Our intrepid urban explorer, the young David Evans, has been out and about on the mean streets of Walsall Wood again, searching for his nemesis, the lost brook of Brook Lane.
This is yet another wonderful piece from David in the vein of several he’s created in the past, where it’s not just the history, but the memory and physical geography of the landscape he recalls.
It’s a great piece of evidential history – I do take issue with a couple of assertions made – but that’s by the by. Pieces of this quality are exactly why I’m so proud and honoured to be able to feature David’s work here.
Anything to add? Comment on this piece or to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.
To the north-east of Walsall Wood lies the Shire Oak hill. This ridge with its iron-age fort has a stream which takes its source in this gentle slope, falling in the direction of Shelfield and passes through Holly Bank, Salters Road, Hall Lane and eventually joins a watercourse which flows by the fields at Highfields farm and the Jockey Meadows
This brook has long been of interest and intrigue to me.
Childhood adventures have embraced some participation, and frequent immersion, in this stream at some point… usually to my mother’s displeasure.
The 1908 book, Victorian History of the County of Stafford shows an sketch plan of the ‘Castle Old fort in Shenstone’ (see blog article ,’King of the castle’, August 20th 2012) drawn before 1908, which includes small pools by or near the northern limit of the fortification. My first thoughts about these pools were did they exist before the fort was built, or were they man-made – if so, when? And again, why choose this site? There have been several published writings about this fort, some better considered and researched than others, it seems. But, being the highest point, the inhabitants would see the rising sun’s first rays, and the setting sun’s last rays. A possible significance to Druids in those iron-age, and pre-Roman times, and an avenue of investigation yet to be explored by professional historians and archeologists, perhaps.
The slope of the Holly Bank Common shows a surprising, wide and shallow depression, which follows the line of Fereday/Poxon Roads/Beacon Way, and from here we see the emerging stream featuring on the 1884 1/10,000 scale map, and more prominently in the 1921 1/10,000 map. Was this the course of the original stream, perhaps, or where they joined to become one stream before flowing from Holly Bank?
Local readers of a certain age may well recall the common and its bogs and shallow marsh pools. One of the ponds is shown in the 1918 map, by Holly Lane.
One feature that had been lost from the mapping by 1921 – a large pool shown in the 1884 map, by Salter’s Lane, and the stream between Salters lane and Brook Lane is now more important (a double line indicates the watercourse was wider) and the brook now seems straighter. Evidence of some re-aligning and deepening of the watercourse perhaps? (source, Walsall Wood, a Short History, by Margaret Brice, page 3, published 1982 )
The construction of the railway through Walsall Wood, and especially the cutting, by Brookland Road, seems to have brought about the need to pump the stream back to its course (though with some culverting under part of the High Street). The windpump that did this stood on the corner of High Street and Brookland Road and can just be seen in the 1926 photo below.
The 1902 1:2,500 map of Walsall Wood supplied by Steve Hickman a few years ago clearly details the windpump.
If we assume that the stream was heading to the lowland of Jockey Meadows, the stream had another major man-made barrier to negotiate , the canal bank. If the stream did pass this way it had to pass under the canal and that dates from around 1800. Where did/does the stream go?
This section of a 1919 1:2,500 map gives a very good clue. It appears that the stream emerged from its culvert near the old vicarage boundary. Indeed, it would be most unlikely for the church to be built too close to the original stream in 1837 [Anyone visiting Farewell Church may take issue with this one – Bob]. Had the stream been ‘moved’ to accommodate the construction of the church on the parcel of land given by the Earl of Bradford?
We see the double line, indicating the stream flowing towards the canal bank, and an intriguing feature is now shown, by the canalbank, by the large letter D… The entrance to the culvert where the stream flowed under the canal? A modification/improvement made here because of the railway cutting upstream? [I think that’s a building rather than a surface culvert – it would be interesting to know what it was, though – Bob]
The stream is shown across Hall Lane, between fields 364 and 348, and flowing in unnatural straight lines around the edges of fields, towards the Jockey Meadows and the Highfield farm fields.
What can be found to show the course of the stream nowadays?
Near Brookland Road junction with High Street there are quite a few manhole covers – an unusual number of them, perhaps evidence of major work done when the new housing estate was built on Holly bank common, but perhaps revealing where the culverted stream may be.
And in the roadway nearby, by the library:
Time to have a look along Hall Lane to find the stream!
This double line of trees, just beyond the wooden fence, is the stream, and yet another manhole cover can be seen by the wire fence. I was pleased to meet the farmer , Mr Halford, who confirmed the line of the stream, and how it flows straight around field edges, and that the manhole cover is a’storm water’ cover.
There remains the section of the stream from behind the vicarage to Hall Lane to be identified. The kindness and generosity of Walsall Wood people revealed itself, yet again.
A resident of one of the houses close to these fields, Mr. G. Cresswell has helped to complete this investigation.
There were two ‘wells’, one either side of the canal bank. At the top of these shafts there were grilles, and deep down them you could hear the water running, I was told. Mr. Cresswell had helped the cricket club clear the field behind the church to become the cricket pitch, and remembered the stream flowing around the edge of the field and flowing to the canal bank. The stream re-emerged from under the canal as an open stream by the side of some old houses. In more recent years this open stream had been culverted, the pipes took a dog-leg under the roadway in Hall Lane, to join the fields beyond.
So we went a walk along the canal, from the High Street bridge, and within a short distance, there among the undergrowth we found a manhole cover, just where he remembered, and across the water we could see a clump of tall weeds, on the bankside.
The stream’s course had very probably been found!
And the Jockey Meadows? They are there and look glorious, and the widening stream is a vital part of the ecology that makes up the Site of Special Scientific Interest here, and a tribute to their wonderful restoration work by Natural England and all the parties who’ve taken such a great interest and personal effort, including the work of Mr. and Mrs. Bakewell, of the horse and Jockey Inn.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr Bill Mayo and Mr Roland Holland who helped with maps to research this article.
Thanks also to Mr Paul Halford, the farmer and to Hayley and Ken Bakewell of the Horse and Jockey pub. Thanks are especially due to Mr Graham Creswell of Hall Lane, for all the help, time and generosity, without which this exploration would not have been possible.