|A photo walk across Stoke Fields to Winton's Wood, Stoke-on-Trent
- the parish of St. Simon and St. Jude
The early years - 1750 onwards - as seen through the eyes of a local traveller
previous: the very early years - the times of the Romans and Normans
A traveller in 1750 walking the back lanes through the fields from Handley Green (Hanley) to Stoke Parish Church would have had a wholly different view. As he drew level with Shelton Farm, the last vestiges of which would later be known as Mayer's Field with its attendant abattoir, he would continue south down the gentle slope of Stoke Fields along the farm track later to become Victoria (and later still College) Road.
Crossing the boundary between Shelton Farm and entering the Parish Glebe Land of Winton's Wood, he would see stretched out in front of him, the broad, shallow valley of the River Trent, the course of which lay some few hundred yards to the east beyond Leek Road at Trent Hay Farm, the smaller Fowlea (or Foulhay) Brook running south from Linehouses to join the Trent a mile away near the old Derby to Chester Roman Road, Rykeneld Street.
The River Trent rises some 900 feet above sea level, under the shadow of Lask Edge on Biddulph Moor 9 miles to the north, drops 500 feet in that distance, and then continues south, sweeping round to the north on its slow 150 mile journey to join the Humber near Scunthorpe, almost at sea level. The 9th Century stone-built Parish Church of St Peter ad Vincula lay just to the north of Rykeneld Street, with the Rector's house Stoke Hall across the road to the south.
The dilapidated Parish Church which had been altered and enlarged many times during its long life was becoming ruinous and like Stoke Hall stood on a moated site as a defence against the periodic flooding of the nearby river. The traveller would see a few thatched cottages in the fields with here and there a small coal pit, but the most significant man-made feature in the landscape was the church, with the nearest hamlets at the ancient hill-top settlement of Penkhull to the southwest, and further down the Trent at Boothen. Our traveller could have turned onto another farm track, which later became Cauldon Road, and then south onto yet another rough track ( later Boughey Road ), before completing the last half mile to the church, crossing the Fowlea Brook by means of a small cart bridge on the way.
The landscape was generally flat and undulating with a trend to the south; the land itself was not of the best agricultural quality, being poorly drained and with deposits of coal and clay near the surface. He would have seen higher ground to the south and east across the river, at Fenton Low (Berryhill) and Great Fenton (Mount Pleasant).
Horse drawn traffic:
There should be no illusion that the
overland journey to the Trent at Willington was easy. The roads were
roughly surfaced, dusty in summer and sometimes impassable in winter.
However the journey from Burslem northwards was far worse. The direct
route through the pottery hamlets was, according to a Petition
presented to Parliament, ..so very narrow, and foundrous as to be
almost impassable for carriages, and in the winter almost so even for
pack-horses. The better, alternative route lay through the Loyal and
Ancient Borough of Newcastle under Lyme, but was double the distance and
subject to Newcastle's Tolls.
The Loyal and Ancient Borough, well used to receiving income from travellers through the town, objected strongly to this threat to their economy. It appears that a compromise was struck and the ensuing Act for the time being, permitted the new road only south as far as Burslem. The historical antipathy between Newcastle and the Potteries was apparently alive even then. However, although the principle of improved road communication had been established and more improvements were to follow, the far-sighted Josiah Wedgwood in 1765 met James Brindley the canal engineer at the Leopard Inn in Burslem and a new era began.
John Alcock - (c) Copyright 2006