Staffordshire in 1868


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]

"STAFFORDSHIRE, a midland county in England, is bounded N. by Cheshire and Derbyshire; E. by Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire; S. by Worcestershire; and W. by Shropshire and Cheshire. It lies between 52° 23' and 53° 14' N. lat, 1° 36' and 2° 27' W. long. The extreme length from N. to S. is 60 miles, and its greatest breadth is 38 miles. The area is 1,138 square miles, or 728,468 acres, of which 630,000 acres are arable and pasture. The population in 1801 amounted to 242,693. Since then it has rapidly increased, being 608,599 in 1851, and 746,943 in 1861, or 308 per cent. of the population in 1801. The number of inhabited houses in 1861 was 147,105, and of uninhabited 9,043.

Previous to the Roman invasion the county seems to have been occupied by the Cornavii, whose territory was overrun by the Brigantes a short time before the arrival of the Romans, who found in the Brigantes a sturdy foe. It subsequently formed part of the Roman province Flavia Cæsariensis, and was traversed by three great ways, or streets, called Watling Street, Ryknield Street, and the Via Devana, on the first of which were situated the town of Etocetum, now Wall, near Lichfield, and Pennocrucium, near the village of Penkridge. Many remains of camps are found in different parts of the county, but it is difficult to decide whether they are of Saxon, Roman, or Danish formation. Roman coins and other antiquities have been found in many places, especially at Rowley Regis and about Wall, where large quantities of pavements of Roman bricks and foundation stones have been dug up.

This county next formed part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, and after the introduction of Christianity in the 7th century became a bishopric, the seat of which was subsequently fixed at Lichfield. The Danes overran the county in the 9th century, and in the division of territory made by Alfred the district N. of Watling Street was included in the Danelagh, but was afterwards recovered from their power. They were defeated in 910 at Tettenhall Regis, near Wolverhampton, and again in 911 at Wednesfield; and in 913 Ethelfleda, Countess of Mercia, built castles at Tamworth, Stafford, and Eadesbyrig, to keep them in check. Eadesbyrig is by some supposed to be the modern Wednesbury, so called from its having been the principal seat of worship to the god Woden.

William the Conqueror granted a portion of the lands to Richard de Todeni, or de Stafford, who built a castle, and established himself near the town of Stafford. Edward II. defeated at Burton-on-Trent the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford, who were in insurrection against him. During the civil wars between York and Lancaster a battle was fought at Blore Heath, on the western side of the county. The field of battle is marked by a stone pedestal, upon which stands an old wooden cross. Mary Queen of Scots was for some time confined in the castles at Tutbury and Chartley, the ruins of which yet remain. In the struggle between Charles I. and his parliament the county generally sided with the latter, though many took an active part in the royal cause, and seized and garrisoned Lichfield Cathedral, which was taken by the parliamentarians, but regained under Prince Rupert. An indecisive battle was fought at Hopton Heath, near Stafford, after which the parliamentarians occupied Stafford and Wolverhampton, together with Eccleshall Castle, and also took and destroyed Stafford Castle. Skirmishes took place in many places, in which the royalists were generally unsuccessful. After the battle of Worcester, in 1651, Charles II was sheltered for some time in Boscobel House in this county. In 1745 the army of Prince Charles Edward, the young Pretender, occupied Leek, while that of the Duke of Cumberland was at Stone.

The aspect of the county is various. The N.E. district, called the moorlands, and comprising one-sixth of the entire, is the commencement of the mountain range known as the Pennine Chain, which runs through the N.E. of Derbyshire, along the western border of Yorkshire, and on to the Cheviot Hills. This district is a strange variety of wild desolate scenery and rich fertile valleys. The moorlands, rising in many parts to elevations of 1,200 to 1,500 feet, consist in some places of heaps of gravel, and in others of cliffs with rock scattered about their bases, while in some districts in the extreme N. they are mere upland wastes expanding into peaty mosses and spongy moors, as at Axe Edge, the Cloud Heath, High Forest. The glen at the river Dove, at Ilam, is said to resemble the ravines of the Alps, while the valleys of the Manifold, Hamps, Blyth, and Dean, tributaries of the Dove, intersect the moorlands, and abound in spots of picturesque scenery. The Weaver hills, rising in some places to 1,500 feet, lie between the vales of the Dove and the Churnet, and rival the peaks of Derbyshire. The north-western district, in which the potteries are situated, and nearly identical with Pirehill hundred, presents a contrast to the part just described, being for the most part level and fertile.

