EDITED VERSION OF ARTICLE ON DOXEY (2004)
To those who merely pass through it on their way from Stafford to villages to the west, or to Newport and the Shropshire border, Doxey may seem indistinguishable from the rest of Stafford. But less than a hundred years ago, the small hamlet of Doxey, with fewer than twenty houses, was well outside the town area and an integral part of the Parish of Seighford’. Parts of this stayed in Seighford Civil Parish area until 2003 when the boundaries were redrawn and now the whole of the area is part of the Tillington Ward of Stafford Borough Council.
For many of those who have lived here for some time, and this includes a surprisingly large percentage of the population, and who have seen it grow rapidly over the last sixty-five years, Doxey retains its village atmosphere. Even those who have moved in more recently recognise this feeling and are rather puzzled by it at times. The answer, I think, lies in the comparatively recent but gradual growth of the tiny hamlet and the settled nature of much of the population. Many of those who were not born in Doxey itself have often come from the nearby areas less than five or ten miles away and a fair proportion of the new housing is inhabited by local people. There is still a vast number of family networks in the area, so a newcomer would be advised against passing comments on residents for fear of unwittingly discovering later that your confidante was a cousin or even nearer relation! There are a lot of people who have lived in Doxey all their lives and know the history of the everyday things connected with the area, both its families and its places, and I hope to tap into some of this knowledge wherever possible.
To the Anglo-Saxons, the tiny hamlet was known as Doccan and it is often referred to as Doccanig. Docce in Anglo-Saxon meant a duck and the terminal ig, an island, was frequently applied to a slight elevation in a marsh, as in the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire which is also not a physical island at all but a slight elevation in the fens. Doxey would thus have been Duck's Island and it seems a happy continuation that the area may well be best known by the outside world as the site of a very important wildlife sanctuary for wading birds, in the Doxey Marshes. In the Doomsday Book the name is spelt Dochesig and the name Dokesei was in use by the twelfth century. The present version of the name, Doxey, usually requires a certain amount of repetition and spelling for correspondents outside the area, and arouses some interest as to its origins as well, though most people think that it might be connected with Psalters or ladies of doubtful virtue - or very little virtue at all! Residents do not like the tendency of official bodies to insist on a road or street in the title of their address, since they feel that they live in the village of Doxey, not on the road to Doxey, as would be implied by Doxey Road, but most of us are quite able to ignore the additions, or not even notice them!
Another of the peculiarities of the main road is that the numbers go up one side and down the other, which visitors find confusing now that most other areas have odd numbers on one side and even on the other (as is the case with the newer roads in Doxey). There are some quite large gaps between numbers, to allow for infilling, and it isn’t always easy for locals to tell visitors where to expect to find their destination. As you approach Doxey from Stafford, numbers go up on the left until you reach Doxey House and then the numbering system moves across the road and increases as you go back towards town. It isn’t too confusing the church end of the road, where you have numbers between 147 – 138 opposite 158 – 177 but at the Stafford end you have low numbers opposite ones in the 200s which can really confuse the unwary!
An Ordnance Survey map of 1881 shows fewer than ten houses in the area of Doxey, some of which can be readily identified today. The black and white house next to the modern church is very old, as is Doxey House, a seventeenth century listed building, now carefully restored by the Borough Council and providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly. The architects took great care to restore the derelict building, including the exposed timber beams and windows, most of which are originals, and have sensitively designed the newer buildings to blend in harmoniously. The flats contain a high proportion of Doxey people, who do not like to leave the village and their families and friends, but cannot always cope with larger, older and colder premises when they become less active.
Other buildings still in use are Brookhouse Farm and what used to be smaller cottages nearby, and the two cottages on the Stafford side of the new church, now owned by George and Vida Charles (144 Doxey) and by Paul Williams (145). In 1986 I spoke to one of the older Doxey residents, Mr Rigby who has since died. He told me that his father was born in one of those cottages. He remembered his father telling him that he was the first person to go across the newly-constructed bridge over the Doxey brook, since the contractor was lodging with their family. Before that time, people used to have to go over a ford.
Mr and Mrs Rigby also remembered that the main road from below Doxey Crescent used to flood and the Corporation would bring up carts so that they would form a makeshift bridge for people to go across when the roads were flooded. The only alternative was wading through or going along the railway line, watching out for the steam trains in those days. He said that he was born in 1910 at Daisybank, (now 184 Doxey, a few doors away from his last home in Doxey at 209) and lived in Doxey all his life except for one year when he moved out as far as Browning Street in Stafford!
