Much of the industrial history of Apedale had been guided by a single extended family, the estates have been passed down through successive genertions of Bowyers, Gresleys and then Heathcotes from the 17th century to the start of the 20th century.
Apedale first came into the possession of the Bowyer family when it was bought by Sir William Bowyer, the Lord of Knypersley in 1620. At this point Apedale was predominantly farm land although there was some small scale coal extraction, mostly to supply the local needs.
Some 20 years later it passed to his son, Sir John Bowyer. This was shortly before the beginning of the English Civil War and during this period the Apedale Estate was seized by Parliamentarians as Sir John Bowyer remained a loyal Royalist. On the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the estate was handed back to Sir John and it remained in the hands of the Bowyer for many years.
The Gresley family joined with the Bowyer Family when Sir Tomas Gresley married Dorothy Bowyer in 1719. They had two sons, Thomas and Nigel. Nigel, later Sir Nigel Gresley (not to be confused with the noted locomotive engineer who was his descendant), eventually inherited Apedale, and along with his own son, developed industry in the Valley, notable building the Apedale Canal. Sir Nigel’s son, Nigel Bowyer-Gresley, purchased Apedale in 1776 from his father rather than inheriting it.
When Sir Nigel Gresley passed away, most of his remaining property was left to his son, Nigel, although he did leave some property to his daughter Anne who was married to Sir John Edensor Heathcote. In the following years Sir John acquired interests in Apedale reaching a one third share by 1796.
On Sir John’s death his son Richard, who has been running the estates for a number of years due to his father’s ill health, inherited his fathers properties. This included the third of Apedale, as well as Longton and other properties.
The remaining parts of Apedale passed from Nigel Bowyer Gresley to his children. He had three daughters by his first wife, and one son, Roger, by his second. Two of his daughters, Emma and Louisa, inherited one third share each of Apedale. The Apedale canal formed part of his son’s inheritance.
Emma Gresley married Richard Edensor Heathcote, which along with his own inheritance gave him a two third stake in Apedale. The final third he purchased in from Louisa Gresley’s Husband, Rev. Edward Woodyatt, in order to settle a legal dispute between them. The Apedale canal was also sold to Richard by Roger Gresley in order to finance his political ambitions.More information of Richard Edensor Heathcote’s life can be found here.
Under Richard’s control, Apedale flourished with the Collieries and Ironworks being heavily invested in and developed, however his son, John Edensor Heathcote, did not share his father’s talent for business. He was content to let others manage the day-to-day running of Apedale while he acted as a figure head. He was a generous contributor to many good causes such as schools hospitals and churches. He also contributed over half the building costs of Chesterton Parish Church and presided over it’s consecration ceremony.
As John had no heir he left everything to his nephew, Justinian Heathcote Edwards. After leaving the army, Justinian entered into a career in politics, as by this time apedale was operated by other various other parties under lease. In 1886 he became the MP for the North-West Staffordshire constituency.
One of the major lease holders in Apedale was Francis Stanier and as his planned retirement from business approached Justinian Heathcote needed to find a successor. The solution was to form the Midland Coal, Coke and Iron Company, together with local business leaders. This new company became the owner of the entire Apedale estate as it was sold to them in exchange for a large shareholding by Justinian. The company set about a large programme of improvements at Apedale including the integration of all of the collieries.
The company survived into the twentieth century until it collapsed during to the economic turbulence of the 1920s and 30s. Justinian’s son, John (Justinian John Edwards-Heathcote), had to dispose of the companies assets and estates, thus bringing to an end his family’s involvement in Apedale industry.