Fighting a losing battle

Wheale - Samuel Clayhanger pump 1923 (1)

4th June(?) 1923 – Chain sludge pump end of pump well – Brownhills sewage – (outside of pumping St.) – Image kindly supplied by Marion Jones.

Every now and then, something comes through whilst compiling the blog that stuns me, and pulls me up short. It’s happened twice recently – firstly with Chris Pattison’s wonderful 1952 Walsall Observer article on Clayhanger’s flooding problem, and secondly with this rare and beautiful gem from reader Marion Jones.

These photos – beautifully scanned front and back – document wonderfully the pumping station built on The Spot, Clayhanger, in the early part of the last century. The pumping station’s job was to conduct foul and storm water from the low grounds of Clayhanger to the higher ground of Clayhanger Sewage works – that’s the (slightly misnamed) facility actually situated off Green Lane, Walsall Wood. The sewage works there replaced the former sewage farm as demand increased.

In case you’re wondering, Robert Green whose stamp is on the rear of three of the pictures was a a Member of the Institute of Civil Engineering, but other than that, I can find little information about him, I guess he was a drainage engineer, possibly designer of the system.

These photos form a wonderful document of a sadly doomed piece of sanitary engineering, but in addition, Marion has also supplied a record of Grandfather Samuel Wheale’s memories of working at the pump house as Engineer in Charge from 1921 until 1956 when it closed.

The memoir was written by Kenneth Wheale for Clayhanger Countryside Ranger Wendy Ross in 1988. It would be wonderful if anyone knew what became of Wendy and could put me in touch – I’m sure she’d have a huge knowledge of the land reclamation.

Marion wrote:

Dear Brownhills Bob,

I’d like to share these photos with your readers, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I enjoy visiting your website and can’t thank you enough for the amount of work and time you put into keeping the site up to date and interesting. As a keen biker I also enjoy your 365Days Of Biking.

My Grandfather was Samuel Wheale the engineer in charge of the Pumping Station in Clayhanger. His Son Kenneth Wheale wrote to, the then new, countryside ranger for Clayhanger giving a little history about the Pumping Station.

I apologise if these photos are already out there as I think Bill Mayo made have had copies at one time from my Mother Ruth Wheale, Samuels daughter. Mom still lives in Clayhanger and celebrated her 90th birthday last August.

Kind regards,
Marion Jones

This is an incredible bit of local history, and beautifully presented by Marion, to whom I’m hugely grateful.

There are two driving factors clear in the decline of Clayhanger – lack of drainage and land sinking. Whilst I’ve no doubt the land sunk, I’m (still) sceptical of the exact degree, but flooded land does tend to sink, too. It’s quite clear that the canal overflows at the Pier Street Bridge and Clayhanger Bridge were both a massive cause of the flooding.

Interesting to note that the system worked by accepting effluent into a holding tank, which was then pumped out uphill; one wonders what became of the tank, and if it was ever filled in after the station fell into dereliction. The principle is identical to the one employed today with storm buffers – large subterranean holding enclosures for storm water that accept the torrent, allowing it to drain more slowly into local storm drains as time passes.

One factor of the system would have been maceration, I’d have thought to enable pumping. That would have been some fairly cutting edge equipment in the early 1920s.

It seems we’re nailing drainage improvements to the late 1950s: Roger Jones noted mention of a Clayhanger Scheme in 1957, and the need to pump sewage out of Clayhanger did not stop with the closure of the pump house;. I imagine that it closed when the modern system of electric pumps – or an antecedent of it – was commissioned.

That must have been a huge scheme. There must be records of council approvals and designs somewhere. Someone excavated it, laid it and dug it. Why so little evidence?

Gradually, we’re getting closer. Thanks to Marion for sharing such a wonderful thing.

Information given to Wendy Ross, Clayhanger Countryside Ranger around 1988 by

Kenneth Granger Wheale 1918-1992

Wheale - Samuel Clayhanger pump 1923 (3)

Brownhills sewage – 4th June(?) 1923 – with compliments of Robert Green, M. Inst., C.E., Birmingham. Image kindly supplied by Marion Jones.

I came to live at the house at The Spot in 1921, I was 8 years old. My father an engineer had got the job in charge of this brand new pumping station. He held it 35 yrs. The pumps were centrifugal stereophagus, revolving at 10000 r.p.m. and driven by the then latest diesel horizontal stationary engines with a 6 ft diameter flywheel of 5 tons and made by Campbers of Halifax. Lighting was by gas produced from calcium carbide rock in a tiny gas works behind the station. For the house also electric light came 12 years later.

