Following the A34 from Manchester to Southampton

An itinerary following the old turnpike route with mileages, tollhouses and milestones (including sites), and places of interest along the way.

by John Higgins

This itinerary is intended as a guide to the exact route of the  turnpike, and takes the original route as it might have appeared in 1840. No account is taken of modern pedestrianised roads, one way streets, or no through roads. All mileages are in English Statute Miles as on the original route; where this deviates from the present A34, mention will be made .Information regarding places to see in the area are printed in italics.

Boundaries are only delineated between Highway Authorities, or former Highway Authorities; keyed as follows: CB- (former county borough; MB- Metropolitan Borough; UA- Unitary authority).

Section One.Manchester to Wilmslow.

The Manchester to Southampton road starts traditionally in St Ann’s Square, Manchester. This was the  datum point for measuring miles from Manchester; however, the 20th century A34 starts at the A6 junction (now Trinity Way A6042) in Salford, some 0.3 miles further. Both routes converge in Peter Street, Manchester. Mileages are thus calculated from St Ann’s Square, to concur with pre-1840 mile markers.

Architecturally speaking, Manchester is the best Victorian city in England, although its history goes back much further. The cathedral and nearby Cheetham’s Hospital are reminders of the city’s mediaeval past; however, it was the industrial revolution that made Manchester one of the world’s great cities. Built from the proceeds of the cotton trade, the city’s stock of Victorian buildings were erected with no expense spared. The opening of the Ship Canal brought huge prosperity, and much of this is still evident. If you enjoy Victorian architecture, you will not be disappointed with Manchester.

From the city centre, the route runs along Oxford Street (here the A34), passing the University of Manchester on both sides, and then through inner city suburbs before reaching Didsbury, in 1840 a separate village, but now subsumed into the city.

Approaching the city boundary, we join the present A34, re-routed several times from Oxford Street. Still in an urban landscape, the road takes us through Cheadle once more on roads that have been downgraded and bypassed by the current A34. Wilmslow, now in Cheshire East, is a well-heeled dormitory town that has grown from its village origins.

Originally, the A34 from Manchester (A6 junction) to Wilmslow was numbered A526; it was renumbered in 1935.

0 miles  St Ann’s Square was laid out in 1720; church is 1709-12. Baroque with rare glass.

Leave St Ann’s Square on the Wilmslow turnpike by Cross Street (due south) to Southmill Street  (both u/c) to Peter Street.  Manchester Town Hall, a tour-de-force by Alfred Waterhouse

(1867-77) on the left. Triangular in plan with public hall in centre. Stunning architecture. Free admission when open.

0.3         Turn left into Peter Street (A34). City Library on left, St Peter’s Square; 1930-34. Circular; Roman Imperial style; clad in Portland Stone. Continue into Oxford Street (A34).

0.6         Palace Hotel on left. Also by Waterhouse in Terracotta; originally for Refuge Insurance (see interior lobby). Station Approach on right to Oxford Street Railway station. River Medlock is crossed at railway bridge. Continue on Oxford Road (A34).

1.0         Grosvenor Square on right, Chorlton on Medlock. Old Town Hall (classical) on south side of square. Site of Milestone, now at SJ 8517 9720 in Ardwick Green:  11/ miles to/ Wilmslow/ 184/ miles to/ London/ 1 mile to/ (Manchester).  Continue ahead on Oxford Road (B5117). The 18th century Wilmslow turnpike started from a junction on the A6 and proceeded to here before turning south on Oxford Road.

1.4         Holy Name of Jesus (RC) Church on left. 1869-71. Spacious interior with slim columns and unusual open tracery to south aisle chapels. Baptistry at SW corner.

1.7         Whitworth Park and Art Gallery on right. Continue ahead on Wilmslow Road (B5117).

2.0         Site of MS 2/10.

2.4         Rusholme. Continue ahead on Wilmslow Road (A5103). Platt Hall museum of costume on right. Georgian building converted to galleries. Free admission.

3.0         Fallowfield. Continue ahead on Wilmslow Road (B5093). Site of milestone 3/9.

3.8         Withington. Turn left at County Building into Wilmslow Road (B5093).

4.0         Milestone on left at SJ8493 9279. Triangular. Withington; 81/4 miles to / Wilmslow; 4 miles to/ Manchester/ to / centre of St Anns/ Square.

4.2.        Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute on right.

4.7         Site of tollgate at Fog Lane junction.

5.0         Didsbury.  Milepost at SJ 8472 9128 on left: TO ST. ANN’S/ SQUARE/ 5/ MILES. Continue ahead on Wilmslow Road (A5145).

5.4         Didsbury Church. Mediaeval. Also Fletcher Moss Botanic Gardens (open- free); Parsonage and gardens, art gallery (seasonal opening; free); all on right at bend in road.

6.0         East Didsbury Railway Station and sites of milestone 6/6 & tollgate. Turn right into Wilmslow Road (5095) and cross present A34.

6.3         Cheadle Bridge over River Mersey and county boundary (formerly Lancashire and Cheshire, now Manchester MB and Stockport MB ).

