Please help Brownhills bloom this summer!


Brownhills has had excellent flowers for a few years now – mostly maintained by volunteers. Image from Brownhills Town Centre Partnership.

The wonderful Diane Mansell from Brownhills Town Centre Partnership have been in touch, and asked me to see if anyone fancies helping out with the Brownhills Britain in Bloom competition entry from our town, which involves planting, litter picking and general sprucing up.

In previous years Brownhills has done  well: this year, let’s see if we can go one better.

Folk are always grumbling about Brownhills no longer showing any community spirit – here’s your chance to change that by participating.

Brownhills is always in need of some serious TLC, and please, if  you can, join in. All help welcome.

Diane wrote:

Volunteers are urgently needed to help prepare a town for its In Bloom campaign which starts next week.

On Thursday 2nd June 2016 starting at 10am in Brownhills Activity Centre we will be planting up all the High Street.

Then on Wednesday 8th June 2016  Brownhills clean up phase two  takes place,  starting at 9am on Tesco Car park.

High visibility jackets, pickers, tools, gloves and bags will be provided – all we need is volunteers!

‘This is the sixth year that Brownhills has taken part in the In Bloom campaign and requires a huge community effort.

To volunteer please call Diane Mansell from the Brownhills Town Centre Partnership by sending her a Facebook private message on this page or email

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Lichfield Waterworks Trust – May 2016 public meeting this Thursday


Sandfields Pumping Station – a great historic building with immense history and social significance – not just to Lichfield, but to the Black Country. Lichfield Discovered and local historian Dave Moore have saved this valuable asset for the community.

Sandfields Pumping Station champion and public historian extraordinaire Dave Moore has been in touch to let me know that this Thursday evening (26 May 2016) there will be a public progress meeting for the Lichfield Waterworks Trust charity, formerly the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station group.

Its worth noting The Trust have announced that they had been successful in securing the building for the future as revealed here a few months ago.

Note the return to the usual venue – the meeting takes place at the George IV, Bore Street, Lichfield from 7:30-9pm.

Dave wrote:

Dear Brownhills Bob,

The next meeting of the Lichfield Waterworks Trust will be held on

Thursday 26 May 2016 at 7.30pm, in the George lV Bore St, Lichfield.

The Lichfield Waterworks Trust is a Community Incorporated Organisation, registered with the charities commission who are fighting to save the Grade II* listed building known as Sandfields Pumping Station for the benefit of the community.

The unique 190 Hp Cornish Beam Engine and building are a magnificent monument to the lives of the people who died in the black Country during the mid-nineteenth century due to the cholera epidemics. It also celebrates the achievements of the Victorian water engineers who gave clean water to the nation.

English Heritage has designated Sandfields Pumping Station as a building that has ‘more than special interest’, hence the reason it has been listed at Grade II*

At this month’s meeting the trustees will ask the members to agree and vote to approves the following changes to our objectives as a charity

(1) To promote and preserve for the benefit of the public the Grade II* listed nineteenth-century Sandfields Pumping Station complex and associated infrastructure, and to facilitate its safety, conservation, security and accessibility.

(2) To promote and preserve for the benefit of the public the unique 1873 Cornish Beam Engine and other fixtures and fittings situated at Sandfields Pumping Station, Chesterfield Road, Lichfield.

(3) To promote access to Sandfields Pumping Station for the purposes of education, arts, community development, and protection of the historic environment.

(4) To work in partnership, as appropriate, to promote the social and historical context of Sandfields Pumping Station in Staffordshire and the West Midlands, and to build a community of interest around these topics.

(5) To promote, manage, maintain and restore water supply industry infrastructure assets and archives which are of historical significance for the benefit of the public.

(6) To acquire, disseminate, publish and make accessible historical information, archival material, artefacts and experiences relating to Britain’s water supply industry for the purposes of education, recreation, tourism and community development.

The trustees would also like the following change to the constitution approved

(5) Quorum at general meetings

(b) Subject to the following provisions, the quorum for general meetings shall be the greater of 10% or three members. An organisation represented by a person present at the meeting in accordance with subclause (7) of this clause, is counted as being present in person.

All are welcome to become involved in this challenging but rewarding project.

Excellent food and drinks are available in the bar.

The minutes of the April meeting are here

Do pop over to Dave Moore’s blog and check out the history of Sandfields Pumping Station, an almost forgotten gem – the group also has a Facebook page.

Dave is, of course, one of the leading lights of Lichfield Discovered, along with Kate ‘Cardigan’ Gomez from Lichfield Lore.

It’s great to see people like Dave encourage a better attitude to our historic buildings, rather than that which we seem to have here in Walsall, where we regard heritage architecture as merely ‘fuel’.

Please do attend if you’re able, it’s sure to be enlightening and educational.

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New Hall Mill open next Bank Holiday Monday!


