It’s an odd fact of local history that little St. Anne’s Church, in Church Street, Chasetown, was the first church in Britain lit by electric light. The history of this installation, and of electricity coming to Chasewtown and Brownhills is inextricably tied up with the history of mining in the area.
Top local community worker and credit union whizz Steve Lightfoot tells the story of the church being lit for the first time; of fabric-insulated cables running in damp channels up the hill from the mine; of how the lights on a dark Sunday evening must have flickered and dimmed and the cables shorted as the electricity supply fought the conditions. One can imagine the drama and wonder of the modern age, first arriving at such an austere symbol of the old times. It must have been like something from a horror film.
I thought I’d shed a bit of flickering light upon this historical curiosity. On Friday coming (30th November 2012), respected local historian Gerald Reece will be coming back to Brownhills from his retirement in Devon to give a talk about the history of our 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 around.
I thought I’d share these two short chapters from Gerald’s book as a taster of what promises to be a fascinating evening. The pieces talk about the Cannock Chase Colliery Company and their supply of electricity, a situation quite unique at the time. They may also go some way to illuminate the curious enclosure map featured here last week.
THE CANNOCK CHASE COLLIERY COMPANY
In May 1853 Henry William Paget, The Marquis of Anglesey, Earl of Uxbridge, Baron Paget of Beaudesert, etc. etc., advertised ‘for letting or otherwise Collieries now working and the unopened mines on Cannock Chase. He had two working pits, The Hammerwich Pit close to the Reservoir and The Uxbridge Pit in Chasetown. In 1854 John Robinson McClean, again, together with his partner in so many other projects, Richard Croft Chawner of Hammerwich, entered into an agreement with the Marquis for the lease of the mines. Before these arrangements could be finalised the Marquis died. To save time and money in further negotiations, the Partnership took control of the mines on the agreed terms which were included in the new terms offered by the new Marquis in 1858.
The Hammerwich Pit was designated the No. 1 Pit and the Uxbridge Pit became No. 2 Pit, it was nicknamed ‘The Fly’. The Partnership became The Cannock Chase Colliery Company, a title it held until it was finally dissolved in 1955. In all throughout its history the Company worked ten pits in the area. No. 1 Pit was short lived and was closed in 1864. No. 2 Pit was transformed in 1923 from a conventional shafted pit to being a drift pit. Instead of raising the coal to the surface at the pit head it was raised on an inclined ropeway direct to the sorting screens and into the waiting barges. No. 2 Pit was finally closed in 1940. In its early days the Company ran a closed railway from the pit heads of the mines to take the coal to the canal loading wharf. The idea of running the railway to join up with the South Staffordshire Railway and so gain access to the national distribution network had long been on the cards, the Old Marquis had obtained estimates of cost involved in 1852, but it was McClean who got things going in 1856. It progressed slowly and it was to be another two years, 1st February 1858 that the line was opened for the conveyance of coal from the pits to join the S. S .R. at Newtown. The connecting area was called the Anglesey Sidings. This Mineral Railway was lifted in 1960 after a life of 100 years. Until 1856 the coals were taken from the pits to the wharf in horse drawn trucks. In 1856 McClean purchased a locomotive. It was an 0-4-2 Saddle tanker and had been built by Beyer Peacock & Co. of Manchester. He named it McClean. In 1861 came ‘Chawner’ from the same manufacturer. ‘McClean’ lasted for 100 years before being broken up for scrap in 1956.
Note from Bob: There’s lots of railway history and images on this subject over at Chasewaterstuff’s Railway and Canal Blog.
Brownhills frrst experienced the wonder of electricity in December 1878. A performance of ‘Taming the Tiger’ staged by Walsall Amateur Corps Dramatique at Ogley School Rooms was illuminated by electric lighting provided by Mr. F. Brown of Walsall. He explained the principle of the electric ‘candle’ and stated that it had been designed by a Russian named Jablochkoff.
It was not until 1922 that Brownhills was eventually supplied with power and then it came from a most unusual source, The Cannock Chase Colliery Company. The CCCC. were among the foremost exponents at introducing electricity into the mining industry. In 1883 they were generating electricity for use at their own workings and had also wired St. Anne’s, Chasetown, with electric lighting. This was reputed to be the frrst Church in the Country to have been supplied with electricity. In 1908 CCCC built a power station at Chase Terrace, from there electricity was distributed to sub-stations at each of its pits. Brownhills almost had electricity in 1905 when the Worcester and Staffordshire Electric Supply Company applied to Parliament with a scheme to build a power station on the south shore of Norton Pool. The scheme was swiftly booted out when it was revealed that the electricity to be generated was not for Brownhills and District at all but that it was destined to be wired direct to South Birmingham. In July 1921 Brownhills Urban District Council asked Walsall Corporation Electricity Undertaking to extend its supply to take in the Brownhills area.
The reply was clear, they would but only if they could supply all the local collieries as well. BUDC were not empowered to agree to those terms. At a BUDC meeting in April 1922 Chris Jones, CCCC’s Electrical Engineer, attended as an impartial consultant when the subject of an electricity supply was again discussed. He intimated that CCCC were capable of supplying Brownhills with all the electricity it required if a guarantee could be provided covering the initial expense of supplying poles and cable. CCCC were at that time producing 800 Kilowatts of power but their own requirements during the evenings was only 50 Kilowatts. At a BUDC meeting on 26 April it was unanimously decided to take up CCCC’s offer. Without seeking further legislation they gave the go-ahead.By August 1922 Brownhills had been transformed. Poles had been erected fron1 Chasetown to Brownhills and cables strung along the route. On the evening of 13th September 1922 Councillor George Hodgkins, the elder statesman of the Council aged 79, pulled the switch at the transformer station in the Council Yard. ‘The Council Chambers were flooded with the new illumination. Electric lights shone for the first time from many shop windows in the High Street. Street lamps had 120 candlepower bulbs and at crossroads 250 candlepower bulbs were used. Domestic supply was 400 volts for power and 250 volts for lighting.
On 16th September 1922 Walsall Corporation Electricity Undertaking applied to the Electricity Commission for permission to extend their supply into the Brownhills Urban District Council area. In their haste to get power to Brownhills the BUDC and the CCCC had overlooked the small legality of obtaining permission. Luckily the Electricity Commission granted a belated blessing of approval. In 1929 the electricity generating side of CCCC was formed into a separate company called The Chasetown and District Electricity Company Limited.