The midland and southern portions partake also of this character, consisting for the most part of level country. Cannock Chase was an open heath of 25,000 acres, extending from the vicinity of Stafford southwards through the county, and is in one place 715 feet high. It was formerly covered with woods, but is now bleak and naked. Part of it has been reclaimed. Rowley Regis Mountain is an isolated eminence between Dudley and Halesowen, about 900 feet high, and terminating in summits, of which the chief are Oakham, Corney, and Turner's hills. Barr Beacon, about 700 feet high is 2 miles N.E. of Great Barr. Clent Hill, about 1000 feet high is the principal summit of the Clent hills in the detached district of the county.

The principal river is the Trent, which rises from Newpool, near Biddulph, on the borders of Cheshire, and flows in an irregular south-easterly course of 50 miles across the county to Burton, on the borders of Derbyshire. It is rapid throughout, but is not navigable above Burton. Its chief affluents are the Sow and the Tame from the right, and the Blyth and Dove from the left. The Sow rises on the Welsh border near Broughton, and flows past Eccleshall and Stafford to the Trent, being joined by the Penk, a tributary which comes from Wolverhampton. The Tame is formed by the confluence of several small streams S.W. of Walsall, and has a winding course of 42 miles, partly in Warwickshire, but chiefly in this county, before it falls into the Trent. It flows past Tamworth, and is joined by the Rea, which comes from Birmingham; the Cole from Colehill; the Blythe from Watley Moor, in the potteries; and the Anker. The Dove rises in the moorlands to the N.W. of Longnor, and soon enters the vale of Dovedale, where it receives from the right the waters of the Manifold, a subterranean stream, and the Churnet, and, forming the boundary between this county and Derbyshire for several miles, finally joins the Trent.

The county has a large railway development. The London and North-Western traverses it in a N.N.W. direction, entering near Bilston, and leaving it near Crewe; while the Trent Valley, the Shrewsbury and Birmingham, and other branches, bring all parts into easy communication with the midland and south-western lines. The roads are numerous and well arranged, the principal being the old mail-coach road from London to Holyhead, the Chester and Holyhead road, the London and Liverpool, the London and Manchester by Derby, and the road from Birmingham to Derby, connecting the south-western with the northern counties.

The canals are extensive and ramified, making up an aggregate length of 250 miles, and cost about £500,000. The Trent and Mersey or Grand Trunk canal enters from Cheshire, near Sandon, on the N.W. and follows the course of the Trent, passing into Derbyshire near Buxton. The Stafford and Worcester canal branches from it at Haywood, near the mouth of the Sow, and runs past Wolverhampton, connecting Bristol with Liverpool and Hull. The Coventry and Oxford canal connects the Thames navigation interiorly with the Mersey and Humber, joining the Trunk canal at Fradley Heath. The Birmingham canal passes through the coal and iron districts by Dudley and Wolverhampton, and runs into the Stafford and Worcestershire canal near the latter town. A junction line branches from near Wolverhampton to Nantwich, in Cheshire. The Wyrley and Essington canal, with thirty locks in a distance of 23 miles, leaves the Birmingham canal at Wolverhampton, and runs eastward to Wyrley Bank, communicating also with the Coventry canal between Fradley Heath and Fazeley; it has three short branches. The Fazeley and Birmingham canal, only a small part of which is in this county, leaves the Coventry and Oxford canal at Fazeley. In the N. the Newcastle-under-Lyne canal connects that town with the Trent and Mersey canal, from which, in the neighbourhood of Stone, the Caldon canal branches to Hanley in the potteries, and past Leek and Uttoxeter to the valley of the Dove. There are other canals, some of which are private property.

