Special branch

The resident rail expert on the Brownhills Blog has been at it once more – Ian Pell, a man with a huge knowledge of the local railways, has written another excellent piece which I present here, covering a mystery rail depot handing cakes, closure of the Walsall Wood line and that lost canal/rail interchange wharf behind the Station Hotel.

These are some remarkable pieces of research that I’m honoured to be able to feature here. I can’t thank Ian enough for his generosity in sharing such wonderful, enlightening work with us.

As far as the lost interchange goes, I honestly expected it to be no more than a small footnote in the larger rail history of the town. How wrong I was. We found photos, then a really good one surfaced; the conversation also expanded into the history of brewer and entrepreneur William Roberts.

The whole thing has proven to be a surprising rich seam – and it expands even further with this superb article.

If you have anything to add feel free to comment on the article or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Ian wrote:

page19 - Version 3

The last known passenger service down the Walsall Wood line before it was removed – well done to Ian Pell for spotting this was, in fact, the 1959 railtour (rather than 1957 as stated by the caption). From ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

I was wondering whether any of your readers can remember a distribution depot at Brownhills for Messrs J. Lyons and Company? The first of a series of depots appears to have been opened in Brownhills in March 1958 and between 12 and 14 containers were handled on a weekly basis from the bakery at Cadby Hall, London. The distribution depot was supplied by rail (hence my interest); cakes and pastries being forwarded in containers, with the traffic packed on wooden trays which were stacked to give a pay load of 2.5 to 3 tons per container.

The anticipated annual revenue for the traffic was in the region of £8,000 to £9,000. I am assuming that the traffic was handled by the Goods Depot off Pelsall Road, although I stand to be corrected.


A remarkable letter. Image kindly supplied by Ian Pell. Click for a larger version.


A remarkable letter. Image kindly supplied by Ian Pell. Click for a larger version.

On another matter, my good friend Mike Hollick has unearthed the attached letter from the General Manager of British Railways, London Midland Region, dated 8th October, 1958. It is evident from this correspondence as to the reason for the closure of the Walsall Wood Branch north of Bridge No.11 – Clayhanger. Ironically, it would appear that the railway’s demise was due to subsidence caused by coal mining – see the recent maps illustrating the underground workings from Walsall Wood Colliery, and by the insistence of the canal users for adequate clearance under the bridge for their barges! British Railways, on the other hand, were clearly not interested in a long term future for this section of railway!

The letter also gives a clue as to why the sidings at Norton Pool remained, ie:- NCB felt they had a need for them. This was because not only did it give a secondary route for coal from Five Ways Colliery to join the British Railway’s system at Anglesea, but it was also the route for locomotives from Five Ways Colliery to gain access to the NCB workshops at Chasetown, hence the reason why the Chasewater Railway found tracks when they relocated from Hednesford.


A stunning image from an archive I intend to revisit here on the blog this weekend.

On another subject, the marvellous picture of Brownhills Wharf from 1958 is of great interest. The photograph appears to show scrap metal behind the wagons. Was this the result of scrapping of the wagons taking place on site? Certainly, the wagons appear to be in storage, and one looks like a Private Colliery wagon of which many were still in existence at that time, and were equally still being used on the British Railways network. The warehouse seems to no longer exist and there is an air of disuse about the place. The canal basin also doesn’t appear to be in use and is cordoned off.

Below are some of the snippets gleamed regarding the Wharf Branch

  • 1856 10 March
    Brownhills Canal Basins.
    The Public are respectfully informed that the Canal Basins at Brownhills Station are now completed, and ready for exchange of Mineral and other Traffic to and from the Railway.The basins will be found very convenient for the Furnaces at Pelsall, Birchills and other Works in the neighbourhood of Walsall.
    For rates and further information apply to –
    John .N. Brown, General Manager.
    Birmingham Gazette 17-3-1856
  • 1884
    Ordnance Survey map shows warehouse over the ‘west’ basin and two tracks.
  • 1899 22 November
    Plan illustrating proposal to replace existing signal cabin with a new box immediately to the Norton Junction side of the existing. The new box to be 21ft 6in x 12ft with a coal pen, ash bin and earth closet. It is to be elevated 7ft above the rail level and 7ft in distance from the Up running line. The wharf branch is notated as ‘siding No.3’.                                                                                                                                                                          (Staffordshire Records Office)
  • 1901
    OS map for 1901 shows the sidings and the wharf/canal basin ‘branch’, together with a warehouse at the canal basin over one canal basin and two tracks.
  • 1915
    2 chain survey plans show a warehouse over part of one of the canal basins.
  • 1930’s
    An aerial photograph of the time clearly shows the warehouse and a substantial volume of goods traffic; not just coal trucks but a variety of wagons.
  • 1952 June
    The aerial photograph shows 5 wagons, of which 4 are coal trucks near the wharf, with a further 3 coal wagons at the ‘east’ basin. Four tracks are just about visible though it is likely only the ‘east’ basin one was in use on a regular basis. The Wharf building has gone. It is believed this was closed and demolished prior to 1948?
    Sketches of the layout in the late 1950’s certainly appear to confirm that the 4 tracks were still available at that time.
  • 1960 16 November
    Plan produced to illustrate proposed new station for Brownhills in conjunction with AC electrification of Walsall – Burton passenger service. Drawing shows existing station buildings, existing station master’s house to be demolished and new station buildings on the up platform, with new shelter on the down platform. Platform heights changed. Plan also shows warehouse in goods yard as ‘disused’. (This is actually the one off Pelsall Road, which I believe was still in use until 1964 for rail traffic). Barrow crossing to be provided at north end of platforms.                                                                                                                                                       Railtrack Midlands ref:- 169889