6.6         Cross railway and M60 ; old road down to right- realigned over motorway.

7.0         Cheadle. Site of milestone 7/5. Turn right into High Street (A560); then left into Wilmslow Road (A5149).

8.0         Milestone at SJ85788748 on right (south of junction with Daylesford): 8/ Miles/ to/ Manchester/ centre/ St Anns Square;  41/4 /miles/ to/ Wilmslow (similar milestone to Manchester 4).  Also site of tollgate. Turn right into Wilmslow Road (u/c); continue over present A34 to Wilmslow Road (B5358).

9.0         Etchells. Site of milestone 9/3.

9.9         Stanley road junction; boundary between Stockport MB and Cheshire East UA.

10.0       Site of milestone 10/2. Continue over roundabouts over A555.

10.7       Handforth. Handforth Hall  (1562) reached via Station Road and Hall Road, both on left. Continue ahead on Wilmslow Road to Manchester road (u/c).

11.0       Site of milestone 11/1. Bridge over River Dean.

11.9       Continue ahead on Manchester Road (A538); site of old road to right. Wilmslow parish church by river on right. Turn right into Swan Street (u/c).

12.0       Wilmslow. Church (see above at 11.9); some old houses, Quaker Meeting House. Probable site of milestone.  Termination of Wilmslow turnpike.

Section Two.Wilmslow to Congleton.

The second section of the route starts in the urban surroundings of Wilmslow; however, this section of the road will eventually prove to be one of the most rural parts of the northern end of the road. From Wilmslow, Alderley Edge, a modern town, is reached, but then follows a medley of small villages and interesting corners, interspersed throughout the undulating countryside of Cheshire. Nether Alderley, Siddington and Marton are three particularly attractive places to stop and explore.

Although Congleton is an ancient town, the town centre today can be something of a disappointment, relying more on its heritage than its architectural stock. Nevertheless, its silk weaving industry is well represented in the town’s museum. It is also worth finding out more about the Congleton-born author of a book with the snappy title of “an Attempt Towards Obtaining Invariable Measures of Length, Capacity and Weight for the Measuration of time”! The legend of the Congleton Bear may also be worth investigating , as it goes back to the bear-baiting days of Elizabeth I. In a nutshell, the town bear died, so the townsfolk, having saved up sixteen shillings in order to buy a bible, decided to buy a new bear instead. This gave rise to the saying “Congleton rare, Congleton rare, sold a bible to buy a bear”. Incidentally, Congleton was the last town in England to outlaw bear-baiting- no connection, of course!

Originally, the A34 from Wilmslow to Congleton was numbered A526, with a short stretch of A560 at Cheadle; both were renumbered in 1935.

Wilmslow town centre. Turn left into pedestrianised Church Street (u/c) now on the Wilmslow and Lawton Turnpike. Cross Water Lane (A538) to Alderley Road (B50860.

12.6       Bear left at roundabout into Alderley Road (u/c).

13.0       Site of milestone 13/172 at bridge over Whitehall Brook. Continue over roundabout on Alderley Road (A34).

13.2       Continue ahead on Wilmslow Road (A34).

13.7       Alderley Edge. Modern town adjoining Alderley Edge escarpment (NT: always open). Walks, views.

14.0       Siite of milestone 14/171.

14.9       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1896) at SJ843 768 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 1 MILE/ WILMSLOW 3/ HANDFORTH 4/ CHEADLE 8/ MANCHESTER 15; CONGLETON /93/4 MILES.

15.0       Site of milestone 15/170.

15.2       Nether Alderley. Old Hall and corn Mill, both on left. 16th cent. Church and 17th cent. Schoolhouse. Mill open to public (NT: 01625 527468 www.nationaltrust.org.uk)

15.9       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1896) at SJ841 753 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 2 MILES/ WILMSLOW 4/ HANDFORTH 5/ CHEADLE 9/ MANCHESTER 16; CONGLETON 83/4 MILES.

16.0       Site of milestone 16/169.

16.7       Monks Heath.  Junction with A534. Continue ahead on Congleton Road (A34).

16.9       Bagbrook Bridge.  Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1896) at SJ845 737 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 3 MILES/ WILMSLOW 5/ HANDFORTH 6/ CHEADLE 10/ MANCHESTER 17; CONGLETON 73/4 MILES. (Recumbent in 2003).

17.0       Bagbrook Farm.  Site of milestone 17/168.

17.6       East Lodge (entrance to Capesthorne Hall, 1719-32 by Smiths of Warwick plus 1861 rebuild by Anthony Salvin after fire). 100 acre parkland, family chapel, formal gardens. Hall & gardens open to public( 01625 533464 www.capesthorne.com)

17.9       Redes Mere. Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (undated and probably 20th century replacement) at SJ845 723 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 4 MILES/ WILMSLOW 6/ HANDFORTH 7/ CHEADLE 11/ MANCHESTER 18; CONGLETON 73/4 MILES.

18.1       Site of milestone 18/167.

18.8       Siddington. Picturesque black & white church (left on B5392); Victorian with older features. Restored cross in churchyard. Continue ahead on Congleton Road (A34).

