Town of change
Rugeley’s name, like that of hundreds of English places,
comes from the Anglo-Saxon language. The word Hrycg,
meaning a ridge or chain of hills, is put together with the
word Leah, meaning a woodland clearing, to make Rugeley.
In Saxon times, this area was part of the kingdom of Mercia.
When William I invaded England a rebellion was led against
the Normans by Edwin, son of Earl Aelfgar of Mercia. This
was crushed in 1071, and the Normans took control. The
estimated population of Rugeley was then 35-40 inhabitants.
Rugeley’s prosperity grew first from agriculture and then
from a variety of other industries. By 2001 its population
was 23,000 people.
From forest settlement to market town
In 1189, Rugeley was sold to the Bishop of Lichfield
and Coventry by King Richard I (known as the
Lionheart). At this time Rugeley was still a small
settlement and was part of the Royal Forest of
Cannock, which provided hunting country for the
monarch and the aristocracy. Only seventy years
later, in 1259, the town had grown big enough to
be granted the right to hold a weekly market.
Fire and flood
In 1709, Rugeley suffered two major disasters.
The town was ravaged by fire, and the Rising
Brook, the stream that runs through the town
centre, burst its banks. The town had been
devastated by fire only sixty years before.
The Rugeley Poisoner
In 1856 the town was rocked by the trial of
Dr William Palmer, who was born and worked
in Rugeley. He was found guilty of poisoning
his associate, John Parsons Cook, with
strychnine – the first trial of its kind. The
murder took place in The Shrew, just across
the street from his
house. Among other
victims, he was also
widely believed to
have murdered his
wife, four of his five
children, and his
Dr William Palmer, the notorious ‘Rugeley Poisoner’. This likeness
was drawn from his death mask
Image courtesy of Staffordshire Arts &
An agricultural community
For hundreds of years, Rugeley was an
agricultural community. Its sheep and
horse fairs provided the opportunity for
farmers from the surrounding area to
meet and sell their livestock. Reaching
its peak in the mid 19th century and
lasting until the 1930s, the annual
horse fair was known internationally,
and attracted trade from far and wide.
Until 1967 cattle fairs were held behind
The Shrew. When afternoon business
started after lunch, the market bell was
rung from the steps of the pub to call
the farmers back to the market.
Horse Fair in the early twentieth century. A tram-way taking
coal wagons to the canal basin ran along the right side.
Drawing courtesy of Edwina Morgan
Horse Fair facing towards the Globe Hotel.
Drawing courtesy of Edwina Morgan
The changing face of Rugeley
Most towns change over time, and Rugeley is no exception. Some of the views on this old
postcard have changed beyond recognition. Since the 1950s and 1960s many old buildings
have been demolished and new ones developed. In 1973, the town centre was made a
Conservation Area, an area of special architectural or historic interest.
Coal mining and power stations
Since mediaeval times, Rugeley has been
important in providing power, first in the form
of coal and, more recently, from the power
stations built on the edge of the town.
The town was given a great boost in 1960
when it gained a new colliery, Lea Hall.
The site of the two power stations in the 1970s
The neighbouring Rugeley ‘A’ power station
complex was completed in 1963. However,
both this power station and the colliery
closed within a few years of each other in
An adjoining power station, Rugeley ‘B’, was
opened in 1972. In 1983 when both power
stations were in operation they employed
about 850 people. Today the four cooling
towers of Rugeley ‘B’ continue to dominate
the town’s sky-line.
Hats, glass, iron and leather
Among the other industries that have
played an important part in the history
of Rugeley are glass-making and
millinery (hat-making) and iron and
leather production. Glass-making
flourished near here in mediaeval times.
In the 1990s mediaeval glass furnaces
were excavated two miles from Rugeley.
In 1419 a large quantity of the glass
made there was sold to York Minster,
where it was painted and used in the
windows of its chancel.
For a time in the 19th century, Rugeley’s
chief manufacturing industry was hatmaking.
By 1834, there were about 30
journeymen hatters in the town.
There were tanneries in Rugeley from
the 12th century until the mid 1900s,
and iron was produced here from the
12th century until the 1930s.
An account of Rugeley from the early
19th century declares that Rugeley’s
prosperity was considerably
enhanced by its great thoroughfare
When the Trent and Mersey Canal was
completed in 1777 it brought a new measure of
prosperity to Rugeley. The transport links it
provided promoted the growth of trade and
Image courtesy of Staffordshire Arts & Museum Service
The opening of the Trent Valley railway line in
1847 gave Rugeley another boost. This view from
the railway line, taken in 1916, shows some
buildings in nearby Talbot Street. The allotments
were built over in the 1930s.
Rugeley lies on the busy London-Chester road that
has carried heavy traffic from the earliest times.
From at least 1700 what is now The Shrew was a
coaching inn. It was visited daily by passing stage
coaches and road wagons.
Before pedestrianisation in 1973, we see a
Dewhurst's van outside Taylor's bakery shop, with
a Foden cement tanker passing on the right.