Forged into the mapping

1886_1887_ Birchills

Birchills Hall Ironworks, as shown on the1886/1886 first epoch 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey draft of Walsall. Please click for a larger version.

I’m a bit busy today preparing some mapping goodness relating to the Birchills (Hall) Iron Works, in Walsall, which was a bit of a surprise hit when I covered it on Friday.

It seems the mapping record for this site is intricate, covers a lot of societal and technological change and is rather wonderful.

As a taster, here’s what the site looked like in the early 1880s. To orient it, north is up, Green Lane runs down from top left to near bottom centre; the works is just northeast of the canal junction still present today.

I’ll be back with more of this soon, but just take a close look at this landscape. Try and imagine how it looked, smelled and felt. This was an industrial heartland, with no respect for the environment in the quest for materials or space.

Imagine the air, the smoke, the sound, the fury. It must have been an amazing and frightening sight.

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8 Responses to Forged into the mapping

  1. Andy Dennis says:

    Great stuff again, Bob. I’ll try to do something more on this. Initial thought: Some years ago we (various Council officers, whg and others) were trying to find land to build on in the general area with the by-product of using some of the profits to create some more useful open spaces than the pockets of land that had remained undeveloped. When you look at a modern map these seem to have no logic – this is more obvious west of the motorway in (say) Bentley. Someone remarked upon this and the answer was “there is probably a good reason”. Well, one of the areas that caught some attention, given its location on the A34 and the canal side as a potential asset, was the land between the A34 and canal south of the South Staffs Water office and your map shows the good reason in this case: it is probably highly contaminated.

    As an aside, I notice that Harrowby Road, Moxley, has been in the news recently and this is just one small site that reflects the “legacy of an industrial past” – a bit like your old man leaving you with humungous debts – that developers have to overcome to produce something useful.

    • anereen says:

      Too much attention is being paid to the contamination “lark”, did not do me and my mates any harm playing on the Green Lane furnace site and throwing stones down the old shaft, building the Beachdale Estate did not seem to be a problem either, take James Bridgh copper site, plenty of concrete hardstanding, IMI had in place effluent traps, put it to industrial use, it is also in a perfect position for a truck stop or recycling depot (canal and road transport available), no need to worry about contamination and making loads of money for the clean up army, not much practical thinking these days, otherwise we would not have extortionate domestic energy bills and be sitting on energy reserves and paying through the nose to import energy……I could go on.

      • Andy Dennis says:

        I suggest the point is not that people using or developing contaminated land would come to any harm (though I wouldn’t want to grow vegetables where they might pick up lead, tars and phenols!), but that heavy metals and other toxic substances leach out into water courses. In the halcyon days of your childhood (I’m guessing) it may have been that the canals and rivers were heavily polluted with no or few fish and other creatures and no use for irrigating crops. The fines imposed for polluting water courses are severe, even if the contaminants are inherited or simply pass through land from some unknown source, for example at Bentley Mill Way.

        It is not a popular approach these days, but I agree that we should be using more coal (though we have recently been reminded of the dangers of deep mining at Daw Mill). Opencasting seems to arouse (sometimes hysterical) opposition from all directions, but it is a triple asset: first the mineral resource; second landfill; third a useful area of land, usually for open space, such as Ryders Mere, Clayhanger Common or the old Bleak House site near Heath Hayes. Some sites can be developed, for example Reedswood Way where Walsall Power Station used to be. Yes, there is some short term pain and it has gone wrong in places like Moxley Tip and the failed Sealosafe holes near Stubbers Green, but modern operations are much better controlled.

  2. Moss chops says:

    The sound of thumping forge hammers in the distance was ever present in the gardens of the little terrace houses I could have walked the half mile to work blindfolded just by following the sound of the constant thudding.
    Passing through the factory gates into the warren of dilapidated Victorian buildings the cobble stones underfoot vibrating with every stroke of the pounding hammers the air loaded with the smell of burning metal and oily old machines.
    The inside of the cavernous dingy building in which the hammers thudded away was a sight to behold the men clad in blackened protective gear facing off towards these towering machines seemed like medieval knights in combat with dragons. The heavy metallic clanking blows the showers of sparks the smoke and glowing metal surely if you had to sum up the word industrial into one image then this would be it.

    Rain dripped through the roofs and in the winter your tea froze in its mug if you left it too long dragging wheeled tubs of forgings across the uneven cobbles was arduous and nearly as noisy as the hammers.

    And this was only 15 years ago when I was temping in one of the machine shops at Bloxwich Engineering on Bell lane the sound of hammers is gone the jobs are gone and the site of the factory is now houses.

  3. Laurie Thacker says:

    The Birchills (Hall) Iron Works looks as though it was on the site latter occupied by the Talbot- Stead Tube Co Works. Talbot’s was started in around 1906, the T.I ( Tube Investments) took them over in about 1930.

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  6. Pedro says:

    Going back to 1813…

    Birchills Colliery, Coal and Ironstone mines…situate at Birchills about a mile from Walsall, the property of Messrs Stubbs and James; here is a blast furnace erected, and large quantities of pig iron manufactured; adjoining is also a clay mine, which is made into bricks and tiles, and from the excellent quality of the clay they are enabled to make firebricks.

    (Pearce History and Directory of Walsall)

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