Audley and the Staffordshire Advertiser

Brian Stokes


No study of 19th and early 20th century local history is complete without reference to local newspapers. This may appear to be a large claim, but there is enough evidence to make it justifiable.

The Staffordshire Advertiser was founded in 1795 and published in Stafford. The proprietor was Joshua Drewry. (He is credited with the revival of horse racing in Stafford in 1806.) By the middle of the 19th century the paper was reporting events from every quarter of the county, as well as events outside, and including parliamentary debates. Divisions in the House of Commons were carefully recorded so that everyone in Staffordshire knew how his MP had voted. News from the Staffordshire moorlands was complemented by reports of events in Walsall or Wolverhampton. Similarly Burton and Tamworth in the east were balanced by reports from the Shropshire and Cheshire borders in the west and north. For the North Staffordshire area there was a division between the Potteries and Newcastle. Audley usually featured under the latter, occasionally on its own. It was a populous parish: by 1893 the population stood at 12,936, the parish of Newcastle 18,452; Betley 827; Keele 1,090; Eccleshall 3,878.

The newspaper was published weekly, on Saturday; at first with four pages, but later with eight. Each page had seven columns of closely spaced print. Typographical errors were very rare. The papers may be read in Keele University Library; microfilm is also available.

The Advertiser regularly published its circulation figures. For example, 425,633 copies were sold in 1854, a weekly issue of 8,185. These figures compare very favourably with the newly formed Staffordshire Sentinel with its circulation of 66,000, a weekly issue of 1,269 copies.

As its title suggests, it gained revenue from all sorts of front page advertising - from patent medicines with their fantastic claims, to Masonic dinners (publicised more than they are today); to imported fertilizer, and, always, various kinds of property sales. On 4th January 1845 there was a notice of an auction at the Boughey Arms, Audley, on 15th January, for the purpose of selling timber:

The following LOTS of TREES growing on Farms and Woods situate in the Parish of Audley.... LOT 1 43 Oak Trees, numbered 1 to 43; 2 Ash Trees, numbered 1 & 2; growing at Knowl End Farm in the occupation of Mr John Bibby.

There were eleven lots altogether, with Oak, Ash, Elm, Beech, Alder growing on John Tomkinson’s Moat Farm in Lot 2. In Lot 3 there was Oak and Ash at Domvilles farm, "in the occupation of William Steele."

The word occupation suggests tenancy rather than ownership as in the case of Mrs Glover at Park Lane, and another by John Wrench, with Brookholes Hill Wood occupied by Mrs Smith. On the other hand Ralph Warburton owns the trees at Bignal (sic) End, as well as another farm. Daniel Booth is also described as the owner of Wall Farm.

The final paragraph of the advertisement shows the need to pinpoint Audley’s place on the map:

The superior quality of the Timber renders it well worth the attention of the Trade. It is situate within 4 miles of the Trent and Mersey Canal; and 7 miles from the Staffordshire Potteries. Audley is distant from the Crewe and Basford stations about 6 miles, and 7 from the Whitmore Station on the Grand Junction Railway and 5 from Newcastle.

It is worth noting the importance of Whitmore Station in the late 1830s and early 40s, both for goods and passengers. Among the latter was the squire of Whitmore, Captain Rowland Mainwaring, who regularly began his journeys to London from Whitmore Station.

The Staffordshire Advertiser reported events far and wide especially disasters of various kinds - towns burning in the United States, shipwrecks everywhere. The Crimean War 1854-56 caught the public imagination. the paper recorded a speech by Lord Cardigan justifying the Charge of the Light Brigade. Some weeks earlier the people of Audley had contributed to the PATRIOTIC FUND. This was reported on 13th January, 1855:

The amount contributed in the Parish of Audley .... inclusive of the donations of the residential gentry, and collections in surrounding collieries is £13 3s 4d. This does not include the portions of Audley situate in Talke O’the Hill, Chesterton and Harecastle. The money [at today’s values several thousands] has been paid into Newcastle Old Bank by Mr James Dean, the sub treasurer.

The mining industry produced many news items, not least the tragedy of mining disasters with harrowing accounts of grief and deprivation, but also stories of community resilience, often in the form of subscription lists for widows and orphans. Yet the undoubted hazards of the mining industry did nothing to retard the search for new coal measures. The Advertiser stated on 16th January 1892:

The Talk O’ the Hill Colliery Company (Limited) after extensive operations extending over two years, have come upon eight feet or Cockshead seam and seven feet Banbury, both seams being of excellent quality and thickness. The new coalfield will be equal to an output of a thousand tons a day for the next forty five years.

There was always sympathy for the casualties of coal mining. The bereaved, orphaned and widowed received some help, but there was never any question that the death of the bread winner would bring adequate compensation. Mining was a dangerous occupation and accidents inevitable. There is an account of a concert held in the schoolroom at Halmerend in 1883 that illustrates the attitude to coal getting. It was held for the benefit of the widows of Halmerend and Alsagers Bank with Walter Palmer of Reading presiding. He was a coal owner and he told the audience that

there was no object more deserving of their support... and they must do their best to make these concerts a success. They all knew the dangers which had to be encountered in mines, and their deepest sympathy was due to the widows of the men who were cut off by accident.

