry Robinson Palmer who used them to roof the large warehouses he was building in the Port of London. Durable and corrosion resistant, the sheets were light and easy to transport by road or canal. Enterprising entrepreneurs soon discovered that they could use them to produce “factory made” prefabricated buildings which were assembled on site by semi-skilled workers.

One of the first to realise their potential was London based civil engineering contractor Richard Walker who built a factory in Bermondsey where he made corrugated iron roofs.

In 1831, Richard published an advertisement with an illustration of an open-ended warehouse with a corrugated iron barrel-vaulted roof which he could erect for his customers. Galvanised iron was produced from 1836 onwards, and Richard started to manufacture prefabricated buildings with galvanised corrugated iron walls and roofs which were exported to Australia.

By the end of the 1840s corrugated wrought iron sheets had been used to roof Liverpool’s Lime Street Station and New Street Station in Birmingham.

When the Californian Gold Rush began in 1849, a Manchester firm E.T. Bellhouse and Co. produced prefabricated iron warehouses and miners’ cottages which were shipped to California and erected on the goldfield.

A two roomed miner’s cottage, with a day-room and a bedroom, cost £100. For more affluent customers, the firm manufactured two storey houses whose price ranged from £450 to £500. The corrugated iron used to construct these buildings was coated with tin alloy to prevent rust. Some of them had four rooms on each floor and were described as being “equal to that of the most comfortable house” of the same size in England. Barrel-vaulted roofs were replaced by pitched roofs in 1849, and in 1850 a twelve-room lodging house was sent to California.

At the beginning of the 1850s, there were several firms producing a wide range of prefabricated iron buildings that included houses, village halls, sports pavilions, warehouses, hospitals and churches which were exported to the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

E.T. Bellhouse produced a “special emigrant’s cottage” which the emigrant could take with him when he and his family left England to find fame and fortune in a new country.

The firm exhibited an emigrant’s cottage at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Prince Albert was impressed by the building and the technical skill shown by its designers.

He ordered a large wrought iron building, 60 feet long by 24 feet wide, which could be used as a ballroom, a dining room and a theatre at Balmoral Castle.

When the exhibition closed the demand for iron buildings increased and in 1855 the United Kingdom’s first “tin church” was erected in the grounds of the vicarage at Kensington.

A report in The Builder (27th October 1855) said it was constructed of galvanised corrugated iron and observed that: “It would not be too difficult on a future occasion to give a more ecclesiastical character to such a structure…” A large number of “tin churches” were built in the second half of the 19th century. One of them was St. Saviour’s which was erected in Butt Lane in 1868 and moved to The Rookery in 1879.

Copyright Betty Cooper 2011

St. Saviour’s – Part Two

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ST. SAVIOUR’S THE HISTORIC “TIN CHURCH” IN THE ROOKERY

Until it was demolished in 2013 St. Saviour’s the “tin church” in The Rookery was one of the oldest corrugated iron buildings in the world. In this post, first posted in 2011, historical geographer Betty Cooper, who was born in The Rookery, writes about the local miners who built the church.

St. Saviour’s (Part Two)

A mission church, St. Saviour’s was constructed from a self-assembly kit manufactured in London by Messrs Vavasour. The kit was bought by the Parish of Talke in 1867 and erected in Congleton Road, Butt Lane on a site called the Hollins, which had been given by Mrs Marsh Caldwell who lived at Linley Hall.

Local landowners, including Mrs Marsh Caldwell and her daughters, subscribed to the building fund.

“Tin Churches” which the Victorians called “Tin Tabernacles” were easy to erect by volunteers. When the “self-assembly kit” arrived at Butt Lane it contained an instruction booklet and everything needed to construct the church including numbered corrugated iron sheets, pre-cut wooden strips, doors and windows.

Working in the evenings and at weekends, colliers from Butt Lane and Talke cleared the site, laid the foundations, erected the timber frame and bolted the prefabricated corrugated iron sheets, the doors and the windows to it.

St. Saviour’s cost less than £350 although an additional £300 had to be raised to pay a local builder who was employed to construct a wall round the site.

A single storey building, the church could accommodate 120 worshippers. The interior was lined with stained wood. There was an inscription over the chancel arch and a stained glass window above the altar which depicted “Christ the Saviour of the World”.