A substratum of New Red sandstone generally prevails in the central and southern districts, and of limestone in the upland region in the N. Limestone also appears in the Sedgley Hills, at Rushall, and Hayfield, and underlies most of the South Staffordshire coalfields, particularly in the neighbourhood of Dudley. Quarries of sulphate of lime, or alabaster, are worked on the banks of the Dove, and ragstone of a rusty blue colour at Rowley. Sandstone suitable for mouldings is quarried at Bilston. Clays of great variety are found at the surface, and at mineable depths in abundance. At Darlstown a blue clay, used by glovers, is met with. Potter's earth is extensively procured in the neighbourhood of Newcastle-under-Lyne, and at Amblecoat a kind of clay is raised from 45 feet below the coal strata, in quantities exceeding 4,000 tons a year, which is suitable for making crucibles, fire-bricks, and glass-house pots. Copper is found at Ecton and Butterton, and lead at Ecton and on Stanton Moor. There are extensive works for smelting and refining brass and copper at Brookhouses, Oakamoor, and Whiston, near Cheadle, but the calamine and ore are principally procured from other counties.

The great mineral wealth of Staffordshire, however, consists in its supplies of iron and coal. The North Staffordshire or Potteries coal-field embraces an area of 80 square miles. It is of triangular form, and extends from Lane End in the Potteries to Congleton in Cheshire, a distance of 13 miles. The base of the triangle, which is in the southern part, is 8 to 10 miles in length. The Cheadle coal district, which is to the E. of this, may be considered a portion of the same field. The strata are generally from 3 to 10 feet thick. The coals raised in the southern part, near Cheadle, are for the most part of better quality and thicker than are got in the N. The number of collieries under inspection is 127. From beneath this coalfield the coarse sandstone called millstone grit crops out, and covers a considerable district.

The South Staffordshire or Dudley field is celebrated for the thickness of its strata and the excellence of its coal, which is specially suited for the smelting of iron. It contains an area of upwards of 100 square miles, and extends from Walsall to Wolverhampton, and from a line in Crannock Chase to a line near Stourbridge, in Worcestershire. Its length is 20 miles from N. to S., and its breadth is 10 miles, but this includes Rowley hills. The number of collieries under inspection in this district is 422.

Coal is found in strata in some places of the aggregate thickness of 24 to 36 feet, but iron is the most valuable mineral of the county, which has been called the Chalybia of England. Strata of iron ore are everywhere underlying and alternating with the coal seams, the most abundant mines being at Wednesbury, Wolverhampton, Tipton, Bilston, and Sedgley. The amount annually produced exceeds 600,000 tons, and is only equalled by the South Wales district, which yields upwards of 700,000 tons.

The climate, particularly in the high grounds and moorlands of the N.E., is characterised by coldness and humidity, and harvests are in consequence later and more precarious than in other parts of the county. The rainfall averages 36 inches, while the amount in London seldom exceeds 21 to 22 inches, and though drainage is carefully attended to in the S., a retentive subsoil in the N. prevents the wet from sinking through, and this moisture affects the temperature of the entire county. The soils vary from light soils managed on the four-course system to the stiffest clay farmed on the six-course principle. About three-fourths of the entire is arable, but much of the land is cold and best suited for moorland oats, which is often grown for three years in succession, and the land then laid down with grass while full of weeds. In the S., however, a better system is observed, and friable loam of a sandy, calcareous nature admits of improved husbandry being adopted.

Rich pastures and meadows are found generally on the banks of the rivers, producing excellent cheese. About 10,000 to 12,000 acres of Cannock Chase are still unenclosed. Lord Hatherton's estate at Teddesley was formerly a waste part of it, but is now thoroughly drained, and produces good crops. Farm buildings are generally good; farms are mostly held from year to year, and fields are small and surrounded by hedgerows. Long-horned cattle are most esteemed, but the shorthorns have many admirers, and crosses between them are not unfrequent. Dairy husbandry is not much practised; cheese is made rivalling that of Derbyshire and Cheshire, and quantities of cattle are stall-fed on turnips, hay, and oil-cake. Southdown and Leicester sheep are successfully reared, and many other breeds may be found.

