Arthur Berry the playright and poet, captures the essence of Brown Edge when he says
STONE WALLS AND PRIVET HEDGES
The above quotation taken from his “Dandelions” book of poetry is typical of how he, in so few words, manages to paint a picture of life that is so typically that of the North Staffs Moorlands.
Arthur was born in Smallthorne between the wars (in 1925) but has close connections with Brown Edge and referred to the village in most of his works. Here is an example
Both my sets of grandparents lived very near to us and on ma’ father’s side, my great grandparents were both alive. My great grandfather was known as Old Turp. He lived in a stone cottage in the country, a few miles away. The village of Smallthorne is the last knuckle of the Pennine chain, the last little lump of a hill before the land becomes flatter and the Midlands begin. It is most definitely a part of the North, a part of the Staffordshire moorlands, and whenever I go through this country I know it is my own clod, the place my tribe comes from. It is a world of stone walls and thin-soiled fields, where flat-capped, mufflered, peasant colliers own one-egg farms and stuff their money in the mattress. It is a place of feud and litigation where men know evera’ stone in their own walls. They are a hard, independent people who know all their own tribe but don’t necessarily trust them. They watch the cars and buses pass, spit, and say nothing. They are a stoical people who have one foot in the town and one foot in the country. They have been to the pictures and the billiard halls and also sold pigs at the cattle market. Their wives have usually a lot more to say and say it mostly to their married daughters who never live far away from their mams. In these moorland places, families were often ingrown and all branches of the family known by different nicknames. Most of the men were known by nicknames as well Styfe, Maunch, Cliggs, Spanner, Tittybottle, Workbag, Physic, Razor, Bottle, Jarve, were a few of the nicknames these men went by. From Nettlebank to Smallthorne, from Brown Edge to Ball Green, from Biddulph to Biddulph Moor, the distance between these pit village is no more than a mile or so and nowhere are you out of sight of the headstieks of a pit. It is a place of nettlebeds and pig stys, where tin roofed sheds house gleaming motorbikes, where every field is surrounded by a stone wall. This is the country of ma’ heart. Both sides of my family originated from Brown Edge, a village no more than a mile and a half from the crowded streets of Smallthorne. Both my mother’s father and my father’s grandfather had been boys together in the same class in the church school there, and when they left school at ten years of age, they both went to work down the pit at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, a mile away. This pit at that time was known as the Queen of the North Staffordshire coalfield and employed thousands of colliers. Mr Enoch Tomkinson, my mother’s father, was known as Nocky and I shall begin my story with him.
Notice the style, no paragraphs just a constant conversation just like he was when he got going!
Nocky Tomkinson was my g grandfathers brother and his fathers grandfather was Turp Mountford again related to me. The nicknames are Brown Edge nicknames
His paintings are instantly recognisable and again capture instantly the grime and character of the places he loved to be. I have a painting of a dog that he “stole.” According to his wife, Cynthia, he wouldn’t let its owner take it with him when he left the area!
Another reference to Brown Edge is in his book “The Little Gold-Mine”
One summers day Saml. was sitting on his cart passing through a mining village a few miles from the town when he began to smell something burning, and as he sniffed the smell got stronger. Then as he came out into the centre of the village he saw the cause. Directly opposite a stone pub called the Lump of Coal, there had been a wooden hut that was a chip shop, but now it was only a smouldering ruin and sitting staring at it was a man named Albert Scragg who he knew to be the owner, as he had regularly sold him salt. He made his way towards him and as he got off his cart, Scragg turned his head and Saml saw his face was blackened with smoke and his eyes were wild with anger.
“I’ll get him, I’ll get the swine,” he spat out, his voice filled with hatred, Then he started chuntering to himself about somebody called Amby. Saml could see he was off his head with rage so he began to poke about in the smouldering ruins of the chip shop, and with the toe of his boot, he kicked an iron bracket out that he first thought was a lever of some kind but as he leant down he recognised an iron chip cutter similar to the one he’d seen in another chip shop. As he stared at it, little did he realise that he was looking at the seed of his family’s fortune, the key to a little gold mine.
By now Albert Scragg was standing up, and when Saml asked him how much he wanted for the bits of iron, Scragg didn’t answer; instead he beckoned Saml to follow him in the direction of the Lump of Coal. Saml often used this pub on his travels and was well known to the regulars who were mostly colliers, and as he ordered his drink he was greeted by the landlord.
“How go Sarnl,” he said as he pulled the beer then nodded toward Albert Scragg. The chatter in the bar went quiet as the men who were drinking round the scrubbed table by the stove pot looked uneasily at the owner of the burnt out chip shop who stared defiantly as the lot of them.
“I’ll get the swine, don’t you worry; I’ll swing for him.”
The publican who was known as Jacker at once butted in. “We’ll have none of that talk in here, Albert. It’s nowt to do with us, it’s between you and him. Don’t bring yer troubles here.”
He was known as a strict publican who never had troubles in his pub and in the past had ordered many men out. So still glowering at the company, Albert Scragg sat down and Saml sat with him still trying to get a price for the bits of scrap iron. But in the next hour all Scragg could talk about was revenge on the man who’d burnt his chip shop down. He was sure it was a man named Ambrose Plant as there was bad blood between their families and had been for generations. This was a landscape of feud and litigations, a place of small one egg farms each surrounded by stone walls where territory was jealously guarded
The Chip shop is now a hairdressers and the Lump of Coal is a private house but they are both as described in the centre of the village. The pub wasnt kept by Jacker actuallywho kept another pub in the village (the Rose and Crown) but you can see how he drew on the real situations he had experienced to form his works.