I’m very pleased (and relieved) to welcome back Ian Pell to the Brownhills Blog, with a cracking article about the Hammerich burst I mentioned a few weeks ago. I’m relieved because Ian writes so well, and I hadn’t heard from him for a while; and secondly because I always worry about writing on railway matters as rail buffs are dedicated and very exacting, and I don’t have enough cojones to spot my own bits of glaring stupidity when writing on such matters.
Good evening Bob
Trust you are well. Apologies for the late running of the attached article, time just seems to be at a premium at the moment. I haven’t cleaned up the map but hope you like it.
Mid – late July should hopefully see a new book entitled ‘Routes around Walsall’ published, I’ll let you know more when I have further details.
As soon as I have any details of Ian’s book, I’ll let you know.
In the recent post, ‘A sudden loss of pressure’, reference was made of a serious fracture to the South Staffs Water Company main which ran alongside the South Staffs railway between Sandfields Pumping Station, Lichfield and the Black Country. This failure occurred near overbridge No. 81 and was neither the first nor the last at this very same spot.
The map indicates the position of Bridge No. 81 on the left of the map. This is the location of the bursts. The ‘lane’ runs southwards to meet Coppice Lane and from the overbridge it becomes a footpath to Pipe Grange Farm. Hammerwich station is approximately 500 yards west (left on the map). The map is also interesting in that to the right of the bridge, on the Up line (the one most affected by the bursts) the track is shown as thicker lines. These indicate the position of ‘catch points’, a device for preventing runaways. In this case the line was on an uphill section as far as Brownhills and so to avoid wagons breaking away, running backwards and endangering the level crossing at Fossway crossing, ‘catch points’ were positioned here to derail the wagons onto the fields adjacent to the embankment.
The straw that broke the camel’s back regarding the abandonment of the pipeline between Lichfield and Walsall had its seeds long before the 1961 incident, but on 13th April 1970 the pipe again burst in the very same spot as a result of ground settlement adjacent to the bridge abutment. This was indeed the last straw. With ever increasing concern regarding the safety of the railway, it was felt that the time had come for abandonment. Three bursts had been recorded in the immediate vicinity since 1959 and the railway’s Divisional Engineer again expressed his concerns with increasing forcefulness at the possibility of ‘a future failure which could result in a train disaster’.
Since the 1961 burst the Water Company appear to have been working on a solution to facilitate abandonment. In the 30th July, 1970 board meeting minutes it was reported that the Lichfield to Walsall section is ‘at present shut off and could be abandoned as soon as the suggested renewal work (at Sandfields) is complete’. It was therefore resolved to carry out the abandonment later in the year.
Like the railways, the proposals did not run to time, and it was not until the 20th September 1971 board meeting that the matter was finally put to bed. An annual rent of £165 was still being paid and as part of the abandonment discussions with British Rail, the railway insisted that all exposed sections of pipework would be required to be removed. The Water Company was also still legally obligated to fully maintain the pipework and carry out periodic inspections to maintain the integrity of the main. It was evident that it was in the Company’s best interest to continue to pay the rent rather than incur the cost of removal which was likely to exceed £100,000 (at 1970’s prices), not to mention the disruption to British Rail operations. And so, £9,000 was allocated to be spent to carry out works necessary to enable the main to be abandoned.
Ironically, it was not to be the last time that the ground around the bridge failed. In 2009, the evidence was again there for all to see.
The above photograph shows the concrete post which locates the position of the ‘Catch points’. The triangular piece on the ground should sit on the top of the post. Behind can be seen the attempt to stabilise the land slip, although the ballast has clearly been dislodged from the remaining single track. By this time no trains were able to run along the line to Anglesea sidings due to several sections of track being ‘missing’. I am not sure if any further maintenance work has been undertaken at the bridge but clearly the site is still up to its old tricks.
Finally, despite a detailed examined of the permanent way, no sign of the water main was to be seen. Perhaps, this section was in fact removed when the line was repaired? Yet another part of the jigsaw puzzle to solve?
Once again my usual thanks go to Chris Pattison at South Staffs Archives for the generous use of the past photograph and for his diligent assistance in providing some of the information for this article.