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!