A few weeks ago, Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, part time local historian and full time historical mischief-maker, ferreted out the remarkable story of the collapse of a bank in Lichfield in 1856, which detailed early mining in Brownhills, and showed some of the machinations of the railway and mining magnates in the area at the time.
These years were surely the gold rush times here, and from them, came deep mining, the Harrison era, the days of Empire, old King Coal and steam, eventually resulting in the town of Brownhills we know today.
I was hoping Peter’s article may generate some comment, and ultimately uncover more history – and so it has. I know old hands Gerald Reece and Ian Pell would centainly be intrigued, and Ian has written a wonderfully extensive email in the last week commenting on a number of pieces here.
Here’s what he has to add to the Greene story: it’s wonderful, and I invite further comment: either here, or to BrownhillsBob at googlemail dot com.
Thanks to Ian: his pieces are always, expert, lucid and very knowledgable, and I’m honoured to be able to feature the here, as I am with all the blog contributors.
The silly summer season is nearly ended and life returns to something approaching normal. I still have not been converted to the ‘Great Western’, remaining loyal to my ‘South Staffs’ and ‘London North Western’ roots. A number of recent articles have been worthy and merit comment.
Mr. Greene, the South Staffs Railway and the tale of Railway Colliery.
The first are the fine comments regarding the Lichfield banker Richard Greene and his bankruptcy in January 1856. It never ceases to amaze me how two completely differing pieces of information can combine to give a clearer picture of events and their consequences.
As was correctly pointed out, Richard Greene was both a director of the South Staffordshire Railway and a good friend of the then owner of the Railway Company, John McClean no less. It is also quite possible he was also a director of other McClean associated companies such as the various Cannock Chase Collieries and the South Staffordshire Water Company, but as yet this is purely speculation on my part.
My part of the story unfolds in February 1855 when Mr Yardley’s report (ref: – 2304/1150835) is laid before the Board of Directors of the South Staffs Railway. Unfortunately, I believe no record of the report survives, but the recommendation of the Board is clear and minuted. The Company refuses to purchase the Railway Colliery in order to protect both the South Staffs main line and the proposed line of the Norton Branch as authorised by parliament on 2nd June 1854. The recommendation of the report is that the Railway should be raised in preference to purchasing the mines of the Railway Colliery Company and this is what happens. It is also ironic that the area also covers where Norton Junction Up Sidings will start to be developed in the late 1880’s.
The Collieries in question were the Railway Colliery adjacent to Highbridges and Yew Tree Colliery which was situated further along Pelsall Lane towards Brownhills. Yew Tree workings extended under the South Staffs main line and affected the area described in one of my previous articles, ‘Slip sliding away‘. The Railway Colliery appears to have ceased working in 1856, shortly after a boy fell down one of the shafts and died. Yew Tree Colliery also appears to have closed in 1856.
From around 1851-2 Railway Colliery had its own siding, leading off the South Staffs line at the location which in later years was to become Norton Junction (adjacent to where Norton Junction No.1 signal box was situated). This single line lead to a loading stage at the colliery where a further small siding was laid. The loading stage also served the Wyrley and Essington Canal, at a position next to what was to become the Pelsall Lane road bridge, via a small tramway.
After this apparent upset to Mr Greene’s ambitions, he still attended the Meetings of the Railway, being present at the Meeting of the Finance, Land and Works Committee on 1st September, 1855 and the Board of Directors on 27th September, 1855. Clearly, he hoped that the Railway would reconsider their position, but as we now know time was running on for him, and subsequent to his bankruptcy on 8th January, 1856, he was not present at the Railway’s Board of Director’s Meeting of 4th February, 1856. Minute No. 218 of that meeting states… ‘The Chairman having communicated to the Board the resignation of Mr. Greene as a director.’ Resolved… ‘That such resignation be accepted.’
The following Minute Meeting No. 219 then referred to a letter from a Mr. Wagstaff, dated 2nd February, 1856 in which he advised on the subject of trusteeship and Pelsall Colliery sidings. The consideration of which was postponed at the meeting. Obviously, the matter was giving the Board of Directors some cause for concern as the next Meeting Minute No. 220 recommends that the Railway Company write to Messrs. Barnett and Marlow to discuss the ‘Statement of Land Deposits’ (see secretary’s letters of 23rd October and 4th November), especially as respects Palmer and Greene’s Bank, if any, and at what risk?
Clearly, the Railway were ensuring that any implications of Mr. Greene’s failure were minimised and that they were unaffected by his actions regarding the land around the Railway Colliery.
Ironically, some years later, the Railway filled the disused Railway Colliery shaft nearest Highbridges when commencing civils works for the construction of the Up sidings at Norton Junction.
As for Mr. Greene, his desperate act of purchasing the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery Company in the hope that the Railway would subsequently purchase, at no doubt an inflated price, clearly backfired and his fate was thus sealed. It is probable that this was not the only venture Mr. Greene embarked upon in a desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy.
What the coming together of the two pieces of information does is clearly shows why the Railway was discussing the Railway Colliery purchase, in the context of the potential subsidence presented to the Railway, and the complex weaving of Mr. Greene’s attempts to save himself from bankruptcy.
As a final note, the location of the Railway Colliery Hotel was next to Highbridge Row (a series of workers cottages) on Pelsall Lane to the Pelsall side of the canal and railway.