Rugeley (// ROOJ-lee) is a historic market town in the county of Staffordshire, England. It lies on the north-eastern edge of Cannock Chase next to the River Trent, and is situated between the towns of Stafford, Cannock, Lichfield and Uttoxeter. At the 2001 census the town's population was 22,724, (including the Brereton and Etchinghill wards). increasing to 24,033 at the 2011 Census. Rugeley is twinned with Western Springs, Illinois and in July 1962 the towns made telephone history on national television when the chairman of Rugeley Urban District Council made the first telephone call via the new Telstar satellite to the Mayor of Western Springs.
The town, historically known as Rudgeley or Ridgeley, is listed in the Domesday Book. This name is thought to be derived from 'Ridge lee', or 'the hill over the field'. In the mediaeval period, it thrived on iron workings and was also a site of glass manufacturing. During the Industrial Revolution the economy of Rugeley benefited from the construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal and then from it becoming a junction on the railway network.
Although smaller pits had existed beforehand, the town became a centre of industrial scale deep shaft coal mining from the 1950s, taking advantage of the geological faults that cause coal seams under Cannock Chase. The Lea Hall Colliery that opened in July 1960 was the first modern coal mine opened by the National Coal Board, which managed the United Kingdom's nationalized coal industry. Nearby the Central Electricity Generating Board built two power plants. With the construction of Rugeley A and B power stations Rugeley became a major centre for electricity generation. These developments led to the town growing very quickly in the 1960s. The Rugeley A power station was designed to take its fuel directly from Lea Hall by conveyor belt (although the coal was of poor quality not suitable for Rugeley B). This was the first such arrangement in Britain. The Rugeley B coal-fired power station continues to dominate the skyline where a flue gas desulphurisation plant has been constructed. This will allow it to continue to generate electricity and comply with environmental legislation.
Between 1793  and 1967 Rugeley Grammar School provided selective secondary education for the town and also for Hednesford. Historical characters who were educated at RGS include the banker and railway promoter Edward Charles Blount and the Australian pioneer and politician Charles Bonney.
For many years in the 1970s and 1980s Rugeley was served by British Rail, with four services each way to and from Stafford and Rugby/Coventry. After the closure of Rugeley A power station and Lea Hall Colliery and a reduction in rail freight, it became possible to open up the Rugeley to Walsall line for passenger traffic. Rugeley now has two railway stations Rugeley Trent Valley and Rugeley Town. Rugeley Trent Valley lies on the West Coast Main Line, and has a regular hourly service to London via Lichfield, Nuneaton, Rugby and Milton Keynes, and to Crewe via Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent. Rugeley Trent Valley also has an hourly service via Rugeley Town railway station and the Chase Line suburban route connecting to Cannock, Walsall and Birmingham.
The major roads into Rugeley are the A460 from Cannock, and the A51 Lichfield to Stone. A new eastern bypass was opened in 2007 to facilitate the development of new employment areas on the former colliery site, and to reduce congestion in the town centre.
BBC Midlands Today and ITV Central cover Rugeley from studios in Birmingham. These are mainly received from the Sutton Coldfield transmitting station, however, some parts of the town are shielded from Sutton Coldfield and rely on the Rugeley relay, located at the Fair Oak Academy.
Some parts of Rugeley can also receive good signals from the Waltham transmitting station near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, which carries BBC East Midlands and the East Midland variant of ITV Central.
Rugeley lies within the coverage areas of the West Midland regional stations, like Heart and Planet Rock, Touch FM and Signal 1 in Stoke-on-Trent. BBC Local Radio is covered by BBC WM from Birmingham on 95.6 FM, though reception is not good, and in some parts, BBC Radio Stoke on 94.6 FM is better received.
For many years up to 1980, Rugeley had its own newspaper, the Rugeley Times published from Bow Street. The paper was sold to the Staffordshire Newsletter. Today the town is covered by the Express and Star. Students from the local area began writing a newspaper for Rugeley called The Hart of Rugeley. This is published three times a year. The team of students are based at The Hart School.
Rugeley is a mixed community in terms of age groups and household incomes, but in terms of its ethnic make-up it remains an overwhelmingly White British town. Much of the ageing population and their families are linked to the ex-mining communities, with an increasing proportion of the younger population being new to the area and associated with the services sector. As former mining towns, Rugeley and neighbouring Brereton suffer from a moderate level of social deprivation, with parts of the town consisting of council or ex-council house stock (such as the Springfield Estate and parts of Brereton) or former National Coal Board housing, such as the Pear Tree Estate. However, on the fringes of Rugeley there is more affluence, particularly in some of the areas bordering Cannock Chase, some of the older Georgian streets including the conservation area of Crossley Stone or waterfront properties along the Trent and Mersey Canal. A number of new houses were built in the housing boom of the early 2000s, providing a mixture of affordable and higher-end properties.
Rugeley has a modern swimming pool and leisure centre, opened 2006 on Burnthill Lane. Rugeley has a skate park in Hagley Park. Schools in the area include The Hart School (formerly two separate schools - Fair Oak Academy and Hagley Park Academy).
Rugeley's town centre has an outdoor market three days per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It also has an indoor market and a shopping centre called the Brewery Street Arcade. Rugeley has a number of well known high street names like Boots, Argos, Greggs and Morrisons.
