There’s currently a buzz in the local rail community and in some groups on Facebook about a 1968 cinefilm recently converted to digital and uploaded online by rail historian and blog regular, Ian Pell – it’s a remarkable, wonderful thing, and Ian has written a fascinating account of the film and line it covers especially for the blog, which I feature below.
The film is a recording by a young Trevor Cousens of something perhaps unthinkable today – a bunch of rail enthusiasts, that would later become the Chasewater Railway and associated society took a loco and navigated a derelict line as far as they could, around Chasewater and back, then off to Norton Canes.
The film itself features above, with stills inserted in the text and in a gallery at the end of Ian’s article. It’s like a voyage into history – those women by the line, the children, the puzzled householder – they step right out of time. Stunning stuff.
I remain indebted to Ian with for yet another astounding, and very special piece of local history, and also to all the other people who made this possible – Trevor Cousens, of course, but Philip Burton of the Norton Canes History Group on Facebook, John ‘Chasewaterstuff’ Daft, and all who have commented and reminisced online.
If you have anything to add, please do – either comment here of mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.
finance Survey 1:25,000 1947 map of the Norton Pool area prior to 1949 closure of Conduit Colliery.
Conduit Colliery Mineral Line – 1968, A journey into the unknown.
The Mineral line between Conduit Colliery and the Conduit Colliery Sidings of the former Midland Railway was constructed around 1892-94 to connect the colliery with both the Midland line and also the Cannock Chase Colliery line (part of the original Cannock Chase and Wolverhampton Railway – CC&WR). The former formed a head-on junction with the line just after the 2 loop sidings known as the ‘Cannock Chase Sidings’. In 1862-67 the CC&W Railway had been constructed from Anglesea Sidings on the South Staffs LNW&R line as far as a junction with the Norton Branch of the LNW&R between Coppice Colliery No.6 siding and Conduit Junction. The CC&WR was intended to extend westwards to eventually join the Great Western Railway just north of Wolverhampton, but in reality this never came to fruition. The section of the CC&WR between the Conduit Colliery Sidings Junction and the Norton Branch was itself closed and removed in the 1870’s when the LNW&R fell out with the CC&WR. This meant that the LNW&R withdrew the use of their locomotives on the CC&WR leading to the Cannock Chase Colliery Company, which in effect owned the CC&WR, having to purchase their own locomotives to operate the system.
Approaching Norton East Road – there is track somewhere? Mowing in operation
In 1878 the Norton Branch Extension to East Cannock Junction was opened, which probably had some bearing on the CC&WR closure, but by 1882 the Midland had opened the Walsall Wood branch as far as the Cannock Chase Sidings to form their junction with the CC&WR line. This gave the Midland Railway a foot hold into the lucrative Cannock Chase Coalfield. On the 10th March 1895 traffic was sufficient that they introduced a signal cabin at the junction of the lines, calling it ‘Conduit Colliery Sidings Signal Box’. The box controlled new signals in both directions from both the CC&WR line and the Conduit Mineral line, onto the Midland Railway. The box was down graded when the passenger service between Aldridge and Brownhills Watling Street ceased in 1933 and when part of the down line was used for wagon storage.
‘Planet’ takes a break at the level crossing – children look on.
Meanwhile the LN&WR had completed their branch from Conduit New Sidings to Coppice Colliery at Five Ways, Heath Hayes. The Conduit Colliery No.3 (Jerome’s) headshunt to Conduit Junction on the Norton Branch was from that date was incorporated into the branch, becoming known as the ‘Five Ways Branch’.
The Mineral line also had 2 through sidings before it met the Midland Railway, and at the junction there was also 2 sidings built adjacent to the formation of the redundant section of the CC&WR. These formed a ‘Wharf’ and also acted as a ‘turn-back’ for traffic from the Mineral branch heading over the causeway towards Cannock Chase Colliery No.3 washery, the Colliery Workshop at ‘Wembley’, Chase Terrace and the CC&WR line to Anglesea Basin, the landsale site at Anglesea Sidings and the sidings and connection with the South Staffs line. In the 1880s this route often proved valuable as coal traffic to the south was route via Lichfield Trent Valley to Rugby and beyond.
Bewildered “local” approaches the “Leader” of the expedition.
This was the complex network of lines in the Norton Pool area which virtually remained untouched until the 1960’s. But that’s another story!
In 1966 a railway preservation centre was set up on the Midland Railway to the south of the Cannock Chase sidings. They were soon exploring the parameters of the network which remained available to them. As one of their adventures, the former Pitts rail ‘Planet’ 4wd locomotive was started up and traversed the line from its base at Brownhills West, over the causeway, to somewhere near where ‘Three Junction’ had existed (not far from the current ‘Chasewater Heath’ station). From here it retraced its steps back to Brownhills West before heading north again. However, this time instead of continuing towards the causeway, the points were set for the Mineral line and the train proceeded onto the mineral line. Trevor Cousens was an enthusiastic 17 year old with a cine camera. Hand holding his camera at the front of the vibrating ‘Planet’ he managed to film the proceedings. These were the days before ‘steady-cam’ but we have managed to record some snap shots of the journey as seen below. The adventure continued, over Norton East Road, where a previous expedition had been thwarted by the tarmac road surface. This time the party were ready and after removing several ‘trees’, pick axes were produced to ‘free’ the tracks over the road to the astonishment of the local populous. The party then continued to Brownhills Road where a similar procedure was carried out, which enabled the train to continue beyond the site of Conduit Colliery; the massive slag heap of its workings; to Conduit Junction. Here, the signal cabin’s shell remained with the point levers still intact. Unable to removed the padlock and unclip the points this was the end of the line. I’m sure if they had been able to change the points the film may have recorded the first arrival of a ‘Planet’ locomotive in Walsall Station!!
‘Locals’ discuss the effects of the locomotive’s fumes on their washing!
At this stage they retraced their steps back to Brownhills West, the mineral branch returning to its slumbers and eventual lifting shortly afterwards.
I must thank Trevor for his very kind gesture in making the film available, and permission to share it with us. Equally, a vote of thanks should also go to those with pick axes and shovels that enabled the ‘Planet’ to get as far as it did. I shudder to think how such a venture would be viewed today!?
Happy days and great memories.
Anyone know what happened to Planet?
The ‘Planet’ No.1 bone shaker after a repaint c.1970. This was the first locomotive to be used at the railway in 1966. The fate of this locomotive is still a bit of a mystery. Can anyone help?
Pick axes clearing the lines – everyone is fascinated by these activities.
More work on the Brownhills Road crossing – the man on the left isn’t from Highways.
Is the girl waiting for the train to pass?
The party arrives at Conduit Junction signal cabin.
Earlier in the day the train had crossed the causeway on its way back to Brownhills West.
End of the line.