Pounding the streets of Stoke-on-Trent
in search of a buried past

- 'Sneyds never knew how valuable their land was'

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

A map in historian Steve Birks’ collection shows Brad-Wall as a house on the western side of a large wood overlooking Tunstall and Burslem. 

We recognise this area today as Bradwell and Bradwell Wood,” says Steve, “Once the seat of the Sneyd family who held the estate until present times. The main flank of the family moved away to the hall at Keele which became its principal residence in 1581.” 

According to significant research by Dr Christopher Harrison of Keele University, the first mention of a Sneyd was Henry of Tunstall in 1312. Volume 22 of North Staffordshire Journal of Field Studies 1982/5 contains a fascinating account of the origins of one of Staffordshire’s great families. 

“The lineage can be followed from 1312 to 1948; settling first at Bradwell then Keele,” adds Steve. “Sixty years ago the Sneyd’s sold the entire estate in order to pay the horrendous death duties accentuated by the gambling debts of the last Ralph Sneyd of Keele Hall.”

This family’s history is a remarkable narrative of ordinary farmers who, through connection with the aristocratic Audley’s, clever trading and good marriages, rose to become aristocrats themselves. A will published on the death of Richard Sneyd in 1537 describes an extensive manor and house at Bradwell where they owned all the land they could see for miles around.

“Royalty is introduced from the female line through the marriage of Ralph Sneyd to Frances Noel in 1690, a descendent of King Edward III and Queen Phillippa,” says Steve. “This Ralph died in 1695 and his widow Frances leased Bradwell Hall to the relatively unknown Dutch potters, the Elers brothers.”

Now why did the mysterious Elers come to Bradwell.

Steve suggests, “Pottery in North Staffordshire was in its infancy when the brothers came to England following the accession of William of Orange in 1688. The brothers were silversmiths from Delft where successful copies of Chinese teapots were being made. In an age when tea-drinking was a court craze, a Fulham potter, John Dwight, patented copies of red clay Chinese teapots. The Ellers brothers followed the trend even though there was some suggestion they’d stolen Dwight’s patent.”

Attracted by Bradwell’s red clay the Dutchmen leased Bradwell Hall from the Sneyd’s. There was also some talk that the decision to live beyond the dense Bradwell Wood was done to protect themselves from copyists and industrial espionage. Historian John Ward mentions they were extremely wary of the local potters and took great steps to keep them at arms distance. And because of the secrecy the locals were determined to find out what was going on. 

“Paranoid about their privacy the brothers decided to leave Staffordshire,” continues Steve. “An account of a Burslem potter, who pretended to be an imbecile when in fact he was spying to collect the secrets of manufacture, added to the Ellers’ distress. All this attention sent the reclusive siblings fleeing back to London and anonymity.”

After the Ellers brothers left, the hall was leased by the Sneyd’s to a variety of tenants. It was still a large estate when it came into the possession of a local farmer Ben Twigge who developed the land around the hall into a factory for crushing aggregates mainly for Shelton Iron and Steel Company. Bradwell Hall remains in the possession of the Twigge family to this day. The main building is still an imposing mansion and is little changed. But the Sneyd land surrounding it has transformed beyond recognition. 

Bradwell Nursing Home
Bradwell Nursing Home
photo: 2008 The Sentinel Newspaper

“I’m not sure of the chronology of our family’s acquisition but Ben was my grandfather,” says current owner Edward Twigge. “By the 1980’s the aggregate business was being run by Ben’s sons, John, David and Graham. It was then that the local steel industry went into recession and the aggregates business virtually collapsed. The hall lay unused for awhile and was subjected to regular vandalism and set on fire. In 1988 the family decided to bring it back into use and it was developed into the residential nursing home which it is now.”

Bradwell Nursing Home accommodates 179 residents, together with 100 place nursery and is the state of the art in combined-generation community care. With staff of 260 the home is a major employer in the district. Meanwhile the old hall has become a standalone reception and admin annex for the managers Edward and his cousins James, Michael and Julie.

 “We have been lucky,” admits Edward. “Obviously the land and hall were bought at a time when the Sneyd’s were compelled to sell their estate. Since then the uncultivated meadows and its ugly clay pits have become desirable for urban development. The surface of the moon landscape has been replaced with quality housing, a popular primary school as well as a stylish community centre. The hall naturally remains the centrepiece of our business.”

To say that I am jealous of the occupiers of Bradwell hall is an understatement.

The Sneyd’s certainly knew how to pick a location. Even now the views are panoramic turning in 180 degrees from Mow Cop and taking in the Bagnall ridge, Trentham, Hanchurch and Newcastle ending on the western horizon at the family’s other home, Keele. And inside the old hall a few remnants of Tudor England grace its 14 rooms together with Georgian moderation and a dozen other adaptations reflecting changing times and architectural whims.

Top left - Bradwell Hall incorporated in the nursing home
top of photo is the outcrop of the Etruria marl and black shale coal formation
bottom left - the edge of Bradwell wood
bottom right - the location of Metallic Tileries brick works

“One last thing that should be mentioned,” concludes Steve. “The brick and tile works known as Metallic Tiles north-west of the hall was operating from 1900, rapidly expanding and doubling in size in 15 years. Now it’s the giant Ibstock. Here the unique Etruria red-bed clay and Newcastle black shale came together. Returned to nature part of it has been declared an SSSI on account of its flora and fauna. It is a key location for British carboniferous geology. You could say the Sneyd’s never knew just how wealthy they were.”

next week: Trubshaw Cross

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next: Trubshaw Cross - major gateway....
previous: Packhorse Lane - the lifeline of the Potteries

see more on Bradwell

3 March 2008