A dying trade

You may remember that way back in February, I posted an article on the mysterious mortuary situated near Bullings Heath in Walsall Wood. The morgue in question had been mentioned by reader [CAZ], and subsequently spotted on a large-scale map of the area. Both myself and [Howmuch?] were intrigued to find out more about this odd facility and it’s curious location. You’ll see in the comments upon the original post that Paul Ford, top operative at Walsall Local History Centre, undertook a huge amount of research on the subject, which I wrapped up into a subsequent post paying tribute to, and thanking him for, his greatly illuminating work.

On this 1938 map extract, the Mortuary is ringed in red, not far from the farmhouse by the Black Cock bridge.

A couple of weeks ago, [Howmuch?] was leafing through the April 1st, 1905 copy of The Walsall Observer and came across an interesting piece on the mortuary. It seems that at the time, Brownhills Urban District Council were seeking tenders to build the thing:

From The Walsall Observer, April 1st 1905. Click for a larger version.

It’s a bit tricky to read, but says:


For erecting a public mortuary on land adjoining the sewage farm at Walsall Wood, the following tenders were received – Robert Harris, Shelfield, £20 17s. E Cresswell, £28. Fred. Smith, 26, Blakenall Lane, Bloxwich, £22 10s. John Derry, Hednesford Road, Brownhills, £24 3s and Henry Twist & Son £22 10s. In reply to Mr. Bullock, the surveyor said the building would be 12ft. square and with a trifling exception all the materials could be found. – Mr Bullock said that a house could be built for the prices asked, and eventually it was decided to leave the matter to the surveyor to obtain lower tenders, or have the building erected on day work.

Keen eyed readers will spot that in Paul’s original research, he noted:

It appears that there was no provision within Brownhills until 1904, when the UDC decided they would have one on the site of the Sewage Farm in Walsall Wood – it may have finally been built in 1907, but it may have been the adaptation of an existing building. UDC minutes are vague and the Health Sub-Committee doesn’t seem to have survived.

So it seems that two years after this debate, they finally got a morgue for the area. Seems like councils were officious and slow, even then.

I thank [Howmuch?] for his usual dedication and sharp eyes – it’s because of dedicated readers like he and Paul that we’re gradually nailing things a little bit at a time. The capacity for you folks to just turn up brilliant material out of the blue never ceases to amaze me. Cheers.

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11 Responses to A dying trade

  1. Andy Dennis says:

    The name Henry Twist rings two bells. First, in Howdles Lane there were two pairs of houses, that I think were built in the 1870s, named H Twist Cottages in the 1881 Census. Two remain today. Henry, a bricklayer, occupied one house, John Twist, perhaps a brother, also a bricklayer, and my great grandfather John Dennis occupied two of the others. In about 1870 Henry had a son named Henry who became a master builder. Presumably these were the Henry Twist & Son referred to. The second ‘bell’ is the Henry Twist on the 1939-45 war memorial in St James’ churchyard. This was another man, perhaps a grandson – the younger Henry also had a son named Henry. Did they eventually get to build the mortuary? What else did they build?

  2. CAZ says:

    I was told it was a man called Twist who built the two ‘canal’ cottages in Hall Lane,[discussed in previous posts] and also the row of Terrace Houses across the road from them. The lady who told me said that it was a family business so it could well be the same Henry Twist & son.

  3. CAZ says:

    Hi Bob,
    I tried sending you a map of the area dated 1879.
    Did you receive it? If not, I’ll have another try……..idiot or what?????

    I was confused, because there’s something marked on it in the same area as the mortuary is on the later maps…..although it doesn’t say what it is. Obviously it can’t be the mortuary, if it wasn’t built until about 1905, but perhaps it was a building that was adapted into the mortuary?

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