It’s funny how some subjects just lie low for a while, then rise again here on the blog. One of my most enduring interests is the history of Clayhanger, the environmental damage that occurred there, the drainage installed to fix it and the transformation into the pleasant, dormitory village it is today.
This weekend I have two great historical items about Clayhanger and it’s drainage problem.
I’ve talked about Clayhanger’s floods, and the refuse tip that was Clayhanger Common here before, in one of my oldest articles. I returned later on, to investigate the physical evidence of the drains that made everything so much better. The great aerial photos of Gareth Thomas also illuminated a very dark period.
Other than that, I’ve been able to find little hard record of the changes that occurred to correct the flooding, seal the tip and drain the land. Purely out of the blue a few weeks ago, South Staffordshire Water historian Chris Pattison sent me a fantastic article from the Walsall Observer of 25th October 1952.
The article talks of the floods, and the flooded land around the village. It’s a shocking, strongly worded piece, which does much to show how bad conditions were. However, take care in the interpretations, several of the statements are contradictory, and there has clearly been no technical involvement in some of the things stated as fact.
Bear in mind the genesis seems to be a Counillor, who would be keen to play down the UDCs part in the problem. There’s also the common tendency to overstate the effects of mining.
I have no doubt subsidence played a large part in this, but I doubt it was anywhere near as extreme as painted. I think the main contributor to this situation was probably removed or obstructed natural drainage – the talk of the dysfunctional railway culvert, the canal overflow whose path to the Ford Brook (and consequently Tame) was clearly inhibited. The pit mound would have displaced huge quantities of ground water in an already wet landscape. Tipping would merely have displaced the water further.
Note the talk of the sewer, with only ‘minor repairs’ – had the land really dropped 8 feet, the sewer would have collapsed in multiple places. Also think about the self contradiction that is ‘Entrance from Clayhanger Road did not, as now, need any steep climb to the canal bridge. The bridge and the road were almost on the same level.’ Whilst there has been undoubted change, that slope was legendary long before the war.
Whilst there’s low land between Clayhanger Bridge and the village, there’s no clear rise back up out of it. Had sudden subsidence occurred, one would expect a consequent step at the other side of the affected area.
What I suspect Clayhanger saw was environmental catastrophe caused by bad drainage, tipping (both of colliery spoil and refuse), mining itself, and the effect on surface water of multiple rail embankments.
Imagine, if you can, the flooded Clayhanger; villagers wading through filthy, refuse-contaminated water. It was hell. And yet the tipping continued for another 20 years.
I’d love to know more about the plans for drainage improvements, their construction and the land reclamation.
Thanks as ever, to Chris, whose efforts to share and open local history to amateurs like me is a wonderful and continuing act of generosity. Thanks also to the kind reader who transcribed this, too, who wishes to remain anonymous. Cheers chaps.
What Subsidence has done to Clayhanger
Problems For Urban Council.
Turn from Lindon Road, Brownhills, into Clayhanger Road, past two rows of small, neat houses, until abruptly the permanent road gives way to a wide asphalt path, then a short, steep climb to the canal bridge and you are overlooking Clayhanger, the area which was described at a recent Ministry of Housing and Local Government inquiry as an area which had been ‘transformed from a once agreeable little village into a howling devastation.’
Beneath the canal bridge flows one of the reasons why Clayhanger is now described as ‘looking like a battlefield’.
To the left tower huge pit mounds from the neighbouring Walsall Wood colliery. They are the other reason why Clayhanger has become ‘a veritable Wilderness’
Honeycombed beneath the area the pit workings of the colliery Subsidence which first became noticeable 20 years ago, has gradually spread to reduce rich farming land and a pleasant residential area to a dismal eyesore.
Sank From Doorstep To Roof.
Coupled with a subsidence as a result of mining has been the gradual flooding of the land from the neighbouring canal. Pictures from about 1938 show a torrent of water pouring from the canal overflow, tipping thousands of gallons into the fields and gardens which were below.
