Gnosall Parish - Geology, Prehistory and Landscape
No study of any area can develop without understanding 'what went before'. Whether for geological, archaeological , farming, planning or local residents, one has to see that landscape as a series of 'layers' of events and influences. So, what about Gnosall and its immediate environs? The oldest and most massive effect is that we see around us today, the result of geological activity of millions and millions of years ago, which in our case, laid down the tough reddish rock under our feet - the Keuper sandstone. The next major effect is that of the last Ice-age. This passage of ice, over a kilometre thick, and moving across the rock, determined the broad shape of what we see today. This ice retreated about 10,000 years ago
If we look around us today, we can see here and there, huge boulders of water rounded granite carried here and 'dumped' by this retreating ice. These erratics come from as far away as the Lake District and Southwest Scotland. The Doley Marsh overlies a deeper valley carved out by a major outflow from the retreating, melting glacier. The ice also left several cavities- 'kettle holes', in the landscape which became ponds over the next millennia and eventually marshy hollows.. We have one in the Parish, just South of Doley Marsh. It is named as 'Hell Hole' on the Ordnance Survey map (NGR: SJ 808 223) The clay left behind post-glaciation has been the raw material source of brick making in a number of sites in the Parish. There is one just on the right as you turn up the lane towards the base of Broad Hill. 30 or more years ago, one could see the pits and the base of the brick kiln. The hollow opposite has been further excavated as a fishing pool.
This clay also supplies a lime rich 'marl' which was dug and spread on the land to improve lime status and soil structure. This was a popular fashion in the 19th century. There are many hundreds of these 'pitholes' in the Parish which now serve as watering holes for stock and nature conservation areas. The deeper 'parent rock' was quarried at Cowley, Broad Hill and just off the Knightley Road near The Hollies . The church is made of this material as are the many walls in the village; these are mainly re-used ancient walling masonry. This Keuper sandstone underlies everything in the village. There is a very ancient fault which follows the line of Glebe Lane, where the rock is several feet deeper on the North side of the lane The Parish is well supplied with many springs and their rivulets. The deposits of impervious clay over the sandstone gives rise to the many springs, and is why 100 years ago nearly every property in the village had its own well.
A major spring on the slope beneath Wilbrighton Hall supplied a dammed and walled pond - still there and rush filled - to the left of the hill just above the railway bridge. Nearer the bridge are two cavities in the wall. These housed two Victorian hydraulic rams which drove water up the hill to a large semi-buried reservoir on the right at the top of hill, visible as a substantial 'hump' in the ground. supplied a private water distribution scheme some years ago for the inhabitants in the Sellman St and High Street area. It is interesting to note that the watershed between the North Sea- emptying Trent and the Bristol Channel bound Severn. This may be seen either side of the lane leading to Norbury from Coton. Go past the turning to Doley Marsh and where the two County Council smallholdings are on your left, this slight ridge is the watershed - not dramatic - we are not in the Rockies - but interesting just the same
'Prehistory' is defined as the period relating to man’s appearance in the landscape prior to the arrival of the Romans in the first century A.D. This early prehistoric period is called the 'Neolithic' and is characterised by the move from basic 'hunter-gatherer' life style to the settled life of farming. There are no relics of this period in this area , but a very fine polished stone axe head was found many years ago by a farmer in Norbury. The Bronze Age followed the Neolithic in about 2500 B.C. - with appreciable overlap. There are no Bronze Age artefacts or earthworks in this immediate area, but there are nearby, two 'low' names signifying the presence of a tumulus or 'burial mound. These are 'Orslow' and :'Garmelow' There is a fine Bronze Age burial mound and circling ditch at 'The Roundabout' at Norbury.
Once we enter the Iron Age in about 1000BC. we have the rumoured Iron Age 'hillfort' at the top of the hill near Willbrighton, but this is not proven. There are several such hilltop Iron Age structures within a few miles of the Parish, at Bury Bank, Stafford and at Stone and Maer. Running, as a bank and double ditch structure, across part of Ranton Priory grounds and passing through Gnosall as a foot or bridle-path. Is this the possible remains of an ancient (tribal) boundary?