Mr Burbridge, (formerly of 138 Doxey) was another person I interviewed for my original research, but who is no longer with us. Born in 1910, like Mr Rigby, he remembered as a child, over eighty years ago, passing regularly through Doxey on his way to Stafford from White Cross. On the right hand side the only houses between the iron bridge over the Doxey brook to the Three Tuns, (which was then a private house) were Brook House Farm, a few cottages and the larger Doxey House. Greensome Lane was just a cart track to the fields lined by a row of poplar trees, which were fondly recalled by more than one of the older residents. Where the school now stands was a gravel pit, and that in turn I am told had previously been a market garden until the valuable deposits were found and made good profits for the owner of the land. The school is comparatively recent, being opened in the early sixties to replace the older school at Tenterbanks, which is recalled, probably with mixed emotions, by a large number of its former students.
At this time, the first house past the gravel pit was the local police station and houses were being built on either side of the road past the mission church of St Andrews and up to what was until lately the newsagents shop. Older people recall a row of houses called Burleyfields (shown on old maps), built on the site of what is now Universal Grinding Wheel but later pulled down to make way for the factory.
The Census returns for the area, which is included in Seighford rather than Stafford, are available on microfilm at the County Records Office. In 1861, there are only eight families listed, and the occupations of the families were mainly concerned with agriculture, or were in service or worked on the railway.
Stafford Railway Station was opened in 1837 and the expansion west followed, first in "Newtown" (now usually known as Castlefields) and later along the road into Doxey.
Henry Venables Sawmills were opened in Doxey Road in about 1864 and Bagnall's Engine Works in Castle Street in 1876 providing more employment and increased the need for housing.
Many of the buildings at the Stafford end of Doxey were completed by 1913, when the Universal Grinding Wheels factory opened in Doxey road, between Castletown and Doxey. In 1935 it built a small estate in Greensome Lane, (which had previously been a cart track to the railway line), for its employees.
Houses between the "Three Tuns" Public House and Greensome Lane were built about 1932-35. Eric Sinfield of 169 Doxey saw that property being erected when he cycled past from Derrington on Easter Sunday 1933 and made enquiries as soon after that as he could, as he was about to get married. He moved in a little later that year, and lived there until his death in February 1997. His only son, David, still lives there, in the house where he was born seventy years ago! David says that he can remember being able to see trains on the railway line from their dining room when he was a child, though that would not be possible today. Mrs Kemp of 171 also moved in shortly after the houses were built and lived there until 1990 when she was ninety-one and no longer able to live alone. The house was then bought by the son of the Doxey milkman who had lived for most of his life in the area and whose parents live close by. It is this continuity provided by people who have lived in the area for many years which contributes to the village community.
Council Houses were put up in the 1940s after the second world war. Later more private building took place at Doxeyfields (1960-62) and the area locally known as the "new" Doxeyfields on the very edge of the built-up area, which is bounded by the washlands of the Doxey Brook and the M6 Motorway.
The last fifteen years have seen a rapid growth of housing in the area. The largest project was the major redevelopment of the former Council estate which had consisted of about 144 houses with large gardens and was replaced by nearly three times that number of properties. Many of the families who lived there moved in after the second world war and had lived there until the redevelopment got under way. Fortunately, most of them returned to the area when the work was complete. Only some of the houses were then owned by the Council, but the Housing Associations proved to be interested in the welfare of their tenants and the area has gained a useful additional hall through the William Sutton Trust, which adds to the amenities provided by the church hall (constructed with the new church and finished in 1975).
There has been a further expansion in recent years, as three developments have been completed, two in the area of the Crescent, Doxey. One of these was for approximately 82 houses, and the other was for twelve houses on the site of the Doxey Institute, which, sadly proved not to be viable for the twenty-first century. Approximately 75 houses were also constructed on land off Greensome Lane with some of the properties backing onto the "new Doxey Fields" area.
I have not been able to discover any special poems or rhymes connected with the area, nor are there any ghosts, legends or myths as far as I am aware! There do not seem to be any special pastimes or rites associated with the area, or if there are, I have not been apprised of them. Doxey was probably too tiny to figure largely in famous past events, but I am told that timber from Doxey Woods was used in the construction of the Ancient High House, so the area can perhaps bask in some of that building's reflected glory! Past scandals, on the other hand, seldom die, though they do sometimes acquire a certain mythic quality as they recede in time. I had high hopes of the story of Mr Hambleton's murder, by shooting, of his bailiff Mr Davis, but I am reliably informed that though it did take place, it had no romantic overtones, but was the result of a drunken quarrel by a man who was often in that condition. Mr Hambleton did not suffer the death penalty, but died, I understand, in Broadmoor mental institution. There was some local indignation about this especially as another much poorer local man, from the Castlefields area, did suffer the death penalty for cutting the throats of his young family after being maddened with rage and jealousy by the flighty behaviour of his wife. There was some feeling that the law did not always look equitably on the rich and on the poor, and no doubt there may have been some good grounds for this local feeling which is still recalled many years after the events, but I have not been able to discover enough about it to form a considered judgement.
The above article is a edited version of a piece that was in 'The Staffordshire Village Book' published by SFWI in 1988 and then extended for the Stafford Post.