Transport and Communication

Staffordshire is very much associated with a complex transport network. It was the revolution in transport which made Staffordshire a pre-eminent industrial county.

For centuries, the county was crossed by roads of national significance, such as the Roman Watling Street, the road from London to Chester and the road to Carlisle. In the 17th and early 18th centuries there was major deterioration in the county’s roads due to heavier traffic and poor maintenance. It was said by Admiral Leveson-Gower that he “would rather be in the Bay of Biscay in a storm than on one of the Dilhorne roads in a carriage.” In the 18th and early 19th centuries, thanks to engineers such as Thomas Telford, the turnpiking of roads in the county brought a significant number of improvements, as well as some new roads. Now the M6, constructed in the 1960s, runs through Staffordshire supported by a major road network.

Closely linked with the roads were the county’s many bridges. The business of the county authorities from the 16th century onwards reflects the huge problems of maintaining the many bridges and other river crossings in the county. Many of the county’s place names ending in ‘ford’ provide evidence of former river crossing places and many could be particularly dangerous at times of flood. The turnpike age also led to the replacement of many wooden bridges with stone ones.

Industrial growth saw the development of canals and railways to move raw materials around and help to carry away the outputs of industry. Even before this, however, the improvement of the river Trent, completed in 1712, opened up the way out of the county to Hull and the Baltic, allowing both exports of beer from Burton and imports of iron from Russia.

However, in terms of transport, Staffordshire’ claim to fame is as a canal county. Staffordshire’s potters commissioned a scheme for a canal from James Brindley (1716-1772) in 1758. The eventual result was the Trent and Mersey Canal, built between 1766 and 1777. This was soon to be followed by the Staffs and Worcester Canal and many others. Telford was also involved in the engineering of canals, notably the building of the second Harecastle Tunnel near Kidsgrove. Now Staffordshire’s canals support industry of a different kind, tourism.

It was also in Staffordshire that the first railway of national importance, the Grand Junction Railway, was built between 1834 and 1837. Railway development in Staffordshire was rapid with the main network being built within the next ten years, so providing the infrastructure for a future myriad of smaller branch lines throughout the county.

Photograph of Milford Station on the Trent Valley Railway

Archive Sources

Cartouche of Burton Bridge drawn by William Wyatt, 1760

Plan for a navigation chiefly by canal from Longbridge near Burslem to Newcastle, Lichfield, Tamworth and Wilden, Co Derbys., surveyed by James Brindley, 1760

Register of Barges, 1795-1797

Photograph of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal just beyond its junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Great Haywood at Great Haywood, 1892.

Plan of the turnpike road from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Eccleshall, surveyed by Thomas Telford, 1822

Accounts for food and drink at the Four Crosses Inn, Hatherton,
1840-1865

Letter describing a railway journey in 1837 from Birmingham to Stafford

Poster advertising the annual excursion of the West Street Sunday School, Leek, to Liverpool, 1879.

Photograph of Milford Station on the Trent Valley Railway, 1892

Landscape and Townscape Trade and Industry Faith and Religious Life Uniquely Staffordshire Transport and Communication Disorder and Unrest Staffordshire People