The aerial image of Chasewater I posted on Thursday evening really has spurred on some creative consideration of the park’s history. I’ve been surprised and delighted by the memories and theories that have emerged relating to the stunning image, taken in June, 1963. I don’t think we’re any closer to identifying a specific event that was taking place, but local historian Clive Roberts from up The Wood has found some interesting material about the speedboat racing, which features at the bottom of this post.
Top reader, contributor and newspaper archive dredger Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler came up with some interesting bits from the newspapers, not from the era of the image, but things he found in an effort to nail the naming history of what was formerly Norton Pool and/or Cannock Chase Reservoir. One thing he found was the following, splendid advert:
Readers of the long-in-the-tooth variety will remember, no doubt, the ongoing myth of the paddle-steamer that once operated on the lake. Several times in pubs locally over the years, I’ve listened with wry amusement to some raconteur who can recall it; it was the myth that refused to die. When Chasewater was drained, many folk idly speculated as to whether the wreck of the boat – which in the legend, always sank – would be revealed.
Sadly but predictably, the only boat found on the dry bed was a wooden rowing boat. Like many good myths, there was a basis in truth. Graham Evans brilliant history of Chasewater records in 1899 that:
‘A local publican launches a steam boat and makes a few unprofitable cruises until the boat is left in the pool until it disintegrates.’
Well, is seems our man was J. Donaldson, and his venture didn’t sink without him trying some pretty audacious advertising…
Peter also lists some news stories he found in the archives:
- May 1899: Chasetown Temperence Brass Band give sacred concert at Norton Pool Dam, the weather was cold but 700 to 800 were present. (In 1900 there were an estimated 2000 there).
- August 1899: Boat race, in front of large gathering, starting from the steamboat landing stage to the dam on the N side and back, a distance of 3 miles. First was Handcock and Boonham in a time of 55 minutes.
- July 1901: Midland Sailing Club first Annual Regatta (they had a corrugated iron building on the north shore, around where the sailing club is now). Also after a fatality during the bathing season, it was suggested that a special area be set aside, and swimming barred from the rest of the Pool.
- November 1901: Chasetown Fishing Club contest on Monday afternoon, but a strong gale blew and the contest was abandoned.
- February 1902: Considerably over 1000 people could be seen on the large sheet of ice covering Norton Pool on Sunday, many travelling by train to enjoy the skating. A football match was played. Some indulged in ‘scorching’ on bicycles. (And again in the winters of 1903/4/5).
- July 1903: It is rare that the water on Norton Pool is quite calm. The advent of the motor car will make the place less difficult to access, and the accommodation of the Sailing Club pavilion enables visitors and members to pass their time in comfort.
- November 1903…The gale on Saturday raged the whole day, happily there was no loss of life. Norton Pool presented an unusual sight as waves dashed over the dam.
- January 1911: Brownhills Urban District Council recommend the canal company should be advised to lower the overflow weir at Norton Pool to prevent flooding.
- June 1911: Accident by a pony and trap moving along the dam caused two injuries.
- Between 1899 and 1916, on average, there may have been one fatality a year in Norton Pool.
- There was shooting and hunting around the perimeter, with quite a few foxes being lost!
Local history ferret [Howmuch?] picked up on an interesting one about Chasewater the other day: he’s been told that during the Second World War, chains or ropes were laid over the pool, binding long series of wooden railway sleepers, as a floating barrage. The idea was, apparently, to stop ‘Flying Boats’ landing on the water.
I have a number of problems with the above, not least of which being the fact that railway sleepers don’t float. Does anyone know if this new myth has any basis in truth? Has anyone else even heard it? This isn’t the only wartime myth about Chasewater: another suggests that bombers returning from raids would dump excess ordnance on Chasewater on the way back from Germany. Plainly specious, this one still persists. Whilst practice raids were held on Cannock Chase, only a complete idiot would return with undropped bombs (it took extra fuel to carry them, and fuel was tight in those planes), and secondly, risk blowing up the dam? Really?
it’s odd how persistent that last one is, again beloved of pub storytellers…
Clive Roberts found the wonderful article below online in Graham Stevens wonderful site, The Powerboat Archives. This contains a whole host of articles about such events held at Chasewater over the years. I’ve checked 1963, and it has an item covering May, but not June. There’s a wealth of stuff there worth a look. It seems that the famous 24 hour race in 1968 attracted the attention of royalty.
In relation to that race, there was also a Go-Kart event on at the equally famous track on Chasewater’s south shore (the track was, of course, lost under the M6 Toll). It’s worth popping over to Karting Magazine’s archive to check out the report: competing, and winning, was one N. Mansell. Yes, that N. Mansell, who graduated later to driving altogether faster vehicles. Fellow Brownhills history wonk David Hodgkinson mentions it on his site.