In light of the fact that there’s so much interest in the history of mining on Brownhills Common, and particularly vibrant speculation about the steam engines that gave Engine Lane it’s name, I thought I’d take an unusual step. Much of the speculation and accepted history of mining in Brownhills stems from one book and a series of talks by one man: Gerald Reece. His brilliant work ‘Brownhills: A Walk Into History with Gerald Reece’ was published by Walsall Local History Centre in 1996, is very hard to get hold of, and long out of print. I’ve been working from a series of photocopies from the copy in Brownhills Library, which I’ve only ever seen once and now seems to be on permanent loan.
Last week I acquired my own copy, costing over £18, found by a book search service. In light of the continued reference to this work by myself and other contributors to this subject, I think it’s time that everyone should be able to peruse Gerald’s excellent writing for themselves. I will therefore scan and post his writings on mining here on the blog, this being the first instalment. I am not intending to rob Gerald of sales; indeed, should this work become available again I will remove these posts. If you sees a copy, purchase it; this is a remarkable book.
In awe of Gerald I certainly am, but his work isn’t without question. Like many local writers, Gerald doesn’t include a bibliography, and many statements appear out of nowhere, hence the ongoing circularity I referred to last week. I’m hoping that those interested can read this work, and use it to comment and build on what Gerald wrote.
So, on with the text. It’s been machine scanned, so there may be some odd errors I’ve not noticed.
When coal was first mined in Brownhills is unknown. No documented evidence exists giving the date and place of the initial operation. What we can deduce however is that a commercial traffic in coal would not have taken place on a large scale before the last decade of the 18th century. Before this period there was too little local market for the product and a limited means of transportation.
Coal mining in the Brownhills area was a two pronged operation. I have already mentioned the Northern Section and the establishment of the Field, firstly under the direction of The Marquess of Anglesey and later under the guidance of John Robinson McClean and Richard Chawner and their formation of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company.
The South and West Coalfields of Brownhills date back much earlier than the Northern Coalfield. Again I refer to the division of the Parish of Norton Canes into its two separate Manors. Norton Common came under control of the Lords of the Manor of Norton Canes, usually there were more than one. Brownhills Common came under the control of the Lord of the Manor of Little Wyrley. · The Hussey dynasty. The Hussey’s came to the area at the end of the 17th century. Joseph Hussey of London married the heiress to the Manor of Little Wyrley, Sybil Fow~e.
In neighbouring Great Wyrley coal mining was evident in the late 17th century. Early in the 18th century ‘Engines’ of the Newcomen design, built locally, are documented as being erected in Great Wyrley in 1722.
In the Perambulation (beating the bounds) of Little Wyrley in 1742 changes can be noted in the names of several ancient fields. These appear as Coalmans Field, Oggeley Pitts, Starkins Pitts, etc.
The plan above shows the shallow and bell-pit workings on Brownhills Common during the middle of the 18th century. Note the siting of the Engine House in the area that is still called Engine Lane. It is known from the will of Phineas Hussey in the 1770’s that he had ‘Fire engines’ at his collieries in Brownhills. ‘Fire engine’ was the term used to describe mine drainage engines at that time.
In 1789 Brownhills Colliery was leased to John Hanbury. The Hanbury family had long been associated with the area and they appear to have been loosely related to the Hussey’s by a marriage during the Civil War.
John Hanbury died in 1792. Only one of his three sons, William, inherited their father’s interest in coal mining. John Hanbury’s brother Thomas died in an accident in 1773. His widow, Mary, remarried a William Sparrow. After John’s death in 1792 little direct control of the Brownhills Colliery seems to have come from the IHanbury family. When the lease expired in 1810 it was not even offered to them for renewal. Phineas Hussey leased the property to Thomas Price.
The early mines, pits and shallow diggings known collectively as the Brownhills Collieries were scattered in the area between Watling Street in the north to the Pelsall Road in the south.
￼It is from the 1811 lease to Thomas Price that we can realise the true extent of the Brownhills colliery and the population that lived there.
Indenture dated 21 February 1811.