18.9       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1896) at SJ844 708 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 5 MILES/ WILMSLOW 7/ HANDFORTH 8/ CHEADLE 12/ MANCHESTER 169; CONGLETON 53/4 MILES.

19.1       Site of milestone 19/166.

19.7       Site of tollgate at Blackden Lane junction.

19.9       Yew Tree House; site of Cheshire CC standard triangular milepost.

20.1       Site of milestone 20/165.

20.8       Marton. Timber framed 14th century church, restored churchyard cross, old houses in village; huge oak tree.

20.9       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (undated and probably 20th century replacement) at SJ850 678 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/7 MILES/ WILMSLOW 9/ HANDFORTH 10/ CHEADLE 14/ MANCHESTER 21; CONGLETON 33/4 MILES.

21.1       Site of milestone 21/164.

21.9       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1896) at SJ854 664 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 8 MILES/ WILMSLOW 10/ HANDFORTH 11/ CHEADLE 15/ MANCHESTER 22; CONGLETON 23/4 MILES.

22.1       Site of milestone 22/163. Road slightly realigned. Then  Waggon and Horses Public house (on left).

22.8       sharp bend lessened.

22.9       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1896) at SJ860 649 on right: ALDERLEY EDGE/ 9 MILES/ WILMSLOW 11/ HANDFORTH 12/ CHEADLE 16/ MANCHESTER 23; CONGLETON 13/4 MILES.

23.1       Site of milestone 23/162, and boundary post. Continue ahead on Manchester Road (A34).

23.5       Junction with A536 Macclesfield Road. Turn right into Lower Heath to Rood Lane (both A34).

23.8       Site of tollgate.

23.9       Site of Cheshire CC standard triangular milepost.

24.0       Rood Hill Junction. Turn left on A527 Rood Hill (A34 ahead is 20th century by-pass).

24.1       Bridge over River Dane. Site of milestone 24/161. Turn right at roundabout into Mill Street (u/c).

24.2       Congleton Town Centre. Museum, Victorian Town Hall with TIC, 18th century church with fine interior woodwork, few old houses in High Street to left. Continue ahead to Swan Bank (u/c).

Section Three.Congleton to Newcastle under Lyme.

Having left Congleton, the next three miles present a magical picture of old England, firstly with pretty Astbury village, and then with the stunning vista of Little Moreton Hall, one of the best timber-framed Elizabethan houses in the country. It has been beautifully preserved by the National Trust, and time should be spared to explore its interior rooms, including the wonderful long gallery.

The next few miles will bring us to the start of the North Staffordshire coalfield. From here to Newcastle the scene is indeed dreary; it is easy to see how many travellers have lambasted Staffordshire as being a county of very little interest. The Darlaston turnpike was one of the first to be established in the Midlands, and was more than a little responsible for the exponential growth of the area during the industrial revolution. Note that the A34 did- and still does- lead to and from Newcastle, and not the town’s larger neighbour. Indeed, Stoke on Trent is not the destination of any long distance roads hereabouts; they all lead to Newcastle, in some cases even bypassing the city centre in doing so.

Newcastle was a town in mediaeval times (the third largest in the county after Stafford and Lichfield); the coalfield terminates abruptly before the town centre, leaving Newcastle itself to maintain more of an air of a country market town than of an industrial centre. Although sadly lacking in really imposing buildings (the new castle itself is merely a grassy mound), the town nevertheless is worthy of exploration.

Originally, the A34 from here to Church Lawton/ Red Bull was numbered A526; from there to Newcastle was the A52. Both were renumbered A34 in 1935.

Congleton town centre. Turn right into West Street (u/c).

24.7       Continue over roundabout to West road (A34/A54/A534).

25.0       Site of tollgate before junction. Bear left at A54 junction into Newcastle Road (A34) and left again at A534 junction. Continue along Newcastle Road.

25.1       Site of milestone 25/160 and Cheshire County council standard triangular milepost. Then: Astbury Mere down to left.

25.7       Site of tollgate at Fol Hollow junction, Astbury Marsh.

26.0       Astbury. Pretty village; impressive 14th & 15th century church with two towers (one  detached); mediaeval stalls and screen.

26.1       Site of milestone 26/159; also Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1898) at SJ845 615 on right: CONGLETON/ 2 MILES; RED BULL/  41/4 MILES/ NEWCASTLE 10.

26.5       Dairy House Farm. Substantial road realignment from here to Moseley Old Hall. Original road to east, crossing New Road at SJ837 803. Old road extant, now due south for  1/4 mile passing site of milestone 27/158 and Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost. Continue ahead on Newcastle Road to Congleton Road (A34).

28.2       Little Moreton Hall on left. Exquisite timber framed Elizabethan house and parkland, open to public (National Trust- 01260 272018 www.littlemoretonhall.org.uk)

28.3       Site of milestone 28/157 and Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost.

29.3       Odd Rode (Scholar Green). Site of milestone 29/156 and Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost; also site of tollgate north of Church Lane junction.

29.8       Hall Green. Site of tollgate north of Little Moss Lane. Macclesfield Canal to left with stop-lock at junc. Of Trent and Mersey (off Little Moss Lane).

