The village of Mow cop is situated in a highly elevated position on the border of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire, with extensive panoramic views across the Cheshire Plain.
The village has an interesting feel to it, almost like that of a bygone seaside town.
It has a road through the middle known as the ‘killer mile’ – the top of which ‘top station road’ is the steepest road I have ever driven up. The austere surroundings and the two imposing Methodist Chapels gave me a feeling of being in Bronte country and provoked images of the windswept, wild moors of Wuthering Heights.
What fascinated me about this was that we were still in a Stoke on Trent postcode which is testament to the sheer diversity of places of intrigue and beauty within the surrounding area. On a calm, summers evening as dusk settles there would be no finer place to come and relax, enjoying the view across 30 miles of stunning English countryside.
Positioned on top of a crag, it is possible the site had previously had Iron Age occupants and is the site of a cairn or burial chamber. Some have suggested that the Romans built a beacon or watchtower on this site during their occupation of England.
This idea is be supported by the fact that the Romans had a small camp at Bent Farm, Astbury on the edge of the town of Congleton. The Romans did build a road from Bent Farm through to Biddulph via the ‘Nick O Th Hill’ and this would have bought them very close to Mow Cop. There is coal, millstone grit, and limestone in the area, all of which the Romans would have used.
The castle looks like a battle-scarred, tumbledown relic which has seen a millennium of wars and weathering but is in fact a folly, built as a summerhouse in 1754 for Randle Wilbraham I of Rode Hall, a nearby mansion house.
It was built to look like part of a castle of a bygone era and would have enhanced the view of the newly constructed Rode Hall some 3 miles away on the Cheshire side of the hill.
The nineteenth century saw a territorial dispute between Randle Wilbraham and Ralph Sneyd of nearby Keele Hall. The latter claimed the castle encroached upon his land and sued. Ultimately it was ruled the castle did indeed straddle Ralph’s lands and the court instructed the land was shared between them.
Hugh Bourne, a Methodist preacher from the area, felt that the Methodist church wasn’t doing enough to reach ordinary working people like him and his neighbours in the area.
In 1807, Bourne organised a whole day event on Mow Cop, where people could pray, sing and hear inspiring preachers. It was called a Camp Meeting, an idea brought to England from the United States, where people camped out for a few days, like a modern festival, with lively prayer and passionate preaching the headline acts. It was so successful, that a four-day event was organised a few months later.
They set up their own new form of Methodism, deciding on the name Primitive Methodist, as they felt they were being true to the spirit of the first – or “Primitive” Methodists.
The movement rapidly grew, eventually becoming the second largest branch of Methodism. Mow Cop continued to be a special place for the Primitive Methodists. Anniversary Camp Meetings were held there every year, with special celebrations in 1857, 1907 and 1957 attended by many thousands of people.