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

Kidsgrove - 'getting into the spirit of a truly historic town'

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previous:  the boatman's walk to Kidsgrove


Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

They reckon Kidsgrove is full of ghosts. Never mind the canal boggart Kit Crewbucket, just listen to the good burghers and you’ll realise what an assembly of apparitions this place is.


 “A room at top of my pub is haunted by the spirit of an old woman,” discloses Beverley Denton, licensee of the Harecastle Hotel in Liverpool Road. “I’ve not encountered her myself but some of my customers swear they’ve seen her standing at the window looking into the street. I’ve never been sure of ghosts but some funny things have happened in the pub.”

Beverley glances involuntarily over her shoulder.

“I can’t put my finger on it but I’ve heard creaks and groans. Sometimes footsteps when the pub is closed and I know there’s nobody there. But they seem to be friendly and I’ve never had cause to be frightened.”

The Harecastle was built during a time when Kidsgrove was an important junction across the waist of industrial England.

“Kidsgrove is a relatively new civic township,” says resident and former town librarian Philip Leese. “It came under the legislative district that included Brieryhurst, Ranscliffe and Oldcott; the council wasn’t introduced until 1894.

The early settlement grew from minerals that were mined here and later the services that supported the junction of road, canal and rail. In the 1930’s it was quite a depressed area. But the post-war years saw tremendous social-housing developments attracting an immigration workforce from Wales, the North-East and from Eastern Europe. Industry has gone now and private housing developments have seen Kidsgrove become a dormitory town.”

Kidsgrove lies at the bottom of the hill carrying the old road from the Potteries into South Cheshire.


The early road was always a major route to the salt mines of Middlewich and Northwich,” says historian Steve Birks. “It was also the channel that carried the easiest route to the north-west ports on the Irish Sea used from time immemorial as the docks for coastal transportation. These routes gathered at Kidsgrove when the Potteries began to prosper. As a major packhorse route important changes came with the turnpike in 1763.”

The name turnpike is said to originate from the military guarding of roads. Soldiers would place their pikestaffs across the entrance to control admission. A bit like a border guard the pikes were turned to one side to let legitimate travellers pass.

“These checkpoints evolved into gatehouses where tolls were collected. The last to disappear on the Burslem to Lawton turnpike were at Brownhills and at Lawton crossing by the A34,” says Steve. “Once the canal was opened, the carriage of freight by road declined. At the same time road-travel improved for passengers until, by the 1870’s, the trusts expired and the roads became the responsibility of local authorities.”

Creating a network of well-maintained roads was one of the major achievements of 18th century England. The system was not central but resulted from local enterprise and regulated by local trustees through Acts of Parliament. Using toll charges a trust was enabled to repair and maintain a particular 20 mile stretch of turnpike road.

“By 1845 rail-mania had taken the country by storm into which the North Staffs Railway Company arrived,” continues Steve. “To connect the Potteries with the main London-Birmingham-Manchester line the Loopline railway was completed with the extension from Hanley to Kidsgrove opening in 1875. The Loopline turned a tiresome journey from Kidsgrove to Hanley by road into twenty-minute relaxation".

Red Bull Corner, Lawton, near Kidsgrove
Red Bull Corner, Lawton, near Kidsgrove
1900 - 1920 (c.)
The building pictured here on the right was believed to have been a Coaching Inn. Coaches would have driven past the Inn probably on their way to Manchester and Liverpool. The building stood at this junction for hundreds of years until it was demolished in the 1960s for road improvements.

© Borough Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle under Lyme
(Staffordshire Past Tracks)



Geographically the three major routes came together at Kidsgrove.

A view of road, rail and canal standing side-by-side, is best seen from the Harecastle Hotel which licensee, 46 year old Beverley, has kept for 8 years.

“It is a massive pub built to accommodate travellers,” she says. “I’ve worked in pubs all my life and I’ve seen many changes due to changing lifestyles. Aside from being a transport hotel, it was a very popular entertainment venue in the 1960’s and 70’s. These days it’s still residential with seven bedrooms and a self-contained flat. Obviously the pub would struggle without this income but the locals still love it as a watering hole.”

The lunchtime trade is fairly quiet but it’s comfortable nevertheless to sit and chat for with 71 year old pals Malcolm Cliff and Fred Blaize. 

“We met in Hong Kong during military service,” says Malcolm. “And we got in touch again later in life down to using the same pub every dinnertime.”

Fred was born and brought up in Kidsgrove. He’s seen a few changes.

“The Loopline closed in my time,” he recalls. “A daft thing to do that was. You can imagine the benefits that would have brought today travelling across Stoke on Trent. The Loopline station was behind Liverpool Road where Tesco is now. The main line station was opposite and the canal and the road passed between them.”

The Harecastle Hotel is a fantastic hotchpotch of Victorian understatement. By their standards it simply served the basic purpose of commercial accommodation. From our standpoint it is a wonderful window to the past. Nothing has changed in a hundred years from the rambling vaulted cellars leading to a dark winding staircase which hints of gas-lit confines. Indeed the old gas lights are still in place in the attic rooms.

“This is the room which the ghost of the old woman haunts,” says Beverley.

And among the discarded household debris of yesteryear shadows hint at something concealed. It’s time to go back to the bar.

“Did you see her,” laughs Fred. “Malcolm once saw the knife used for cutting lemons leap up from the bar. They say it’s the ghost of a knife-thrower who once stayed here.”

It seems the town is full of spirits from headless dogs to hooded friars.

“And whenever ‘Witchie-green-eyes’ is about,” says Malcolm, “There’s always a smell of bacon and eggs cooking.”

But this is a B&B that serves spirits, I silently counter with a smile.

this concludes the walk along the 'old roads' of Stoke-on-Trent

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
previous:  the boatman's walk to Kidsgrove

21 April 2008