30.3       Cheshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1898) at SJ83035555 on right: CONGLETON/ 6 MILES; RED BULL 1/4 MILE/ NEWCASTLE 6. Also site of milestone 6m/1f/20p.

30.5       Red Bull Crossroads with A50. Red Bull basin on Trent & Mersey Canal on right; aqueduct on A50 to left. Continue ahead on Congleton road South (A34). Prior to 1935, this section of road to Newcastle was numbered A52.

30.8       County Boundary: formerly Cheshire and Staffordshire, now Cheshire East and Staffordshire. Termination of Wilmslow and Lawton turnpike. Continue ahead on Congleton Road (A34), now on Darlaston turnpike.

31.0       Butt Lane. The birthplace in Congleton Road of Reginald Mitchell, inventor of The Spitfire aircraft.

31.3       A5011 junction. Original route via Talke ahead (by-passed by 1890 to left). Continue ahead on Coalpit Lane (u/c).

31.4       Site of milestone 154.

31.6       Turn left into Swan Bank to Crown Bank  (u/c).

31.7       Talke (originally Talke o’ the Hill). Brick church (1794) on right. Continue ahead on Jamage Road (u/c). Talke Freeport Shopping Centre in Jamage Industrial Estate on right.

32.1       Continue ahead on Jamage Road (now minor road), now cut in two by A500.

32.4       Site of milestone 153 on north side of A500 Continuation of Jamage Road on south side of A500 leads to Talke Road (u/c). Turn right at realigned junction.

32.8       Red Street. Continue ahead on Liverpool Road to Crackley Bank (both u/c).

33.4       Site of milestone 152.

33.9       Chesterton. Continue ahead to Dragon Square to Church Street, both u/c.

34.0       Turn left into Castle Street (B5500).

34.4       Site of milestone 151, followed by roundabout. Veer right onto London Road (B5500). Road straightened for half mile to A34.

34.9       Turn left into Liverpool Road (A34).

35.0       Site of tollgate.

35.4       Site of milestone 150.

36.3       Turn left into Liverpool Road (u/c).

36.4       Continue across dual carriageway (A52) to Liverpool Road (u/c). Site of milestone 149. Bend in road straightened (road veered to right, then to left at roundabout on right).

36.5       Newcastle under Lyme. Museum, site of castle, The Stones (traditional market with collectors’ fairs every Tues and antiques every Thurs) in High Street, Guildhall (1713), some Georgian buildings. Continue ahead to High Street (u/c and part pedestrianised), passing timber-framed butcher’s shop on right.

Section Four.Newcastle under Lyme to Stafford.

The southern suburbs of Newcastle merge with those of Stoke on Trent to the M6 junction, where the infant River Trent is crossed. Emerging once more into open countryside, the road passes through one of the most evocative places along the entire route- Trentham Park. Former home of the Leveson-Gower family, the house was unfortunately demolished in 1910; however, it is one of a handful of places mentioned by Pevsner that no longer exist (as such). He takes up the story: “it is the principal of The Buildings of England not to describe buildings which have been demolished. Trentham Park must make an exception, not only because it was a house which was spectacular, and had a spectacular following, but even more because its remains are extensive enough for any visitor to ask at once after their context”. More re4cently, the formal Italian garden has been the subject of the largest garden replanting scheme in the country, and this, together with the lake, shopping village, barefoot walk and parkland make Trentham a superb travel destination.

From Trentham, attractive countryside leads to the canal town of Stone with a large monthly farmers’ market. The road thence to Stafford is pleasant if uneventful.

Originally, the route from Newcastle (junction with A526) to Stafford was numbered A449 as a northern continuation of the road from Stafford to Kidderminster; also High Street Newcastle was the A53. They were both renumbered A34 in 1935.

Newcastle under Lyme town centre. Continue ahead down High Street (known as The Stones) and over roundabout to London road (A34). Imposing blue brick catholic church on left. Next is University Hospital of North Staffordshire on site of Stoke Workhouse (left).

37.3       Site of milestone 148/1.

37.6       Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1893) on right at SJ85864459: NEWCASTLE 1; TRENTHAM 21/2 / STOKE 71/2 / STAFFORD 141/2.

38.3       Site of milestone 147/2. Continue ahead on Newcastle Road (A34).

38.5       Trent Vale.

38.6       Site of Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost.

38.9       A500 roundabout and bridge over River Trent. Continue ahead on Mayne Street (A34 to right cut by 1890).

39.4       Hanford. Turn right into Bankhouse Road (u/c). Site of milestone 146.3.

39.7       Rejoin Stone Road (A34), turn left. Site of Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost.

40.1       Trentham. Hall on right by Charles Barry, tragically mostly demolished early 20th century, some parts left. Church (also by Barry) and parkland; formal Italian Gardens now restored. Shopping village. Mausoleum adjoins road on left.

40.3       Continue ahead over roundabout on Stone Road (A34). Site of milestone 145/4.

40.7       Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1893) in centre of carriageway at SJ87054021: TRENTHAM 1/2 / STOKE 31/2 / NEWCASTLE 4; STONE 41/4 / STAFFORD 111/4.

