Down the lines

Norton Junction, the start of the rail line in question, always a busy, but now long gone, sidings. Picture from the South Staffordshire Railway Group.

I had a very interesting email in the week from Ian Pell, who’s clearly something of a railway buff. Here’s what he had to say about my post from last week, featuring the fantastic research of local historian Gerald Reece.

I thank Ian for his knowledgable and thoughtful input, and for adding yet more to the story of railways in Brownhills.

Ian said:

Muses on the Norton Branch – ‘Miles of Steel over wood‘.

The original drawings and survey were undertaken prior to 9th July 1847 when the first Parliamentary Act (10 & 11 Vict.) South Staffs Junction Railway (incorp. South Staffs Rly) was approved by the House. This Act which included both the Cannock and Norton Branches lapsed, and so a further Act was laid before Parliament on 8th November 1853 and approved on the 2nd June 1854 (17 & 18 Vict. Chapter 53) South Staffordshire Railway, and it is as part of the Documentation for that Act that these drawings and ownership details are found. The 1854 Act was for the Cannock and Norton Branch. The Cannock Branch was from a junction formed at Ryecroft, Walsall to Cannock. The Norton Branch was for a double track line from Ryders Hayes Sidings, Pelsall to Norton Green. The Norton Extension and the Five Ways Branch would be subsequent additions.

I would suggest that considering them as ‘Compulsory Purchase’ and ‘Compensation’ plans and documents is more in keeping with their role.

Their importance, which cannot be understated, is that they are not only very detailed plans but that they predate the 1880s and the first introduction of Ordnance Survey maps. As such they show historical details often lost prior to the 1880s. The ‘Railway Colliery’ sidings are not the only colliery sidings on the South Staffs line which without such documents would be long lost and forgotten.

Where once steam trains clattered, grunted and hissed with their loads, there is now only silence, sunlight dappled through leaves, and deer.

The drawings I believe date from 1854 and the first drawing shows the branch (the single thick line) starting out from the newly to be formed junction at Norton Junction, Pelsall towards Highbridge where a double track bridge was to be formed, adjacent to the canal, and the Pelsall to Brownhills road improved. The double siding lines already in position (certainly by 1853) were sidings serving the Railway Colliery. This colliery, I believe closed around 1856 and the sidings were subsequently removed. The pit was worked by William Harrison and leased from Phineas Hussey. It puzzled me for many years why the embankment for this line was in position at Norton Junction, and it was not until the discovery of this map about 3 years ago that all became clear!

The second map continues along the branch over Highbridge Level Crossing (an unmanned crossing – usually worked by the train crew), and passes the future locations of both Harrison’s Siding and Handbury Siding.

In the third map the line continues under the Watling Street (A5) on towards Albutts Lane, Brownhills West. A map today would show the line severed on the right-hand side by the Orbital M6 motorway and the associated service station – progress?

Incidentally, the line was offered for inspection in 1857 but unfortunately this could not be undertaken as a locomotive could not be taken up the branch as no connection to the running lines of the South Staffs line had been made at Norton Junction! It would not be until Monday 1st February 1858 that the branch was eventually opened.

My thanks go to you for the article, which prompts me to write this, for Gerald who pre-digital painstakingly re-drew the plans, to the Cannock Chase Mining Society who’s books help me to piece together some of the colliery-railways related issues, to the various local and national libraries and history centres, and all the friends who help me with pieces of information.

Hope all of the above is of interest. Please feel free to use as appropriate.

Yours sincerely

Ian Pell

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6 Responses to Down the lines

  1. Pedro says:

    “The double siding lines already in position (certainly by 1853) were sidings serving the Railway Colliery. This colliery, I believe closed around 1856 and the sidings were subsequently removed. The pit was worked by William Harrison and leased from Phineas Hussey.”

    In my pursuit of the history of the Harrison family the question of Railway Colliery has puzzled me a little. It was in close proximity to Yew Tree Colliery and in between that Colliery and Highbridge Colliery. In his book William Harrison Company Limited, Mick Drury speculates that it may have been worked in conjunction with its neighbours.

    On the Yew Tree Colliery he has this to say…

    …located on the south side of the Pelsall Road and just south east of the a slough Pits. The small spoil mounds associated can still be seen. The mineral owner Phineas Hussey and the lease taken up by William Harrison Jnr about 1845. The Colliery worked two small areas in the Deep and Shallow Seams from five shafts; one of the shafts partially collapsed in the 1970’s. All of its workings we’re south of the Pelsall Road.

    The take was quite small due to the close proximity of then LNW Railway, the repair costs of which, if damaged by subsidence, would have been prohibitive…closed in 1856.

    There is no further mention of Railway Colliery, and none in the newspaper Archives. I assume that the Railway Colliery would have closed at the same time. W. Harrison would be fully aware of the lack of potential of the Collieries. So why were the the sidings put in place?

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