Peake performance

Hmm. I had a posting schedule for this weekend, but like so many things I plan, it seems to have flown out the window. When the fascinating thread about Captain T.V. Peake was developing – mostly when I was getting covered in mud on Cannock Chase – it seems one reader had his head deep in research.

Inevitably, their was some confusion between Captain T.V. Peake and the Copson Peake’s of Walsall Wood Colliery. Here, reader David Evans nails the history of the Copson Peake dynasty with the aid of the books written by local mining historian Brian Rollins and National Census records.

I am indebted to David for yet another fine contribution. This article will be a huge help to those interested in Walsall Wood Colliery and it’s history. Walsall Wood was a genuinely innovative mine and it’s nice to record that.

Ordnance Surver

Ornance Survey 1:10,000 scale draft of Walsall Wood colliery. The roads named by Brownhills Urban District Council after Peake – Peake Crescent and Peake Road – had yet to be built.

David wrote:

I have been intrigued by the fascinating and clinically recorded information concerning the Walsall Wood Coppice Pit that is contained in Brian Rollins’ excellent publications:

Coal Mining in Walsall Wood Brownhills and Aldridge, published by Walsall Local History Centre, 1994, ISBN 0 946652 34 1

Coal Mining in the north east section of Walsall Metropolitan Borough, published by Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society, 2006, ISBN 0 9550892-6-3.

With the advent of the internet, and the availability of census records (by subscription) I hope that this complementary information will be of interest to readers.

The names of the four original directors of the Walsall Wood Colliery Company are given as Edward Copson Peake, Alexander Brogden, William Henry Duignan, and Lauriston Winterbottom Lewis.

Mr Edward Copson Peake, like his business partners, is an interesting person. From what I have found in census returns it appears that before he took an interest in coalmining he was a farmer of a large farm in Leicestershire. By 1861 he had moved to the Manor House in Amerton, Staffs. The 1871 census show him living in a large stone house in Sheep Fair, Rugeley and he describes himself as ‘Landed Proprietor Coal and Ironmaster and Land Agent’. The 1881 census shows him living in Chaseley House, in Chaseley Road, Rugeley, and he describes himself as ‘Ironmaster and Colliery Proprietor’ .

The census of 1891 shows him living in Hemel Hempstead, aged 71, ‘Own means and Colliery Proprietor’ and living with his wife, daughter, cook, parlour maid and housemaid. He died in 1909 in his home in Hatch End, Hendon. Probate records give his estate at £4364 1s 5d.

Another bleak landscape. Next time someone talks to you wistfully about the past, the days of old king coal, think of this. This, the pollution, hardship, and generations of poor education, poverty and poor health are what they're unwittingly celebrating. We owe those men a massive debt, we as a community and society stand on their shoulders. We must never forget that. Taken from 'Coal Mining in Walsall Wood, Brownhills and Aldridge' by Brian Rollins and Walsall Local History Centre.

Walsall Wood Colliery, as featured in the book ‘Coal Mining in Walsall Wood, Brownhills and Aldridge’ by Brian Rollins and Walsall Local History Centre.

Edward Copson Peake had two sons, one named Henry Copson Peake being a ‘Mining Engineer’, aged 21 in the 1871 census. His brother Robert Copson Peake, aged 20 is ‘Colliery Clerk’.

Henry Copson Peake is shown living in Buchanon Road, Walsall, in the 1881 census , a ‘Mining Engineer and Colliery Manager’ with his family of four children, his wife, a nurse, cook, housemaid, and a ‘minder nurse’.

The family in the 1911 census are shown now living in St Johns House, St Johns Street Lichfield, a 15 roomed town house, with two grown-up children, a sewing maid, a housemaid and a parlour maid.

Henry Copson Peake died in 1916 leaving an estate of £9333 6s.

His son Francis Gordon Peake , born in 1878, is also a ‘Mining engineer’ and living in St Johns House, St John Street Lichfield.