41.3       Strongford Bridge over River Trent. Trentham Monkey Forest on right, plus monument overlooking Trentham Lake. Site of milestone 144/5 to south of bridge.

41.7       Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost (1893) in centre of carriageway at SJ87353866: TRENTHAM 11/2 / STOKE 41/2 / NEWCASTLE 6; STONE 51/4 / STAFFORD 101/4.

42.0       Tittensor. Church (1888) ridiculed by Pevsner.

42.3       Site of milestone 143/6.

42.7       Site of Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost.

43.3       Site of milestone 142/7.

43.4       Entrance to Darlaston Inn roundabout. Original route ran around base of Bury Bank to right to join Nantwich road (A51); termination of Darlaston turnpike. Major coaching junction of London to Chester & North Wales and the North West of England routes. Darlaston Inn (former coaching Inn) now in centre of roundabout. Bury Bank (Iron Age Hill Fort) up on right.

43.5       Exit roundabout on A34, then left, now on Rugeley and Stone turnpike. Meaford. Original line then via bridleway ahead to left, over canal bridge and right into Mount Road (B5027). Meaford Old Hall (right) is mainly Victorian, and was the birthplace of John Jervis, Earl St Vincent. Jervis served with Nelson and was responsible for the victory off Cape St Vincent in 1797.

44.0       Milestone 141/8 on right before railway bridge at SJ89183526: recess for plate (now missing) cut with LONDON 136/ LICHFIELD 23/ STONE 1/ NEWCASTLE 7. Note cutting carried out after 1893- see note below for next milestone. Continue ahead on Mount Road to Station Road (B5027).

44.5       Stone Railway station on right. Continue ahead on Station Road (B5027) then High Street (u/c).

45.0       Stone. Canal and coaching town, early gothic revival church of 1753 and some old houses, including bow-windowed Crown Hotel of 1778 on right. Milestone 140/9 on right, at SJ90123397: modern plate shows LICHFIELD /22 MILES/ LONDON /135 MILES (discrepancy is due to different turnpike route mileage: compare with milepost 140 one mile south on Lichfield road). Route by 1890 was from Darlaston Inn via Newcastle Road to town centre.

45.2       Turn right into Stafford Street (A520), now on Stone, Stafford and Penkridge turnpike. Walton Bridge across canal and River Trent.

45.3       Before roundabout, turn left into Fillybrooks (u/c).

45.5       Walton. Original route continued to left into Stafford Road (A34/ A51).

46.0       Site of milestone 6/1. Original route followed south carriageway.

46.1       Roundabout at A51 junction. Continue ahead on Stafford Road (A34).

46.5       Aston-by-Stone. Road slightly realigned and straightened for one mile. Aston Church and Hall along u/c road on left. Well to right is Pire Hill, its name given to one of the former hundreds of Staffordshire.

47.0       Site of milestone 5/2.

48.0       Yarlet. Site of milestone 4/3. Yarlet Hall school  (1873) on left.

49.0       Whitgreave Manor. Site of milestone 3, followed by site of tollgate. Continue ahead on Stone Road (A34).

50.0       Milepost mounted on stone 5/2 on right at SJ91072634: STONE/5; STAFFORD 2 (Temporarily taken into care by Staffordshire County Council during roadworks early 2013, replaced with new backing stone late 2013).

50.1       Continue ahead over  roundabout on Stone road (A34).

51.1       Site of milestone 6/1.

51.4       Continue ahead over Grey Friars roundabout to Foregate Street (A34). Friends’ Meeting House (1730,) and church (1837) on left; Hospital (partly 1766-81) on right.

51.9       Roundabout on Stafford Ring road. Continue ahead on Greengate Street (u/c).

52.0       Stafford. County town; Ancient High House on right is largest timber-framed town house in England (open to public); Shire Hall (Georgian) with Gallery and Assize Court open to view; two ancient churches, one pure Norman interior (Greengate Street on left) with a wealth of carvings, the other heavily restored by Gilbert Scott in 19th century; old houses and inns in Green gate Street; impressive Victorian county buildings; Victoria Park; Broad Eye Windmill; birthplace of Richard Brinsley Sheridan in Old Post Office in Greengate Street on right. Further information from TIC in Ancient High House.

Section Five.Stafford to Cannock.

Before 1830, the recommended route from Stafford to Birmingham was via Penkridge, Wolverhampton, Bilston and Wednesbury. With the opening of the Perry Barr turnpike in that year, the recognized route was changed to one that went via Cannock and Walsall (28 miles as opposed to 29).

Stafford is a dignified county town with buildings and sites from Norman times right up to the present day. Due to its low lying position surrounded by flood plains, the inner town kept its compact size until the late nineteenth century. It still preserves a green strip on all sides but has now expanded beyond this. The town itself may not be amongst the top rank of county towns, yet there is still much to see, putting it second after Lichfield in architectural interest. The best of the buildings are public: The Shire Hall is Georgian, the Borough Hall is grandly Victorian, and the country buildings staunchly Edwardian. The only way to properly explore is on foot.

Leaving Stafford’s outer suburbs across the flood plain of the river Penk, the A34 skirts around the eastern edge of Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Time should be found to venture eastwards, park up, and go for a walk.

