Other channels

Friend of the blog and top local government operative Gareth Thomas has been at it again. Not only has he started his own, rather wonderful looking blog, but he’s sent me a whole tranche of new aerial images. Quickly flicking through some from 1971, I spotted something really interesting.

Long time readers will know that I’m practically obsessed by the drainage system around Clayhanger, the floods the village used to suffer, the refuse tip on The Spot and it’s  subsequent reclamation to become Clayhanger Common. One of the questions that has been perplexing me for some time is that of when the drainage of the area was isolated, enhanced and fitted.

The below image is dated 1971. It shows most of central Brownhills, including what is now Clayhanger Common, in use as a refuse tip.

Meridian air maps 1971 image of central Brownhills. Clayhanger Common – then called The Spot and used as a rubbish tip, is central. Reproduced by kind permission of Lichfield District Council, and supplied by council officer Gareth Thomas. Click for a larger version.

Note the operations around the area of the Former Walsall Wood Colliery – the pit site is cleared, and the outline of Maybrook Road is emerging. Over the canal behind the Big House, the spoil heap is still being shaped in the former Ernest Jones sand quarry. Directly north, the mounds of refuse can be seen on what is now Clayhanger Common.

A blow up and enhancement shows the area in question:

If you weren’t around at the time, it’s hard to imagine just how grim the environment was around Brownhills. The pig farm at Swingbridge Farm, near Clayhanger, used to fill the town with the stench of manure. The tip used to smell, and was subject to frequent fires. Both of these sources of odour competed with the chemical smell from Effluent Disposal down in Walsall Wood. The landscape was filthy and polluted. Click for a larger version. Image reproduced by kind permission of Lichfield District Council, 2012. Click for a larger version.

Notice the large ‘Y’ shaped drainage ditch system, and the cutting around the canal? This would drain the fluid from the refuse – rainwater, slurry etc. – straight into the Ford Brook. At the south, the channel emerges directly behind the Clayhanger Bridge canal overflow outfall. Excess canal water sluiced these drainage bunds. The outfall from the northern overflow – now opposite Tesco – seems to follow the hedgeline south to the Ford Brook, and appears culverted.

The Ford Brook, and the River Tame it became were terribly polluted in the 1970’s. It’s not hard to see why.

A further zoom in gives the following detail:

These open channels would have drained filthy, poisonous water straight into the Ford Brook, spreading pollution downstream to the River Tame. Image reproduced by kind permission of Lichfield District Council, 2012. Click for a larger version.

I’m hoping, if I ask really nicely, that Gareth will scan this at a higher resolution for me. It’s a remarkable piece of detail, and clearly dates the modern drainage system around The Spot as post-1971. It was in place by 1978, I remember the access chambers standing tall above the ground. Who installed it, when, and was anybody local employed on the project?

This is a major, major piece of local infrastructure that completely transformed the quality of  life in Clayhanger, and we hardly have any information about it.

My wholehearted gratitude and thanks, as ever, to Gareth. Please check out his blog when you can. It’s because of far-sighted and generous collaborations like this from local government that amateurs like us are able to better understand out local history.

Comments, catcalls or clarifications? Comment here or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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  • Gareth Thomas

    Hi Bob, wonderful write up and some brilliant observations by you. No problem about higher resolution scan. Will rescan to 600dpi for you. Be in touch soon! Once again wonderful to see these images being used 🙂

  • Rich Burnell

    Fascinating stuff, thanks Bob / Gareth.

  • David Evans

    Hi Bob
    a big thankyou to Gareth..the riddle of where did the Coppy PIt mound go is solved..it was dumped across the canal by the look of things. Was there a railway bridge over the canal that was used by the lorries? I look forward to 600 dpi..got a big spoon ready!
    kind regards

    • Hi David
      There was never a riddle of the Coppy Pit mound: most of it went back where it came from.
      After the closure decision, like many NCB pits, the spoil was mostly deposited back in the workings. The excess left on site upon the land clearance for the Maybrook Estate was shipped over the canal and dumped on top of the spoil mound in the former Jones sand pi/brickworks, behind the big house. If you look at the full photo (top) the canal narrows where the railway used to run. I believe a drop-bridge was put there temporarily for tippers to cross the canal. If you look closely, there’s wagon tracks there.
      If you look at the 1981 photo I featured a few weeks ago, the spoil from the former Jones site was being removed, and was being spread as a cap on the refuse tip.

  • Clive

    Lovely photo, thanks to Gareth and Bob. This area was my playground when I was a lad.

  • Funnily enough, my second encounter with the Ford Brook in the last couple of days. The first was via a presentation from the Environment Agency about the Water Framework Directive, which sounds as if it might be as dull as ditch water but was actually v good. I naively had no idea of the pressure that these watercourse were/are under. Something else I found particularly interesting was that there is apparently a plan to deculvert streams and brooks where possible. Got to be honest there’s still a lot I don’t understand but was a very interesting starting point.

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