From the descriptions of Clayhanger residents and from the photographs lent by Councillor L. Sadler, the ‘Observer’ has been able to piece together a picture of the village as it was in the early nineteen thirties.
Entrance from Clayhanger Road did not, as now, need any steep climb to the canal bridge. The bridge and the road were almost on the same level.
To the left lay the Gentleshaw Sand Company’s property; to-day one of the few pieces of land which remains as evidence of a once thriving community.
On the right, along the canal towpath was a cottage the front door of which was two steps down from the level of the canal.
To-day the canal path is on a level with the roof of the cottage. The front door is at the foot of the embankment and so close is to to the earthing that it is virtually unusable.
The main road through Clayhanger has now been built up until it is at present eight feet higher in places than in 1930.
On the left hand side of the road stands a house. Once its occupants could step from the road on to the front doorstep and into the house. Once they could watch passing traffic from the windows of their home.
Now there is no front door and there are no windows at the front of the house. The road foundation presses against the house walls.
Further down the road on the same side is a house which is now bounded on three sides by tall reeds. A few feet from the side of the house lies on of the many pools of Clayhanger.
On the opposite side of the road there was, 20 years ago, a row of tidy, good-class houses. At to-days prices the houses would have sold for about £2000. They have disappeared and all that is left at the spot is a row of telegraph poles which stood on the footpath outside.
Across the road was a field where children of the village learned their football and cricket. Now water polo would be more appropriate, if less pleasant, for the field is a wide deep pond. The black water has been driven back by systematic tipping and piles of rubble act as a dam.
Behind the row of houses, was good farmland. In season horses pulled ploughs and the corn and others crops ripened. To-day the land is covered by Clayhangers largest stretch of water.
Seagulls wheel overhead and swans and their cygnets swim in the pool.
Tins, oil drums and paper float on the ponds. Water and land are equally distributed at Clayhanger. Where there are no ponds pools or puddles there are small natural channels connecting up the main flood areas.
From the canal there is still an overflow. But where once it was a torrent it is now little more than a thin trickle.
Rusting Twisting Rails.
The devastated part of Clayhanger is contained within the main boundaries formed by the canal and railway embankments. The double track railway line is little used now and the rails are red with rust and twisted.
Main problems facing Brownhills Urban District Council is what use can be made of the area. Until 1930 there were few if any signs of subsidence.
From minor flooding in their gardens householders suddenly found that the susidence was bringing a greater danger.
As the influx of water increased and the land sank, the flood spread from the gardens to the road and finally into the houses which ultimately had to be demolished.
For some years the council has been fighting the flood driving it slowly back by tipping. Their ultimate aim is to level off the land and rebuild on it, but that will be many years hence.
Two subsidiary problems with which the Council are faced may play a big part in the future of Clayhanger.
First of these is that the main sewer connecting much of Brownhills with the Clayhanger sewage farm, a mile from the devastated area, runs directly beneath the main flood.
Since subsidence affected Clayhanger minor repairs have had to be made to the pipe which is believed to be buckled in places because of the strain imposed by the drop in the land level.
Who Will Pay?
At some future date major repairs may have to be undertaken. Who will pay for the costly work involved?
Will it be the Docks and Inlands Waterways Executive whose part in the flood is covered legally? Will it be the National Coal Board, now owners of Walsall Wood Colliery which is mainly responsible for the subsidence? Or will the burden of expense fall on the ratepayers?
Second of the problems is the continued overflow from the canal into the brook, running through Clayhanger, which continues to supply the pools and ponds of the water.
For every yard the Council drive back the water by systematic tipping a small percentage is reclaimed by the flood waters as a result of this continued overflow.
The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive have every right to overflow in order to keep their supply constant. The water would be able to get away if the railway culvert at Clayhanger was in working order.
But like most of Clayhanger it is a victim of subsidence.