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

next: Features on the 1890 map - found in 2008
previous: Birchenwood - the coal and iron giant
[contents: Kidsgrove & Birchenwood]


Birchenwood in the hands of the receivers:

Following World War I there was a recession and in 1925 the announcement was made that Birchenwood was to close. At the last minute the Heath brothers cut short their early retirement and using their personal fortunes rescued the site from the receivers.

It was to prove a disastrous decision......

Barely three months after setting up a new company "The Kidsgrove Colliery Company", an explosion occurred on the 18th December 1925, in No. 18 pit killing seven men and injures fourteen more.

Coal output was already falling and the seams were becoming uneconomical to operate.
The general strike of 1926 heaped more pressure on the ageing brothers and 84 ovens that served the recovery plant were shut down.
By 1928 the Heath's were ruined. Their businesses covered all of the county and employed over 6000 people, but now everything was in the hands of  administrators.

Birchenwood Colliery site, 1891-1932
Birchenwood Colliery site, 1891-1932
Almost all the coal from this group of pits was used for coke and other by-products.

the loop line running top to bottom in the centre of the picture can bee seen running through the Birchenwood Tunnel

"There was an explosion at the No. 18 pit on 18 December 1925 which killed seven men and seriously injured 14 others. Although the pits were closed c.1932, the company still continued to produce coke and other by-products with coal from the Biddulph collieries. The last coke was made in May 1973".

photo: Staffordshire Past Track

The resurrection of Birchenwood:
However part of the company was rescued and production continued at Birchenwood......

The Biddulph Valley collieries saw an increase in coal output and because of the rail links previously built by the Heath family, it was convenient to move the coal the short journey to Birchenwood for coking.

This proved crucial in the survival because the coal pits at Birchenwood had steadily been closing since 1927 and by 1931 the last one closed with the seam of coal less than twelve inches thick.


Gas production:
Birchenwood continued to be a major coking plant for years to come, but even with new ovens and the most up to date methods it never enjoyed the success of previous years.

By 1953 they were supplying 5,000,000 cubic feet of gas to the West Midlands Gas Board which it drew from the coking process, however the introduction of natural (North Sea) gas saw the demise of gas production.


The closure of the plant: 
Now Birchenwood was relying solely on coke production - but this in itself was an outdated product and the ovens were finally allowed to cool in May 1973 and the plant closed.

The last of the coke was shunted out on the 5th of July by the one remaining steam train left on the site. This was also the last time a steam train would be used for industrial work in Staffordshire so it was a fitting tribute that the honour should go to Birchenwood.

View of Birchenwood Colliery - 1973
View of Birchenwood Colliery - 1973
"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."

Birchenwood Brickworks - 1974
Birchenwood Brickworks - 1974

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

"My grandfather had worked at Birchenwood as an under manager. There was a railway above Ian road from Birchenwood to one of the collieries for transporting coal. I remember hearing the trains whistle at 8 oclock in the morning. My father worked at Birchenwood brickworks doing maintenance. In addition to Whitehill terrace there were 3 areas - Old Whitehill, Whitehill (nick named Toad hole) and new Whitehill"
Fred Cooper

next: Features on the 1890 map - found in 2008
previous: Birchenwood - the coal and iron giant
[contents: Kidsgrove & Birchenwood]