Berryhill Fields is a unique area of urban open space. Situated to the south of the Stoke on Trent City Centre it is 68 hectares (160 acres) of public open land that plays an important role in the life of the community. The site is steeped in history and has a rich flora and fauna.
The site is easily accessed from Dividy Road that links to main routes into the City and regular bus services from the City Centre (Hanley), Longton and Stoke pass by the Fields.
The recorded history of the Fields dates back 1000 years to when the southern part, toward Adderley Green, was a deer park. This linked to the site’s scheduled ancient monument, a 13 century moated manor house. For centuries coal, clay and iron ore was extracted and farming activities carried until the 1950’s. Indeed the Fields are a microcosm of the history of Stoke on Trent that was a rural community well into the 19th Century when major changes affected the lives of the local population. At Berryhill two infrastructure improvements in the mid 19th century had dramatic implications for the area. To satisfy the increasing demands of both the pottery and steel making industries easier transportation of the coal from the rich coalfields of the Berryhill area was a priority. The landscape was undulating and the only means of transport was by cart. Therefore Dividy Road and a rail link to the main Stoke loop line (now the Greenway) were constructed. This put pressure on the mines to produce greater quantities, so the smaller enterprises were taken over by the more profitable and by the turn of the Century only two deep mines were operating on Berryhill, the Mossfield and Berry Hill pits. Farming activities were still continuing but generally at a subsistence level, the majority of the community travelled to work in the mines or the pottery industry.
Major changes for the Berryhill community took place in the post war housing boom of the 1940’s and 50’s. Land to the east was acquired by the local authority to build the Bentilee estate and Berryhill was shared between the National Coal Board, and the local authority, also for housing. Residents of the Fields were re-housed and most properties were demolished. The Berryhill housing was not built, resulting in the City Council owned site we have today.
Closure of the two mines by the early 1970’s, when production was concentrated at Wolstanton, had an impact on the community but, in May 1983, a potentially greater impact came with the announcement that there was to be a survey into the possible open casting of Berryhill. This lay dormant in the minds of the community until the local newspaper headline of 7 January 1986 had the devastating news “Berryhill Open cast Mine Plan”. This galvanised not only the residents of Berryhill but of the wider community into action. Berryhill Fields dominate the skyline of most of Stoke on Trent and the thought of it becoming a black hole in the ground generated a campaign that was to last for eight and a half years, until the application was finally overturned in October 1994. Maintaining the campaign for such a time is a tribute to the community and its supporters and also a testament as to what the Fields mean to local people. The story of the fight, which had full support from Stoke on Trent City Council, Staffordshire County Council and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, is best told through the news stories that appeared in the local newspaper, The Sentinel.
In 1995 the community had even better news to celebrate with the announcement that the Fields were to become a national Millennium Project. Stoke on Trent City Council and the recently formed Groundwork Stoke on Trent successfully negotiated for Berryhill to be one of the sites within a Changing Places programme of restoring and regenerating industrial and derelict land. This programme covered 21 sites nationally and was initiated by Groundwork National Office and the Millennium Commission. £1.2m was secured from the Millennium Commission and a further £1m from English Partnerships, the Government’s Regeneration Programme.
The City Council and Groundwork formed a partnership with the community to progress the project that had three key aims:
- To make the site safe and improved access for all
- To improve and celebrate the site’s wildlife and historical interest
- To involve all sectors of the community in the project’s development and future maintenance
Initial work included
- Setting up of a Steering Group comprising of representatives from the City Council, Groundwork, the voluntary and business sectors and the community to oversee the whole project
- Making the Fields safe by capping 52 old mine shafts
- Consulting with all site users, including walkers, naturalists and horse owners on access improvements
- Offering a programme of educational activities to schools
- Undertaking community consultations, wildlife and historical walks and social activities to lead to the formation of the Friends of Berryhill Fields
- Commissioning consultants to undertake detailed ecological and historical surveys
Interpretation of the Fields through leaflets and site features linked to the access improvements, a sensitive management plan and the partnership between the Friends of Berryhill Fields and the City Council will ensure the future of the site for both wildlife and people.