Category Archives: Kidsgrove

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

 

James Brindley’s Harecastle Tunnel

Brindley Tunnel (2)

THE CHATTERLEY ENTRANCE TO BRINDLEY’S HARECASTLE TUNNEL

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 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.

Spotlight on Kidsgrove – The Avenue Villa Murders

L0004829 Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor, Berkshire.

THE CRIMINAL LUNATIC ASYLUM AT BROARDMOOR

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.

Copyright Betty Cooper 2010

Focus on Kidsgove: Harry Wilson – A Local Hero

Edward Medal

THE EDWARD MEDAL

The Coal Mines Act 1911 forced colliery owners to employ qualified safety officers, called firemen to inspect roadways leading to the coalface and make sure the pit was well ventilated and free from gas.

It was a responsible job. A miner could not become a fireman unless he obtained a Firemans Certificate, was at least 25 years old and had worked underground for three years before working at the coalface for two.

In the early 1920s, Harry Wilson, a roadman at Harriseahead Colliery, was a part-time student at the North Staffordshire Technical College (Staffordshire University) where he was studying for his fireman’s certificate.

On March 10th, 1924, Harry was at work when the lower levels of the colliery were flooded by a sudden inrush of water. Except for Edwin Booth, who was trapped by flood water about 300 yards (274 metres) from the bottom of the shaft, all the men working underground escaped. Many made their way along roadways where the water was four feet deep to the bottom of the shaft.  They were brought up in the cage. Other miners scrambled up a foot rail to reach the surface.

When he realised Edwin was missing Pailing Baker, the manager, called for volunteers to help rescue him. Five men, including Harry, volunteered. Led by Pailing, they entered the mine through the footrail. Making their way along a roadway, the volunteers reached a ventilation door that was holding back the flood water. Fearing for their lives, four of the men refused to open it. They returned to the surface while Pailing and Harry stayed in the tunnel.

The two men slowly opened the door, and the water behind it fell slightly.

Realising they could be drowned by the water which was still pouring into the workings, Pailing and Harry risked their lives by wading in semi-darkness, through swirling flood water, They made their way along a low roofed, narrow roadway to where Edwin was trapped.

Struggling against chest high, fast flowing water, they again risked death to guide him to the bottom of the shaft where a cage took them to the surface.

Six months later, on August 23rd, 1924, Buckingham Palace announced that King George V had awarded Pailing and Harry the Edward Medal for “exceptional courage and resolution”. Before going to London to receive their medals from the King, they were honoured locally.

At a ceremony in the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove, they were presented with certificates acknowledging their bravery by the Daily Herald, a popular national newspaper. During the ceremony, the Carnegie Trust announced that it had agreed to pay Harry’s tuition fees at the North Staffordshire Technical College giving him the opportunity to continue his studies and become a mining engineer.

Instituted by King Edward VII in 1907, the Edward Medal was the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Designed by W Reynolds-Stephens, the medal had the sovereign’s profile on the obverse, while the reverse depicting a miner rescuing a stricken colleague, was inscribed with the words “For Courage”.

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the prime minister, Winston Churchill, persuaded King George VI to institute the George Cross “for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.

The George Cross gradually replaced the Edward Medal which was only awarded posthumously after 1949. During 1971, the Queen invited the 68 surviving holders of the Edward Medal to exchange it for the George Cross. Harry accepted the invitation, and until his death in 1986, he regularly attended the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association’s reunions at Buckingham Palace.

Contact Spotlight on The Potteries at spotlightstoke@talktalk.net to tell us about other miners working on the North Staffordshire Coalfield who were given awards for risking their lives to rescue a comrade trapped underground.

Recent Entries »