Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The earth moves in Flash lane

North Staffordshire is an area beset with earth tremors. It has a number of geological faults to the west at Apedale and the Red Rock fault, which, may have had a bearing on the problems, faced during the 70s. However earthquakes were known even before the large-scale mining. One of the earliest earthquakes ever investigated was one centred in the Midlands in February 1575, which was felt as far away as York and Dublin. And Boswell the biographer of Doctor Johnson noted a minor earthquake-hitting Leek in September 1777 causing the locals to flee into the streets.

 But it is with the advent of deep coalmines after the Second War, which saw acceleration locally of the recording of earth tremors. At the start of the 1970s movements were felt in Normacott and Longton felt to be caused by mining activity at Hem Heath but the real centre of the disturbances was Trent Vale where disturbances were happening almost on a daily basis

Frequent convulsions led to a two-year investigation by Edinburgh University, whose findings eventually placed responsibility on the National Coal Board. Evidence from seismic tests showed that the tremors were caused by underground workings at Hem Heath Colliery. Tensions underground caused energy to be released which resulted in tremors at the surface. The Edinburgh findings as well as other local research were initially opposed by the National Coal Board who believed the effect was caused by the natural faults in the area. Locals resisted this view. Mining was taking place near the Apedale fault and this was exacerbating the situation. Barrie Seckerson a long term resident of the area was equally convinced that the Coal Board were to blame as the tremors only occurred during the working week “ every resident is convinced that we are dealing with a problem created by the NCB. If it is a problem caused by Mother Nature then she appears to be on a five day week,” he wrote in a letter of July 1976.

Residents in Flash Lane recalls the tremor in July 1975 which detached the gable end of a house from the roof, leaving a gap of seven feet. Alice Evans of Riverside Road, Trent Vale recalled a series of tremors in the summer of 1976, which caused the TV aerial to shake, and made teacups and saucers to rattle. And in another incident a chimney pot collapsed narrowly missing a nursery, which had to be closed. Local MP Jack Ashley was involved early on and felt a tremor himself when visiting constituents in Flash Lane. He raised the matter in Parliament, which led to an investigation of the phenomena. The Minister Peter Shore set up a working party with the brief of investigating the causes of the disturbances

Seven monitoring stations were set up, covering an area which included Trent Vale, Hanford, Trentham, Clayton, Oakhill and Penkhull, all linked to Keele University.

In June 1976 a geological team from Keele staged a test tremor of their own with a 100 lb. bomb was buried 90ft below a field at Clayton to help scientists find out the cause of the earth movements. This event did not prove conclusive, as the explosion did not lead to seismic disturbances in the immediate area

The Head of Geography, Mr B Whittaker at Edward Orme School involved himself in the brouhaha who believed that the low rainfall might have had an impact on the waterfall.

“ It is conceivable that any shrinkage of the strata as a consequence of it drying out and the readjustment of the strata will lead to an increase in earthquake. He wrote in a letter to the Sentinel in the summer of 1976.

Some years before the earth tremors shook Trent Vale, Keele's Professor F Wolverson Cope conducted his own research into "shakes, vibrations and unusual noises" detected around the area. In the early 70s he reported his conclusions that they were caused by old mine workings and calmed public fears about the possibility of a major earthquake in the district, saying this had been overstated.

The story had a positive ending as householders affected by the tremors in the vicinity of Flash Lane received compensation from the NCB after negotiations in the late 1970s.

But the issue of earth movement in the area continued even after the last pit closed. In 1984 many areas of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire were affected by a widespread earthquake centred in North Wales which measured around 5.2 on the Richter Scale. The quake was described as the biggest ever recorded in Britain. A sequence of earth tremors hit Smallthorne in the late 1980s and even last month the Keele Seismological Unit picked up a 2.4 reading centred on Light Oaks.

 The earth continues to move in North Staffs