Uttoxeter – The Town
Surrounded by lush countryside close to the River Dove, near the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Uttoxeter is but a few miles from the huge theme park at Alton Towers, close to the English Heritage run ruins of Croxden Abbey and very close to the dramatic scenery and excellent walking in the Staffordshire Moorlands and the bottom of the Peak District near to Ashbourne. The town has a well-regarded horseracing track on its outskirts, along with a golf course and a leisure centre with a swimming pool. There are good quality primary, middle and high schools and a pleasant recreation ground.
The skyline of the town is dominated by the imposing fourteenth century tower of St Mary’s Parish church and the hourly afternoon tunes on the carillon of bells in the church add a pleasant and very English feel to the town, coupled with the occasional aroma of cooking biscuits which drifts over from Fox’s Biscuit factory, a visit to the town can appeal to all of the senses. There is no shortage of places to eat, from a Chinese restaurant and pub grub to a wide variety of take away establishments.
In recent years a few new housing estates have been built on the edges of the town offering a wider variety of accommodation and a larger core of consumers to support the town’s businesses.
The town is served by the Crewe to Derby railway line with trains passing hourly and benefits from the A50, which gives a travelling time of around 30 minutes to and from Derby or the Potteries – where the recently refurbished Cultural Quarter offers venues for plays, musicals and music and a wide variety of restaurants.
The pleasant county town of Stafford is also only about a 30-minute drive away along the A518. Altogether, Uttoxeter represents both a pleasant focus for a day out and a nice place to live with good quality facilities and easy travel to many surrounding areas.
SOME HISTORICAL NOTES: ORIGINS
Despite the current Roman look to the town’s name, Uttoxeter was first recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Wotocheshede’ (‘Wot’s homestead on the Heath’) which puts its origins as Anglo-Saxon, (c.600AD), though the nearby village of Rocester does indeed stand upon the remains of a Roman fort.
The centre of the town is sufficiently far from, and higher than, the River Dove to avoid flooding, whilst being close to an easy crossing point on a fairly important trade route. The lush grass of the meadows alongside the river has always helped to sustain the town’s agricultural base.
CHARTERS AND THE LOCAL ECONOMY
Following the Conquest, Uttoxeter passed from the Earls of Mercia via the Crown to Henry De Ferrers, Lord of Tutbury, a staunch supporter of William and his Heirs. Henry’s son, Robert was created Earl of Derby in 1138. On 14th December 1251, Henry III granted a Market Charter to Uttoxeter, William, the seventh Earl, could hold a market there ‘every week on Wednesday and to have one fair there every year for three days duration’. On August 15th 1252 William signed a Town Charter for Uttoxeter.
The market at Uttoxeter became one of the most important in this part of the country and the town became quite wealthy. By the seventeenth century it was one of the three largest towns or cities in the whole of Staffordshire. The outdoor market in the market square continues to attract shoppers to the town. New supermarkets have added another reason to visit.
Agriculture helped to foster two major enterprises in the town, the farm machinery works of Bamford’s Agricultural, (the town’s main employer for much of its existence between 1871 and 1981 and connected to Joseph Cyril Bamford, founder of JCB excavators), and Elkes Biscuits, now taken over by Fox’s, with a huge bakery close to the centre of the town.
Despite some attempts to introduce cotton mills to the area and the success of Bamfords agricultural, Uttoxeter remained essentially a market town.
Several local turnpikes helped to support large coaching inns in the town such as the seventeenth century Cross Keys and the White Hart Hotel.
The Canal Age was late in reaching Uttoxeter. Disputes with landowners and competition between different schemes meant that an arm from the Cauldon Canal branch of the Trent and Mersey canal did not reach Uttoxeter until 1811. It helped to boost local industry, but it was never continued onwards as a through route and so did not do as much for the local economy as it could have. However, the market and the size of the town helped to attract the Railway, which arrived as part of the North Staffordshire Railway’s Crewe to Derby line in 1848. This was followed by a second line – the Churnet Valley Railway in 1849, (built partly on the line of the canal), and a third in the form of the Stafford and Uttoxeter Railway in 1867. These three lines made Uttoxeter quite an important junction on the network. The NSR attempted to boost trade by supporting horse racing in the town and advertising cheap day returns on Market Days.
IMPORTANT LOCAL EVENTS AND PEOPLE
Far from London and the coast few national events were focused on the town except for a period during the Civil War, when the second stage of that conflict ended at Uttoxeter. Following the defeat of the Scottish troops raised by King Charles I at Preston Brook in 1648 most surrendered at Warwick, but some 3,500 mounted men under the Duke of Hamilton occupied Uttoxeter and were surrounded by Parliamentary troops. Fortunately they decided to surrender and a battle, which could have burnt the town to the ground, was avoided. However, some of the prisoners, locked into the church, (it being one of the few stone buildings strong enough to serve as a temporary gaol), were not above ripping up some of the floor boards to make fires, much to the annoyance of the church wardens!
One local son who had a national impact was Allan Gardner (1742 – 1809). Despite coming from a family of soldiers and growing up as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in England he joined the Navy. He rose to be an Admiral, (Nelson was briefly under his command), and took a seat in Parliament for Plymouth and later for Westminster. For his service to his country he was rewarded with a peerage, choosing to be Lord Gardner of Uttoxeter and taking a seat in the House of Lords. His childhood home still graces the High Street.
An attractive plaque on the small stone ‘kiosk’ in the Market Place and an annual ‘Johnson Day’ ceremony mark the ‘Penance’ of Dr Johnson. As a young man he refused to operate his father’s bookstall at Uttoxeter Market when his parent was ill. Close to fifty years later, when he was a well-known and successful man, compiler of his famous dictionary, he returned to the town and stood bareheaded in the rain close to the former site of the stall and the town’s stocks, to make amends for this one deeply regretted instance of ‘filial impropriety’.
On the international level it must be said that the sadly deceased Mr J. C. Bamford CBE (1916 – 2001) was Uttoxeter’s most famous son.