Since covering the
anniversary of The Grove Pit Disaster – the worst such event in our area’s mining history – I’ve only peripherally touched on the subject of the local mines. After some prompting by readers, I’ve decided this week to feature the Walsall Wood Colliery in the ‘Pictures from the Past’ feature.
I’m very wary of
glamorising or sanitising the history of mining; I’m aware that it’s a sensitive issue locally, and I have nothing but respect for those hard, proud people that worked in such a harsh, deadly industry for very poor pay. Those who would regard this industry with misty eyes behind rose-tinted spectacles outrage me. The history of mine worker pay and conditions doesn’t shadow that of the general British workforce; their occupation remained regularly deadly long after others were made safe. Former miners continue to this day to fall due to respiratory diseases caused by the atrocious conditions they endured to fuel our industrial boom.
Please study these images, think about where the mine stood – on the corner of Coppice Road and Linden/Brownhills Road – and reflect on the changes since the pit closed. When you pass the site, try and imagine the slag heaps and filth that marked out the mine and it’s community. Try and conceive, if you will, how our life compares to those who worked that hole in the ground.
As ever, I pay tribute to the fine books these images originated from, and in particular, to
Brian Rollins, who works tirelessly to evoke, commemorate and document the works and workforce he was once part of. The value and contribution of the Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society of which Brian is a leading light, cannot be underestimated.
I had never seen this series of three images before I saw them in David F. Vodden’s book ‘Around Pelsall & Brownhills in old photographs’. Originally 3 photos on three separate pages, they form a panorma of the Walsall Wood Colliery, which I’ve stiched back into one image, as best I can. Please click on the image to view it full saize. To those – like me – who didn’t live through this time, the filth, grime and bleakness cannot be understated. It shows just how far we’ve come in six decades.
Ordnance Survey 1:10560 scale Epoch 5 plan of Walsall Wood Colliery in 1955.
Another bleak landscape. Next time someone talks to you wistfully about the past, the days of old king coal, think of this. This, the pollution, hardship, and generations of poor education, poverty and poor health are what they’re unwittingly celebrating. We owe those men a massive debt, we as a community and society stand on their shoulders. We must never forget that. Taken from ‘Coal Mining in Walsall Wood, Brownhills and Aldridge’ by Brian Rollins and Walsall Local History Centre.
The mine owners were entrepreneurs, and didn’t let anything stand between them and a profit – even to the extent of making their own building materials cheaper than the local brickworks. Taken from ‘The South Staffordshire Coalfield’ by Nigel A. Chapman.
The honest belief is generally that miners were the salt of the earth, and all the accidents were the cause of the managers, but occasionally, the pitmen were their own worst enemies. One cannot imagine the act of opening a naked flame to get better light – but of course, many miners suffered with their eyes, so the motivation can be understood. Remember that the Grove Pit Disaster was thought to be caused by a miner striking a light down below. Taken from ‘The South Staffordshire Coalfield’ by Nigel A. Chapman.
The primitive nature of much of the mining industry up until nationalisation cannot be understated. The dangers these men were subject to were constant and very, very real. Taken from ‘The South Staffordshire Coalfield’ by Nigel A. Chapman.
Walsall Wood pit trialled and innovated in several techniques – some were more successful than others. Is it me, or dowes the fireman appear to be wearing his cap backwards? Whoever he was, he doesn’t look like he’d stand for a lot of shit. Taken from ‘The South Staffordshire Coalfield’ by Nigel A. Chapman.