Local history rapscallion Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler regularly comes up with some incredible stuff that fires off at interesting tangents to light up lost fragments of our history that might otherwise be overlooked. Time and time again, Peter has investigated news reports and other material behind the accepted truth of stories and found them somewhat different to that which was expected.
Coming out of left field then, this interesting tale of a Lichfeldian bank crash which left investors in penury and clearly affected the power struggle between wealthy landowners vying for control of Brownhillian coal assets just before the advent of deep mining.
I’m hoping this wonderful article might be a basis for further discussion – I feel certain many will have points of view on it. Please feel free to challenge, debate and contribute – either by commenting or mailing me: rownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.
Cheers to Peter who never ceases to amaze and without whom, this blog would be a shadow of itself. Thanks old chap.
During the first week of 1856 many newspapers across Britain were carrying the story. By the time it appeared in the Morning Post on Tuesday 8th January details were becoming clearer…
Failure of Lichfield Bank, Palmer and Greene.
About three o’clock on Monday afternoon (New Year’s Eve) a panic was in this city (Lichfield) by the appearance of writing paper on the closed door of the banking establishment known as Palmer and Greene’s bank, an old established and respected house dating so far back as 1765.
The writing was as follows:—
‘It is with the deep concern I find myself compelled to close the door of this establishment. The circumstances which occasion the necessity are remote, and will be explained without delay.’
From the extensive credit enjoyed by this bank, the firm had almost a monopoly of the business in this neighbourhood, and the consequences of their stoppage are most distressing. The Lichfield Union, the Savings Bank, the Excise, the Dean and Chapter, the Corporation, the Streetrate, the Dispensary, the Militia, the Conduit Lands Trust, the Yeomanry, the Half-pay Officers, the Turnpike Trust, and many charities (but not the municipal charities), and other public accounts, are all locked up.
Lichfield has never before received such a shock, and many private persons who had funds in the Bank will he seriously inconvenienced. On Tuesday Mr. Greene attended at the Bankruptcy Court, in Birmingham, and held a petition of bankruptcy. On Wednesday he attended, accompanied by Mr. Knight, solicitor, and surrendered. Notices have since been issued, noting the 31st of January and the 21st of February for his examination. On Thursday, Mr. Knight appeared before Mr. Wilson, Registrar, to obtain permission for the official assignee to carry on some coal mines belonging to the bankrupt. In support of the application, Mr. Knight put in the affidavit of Mr. Thomas Morris, of Pall-Mall, in the district of Middlesex, agent for the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery, stating that he could find a ready sale for all the coal produced; that the colliery was in working order; that the stoppage of the colliery would occasion loss and damage, urging that it should continue to be worked…
…The following facts have been communicated to us concerning the failure of the Lichfield Bank. Upon Mr Palmer’s death, that occurred in April 1850, Mr Greene discovered that Mr Palmer was indebted to the bank, prior to his decease, to the amount of between £50,000 and £60,000. The bank treating that amount not as bad debt, which it had then no right to do, took it into account, and was solvent having a surplus of £30,000.
Mr Palmer was the senior partner, having the chief management in his hands, and Mr Greene was, as a matter of course, ignorant of the details of Mr Palmer’s private affairs. In 1850/51, from the magnitude of Mr Palmer’s debts, Mr Greene was induced to take measures to ascertain the exact position of the Bank. He took advice from his agent in London, a man experienced in monetary affairs, as to whether to continue or make an immediate stoppage. He was advised to continue, and expected the profits and the resolution of Palmer’s assets would be sufficient to pay the demands in full…
…The amount of Mr Greene’s liability was £220,000; the assets amount to from £150,000 to £160,000, available from mining property which is good, money, general securities. The Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery is of course included…
…In connection with the above mines, although it was not publicly stated in open court, it was nevertheless rumoured amongst the creditors present, that strong doubts are entertained as to whether the bankrupt possesses a valid title to the mines. It is said that there never was a transfer of the properly effected by the bankrupt and that It may become a question in equity before the Chancellor. If so the proceedings are not likely to be wound up very speedily. At present the mines are being well worked by the official assigner, by order of the court, for the benefit of the creditors and with advantage, there being full demand in London, at good prices, for all the coal raised.
…The bankrupt was examined at very great length, and adhered to the statement which he made at his last examination, that the main cause of insolvency of the bank was the amount of debt owing by Mr. Palmer, at the time of his death in 1850; The case was adjourned, at the conclusion of the bankrupt’s examination, until Monday.
….at the Birmingham Bankruptcy Court, Mr. Commissioner Balguy gave judgment at great length, on the application of Mr. Richard Greene, banker, Lichfield, for a certificate. The debts were £180,000, and the assets were deficient to the amount of £70,000. In the course of his judgment his honour severely commented upon the fact, that although the bankrupt knew in 1850 that he was hopelessly insolvent, yet he continued his banking transactions, and entered into several speculations. He also reproved Mr. Greene for not, under these circumstances, reducing his private expenditure, which was at the rate of £3,500 a-year, while his profits for several years had been less than £400. On the other hand, he considered the conduct of the bankrupt in every other respect strictly honourable and correct. His honour accordingly intimated that he would award a certificate of the second class, its issue, however, to be suspended for twelve months. The solicitor for Mr. Greene thereupon applied for protection from arrest during this period, which was granted.
In June of 1856 a consortium was formed to try to obtain the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery as a Limited Company, with capital of £45,000 in £100 shares.
The collieries comprise of mines, for a term of 21 years, under 262 acres, including 3 acres for 99 years. On which a public house, and 32 Workmen’s houses are erected.
The pits, engines and plant are all of the most complete and substantial character.
The South Staffordshire Railway and Birmingham canal run through the estate, and from the former there are sidings running from each pit, and the Canal Company are about, at their own expense, to form the basin to facilitate the loading of boats. There are also sidings for the use of the Colliery at Birmingham, Leamington and Camden Town stations of London and NW railway…
…large proportion of shares are already taken, remaining on application…
The consortium did not go through with the deal, probably as one of the members could not come up with the cash, and later in December the Colliery came up for sale at auction. The sale attracted a large and influential interest, nearly all the principal coal masters were present, but it was sold to a private individual, Mr. Wardel of Norton in the Moors for £11,500.
Richard Greene resided at Stowe House in Lichfield, and was a director of the South Staffs Railway. From the History of South Staffs Water…
John McClean’s idea of founding the South Staffordshire Water Works followed discussion in the board room of the South Staffordshire Railway Company of which he was leasee. He persuaded five directors of the railway company to join him in the venture and they became founder directors of the water company; Richard C. Chawner, Richard Dyott, Charles Forster, Richard Greene and Richard Jesson.
Greene’s solicitor had mentioned in his defence that his speculation on the value of the mines was the same as such eminent men as Chawner and McClean, (and of course the Harrison family). Was he unlucky?
In 1866 warnings were sounded, in some quarters, as to the probable early exhaustion of English Coalfields. Although others suggested that concealed coal treasures existed, but to what extent remained to be ascertained. 
Just whereabouts was the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery? Not much information exists, and the National Archives description suggest that we may now be able to add some information.
Pelsall and Brown Hills Colliery Company, Ltd. Registered between 1844 and 1856, and either dissolved before 1856 or re-registered by 1860
 Joseph Holdsworth MGSF, ‘On the Extension of the English Coalfields beneath the Secondary Formations of the Midland Counties’