New Hall Mill is a splendid place, restored and run by wonderfully dedicated volunteers.

Theres a lovely thing to visit locally this coming Bank Holiday Monday (30th May 2016), that’s close by, free and absolutely fascinating

I can heartily recommend the place – it’s fascinating and I had a great time there last Spring Bank Holiday Monday in 2015 – not enough people know about this wonderful building.

It’s free to enter too (although donations are welcomed).

Alan Dawson, Friend of the mill, wrote to tell me all about Monday’s event:

Hi Bob,

On behalf of the Friends of Newhall Mill can I ask if you could promote our 2016 season. We had an extremely successful 2015 due in part to the favourable comments and photos made on your blog last year.

New Hall Water Mill is a fully restored 18th century mill which opens to the public on seven days each year. On open days the mill is operated by the Friends of the mill who produce flour and allow visitors to gain an insight into days past.

In addition, monthly changing events & displays, e.g. The Lichfield Lighthouse Company, falconry, steam models, etc, will be undertaken in the mill meadow where you can go on a guided walk or enter our labyrinth, if so desired. We attempt to cater for all interests and a full listing of events and entertainment can be seen on our Facebook page New Hall Mill – Facebook or on our website –

Additional attractions this Monday include:

– Laurel & Hardy plus the L&H society
– Wood Turner
– Ladybird Books
– Art by the Timmins Twins
– Irons Display
– Steam Models
– Model Fairground
– Helens’ Handmade Crafts
– Beekeeper
– Against The Grain Wood Artist

There is an exhibition room and a small tearoom selling cakes and beverages along with a garden shop where produce may be purchased from the millers garden.

Entrance to the mill and car parking is free, collection boxes for donations are positioned at various locations. Donations from visitors are most welcome as the mill depends upon these to assist towards the costs of maintaining and running the mill for your pleasure and enjoyment.


I totally geeked out over this wonderful place.

The times of opening are 10.00 – 16.00 and this year’s open days are as follows –

Bank holiday Monday May 30th
Sunday June 12th
Sunday July 10th
Sunday August 14th
Bank holiday Monday August 29th
Sunday September 11th

Access to the mill is off Wylde Green road, Sutton Coldfield, B76 1QU, some 200 metres from National cycle route 534.

More details can be found on our website –

Hoping you can give us a mention on the blog

Best regards,
Alan Dawson – A friend of New Hall mill.

This is certainly one worth visiting – please do pop along if you can.  You can check out a gallery of my photos taken there last year below. I had a great time.

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Up and under


I bet Aer Reg will remember this: what I think must be one of the few remnants of the station on the common. This gate opens at an oblique to Chester Road, and once provided access to the facility as shown on Ian’s map below.

Yet again I’m indebted to local rail expert and historian Ian Pell, who’s brought his considerable expertise to the question of the Chester Road railway bridge on Brownhills Common, and raised an interesting question about the nature of the bridge itself.

This is in specific reply to the young David Evans’ enquiry, and follows on from other recent local rail material to be featured here, of which there is much more to come.

Thanks to Ian for yet another authoritative and beautifully written contribution, and as vera, if you have anything to add, please do – comment here of mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Ian wrote:

Hi All

Below is part of the 2 chain maps produced for the Walsall Wood Branch around 1923.


Image supplied by Ian Pell. Click for a larger version.

The map clearly shows the proximity of the station’s platforms to the abutments for the Chester Road Bridge and therefore the need for the railway to be as ‘flat’ as possible for sighting purposes. The map appears to imply that the bridge was constructed as shown in its current form from the beginning; however both 1882 and 1887 OS maps show a road overbridge. Possibly as a result of subsidence this appears to have been replaced by 1902, as this edition of the OS shows the form as in the above map. It is also possible that due to the ground condition when replaced, a similar situation which arose at Bridgeman Street in Walsall resulted. It is also a possibility that the initial idea of a road overbridge was not undertaken and that the OS just copied information supplied to them by the railway company prior to the line’s opening.

Untitled 9

Well bugger me – in all my years staring at this map, I never noticed that. 1884 1:10,000 Ordnance Survey map showing the Chester Road bridge as a road overbridge, not underbridge as we know now. My personal opinion is that this is a mapping error when considering the embankment. Image from National Library of Scotland archive.

The line to Brownhills West was opened to goods traffic by the Midland Railway on 1st April 1882. The goods and mineral only section further north was opened on 1st November 1882 to Cannock Chase Sidings. The later information has only recently come to light from Midland Railway sources. This seems to imply that the railway from Conduit Colliery Sidings Junction across the causeway to the sidings at Cannock Chase Colliery were initially in Midland Railway ownership and built by the Midland Railway before at some stage becoming part of the colliery lines. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Certainly, at some time prior to 1923 this section of track appears to have changed ownership if that is the case as the Sectional Appendix of the period shows the line commencing from Conduit Colliery Sidings?