The contrast between the serene beauty of Cannock Chase and what is to follow could not be more stark. Huntington is a former mining village, and Cannock a former mining town, albeit with an older heart around High Green.

Originally the route between Stafford (A449 junction) and Birmingham was numbered A455; it was changed to A34 in 1935.

Stafford town centre.

52.2       Continue ahead on Bridge Street (u/c).

52.4       Bear left into Lichfield Road (A518), now on Stafford, Churchbridge, Uttoxeter and Newport turnpike. Site of milestone 135. Continue straight ahead (original route straight over large roundabout) to Lichfield road (A34).

53.0       Approach to railway bridge; original route down to left: Queensville (u/c).

53.2       Original route rejoins A34. Continue ahead in Queensville.

53.4       Site of milestone 134.

53.6       Bridge over River Penk and Canal. Turnpike finished here in 1775; remainder of route to Churchbridge cut on virgin turf after 1793. No further milestones shown on 1st ed. OS map from here to Churchbridge.  Continue ahead on Radford Bank (A34).

53.9       Weeping Cross. Bear right on Cannock Road (A34). Weeping Cross name marks site of pre-reformation penitence cross.       

54.6       Stafford Borough boundary post on left.

54.7       Road straightened. Site of tollgate south of Old Croft Road; then Seven Stars public house on right.

55.3.      Brocton crossroads (village to left).

55.6       Turning to left for Cannock Chase war cemeteries, walks, visitor centres, etc. (Cannock Chase AONB is the smallest inland AONB in England).

57.0       Entrance to former Teddesley Hall (demolished mid 20th century). Stable block still in situ; Flume Farm has largest waterwheel in Staffordshire in outbuilding.

57.5       Coppice Farm on right.

58.3       Pottal Pool. Staffordshire County Council standard triangular milepost on right at SJ97201431: STAFFORD 7; HUNTINGTON  1/2 / CANNOCK 21/2 / WALSALL 101/2 /  BIRMINGHAM 191/2. Continue ahead on Stafford Road (A34). Bend to right lessened. Road to left to Cannock Chase AONB.

59.1       Huntington. Site of Littleton Colliery on right.

60.0       Access on right to Shoal Hill (part of Cannock Chase AONB: walks, views).

60.8       Turn right into Stafford Road (u/c), and straight across Park Road.

62.0       Cannock. Church, 14th century, 18th century eastern end, complete with gallery; Conduit head, war memorial and garden on High Green, also Georgian former council offices with iron gates (possibly by Bakewell) behind. Otherwise modern centre. No TIC, but Cannock Chase District Council offices on Beecroft Road (left at Park road to Beecroft Road) with limited visitor information.

Section Six.Cannock to Walsall.

Put aside all thoughts of picturesque England on this section! Crossing the A5 Watling Street (the Roman aligment at this point, but not Telford’s road), the A34 traverses more ex-mining areas before crossing into Walsall Metropolitan borough just north of Bloxwich. Bloxwich itself is an old community centred around a village green and church- although the two are not together! Dreary suburbs follow on the way into Walsall, once the centre of the leather trade, but now a large borough forming part of the West Midlands conurbation. Walsall is an ancient settlement which surrounded the church on a hilltop, but the iconic view up through the market to the church above was ruined in the 1960’as by an extremely insensitive lump of concrete thrown across the street at first floor level. Hence Walsall centre is now a mess- far better to continue southwards in the hope of more inspirational stuff from Birmingham. The latter, although also much ruined in the 1960’s architectural holocaust, does at least preserve something of its dignified past.

Prior to 1935, the A34 to Birmingham was numbered A455 (see preamble to section 5).

Cannock town centre.

62.1       Continue ahead on pedestrianised High Green (u/c) to junction. Continue ahead on Walsall Road (A34).

62.7       Bridgetown. Continue over roundabout  on Walsall road (A34).

63.1       Under railway bridge, turn left at A460 junction to second roundabout. Road realigned. The Wyrley and Essington Canal, now disused, ran underneath.

63.2       Churchbridge. Termination of Stafford, Churchbridge, Uttoxeter and Newport turnpike. Turn right at roundabout onto Watling Street (A5), for short distance on Newport and Stonnal turnpike, then right at third roundabout into Walsall Road (A34), now on the Walsall (two districts) turnpike.

63.8       Site of milestone 11.

64.0       Great Wyrley. Site of tollgate. Church (1844), chancel and tower 1875; galleries inside.

64.8       Landywood; site of milestone 12.

65.8       Newtown. Site of milestone 13.  Continue ahead on Stafford Road (A34). Former mineral railway to right and coal wharf at end of Lord Hey’s Canal. Canal then ran south on right for 0.1 mile.

65.9       Former bridge over canal. Boundary of Staffordshire and Walsall MB (formerly Staffordshire and Walsall CB).  Canal  ran for one mile as boundary eastwards to join main Wyrley and Essington canal.

66.8       Wallington Heath. Site of milestone 14.

67.0       Bloxwich. Crossroads with A4124. Continue ahead on High Street (A34). Bloxwich Green with war memorial and fountain. Bloxwich was the birthplace of Pat Collins of funfare fame. The Turf Tavern in Wolverhampton Street on the right is an old pub with preserved interior.

