Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been told by an assortment of teachers, old timers and local historians that the house by The Black Cock Bridge in Hall Lane, Walsall Wood, was originally built at the level of the canal and subsequently sunk due to mining subsidence. I’ve seen this line asserted so many times now that it’s more than local folklore; it runs in the Walsall Wood DNA like red hair or a big nose. Everyone knows it, so it must have happened.
I’m sorry, I know this is going to be contentious in some circles, but I think it’s untrue. I think the idea that a house could sink that far, whilst still maintaining true walls and roofline is stretching credibility to breaking point. I simply can’t find anything other than anecdote to say this happened, and I’d like readers help with this. I’ve also donned my tin hat as I’m sure the storm from some corners will be blustery and intemperate.
In Brian Rollins book ‘Coal Mining in Walsall Wood, Brownhills and Aldridge’ the author asserts that as a contour canal, the Wyrley & Essington was originally built following the contour and was at ground level. Thus, as the coal beneath it was extracted, the land around sunk, necessitating the ‘building up’ of the embankments to maintain the canal level. I’m sorry, I have immense respect for Brian, but I just don’t buy it.
This theory would appear to suggest that the whole area sank by what is approaching 15 feet, otherwise there would be a series of severe steps in the landfall away from the bridge. The cottages either side of Hall Lane seem contemporary, and face each other over the road. Are we really to accept that these buildings – including, one assumes, the entirety of what was then Bullings Heath, Black Cock pub and all – gracefully settled this distance without displacing walls, roof-joists or untruing a single window?
If such a drop did occur, one would expect it to cause huge changes in localised drainage, affecting the falls of creeks and natural drains, yet mapping from the period shows little if any change over time. Also, where did the sink finish? There is no corresponding exit ‘step’ from an area of subsidence. Why not? This isn’t making huge sense.
Finally, are we really to imagine that the canal banks were steadily built up – and presumably the canal bottom filled in – with all the edging brickwork, ash paths and running bracers – on a continual basis? This seems absurd. I can see no stratification in the banks, not evidence of even primitive piling or otherwise – and where is the subsequent cant on the Black Cock bridge? How was the sudden ground-fall compensated for?
I intend to return to this in coming weeks to discuss it further. I am happy to be proven wrong – but I’ll only accept sound information, anecdote is not evidence. Were there really such difficulties with the canal line, there will be documentation relating to the works. Like wise, were the area to drop as much as it did, I would expect there to be confirmation in the records of the UDC or Country Surveyor. There is an interesting mapping record which I will come to in a subsequent post.
I would expect subsidence to occur in the area. I’m not denying the existence of the phenomena, just the extent. Many buildings about The Wood have bracers of one kind or another, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that buildings hereabouts sank and were damaged. That is not in question. However, one only has to destabilise the corner of a building by a few inches to cause catastrophic structural problems. I’m questioning the massive extent, not the occurrence.
This is an open-minded debate and I’m not trying to rewrite history, Just investigate it. Oral history is an immensely powerful force and sometimes the tale is twisted in the story that’s told.
What do readers think?