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These seven, very different villages together comprise the Halmer End Borough electoral ward stretching beyond Apedale, Silverdale and Keele and straddling both sides of the M6 motorway towards the Staffordshire-Cheshire border.
Alsagers Bank, where Paul lives in the constituency, is the first village reached coming up the steep and winding Black Bank – echoing the open cast coal history – from Knutton. One of Staffordshire’s highest points, the village enjoys unrivalled views and sunsets across the Cheshire plain and Welsh mountains to the west.
Scot Hay – derived, it is thought, from ‘hey’, where deer were enclosed for the winter, and ‘scot’, an old name for tax – is a pretty village downhill to the west. It has a popular cricket club and riding stables, and recently Paul led the campaign to retain the traditional red, Gilbert Scott telephone box in the beautifully kept village centre.
Miles Green nestles between Bignall End and Wood Lane, and along the Heathcote Road, named after the 19th century pit-owners, benefactors and squires of Apedale Hall (demolished in 1934), who bequeathed the local Richard Heathcote primary school, took over the old Apedale canal and later railway links to the local mines.
Halmer End, the most populous of the villages, starts where Alsagers Bank stops (or vice versa) winds down the hill towards Shraley Brook, where the M6 curves right past the local housing. Several landmarks bear witness to Halmer End, from the memorial to the 1918 Minnie Pit disaster - which Paul unveiled with local school children - to the old railway line at Station Road, now a popular walkway.
All four villages form part of Audley Parish and, like elsewhere locally, the expansion of coal mining and miners’ terraced housing was accompanied by a flourish of distinctive Methodist chapels: in Alsagers Bank firstly in 1809, Halmer End (1836), Shraley Brook (1862), Scot Hay (1876) and Miles Green (1880).
Today the area has been transformed. While valuing the close-knit village character, many residents commute, while children attend the successful Sir Thomas Boughey secondary school in Halmer End, now partnered by the Co-op. Old pit and clay workings, too, have been landscaped into the Bateswood country park, with fabulous ponds, lakes, walks and wildlife, overseen by the Halmer End Wildlife Trust.
Wrinehill, Betley and Balterley are the only villages in the Newcastle constituency beyond the M6 and are very different. Traditionally, they have looked to Cheshire (until 1964, indeed, much of Wrinehill was in Cheshire, while Balterley was originally part of the old Barthomley parish, again just over the border).
Wrinehill is the first village on the road from Keele and Madeley, arrival marked by the imposing Summer House, a listed Queen Anne hunting lodge dating from 1700. It is popular for its attractive pubs and eateries in fine countryside settings.
Betley is recorded in the Domesday Book and was a market centre from its first charter in 1227. The local St Margaret’s church also has its origins in the 13th century. In summer and autumn, Betley’s Tudor house-lined thoroughfare is thronged with visitors to the Betley Show and bonfire, held at the Speed family’s Betley Court Farm.
Balterley (which appears in the 1086 census, too, as Baltredelege, Baldpryp’s ‘ley’ or pasture) is the third village of this separate parish and north west Staffordshire’s final outpost before Crewe & Nantwich in Cheshire. Navigating beyond the leafy local lanes and Balterley Arms, the difference is immediate and striking: between Newcastle Borough’s preservation of its Green Belt and Crewe & Nantwich’s acceleration of executive homes, golf courses and unattractive development.