GEOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

This is the more descriptive of two introductions to the geography of North Staffordshire. The other (intro) is more photographic, an introduction to the general layout of the area and to the scenery.

The GENUKI web site has some very useful information and links to many other sources of information. Some of the lists are organised by counties, such as Staffordshire.


It is impossible to understand the nature of Methodist or any other Church history in such an area without some geographical and historical background.

Industry

The main industries at present are agriculture and tourism. However, for many centuries other industries such as mining were very important. There are still the remains of many old mine workings, such as the lead mines of Ecton.

Ecton today is just a few houses and a scar of rubble on the hillside. 200 years ago, it was a thriving community.

The limestone was itself an important resource for industry. Froghall Warf, on a canal extension, was important for the lime kilns which produced high quality lime. Today, it is just another tourist attraction.

Coal mining was another important industry. While the more extensive mining areas are south of Stafford, chiefly the Black country and near Cannock, there were some coal seams reported in the hills not far south of Buxton. There is an interesting little mining museum at the Valley Heritage Centre, Hednesford.

The 18th Century, which was the century of the beginnings of Methodism, also saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.While James Watt was perfecting a steam engine, James Brindley in Leek and Richard Arkwright in Cromford (just across the border in Derbyshire) successfully used water power for their mills. (See the Cromford Mill and Arkwright Society web sites)

Agriculture

Up to the 20th Century, agriculture was very labour-intensive. For example, hay was cut by hand, turned by hand, and gathered by hand.

horse and cart (51k)    Horse drawn carts were used to transport the hay from the fields. I think the picture of sowing by hand is of my great-grandfather, while a farm worker guides the horse drawn plough.

Ploughing and sowing (68k) : sowing (43k) : plough (114k)

By the end of the century, mechanisation had displaced the labour. One man can now do the work of many. So the active population of the countryside has declined, with alternative jobs being more town based. The effect has accelerated in the 1990's with many farms getting out of milk production. (The reasons are outside of my brief.)

Education

The local village school was an important part of the community. The children could not usually travel further than to a neighbouring village. The picture is of Lea Marston Girls School, Warwickshire, showing the two teachers and some of the girls (including my grandmother) about 1900 or just after.

Lea Marston Girls School (204k) :

Urbanisation

In fact, Britain is regarded as being "urbanised" from about 1850. That is, the percentage of the population living in towns and cities overtook the rural population for the first time. Since then, the trend has accelerated.

At the same time, transport has changed. In the 19th Century, if you could not get to a Church or Chapel no more than half an hour's walk away, it was not very practical to attend a Sunday Service. Now we take it for granted that most people can travel 10 miles to Church with no problem.

Need for Many Chapels

Consider the typical farm worker, often with no other transport than walking. After milking the cows and attending to other livestock, they would have lunch and then go to afternoon meetings at the local chapel. They would then have to walk back to the farm in time for the afternoon milking and other farm duties. Especially in winter, a two mile walk to the chapel would be as far as most people could manage in the available time.

The proliferation of small Chapels during the 19th Century, therefore, met a real need. The rural population was much larger than today, and very much less mobile. Groups of early Methodists, meeting in their homes, built the meeting places - originally Preaching Houses - they needed for their meetings. The Methodist Societies had come into existence as a result of the preaching of various Methodist evangelists who travelled from Leek and the Potteries. (The Methodist message)

Thus the area covered by the Wetton And Longnor Methodist Circuit actually had more than the 10 Chapels which were in use in the 1960's. 1962 Circuit Plan

Rewlach is really just one farm amongst a few scattered farm houses between Brund and Reapsmoor. But the Chapel was built to seat 100, and was still well attended in the 1950's. It closed in 1999.

Comment on Life Expectancy

Oficial figures for average ages of death in 1842 are interesting for comparison with Rural North Staffordshire and with some of the family trees elsewhere on this site.

Average Ages of Death in 1842

Manchester
(town)
Rutland
(county)
Professional People
Farmers and Tradesmen
Mechanics and Labourers
38
20
17
52
41
38

I shall have to look at the data for 1842, but in general the typical life of those in the family trees published elsewhere is significantly longer. However, most of these are for people born rather than dying around 1842. Hugh Bourne, for example, died in 1852 aged 80.


FURTHER READING

On the changes in agriculture and village life during the 20th Century,

Alec Gilman's WETTON
this is the remeniscences of a farmer, Alec Gilman, born 1923, who grew up in Wetton village.

Gerty's Story
this is the story of Gerty Mellor, of Hollinsclough.


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First draft September 2000