Last week we went for a school trip to Apedale, a very nice and typical Country Park near our town Chesterton.There we visited an acient wood. As the name, Watermills Wood,suggests – there were, at one time, mills in these woods which ground things such as corn or wheat into flour. Later, coal mines were dug here using water from the stream running through the wood. We can tell that the opencast mine did not dig into the wood by the age of the trees, we know they are very old from their size. The path is where the narrow railway lines were and a steam engine at the top of the woods would help pull wagons up to collect the coal.
When the hole left by the opencast mine was filled in, trees were planted in some places but some parts were left as open grassland. This was to encourage certain wildlife to live here. (e.g. skylarks and lapwings, known as ‘peawits’, who nest on the ground.)
Water and heat is needed to make steam. Burning coal provided the heat and water was drawn from the pond. Silver birch trees grow very quickly and so that explains the number of them here. When all the industry stopped, these trees would have been some of the first ones to grow.
The Brickworks can be seen from here. 50 years ago several ovens could be seen with black smoke coming out of their chimneys. Chesterton High School, the site of an early Roman fort, can be seen on the hill opposite.
There are clues there was a coalmine. For example, they had to separate the stuff they did want (coal) from the stuff they didn’t want, such as a rock called shale. As they dug, the rocks from Watermills Colliery were dumped onto a heap. As the rocks got higher, the materials became squashed and the gas contained in them burned. (spontaneous combustion) Sometimes these fires can last for two years. In the wood we can see red ash which is the name of the rock after it has burned.
Traditional British trees such as oak, elm and beech take a long time to grow. So, to avoid the park looking bare, fast growing trees such as the willow, alder and silver birch were planted. Oak, elm and beech were planted in between. The plan is to remove the ‘fast growers’ once the others are established to a reasonable height.
The limestone path from the Heathcote tower to the gate leading out of the woods, was laid by Churchfields schoolchildren some years ago.
We can see the base of the old tower, there would have been a tall chimney above this. Cages took the men and coal up and down and steam was needed to power the engine for the railway. Water was taken from nearby pools for the steam. The chimney was to carry away the smoke from the coal being burned. Richard Heathcote owned the mines. He had realised the valley had potential for profit and so he purchased the land. At the base of the tower he had religious messages engraved : “live and let live” and “regard the end”. (this last phrase meant : prepare for when you die).
Here are some photos of our trip:
Philip&Kids: Class 4 – Churchfields Primary School – Chesterton, Newcastle-under-Lyme – England – UK