Standing on the shoulders

Readers will recall that a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to contact local author, and former resident of Brownhills, Gerald Reece.

Fortunately, we managed to connect up. Gerald has been very kind and has communicated extensively with me about local history, the timeline of mining in our area, and his researches into Engine Lane. He’s working on some very exciting stuff which I shan’t divulge, but when it sees the light of day (Gerald hasn’t finalised how that will happen yet, so stay tuned), it will shed a whole new light on stuff we’ve been working on here on the blog.

Gerald now lives in Devon, so it really is wonderful that he’s devoting so much time to Brownhills from afar.

The author has been very generous in sharing some of his research material with me, and I’d like to thank him for his time, patience and generosity in sending me some great stuff, which with his permission, I shall share in the coming weeks. There’s one particular thing which I know will blow your socks off… please be patient while I get it scanned.

I now understand far more about how Gerald researched things, and the huge amount of work he put into his totemic work ‘A Walk into History with Gerald Reece’ – bear in mind, mostly before the advent of the internet. The volume of legwork here cannot be understated. I will talk more about that work later. If you can find one, please buy a copy.

In the meantime, here’s something Gerald sent me from 1988. It’s a local history card on Brownhills. What strikes me most about it, is the honesty, particularly the last paragraph, but it’s delivered in the inimitable Reece style. I’ve digitised the text so it can be indexed by search engines and accessible to history seekers.

I thank Gerald for his time and a true act of felicity. I look forward to his future work.

Local history ephemera from 1988, written by Gerald Reece. Thanks to the author for the original.

The text reads:

Brownhills

Although the history of Brownhills goes back only two hundred years, the area on which the town stands has a history dating back to prehistoric times. Long before the Romans built Watling Street important ancient trackways crossed here. There are records of remains of an ancient burial mound at Catshill and of a reputed Roman watch post at Knaves Castle which have long since been destroyed. Encroaching upon the boundaries of five ancient manors, Brownhills is steeped in history.

The name first appeared on maps and documents in the early 18th century. The area along Pelsall Road, then Wolverhampton Lane, was settled by coal miners. The lands belonged to the Hussey family, Lords of the Manor of Norton Canes. The Wyrley and Essington Canal was opened in 1797. Norton Pool, now Chasewater, was built in 1799 as a reservoir for the canal system. The heath lands of Ogley Hay were enclosed in 1838, providing farming land for the growing population. Early in the 19th century Coppice Side was settled and pits spread north towards the Rising Sun. A horse-drawn tramway was built linking the workings with the canal loading wharves.

Ogley Hay, being originally extraparochial, that is outside any parish, was declared a Parish in 1838 but there was no parish church until 1851 when St. James’s Church was built. With the coming of the South Staffordshire Railway in 1850 the High Street, then called the Old Chester Turnpike Road, with a toll gate at Anchor Bridge, became an important trading area. With the railway came two men who shaped the future of the town. John Robinson McCiean, arailway engineer, opened up the pits around Chasewater, built the Anglesey Branch Canal and railway line and founded the South Staffordshire Water Works. William Roberts, a pit boy and a ganger on the railway, became a local magistrate, Chairman of the Council, owner of public houses, farms and numerous properties in the area. He was also a great benefactor to the town. He took over the Station Hotel in 1860 and presided over it and Brownhills until his death in 1906.

In 1858 a railway line was cut through the middle of the early mining settlement and the community moved east towards High Street and Ogley Hay. Mining ‘ghettos’ were formed around St. James’s Place and Ogley Square, now the site of the Wheatsheaf in Ogley Road. A coffee house on the corner of High Street and Lichfield Road, opened in 1854. It’s Library and Reading Room soirees and theatre evenings became the cultural centre of Brownhills. In 1913 it became the first Working Men’s Club in Brownhills. After several changes of use, it has now been demolished.

In 1877 Brownhills Local Board of Health was formed, giving control of the town to a locally elected council. The first Board meetings were held at 14 Pelsall Road. In 1882 the Board Offices were built and the distinctive clock added in 1911. In 1894 Brownhills Urban District Council was formed, lasting until amalgamation with Aldridge in 1966 and finally being swallowed up into Walsall Metropolitan Borough in 1974.

Coal remained the main industry until the 1950’s. The Grove Colliery explosion in 1930 killed fourteen local miners. Brownhills was born on coal and may die with its decline-a recent survey into the reopening of the coalfields met with a negative response from the community. While outsiders play Monopoly with the High Street and decide where the next major road will cut through, Brownhills waits.

Places of interest:

The Bridge and its buildings

The Nature Trail: Along a disused railway line from Engine Lane to ‘The Rising Sun’, Chasewater.

Text written by Mr. Gerald Reece of Brownhills for Walsall Local History Centre. 1988.

Rate this post...

