Safe as houses?


This splendid 1953 image of Hazelslade celebrating the 1953 Coronation is just one of many fascinating bits of Hazelslade History on the Village Website.

I’m pleased to say that, somewhat like rust, Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler never sleeps, and his tireless and somewhat relentless pursuit of the evidential history behind some of the commonly accepted ‘authoritative sources’ of local mining history continues unabated.

Peter is questioning accepted accounts yet again – as he has done several times before – particularly in regard the the Harrison colliery dynasty. It’s important that we do this here, and I’m pleased and honoured to publish the points raised.

This time, Peter raises an interesting question into the construction and stewardship of the former mining village Hazelslade, on the southern edge of Cannock Chase.

I will point out that the Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society do an fine job and have full right of reply – as anyone does here – but I think it’s vital that we do question the accepted rubrics of such matters, and thankfully with easier access to newspaper archives, it’s becoming very much easier to do so.

History is ours to question. Never, ever be frightened to do so. Any good theory will stand up to rigorous questioning, after all.

Thanks to Peter for another wonderful article. What this shows, more than anything, is the necessity to be careful when taking history at face value. Anything I write, or that appears here, may be wrong. But in our experience, it’s just as likely to be wrong in local history books. Keep an open mind, folks.

Comments? Insults? Welcome them all – either on this post or mailed to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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Hazelslade, as mapped by the Ordnance Survey in 1883 at 1:10,000 scale. Image from the NLS website.

Hi Bob,

In the post ‘In pursuit of the truth‘ I quoted the last chapter in the Cannock Chase Mining History Society’s publication ‘William Harrison Company Limited.

The Harrison family were once at the forefront of mining and colliery management and had participated strongly in the affairs of local justice and military life. Their mines not only changed the landscape of Brownhills Common, Wyrley Common, Landywood and South Cannock areas whilst the pits were working but also they gave employment to thousands, provided housing, a way of life and finance to the community from 1849 to 1947, some 98 years.

I have several reservations about the wording of the above statement, which appears to over glorify the role of the coal owners. Just one of them is the assertion that they provided housing, and perhaps the best example would be over in Hazelslade where we have the Harrison interest in the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery Company. The Hazel Slade History site says

As the Cannock Chase Coalfield expanded so did Hazel Slade, and gradually a close knit community of terraced houses was built in the 1870’s by the bosses of the Cannock & Rugeley Colliery Company.

It also goes on to describe the state of the ‘Company Village’.

Over on the CCMHS site there is the following:

Colonel John WILLIAMSON 1824 – 1916

For 20 years he was also a director of William Harrisons Ltd. John WILLIAMSON was also responsible for the setting up of the Hazel Slade Land and Building Company, which built hundreds of homes for local miners. He was for many years a member of the old Local Board for Cannock and served as Chairman responsible during this period for the introduction of public water and lighting services. He was also a director of the Cannock and Hednesford Gas Company…

In the above we see that it was the Hazel Slade Land and Building Company that ‘built hundreds’ of homes. In fact the full title was Building Society Limited, being of Limited Liability. Financial experts can no doubt tell us the benefits of such a Company!

Lichfield Board of Guardians (April 1879): Hazelslade

(Medical Officer) In consequence of scarlet-fever being prevalent in Hazelslade, 3 fatal cases having been registered in the past quarter, I have made 3 visits to the village, and have found it neccesary to place myself in communication with the owners of the property, ‘The Hazelslade Land and Building Society, Limited.’ The place is not badly sanitised, but the sewage when collected is poured by the main into a subsidence tank which is much too near the village, and to the brook which receives the overflow of this tank.

I have requested the directors of the said Company to carry the main sewer under the brook, to remove the tank to a greater distance, and to distribute the sewage to the land instead of allowing it to enter the brook. The reply of the Secretary promises that ‘the matter shall have attention as quickly as possible.’

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Hazelslade is veryt different today – and note the reservoir in the map is now a motor sport race track! Imagery from Bing! Maps.

A Neglected Village. Whose fault is it? (Sep 1880) To the editor of the Daily Post.

