Serious Heritage

Anyone from Stoke and the Potteries area will tell you of the local delicacy – the Oatcake. The Apedale Heritage Centre cafe, beloved of the Moseley Railway Trust’s working members, serves a mean oatcake. There is a relationship between oatcake consumption and yards of track built in a day, but I’ve yet to put numbers to it. You will therefore appreciate the horror with which we greeted the news shown in the photo.
The news story (see The Sentinel’s site, long link at the bottom) is all about the heritage value of Stoke’s last surviving “hole in the wall” oatcake shop, in Hanley. Heritage is an overused word, but it is worth reflecting on the history of the Apedale site. The coal seams which are deep under this part of North Staffordshire rise close to the surface in the Apedale valley. Thus, it was a natural choice to build ironworks here – iron making uses huge amounts of coal. The first ironworks opened at Apedale in 1784, and the site expanded to use six blast furnaces, three 65′ high, the others 55′. Each could produce 280 tons of pig iron a week. There was a huge coal works, with 82 ovens. Latterly, the works was owned by Midland Coal, Coke & Iron Ltd (MCCI), but the site failed to survive the slump at the end of 1920s, and closed in 1930. A bizarre use of the site after WW2 was the storage and re-sale of ex-military vehicles. AHC’s more senior volunteers still tell of seeing the amphibious DUKW vehicles being tested in the remains of Apedale Canal.
A number of small coal mines survived the closure of the MCCI business; such small mines are known as Footrails in North Staffs. Most of the buildings now in use by the MRT date from the Footrail colliery era, although our main workshop building is much older, and certainly dates from the Ironworks. No-one seems to know the function of the building in Ironworks days; perhaps (just perhaps) it was related to the very extensive standard-gauge railway network – the building dimensions are certainly about right for a small loco shed or similar.
Incidentally, one Ironworks loco survives – a 1901 Manning Wardle named “Newcastle”. This is believed to be in a secretive private collection on a farm in Hertfordshire, and there are few photos of this loco in recent years (contact us if you can add anything!!).
The Stoke area seems to be in uproar about the heritage value of an oatcake shop; the MRT is trying to bring back to life a site with a vast industrial heritage and pedigree.
Want to help? Contact us here, or come and see us on a Saturday (or occasional Sundays). If there’s no-one around, we’ll be in the cafe, eating oatcakes.