St. Saviour’s was opened by George Selwyn, the Bishop of Lichfield, on April 1st, 1868.

At 2.00pm a procession, containing the bishop and local clergymen, was formed at a nearby farmhouse. Led by Chesterton Church choir, the procession made its way to St. Saviour’s.

The bishop entered the church, and the service began. Admission to the service was by ticket only. Tickets cost £3 – a price the colliers, who had built the church, could not afford to pay.

A large number of colliers and their families had gathered outside the building. While the hymn before the sermon was being sung, the Bishop surprised everyone. Instead of making his way to the pulpit, he walked down the aisle to the main entrance. After the hymn, he stood in the porch and preached to the crowd standing outside.

During the service a collection was held which raised £12 to support church missions in New Zealand where George had been a bishop for ten years before coming to Lichfield.

St. Saviour’s served Butt Lane until 1879 when it was replaced by a mock Tudor timber-framed building. The redundant “tin church” was acquired by Mow Cop parish. The building was dismantled and taken to The Rookery where it was reassembled.

Copyright Betty Cooper 2011

St. Saviour’s – Part Three

A Second World War Liberty Ship

A SECOND WORLD WAR LIBERTY SHIP

Opened by George Selwyn, the Bishop of Lichfield, on April 1st, 1868, St. Saviour’s was a tin mission church in Butt Lane. Manufactured as a “self-assembly kit” containing a wooden frame, corrugated iron sheets, doors and windows, the church was purchased from a London firm. Erected by volunteers, St. Saviour’s served the village until 1879 when it was replaced by a mock Tudor timber-framed building.

The redundant “tin church” was acquired by Mow Cop parish, dismantled and taken to The Rookery where it was reassembled.

Now called “St. Saviour’s Mission Church in the Rookery”, the church was self-supporting. All its income came from collections and fundraising activities organised by members of the congregation.

Although services were taken by the vicar of Mow Cop who appointed the Vicar’s Warden, other officials were elected by the congregation at the annual general meeting. As well as electing the People’s Warden, the treasurer and the sidesmen, the meeting appointed the Sunday School superintendent, the choirmaster, the organist and the cleaner.

In September 1932, the Rev. Charles Hood became Vicar of Mow Cop. A man with a forceful personality, he persuaded the annual general meeting to regenerate St. Saviour’s and the church was closed from August 18th to September 8th, 1935 while the work was carried out. Some of the money to finance the project was raised locally, but most had been given by retired marine engineer, Summers Hunter, who had helped re-erect the church when it came from Butt Lane.

One of John and Isabella Hunter’s six children, Summers was born at Inverness on July 12th, 1856 and educated at Inverness Academy. In 1870, when Summers was 14, his father became the agent for a colliery in the Kidsgrove area. The family left Scotland and came to live in The Rookery.

Summers obtained an apprenticeship with Barker & Cope, a Kidsgrove engineering firm which made boilers, winding gear and pumps. He attended classes at the Wedgwood Institute and won prizes for electrical engineering, technical drawing and machine construction. In 1880, Summers left The Rookery and went to Sunderland to work for the North Eastern Marine Engineering Company where he became one of the world’s leading marine engineers.

In 1900, the company made him its managing director. He modernised the firm’s Wallsend factory where cutting-edge research was undertaken to develop new and more powerful steam engines. Efficient and easy to maintain, these engines were used by shipbuilders in Europe and North America to power their ships. During the Second World War, a triple expansion engine, developed by Summers in the early years of the 20th century, was modified and installed in the British designed Liberty Ships which were built in Britain and America to carry supplies across the Atlantic.

When St. Saviour’s was regenerated, Summers gave two stained glass windows. A large window which depicted the figure of Christ was installed above the altar, and the other window was placed above the main entrance.

Summers visited St. Saviour’s on October 13th, 1935 and addressed the congregation. After giving a brief account of the church’s history, he bore “personal witness” of the way his life had been influenced by the services he attended there in his youth.

Copyright Betty Cooper 2011

St. Saviour’s was demolished in 2013. Regeneration consultants believe the church was an asset that could have been used to help create a heritage based tourist industry in the Kidsgrove area. Architectural historians say the demolition of this historic church was an act of bureaucratic vandalism which proves to the world that North Staffordshire does not care about its heritage.  

