An industrial powerhouse

Birchills, or Reedswood power station in 1978. Picture taken from Peter Barker’s Flickr photo stream.

While I was researching the Birchills Irownworks post, I noticed that part of the story was falling off the south western corner of the maps, and covered Reedswood. We have addressed the story of Walsall Power Station before, but never the mapping record. I was so intrigued, I took a look at what was in the archives.

In a previous post, I noted:

Reedswood was the site of Walsall’s very own power station. Wedged into land between Birchills, Reedsword Park and The Beechdale, it generated electricity for about 70 years over the course of two separate stations. Wikipedia has this to say on the station’s history:

The first power station on the site was built for Walsall Corporation. Work began in 1914, and electricity was being generated by 1916, although the project was not officially completed until 1922. Cooling water was supplied by a pumping station on the Anson Branch canal, equipped with two Mather and Platt pumps capable of delivering 10.6 million gallons (48 Megalitres) per day. Spent water was discharged into the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Ownership of the station passed to the West Midlands Joint Electricity Authority in 1927, and then to the British Electricity Authority following nationalisation in 1948.

Construction of a second station, Walsall B, began soon after nationalisation. The station was officially opened on 30 September 1949. Comprising six cooling towers and six chimneys, the station burned ‘slack’ coal, which consisted of fragments of coal and coal dust. Coal was delivered by road, rail and canal. Water from the canal was used for cooling. The station closed in October 1982 after 33 years in use, and the stub of railway serving it was closed at the same time. The power station was closed as it was no longer deemed to be efficient.

It stood dormant for nearly five years afterwards, finally being demolished in March 1987.

Where there were once cooling towers and smoke, there is now a retail park, and little trace of the history remains, although most folk of a certain age remember well the cooling towers on the local skyline.

First, for illustration, here’s what the main station looked like on a 1962 plot of Reedswood:

1958-62 reedswood

1958-61 Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 map of Reedswood, Birchills and the power station. Green lane runs diagonally down the centre of the plan. Click for a larger version.

In the above, slightly grey map, Birchills Ironworks would have been upper right. This was a station at the height of it’s power – at this point it would have been modern, easy to fuel (relatively) and reliable.

Reedswood overlay

The 1958-62 map overlaid on Google Earth imagery, considering the 50-year gap, still aligns well. Surprisingly, little trace of the station remains to say it was ever there. Click for a larger version.

As can be seen, little remains. It would be nice to know what the removed factory in the lower right of centre was; was that Barton Conduits?

You can download a copy of this overlay for use in Google Earth at the link below. Instructions on using it can be found in this post. The overlay can also be used as a map in modern graphical Garmin GPS units like the 62, Colorado, Oregon, Dakota etc., but it’s only to be used as a guide, not a definitive plan.

Reedswood 1:2,500 scale Google Earth overlay

Reaching back through the archives, the plans show the following progression of the station. Note the growth, and increasing suburbanisation of the surrounding area.

1887 Reedswood

The 1887 Ornance Survey 1:2,500 plan shows the Ironworks, top, and ‘Reeds Wood’ is open heath. Click for a larger version.

1938 Reedswood

In 1938, on this 1:2,500 scale draft there is a small power station just south of the railway, and west of the canal. It would be interesting to know it’s power output and span of customers. Click for a larger version.

1958-62 reedswood

By the time of this 1958-62 1:2,500 map, the main station – the one we all remember – had been built. Note the original station building is still extant beside it. Click for a larger version.

1977 Reedswood

This 1:2,500 map was surveyed in 1977, then revised in 1991. It shows only the outline and compounds of the station remaining. In less than a century, the plant had been built, superseded, rendered obsolete and removed. Click for a larger version.

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10 Responses to An industrial powerhouse

  1. stevieboy378 says:

    Reblogged this on Life At 50mm and commented:
    Great blog from Bob – I remember the power station well, and spend hours walking over the ground where it once stood, looking for traces of the place, and trying to picture where each structure stood. This OS map, especially when overlaid onto Google earth, with be of great help as I wander around the area. Many thanks, Bob ! !

