Stoke-on-Trent Local History


The land and Resources


| water | clay | coal | iron ore | other metals |
| salt | limestone | sand, gravel and sandstone |
| unused resources |


(for drinking and mills)

There are documentary references to English water mills from the C8th onwards and they became common in England in the late Saxon period. (One of the two excavated sites is at Tamworth). 6000 water mills were recorded in the Domesday Book (l086), but most in the centre and south of the country – very few in the rest, especially on higher land. These areas must have ground corn by a hand mill.

In his study of the (37) water mills of the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, George Riley found 1 mill in Domesday, but 13 are confidently placed in the middle ages. At that time, only the Lord of the Manor had the right to build and operate a mill because only he had right of access to the water, whether from a river or pond or pound fed from a river or stream.

Therefore in order to use water for milling etc. a license had to be obtained from the Lord of the Manor who was , by this means able to control business endeavors to suit his own needs.   

1) bigger population – more need for corn; use of water to power machinery;
2) locally, producing materials for the pottery industry (e.g. Cheddleton Flint Mill) 


On the other side of the city is a short stretch of water which has a relatively steep gradient for the potteries area and which also had corn mills from perhaps before 1200AD. Later up to 10 mills were built in its length of 3 miles, several of which are still visible. Where? (Moddershall valley, Scotch Brook)

While there were at least 181 recorded water mills in the north of the county, Staffordshire has not been a major area for windmills. Many of those built date from the industrial revolution: l 750s and later. 

Existing windmills: Forton (poss 1573), Croxton near Stone 1777, Meir Heath c1775, Werrington c1730, and Kidsgrove 1812.

Other mills recorded include: Audley, Burslem (2), Etruria, Hanley, Hartshill, Penkhull, Tunstall. Woodseaves, Yarnfield - all date from the Industrial Revolution ,  Newcastle (2 before 1700, 1 after), Norton-in-the-Moors 1547 (2).


Example from newspaper of the existence of a mill in Tunstall:


Late last Saturday night, sub-inspector Oakden, hearing a noise in Tunstall windmill, was induced to watch the place, and observed through a window some fifteen fellows of the baser sort drinking and gambling, and interlarding their loud conversation with expressions of the most gross profanity. Oakden got the assistance of another policeman and kept watch till about three on Sunday morning. About midnight seven quarts of ale were sent for from Billington's beer-house. At length Oakden effected an entrance, and the party precipitately took to flight. At considerable hazard from their violence, five of them were apprehended, and brought before the magistrates to answer for the circumstances... In defence they said they had been drinking at Billington's till eleven on Saturday night, when by consent of the tenant of the mill they went there. each taking a quart of ale  with him. George Sheen, the miller, was then called, and stated that he rented the mill for £40 a year. He occasionally stayed on the premises on Saturday and Sunday nights, to prevent robbery, and last Saturday night he gave the prisoners permission to go there, but he was not present when the officers entered. This witness appeared very obtuse, and his answers, previous to being sworn, betrayed almost  heathenish ignorance. The prisoners were all discharged for the present – the miller was cautioned against allowing the place to be the nightly rendezvous' of such a depraved set, and  an intimation was given that the landlord ought to be made aware of the use to which his property had been put. 

Staffordshire Advertiser 12.6.1847



 Especially for fireclay, bricks and tiles:

To be let, for brick making, at a mine rent: A close, at Wolstanton, containing almost two acres, statute measure. The proofs give the depth of six feet of good clay, and from the depth of the adjoining wells there is reason to believe it is more rather than less throughout the whole. Apply to Mr William Barker, Wolstanton. 

Staffordshire Advertiser 13.3.1847


Dr Plot gives the earliest account of the clays of the area starting with the brick clays between Newcastle and Keele ‘which when burnt became all over blue...

’ the famous Staffordshire Blue Brick. 'As for tobacco pipe clays they are found all over the county.....  And Charles Riggs of Newcastle makes very good pipes of three forts of Clay, a white and a blew, which He has from between Shelton and Hanley green, whereof the blew clay burns the whitest, but not fo full as the White ie it fhrinks more; but the beft fort He has from Grubbers Afh, being whitifh mixt with yellow, it is a fhort britle fort of Clay, but burnes full and white, yet He fometimes mixes it with the blew beforementioned. But the greatest Pottery they have in this County is carryed on at Burflem near Newcastle under Lyme, where for making their feverall forts of Pots, they have as many different forts of Clay, which they dig round about the Towne, all within half a miles diftance, the beft being found neareft the coale, and are diftinguifh’t by their colours and ufes as followeth. 

