Search for the Old Roads of
Historian Fred Hughes writes....
The Newcastle Canal travelled behind Rookery Lane Trent Vale and passed by Bridge Road turning north to shadow the Lyme Brook into Newcastle. I’m grateful to Miss A White of Fletcher Road who wrote to the Sentinel many years ago with her memories of the canal when she was young. Her letter recalls the sweep from Rookery Lane.
“Here was a canal wharf where men loaded the barges with coal,” she writes. “Opposite the end of Rookery Lane is a Trent Vale council estate part of which was erected over the filled-in canal. One plodded along the towpath behind the houses in Springfields where a drawbridge linked Clayton Lane. This was known as Knapper’s Gate.”
Miss White’s correspondence gives an evocative clue to the once rural aspects of this part of Stoke on Trent and Newcastle.
“It’s great to see the return of plenty of wildlife in these parts,” says frequent visitor John Stonior from nearby Lynwood Close. “I cycle here every day and it’s a joy to see how much it has been improved.”
John and I walk along the tracks beside the motionless seclusion of the former canal. It is very much a reed-bed these days overhung with hawthorn and willow-herb and a sea of purple thistle where coal-barges once ploughed a watery highway.
“On the other side is London Road and the Jewish cemetery,” says John. “I read somewhere that this was where the workhouse mangers buried child paupers,” a sad story indeed.
But over the road from the hospital entrance is an uplifting related tale of benefaction and goodwill. Here among unappealing traffic, along one of the district’s busiest roads, stands a quaint whitewashed cottage that would be more suited to an English country lane. Currently the home of Keele University researcher Ricky Mullis, a small plaque on the wall curiously proclaims it to be ‘Hovis Cottage’.
“I bought the cottage seven years ago,” says Ricky. “It is tiny by any standards but the garden at the back leading to the canal more than makes up for the traffic.”
Small it is indeed, like a dolls house standing alongside a pair of semis. But what really make this trio of houses remarkable are their back gardens that tumble into the wildlife reed-bed and the untamed copse that is the very last bit of the ill-starred Newcastle Canal. Next door neighbours Dorothy Fulton and Lavinia Pawliszyn also share this idyllic enclave. Dorothy has lived here the longest and knows a bit more about Hovis Cottage.
“The story is like an enchanted fairytale,” she explains. “Apparently the Hovis Company – yes the genuine Hovis Bakers – wanted to raise money for the new hospital so they had this cottage built and then raffled it off. It was much too small for the winners, poor people with a large family. So a man name Prime stepped up and bought if from them.”
Satisfaction for everybody then it seems. And here it is, a tiny country-cottage dolls house standing demurely on the now hectic, once rustic, London Road. Whatever next?
27 July 2008
click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
next: the Junction Canal
previous: Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal Pt 2