  2. kevinjones21 says:

    I was born in the shadows of the power station. They were always was a part of my youth and it was an eerie moment watching them being “blown up” one misty morning.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    many thanks for this excellent article, which, coupled with the Birchills iron works articles, brings another important part of our local history back to life .
    regards
    David

  4. Sheila Creed says:

    Hello Bob,
    Many thanks for the article on Walsall Power Station which brought emotional memories
    for me . My dad worked at the power station for most of the life span of the station starting as a stoker in the boiler houses then as foreman stocker until they closed down the station. I recall visiting the site many times as a child with my dad and at Christmas the popular childrens party which we were given a present form santa, when one was to old for the party we were then taken to see the local pantomime at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre happy days.
    Also memories of the strikes when we went without electricity this had an impact on all familys I am sure but I remember my mom saying about dad working much more as the boilers had more work involved being monitored and of course safety . My dad sadly died last December I do howerver have some photographes which he kept of the station and I think as it was being demolished I would like them to go to a good home if anyone is interested in the history of Walsall Power Station
    please get intouch by email screed367@hotmail.co.uk , Thanks again for the memories.

    Kind Regards

    Sheila

    • Anne Ormson says:

      My father Tom Morgan worked in the boiler house from the late 1940’s. I believe he was foreman/ chief stoker until he returned to Wales in 1966. I too, remember the Christmas parties, when my father remembered to take me! I also recall travelling by tram to collect his Friday wage packet and visiting the boiler room; I remembered walking along an iron platform above the boilers. My uncle Dave Llewellyn, also worked there. It was a powerful structure and part of the smoky landscape. A powerful memory. Would my father feature in any of the photos, I wonder.
      Anne Ormson (nee Morgan)

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  7. Carol Chew says:

    To the day he died my Granddad Longdon muttered about the day they took his allotment off him to build the cooling towers, the family lived in now demolished houses in Reedswood Lane.

  8. Stewart Mitchell says:

    Just dropped across your very interesting site while looking for any references to Barton Conduits.
    With reference to your note in the article above “As can be seen, little remains. It would be nice to know what the removed factory in the lower right of centre was; was that Barton Conduits?”.
    The removed factory was in fact Barton Conduits. There were several factories on the site:
    Barton Conduits – they had an iron foundry where they produced cast iron junction boxes ++ and a tube mill where conduit was produced.
    Premier Aluminium Castings – who produced pressure aluminium die castings.
    H.G. Richardson – a mechanical engineering company that produced electromagnetic separators (for separating tramp iron from coal in coal fired power stations for the CEGB), passenger/goods lifts and conveyor systems.
    I grew up in Miner Street til I was five then moved to Beechdale (then Gypsy Lane) estate in 1952 and then to Pelsall in 1958. I worked at H.G. Richardson as an apprentice draughtsman when I left school. Used to cycle to work and leave by bike at my grandads who still lived in Miner Street.
    It’s many years since I’ve been back there but even when I started to work there in 1964 I think the writing was on the wall. I left in about 1968 when they were struggling. Not sure when it closed but see that everything has been demolished now.
    I have a photograph of me as a baby in 1947 sitting in a pram in Reedswood Park with the cooling towers under construction in the background.
    I’ve lived in Norway for the last 40 years but still follow what’s happening in Walsall and the UK. Currently watching but almost not believing how the country is being torn apart by Brexit.
    Thanks for your very professional and at the same time personal site.

    • Carol Chew says:

      Hi Stewart, my family the Longdons lived in Reedswood Lane and my grandfather moaned for years that they had taken his allotment off him for the cooling towers. Again like your family they left for better council house in the early 50’s. However, wondered if this website would be of interest to you. It’s called A Click in Time, it’s a Walsall Local Authority website and contains hundreds of old photos of Walsall and the surrounding district, there are a fair few of the Birchills area.
      Regards Carol

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