Something brewing

I’ve had an inquiry from reader and friend of the blog Trevor Wallage who’s interested in what material we may have relating to the canal/rail interchange wharf that existed in Brownhills, around about where the Canoe and Outdoor Centre is today – one of the basins still exists, and is in use as a private mooring.

After a shufty through the books and scans, here’s what I have. I welcome reader contributions, of course – comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

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Imagery from Bing! Maps. Click for a larger version.

Recent Bing! Maps aerial imagery shows the urbanisation now present, and the one remaining canal basin used for private mooring. The red box highlights where the interchange was.

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1884 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey mapping. Click for a larger version.

The 1884 map above shows that a railhead extended from the South Staffordshire mainline just south of Brownhills Station and headed south under a second arch of Brownhills Bridge into sidings parallel with the basins. Over one, there appears to be a covered wharf or warehouse, which suggests it was for unloading stuff that needed to be kept dry, like grain.


From Jan Farrow’s ‘Around Aldridge and Brownhills in picture postcards’ – Click for a larger version.

This image is taken from about where the miner statue stands today, looking down the High Street towards Shire Oak. About where Aldi is today, there was a pub many remember called the Station Hotel. For several decades this was owned by Brownhills entrepreneur and philanthropist William Roberts, and it was actually quite a high-class hotel. Behind it, there was a surprisingly large brewery – also owned by Roberts – that brewed ale for his pubs. This would undoubtedly have been served by the railhead, and probably the canal basins, too.


A noted local postcard, spotted on Facebook, origin unknown.

The image above seems earlier – note the growth in branches on the telegraph poles. I think this shows the earlier Roberts brewery, but can’t be certain. The shop on the left, incidentally, was Brewes Bakery and this was known as ‘Brewes Corner’.


Image from the British Library/Aerofilms Archive.

I’m trying to get a larger version of the above 1926 image, but this is the clearest picture of what the wharf, railhead and brewery looked like. Note the covered wharf (extreme left), and what appear to be coal stacks on the right of it. Follow the track up, and that’s the brewery. It was a large concern.

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The basins from the air in 1963, as captured in an aerial survey in 1963. Imagery supplied by Lichfield District Council and Gareth Thomas.

By 1963 when the above aerial survey was taken, the area around the basins was derelict, and only a few buildings remained. Ralph Ferrie would use the land close to the rail line and High Street for a couple of decades as a lorry repair yard, and Ravens Court would soon be built obliterating any sign of the Roberts Brewery.


Image courtesy Brownhills George.

This is the old Iron Bridge, now replaced by the modern, sweeping structure we have today. This picture would be around 1986, as it shows the current Tesco store as Hillards, the company that originally had it built. They were taken over by Tesco in 1987. The odd arrangement of walls and poor quality block paving was what passed for a ‘marina’ in the original plans.

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9 Responses to Something brewing

  1. Peter says:

    Hya Bob, I think you’ve pretty much got it covered to be fair, there are one or two other images that could be used but I’m not sure they’ll add much to the information you’ve already issued, it is amazing to think, what everyone takes as being the norm today, was in fact so different only a few generations ago.
    Some lovely old images over the last few weeks, keep up the good work eh……..


  2. John Anslow says:

    Really enjoyed this piece, Bob; thank you for posting it.

    There was an attempt in the 1960s to bring this sort of history into schools with J.M.B.’s syllabus B: British Social and Economic History 1700-1939 (textbook of the same title by C. P. Hill).

    I took the O-level examination in 1965 and have been fascinated by the subject ever since, even though I went on to study sciences.

    It would be enlightening to see the day-to-day records of the wharf: what goods came in and out and in what quantity? How many men were employed there? I imagine the books were lost when the wharf fell into disuse: I remember as a lad exploring derelict buildings alongside canals and railways, and finding hand-written ledgers lying in puddles on the floor.

    The magnificent Great Northern Warehouse in Manchester is an example of a rail-canal-road interchange that, thankfully, survived the urban redevelopments of the immediate post-war years.