Residents of the town benefit from their proximity to Cannock Chase and indeed there is a heritage trail funded by the National Lottery linking the town to Hednesford and Cannock with excellent disabled access. The trail contains numerous notice boards highlighting the town's history.
Rugeley also has a state-of-the-art health centre off Sandy Lane, a replacement for its predecessor on Horsefair. A modern care home now stands on the site of the former surgery. Technically, two separate surgeries coexist there. There is also the Aelfgar Surgery in Taylors Lane.
Rugeley Rose Theatre is a theatre and community centre in Taylors Lane.
Heron Court Hall, is a gothic style mansion (built by Joseph Whitgreave in 1851) on the outskirts of Rugeley town centre. It is a former convent and private residence and is now owned by Rugeley Snooker Club (also known as Rugeley Billiards Club). It is home to both Rugeley Snooker Club and Rugeley Poker Club. Rugeley Snooker Club has three full size snooker tables and in addition to serving its members, regularly plays host to other clubs from local snooker leagues.
Rugeley is home to two cricket clubs (Rugeley C.C. and Trent Valley C.C.), several football clubs and Rugeley Rugby Club, as well as Rugeley Rifle Club, which caters to .22 and air gun target shooting.
The Lea Hall Social Club, which underwent extensive renovation between 2005 and 2011, serves Rugeley residents with a variety of facilities including cricket and football pitches, tennis courts and a crown bowling green.
A charter fair occurs during the first weekend in June, which is a huge attraction with most people from the town joining in the street parade. The town council also puts on a fireworks display during the last weekend of the school summer holidays, known as "Back to School with a Bang". A Christmas lights switch-on during December includes a market and late night opening of shops, with the local traders association joining in the organising of street entertainment.
A Pagan conference happens on the May bank holiday every year. Staffordshire Pagan Conference started in 2015 and was held at Lea Hall Social Club. The conference is attended by over 250 people from all over the country. Over £1,000 has been donated to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust with the profit from the event. As of 2018 the conference will be relocating to The Rose Theatre and will become Witchfest Midlands.
For the last two years, in 2016 and 2017, the British Quidditch Cup has been held at Rugeley Leisure Centre. The third British Quidditch Cup took place on the 19th and 20th March 2016, with 32 teams competing, and the winners were Oxford's team, the Radcliffe Chimeras. The fourth British Quidditch Cup took place on the 11th and 12th March 2017, with 32 teams competing, and the winners were Velociraptors QC.
Rugeley suffered an increase in unemployment when Lea Hall Colliery closed in 1990. Following many years of demolition and regeneration, a number of large industrial units have been built on the Towers Business Park, a brownfield site situated on the former ground of the colliery. In August 2011, Amazon.co.uk opened a 700,000 sq ft fulfillment centre on the Towers Park, creating between 700 and 900 full-time jobs as well as generating a large pool of seasonal work around Christmas.
In 1855, the town gained notoriety when a local doctor, William Palmer, was accused of murdering an acquaintance, John Parsons Cook (who is buried in a still visible grave in the local St Augustine's churchyard). It was claimed that Cook had been poisoned, and in the months that followed, Palmer was implicated in the deaths of several other persons, including his own wife and brother, and possibly even some of his own children. He was put on trial for the murder of Cook in 1856, and an Act of Parliament was passed to allow the trial to be held at the Old Bailey, London, as it was felt that a fair jury could not be found in Staffordshire. Palmer was found guilty of murder, and hanged publicly outside Stafford Gaol on 14 June 1856. Local legend has it that, on being instructed to step onto the gallows trap-door, he asked the now-famous question "Is it safe?".
Another tale holds that following the uproar surrounding the discovery of Palmer's activities, the town put in a special request to the Prime Minister requesting that they be permitted to change the name of the town to disassociate themselves from the murders. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister at the time was Lord Palmerston, who agreed to the request only on the condition that the town be named after him. For obvious reasons the locals declined this offer. The story of Palmer was told in The Life and Crimes of William Palmer (1998), starring Keith Allen in the role of the infamous doctor.
George Ernest Thompson Edalji (March 1876 – 17 June 1953) was famously and wrongly convicted of one of the 'Great Wyrley Outrages', (the village of Great Wyrley being some eight-and-a-half miles south of Rugeley, south of the Cannock Chase district and north of Walsall) but cleared as the result of an investigation by Arthur Conan Doyle. Julian Barnes's 2005 novel Arthur & George recounts the entire episode in great detail, though it does not always stick to the historical record. Edalji was educated at Rugeley Grammar School in the 1880s.
The body of Christina Collins was discovered in the Trent and Mersey Canal in Rugeley on 17 June 1839. She was believed to have been raped and murdered by barge men who had agreed to transport her from Liverpool to London to join her husband. The steps which she was carried up are still known as the 'bloody steps' to this day. Although, as they are made from sandstone, the steps have no doubt been replaced several times, local legend has it that they sometimes ooze blood and her ghost appears upon them. Christina's grave can still be seen today in the churchyard at St Augustine's. Three of the four bargemen were charged with her murder. The story of her murder was the inspiration for an Inspector Morse mystery first broadcast in 1998, entitled The Wench is Dead.
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