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’
As I understand it the pit mound on the east side of the railway was an outlier of Walsall Wood colliery. The bed of the mineral railway, though somewhat churned up, can still be followed, mostly, from the canal south of O’Grady’s Pool.
At first sight the presence of a pub suggests the Jolly Collier, which in 1851 was run by a William Arblaster and in 1861 Samuel Arblaster. This suggests to me that the site of the Brownhills and Pelsall Colliery was where the Coppice Side industrial estate is today. The Birmingham Canal Navigation passes through this area.
The 32 workers houses could have been the row that stood just south of High Bridges. But that brings into play the Yew Tree Inn. However, despite extensive research, I have no information about landlords before 1871 when I think Thomas Arblaster was a beerhouse keeper there.
According to ‘Pelsall History’, the Pelsall Colliery Company had shafts in the region of present-day Hampton Grove and Miller’s Walk. Or is this yet another Colliery Company? Pelsall Hall Colliery, the ‘Mouse Hill pit’ of the flooding tragedy was a different undertaking, being owned by Starkey and Morgan.
Palmer and Greene were two highly respected citizens of Lichfield, both serving as trustees on the board of Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust during the 14th Deed which ran from 1831 to 1852. A highly respected charity , hence the sense of shock and panic, this notice would cause.
My thank to Bob for publishing this in such detail and to Pedro for unearthing such an ancient nugget which contains so much human interest , entrepreneurial spirit in common with the times and a salutary lesson on ‘living beyond your means’.
I remember the pits around “Engine Lane” The slag heap sat the bottom of that lane were known as the black hills, this is where as a child we all went coal picking with the pram .After the pits closed the shafts were covered by large metal sheets, which with horror I remember we used to play on. There was once remnants of a cottage there too, complete with a garden well, and in the ruin’s lots of Roman Catholic pic’s etc. Further up the lane was”Coombe House”, which in about 1965 was turned into a nightclub called the “Pennycliff” There was a smaller slag heap in the coppice just before the entrance to the Hussey estate. Its still recognisable, just. I grew up on the Hussey estate and Engine lane was our back yard.
The Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery seems to have missed by the local historians. The 50 year Lease for the land had come up for auction in 1824. “Greatest facility for sale of coal by means of the Wyrley and Essington Canal passing through the centre of the property.” As seen in the last clip the Colliery plant was being auctioned in 1860 as the mines had been worked out. Perhaps the location and the pub can be found from the description, being midway between Pelsall and Brownhills stations, about 1 mile distance from each, with the Wyrley and Essington Canal passing through the collieries.
A more detailed description of the bankruptcy court reports that Greene, on the morning of the closure, had purchased in London, an Exchange Bill for £1000, for a Mrs Hussey, for whom he was the sole agent. Mr Reece for the creditors described it as fraudulent preference, and accused him of reckless trading by purchasing Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery when he knew he was in a state of irreversible insolvency; of extravagant living; and of a breach of faith in appropriating the money of the Conduit charity, of which he was a Trustee.
Since 1825 the bank was carried under the firm Greene and Palmer, and at the time of Palmer’s death the Bank’s liabilities were £70,000. Greene’s assets would have covered his liability but not that of the firm. For years prior to 1850 The partners had been living off the capital.
Many more questioned are posed. Why did Greene buy a concern that only had less than 10 years supply of coal; why did a consortium try to raise £45,000 pound and then back out; did Wardell cover his expenditure of £11,500 in sale of the colliery plant?
Was Greene really respected? Stowe House seems to have housed some dubious folk see Lichfield Lore…
The pub is the Railway Colliery Hotel! More info in due course.
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Did Richard Greene really know little of his partners private life?
I came across a letter to the Staffs Gazette from Copperthwaite Smith of Lichfield Grammar school in February of 1840. It must have been one of a series of exchanges. It is long and detailed, and he speaks as a lover of the Truth and fair play. Smith replies to what he terms a Tissue of false statements and reckless assertions.
Greene had talked, amongst other things, of his treatment of two boys, Egginton and Flowers, as sins of commission.
“For I remember well I think, in 1826, you yourself purchased a number of Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal shares of me at par, or at a small discount; and shortly after you partner, Mr Palmer, purchased another Lot of the same at a very considerable discount; and the very next morning after he had bought them he sold at Great advantage to a third person at a very handsome profit!….for my part They had been consigned to me in consequence of being a considerable holder of Old Birmingham Canal Shares….”
“….But stop Richard, look into yourself a little; and ascertain who and what you are? You are not the man to sit in judgement of a Clergyman of respectable acquirements. Your education I have ascertained from one of your school fellows, fell short by nearly one half of the usual school attainments; and if the report speaks truly, your knowledge of your own business hardly reaches mediocrity.”
For more on Copperthwaite Smith see Lichfield Lore and “Through Doors and Windows”…
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