Sir, I was much surprised to find in your last Monday’s issue a letter under the above head, signed ‘A Miner’s Wife’, containing unfounded statements respecting the village of Hazelslade, which is the property of this company. Your correspondence says that there are 200 houses… no water, 200 houses… no school, 200 houses… no Nuisance Inspector. These assertions I emphatically deny.

In the first place there are only 140 houses, which are amply supplied with water; one spring, in which a good lead pump has been placed, produces between 4000 and 5000 gallons, per day, of excellent water which has been approved by the Medical Officer of Health for this District; in addition to this there are five other wells. There are, within a half mile of the village, commodious Board schools, and besides these there are two schools in the immediate vicinity. The fact that Hazelslade, being comprised in the Rugeley Rural Sanitary District clearly proves that there is a Nuisance Inspector. The filthy brook to which the corresponding refers, I need only just state is a trout stream.

The Company has expended upwards of £450 upon the sewers and streets, and the death rate compares favourably with any other in the district. Our Rent Collector made a house to house visit on yesterday and he assures me that there are not twenty persons ill in the place, ‘A Miner’s Wife’ states that there are over one hundred.

I am, Sir, faithfully yours.

Thomas Evans, Secretary of the Hazelslade Land and Building Society (Limited)
Hednesford,September 14, 1880.

Lichfield Board of Guardians July 1881: The Medical Officer

I have again to draw your attention to the very unsatisfactory condition of the hamlet of Hazelslade. The place consists of 140 or 150 cottages (occupied almost exclusively by colliers), built and owned by a Limited Liability Company, the Hazelslade Land and Building Society. The defects of which I have to complain are… 1st, the infrequency with which the ashpits and night soil pits are emptied, often allowing the latter to overflow into the privies: 2nd… the contamination of the brook with sewage; and 3rd… the insufficiency of the water supply. At this moment there is but one pump, and that at a considerable distance, available for the water supply of the whole village. At my urgent request, a second well and pump was provided last year but in a recent visit (on the 11th inst) I found the pump useless, and was told that the water was not fit to drink, even while the pump raised it.

My Inspector has communicated with Mr Williamson, and I have written to Mr Peake, the Chairman of the Company, but at present the nuisence is unabated. Lastly I have to repeat a request, that I may be supplied with statistical information as to the exact area and population of the rural sanitary District of the Lichfield Union.

December 1884: Local Board

Mr. Lees himself visited Hazelslade a few days ago and found pigsties and stables erected on the banks of the stream, and draining directly into it.

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3 Responses to Safe as houses?

  1. mickysix says:

    Here is another interesting take on the History of the area, Thanks to Pedro for doing it and to Bob for posting, also to the Village of Hazleslade, which i usedd to visit in my youth (their great Folk clubs)

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Another excellent investigation by Pedro….I wonder if the Mr Peake mentioned in the article was the same person who was one of the four directors of the Walsall Wood Colliery
    Many thanks to Pedro ….an interesting revelation, indeed
    Kind regards

  3. Pedro says:

    I later found the actual wording of the letter sent

    A Neglected Village —The following letter appeared in Monday’s Birmingham Post.—

    Sir—Please insert the following piece in reference to Hazel Slade, in Rugeley district: 200 houses, no water; 200 houses, no school; 200 houses and no Nuisance Inspector. Now, at five persons living in each house, here we have 1000 persons without clean water for their use, and above 100 of them ill through the place being neglected. In your paper, a few days ago, I saw an account of the blessings of having a plenteous supply of good water at Darlaston, the death-rate being now only half what it has been. Now, what is the cause of this state of things here? Is it because the houses belong to a company, or is it because there is no Board ot Health to look after the place? High rent, no water, men compelled to live in the houses or no work. Happy place! and only half a mile from the large reservoir from which Darlaaton and other places are compelled to have the water. In other places I find if the supply is not good, their wells are closed op. We have one pump here from which water is fetched, but as it is 300 to 400 yards away, I leave it to you to imagine if people are so clean as they ought to be. There is also a filthy brook running through the place, into which all kinds of filth is thrown, and the same water is used by most of the people.—

    Yours, truly, “A Miner’s Wife.”

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