Every so often (and so it seems, with increasing frequency of late) I’ll get a response to an article I post here that leaves me speechless with the sheer depth and breadth of knowledge it demonstrates. There are, it seems, some very, very knowledgable specialists reading the shambling pile of old toss, and I really have no idea why they’re sticking around, but I’m very grateful for their contributions and presence.
So it is with rail historian Ian Pell. Ian writes to me after nearly every post I publish on the matter of local rail, offering detailed, precise and fascinating material. Ian is clearly something of a local rail history specialist, and he writes fascinating, wonderfully precise commentary on my often hazy, woefully inaccurate originals. Ian is every bit the star.
Readers will recall that earlier this week, I was sent an image of a 1959 rail tour by Ian Clark of the Stephenson Locomotive Society, who was interested in the precise location in which it was taken, the significance of the Conduit Colliery and other matters. I dug out a photo from Bill Mayo and John Sale’s book ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’, which I thought might be related, but bore a different date.
I feature both images again in this post for clarity.
Ian Pell wandered in, and stole the stage. I’m flabbergasted:
Some observations regarding the ‘Keeping Track’ article and Ian Clark’s mystery photograph.
The photograph in question is indeed a rare photograph of the 30th May 1959 SLS (Stephenson Locomotive Society) special which toured various lines in the West Midlands on that day. This part of the tour was undertaken by two 3-car Metropolitan-Cammell diesel multiple units.
The photograph taken at Walsall Wood station is actually the same train on its return (southbound) leg of the journey. In the background is the Lichfield Road bridge. If you look closely the “W721” train reporting number is in the window, so the 1957 date is incorrect. I tend to find that in a lot of the picture type books caption dates are questionable. One of the best examples that comes to mind is that of the footbridge at Pelsall which the caption claims to have been removed in 1984. Interestingly, I and others stood on it in 1986 to record the sad scenes of the demolition train on the South Staffs!
The location of the mystery photograph I believe to be just south of Conduit Colliery Sidings on the former Midland line, between mileposts 491/2 and 493/4. The photographer is looking north with the skyline of Cannock Chase in the background. This location is a little way from Conduit Colliery itself which was reached from this point via a colliery line at the northern end of the sidings.
The line from Aldridge Junction was originally double track throughout but in the 1930’s it reverted to single track, albeit that some sections of the double track were retained for wagon storage. The section between the above mileposts was singled, and in effect was as far as the special could go. Beyond, the sidings were still being used by NCB traffic and for wagon storage. The sidings themselves were the end of BR ownership, the two lines beyond being under NCB control. Most of the sidings were removed by BR after the end of NCN use in 1964. The Chasewater Preservationists signed a 25 year lease for part of the line in December 1964, and this was the cataylist for their decampment from Hednesford.
The road on the left of the photograph is Brownhills Road which runs parallel to the line at this point and the slag heap is that of Conduit Colliery (Jerome’s). The colliery had ceased production in 1949.
The closure of the line to traffic between Walsall Wood Colliery and the Conduit Colliery Sidings is quoted in several sources as the 2nd July 1960, although I have yet to determine this from official records. Certainly, the special was one of a select number of passenger trains to traverse the branch, the only other one I know about is a 1951 SLS special which I believe Ian is aware of. That is unless anyone knows different?
Thanks to Ian Pell for his remarkable contribution, and to Ian Clark for the original enquiry.