The map also clearly illustrates the footpath between Chester Road and Watling Street.

Sorry to be so verbose, but hope of some help and interest.

Kind Regards


Bridgeman Street looking North. Image kindly supplied by Ian Pell, original source BR.


Bridgeman Street looking South. Image kindly supplied by Ian Pell, original source BR. Note the hole in the brickwork on the right hand side – just a nice size for a Class 25.

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Gainful employment

An iconic photo of miners who would have worked Brownhills Common at rest. From the brilliant book 'Memories of Old Brownhills' by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

An iconic photo of miners who would have worked Brownhills Common, at rest. From the brilliant book ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Also busy with the research at the moment is long-time contributor to the blog Andy Dennis, who’s been applying himself to the question of what occupations Brownhills residents had in 1861, and how that compares to today.

This research is fascinating, and I do hope Andy elaborates upon it – the changes over the years as the town economy develops would be enthralling.

I’ve long held a similar view to noted and sometimes outspoken local historian Gerald Reece, who considers Brownhills not to be a true mining town; more it was a place where miners lived, who mostly worked outside it. After all, the vast majority of the mining in the immediate Brownhills area was over fairly early in the 20th century, and Brownhills by then had a strong manufacturing and retail economy.

I thanks andy for a fascinating piece of work, and strongly encourage him to develop it further if he has the time and inclination. Cheers old chap.

If you have anything too add to this, please feel free to do so by commenting here, or mailing me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks!


For decades Brownhills had a strong retail heart, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons the town’s shops have suffered so much in recent years – because in retail terms, we punched above our weight for quite a long time. Image of Tim Cooper’s shop from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Andy Dennis wrote:

Hello Bob

I think some time ago I let you know that I was studying the 1861 census, but never got round to sending anything.

My own curiosity stems from my great great grandfather and family having moved to the area about nine years previously. Those in work all seemed to be coal miners, as were many of their neighbours, with familiar names like Arblaster, Teece, Fairfield, Poxon, Thacker and Seedhouse. This led me to ask just how dominant was coal mining in the local economy at that time?

I pored over the census records noting a range of details to aid research, the main ones being first name, occupation, age and birthplace, and made an estimate of when they arrived in the area. I tried to match my study area to the current Brownhills ward and, though there will inevitably be some discrepancies, I am confident these are minor.

The sample population was 2,191 living in 449 households – an average of 4.9 persons. Approximately 6.2% were boarders or lodgers.

Of those with an occupation (282, 36%) just over two thirds (67.4%) were in mining, see pie chart. Half (50.1%) had no occupation, mostly women and children not listed as scholars. The other 14.2% were scholars. So everything really did depend on the coal mines – we all “knew” that, but these are the numbers.

census 1861 brownhills occupations (640x465)

A fascinating insight into the economic activity of Brownhills a century and a half ago. Data collected and interpreted by Andy Dennis.

The most recent census was conducted in 2011. To compare some of the above: total population was 12,676 and average household size 2.5 persons.

The proportion of people by occupation is less easy to compare because things have changed so much.

In 2011 2.2% worked in primary industries, including mining and agriculture (1861 = 70.2%).

In 1861 manufacturing was insignificant; 2011 = 15.8%.

In 1861 about 5.6% worked in retail (no wholesale recorded) – in 2011 it was 19.8% including wholesale.

In 1861 there was very little that could be called public sector, but adding up medical, education and police comes to 9 (1.2%) – 2011 23.7% – assuming all education was public sector.

Source for 2011: Walsall Partnership Observatory and for 1861 England Census via

I will leave it at that for now and hope to send more soon.

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Running down the wing with an umbrella…

Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler’s interests are diverse – he’s written much over the years about local mining history, the industrial dynasties, power-brokers and workplace safety – but today, he turns his gaze slightly further afield and towards fairly uncharted territory for him – football.

This is a lovely article that should prove interesting to those missing the weekly Walsall Wood football fix, and hopefully spark some debate.

Thanks, as ever, to Peter for all he does, and for yet another wonderful article on the Brownhills Blog.

Peter wrote:

bloxwich strollers 1989-1

Bloxwich Strollers in 1989. They finally folded in 1998. Image from More Lost Teams of the Midlands.

From Bloxwich Strollers to the Villa

If you are a Villa supporter at present its about as bad as it gets. Yes, we’ve been through the 3rd Division, but that team would walk over the present one, I even believe Walsall Wood could beat them [Of course they could, For the Good of the Wood! – Bob]. So it was in the Pub that I was reminiscing with and old Wolves supporter, with tears dripping into my pint of Sunbeam.

