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First published in The Potter November 2004
Text © Copyright John Heaton 2004

Chatterley Whitfield

Geography

It occurred to me whilst planning for this year's event that a better title for the map would be Chatterley Valley, a name used by the Council. The area comprises a 2·5km by 0·5km section of the valley of the stream called the Ford Green Brook (not on any map I have looked at but a name used on Council literature only). The area is dominated by a landscaped former colliery spoilheap rising 75m above the surrounding land and burying the stream to this depth in a culvert. The spoilheap originally was a classical conical shape with steep sides. Landscaping smoothed this out and created the hump back shape of the hill and nearly doubled the area it covered. The small lake at the southern end is not shown on a 70’s map of the area so I think this was formed to assist the flood protection for the adjacent Ford Green Hall. I recall the earthwall around the wall being raised (to about 1·5m) since that time. The rest of the southern half away from the brook is disused farmland. North of the hill the valley has been narrowed and steepened, the effect of creating space for the colliery and its railway connections.

Railways

The railways created mostly in the 19th century to serve the collieries in the area created a network of long footpaths especially in the Burslem and Tunstall area. The Biddulph Valley Railway was built in 1860 and links Stoke with Congleton via Bucknall, Milton, Ford Green and Biddulph. This line allowed a very small coal mine at Chatterley Whitfield to expand. The main footpath that runs N-S from Ford Green to the north tip of the map is the course of this line. The coal wagons had to lowered from the colliery by a brake and empties hauled up by horse. The Colliery was on the opposite side of the valley to the railway. By 1873 further expansion of the colliery made this system inadequate. The mine owners decided to create a private railway line to run E–W to link to the Potteries Loop line at Tunstall about 3km away. The course of this line can be seen on the broad path that runs from north end of the hill in a direction a little south of due east a distance of 500m to the road. A 50ft viaduct took this line over the original line, an overhead bridge took the line over the road and a 200m tunnel took the line under the hill at Chell. Evidence of all three of these structures has now been removed or obscured. The plateau between the mine and the steep slope above the stream was the marshalling yard for the coal wagons.

Vegetation

There are large areas of marsh in the southern section, bordering the stream and at the head of the small lake. The remainder of this section is open grassland with hedges and small copses. After the Colliery closed in 1979 the spoilheap was landscaped out and planted with grasses hardy enough to grow on barren shale. When this was established a variety of trees and scrubs were planted. The first map of the area was drawn in 1999 and in 2004 substantial revisions were necessary to the map vegetation densities. A photograph from 1996 that I have demonstrates the relatively rapid change from “scattered trees” to “forest slow run” in that time. The area around the northmost kilometre of the stream is a challenging area of marsh and dense vegetation.

Wildlife

The lake and the marsh at Ford Green is a nature reserve and attracts a wide range of fowl and other water birds. Herons that can be seen here also range the full length of the area. I have seen jays and kingfishers around the brook at the far north.

History

Ford Green Hall is the oldest building in Stoke-on-Trent. It is a 17th century timber framed farmhouse and was the home of the Ford family for 200 years. It was rediscovered and renovated by Stoke Council in the 20th century who still maintain and run it as a museum. The current opening hours are 1300–17OOhrs on Sundays to Thursdays. (Not useful as a pull for local events.)

Colliery

Chatterley Whitfield was one of Britain biggest collieries in its heyday. Documents I have seen give a broad brush peak employment of 4000. An accurate figure for 1947 when the mines were nationalised was 2778. In 1937 it achieved the distinction of being the first British colliery to produce a million tons of coal in a year. It opened in 1838 and finally closed down in 1977, three years after linking up underground with Wolstanton Colliery, a more modern colliery which could exploit the remaining reserves more efficiently. Two years later it was opened as an underground mining museum. However in 1986 the closure of Wolstanton whose workings and pumps had kept the mine from flooding and provided a legally required emergency exit (all the other shafts at the mine had previously been closed down) meant the museum had to close. It now stands derelict yet secure surrounded by high steel fences awaiting funds to regenerate it as a surface museum and to extend the existing small industrial estate. The Friends of Chatterley Whitfield, a group set up to promote its preservation, describe it as the most complete record of colliery buildings in England. The site is a scheduled Ancient Monument and most of its 34 buildings are Grade 2 listed. A very high chimney (I have not seen any reference to its height in my research) towers above the area and can even be seen from the opposite side of the tip. This was to the boilerhouse which supplied the steam mainly for driving the shaft winding engines, one of which was still being used when the mine closed.

Trivia

Two years ago I had to do some minor revisions to the map including an unknown 20m mast surrounded by a high steel fence that suddenly appeared on the top of the tip. In the summer of 2004 it had gone. I have been reliably informed by two separate residents that it had been built to measure wind speeds. It has been replaced by a bench seat made of steel and concreted into the ground. It is, I assume, an unofficial memorial to a recently deceased local man.

Just across the road from Ford Green Hall is the site of an early Chain Works at which were made the chains for the Titanic.

John Heaton