Between Phineas Hussey of Little Wyrley and Thomas Price of Bescott;
All the Colliery and Collieries Coal Mine and Coal Mines Coal Pits and Coal Works Seam and Seams of Coal Mines Rows Veins Pits Groves Beds and Holes of Coal Cannel Coal Slack of every kind nature and quality and also Clay. Situate lying and being on the Waste Lands at Brownhills in the Parish of Norton under Cannock…….Freedom to enter lands and grounds in the Occupation of William Caddick by a measurement 3 Acres 21 Perches under which the mines lye to sink and search for get slack coke sink shafts make Drifts Soughs Railways and other Ways……. All that Messuage Farmhouse or Tenement Outbuilding Enclosures Arable Land Meadow and Pasture Land now or Late in the occupation of John Hanbury by admeasurement 376 Acres 21 Perches…….Parcel of arable land in the occupation of James Caddick by admeasurement 16 Acres 1 Rood 32 Perches……. Several all those Messuages Cottages Workmens Houses Tenements with Garden now or lately in the Occupation of Betty Cooper.. John Vernon.. Samuel Astbury.. Robert Hickin.. Thomas Emery.. Thomas Jobbem.. Benjamin Whitehouse.. John Fairfield. Mary Holcroft (Widow)……. Two Houses formerly Birches Farmhouse in the occupation of William Wright and William Ash……. Messuage called or known as Stonehouse in the occupation of William Ash.
Thirty years after this Indenture was exchanged the census of 1841 list several of the early residents as still living in the same dwelling houses. Even given the 5 year allowance of the 1841 Census some lived well into their 80’s. Descendants of many of the early residents still live in theBrownhillsarea. Theirnamesperpetuated.
The indenture of 1811 was carefully worded regarding terms of repayment. 1/5th of the selling price of all coals mined would go to Phineas Hussey. A very tight profit margin indeed. Thomas Price may have made a go of it if it had not been for the intervention of William Hanbury. William was not amused when he discovered his distant relation’s subterfuge in the renewal of his agreement. He joined forces with William Sparrow and they leased, from the other eo-Lord of the Manor of Norton Canes John Ogden, lands adjoining the area leased by Thomas Price. These lands formed a part of Norton Common and were situated between the south shore of the Reservoir and the Watling Street. Shafts were sunk in the area between what is now Hednesford Road and Whitehorse Road. Swiftly they undercut their rival in a Price War (pun) Eventually, in 1812, Thomas Price was obliged to surrender his lease to Phineas Hussey and return control of the land.
Hanbury and Sparrow took over the lease on very favourable terms. Cutting Phineas Hussey’s share down to 1nth they obtained a thirty year lease. The short partnership between Hanbury and Sparrow was to end bitterly after a lengthy legal battle. Phineas Hussey died in January 1833 leaving debts of £5,395.13s.6d. and outstanding repayments on a loan of £17,000. The Estate had received little income from the Hanbury controlled Brownhills Collieries. Hanbury was making a very good return from his other holdings. The Ogden Estate had changed hands and the new eo-Lord of the Manor of Norton Canes was Thomas Gildart. In November 1843 Wtlliam Hanbury purchased Thomas Gildart’s 2/3rd share of the Manor at a public auction held at the George Hotel, Walsall. It gave hitu control and the mineral rights to his lands formerly leased on Norton Common. In 1844 Hanbury’s lease on Brownhills collieries came up for renewal. It was expected that another long term agreement was in the offing. The Hussey Estate still had debts and was being controlled financially through the Chancery in London. A lease was arranged between the Executors of the Will of Phineas Hussey and Wtlliam Hanbury for a period of just seven years. The ‘sporting rights’ of the area appear to have been of more importance to Hanbury than the mineral rights. In 1849 he surrendered his lease to Brownhills Collieries back to Phineas Fowke Hussey, now of age, and heir to the Hussey Estate.
The lease was taken up by Wtlliam Harrison for a term of 21 years. In addition to taking the ‘Old’ Colliery Lands Wtlliam Harrison’s new lease included Frog Hall Estate (the southern part of the present Wilkin Housing Estate) then in the occupation of William Woodhouse.
The section of Plot’s map of Staffordshire Circa 1680 and depicted on page 9 shows a building of sorts standing on the site and named as Frog Hall. Apart from several later documents that relate to the sale of land only, I have come across no other information. If Plot was right in plotting maybe a hall did stand here during the times of the Civil War.
The northern part of the (Wilkin) estate was then known as James Piece and Thackers Piece and was in the occupation of Charles Mann who rented it from the eo-Lord of the Manor of Norton Canes, then William Hanbury, for £12 per year.
To be continued…