Further to last weeks Clayhanger maps post, which I compiled for reader [Amme], I thought I’d take time out to investigate the history of the area around the village. I’ve had some interesting contributions, and also found some fascinating material from the past. Many of the photos in this post have been scanned from the book ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington, whose dedication to recording the photographic history of the area is remarkable and unparalled.
[Amme] had a query about the location of a pond in the village – if, as I suspect, [Amme] lives on the new estate near to the former Swingbridge Farm, then I don’t believe that the estate was built on an old pond. Clayhanger, however, is surrounded by areas of wetland that have changed use and nature over recent years – the village was not such a pleasant place to live a few years ago, which may come as some surprise to newer settlers. Whilst I don’t intend to run the village down, it had it’s fair share of problems, as recorded in this article from The Walsall Observer of the 17th May 1974:
Clayhanger the ‘lost city’ you can nose out
Clayhanger is the original lost city, one of the angry residents has claimed this week. Mr. B. Stringer, of Bridge Street, Clayhanger says that for 30 years, it has been home of the council refuse tip, with the entrance only 400 yards from the village. He is angry because the entrance to the tip is now to be moved – to within 30 yards of his house.
“The result is that mud from a continual flow of cars and lorries spreads along the road and is then thrown onto the footpaths by normal traffic,” he says
“As we have no bus service to the village all non- car owners have to wade through it and be damned. Add to this the smell from the tip we get in he summer and the smoke from innumerable fires, and I think anyone would agree that we have plenty to complain about.” He added.
However, looking on the bright side, at least the smell from the tip overpowers that of the boggy ground at a pig farm, 200 yards away from Mr. Stringer’s house.
‘I hesitate to complain too vehemently about that, as it may be decided to let Effluent Disposal Ltd. drain it down the disused mine shaft at Walsall Wood Colliery and we all know where the old workings are – underneath Clayhanger!” he added.
“On realising that the sewage works are on the southern side of the village, it seems that apart from it raining refuse, we are completely surrounded by everyone else’s garbage. I could go on, but I’ll settle for just mentioning the one mile walk our pensioners have to take, over a one in two canal bridge to visit a chemist or doctor.
“Clayhanger’s lot, apparently, is destined to go on forever, – even getting worse.’ He added.
As an aside, I wonder if the Mr. B Stringer in question is the one so prominent in Brownhills today?
The situation was considered to be so bad, that in 1975 the residents of Clayhanger were awarded a rate rebate by the council due to the nuisance caused by the tip, its’ traffic and the fact that the village had absolutely no bus service whatsoever. You may wonder why I mention this at all – the reason is that the refuse tip in question had a prominent and formative effect on the current geography of Brownhills, and made Clayhanger Common the green lung that it is today. Things have improved markedly because of it. The reclamation of this former waste disposal site not only removed that immediate blot on the local landscape, but removed another, in the form of an old slag heap that used to stand where the new pool now exists on the west side of Clayhanger Lane, to the rear of the houses.
To understand what happened to so markedly change the environment and quality of life for those in this area, it is necessary to take a look into history. The photo below shows the Brownhills edge of Clayhanger Common – also known as ‘The Spot’, probably taken around the late sixties. This photo clearly shows the tip in full operation. Note that the level of the tip is significantly below that of the canal beside it, and also that there is no fencing. Scavenging stuff off the tip was a profitable preoccupation of many folks, and there were regular fires. It was also largely open to anyone who could get a vehicle onto it and tipping was totally unregulated. Underneath is a second image, taken from Google Earth, showing the same area from almost the same point of view, taken in around 2005. Compare the level of the common with that of the tip – the land has been built right up and landscaped into pleasant embankments. Note that the old Spot Path, evident in both pictures at the bottom, follows exactly the same route – the apparent ‘kink’ in the newer picture is caused by the mound it now crosses.
Clayhanger village – as I have mentioned – has always been surrounded by wetland. It sits as one of the lowest points in Brownhills, and occupies a drainage band of marshes and bogs that span out across The Swag, Ryders Hayes and Jockey Meadows all the way to the Goscote Valley and beyond. The settlement has historically suffered from terrible flooding, which worsened due to mining subsidence in the early part of the last century. Long before the tip started, a pumping station was constructed in the middle of The Spot to try to alleviate the situation. It’s difficult to identify when the station was constructed exactly – it’s not present on a 1901 map of the area, nor then 1920 popular series, but starts showing up on OS maps of the thirties – however, Mr. Samuel Wheale is recorded as being the engineer there from 1921 to 1956 when the pump house was closed. The pump house was not successful, and the Clayhanger of the post-war period was frequently flooded by brackish, filthy water. As the subsidence continued on the Spot, maps of the time recorded a pool appearing for a few years in the corner of the area near where the old Walsall Wood Extension rail line crossed the Clayhanger Road:
At some point during the fifties, the council resolved to solve the flooding problem, and at the same time, utilise the Spot as a refuse tip. Coal mining slag from Walsall Wood Colliery was also being dumped on a site just the other side of the Clayhanger Road near the former brickworks, now occupied by a large house beside the canal at Clayhanger Bridge. On the map of 1950, above, it can be seen that both sides of the Clayhanger Road had large pools just east of the mineral railway. [Godfreyoakparkrunner] posted this recollection of that phase, and points out that the pools were not only linked, but had a name:
With regard to the pool in Clayhanger, this was known then as Jones pool and actually went under the road through large pipes. As kids then we used to fish the larger piece of water which was eventually filled in by the refuse tip as it expanded. It was known as Jones pool because we believed it to belong to the Jones family who lived in the big house in the grounds where the smaller part of the pool was. The Jones’s owned and ran a fleet of Tipper lorries in the name of Gentleshaw sand and Gravel who’s yard was on the same road but on the other side of the ‘’sandy bridge” going over the canal.