Focus on Kidsgrove: St. Saviour’s the heritage church demolished by the Church of England

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ST. SAVIOUR’S THE HISTORIC “TIN CHURCH” IN THE ROOKERY WHICH WAS DEMOLISHED BY THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND IN 2013

St. Saviour’s the historic tin church in The Rookery, near Kidsgrove, was demolished by the Church of England in 2013. Spotlight on Stoke has been asked to re-post the articles that our historical geographer Betty Cooper wrote about the church before it was demolished.

Spotlight has agreed to re-post Betty’s articles which will be posted on this site in March.

Betty Cooper and David Martin agree with the comments made by the Phoenix Trust when it heard that St. Saviour’s was going to be demolished. The Phoenix Trust said it was:

“A miners’ church, built by miners for miners, which helped to bring Christianity to an industrial village on the North Staffordshire Coalfield.

“One of the oldest tin churches in the world, its unique character and atmosphere were destroyed when the interior, shown in the photograph, was gutted.

“When St. Saviour’s is demolished North Staffordshire will lose a major heritage asset.

“An asset that could have been used to help create a heritage based tourist industry which would bring millions of pounds into our region and help to regenerate it.”

Photograph Copyright David Martin

Kinnersley’s Kidsgrove in 1841

The report* on Kidsgrove prepared by S.S. Scriven in 1841 for the Children’s Employment Commissioners says:

“Some five or six years ago the inhabitants of this place were said to be in a state little removed from barbarism, notoriously ignorant, vicious and depraved and as much a terror to the surrounding countryside as the now equally notorious people from ‘Biddle (Biddulph) Moor’.

“About this time Mr Kinnersley (the owner of Kidsgrove’s ironworks and coal mines) erected at his own expense an exceedingly elegant and commodious church together with a Sunday School for both sexes. He appointed the Rev. Wade to the living and shortly afterwards established a day school for boys and girls with a master and mistress who worked under the Rev. Wade’s supervision.

“The character of the people is now entirely different from what it was. They attend church regularly. They are steady and domesticated at home. At work, they are industrious and hard-working and respectful and obedient to their superiors.

“Those miners I have spoken to appear to be conscious of the blessings bestowed upon them by Mr Kinnersley. Judging from their own admissions and from reports of what they were like, I should say they must indeed be an altered people.”

*Edited by David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2012

 

Spotlight on Kidsgrove – The Avenue Villa Murders

On October 2nd, 1911, people living in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire were shocked when they read in the Sentinel that a burglar had murdered widow Mrs Mary Weir, her four-year-old daughter, Margaret, and Mary Hambleton, the family’s 17-year-old maid.

The victims lived at Avenue Villa, a large detached house in Liverpool Road, Kidsgrove which stood in its own grounds overlooking the Victoria Hall and the cemetery. Surrounded by trees, the secluded villa (now demolished) was approached by a long, winding drive. At about ten o’ clock in the morning, Mrs Eliza Stanfield, who lived across the road, was looking out of her window and saw a man walking up the drive towards the house.

Two hours later, Mrs Weir’s eight-year-old daughter Jennie, came home from school for dinner. She saw an empty cash box lying on the floor in the hall. Going upstairs, she found the three bodies lying in pools of blood. They had all been stunned by blows to the head before being stabbed four or five times with a chisels or a stiletto – a short dagger with a tapering blade.

The cash box belonged to William Lehr, a German civil engineer who was erecting a battery of German designed Carl Still coke ovens at Birchenwood Colliery. He had been living with the Weirs for eight days when the murders were committed. The burglar took £30 in gold sovereigns and silver coins from a draw in William’s bedroom where he kept the cash box and a leather bag containing £15. The bag was missing and suspicion fell on Karl Kramer, a German construction worker at Birchenwood, who had helped William move his possessions to Avenue Villa a few days previously.

A keen cyclist, Kramer who was 28 years old had been an infantryman in the German army. He cycled all the way from Wakefield to The Potteries looking for work. He came to Kidsgrove, where German workers were building a battery of 72 Carl Still coke ovens at Birchenwood, on September 14th, 1911. William gave him a job and he found lodgings with Esther Shufflebotham, an elderly woman who kept a shop in Goldenhill. Kramer left Birchenwood on Wednesday, September 27th, after a row with William and two days later walked out of his lodgings owing Mrs Shufflebotham eleven shillings (55p) rent. Everyone thought he had left the district but on the morning of Monday, October 2nd, he cycled from Red Bull to Kidsgrove. Leaving his cycle at a stonemason’s yard near the Harecastle Hotel, he walked into town. When he returned about an hour later to collect his cycle, Kramer seemed agitated and anxious to get away quickly.

