Downstream

David Evans has been busy again. I have a veritable cornucopia of articles from him queued up to use, the only thing missing being the required free time to edit them for posting. Sorry, David…

One of the things I like about David’s work of late is the way it’s developing. When he first started, David based his work on memory, conversation and interview. Of late, he’s also starting to look into more physical aspects of history and the built environment, which is really great, too. I love the fact that this blog seems to be encouraging folk to look at their surroundings maybe in a slightly different light.

Thanks, as ever to David, without whom this blog would be considerably poorer. Please join with me in thanking the author for another wonderful, thought provoking piece.

David wrote:

The little lane between Brookland Road and Lichfield Road, now called Brook Lane, indicates another instance of Walsall Wood’s tradition of calling parts of the village by names colloquially familiar to locals. The Vigo, the Cape, the Batters, the Castles, but, like many of the places, this  popular name may be used by few of the present-day residents.

Was there a brook here once upon a time? Yes, there was. The 1884 OS map of the village shows both the lane and the watercourse.

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1884 1:2,500 scale draft of Walsall Wood with the nascent Brook Lane highlighted. click for a larger version.

The reference 535 shows the unmade track and the adjacent brook, to the right of the ‘N’ on the map. The brook flowed in a ditch by the ‘dirt lane’ until it mysteriously disappeared, down some sort of drain near reference 548.

The aerial photo of Walsall Wood, 1926, shows the brook and Brook lane, with Charlie Higgs bungalow.

At this time of the year one popular pastime was collecting frogspawn from the brook and taking it home, to the amazement and puzzled reaction of parents, it must be said. At other times of the year, we could be found crawling under the numerous bridges,  jumping over the brook or, if misfortune occurred, landing in the water! The field shown as 539 and 536 was known as Batkin’s field, and the part of the lane, 537 and 528, became Collins Express Parcels yard (latterly United Carriers) with its high brick wall running the length of the  yard.

At the corner of the lane with Brookland Road there was the Church Hall where dances were held during the last war, and GI soldiers from Whittington attended from time to time. The Church Hall, and the railway bridge have long since gone from this end of the Brook.

Very little remains to indicate that there is still a brook there… Nowadays it flows through a culvert under the roadway. Interestingly, where the stream emerged from the drains put in during the 1930s the manhole cover, where Laburnum Road meets Brook Lane, still proudly displays a faded, solitary, reference to this water feature of  Walsall Wood  in years gone by.

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Brownhills Urban District Council drain cover – probably cast by Brickhouse, in Dudley. SWD stands for ‘Storm Water Drain’, which is an accurate technical description of the culverted brook. Photo supplied by David Evans.

Today’s Brook Lane, in its neat and modern appearance, with St. John’s Primary School occupying part of the original brook and fields, is far removed from the unadopted track it once was.

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I wonder if the brook actually had a given name? Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

But, the question that puzzled children  then, and may puzzle children still, is, where does the water flow, after it had disappeared down the culvert near the railway, which can still be seen in the open space near Brookland Lane?

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I’d never given much thought to this small clump of trees before. It might also explain the flooding the station was notorious for. Image taken by David Evans.

David Evans, April 2013

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15 Responses to Downstream

  1. Rob says:

    Very interesting read.
    Back in the late 70s twin foul and SWS were built along the then meadows at the bottom of the canal batter running from where the cricket ground was and going under Green Lane and the canal to the STW for the foul and an adjacent watercourse for the surface water. I think the upstream end picked up the Brook Lane culvert with a pipe-jacked or thrust-boring connection under Lichfield Road.

    Re; the individual manhole covers. Amazing how many were incorrectly sited with SWS on foul sewers and vice/versa. Probably as well that the idea has been dropped and the nature of the utility is distinguished by the node referencing system on the record maps.

  2. Pedro says:

    Can’t wait for David’s veritable cornucopia, he must have watched “The Good Old Days” with Leonard Sachs…

    “A veritable cornucopia of terpsichorean delights presented with pulchritudinous costumery and ebullient enthusiasm”

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    my thanks for publishing this article..a quick correction…the bungalow was Frank Higgs’ ( thank you, David Oakley).and for Rob’s technical information. I wonder where in Lichfield Road the “thrust- boring” is sited? I’ve just read Pedro’s wonderfully colourful City Hall Vatieties’ kerchief flourishing sentence to Her Maj …and got my ears flicked with a deadly damp dish-cloth. “She knows, yer know”. Going to be a long day!…
    cheers
    David