Traffic continued to frequent the Wharf branch into the early 1960s. One suspects that like many sidings in the area it was in use purely for surplus and condemned wagons and was traversed infrequently. This seems to be borne out by the June 1963 aerial photograph which shows 8 passenger coaches on the Up loop, just fouling the points to the wharf siding.   Ron Derry, a relief signalman, recalls an WD 2-8-0 Austerity stalling on the branch in around 1964, and of the ensuring chaos caused by it blocking the section.

Mid-60s found the wharf branch consisting of only 1 long siding to the “east” basin. The land to the west, initially used, I believe for allotments, and around the other basin now being overgrown and wooded.

A closure date for the branch is still being sought, although I suspect like the Leighswood Branch it closed to regular traffic in 1960 and was then subsequently use for storage. Any information from your readers would be greatly and keenly appreciated.

Hope the above is of interest.

Kind regards

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9 Responses to Special branch

  1. Pedro says:

    J. Lyons and Co.

    Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher worked as a chemist for the company prior to becoming a barrister and then a Conservative Party MP. While working for the company she helped develop methods for preserving ice cream..


  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a big thanks to Ian please. and to Pedro, too. I recall the Lyons fruit pies from those times. To be precise, the abundance of the pastry and the scarceness of the fruit filling. Always wondered why they were such.
    p.s. are there any images of the bridge mentioned in the article, please?

  3. Hi Bob and Ian, with regard to the 1958 photo of the basin, i posted about this some time ago – no great research, just about kids playing – http://chasewaterstuff.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/my-brownhills/ – and I think I an pinpoint the arrival of the scrap to within a couple of weeks. We always took our family holiday the last week in July and the first week in August and 1958 was the last of those holidays. We did a lot of cyclo-cross over there in those days (old made-up bikes with no brakes). Just before leaving for the holiday, we sorted out a new course, involving a trip round the bus garage and up and down banks, complete with jumps where possible and along the canal. At that time – no scrap metal, but on our return, two weeks later – the ‘600 Group (I think it was) had deposited all the material you can see in the photo – end of that cyclo-cross course!

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    another amazing turn of the history page…Do we know when buses became involved there, or have I missed something in the discussion?
    and a big thankyou to Chasewater stuff
    kind regards
    David, slightly ragged at the moment.

  5. Hi David – hope this helps
    London & North-Western
    Railway Buses

    On 1st October 1912 the London & North-Western Railway introduced a bus service between Brownhills, Norton Canes and Hednesford using two Milnes Daimler double-decker buses purchased second-hand 3 years previously from the Associated Omnibus Co., London.
    The following year, on the 16th June, a variant of the above service began running via Chasetown and Chase Terrace and additional buses, double-decker Commers were sent to Brownhills (as the one in the photograph).

    Painted in standard coaching colours of chocolate and milk, buses carried the company name or initials on the front, back and sides of the top deck and displayed the company Coat of Arms on the sides of the lower deck.
    The majority of the LNWR bus services in various parts of England and Wales were withdrawn on 17th April 1915, both Brownhills services included. The decision to withdraw services being brought about by the continued ‘call-up’ of staff for military service and the probability of buses being commandeered by the War Office.
    The bus shown, BM2597 was numbered 45 in the LNWR fleet and carried 34 passengers seated.
    I don’t know if I can add photos so I’ve posted this on my blog and here is the link:
    Hope you are feeling less ragged today!!
    John CWS

  6. David Evans says:

    hi John

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