67.3       Bloxwich Parish Church on left. Church (1791-4; base of mediaeval cross in churchyard; Old Hall opposite church.

67.5       Original route from church roughly via Church Street and The Pinfold, then to High Street. Junction of Somerfield Road; turn left into High Street to Bloxwich Road (B4210).

67.8       Leamore. Site of milestone 13; also site of tollgate- both north of Blakenhall Lane.

68.8       Continue ahead on Stafford Street (B4210).

69.1       Site of tollgate north of Long Acre Street.

70.1       Continue ahead on Stafford Street across A4148 junction , then Stafford Street (u/c and pedestrianised).

70.2       Townend. Continue ahead on Park Street (u/c and pedestrianised); continue ahead to The Bridge.

70.3       Walsall. Parish Church (mediaeval but drastically restored 1877-80; good set of misericords); Memorial gardens opposite church; St Paul’s Church (by bus station) by Pearson 1891-3 (now shops); council house, library and museum make good group in Lichfield Street (left at The Bridge), Leather museum, Sister Dora Pattison statue at The Bridge. Birthplace of Jerome K. Jerome in Bradford Street (right at The Bridge).

Section Seven.Walsall to Birmingham.

Now firmly in the grip of the urban West Midlands, the A34 leaves Walsall only to be confronted by the M6, a small sliver of rural ground to the right, and then the outskirts of the City of Birmingham. Great Barr and Perry Barr are two villages that have been swallowed up in the urban sprawl. Before the nineteenth century, the area was surprisingly remote- Yates’ map of 1775 shows no turnpike route from Great Barr to Birmingham, the traveler being left to pick his was through deeply rutted tracks that wandered aimlessly across the countryside in no particular direction. How things have changed in 200 years!

The last four and a half miles of the A34 into Birmingham is courtesy of the Perry Barr turnpike, a relative latecomer on the turnpike scene in 1830. Before then, the route was via Hamstead Hill and Handsworth. Birmingham itself ought to be one of the great cities of England. It is the largest local authority in terms of population and prides itself on being the ‘second city’. Unfortunately, this is where the dreaming has to stop, the singular reason for this being the appointment way back in 1935 of Henry Manzoni as the city’s chief engineer. Wartime wrought havoc on the city centre, giving Manzoni the freedom he needed to revamp the city on a gargantuan scale not seen elsewhere in England at the time, In 1955 Birmingham was a (albeit a war-ravaged) Victorian city; by 1975 it was the centre of brutalist concrete monstrosities, all held together in a tight corset by the racetrack that was known as the Inner Ring Road. A further thirty years on, and Birmingham is pulling down its 1960’s heritage and renewing itself again. The only place with a real sense of civic pride is Victoria Square- well worth seeking out.

Prior to 1935, the A34 to Birmingham was numbered A455 (see preamble to section 5).

Walsall town centre.

70.4       Continue ahead on Digbeth to High Street (both u/c and pedestrianised).

70.5       Walsall Parish Church, and the termination of Walsall (2 districts) turnpike. Turn right into Peal Street, then left into New Street and left into Birmingham Street to Birmingham Road, all now on the Walsall and Hamstead turnpike (all u/c).

70.8       Six Ways. Continue ahead on Birmingham Road (u/c- originally via Jesson Road c.1775.).

71.4       Continue ahead over roundabout on Birmingham Road (A34).

72.3       Site of milestone 6. Road straightened from here to M6 junction.

73.6       Boundary of Walsall MB and Sandwell MB (formerly Walsall CB and Staffordshire).

74.2       Great Barr. Church (1890) and Great Barr Hall (1777) now part of St Margaret’s Hospital- both off Chapel Lane on left.

74.4       M6 junction (formerly known as Snails Green), and end of turnpike 1775. Site of milestone 5.

74.9       Scott Arms. Boundary of Sandwell MB and City of Birmingham (formerly Staffordshire and City of Birmingham).

75.1       Junction with Walsall Road (B4124: original turnpike route before Perry Barr turnpike route cut). Continue ahead on Walsall Road, now on Perry Barr Turnpike. (A34).

76.1       Perry Barr. Church (off Church Road to left).

76.8       Perry Barr railway station. Continue ahead on Perry Barr Expressway (underpass: A34); site of tollgate at Junction by Crown and Cushion public house. Continue ahead on Birchfield Road (A34).

77.4       Trinity Road underpass; then Fentham Road/ Johnstone Street junction is former boundary between Staffordshire and Birmingham.

77.9       Six Ways underpass. Continue ahead on High Street (Newtown) to Newtown Row (both A34). Bartons Arms (historic pub known as ‘the cathedral of British pubs’ ) on the left.

78.9       Lancaster Street (A34).

80.0       Lancaster Circus on Birmingham Inner Ring Road, and termination of Perry Barr turnpike. The Central Fire station (1932) behind. Continue ahead over junction from rear of Fire Station through grounds of Aston University to Coleshill Street (u/c), then right to Chapel Street; then straight ahead (now no road) to cross James Watt Queensway (Corporation Street not cut until after 1875). Termination of Perry Barr turnpike.