  3. Ian says:

    The tender for the “Brownhills Canal Shed” was approved by the directors of the Railway Company on 10th July 1857 for the princely sum of £377 16s 71/2d. The tender was placed with Messrs. Kirk and Davy on the understanding that the work was completed by 1st November, 1857.

    The canal basins had initially opened in March 1856 for the exchange of Mineral and other Traffic to and from the Railway. This was reported in the Birmingham Gazette.

    For some time the Norton Branch collieries supplied the basin with coal for export. This involved at least two daily trip workings via Norton Junction where the train engine ran round the wagons before setting off in the Brownhills direction.

    Proposed plans for the Goods shed (the building on Pelsall Lane) were authorised on 19th May, 1860.

  4. Mike Stackhouse says:

    When I was a kid where the white gate posts on the High Street picture, is where the Saturday market was held. that would be around late 40’s early 50’s. There used to be a bus (more of a Chara) that pulled in to the road/lane/drive to the place that became Ferries. Bet there are not many around now who remember that! And on the other side of the road there used to be a drive way with a white gate that went down to the railway, so that it dropped lower than the top club.

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  6. elaine venables says:

    I remember the old market alongside the Station Hotel really enjoying seeing all theplaces I remember from childhood

  7. wyrleyblog says:

    We have a watching brief undertaken by Mercian Archaeology in 2005 at the LHC

    Ref No: 1255
    Repository: Walsall Local History Centre
    Date: Aug 2005
    Creator: Mercian Archaeology
    Description: Watching Brief for Silver St Canal Basin: Contains historical background, archaeological findings, scanned images of drawings, maps and photographs and copy of the original brief.
    Admin History: A watching brief was undertaken at Silver Street, Brownhills, Walsall. The work was undertaken between April – June 2005 during the course of the construction of a sanitary station and a canoeing facility, by the British Waterways Board, on the site of a former canal-railway interchange basin. The historical background was obtained from the British Waterways Archives, the Staffordshire & Gloucestershire Record Offices and the Walsall Local History Centre

    Two acts of Parliament, in 1792 and 1794, enabled the Wyrley and Essington Canal Company to build a further length of canal from the Birmingham Canal at Wolverhampton, to join the Coventry canal at Huddlesford. In April 1840 the Wyrley and Essington Canal Company merged with The Birmingham Canal Navigation Company.

    The BCN, from the late 1830’s began to drop petitions of opposition to railway schemes, provided that they were involved in joint waterway-railway projects. The South Staffordshire Railway Company was aware of the need for co-operation and connectivity between the expanding rail networks and the established canal systems. As such a series of rail-canal interchanges and wharfs were built, where goods would be unloaded from boats and transported by railway and vice-versa.

    The Brownhills Basin was completed in March 1856 and was ready to take goods to and from the railway. Evidently the basin was located to serve the requirements of Bloomer & Davies Ironworks. A spur from near Brownhills Station travelled towards the wharf , which lay on a bend of the Wyrley and Essington Canal. The spur split into four lines, one terminating either side of the two basins at the wharf. The arrangement at Brownhills at the wharf remained the same, with further development taking place to the railway connection to the north until at least 1938.

    It is unclear as to when the Brownhills Basin went out of use, but its fate seemed intertwined with that of coal. A plan was put forward in April 1951 to cater for output at Brownhills Basin prior to the new and larger scheme being implemented at the Mid-Cannock Coalfield. A schematic plan relating to the proposal shows that transport by road had by now become a viable and cost effective method of distribution. The plan shows that the eastern basin was to be filled in and vehicle loading hoppers employed on the site. The plan also indicates that a conveyor belt was to be used carry coal from the railway to the north, into hoppers adjacent to the remaining basin. The rail links to either side of the basins were now obsolete. By 1966 coal production in the area ceased.
    Extent: 1 file, 1 computer disc

    • Pedro says:

      The Mercian group seems to be from the East Midlands and are active in Notts and Derbyshire.

      What were they doing in S Staffs?

      • wyrleyblog says:

        Hi Pedro – no idea how they chose a particular company to undertake a brief – over the years we have had a number of briefs from lots of different companies. Generally it is expected that when a brief is done (or an excavation) the appropriate archive/local studies centre would get a copy of it for researchers to access.

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