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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
2 chain survey plans show a warehouse over part of one of the canal basins.
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.