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Audley is one of the oldest Staffordshire townships, lying to the north west of Newcastle right on the Cheshire border. Though brought up in the town itself, Paul well knew the area long before being elected the MP, having played as a teenager for the ‘Audley Ravens’ Lads-and-dads football team.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book as Aldidelege (the ‘ley’ or pasture held by its lady Saxon owner, Aldge), in the early 13th century Audley had its own Norman fortress, the mound of which can still be seen on Castle Hill.
In more modern times, in 1894 Audley became an Urban District Council in its own right until re-organisation in 1932 led to incorporation in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The old Council building, next to Castle Hill, remains a centrepiece of the village and is thankfully back in use, after local pressure and from Paul as the local MP.
Audley’s biggest landmark is the towering St James’ church, originally dating from the early 13th century and thoroughly updated from 1844 by its most notable vicar, Charles Philip Wilbraham, whose vicarage - ‘Wilbraham House’ opposite - now cares for the elderly.
Next door Bignall End, part of the Audley parish, can also trace its history back over 1,000 years and has grown over recent years to link with Audley and the village of Wood Lane to the east.
The whole of Audley Parish is notable for the sprinkling of Methodist chapels from the early 19th century - first in Chapel Street, Audley (1810), then Wood Lane (1835), Wood Street, Bignall End (1863), Mill End (1877) and at Boon Hill (1898).
The chapels, and many of the local pubs, accompanied new terraced housing in the 19th century following a big expansion of the coal industry. Mining locally dates back to Roman times - with an iron-making site at Eardley End dating to medieval times and nail-making was also a staple of Bignall End in the 18th century.
Coal mining reached its heyday before the First World War. Though the parish still had 15 small licensed mines at nationalisation in 1947, the closure of Leycett colliery ten years later, marked the end of the line literally, for coal and rail in the area.
Memorials across the patch attest to the industry’s terrible legacy of disasters - the biggest of which occurred at Diglake pit in Bignall End in 1895, with 75 men lost in underground flood, and Minnie Pit at Podmore Hall in 1918, when 155 of the 248 men and boys at work were lost after a violent underground explosion.
Today, the parish is very different in complexion, though most of the land remains in
agricultural use, with farms having affinity with the Cheshire dairy area to the west.
The vibrancy of local groups, however – along with the friendly rivalry of Audley, Bignall End and Wood Lane cricket clubs – is a testament to the historic self-sufficiency of the three villages in this outlying part of Newcastle.
Former coal mining land has been progressively reclaimed, for housing or landscaped into the fabulous countryside. There has been great investment in education and health locally – and Paul was privileged recently to open the latest project for the local community, the new Health Centre in the centre of Audley, run by the local GPs and bringing a range of NHS services to the doorstep, or just a short bus ride away.