I said to my mate, a little tongue in cheek, that I remembered a Villa player who used to run down the wing with an umbrella, but couldn’t remember his name. The search for the name led into Methodist circles and the Red Lion at Bloxwich. The player of course was Charlie Athersmith (1872-1910) and his story can be seen on Wikipedia here….

One of the first mentions of Charlie that came up in papers was in 1905 due to a summons when running the Vine in Bloxwich. I did not realise at the time that he was a native. I then stumbled on an article from the Sports Argus of March 1916 which was running a series called ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ and in this edition they featured William Henry Bratt, who was the son of Harry Wheeler Bratt. Harry was known all over the district as ‘Little Harry’ and was a precocious Methodist preacher active everywhere in the Cannock Chase district.

William was known as ‘Old Cobbler’ and was as famed as his father in Walsall, Bloxwich and districts around. In football, athletics and all sports he was well known. He became secretary for Bloxwich Strollers FC who he saved financially on occasions at a cost to himself.


I’am assuming the Red Lion Hotel is the Red ion in Leamore, but welcome clarification. Here’s the pub in question in a September 1969 image by David Hillas posted on Geograph with the following description ‘Walsall trolleybus at the Red Lion, Leamore Crossley TDD43/2 trolleybus 850 (HBE 541) turning at the “Red Lion” public house on a private tour. Green Lane joins the B4210 (Vice A34) main road from the left.’

William was mine host of the Red Lion Hotel, Bloxwich, which was ‘the’ sporting house of the town. In the grounds to the rear assembled the footballers, cricketers, bowlers, cyclists, dog fanciers, pigeon fanciers, and everybody who had a sporting taste. On the spacious grounds, situated in one of the highest points in England, footballers who have become reputed have played, some of the most famous athletes, amateurs and professionals, stretched their legs, and some of the fleetest dogs afoot fought for prizes.

I’m up here every morning, before breakfast winter and summer, rain, hail, or sunshine, I gallop round the ground about twice every morning….after breakfast I go for an eight miles walk… I have never made a penny out of football. I have been secretary of the the Strollers for years and have never had a penny for my work…


Charlie Athersmith, local hero. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Hanging on the walls of the Red Lion is a souvenir of a memorable schoolboy match. In 1910 the Walsall schoolboys played Sunderland in the English Schools Shield, the match was drawn, and in the replay they were beaten. Photographs of incidents in the match, players and officials were presented to William with the inscription… ‘Presented to Mr WH Bratt by Walsall Schools FA, for long and valuable services in support of Walsall Schools FA’. He was also presented, in 1905, with a Staffordshire Association medal for services rendered to Bloxwich Strollers FC.

He was a little more definite in regard to one famous athlete whose name is familiar to Sports Argus readers. That was Charlie Athersmith, of Aston Villa fame.

Yes, I knew Charlie very well indeed. He was originally in Bloxwhich Wanderers team. They amalgamated with the Strollers and Charlie played for the Strollers after amalgamation. He left us to go to Unity Gas, and then to the Villa. And in time he returned to his native Bloxwich, and became landlord of the Red Lion. I followed him here. I helped to train him for some big races.

William also added that the Strollers used to play on a small field at the back of a garden attached to his home in Revival Street.

[There is much more local info on William Bratt and the Strollers in the first April edition of the Argus…if anyone is interest I will summerise.]

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Mind your head!


The long gone bridge over the Chester Road between Coppice Lane and the Rising Sun. Image kindly supplied by Godfrey Hucker.

A quick one for a Saturday afternoon reaches me from the young David Evans, who’s curious about early bus routes in Brownhills, double deckers and bridges.

Inspired by the picture of the open-top pre Great War bus featured last week, David is certain double deckers ran below the rail bridge that once existed over the Chester Road by Brownhills Common, of which little remains today.

David wrote:

HI Bob

Brownhills bus pre World War I… and a certain bus route!

This image appeared on the blog a while ago and shows the Chester Road Bridge – or some of the remains of the bridge.

It seems that the height clearance had been increased at some stage by digging out, if that’s the proper term, the roadway under the bridge… hence the footpath being seemingly raised!

I wonder what the original clearance was when the bridge was constructed?

Perhaps the Coppice Lane bridge wall might give an indication?

I wonder if there is a map that shows the “private road” that led from Chester Road to Watling street by this bridge?

Kind regards

As a kid, I remember the remnants of the bridge – of which the deck have been removed – forming a ‘subway’ over the footpath, which was then lower than, not higher, than the road. I also remember the road there flooding; in the early 80s, the remainder of the bridge was removed and the road raised, alleviating the flooding.

The question is, when was the road lowered to increase clearance, if it was at all? Was it done in one go, or successive jobs?

Did buses ever run under the bridge?

Come on folks, what do you know? Please help settle the debate. Comment here of mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.


Mind your head! The ill-fated, but iconic local LNWR bus service, from a postcard featured here last week.

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