05 Apr 2023 Barlaston Leaders: Kath & Dave, Length of walk: 8 miles, Driving Distance: 20 miles, Number walking: 15
Start from ST12 9DH
Click here to see a map of the walk.
The walk started at the Plume of Feathers pub, owned by actor Neil Morrissey but he was not present to welcome the group. He had kindly provided a large tarpaulin over some outdoor tables which provided a dry place to put on boots.
The route went north along the Trent and Mersey Canal as far as the road leading to Barlaston railway station (closed since 2020). After crossing the railway the group went off road towards Barlaston Hall along the Stone Circles Challenge walk route. This is a cunningly named walk to make the casual observer think they will pass ancient monuments along the way. In fact, it is a walk with the town of Stone at its centre.
On previous visits, the long walking group has passed Barlaston Hall along the road. This time they walked across fields looking up at the structure.
Barlaston Hall was bought by the Wedgwood pottery company in 1937, as a site to replace its operation in Etruria in an industrial part of Stoke-on-Trent. They built in the grounds a new electric pottery and model village for the employees. From 1945 the hall housed the Wedgwood Memorial College, but when the building was found to contain dry rot, they moved elsewhere in the village. In the 1960s the hall was vandalised and suffered major subsidence due to coal mining. The house had been built across a geological fault, and 4-inch wide cracks had opened in its walls.
A campaign to restore old mansions largely completed the external restoration in the early 1990s. This involved extensive works including inserting a concrete raft under the building to protect against further mining subsidence. It is now a private dwelling.
Barlaston Cricket Club has a tree near the scorer’s hut that is surrounded by seating. This proved a suitable site for the coffee stop; it wasn’t perfect. Some shelter to keep off the rain would have been useful but cricket is a game played in the long sunny days of summer.
The leaders had decided that the toposcope near the summit of Downs Banks would be a suitable place for lunch. This meant that the long climb to reach it was followed by a rest and feed.
Downs Bank has been in the care of the National Trust since 1950, when John Joule, a local brewer, gave it to them as “an offering for victory in the 1939-45 War, and as a memorial to those who died”. It had previously been used to grow hops for the brewery and had cattle grazing on it. However, after 1950 the lack of grazing caused its characteristic heathland to decline, as bracken and birch (the evil weed) were allowed to invade.
The toposcope was installed to celebrate the recent Millennium and lists the directions to look for various places. The only item of interest visible during this visit was the monument atop Tittensor Hill overlooking the Trentham Monkey Forest. This is a statue of George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford, 1st Duke of Sutherland and owner of the Trentham Estate, who died in 1833. The monument is listed Grade II*, but the listing also acknowledges that the achievements of the Duke (said to the wealthiest Briton of the 19th century) are ‘contrasted against the context of his infamous involvement in the Highland Clearances’. The last time the group visited the statue, it was surrounded by fencing to keep away any Scots with a grievance.
The route after lunch was pretty well all downhill across fields to the canal and after strolling along the towpath in the rain the walkers went in the pub for drinks and a warm. Neil Morrissey still wasn’t there to greet his customers.