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St. Augustine's Church Rugeley.jpg
St Augustine's Church, Rugeley
Grid reference: SK042180
Location: 52°45’36"N, 1°56’20"W
Population: 22,724
Post town: Rugeley
Postcode: WS15
Dialling code: 01889
Local Government
Council: Cannock Chase
Cannock Chase

Rugeley is a historic market town in Staffordshire. It stands by the north-eastern edge of Cannock Chase next to the River Trent, between the towns of Stafford, Cannock, Lichfield and Uttoxeter. The population as at the 2001 census was 22,724 (including the Brereton and Etchinghill).


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 Middle Ages, 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 & Mersey Canal and then from it becoming a notable 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 to be more accessible. The Lea Hall Colliery which 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.[1] 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.

Next to the power plant is utilizing a warehouse once used by the adjoining coal mine which has been closed since 1990. The work is low paying and regimented but offers an opportunity for employment in this economically depressed area.[1][2]

St. Augustine's Church in Rugeley has memorials to the Levett family, who live at nearby Milford Hall and who established the Rugeley Home and Cottage Hospital on Church Street in 1866.[3][4]


For many years in the 1970s and 1980s Rugeley was poorly served by British Rail, with just four services each way from/to Stafford and Rugby/Coventry. However, after the closure of Rugeley A power station and Lea Hall Colliery and 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 now has a regular hourly service to London by way of Lichfield, Nuneaton, Rugby and Milton Keynes, and to Crewe by way of 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.


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, and are still being built on the Towers Business Park, a brownfield site situated on the former ground of the colliery. In August 2011, opened a 700,000 sq ft fulfillment centre on the Towers Park, creating between 700[5] and 900[6] full-time jobs as well as generating a large pool of seasonal work around Christmas.[7]

The famous and infamous

William Palmer

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 on to the gallows trap-door he asked the now famous question "Is it safe?"

Another tale holds that following the uproar surrounding Palmer's murders, the town thought their name had become notorious and so the men of Rugeley petitioned to change the name of the town form its shameful associations. The Prime Minister replied that he would consent only if they renamed the town after him, and he was Lord Palmerston. The delegation declined this offer to become "Palmerston". The story of Palmer was told in The Life and Crimes of William Palmer (1998).

George Edalji

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, 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 (see Roger Oldfield's book 'Outrage: The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes', Vanguard Press). Edalji was educated at Rugeley grammar school in the 1880s.

Christina Collins

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 Shale 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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