80.2       Dale End across James Watt Queensway, to High Street (both u/c).

80.4       Birmingham City Centre.  Many 1960’s buildings intermixed with Victorian architecture; Victoria Square with the Council House, The Town Hall,; Birmingham back-to-back houses (National Trust); Classical Cathedral (1713).

Section Seven.Birmingham to Henley in Arden.

Birmingham’s southern suburbs are firstly encountered on the way south having passed  Deritend, the original site of the manor house of the De Bermingham family. The former guildhall from mediaeval times is still extant (now the Old Crown public house). Over the boundary into Solihull, Shirley is a settlement that has been swallowed up by creeping suburbia, then at last the road emerges out into open countryside.  Two motorway junctions are next encountered with the straggling village of Hockley Heath between the two. Hockley Heath still has to be subjected to the constant pounding of heavy vehicles rumbling along its main street. Once over the second motorway junction (with the M40), the road enters a quiet rural spell- rebranded the A3400- leading into the historic town of Henley in Arden.

Originally, the A34 was numbered A42 between the A41 junction at Sparkbrook and Oxford; it was renumbered in 1935.

Birmingham City Centre. Turn left into St Martins Circus Queensway (former Bull ring) to Digbeth (A34/A41/A45), on the Birmingham, Warwick and Warmington turnpike. The Rotunda on the right is the only iconic building from the 1960’s that the city possesses. St Martin’s Church is the parish church of Birmingham (now surrounded by the Bull Ring shopping centre with markets behind);Selfridges’ bubble building of dubious character (can anyone love a giant  jellyfish with silver acne?);  then Digbeth Police station on left.

80.6       Bridge over River Rea. Continue ahead on High Street, Deritend (A34, A41 & A45).

80.9       Old Crown public house on left (oldest complete building in city, originally Guildhall and schoolroom) on left at Heath Mill Lane; then Bird’s custard Factory on left (now arts centre). Continue ahead in High Street (Bordesley).

81.2       A45 junction. Continue ahead in Camp Hill (A34).

81.4       Turn left into Old Camp Hill (u/c), and straight ahead and over roundabout.

81.5       Continue ahead in Stratford Road (A34), then under railway bridge.

82.0       Site of tollgate at Ladypool Road junction.

82.1       Sparkbrook. St Agatha’s Church (1899-1901) on right, is one of the finest churches of its type and date in England; impressive interior. Former boundary between Birmingham and Worcestershire.

82.5       Junction of A41 Warwick Road. Continue ahead on Stratford Road (A34), on the Birmingham and Stratford turnpike. Prior to 1935, this was numbered A42.

83.0       Site of milestone 114 at Avondale Road/ Sparkhill Park.

83.7       Bridge over River Cole.

84.4       Hall Green Station on left; then Cole Bank Road on right leading to Sarehole Mill (open to public).

85.0       Junction with Outer Ring road. Continue ahead in Stratford Road (A34).

85.2       Site of milestone 112 at Beechcroft Avenue.

85.3       Boundary of City of Birmingham and Solihull MB (formerly Worcestershire and Warwickshire, then City of Birmingham and Warwickshire).

86.0       Site of milestone 111.

86.6       Shirley. Site of tollgate at Shirley Park.

87.0       Shirley Heath. Site of milestone 110.

88.0       Monkspath. Site of milestone 109.

89.0       Monkspath Bridge over River Blithe. Site of milestone 108 on north side.

89.1       Junction, M42 Motorway. Continue ahead in Stratford Road (A3400).

90.0       Box Trees. Site of milestone 107.

90.9       Box Trees Craft Centre and nursery on left.

91.0       Hockley Heath. Site of milestone 106 north of canal bridge at B4439 junction.

91.3       Boundary of Solihull MB and Warwickshire.

91.7       Lapworth. Norman church with later additions, half a mile to east  (approach from lane at 91.5). Also access to Packwood House at 2 miles east (NT).

91.8       Junction, M40 Motorway. Continue ahead in Stratford Road (A3400).

92.0       Lapworth Bridge. Site of milestone 105.

93.0       Liveridge Hill. Site of milestone 104. Camp Hill Golf Course on left. Continue ahead on Birmingham Road (A3400).

94.0       Site of milestone 103.

95.0       Henley in Arden. Site of milestone 102.

96.0       Site of milestone 101.

*** no more milestones marked on 1st edition OS from here southwards.

Original research Manchester to Birmingham by John Higgins, with added material by Mike Griffiths and Mike Buxton. January 2014.

2 thoughts on “Following the A34 from Manchester to Southampton”

  1. andrew farthing

    The information given starts off by saying that the road ‘Starts’ at Manchester. It does not. It ends there! The road starts down in the South of England, hence it’s notation A 34. So it clearly begins between the A 3 and the A 4. If it started at Manchester it would have been called the A 5 some thing or other

    1. You are correct, of course, Andrew !! We should really have said that our exploration of the A34 begins in Manchester. The practical reason is that most of our contributors live in the north, the site content is a bit thin at the Southern end. Might you be able/willing to add some interesting facts about its history??

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