The function of this splendid complex with spotless red quarry floor, shining brass and steel, was to pump the sewage from the surrounding area along with storm water from roads and rooftops which gravitated into an underground bunker of several thousand gallon capacity. 

The contents of this bunker were pumped from a depth of 15ft via a 12” rising main with a 15ft head for a mile or so to the Walsall Wood, Green Lane works, the resulting effluent being discharged into the Ford Brook. Beyond the half acre site of the station was planted with a wide variety of shrubs, Deutcher, Berbers, Mahonia Aquafolia, Laurel, Mock Orange, Weigelia, Cherry Blossom, Japanese Hydranger (Snowball) and others, for all seasons. 

Trees were Fir and Ash and Beech, the Beech succumbed to the over moist conditions. The stakes to support these young trees were as it happens made of Aspen (Trem… Populi) and took off with great vigour to produce large trees with large red catkins, eventually homes for magpies etc., willow did well too. 

The Spot Common, old folk told us, got it’s name from “The Beauty Spot” The 91 acres abounded with Oaks, Silver Birch, Elm and Hawthorn hedges that had never been layed with the resulting delight of the May blossom. 

The whole area, now playing fields, toward Catshill Junction was “veinged with “rises” which collected into a tributary (the source of the Tame) which James Brindley the canal builder decided this was a good place to discharge his surplus water. This did not affect the fish and other marine life in these crystal streamlets till about 1924 when, due to the decline in canal traffic, via Ogley Hay flight of locks the vast amount of water to operate these was now flooding the Clayhanger Common instead of flowing to Lichfield and some 15 or so nice little house were lost with much heartbreak.

The tunnel to take the water from the “Tame source” was put in place when the then Midland Railway made the embankment, now too small. The now LMSR allowed after much red tape to allow Brownhills UD Council to push a larger tunnel and set it deeper through the embankment on into Ford Brook.

Wheale - Samuel Clayhanger Pump 1923 (2)

4th June 1923, With compliments – Robert Green M. Inst. C. E., 37, Bennette Hill, Birmingham. Image kindly supplied by Marion Jones.

This new tunnel was soon rendered useless as mining subsidence was now 2’ or 3’ per year, a total of 20 feet or so. 

The LMS were approached by council officials to help further but without success thus sealing the fate of the beauty “Spot”. The ensuing lake which resulted from this was much appreciated by swans, ducks, baldcoots, moorhens. I was lucky enough to hear a bittern booming across the water around 1957.

The engines at the station were replaced by new technology to operate the pump and were made orsomatic, replaced still further by re-routing pipes to skirt round the hollows about 1958-9.

Thank you Wendy for your information you send us in the post, I will be glad to offer further help if any use.

Yours faithfully,

Ken Wheale

[Ken Wheale died 6th October 1992]

Wheale - Samuel Clayhanger Pump 1923 (4)

Brownhills sewage – 4th June 1923 – With compliments Robert Green M. Inst. C. E., Birmingham. Image kindly supplied by Marion Jones.

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12 Responses to Fighting a losing battle

  1. Clive says:

    Facinating, love it. Big thank you to Marion and Bob.

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    A big thank you to Marion, please ..another piece of our local history is revealed…and very much appreciated.
    Kind regards

  3. David Evnas says:

    Hi Bob
    Agree wholeheartedly with both Clive and Marion….and thank you for revealing another part of our local history. Very much appreciated
    Kind regards

  4. morturn says:

    These little pumping stations became such a well-known part of our landscape that their familiarity eroded their presence, rendering them almost invisible, a forgotten part of our history.
    Thank you for revealing this historical gem, and sharing it with us

  5. Wendy says:

    Hi Bob – Wendy Ross (now Roslow) here. I left Walsall Countryside Services in 2003 but still live in Staffordshire.
    I’m not sure if I would be able to provide any more information about the common or whether the documents are still around but I’ll try and be helpful!

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  9. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    Brownhills urban District Council minutes
    Finance Committee Meeting, 5th September 1956
    minute278. Sewer stoppage- Clayhanger-Account
    The Engineer and Surveyor reported thaat it had been necessary, as a matter of emergency, to eploy the Haleford Construction Company to arry out remdial measures following a stoppage of the sewer at Clayhanger, the account rendered for this work being £104 9s 0d. The action of the Engineer and Surveyor was endorsed and authority was given for the account to be paid


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  11. Mary Thomas Nee Iredale says:

    hiya there, I just wondered if you knew the names of the individual workers of those featured in the pictures of the spot. We believe one of the workers may have been called James Iredale, can you confirm as he was my father and worked there until it closed.

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