Gradbach and a rediscovered Tunnel.
It is not every day that one discovers something that no one else is aware of. I had heard tales of a tunnel system which was said to run under the moorlands which had been told to me by Frank Parker who is a friend and Author who lives at Goldstych Moss high up in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Although he has lived in the area for most of his life and has written many books about the area his knowledge regarding this tunnel system was sketchy and he was also unaware of its location.
As the weather had improved somewhat I decided to go in search of any evidence regarding this tunnel so I drove to Gradbach and parked on the roadside a short distance from Manor farm. I walked back up the road in the direction of Quarnford before turning right and crossing the bridge heading in the direction of Royal cottage. After walking a short way up the steep hill I cut through the field on the right and followed a dry stone wall which dropped down to the ochre stream which runs into the brook which passes Manor farm before joining the river Dane.
This photograph shows the ochre stream before it enters the brook, also you can see the walls of the ancient drying beds where at one time the ochre stream would have been diverted and the ochre laden water would have been allowed to settle. Afterwards the ochre would have been removed and used for the production of paint.
The steep sides of the valley that has been formed by the ochre stream meant that I had to cross over onto the opposite bank where there was some semblance of a path which I followed leaving the stream far below me. After having climbed and travelled a fair distance I came across a huge beech tree that had been uprooted in a high wind and had fallen across the steep sided valley forming a natural bridge linking one side to the other, however the moss growing on its trunk made it look dangerously unsafe to cross, and as the drop from the trunk was about forty feet to the waters below I decided to carry on along the same side.
A short distance further on brought me to the source of the ochre where a deep hole reveals where the ochre emerges from and it is said was caused by the extensive coal mining in this area.I did manage to find some information on the internet in regards to the mining which took place in this area and is as follows:
There were coal pits in the Goldsitch Moss area in 1564 and coal workings at Black Clough in the north part of the township in 1602. When Sir John Harpur let a house and 37 a. at Goldsitch Moss to Peter Higson in 1634, he included all coal works in Quarnford. The lease was for 21 years, Higson paying an annual rent of £12 and 2 fat hens. In 1673 coal was dug where it outcropped along streams south and east of the later Orchard Farm. The mines were worked despite their expense. In his will of 1718 William Wardle of Boosley Grange, in Fawfieldhead, who in 1677 had taken a lease of coal mines in Alstonefield parish, asked Sir John Harpur to renew the lease in favour of his son, another William, in consideration of ‘the vast charge’ which the elder William had borne in improving tenements and in draining the mines. In the earlier 18th century the younger William Wardle had to repair a road damaged by the number of coalladen sledges from mines at Knotbury. In 1765 Sir Henry Harpur let coal mines at Goldsitch and Knotbury to two Derbyshire men, George Goodwin and John Wheeldon, and to James Slack of Knotbury for 21 years at a rent of £10 15s. a year. It is probable that Goodwin and Wheeldon provided the money for the lease and that Slack worked the mines. The lease included a forge which Slack had recently set up. There were 20 coal miners and colliers in the township in 1841 and 32 in 1851; the number had declined to 14 by 1881. The main workings in the late 19th century were at Knotbury and near Orchard Farm, and they were closed and reopened according to local demand. The last mine, H down againope Colliery near Orchard Farm, was worked between 1925 and 1932.
I carried on climbing alongside the stream which was now flowing clear and free from ochre as I left its source behind me, and after climbing over a rise and dropping back down again I came across the ancient stone remains of some sort of construction.
I wondered whether this was part of the tunnel system which I was searching for, it was perhaps around 3 feet square and in a poor state of repair, it was partially collapsed and appeared to have been sealed up. I debated whether to carry on searching and decided to carry on further up the stream,by this time I was having to walk up it as the path had disappeared.
After a short while I emerged out of the trees and into barren moorland and came across a public footpath which now followed the course of the stream, this took me past a small stone bridge which crossed the stream allowing the farmer access to his other fields. It was when I was about 50 yards past this bridge that my curiosity was aroused because on the opposite side of the stream was a section of dry stone walling. Most people walking along this footpath would not give it a second glance, however to me it seemed out of place and didn’t seem to serve any purpose.
Although the information regarding the tunnel is sketchy, it is thought the Harper Crewe family who owned the mining rights in this area decided to attempt to drain the moorlands which in turn would lower the water table, this they thought would expose more coal seams and allow them to extract more coal. They went to the great effort and expense in constructing this tunnel system but did not factor in the soluble ferric sulphite in the water, on exposure to the oxygen present in the tunnel it transformed into ferric oxide, this had the effect of stopping the water from draining into the tunnel and within two years the tunnel was unable to drain the water off the moorlands.
After crossing the stream and on closer inspection it appeared there was a space behind the wall, I removed a couple of the stones from the wall which enabled me to see more clearly behind it. After shining a torch through the hole left by the removal of the stones I was able to determine that they had successfully plugged the entrance to the tunnel using what appeared to be a shaped piece of either sandstone or gritstone. After they had done this they had constructed the drystone wall which effectively concealed the entrance to the tunnel which has remained as far as I know undiscovered since it was blocked up back in the 18th century.
Photographs by Gary Tacagni.