1 Bottle clay, of a bright whitifh ftreaked yellow colour. 
2 Hard-fire clay of a duller whitifh colour , and fuller interfperft with a dark yellow, which they ufe for their blackwares, being mixt with the 
3 Red blending clay, which is of a dirty red colour.
4 White-clay, so called it feems though of a blewifh colour and ufed for making yellow-colour’d ware, becaufe yellow is the lighteft colour they make any Ware of all of which they call throwing clays, becaufe they are of a clofer texture, & will work on the wheel;'

In Cobridge, between Burslem and Hanley, yellow clay two feet thick lay only seven feet below the surface with six feet of red marl immediately below that. (This in the vertical shaft of a coal mine). Stoneware clays and fireclays were also found within easy reach. The geological strata of North Staffordshire are unusual and, with vertical faulting and extensive outcropping, a very great variety of clays and coals were available on the surface to anyone who dug a little deeper than usual. Red marls were the basic clays used for most early pottery. They were glazed with lead, applied to the dry clay ware as powdered galena (lead sulphide) or ‘Smithum’. Lead provided the gloss, and iron or manganese provided the colour. The ‘pipe-clays’, or white burning clays, were not so abundant and were used more sparingly either to coat the face of an article before decoration - as in slip-trailed ware - or in small amounts as the decoration itself. Later, mugs and jugs had a thin coating of white slip over the dark clay to render them more attractive

Clay was dug out of the ground until pits were formed which for red clays became known as ‘marl holes’ . In the seventeenth century, potters dug clay out of the roads ( so as not to lose any land area from cultivation): eventually the roads were so dangerous that the offenders were forbidden by law to continue the practice. This was probably the origin of the term ‘pot holes’. 



Coal and ironstone were being dug in the area as early as 1282, and by 1467 the Great Row coal seam was being mined and used for firing pottery. The actual area within which the coal is exposed at the surface is 70 square miles, which is small compared to other coalfields, but along the central part of this the thickness of the seams is much greater than that of any other English coalfield except Lancashire. The coal is of the Black Band Group of the Middle Coal Measures. Although there is a wide variety of coal types, there are two of the greatest importance: these are ‘long flame coals’ - essential for firing pottery ovens.

Some of the famous seams carry names like - Great Row, Hard Mine, Bowling Alley, Cox’s Head, Peacock, Bassey Mine, Holly Lane and Mossfield. Because the coal seam emerged (appeared) at the surface it was dug out until the seam was followed underground in sloping tunnels called ‘footrails’ or ‘adits’. Some coal was mined in ‘Bell Pits’, where a shaft was dug to a seam, and the seam excavated until the danger of collapse made it unsafe, and the seam was followed by digging another shaft nearby. In the late eighteenth century, pottery manufacturers joined together to form companies to mine coal for their mutual benefit. One at Fenton Park Colliery was typical, in which the principal partners included Josiah Spode II, Thomas Wolfe and Thomas Minton.

"1600 meters of measures containing more than 30 seams over 2m thick" - one of the thickest sequences of coal-bearing strata in Britain, and producing 6-7 million tons p.a. by late C19


Iron Ore: 

Worked from medieval times; production increased in mid-C19 and often found overlying coal measures - mining ceased about 1940.

Other Metals: 

Lead, zinc and copper found around Mixon, Ecton and Weaver Hills. Ecton produced over 50% of the UK copper output in 1820, but all workings had ceased by 1890. Ores were smelted in Cheadle area... Thomas Boulton still manufactures copper products there.


For glazing, two main materials were used: - Lead, in the form of Lead Sulphide, Galena, was found in Derbyshire and may have been brought from Cumberland and North Wales as well, but Derbyshire was the main source. Salt, from Cheshire, where at Marbury, near Northwich, salt in the form of brine was mined. Salt glazing was practised for about 100 years in Staffordshire, so this close source of supply was an important factor. 

Cheshire and Stafford areas (Salt, Shirleywich) probably from Roman times. The salt was used for salt glaze pottery. on Salt glaze.


Especially near Cauldon. Used for agriculture and iron industry.

Sand, gravel and sandstone : 

Sand: for glass making come from Moneystone near Cheadle;
Sandstone for building from Hollington before 1900
Sand and gravel from south of Newcastle (Acton, Willoughbridge) and Croxden near Cheadle

Unused Resources: 

A. Hot water: deeply buried below Crewe and Nantwich and unused as yet. 
B. Oil and gas: found in traces in 10 wells, but not on commercial scale.

– but a small gasfield deep below Lask Edge might have potential if prices rise:

Power Firm Back With New Bid To Drill For Gas:

An electricity company has renewed its bid to exploit a gas field near Leek to provide fuel for a new power station 5 kilometers away in Knypersley. 
Independent Energy UK Limited lost a battle to drill for gas at Three Nooks Farm, Horton, in June when Staffs CC rejected the venture. Now the company wants to eventually use gas from the site, transferred in an underground pipe. to fuel proposed power station at Knypersley.
The venture, on industrial land between Tunstall Road and Forge Way would include a building measuring 35 metres by 17 metres and 10 metres high, and would create two new jobs...

Mr Ernie Evans of independent Energy UK ...was predicting a boom in the sale of electricity when the industry is completely deregulated in April next year. 

... Scores of letters of objection and a 246-signature petition was raised against the venture amid fears of environmental impact on the area.

(The Sentinel, 30.12. 1997)

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Next: Archaeology in the area


questions / comments / contributions? email: Steve Birks