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Stoke's Hidden Tunnel, Lost Canal and It's Victorian Hero

Jenna has a keen interest in local history and loves nothing more than researching, exploring and photographing forgotten or lost history.

The Newcastle Canal

At the height of the industrial revolution, canals, railways and tramlines criss-crossed the landscape of Stoke-on-Trent. The now-defunct Newcastle-under-Lyme canal was completed in 1800 and ran for over 3 miles from Newcastle to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Stoke.

The canal was not well used as it was only allowed to supply coal to the pottery trade because of an agreement that a rival canal, Sir Gresey's Canal, was to be the sole coal transporter for 21 years. Because of this, the canal was mainly used for limestone and for coal to supply the Minton, Spode and Wolfe factories.

The canal ran from near to the Boat & Horses pub in Newcastle, to the Trent & Mersey Canal in Stoke.

Map showing the route of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal

Map showing the route of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal

Disaster Strikes

Towards the end of the 19th century, London Road would have been a cobbled highway, with tramlines stretching the length of it. The Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal ran alongside the road, separated by metal railings and trees. Bridges crisscrossed the canal along the way.

At half-past 4 on Friday the 13th of April 1894, 4-year-old Jane Ridgeway was playing on the towpath to the canal on London Road. She was a local girl, living at 8 Pigs Face, Canal Side, Boothen, in Steele's cottages with parents William and Elizabeth Ridgway. As she was playing she slipped and fell into the canal, and as she was screaming and splashing in the water, a nearby tram was just about to set off from the West End terminus. It is lucky for little Jane that it hadn't set off yet, as trams in those days were steam-powered and very loud. The tram conductor, Timothy Trow, without thought for himself ran from the tram and jumped into the cold canal water to save the young girl.

However, Timothy Trow could not swim, and the water was cold. He had walked partway across the shallow part of the canal but then he suddenly sank much deeper and he called out that he had cramp and needed help. A passerby, Mr Henry Lloyd, jumped into the canal to help him. Another passerby, Mr John Forrester, had also jumped in and managed to rescue little Jane, he also tried to help Timothy, but he could not.

Unfortunately, Timothy Trow lost his life in a heroic and selfless attempt to save Jane Ridgeway. The canal was dredged to recover his body.

This footbridge over the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal was near to Nursery Street and the site of the accident

This footbridge over the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal was near to Nursery Street and the site of the accident

Sad Drowning of a Tram Conductor Lost in Trying to Save a Child

At about half-past four yesterday afternoon a sad case of drowning occurred at the West End, Stoke. Whilst passing the canal the conductor of the London Road car noticed a child in the water. He at once jumped off the platform and without losing a moment dived into the water to rescue the child. By some means, however, his strength failed him and the man was himself drowned. The child was rescued by another man and the police are dragging for the body.

— Staffordshire Sentinel 14th April 1894

The Timothy Trow Memorial on London Road, near to the site of the accident

The Timothy Trow Memorial on London Road, near to the site of the accident

ERECTED

BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION

IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF

TIMOTHY TROW

TRAM CONDUCTOR. AGED 21 YEARS

WHO LOST HIS LIFE BY DROWNING

NEAR THIS SPOT

IN A HEROIC ATTEMPT TO SAVE

THAT OF A CHILD, APRIL 13TH 1894

— Inscription on the memorial

Remembering Timothy Trow

News travelled fast of the selfless man that had tried to save the drowning girl. At only 21 years old the tragedy was felt deeply by the local community. There was a local collection for a gravestone and a memorial to be erected for him. The funeral was also well attended.

The funeral of the deceased took place this afternoon at Hanley Borough Cemetery. The cortege was timed to start at the deceased's home, 9 William Street, at a quarter to three, and as soon as two o'clock little groups assembled in the street, which is a small throughfare running off Broad Street. After half an hour, a large crowd had assembled, and the route to the cemetery was lined by many who had heard to express their sympathy with the deceased's relatives and their high appreciation of the noble sacrifice made by the brave tram conductor.
Staffordshire Sentinel

There were over 300 subscriptions and donations from local people for the memorial, most from poor working men and women who had been touched by his selflessness. The deputy mayor at the time, Alderman E Baddeley, formally unveiled the memorial on Tuesday 4th October 1894.

Every year Timothy Trow day is celebrated in the local community to remember him. Jane's descendants, her granddaughter Linda Potter and her grandson Alan Huggins attended a special service to remember him.