I’ve heard the term ‘Jones Pool’ before, in my times used to refer to the smaller pool in the grounds of the house. Behind the house, a slag heap formed that filled the new pool on that side of the road until the spoil heap was higher than the level of the canal. in the late seventies I can remember riding a bike over it and sliding down it’s slopes on old sacks. It had deep channels washed into it where the rainwater drained that were so deep, you could climb into them. We kids called it ‘The Blackie’ or ‘Black Hills’. It must have been quite an eyesore, although I never regarded it as such – it was far too much fun for that!
Back on the Spot, by the time of the 1961 map, tipping had commenced in earnest, and the pumping station was a derelict ruin. At some point in the development of the site, a major drainage system had been created that ran at the low point across the spot, down the gully between the slag heap and now removed mineral railway, and off across the Jockey Meadows, presumably toward Goscote. This low level flood relief accepted feeds from both canal overflows, a couple of natural springs (one at the rear of Marie James’ shop) and local land drainage. It still functions today, and if you stand on it’s access hatches you can hear continual strong water flow from far beneath. It’s a very deep system, and was built with extended access points, such that they stood high above the surrounding land. When the land was reclaimed in the early eighties, there was no need to extend them and they fell at the new ground level. I suspect that was deliberate. The system was so successful that Clayhanger never saw a major flood again, although the Clayhanger Road occasionally flooded just after the bridge.
When refuse tipping on the Spot ceased in the late seventies, it was clear to the council that the tip needed capping to avert an environmental catastrophe. There was a huge amount of uncategorised waste on the site, and anecdotal reports from people who ventured onto the dump at the time suggest that some sludge disposal went on there, too. The nature of the sludge wasn’t known, but it is recalled by [Howmuch] that it was at least was waist deep and very smelly!
The answer came in the inspired idea of removing the slag heap and using it as a capping material to seal the tip. This would then be compacted, spread with topsoil and landscaped into a public open space. The operation took years, and I seem to remember it starting sometime around 1980. The operation was massive – I still recall the huge earth-moving machines trundling over the landscape; the dust and noise were a constant irritation. This activity corresponded with the recession of the early eighties, and I remember well the return of coal-picking as the slag was spread over the old tip. It became normal to see grimy people pushing old prams full of coal around the town. These were hard days indeed.
As [Stymaster] pointed out, the old Clayhanger Bridge was a steep and rickety affair. While the works were in progress, a pedestrian footbridge was constructed from scaffold beside it, and traffic lights installed either side to allow the tipper lorries to cross safely. It wasn’t for another 15 years that that the bridge was finally replaced. The pedestrian bridge made a wonderful adolescent climbing frame, however. Swinging hand-to-hand monkey style from one side to another underneath it was a formative activity sadly denied those of later generations…
Following the reclamation works, the environment improved markedly; gone were the smell and the grime. Where the slag heap stood, there was now a landscaped enclave containing a new pool, linked by marsh to the pond at the front of Jones’ house. The pool had several islands, one linked to the shore by stepping stones – I remember coming upon it by chance in 1986 and loving it. Over on the Spot – now renamed Clayhanger Common – there were now rolling mounds and plantations, interspersed with flat areas of grassland. Toward the north of the site, there was a pond near the Pier Street bridge and a settlement pond at the rear of the dwellings near the path of the old mineral railway, draining into the Ford Brook – one of the major rises of the River Tame. At the very north of the site, on the very lowest area, a cricket pitch was marked out. This was abandoned, however, and remains the only area of the site that still floods, mainly when the canal overflow near the Pier Street bridge is overwhelmed after particularly heavy rainfall..
The late eighties and early nineties saw more radical changes, all to the north of the village. In accordance with the local unitary development plan, land between the Ford Brook and Swingbridge Farm was given over to housing, which was soon built, together with a second development over Clayhanger Lane near the chapel. The farm was abandoned and demolished, with permission granted for a new pub, which was sadly never developed. A small parade of shops sprang up on the site of a derelict former factory that had stood as a mournful welcome to the village for decades. The Spot matured into a diverse meadow, dotted with deciduous copses and crisscrossed with paths. In 1986, the village got its’ first ever bus service, which has continued in various forms ever since.
Today’s Clayhanger is no utopia, but it’s come a long way since the following photos were taken, all published in the book ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington. If you can find one, I recommend you get a copy. I won’t caption these, the original descriptions are wonderful; however, I would point out if you’re confused that the bridge in the picture is the one that carried the Walsall Wood Extension, then a mineral railway, over Bridge Street, and stood just about where the entrance to the new pond is today, just beyond the mini-island. As far as I know, no trace of it remains.