It is, however, chiefly a manufacturing county. The Potteries in the N. are the principal seat of the earthenware and china business, and to the iron and coal district of the S. England owes much of her wealth and greatness. Both of these branches of industry are of comparatively recent date. The manufacture of earthenware was little attended to at the commencement of the last century, and owes much of its prosperity to the enterprise and ingenuity of Josiah Wedgwood, who commenced working on his own account in 1760, and before his death in 1795 quite changed the character of the pottery business. The population of the Potteries exceeds 80,000. The chief towns in the district are Stoke-upon-Trent, Longton, Shelton, Burslem, Hanley, and Lane End, but these, though formerly distinct places, have so considerably increased as to present the appearance of one town; they form together the borough of Stoke-upon-Trent. The finest clays used are principally brought from Dorsetshire, soapstone from Cornwall, and flints from chalk-pits near Gravesend, and from Wales and Ireland. A considerable business in boots and shoes is done in Stafford, where tanning is also much attended to. Glass is made on the confines of Worcestershire. Cotton mills have been erected at Rocester and other places, and there are extensive breweries at Burton-on-Trent and Wolverhampton.

The county constitutes the archdeaconry of Stafford, in the diocese of Lichfield and province of Canterbury, and comprises 138 whole parishes, besides parts of 12 others, and 15 extra parochial places. It is divided for civil purposes into 5 hundreds, in 2 divisions: Offlow North, Pirehill, North and South, and Totmonslow, North and South, forming the northern division; and Cuttlestone, East and West, Offlow South, and Seisdon, North and South, constituting the southern. The government is entrusted to a lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum, high sheriff, and about 327 deputy lieutenants and magistrates. The county returns 17 members to parliament, 2 for the northern division, population 289,663, constituency, 10,703 in 1865; 2 for the southern division, population 457,280, constituency 10,841; 2 each for Stoke-upon-Trent (2,858), Tamworth (451), Wolverhampton (4,533), Stafford (1,495), Lichfield (704), and Newcastle-under-Lyne (976); and 1 for Walsall (1,219). Prior to the passing of the Reform Bill the number was only 10. Stafford is the place of election for the northern division, and Lichfield for the southern.

The county is in the midland military district and the Oxford circuit. Assizes and quarter sessions are held at Stafford, where the county gaol is situated. County courts are held at 13 places. The county lunatic asylum is at Stafford. Owing to the large manufacturing population, education is not attended to among the lower orders. Staffordshire has 21 market towns, and upwards of 400 smaller towns and villages. It is in the West Midland division for registration purposes, and comprises 16 superintendent registrars' districts, or Poor-Law unions, and 60 sub-districts.

It abounds in seats of the nobility and resident gentry, of which the following are the principal: Trentham, Duke of Sutherland; Ingestre, Earl Talbot; Alton Towers, Earl of Shrewsbury; Beaudesert, Marquis of Anglesea; Stone Park, Earl Granville; Sandon, Earl of Harrowby; Sandwell, Earl of Dartmouth; Shugborough, Earl of Lichfield; Aston, Viscount St. Vincent; Teddesley, Lord Hatherton; Blithfield, Lord Bagot; Enville, Earl of Stamford; Weston, Earl of Bradford; Chartley, Earl Ferrars.

Some of the antiquities have already been noticed in connection with the early history of the county. In addition to these there are some Druid remains at Biddulph; Danish pillars at Wolverhampton, Draycott, and Checkley; ecclesiastical ruins at Farewell, Tamworth, and Over Arley; an old cathedral at Lichfield; abbeys at Burton, Croxton, and Dieulacres; and castle ruins at Dudley, Stourton, Tamworth, and Tutbury."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]