There is also a nearby street named after him on a nearby housing estate called 'Trow Close'.

Timothy Trow's Grave

Timothy Trow's Grave

IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF

TIMOTHY TROW

AGED 21 YEARS

TRAM CONDUCTOR

WHO LOST HIS LIFE BY DROWNING

IN AN HEROIC ATTEMPT TO SAVE

THAT OF A CHILD

AT BOOTHEN, STOKE-ON-TRENT

APRIL 13TH 1894

— Inscription on Timothy Trow's grave stone

The route of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal along London Road

The route of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal along London Road

The Remains of the Canal

Although the canal no longer exists, it was abandoned in 1935 and filled in, if you know where to look, there are many remnants of the canal left. The canal began in Newcastle at a wharf near the Boat & Horses pub, which was named for the canal. Where it ran along the a34 there is a small surviving part of the canal that still holds water, opposite the hospital.

It then ran along the length of London Road, leaving a few fragments of its existence. There is a bridge that still stands on Corporation Street with a fantastic barge painted onto the floor below, where the canal would have run. The bridge is still intact, with the parapets, the fence and even the gate that would have led down to the towpath.

Painted by artist Rob Pointon

Painted by artist Rob Pointon

The canal bridge on Corporation Street, Stoke, with the original gate to the tow path.

The canal bridge on Corporation Street, Stoke, with the original gate to the tow path.

The canal bridge, Corporation Street, Stoke, with the painting of a canal barge below.

The canal bridge, Corporation Street, Stoke, with the painting of a canal barge below.

The Canal in Stoke

As the canal came into Stoke, it split into two tunnels that went under the town. One went into the factory above it, the other travelled under the town, then opened up into the Spode site, where the canal then flowed underneath the Fowlea Brook and out into the Trent & Mersey Canal.

The tunnel is still there under the ground but is now sealed off. It was drained before 1939 and was used as an air-raid shelter for the town during WW2. The hump in the road in Church Street, Campbell Place is where the tunnel is still beneath the road. One end of the tunnel was in the town, the other was in the Spode site, as you can see in the photographs in this article. Aqueduct Street carried the canal over the Fowlea Brook which flowed into a culvert. Aqueduct Street is now the entrance to the Civic Centre in Stoke. The name is the only trace left of the canal in this area.

Where the canal joined the Trent & Mersey Canal, the only evidence left is a sign, which marks the junction, that was erected by Stoke-on-Trent City Council. There was a stretch of the canal still surviving up until the 1970s, when the building of the a500 meant it had to be filled in and built over.

The two tunnels underneath Stoke town. Above the tunnel to the right is a flint mill, to the left is the Minton factory

The two tunnels underneath Stoke town. Above the tunnel to the right is a flint mill, to the left is the Minton factory

Campbell Place, Stoke, 1905. You can see the railings on the right are where the canal comes out from the tunnel under the factory and then goes back underneath Church Street again.

Campbell Place, Stoke, 1905. You can see the railings on the right are where the canal comes out from the tunnel under the factory and then goes back underneath Church Street again.

An aerial photograph of Stoke from 1927 showing the Spode factory and the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal (the red arrows). The yellow circle shows where the tunnel goes underneath the road at Church Street, Campbell Place.

An aerial photograph of Stoke from 1927 showing the Spode factory and the Newcastle-under-Lyme Canal (the red arrows). The yellow circle shows where the tunnel goes underneath the road at Church Street, Campbell Place.

Your Memories

If anyone has any knowledge of the tunnel underneath the town, or any memories, I would love to hear from you!

Further Reading

Stoke-on-Trent: A Pictoral History - Alan Taylor

Stoke Through Time - Mervyn Edwards

Terry’s Pottersaurus! The Ducktionary of Stoke-on-Trent: (The definitive Potteries Thesaurus & Dictionary) - Terry Bossons

Other Articles by Jenna

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Jenna Goodwin

Comments

Jenna Goodwin (author) from Staffordshire, England on January 28, 2021:

Wow, that is amazing thank you. I wonder if the entrance to it is still under there?

Paul Cooke on January 27, 2021:

I remember in the late 80s early nineties an entrance being opened up just outside what was Woolworths. Engineers would go down and clean out the canal remains. Also remember it’s spur off Copeland Street.