History of Astbury MereThe return to nature and a victory for the local community!
Astbury Mere Country Park is not owned and managed by the local authority but by a Company Limited by Guarantee which is run by unpaid local volunteer Trustees and is a registered charity. During the fifty years that the site was a working quarry, millions of tons of silica sand wasextracted, read on to understand the fascinating history and the fight for the mere!
The Sand Quarry
The park occupies an area which is an old sand quarry that ceased production in the 1980’s. In the fifty years that the site was working millions of tons of silica sand was extracted. The sand was of exceptional quality, and was used in the production of glass, for example by Pilkington’s, and for precision metal casting in the engineering industry. The A34 near to the site was often sprinkled with sand from the thousands of delivery trucks transporting this valuable commodity.
There was quite a bit of opposition at first from local councillors to developing sand quarrying in Congleton, the Ramblers Association objected because of the loss of footpaths and the residents of the town complained of wind blown sand, a headline in Congleton Chronicle in 1967 was, “Sand for Breakfast”.
After appeal, Cheshire County Council gave planning permission for the site to be quarried on the condition that the site would be returned to agricultural use and well-used footpaths between Congleton and the historic village of Astbury be returned.
There were three companies who extracted sand from the site. A local family firm of Sheard Limited who later became British Industrial Sand Limited (later changed to Hepworth Mineral and Chemicals Limited), and Hinckley’s (later changed to Westlow Ltd.). Over the years as the areas of quarrying were expanded, the dozens of permissions granted by Cheshire County Council were each subject to the condition that ‘once quarrying ceases the land is to be returned to agricultural use’.
In the late 1960’s the technology for sand extraction made a leap forward, with the introduction of removing sand from below the water table. This requires sucking the sand up from under the water then shedding the water and heating the sand to dry it. This is of course a far more expensive process than simply digging the sand out, but by its introduction, the value of Silica sand had increased making it commercially viable. The result was that the quarry where the Country Park is now became a big lake.
Cheshire County Council decided that it was no longer possible to insist that the land had to be returned to agricultural use when this new technology was introduced, because the land would be under water. Unfortunately, they didn’t consider that the water would of course be surrounded by land, and when working finished there would no longer be any conditions controlling its future use.
A group of local residents walked across the area where quarrying took place, called Banky Fields, which had a very popular public footpath leading to the historic village of Astbury and its magnificent 11th century Church of St. Mary’s. As working progressed over the years the public footpath was moved a number of times and eventually was extinguished making it no longer possible to walk that lovely route. Nobody complained at that time because it was such a gradual process, but when the footpath was eventually lost it was very much missed.
Around 1984 quarrying ceased, the buildings were pulled down and the plant and machinery removed from the site. For a few years after that the public used the site unofficially while the owners, British Industrial Sand (BIS) and Hinckley’s were dreaming up schemes to profit from the remaining dry land. Some 60 acres remained, and in 1988 BIS applied for permission of the whole of the northern area some 40 acres into a large housing development and at the same time the Congleton Borough Council wanted that area to be developed as a science park / industrial estate.
For over half a century local residents had lived with a major industry on their doorstep; now they hoped for a quieter, more appropriate use of the site within this predominantly residential area of the Town. Nature was slowly but surely reclaiming the area and the whole site was rapidly becoming a valued local amenity.
Instead, residents were faced with proposals for the construction of a major industrial complex on the site. An Action Group representative of local people was set up to fight the proposals and soon intensive negotiations began. Eventually, after years of uncertainty the landowners agreed to sub divide their estate; half the site would instead be developed for housing (now the Ennerdale Drive estate) whilst the remainder would be given over as open space: so began the creation of Congleton’s first Country Park.
Astbury Mere Trust is Born
However, all was not over for the Action Group. Their professionalism and dedication had impressed many and with the support of the local community they formed themselves into a Trust. On the completion of the initial development works the Trust accepted responsibility of managing, for the benefit of the people of Congleton and beyond, what then became known as Astbury Mere Country Park.
The members of the original protest group then went about creating a properly constituted organisation to manage and maintain the park and to register themselves as a charity. The Astbury Mere Trust Limited was born.
A group photo of some of the Trustees shortly after the opening of the Country Park. From left to right Tony Popadopalis, Mick Foster, Ron Cook, Steve Foster, Cynthia Muncaster, Rob Minshull & Bob Muncaster.
The Trust is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status and was established in 1989. In 2008 it finally managed to acquire majority land ownership.
Original parts of the site owned by the Trust have been managed since 1991. The Park originally had 25 acres of amenity and conservation grassland bordered by young wood and shrub areas. It was surrounded by residential developments on three sides and by Astbury Water Park to the south. The rest of the landholding was in private ownership with lake and immediate shoreline in the ownership of Stoke on Trent Angling Society. Despite the site being in multi ownership public perception was of one integrated site.
Towards the end of 2009, the remainder of the land was given to Astbury Mere Trust by the private owner. After 20 years of negotiations, wrangling and disappointments the ambitions of the Trust to own and manage the whole of the site finally came to fruition. A new phase now began bringing with it its own joys and difficulties. At about the same time a grant was secured enabling a wheelchair friendly lakeside path and seating to be provided.
Since its inception, the Country Park has become a valued recreational resource for the inhabitants of Congleton and beyond. In this time the park has matured, not only in physical terms with the growth of trees and shrubs but also in its evolution as an important outdoor recreational and learning resource. The Trust employs the services of Cheshire East Council’s Ranger Service to oversee the day-to-day operations on the site and contractors to maintain and service the building and car park.
Get in Touch
Astbury Mere Trust is always looking to improve the park so please get in contact if you have any feedback, questions or ideas!
For events and organisations who use the park please contact the providers directly, contact details on the What's On Page.