Gun Hill

Previously I have written about Gun Hill, but I felt there was more to discover about this enigmatic hill which can be found on the Staffordshire Moorlands, as usual it takes time to reveal things that are hidden and not always obvious.

One story or possibly a myth relates to a time during the Second World War when one morning the residents of Gun Hill woke to find millions of caterpillars covering everything. The explanation which was put forward to explain this event is that the caterpillars were dropped from the air by a German Zeppelin airship, it was thought that this was some sort of attempt to damage our crop growing abilities, however why they would drop them on Gun Hill where no crops were growing is open to debate.

A view from the top of Gun Hill.

I don’t know whether there is anyone still alive who remembers the caterpillar event, but it would be interesting to get a first hand account of what happened all those years ago.

While we are on the subject of balloons I feel I should mention a balloon crash which occurred on the 25th May 1826 on Gun Hill, it was 37ft in diameter and was 55ft in height and is said to have originated from Beverley in North Yorkshire, it caused great alarm to about 20 men who were working on the roads in the area, however once they had overcame their fear as they had never seen a balloon before they transported it to Swythamley Hall, where it remained until the owner who had suffered a dislocated arm came to claim it.

The photograph on the left shows what may be an ancient packhorse trail which follows the same path as the public right of way and which reappears close to Old Hag and Turners pool. Note the stone pillar by the side of the trail, could this be a route marker or boundary stone?

A strange feature of Gun Hill is the phosphorescence which can be given off by the earth here, in “The History of Staffordshire” Plot writes, ” If one ride on Gun in a dark night, in so wet a season that a horse breaks thro’ the turf and thows up this black moist, spongy sort of earth, he seems to throw up so much fire, which lies shining on the ground like so many embers; by the light whereof one horse may trace another, tho’ at some distance, and it be never so dark; it continuing light upon the ground, and gradually dying away, for near a quarter of an hour”.

This photograph shows the pack horse trail as it leads to Old Hag close to Turner’s pool.

On the Southern side of Gun Hill can be found what appears to be earthworks, and it has been speculated that this was a Roman fortification, the embankment with its double Foss can still be seen and shows us that originally it would have run for 500-600 yards. Starting just past Fold Farm is a deep hollow way, which for generations has been called the Old Roman Road, in fact it has been proved to be the first coach road running from Leek to Macclesfield. Running alongside this old road can be found a few inches below the turf a pack horse trail which is thought to have been used by the Monks from Dieu lacresse Abbey for the transportation of wool into Cheshire.

The earthworks on Gun Hill.

I believe that the ancient packhorse trail which may have been used in the past to supply the Roman fortification and for carrying goods off Gun Hill is where the public footpath now cuts across the centre of the hill and would have passed 60 to 70 yards away from where the murderer John Naden was gibbeted, then it would have dropped down into the valley where evidence of it can be found as it leads to Old Hag and Turner’s pool.

Another route marker or boundary stone found on Gun Hill.

Another unlikely story concerning Gun Hill is that an attempt to find oil took place here in 1938, this was undertaken by the D’arcy Exploration Company, a subsidiary of Persian oil Co, later to become known as B.P.

It was very rough country with bog and moorland so railway sleepers had to be laid to form an access road, these sunk so more sleepers had to be laid over these to give a firm base. I tend to think that the reason drilling took place here and at other parts of the country was to try to find our own source of oil in case supplies were interrupted by the Second World War.

The drilling rig itself was huge, standing 134ft in height, and standing on four legs which were supported by concrete bases, the rig was manned by 3 shifts of 8-9 men who mainly came from Leek, and were ferried to the site by truck, the rig ran 24 hours a day throughout the year and must have been very inhospitable during the Winter months.

Just slighly below where this photograph was taken would have been the spot where the drilling rig would have been sited back in 1938.

By February 1939 the men had drilled down to an incredible 4,500 feet but had unfortunately not struck oil, they only succeeded in reaching a flow of fresh water at that depth, the well head was sealed and the site dismantled and transferred to Nottingham where they did in fact strike oil!

7 Responses to “Gun Hill”

  1. When visiting Gun Hill a grisly event in its history recorded in the papers and books of Plot, Sleigh & Miller is worth thinking about. It was the trial and execution of John Naden in 1732. Naden had been found guilty at a court in Stafford, of murdering his employer, Robert Brough of Whitelee Farm, Swythamley. He was held on the night prior to his execution at The Cock Inn at Leek, which then occupied a site at the top corner of the Market Place. It is recorded there was a lot of drinking and singing. Then the next day he was taken to Gun-Ridge preceded by choirs from several local churches and hanged and gibbeted somewhere near to the packhorse road. Naden’s bones dropped piece-meal from the chains and never received burial. Nice!

  2. I grew up in the valley between Gun and the Roaches – My mother grew up in Swythamley – close by – when she was a child the remains of the Gibit post were still evident and were situated where the road turns sharply left towards eleven lane ends. So it at that corner on the left hand side of the road.

    Also in the great winter of 62/63 my father with the other farmers of the area used that road across the top of Gun to get their milk off their farms before it spoiled to the milk waggons waiting to take it to Manchester to be processed. The whole valley was snowed in ! – Also during WW2 a German plane crashed on Gun moor !

    The Old Hag used to be an Inn and was used by Dick Turpin as a stop off point.

    As children we all knew about the Roman Road too

    • Hi Anne, thanks for the comments. I think Sir Phillip Brocklehurst opened Ludchurch as a tourist attraction in Victorian times so I don’t think it could of been the same person. Perhaps you could answer a question for me, is there anyone still alive at Gun hill who can still remember a Zeppellin dropping thousands of caterpillars which appeared overnight during the war. It was thought that it was an attempt to damage crops, not that there would have been much growing there on top of Gun Hill!
      Regards Gary

  3. You keep referring to “Gun Hill” but I grew up in Leek and it was always just Gun. As a teenager one of my favourite walks was “up Gun” and we always talked about the Roman road. Since then I’ve read that it could be a saltway, but it’s likely to have been an old ridgeway used for everything. It is certainly very bleak and atmospheric up there in winter

  4. Does anyone know how the hill got it’s name? I have been told that until 1956 there was an Army Rifle range in the area, does anyone know if this is correct?

  5. There is a suggestion that during the civil war a canon was fired from the hill at St Edwards Church. Hence the name. I have no idea if it is true.

  6. on early 1800’s os maps it is refered to as Dun hill

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