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Date:1086 - 2015 (c.)

Description:Audley is situated in the north-west of the county, bordering onto Cheshire. It is on relatively elevated ground. Once a significant coal mining area which warranted its own Urban District Council until 1932, Audley is now considered to be a popular commuting village.

In the Domesday Book of 1086 the name is recorded as Aldidelege, meaning Ealdgyth’s lea. Ealdgyth is a female Anglo-Saxon name and ‘lea’ means a clearing in a wood. At the time of the survey, the manor of Audley was relatively poor, worth only 10s annually. It is recorded as belonging to Gamel, one of the King’s thegns. He also held Talke and Balterley. He was the most prosperous of the group of surviving pre- Conquest landholders, who found William 1’s invasion difficult to come to terms with. It is likely that Gamel and his associates were permitted to hold for life only sufficient lands for their own maintenance. In the manor there was some land under cultivation, a substantial amount of woodland and an acre of meadow. The recorded population was 4 villeins (tenants who held land in return for labour services) and 3 bordars (smallholders who had brought land into cultivation on the edges of the village).

In the Middle Ages the manor of Audley was owned by the Audleys, who were to build a castle at Heighley. James, 5th Lord Audley, was killed at the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459, fighting for the Lancastrian cause. The manor was sold to the Gerards in 1707, then acquired by the Meynells and eventually by the Bougheys. The Bougheys held the estate until its break-up in the early 20th century.

By the time of the Hearth Tax assessment of 1666, Audley was a sizeable place. A total of 43 households were assessed as liable for the payment of the tax in Audley itself, 14 at Park End, 25 at Eardley End, 17 at Bignall End, 30 at Halmerend and 25 at Knowle End. A further 106 households were considered too poor to pay the tax. The largest property was occupied by Richard Parker with six hearths.

The parish church is dedicated to St James and dates from the 13th century. The church is largely in the Decorated style and was partially rebuilt in 1846 by George Gilbert Scott. The church is notable for the brass of Sir Thomas Audley, who died about 1385. There was a long and strong tradition of non-conformity in Audley and the first mention of a Wesleyan Methodist chapel occurs in 1809. The Wesleyan Chapel building, which was opened in 1876 could seat a congregation of 725. A Congregational Church opened at Halmerend in 1902.

A notable architectural survival is a terrace of three shops, designed by William White in the Gothic style. The design was illustrated in The Builder magazine in 1855.

The principal industry in Audley was coalmining and this was the main employer in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. There were six working collieries by 1803. One of the worst mining disasters on the North Staffordshire coal field took place in 1918 when 155 men and boys were killed in a major explosion at the Minnie Pit in Audley. This pit had been sunk in 1883 by Cooper and Craig and was later taken over by the Midland Coal, Coke and Iron Company. The names of all the victims of the disaster, including one of the rescuers, are recorded on a memorial in St James’ Church.

As a result of the opening up of the pits in Audley, railways were built to move the coal out. There was a large network of lines from the various pitheads, which linked to the Audley branch of the North Staffordshire Railway, opened in 1870. This branch started in Keele and ended at Alsager. There were passenger stations at Audley, Halmerend and Leycett.

There was early provision for education in Audley. In 1611 the Reverend Edward Vernon endowed a sum of £120 for the provision of “a sufficient learned and godly schoolmaster to teach and train young men and children in knowledge and learning”. This sum was increased by a further £100 by William Johnson in the following year. These endowments led to the establishment of the Boys’ Free School, which continued until 1900 when it closed. A Wesleyan school was opened in 1811 and continued throughout the 19th century. It was taken over by Staffordshire County Council at the beginning of the 20th century and eventually became Ravensmead Junior and Infants, later Community, School.

A National School was opened in 1858 under the auspices of the Reverend C.P. Wilbraham. It was later to become Wood Lane Council, later Community, School. Similarly the Reverend Wilbraham had been instrumental in the opening of a National School at Halmerend to serve the families of coalminers in the area. This school was the forerunner of Halmerend Secondary Modern School, Sir Thomas Boughey High School now stands on the former site of this school.

For further information about Audley’s history, see Audley parish Millenuim, 1000-2000 AD, ed. Robert Speake, (Audley Rural Parish Council, 2000)