Palmer’s speech was not without irony since he thanked his listeners

in very warm and graceful terms for the presentation made to him and his wife on their marriage last year by the employé s at the colliery, and said that he should always be glad to do them any service, and especially such a one as he had the pleasure of performing that evening.

It was announced at the concert that in 1882 about sixty five or seventy widows in the district had been provided with a good tea and four shillings each. One of the officials, Ernest Craig, said that

it was not a very large sum, but it must be remembered that at this season of the year it was a great help to poor people and very acceptable.

Deprivation of one kind or another may be a cause of criminal behaviour and Audley had its share of law breakers. The 1840s saw a dramatic rise in social unrest stemming from economic depression, unemployment, low pay, harshly applied welfare provision, overcrowding, severe environmental pollution and political agitation. It is no accident that Staffordshire’s County Constabulary was founded in October 1842. In Audley a number of local people, with something to lose, established their Association for the Prosecution of Felons and listed its rewards - £5 5s for anyone who had helped to convict a capital offender; £3 3s for the conviction of anyone sentenced to transportation. The newspaper, besides advertising rewards also listed the members of the association. Here is a selection from over fifty names: Sir Thomas Boughey, Joseph Booth Esq, John Booth, Daniel Booth, John Bibby, Thomas Beech, Daniel Burgess, John Burgess, Charles Brassington, J.S. Caldwell Esq, Charles Fryer, John Hilditch, Joseph Jackson, Mary Lawton, Samuel Richardson, Ellen Riley, George Steele, G Tollet Esq, George Wrench, Ralph Warburton.

Most of the offences reported by the Staffordshire Advertiser are of dishonesty, although occasionally there are accounts of much more serious offences. For example there was the case of two poachers who had murdered a gamekeeper’s son and were executed. With something akin to relish the newspaper commented on their execution:

Whilst they were engaged in prayer the drop fell, and the world closed over them forever.

Petty thieving was much more common and Audley does not differ from other areas. In February 1855 Eliza Steel, a domestic servant of J Beardsmore, a miller of Butt Lane, was charged for

stealing moneys (sic) the property of her master. The prisoner had been in the prosecution’s service about a month.

She had stolen four sovereigns, and was caught as a result of stealing some marked half crowns. She was committed for trial.

A week later a fight between two women was reported. This happened at Halmerend. Mary Bostock charged Elizabeth Gibbons with assault.

The complainant, rather a portly looking young woman, on whose countenance were traces of two shocking black eyes...

The argument was over the possession of a night cap. Mrs Gibbons was fined sixpence, but had to pay 9s 6d costs.

Not all accounts of law breaking were concerned with violence and theft. In September 1880 a fishmonger, John Bryan, was charged with selling herrings in Audley that were unfit for human consumption. Under the Public Health Act Bryan could have been fined £20 for each rotten herring, and because he had a barrel containing 214, the prosecutor, T Shemalt, calculated that Bryan could face a fine of £4,280! A defence witness said that he had eaten some of the herrings and in his opinion they were good. The Chairman of the Bench was not convinced:

... the fish he saw were thoroughly bad... Mr Twemlow said that in view of the great amount of sickness which was prevalent in the country it was necessary that the public should be prevented from having putrid food sold to them. He understood that this was the defendant’s first offence, but he would be fined £2 and 31s 6d costs.

A menace of another kind to the people of Audley came in the form of a cartload of gunpowder - presumably used at the local pits - that was not carried with care:

Thomas Shuker farmer Audley was summoned on the 2nd instant (April 1883) improperly conveyed gunpowder on the highway at Ravens Lane... The cart contained a ton of gunpowder and was covered with torn sheets (produced), through the holes in which packages of gun powder were visible... Mr Twemlow said that the Government Inspectors had stated that the Act was not strictly observed as it should be and the penalty for this offence must be a substantial one. A fine of £5 and costs was imposed.

There were many lighter moments. The Victorians loved local entertainments and the people of Audley played and sang with obvious gusto whenever the opportunity arose. Here is a typical account in January 1893:

On Monday evening a concert in aid of the Methodist New Connexion funds was given in the National School. The principals were Miss J Sims (soprano), Miss J Edwards Denbighshire (contralto), Mr J Smith (tenor), Mr W Riley (bass), Mr Geo Clarke (solo violin) and Mr J Billington (humorous reciter): accompanist Mr Geo Riley. The Brothers Brough Glee Party was also in attendance. A good programme was creditably maintained.

In the 1960s there was a regular boast by a Sunday newspaper that within its pages "all human life is here". The implication being that the darker side of social behaviour would not be neglected. A strong case could be made for the Staffordshire Advertiser that long ago it had reached that objective, showing its readership a broader view of human existence than many a modern mass circulation paper. Patient study of the Advertiser is strongly recommended to the social historian and to anyone who believes, like Kenneth Clark, that because human nature has not changed much we must still try to learn from history: "History is ourselves."

The Staffordshire Advertiser provides a picture of the county in general, shows Audley in a period of great social change, and makes a useful backdrop to the study of almost every aspect of Staffordshire life.

Next: The Ancient Order of Foresters in Audley