Railways of Stoke-on-Trent - Potteries Loop Line
 

   

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  Introduction | Etruria to Hanley | Cobridge to Burslem | Tunstall
Pits Hill to Goldenhill | Kidsgrove

 

Potteries Loop Line - Birchenwood

 


next: demise of Birchenwood
previous: route of the loop line around Kidsgrove
[contents: Kidsgrove & Birchenwood]

Clough Hall Coal and Iron Works c.1890
Clough Hall Coal and Iron Works c.1890
the loop line runs left to right across the centre of the map
the two purple lines are the short Birchenwood tunnel
to the right, the red area showing a reservoir and sand pit still exist as ponds at Birchenwood Country Park

the junction of roads on the left are as follows:
blue
- Kidsgrove Bank
green - Liverpool Road
light blue - Stone Bank Road (was a tramway)
red - Birchenwood Way (was a tack into the works)
 


Birchenwood
Clough Hall Coal and Iron Works
Birchenwood Colliery
Birchenwood Brickworks
Birchenwood Gas and Coke Ltd

Birchenwood was the largest industrial site that the Tunstall and Newchapel area has ever known.

The origins of the estate:  

A freehold estate in Oldcott called Broadfield was held by the Colclough family from at least 1549. Colclough Lane, still the name of the Goldenhill end of the road to Newchapel, was in existence by 1535.

Discovering coal when building Harecastle canal tunnel:  

During the excavation work for the first Harecastle tunnel, the wealth of coal underground was discovered and it became apparent that the whole area was rich with coal. Thomas Gilbert who represented the Duke of Bridgewater, was the first to set up the collieries that would mine the area on a massive scale.


1833 and the first blast furnaces:
Iron ore was also found to be in plentiful supply and in 1833 the first blast furnaces were built to produce pig iron.

1871 and coking ovens:
The iron and steel works were steadily expanded and by 1871 there was a new addition in the form of 78 beehive ovens for the production of coke.

 

The Heath family:

Robert Heath (who ran the Biddulph Valley furnaces)  also owned a large part of Clough Hall estate which owned the land that the Birchenwood site occupied. After he died in 1893 his two sons inherited the business -  when the operating company at Birchenwood closed the iron and steelworks, leaving the coal and coke as the only business, the Heath brothers stepped in and purchased the whole site.
 


Birchenwood Colliery - 1900
Birchenwood Colliery - 1900
"Birchenwood colliery opened in the 1890s, most of the coal being used for coke and other by-products. The colliery actually closed in 1932, but coke and other by-product production continued by using coal from other collieries. However this production also ceased in May 1973"

photo: Kidsgrove Library - Staffordshire Past Tracks


 

The growth of the coking plant:

In 1896 the original ovens were replaced by 124 new beehive ovens - now nearly all the coal mined was now used for coke which the Heath's were using in their ironworks.


Birchenwood Beehive coking ovens - 1911
Birchenwood Beehive coking ovens - 1911

A view of the coking ovens at Birchenwood, called Beehive ovens for their obvious likeness to Beehives. In this picture the ovens are being demolished, having been replaced in 1909.

photo: Borough Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle under Lyme;
Miss Barnard, Staffordshire Past Track


Over the next few years they would invest a staggering one million pounds in building what was to become the leading coke/by-products plants in the country.

New ovens were added, a rail network built to link all of the sites, locomotives to transport the coal and coke, and houses for their employees were just some of things that contributed to a very prosperous partnership between the Heath's and Birchenwood.


In 1909 a range of 13 Mond gas producers were installed at Birchenwood
In 1909 a range of 13 Mond gas producers were installed at Birchenwood

"Before Natural Gas was discovered, Town Gas produced from coal was used. The process consisted of heating coal in enclosed retorts, where the gases were led through pipes and treated in a variety of ways.

Coke was the main by-product of gas production, along with a huge variety of other by-products, including coal tar, benzol, pitch, creosote, nylon, solvents for paints and varnish."

photo: Keele University - William Jack Collection
Staffordshire Past Track

 


The industrial advances meant that there were now more uses for the by-products from the coking process and a special recovery plant with 84 ovens was built in 1909, this was followed by gas producers in 1910 and the replacement of the now outdated beehive ovens in 1912 with 72 Carl Still type ovens.

 

 

Royal Visit:

Visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1913
Visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1913

photo: Borough Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle under Lyme;
Miss Barnard, Staffordshire Past Track
 

On April 23rd 1913, King George V and Queen Mary visited the plant. They were shown the impressive new equipment that was turning 7000 tons of coal into 4500 tons of coke each week, and all the remaining by-products dealt with in the recovery ovens.




next: demise of Birchenwood
previous: route of the loop line around Kidsgrove
[contents: Kidsgrove & Birchenwood]