From 'when I was a child'
by Charles Shaw - Shaw was born in Tunstall and in the 1830's
played in the Fowlea valley and Bradwell wood. Here he describes how
the rural playground of his youth was destroyed by the industrial
developments on the west side of the valley in the
"The town of T[unstall], where I was born, is
built on a long hillside. It slopes upward from the south to the
north, the north standing in close proximity to a mining district,
bordering on Cheshire, and the southern part of the town tailing off
towards the town of B[urslem].
The western side of the town was the most built
upon, though in later days the eastern side has become more
occupied. Looking from this western side, there was at that time a
little valley, through which a tributary of the Trent ran. I have
often caught Jack Sharps in the tiny stream, and gathered
buttercups, daisies, and lady flowers on its banks.
In spring time the flowers were most abundant in
the fields lying in the valley. In the midst of them stood Chatterly
Farm, then a farm of some consequence, as it mainly supplied the
town with milk. It was, too, a centre for Sunday wanderings,
especially in spring and summer, for the heavy workers of the town,
where they got refreshing supplies of milk and curds and whey.
Poor "Billy Brid"—a half-daft
cowboy or cowman lived at the farm. Who will ever forget his small
figure, his half-opened eyes, and his self-possessed merry whistle
? Why he was called " Billy Brid " I never knew, and can only
suppose this "dub" was given him owing to his persistent
Birds abounded near the farm, and through the
valley, which was uninvaded and as peaceful as Arcadia itself. On
the other side of the farm, and rolling southward, was a well-wooded
hillside, called Braddow Wood (Bradwell Wood) in the common
speech of the time. This wood was divided by the same common speech
into the Big Wood and the Little Wood. The Big Wood was a home of
birds and rabbits, strictly watched by two keepers, who lived in
cottages, one at each end of the wood.
Bold was the man or boy who strayed off the
footpath leading through the wood. Beside the two keepers were two
ferocious dogs, their constant companions, and probably no constable
in those days, or policeman now, was such a terror to evildoers.
The Little Wood, however, was the most trespassed
upon, for birds' nests in summer and for blackberries in autumn.
Blackberries then meant not only a luxury, but meant also less
butter and less treacle to be used in the poor homes of the people
in the town. Children were encouraged, in spite of perils from dogs
and keepers, to invade the Little Wood at the proper season. Happy
those who came away with their cans full of the precious berries ;
but woe to those pursued by keepers and dogs, and whose cans lost
their precious treasures in the pursuit.
This pursuing was a brutal business, for little
harm could be done by the children in tramping on such rough scrub
as the wood contained. But game was sacred then, even rabbits, and
rather than these should be disturbed a useful and wholesome fruit
was allowed to perish largely on the trees.