When the murders were discovered, Staffordshire Police organised a nationwide manhunt for Kramer. A watch was kept on ports in case he tried to get back to Germany. His description was given to the newspapers and the public was asked to help find a 5 foot 7 inches tall German in his early 30s, with nut brown hair and a bristly moustache, wearing a green striped peaked cap, a dark green suit and black shoes.

On leaving Kidsgrove, Kramer cycled to Macclesfield. Stopping for a drink at the Bleeding Wolf, an old coaching inn on the A34 at Hall Green, he kept going outside to see if anyone was following him. By two o’ clock Kramer had arrived in Macclesfield and went to a hairdresser, where barber Samuel Rider shaved him and took off his moustache. Taking his bike with him, he caught a train to Leeds. Arriving there at about five o’ clock, he purchased a rolled gold chain from a jeweller. Realising that his suit was bloodstained, Kramer went to a clothes shop and bought the first ready to wear suit the assistant showed him. The suit needed altering and he left the shop while the alterations were made. When he collected the suit two hours later, Kramer paid for it with silver coins and purchased a hat. He changed into his new suit and left the shop carrying the bloodstained one in a box, which one of the assistants had given him. He booked a room for the night at the Phoenix Temperance Hotel paying four shillings (20p) for bed and breakfast.

Before going to bed, Kramer went to a public-house, the Prince of Wale, and started buying drinks for everyone in the smoke room. He bought several rounds and paid for them with gold and silver coins taken out of a leather bag that he kept in his hip pocket. A woman, Dora Goldstone, approached Kramer. He bought her a drink and asked if she would like to dance. While they were dancing, Goldstone put her hands in his pocket and stole the leather bag which contained £27. She left the public-house and shared the money with two men who followed her out. When he realised the money was missing, Kramer reported the theft to the police saying his name was John Reuter.

The following day, Kramer made his way to York where he offered to sell his bicycle to George King a cycle dealer. King was suspicious. He believed the cycle had been stolen and called the police. Kramer told them his name was Alfred Woltman and that he had travelled by bicycle and train from London to York looking for work. The police believed him and King bought the cycle for fifteen shillings (75p).

Kramer left York the next morning and went to Bentley, a small mining village near Doncaster. Saying he was a fitter from Glasgow who had come to work at a local colliery, Kramer found lodgings at William Bradshaw’s fish and chip shop. That evening, Bradshaw read a report of the murders in his newspaper which gave a description of the wanted man. Realising that his lodger was the murderer, Bradshaw informed the police and Kramer was arrested. He said his name was Ainfred Woltmann and when charged replied, “Me no understand”. The West Riding Constabulary, who had made the arrest, handed him over to Staffordshire Police and he was brought back to Kidsgrove where bloodstains were found on his underclothes.

On Saturday, October 7th, Kramer was remanded in custody by the Magistrates and taken to Stafford Prison. A few days later an inquest was held at the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove into the deaths of Mary Weir, her daughter Margaret and the maid Mary Hambleton. The jury said they had been wilfully murdered by Kramer and the Coroner committed him for trial to Stafford Assizes.

While he was awaiting trial, the prison authorities discovered that Kramer was mentally ill. He became withdrawn and lost interest in everything. On Tuesday, November 14th, two prison officers carried him into the dock at Stafford Assizes and placed his seemingly lifeless body on a chair. He sat with his head in his hands while the court clerk read the indictment. Kramer remained silent when asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty. Two doctors told the court he was insane and unable to understand the proceedings. Accepting their evidence, the jury found that he was unfit to plead and the judge, Mr Justice Pickford, ordered him to be detained in custody during His Majesty’s pleasure. Kramer was taken back to Stafford Prison and shortly afterwards transferred to the criminal lunatic asylum at Broadmoor.

(NOTE: The Sketch shows the criminal lunatic asylum at Broadmoor)

Copyright Betty Cooper 2010