Brian’s wonderful second book, ‘Coal Mining in the north east…’ has an interesting few paragraphs on page 76 which detail a Mr. Peake, one of the Directors and the installation of a coal cutting machine, with a Mr. English from Pelsall Colliery after it closed in 1900. A few paragraphs later Brian mentions the installation of a power plant in 1916. It is the inclusion of the reference to Mr. Peake ‘demonstrating his concern for miners’ and its positioning between dated references on the same page that caused me some initial confusion.

The story that Brian relates states that Mr. Peake started the Walsall Wood Colliery Benevolent Fund, seemingly funded and run by the miners themselves. The whole workforce made a weekly contribution, adults making a contribution of 6d, and if sick, could draw 5 shillings per week.

Two questions immediately arose in my mind.

  • When did this fund start…at some date between 1900 and 1916?
  • What contribution did the employers, Walsall Wood Colliery Company make?

Fortunately I was able to ask Brian. The fund started in the 1930s, apparently.

The Company was founded in August 1874 when a lease was obtained from the Earl of Bradford.


The mine owners were entrepreneurs, and didn’t let anything stand between them and a profit – even to the extent of making their own building materials cheaper than the local brickworks. Taken from ‘The South Staffordshire Coalfield’ by Nigel A. Chapman.

As to the other directors of the company:

Alexander Brogden. He was born in Manchester in 1826. He appears in the 1851 census, living in Edgbaston; his occupation being ‘Railway Contractor’. He appears in the 1861 census, now living in Ulverston, occupation ‘Iron master and Railway Monger’. By 1871 he had moved to Bettws, Glamorgan and is listed as ‘Ironmaster’. By 1891 he had moved to London. He died in 1892 in Lansdown Road Croydon, leaving effects of £380 to his widow.

William Henry Duignan was a Walsall man who was born in 1825. He was a solicitor and sometime banker. He was also a Walsall town councillor and served as Mayor of Walsall in 1868-1869. In 1861 he appears in the census, living with his first wife at Rushall Hall, his occupation ‘Solicitor and Banker’, aged 36. Ten years later, and now giving his age as 42, he has a Swedish wife aged 20. By 1911 he has moved to Gorway House in Gorway Road Walsall, with his wife, son Carl and two servants. He died in 1914 leaving effects of £195.

The fourth person was Lauriston Winterbottom Lewis, also a long-serving practising solicitor who moved to a large house in Lichfield Street Walsall from Tewkesbury and remained there throughout his life. He died in 1891 leaving an estate of £18557 8s 1d.

In Brian’s first book,’Coal Mining in Walsall Wood…’ on pages 53 and 54 he gives details of the succession of leases, and the royalties per ton of coal mined, payable to the Earl of Bradford, irrespective of the price of coal realised by its sale. The details are illuminating.

I have not been able to trace the records of minutes of the Walsall Wood Colliery Company so I am not able to give fine details of the percentage of revenue lost to royalties, or any contributions, if any , that were made to the Colliery Benevolent Fund by the Company.

Walsall Wood pit trialled and innovated in several techniques - some were more successful than others. Is it me, or dowes the fireman appear to be wearing his cap backwards? Whoever he was, he doesn't look like he'd stand for a lot of shit. Taken from 'The South Staffordshire Coalfield' by Nigel A. Chapman.

Walsall Wood pit trialled and innovated in several techniques – some were more successful than others. Taken from ‘The South Staffordshire Coalfield’ by Nigel A. Chapman.

Most of the original directors’ houses still stand, in their fine splendour. St Johns House in Lichfield may be remembered by some readers as St John’s Prep School before being vacant for some years. It is now a wonderfully restored building and a credit to its present owners. It is also a Bed and Breakfast! Gorway House, with its red front door, a fine Edwardian building, is a retirement home. Chaseley House in Rugeley is shown on one of Google’s photos, a beautiful white mansion, and perhaps the large Victorian house in Lansdowne Road Croydon was Mr Brogden’s home.

Sadly, Brian Rollins books are now sadly out of print, although copies can be found in local libraries, archives and come up occasionally on Amazon and eBay.