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  5. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob.
    Big thank you to David Evans for the Brook Lane article. I have long been fascinated by this particular watercourse in Walsall Wood, perhaps because there are so few. An unpolluted brook with banks, bridges to the houses, swift flowing water where matchbox boats or bits of wood,
    matched against an opponent, the joy of seeing your boat emerge from under a bridge, bobbing about, in the lead was a major childhood joy.An unmade squelchy lane, added to the pleasure,
    No vehicles to speak of, so the lane was ours and ours alone.
    I have long held the theory that the source of this brook was the ‘spring’ or ‘spout’ as detailed
    on the 1901 Walsall Wood O.S. map, rising just above King Hayes Farm on the Walsall Wood Road. This spring was used by many brickyard workers to fill water bottles, and by other nearby Vigo residents who had a preference for ice-cold pure spring water. The resultant watercourse ran
    as far as King Hayes Farm then through a culvert because of housing development, to emerge lower down in Salters Road as ‘the brook’, continuing as an open watercourse as far as Laburnam Road which had yet to be built. The brook acted as a drainage ditch for Holly Bank Common which rose quite sharply from Salters Road to Holly Lane. At this point the watercourse encountered rising ground as the ‘flanks of the South Staffordshire Plateau’ were succeeded by the rising ground of Shire Oak., ecouraging the now culverted brook to head towards the lower ground of Brook Lane, where it emerged from the culvert to run the length of Brook Lane as open water.
    That this was unpolluted water, there is no doubt. After emerging fron the culvert, the brook was quite wide and watercress was in evidence there. As David Evans recollects, frogspawn was
    plentiful and what self-respecting frog lives in polluted water? We sailed our little boats and dabbled in the water, fell in, scrambled out, and had a great time, completely oblivious of ‘Health and Safety’.present-day precautions.
    At the Brookland Road end, many times as a youngster I have peered down over the protective masonry and bars at the brook, now culverted, gurgling and splashing in the darkness, a slightly sinister sound, at least twenty feet underground as it prepared to flow below the railway towards
    Lichfield Road. On the other side of the railway, on the 1901 map there is a small outbuilding, marked ‘Windmill (Pumping). I remember the building from my youth, but a paucity of surface water in the village makes it likely that there may have been a pumped water supply there, many years ago. After leaving there, as Rob suggests, it was probably diverted under the Lichfield Road to be disposed of, elsewhere.
    Thanks again to David Evans for yet another re-winding of my memory clock. .

  6. Clive says:

    Nice one Dave, i dont remember the brook at all, i do remember the railway flooding, and mr heath who had the scrape yard by walsall wood railway station, cut the roof of a car, turned it upside down and we used it as a boat, coal shovels as paddles. Pure Magic!

  7. Ann Cross says:

    Many thanks to David for a very interesting piece, bringing back more childhood memories. We used to regularly walk up Brook Lane to various friend’s houses and to the Church Hall where on a Saturday we would dance to Victor Sylvester music! Or try to anyway. We used to visit Aunty Laura (Owen) who lived on the left side of Brook Lane near to the Lichfield Road end.

  8. David Oakley says:

    The church hall, on the corner of Brook lane, mentioned by David and Ann, held a host of memories for many of Walsall Wood’s older folk. Many prewar concerts were held there, together with wedding receptions, etc.
    In the early part of the war I was fitted with my gas mask, the hall being quite full of gasmasks,
    A.R.P. wardens, who did the fitting and queueing residents. The sizes were Small. Medium and Large. I was fitted with a ‘small’ and hoped the war would last long enough for me to qualify for a
    ‘medium’. Another use for the hall was a temporary postroom for Christmas mail, which was traditionally large and many temporary postmen were recruited. Mail was delivered right up to Christmas day, and the proud boast was made that every letter and parcel in the hall was cleared. before the postmen finished, often quite late on Christmas Day.
    Dances were extremely popular. The Melochord band were often in residence, and for a time
    dances were organised by Tom Boot, the manager of the local Co-op, whose wife was always on hand to take timid or learner dancers around the floor. Some time afterwards, a professional dancer from Walsall. Alex Peate, took over, giving group lessons on Saturday afternoons, and the
    main dance in the evenings.
    During the war, the hall was used to give Ministry of Information films, free, but very dull to
    youngsters weaned on Ken Maynard, Tom Mix and Tom Tyler, with Gene Autry, the singing cowboy
    making a debut, with no Buster Crabbe serial having you on the edge of your seats. Still, you could get that up the road at the Palace, but it would cost you tuppence.
    Yes, great times, great memories.

  9. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a huge thanks to Ann and David…the Melochords…a Brownhills group?….Jones family? piano accordianists? Are there photos of them? I wonder if readers can help, please
    regards
    David

  10. Pedro says:

    Hi David

    I remember checking without success for the Melochords, but more pages have been added to the archive. In the Lichfield Mercury there are about !2 mentions between !946 and 1954, but are all adverts and no articles.

    however they played at Hammerwich Cricket Club and WI, Lichfield Guildhall, Recreation Rooms Shenstone.

    ( incidentally the seem to start as Melochords Dance Band, then as Dance Orchestra, then Orchestra!)

    Regards Pedro

  11. David Oakley says:

    Hi Pedro,
    Thanks for your research regarding the Melochords. Great little band and nice to see that other local villages enjoyed their music.
    They were quite versatile and their weekly offering always included old-time dances such as
    St. Bernards waltz and the Veletta, as well as all the modern dances of the era, waltz, quickstep,
    foxtrot, tango, together with the more rowdy Okey-Kokey, Gay Gordons and Palais Glide.
    At the time, due the influence of our transatlantic cousins, who were stationed up the road at
    Lichfield barracks, we were introduced to ‘square dancing’ and in no time at all we were
    ‘honouring our partners, honouring our corners’ and dosi- dowing like ‘good uns’, with the
    Melochord band, together with a ‘caller’ and a couple of accordions transforming the scene to a setting remiscient of the American Mid-West, rather than a simple village ‘hop’. in Walsal Wood.
    Good excuse for a swift half in the Red Lion, in the interval, but get the back of your hand,
    rubber stamped as a ‘pass out’, or you’d never get back in, afterwards.

    Regards David.

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