A photo walk across Stoke Fields to Winton's Wood, Stoke-on-Trent
- the parish of St. Simon and St. Jude

The early years - 1750 onwards - as seen through the eyes of a local traveller


next: canals
previous: the very early years - the times of the Romans and Normans


A traveller in 1750 walking the back lanes through the fields from Handley Green (Hanley) to Stoke Parish Church would have had a wholly different view. As he drew level with Shelton Farm, the last vestiges of which would later be known as Mayer's Field with its attendant abattoir, he would continue south down  the gentle slope of Stoke Fields along the farm track later to become Victoria (and later still College) Road.

This drawing from a book written in 1906 by William Scarratt called "Old Times in the Potteries" illustrated the area called 'Stoke Fields' which was purchased to build Hanley Park. 
A footpath from Stoke to Hanley is running diagonally across the picture and the path crosses the Caldon Canal over the bridge. This area was described:

"Down Stoke Fields were a few whitewashed huts with patches of garden. The Victoria Road bridge existed, but for the use of the farm only. The one to the left of the park pavilion was the one on the Stoke Fields footpath. Shardruck, mounds and ventilating shafts were far more plentiful than houses." 

Crossing the boundary between Shelton Farm and entering the Parish Glebe Land of Winton's Wood, he would see stretched out in front of him, the broad, shallow valley of the River Trent, the course of which lay some few hundred yards to the east beyond Leek Road at Trent Hay Farm, the smaller Fowlea (or Foulhay) Brook running south from Linehouses to join the Trent a mile away near the old Derby to Chester Roman Road, Rykeneld Street.

The River Trent rises some 900 feet above sea level, under the shadow of Lask Edge on Biddulph Moor 9 miles to the north, drops 500 feet in that distance, and then continues south, sweeping round to the north on its slow  150  mile  journey  to  join  the  Humber  near Scunthorpe, almost at sea level. The 9th Century stone-built Parish Church of St Peter ad Vincula lay just to the north of Rykeneld  Street, with the Rector's house Stoke  Hall  across the road to the south.

The dilapidated Parish  Church  which   had  been  altered  and  enlarged many times during its long life was becoming ruinous and like Stoke Hall stood on a moated site as a defence against the periodic flooding of the nearby river. The traveller would see a few thatched cottages in the fields with   here  and  there  a   small  coal  pit,  but   the  most significant man-made feature in the landscape was the church, with the nearest hamlets  at the ancient hill-top settlement of Penkhull to the southwest, and further down the Trent at Boothen. Our traveller could have turned  onto  another  farm  track,  which  later  became  Cauldon Road, and then south onto yet another rough track ( later Boughey Road ), before completing the last half mile to the church, crossing the Fowlea Brook by means of a small cart bridge on the way.

"Fowlea by name and foul by nature"

The Fowlea brook (2000) as it runs at the bottom of
Leason Street in Stoke.
On the left the brown building is
part of the Spode factory and in the middle the blue building is anindustrial electrical factory on Elenora Street.
The Fowlea Brook runs through a culvert under Elenora Street


The landscape was generally flat and undulating with a trend to the south; the land itself was not of the best agricultural quality, being poorly drained and with deposits of coal and clay near the surface. He would have seen higher ground to the south and east across the river, at Fenton Low (Berryhill) and Great Fenton (Mount Pleasant).

Horse drawn traffic:
When he left the Handley Green to Stoke road at Shelton (Rykeneld Street), he would have been aware of the constant horse drawn and pack horse traffic plodding in both directions,  carrying out finished pottery ware from, and bringing in foreign clay and flint  to the potteries at Burslem and elsewhere. The nearest navigable waterway to the east was the Trent at Willington near Burton, which  having  collected  water from  various  tributaries along the way, was at that point deep enough for substantial water-borne transport. It was to this location that the land traffic from the potteries was bound, for down the river lay the port of Hull and the German Ocean, an outlet for the ware and an entry point for the imported clay and flint, and the return road journey to the Potteries.

There should be no illusion that the overland journey to the Trent at Willington was easy. The roads were roughly surfaced, dusty in summer and sometimes impassable in winter. However  the journey from Burslem northwards was far worse. The direct route through the pottery hamlets was, according to a Petition presented  to  Parliament, ..so very  narrow, and foundrous as to be almost impassable for carriages, and in the winter almost so even for pack-horses. The better, alternative route lay through the Loyal and Ancient Borough of Newcastle under Lyme, but was double the distance and subject to Newcastle's Tolls.
The main northerly destination for finished pottery ware, was the port of Liverpool, from where Josiah Wedgwood had already begun an export trade. The overland route extended as far as the River Weaver at Winsford, where water transport was available, connecting with the River Mersey and the port of Liverpool. Similar to the eastern route to and from Hull, the return journey brought in clay , flint and Cheshire salt for the glazing process.

Turnpike roads:
In 1762 a large body of potters which included Josiah Wedgwood, petitioned  Parliament  for the  authority  to construct, widen and operate a Turnpike road from Red Bull at Lawton, Cheshire to Cliff Bank, Staffordshire (possibly Hartshill Bank, Stoke) where the non-Turnpike road from Burslem, Hanley Green and Shelton joined the Newcastle to Derby Turnpike, thus creating a continuous, better standard road from north to south through the potteries. Josiah Wedgwood gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee to this effect in 1763.

The Loyal and Ancient Borough, well used to receiving income from travellers through the town, objected strongly to this threat to their economy. It appears that a compromise was struck and the ensuing Act for the time being,  permitted  the  new  road  only  south  as  far  as Burslem. The historical antipathy between Newcastle and the Potteries was apparently alive even then. However, although the principle of improved road communication had been established and more improvements  were  to  follow,  the  far-sighted  Josiah Wedgwood in 1765 met James Brindley the canal engineer at the Leopard Inn in Burslem and a new era began.

At this time the population of the Potteries Townships would have been about 7,500 souls, with Hanley and Shelton accounting for about 2,000.

next: canals
previous: the very early years - the times of the Romans and Normans

John Alcock - (c) Copyright 2006