David Evans
November 2012

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9 Responses to Peake performance

  1. David Oakley says:

    The activities of Francis Gordon Peake did not end with the coalmining era. In his late 60’s, Mr. Peake was a Trustee of the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust, a body which did so much to ensure safe drinking water for the people of Lichfield. and was involved in many charitable acts of both a communal and personal nature, Mr Peake was a Trustee in 1946, which was the 400th anniversary of a Trust which was founded as long ago as 1546. The father of the famed Samuel Johnson was once helped by the Trust in 1731, by a grant of ten guineas.

  2. Pedro says:

    David you say…

    “Mr Edward Copson Peake, like his business partners, is an interesting person.”


    In 1867 he was an agent for the Guardian Fire and Life Assurance Company, and in 1883 he was secretary for the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery Company (Harrison family major players). And so it appears he also had a big interest in the Walsall Wood Pit.

    The Birmingham Daily Post on the 13th November 1883 tells of the Failure of a Walsall Iron Company…A petition filed at the Bankruptcy court on behalf of Edward Copson Peake and Francis John Fisher…a co-partnership at Castle Iron Company (lately carrying on business at the same place and under the same style or firm in co-partnership with Walter Ansell Peake, of Barrow on the Hill, near Melton Mobray, Leicestershire) the petitioner Edward C Peake residing at Chaseley, in the parish of Rugeley, and being secretary to the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery Co. Ltd….the liabilities stated at £18,300 and assets not ascertained…MESSRS DUIGNAN, LEWIS, WILLIAMS AND ELLIOTT, WALSALL are solicitors acting in this matter,

    On the 30th November 1883… looking into the affairs of Messrs Peake and Fisher, and the liquidation of the Castle Iron Company, Birchills. Amongst those present at the creditors meeting were representatives of the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery, the Great Wyrley Co, Walsall Colliery Co and the Midland Waggon Co….it was resolved that the estate should be wound up in liquidation and not bankruptcy.

  3. Pedro says:

    A bit more on WH Duignan…

    Duignan had a great many interests apart from his work and local politics. Descended from a family steeped in literature and genealogy, he greatly enjoyed history (especially local), antiquity, family history, topography, Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, old maps, travelling and coaching, and he amassed a fine library on those subjects. In that most clubbable of periods, he was a member of the Royal Societies Club, London; the Midland Club, Birmingham; and the Walsall Club, as well as supporting the remarkable Walsall Literary Institute, the centre of cultural life in the town, serving as a member of its Council for a number of years…

  4. David Evans says:

    HIi Bob
    Brian Rollins again. Page 71″ Coal Mining in the north east section of Walsall Met Borough”;-
    line five;-
    “Lord Hatherton suspected him(Duignan) of laundering money from his estate, indeed Duignan was also suspected of opening a bank with little or no collateral”

    • Pedro says:

      As you say…“Lord Hatherton suspected him(Duignan) of laundering money from his estate, indeed Duignan was also suspected of opening a bank with little or no collateral”

      This appears in the single book by Brian Rollins, but the section is missing from the main book Cannock Chase Coalfields and its Coal Mines by the CCMHS.

  5. Caz says:

    Thank you all for a facinating read.

  6. Clive says:

    Nice one, thanks to Brian, Dave and Bob too.

  7. Pedro says:

    Brian Rollins actually states, and it is repeated in the CCMHS big book…

    “Mr Peake (no initials) one of the directors, also demonstrated his concern for the miners when one pay day he had seen a miner collecting money from his fellow workmen. On enquiry he was informed the collection was for a sick miner because in those days there was no sickness money. Early in the 1900’s Mr Peake started the Walsall Wood Colliery Benevolent Fund….”

    As we are now told that the fund was set up in the 1930s it cannot be HC Peake as he died in 1916. His son FG Peake was involved at that time.

    I cannot find any reference to a Walsall Wood Benevolent Society, but that does not mean that it did not exist. However for such a fund to be set up by a director’s sudden show of compassion to his workforce seems unlikely.

    The article on the Pelsall Hall Col disaster of 1872 shows that a disaster fund was set up, and when it had run its course there was a great deal of arguement as to how it should be wound up. In 1893 it was decided that it would become the Pelsall Mining Accident Fund and would cover Pelsall, Walsall Wood, Aldridge and Norton. The trustee for Walsall Wood would be HC Peake.

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