Category Archives: Trent & Mersey Canal

Focus on Kidsgrove – The Kitcrew Bugget

Brindley's Harecastle Tunnel (Chatterley)

The Rev. Frederick George  Llewellin, the Vicar of Kidsgrove from 1922 until his death in 1941, wrote a book “The Lighter Side of a Parson’s Life” about his ministry in the town.

In this edited extract from the chapter which looks at the lives of the boat people who worked on the Trent & Mersey Canal, he tells the story of the Kitcrew Bugget – a ghost that haunts the Brindley Tunnel which runs under Harecastle Hill.

The Kitcrew Bugget 

“Lor, bless yer, lad, don’t yer know? Did yer never hear tell o’ it? Well, gaffer, years ago, in the very middle o’ the tunnel right atween Tunstall on the one side and Kitcrew (Kidsgrove) junction on the other, two men murdered a woman and threw her body inter the tunnel and because it wor a deed o’ violence and her life wor taken from her before it wor asked for, that there ‘oman have never lain quiet.

“But years ago as it wor, she’d appear, sometimes in the form o’ a white horse, sometimes like a female without a head, but whenever her comes, trouble’s sure to foller. Never wor there an accident at the collieries but the Kitcrew Bugget wor sure to come to tell o’ it. Somebody ‘ll die, or be murdered or drowned in the cut (canal) or coal mine when that there ghost appears.”

Note: The Kitcrew Bugget is sometimes called the Kidsgrove Boggart or the Kidcrew Buggett.

The photograph taken in 2012 shows the Chatterley entrance to the Brindley Tunnel – the home of the Kitcrew Bugget

Thieves were not deterred by whipping and transportation

The Swan Inn

During the 18th century, Hanley and Shelton became the most important towns in The Potteries.

Between 1762 and 1801 their populations grew from 2,000 to 7,940. Hanley’s first church, St. John’s, erected in 1738 was enlarged during the 1760s. Stagecoaches called at The Swan, an old inn in the town centre. Pack horses and wagons carried ware from Hanley and Shelton to the Weaver Navigation’s wharves at Winsford and brought back ball clay and household goods. A covered market designed by architect James Trubshaw was built in Town Road during 1776.

The Trent & Mersey and the Caldon Canal stimulated economic expansion and population growth.

Entrepreneurs opened factories and iron works. People from the surrounding countryside came to Hanley looking for work and new houses were constructed.

In 1791, a trust was formed to acquire the market hall and build a town hall. The trustees leased land in Market Square from John Bagnall, the Lord of the Manor, where they erected a town hall.

Markets were held in the square on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A fortnightly cattle market was established at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1813, Parliament gave the trustees power to regulate the market place and make by-laws. The trustees demolished the old town hall and built a poultry market and a stone lockup where prisoners were held until they were brought before the Magistrates’ Court which sat in a room at the Swan Inn.

Punishments in the 18th century were severe and intended to deter the offender by degrading and humiliating him.

Men found guilty of being drunk and disorderly were put in the stocks and pelted with bad eggs, rotten tomatoes and potato peelings by jeering crowds. Women convicted of street fighting or brawling were placed on the ducking stool and dipped in Clementson’s Pool until they begged for mercy. Men and women caught stealing from market stalls were tried at the county Quarter Sessions and received a public whipping or were transported to Australia for seven years.

Despite these draconian penalties, law and order broke down. The annual wakes turned into a drunken orgy which was followed by rioting and looting.

Fearing for their own safety, Hanley’s unpaid constables turned a blind eye when serious crimes were committed. In the evenings, robbers lurked in doorways waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims walking home through narrow, unlit streets.

Having no confidence in the constables, residents employed watchmen to patrol the streets and protect their property. A society for the prosecution of felons was formed and in 1825 a professional police force was created.

Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin 2013

PH/BC/DM

The Caldon Canal

Springs Bridge

A major tourist attraction, the Caldon Canal, which passes through Hanley Park, links The Potteries with Leek and Froghall.

Branching from the Trent and Mersey Canal at Etruria’s Summit Lock, the Caldon Canal was constructed by Scottish civil engineer John Rennie.

John, who designed London Bridge, Southwark Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, was born at Phantassie near Edinburgh on June 7th, 1761. He began his career building flour mills and constructing drainage systems on the Solway Firth. Moving to England, he worked on projects to drain East Anglia’s fens and built roads, bridges and canals, including the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Lancaster Canal and the Rochdale Canal.

Opened in 1779, the Caldon Canal meanders for 17 miles through the Trent and Churnet valleys.

Canal boats brought coal from Kidsgrove to forges in the Churnet Valley and flint stones to flint mills where they were ground, bake-dried and turned into slop, which the pottery industry used to make earthenware more durable.

The canal terminated at Froghall Wharf, where a tramway had been laid to limestone quarries at Cauldon Lowe.

Between 1779 and 1797 two thousand boats were loaded at the wharf with 40,000 tons of limestone, which was used as a flux to smelt iron ore, to make fertiliser or to build houses, town halls and churches.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the Trent & Mersey Canal Company, which owned the Caldon Canal, decided to build a reservoir at Rudyard and construct branch canals to Leek and Uttoxeter.

The Leek branch opened in 1802 but work stopped on the Uttoxeter branch in 1809 when the company ran out of money. It borrowed £30,000 to complete the branch which opened on September 3rd, 1811 when six or seven boats took the directors and their guests from Uttoxeter to Crump Wood Weir (between Denstone and Alton) for a picnic lunch.

Large wharfs and dry docks were constructed at Uttoxeter where canal boats were built and repaired.

The branch to Uttoxeter, which carried coal, copper and brass from Alton, Kingsley and Oakamoor, was not a commercial success. It closed in 1847.

The canal was drained and its bed was used by engineers who were constructing the section of the Churnet Valley Railway that ran between Uttoxeter and Froghall.

Like the Uttoxeter branch, the Leek branch of the canal was not economically viable although it continued to carry coal until the late 1930s.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2012

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.