A desperate attempt to stave-off bankruptcy

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In 1856 – when brownhills was barely a collection of hamlets – a troubled Lichfield Banker attempted a doomed property deal over mining here. This is at the very root of the start of Brownhills are a town.Norton Junction and the colliery would have been in the diagonal area, central. Imagery from Bing Maps.

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.

Ian wrote:


Ye Olde City scandalised by the collapse of a bank – and the dire attempts of the owner to stop it.

Hi Bob

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.

NORTON JUNCTION-31-12-1966002

In it’s heyday, Norton Junction – the sidings just by Highbridges on the Pelsall/Brownhills border – were busy with coal wagons from local pits. Image from the South Staffordshire Rail Group.

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?


By 1982, as this image shows, the sidings were abandoned, and soon to be ripped up; today, there are houses on the south end, and public open space at the north end. Image from the South Staffordshire Rail Group.

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.

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14 Responses to A desperate attempt to stave-off bankruptcy

  1. Pedro says:

    Puzzle for the Historians…

    Greene was indeed, amongst other things, a director on the board of South Staffs Water.

    It is interesting here that South Staffs Railway refer to the Colliery as Railway Colliery, and yet the one that Greene had purchased for the bank was definitely called the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery Company Ltd; mentioned several times in the Archives and in the bankruptcy proceedings. So were they one and the same?

    The Slough, Yew Tree, Railway and Highbridge Collieries were grouped quite close together, and Brian Rollins speculates that the Railway Colliery, terminated in 1856, may have been worked in conjunction with its neighbours, and believed to have been worked by William Harrison under lease from Hussey. The spoil mounds can still be seen.

    In June of 1856 a mine consultant says of the proposed share issue for purchase of Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery….”I have fully and carefully examined The colliery. The measures of coal are excellent for house purposes, and the colliery is well situated for canal and railway transit; it is also open in a proper and workmanlike manner, and the whole expenditure for that is judicious and efficient. If worked with sufficient capital and skill it will yield 2000 tons per week, for many years; and with good management yield a large profit. There can be no doubt as to the capability of the colliery under efficient management.”

    The sale did not go as expected, and the Colliery was sold at a knockdown price. It eventually closed in 1860. But it does show that an 1856 closure was not on the cards.

  2. Pedro says:

    Just found something I had noted from the Archives but had not kept the source…!!

    “In March 1857 it is reported to have been sold to Mr Wardell for £11,500. The value of the collieries, at the time of Mr Greene’s bankruptcy, was estimated to be around £30,000 and it is believed that the bankrupt purchased them from the lessee of the South Staffordshire Railway at a price some thousands of pounds higher from the amount at which they are now sold. The loss will be a serious reduction of the dividend expected from the Lichfield bank estate.”

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  4. Ian Pell says:

    I Believe that Railway Colliery and Yew Tree Colliery formed the basis of the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery Co. There is no mention in the South Staffs Railway minutes of a sale of land including collieries from the Railway to Mr. Greene, in fact the reverse appears to be what Mr. Greene wished to happen, but it never did.

    • Pedro says:

      The report that Greene purchased the collieries from the lesee of the South Staffs Railway is probably a bit of Newspaper sensationalism, but it does beg the question as to who sold them, and also the make up of the Pelsall and Brownhills Colliery Company.

      The auction notice of 1856 tells of 262 acres and three collieries. Could they be the Yew Tree, Railway and Highbridge Collieries? It also says there are three acres on 99 year lease with a Public House (named in 1860 as the Railway Company Hotel) and 30 odd cottages that could correspond to Highbridge Row.

      Well what do the experts say?

      The CCMHS Publication, William Harrison Company Limited, describes Yew Tree Colliery as being c 1845 to 1856. The mineral owner being Phineas Hussey and the lease taken up by William Harrison Jnr in about 1845. The Colliery worked two small areas of Deep and Shallow Seams from five shafts….the take was quite small due to the close proximity of the London and North Western Railway, and the repair costs of which, if damaged by subsidence, would have been prohibitive.

      Did Harrison sell before 1856?

      Also in the above publication there is a brief mention that the Railway Colliery could have been worked in conjunction with the others. Brian Rollins states that the Railway colliery terminated in1856, and was believed to have been worked by William Harrison under lease from Hussey.

      Did Harrison sell before 1856?

      As far as Highbridge is concerned its start is estimated around 1850 and close 1925. The first mention of Harrison is the signing of a lease with Hussey to draw water and get the ungotten mines of coal under the lands between the highway from Pelsall to Brownhills.

      Did Harrison lump in after 1856?

      Do we know that it was Greene who put the proposal to the railway board?

  5. Ian says:

    It is quite clear that the Railway’s concerns were regarding the demise of Mr. Greene and whether they had clearly just avoided some potential financial disaster. I cannot as yet confirm that Mr. Greene actually suggested the purchase of the colliery company but bearing in mind what was happening and his position on the sub-committees of the Railway it would seem highly likely. Further digging required in the minutes prior to 1856.
    Highbridge would be a good bet for the third colliery, especially bearing in mind the references to the hotel, etc:-.

  6. Ian says:

    When the main line was being constructed the Company declined to pay Elisha Caddick the price required by him for his mine at Brownhills, but required Mr. Caddick to leave ungotten the quantity of mine necessary. The compensation to be settled under the provisions of the “Lands Clauses Consolidation Act”.

    The land previously occupied by Railway Colliery was in the ownership of “The Trustees of P. F. Hussey from 15th July 1913.

    Mr. Greene was a director of the Railway Company from around 1850, if not before.
    Messrs. Greene & Tunicliffe received 498 shares in the Company in 1850ish.

    At the Board Meeting of 27th October 1853 Mr. Harrison gave Notice to work mines under the Railway at Brownhills. A Mr. Thomas also gave similar Notice but the Company’s solicitor questioned whether the mine belonged to him, rather to Messrs John Bagnall, and that Mr. Thomas had stopped working, and that Mr. Harrison had not yet commenced working under the line. The Company had already written to Harrison and warned him that the Company would hold him responsible for any injury resulting from his working his mines under the Notice given by him on 24th August, 1852.

    At the Director’s Board Meeting of 27th August 1855 it was resolved to write to Mr. Taylor and Messrs. Barnett & Marlow to report on the land bought by Mr. Greene. This is the clearest indication that Greene did indeed purchase the Colliery Co. and seems to fit into the previously commented on timeline.

    Hope the above is of interest.

    • Pedro says:

      The Lichfield Mercury report of the Half yearly meeting of the Railway in March 1856 does not mention Greene. However there is a reference saying that it was not needed to fill the vacancy that had occurred on the Board, as the existing body was amply sufficient to discharge the business of the Company.

  7. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    What a thoroughly captivating article and discussion. Thank you Ian and Pedro. Yes, history will certainly have to be re-written here.
    Kind regards

  8. Pedro says:

    Nov 1847…SSR opening of Bescot to Walsall line…

    CS Forster was Chairman, and R Chawner of Wall vice chairman, and McCLean of course the Engineer. W Harrison is mentioned and could have been director, no mention of Richard Greene.

    In 1849 The Company Gives notice of an application to Parliament for an Act to authorize and empower the South Staffordshire Railway Company to lease to any person or persons, for any term not exceeding twenty-one years, the railway belonging to them the said South Staffordshire Railway Company, and all and singular the branches thereof, and all the estate, right, title, and interest, works, conveniences, and things in, about, or appertaining thereto or connected therewith, and all the messuages, tenements, lands…..

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