20 Comments

  • Vicki Brosch

    Do you know where Ogley Square used to be? I am tracing my family tree and have relatives who used to live there.

     
    Reply
    • Hi Vicki

      I Will try and do a post about this, but it was broadly off east of Ogley Road, in the land around Mill Road and Springhill Road, around the (now demolished) Wheatsheaf pub. It’s one of the older bits of Brownhills, it what was often considered Catshill.

      Cheers

      Bob

       
      Reply
  • Please can someone help, My father used to Cycle through Brownhils on the Chester Road, in the 70’s, he and remembers Large derelict buildings on both the Left & right hand side possibly Near Fishponds Wood / Druids Heath. Does anyone remember these Buildings or have any information. Kind Regards Alex

     
    Reply
  1. A day at the races « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  May 29, 2012

    […] Being busy today, I didn’t get time to take a look, but I remembered reading about the racecourse somewhere. A frantic rattle through the bookshelf when I got home reminded me that, in the way things often are here on The Brownhills Blog, this was circular and Gerald Reece had an excellent section on the subject in his book ‘Brownhills: A Walk Into History&… […]

     
  2. Screen stars « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  June 1, 2012

    […] the contributions I received by email. I’m still interested in anything else anyone has – Gerald Reece mailed me and offered me a photo, too, which I’ll contact him about this weekend. I really am […]

     
  3. Tenths « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  June 9, 2012

    […] of the wonderful things Gerald Reece sent me following our recent email exchange is a scan of  a compilation of tithe maps of western Brownhills. I wasn’t actually aware this […]

     
  4. Miles of steel over wood « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  July 15, 2012

    […] a fantastic bit of research history from local historian and author Gerald Reece. Following our recent communications about the question of pumps and mining in general in the area […]

     
  5. Lifted « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  August 5, 2012

    […] own blog leans on a whole host of other creators – from amateur photographers, to local history authors to other members of the on and offline community. Wherever I use their material, I try to seek […]

     
  6. Empires and us « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  September 18, 2012

    […] Gerald Reece has a photo of the Tesco that was Hillards bearing both signs, taken during the changeover. Hillards one side, Tesco the other. A remarkable snapshot in time. […]

     
  7. Top local historian to give talk in Brownhills! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  October 18, 2012

    […] has kindly contacted noted local historian and author Gerald Reece, and together, they’ve arranged for a talk to be given by Gerald at Brownhills Methodist […]

     
  8. Curious electric | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  November 25, 2012

    […] area. Gerald has been very influential on the matter of Brownhills history through his book ‘A Walk Into History With Gerald Reece‘, which remains rare, but probably the best work on the subject […]

     
  9. Local history talk in Brownhills tonight! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  November 30, 2012

    […] has kindly contacted noted local historian and author Gerald Reece, and together, they’ve arranged for a talk to be given tonight (30th November 2012) by Gerald […]

     
  10. A wonderful evening | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  December 1, 2012

    […] David and I would both like to thank all those who turned out – what was apparently in excess of 100 people – but none of it would have been possible without the generosity of time and spirit of the wonderful, entertaining and fascinating Gerald Reece. […]

     
  11. Let it pour | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  December 22, 2012

    […] reader, contributor and top Walsall Wood bloke, was very kindly given this commemorative jug by local history wonder Gerald Reece, when Gerald undertook his recent excellent talk in […]

     
  12. Before we man the lifeboats… | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  December 24, 2012

    […] Reece, too, has accepted my challenges to his work and knowledge with extremely fine grace and humility. If I can ever write anything in a way that’s even 10% […]

     
  13. Squared | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  January 24, 2013

    […] of Brownhills. I dug it out particularly for the lady – Vicki Brosch – who recently asked where Ogley Square was. It can be seen approximately a third of the way across the map from the right, just up from the […]

     
  14. The Rovers return… | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  October 22, 2014

    […] has been back in correspondence with the elder statesman of Brownhills local history Gerald Reece, who last gave a talk in Brownhills in 2012. That event was also organised by David and raised […]

     
  15. Your chance to meet a local history legend next Friday! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  November 24, 2014

    […] is a reminder that this coming Friday, the elder statesman of Brownhills local history Gerald Reece will be giving a talk in Brownhills on the subject of local history. This popular and knowledgable […]

     
  16. Gerald Reece talk: on tonight! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  November 28, 2014

    […] has been back in correspondence with the elder statesman of Brownhills local history Gerald Reece, who last gave a talk in Brownhills in 2012. That event was also organised by David and raised […]

     
  17. Happy talk | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog  November 30, 2014

    […] David and I would both like to thank all those who turned out on a grim November evening and raised £300 for MacMillan – but none of it would have been possible without the generosity of time and spirit of the wonderful, entertaining and fascinating Gerald Reece. […]

     

Leave a Reply