The scars were always black

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The Cox pit was odd; it was said to be so shallow wives used to shout to the men working down below. Image from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by CLarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

The generosity of Mavis Woodhouse in allowing David Evans, myself and you readers to share her privately produced family history book is really proving to be a rich source of discussion, debate and new local history tangents – the Foxes Row article was very popular, the Victor Haines material had us all head scratching, and the film of Newtown that was so newly relevant has had a huge number of views.

Today, I continue that thread with the second article in the series; Mavis recalling the world of work in Brownhills in the 1930s and 40s, and particularly the days of mining and coal.

I’m hugely grateful to Mavis and David for creating and documenting this history; it’s a wonderful thing and I can’t thank either of them enough.

Mavis wrote:


These gentlemen were in their 70s and some still working down the mines when this photo was taken. Image from the Mavis Woodhouse family history book.

Two: The mining community

All of these villages were very small until the pits were dug – called the Cannock Chase Mines – and houses were built to accommodate the miners. The only work to be had was mining or farm work. Most girls went to work in shops or live-in service at the big houses in Walsall, Sutton Coldfield or Streetly. Walsall had factories well known for making saddles. Much further away in Birmingham were lots of factories. Walsall is the edge of the Black Country with Wolverhampton,Dudley, etc. well known for steel. We do not like to be called ‘Brummies’ as we are Staffordshire with an accent of our own.

Most men were miners who had a monthly supply of coal delivered by horse and cart, dropped off in the road outside your house; later lorries and later still, delivered in bags. The coal was then filled in your wheelbarrows to be wheeled round to the coalhouse.

There were many mines in the Cannock area and many miners were injured or killed in them – it was very hard work, sometimes working in areas no more than 12 inches high. On the Common opposite the Whitehouse pub there was a bucket pit until the early 1960s. These pits were never very deep and men went down the pit in large buckets. Deep holes were always appearing on the Common which had a road leading to the Norton Pool (now called the Chasewater).


Men working the ‘Wide’ bucket pit, where the remains of Highfield Farm are today. Image from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

It was quite dangerous on the Common. I remember going to Watling Street School one day to find that a cottage had disappeared into a hole. Most miners had scars and you could always see them because the scars were always black. I think that these hard working conditions are the reason why lots of miners drank heavily.

Dad worked in No 8 Pit of the Cannock Chase mines. My grandfather was also a miner at the Cannock chase mines.

My uncle Arthur took me on many walks across Brownhills Common. We used to walk to a place called ‘The Wharf’, where Howdles Lane (called The Cottages) and Whitehorse Road meet. Close by was a place where the canal barges turned and the wash from them created a small sandy beach where we could paddle.


The coal loading conveyor in the 1930s, as Mavis would recognise it. Note the bike parked on the left. Image supplied by Tony Martin.

Norton Pool was another place on our walks. We could walk along the ‘one line’ (the railway line) which ran from the Anglesey siding just below us alongside Norton Bridge, Watling Street, the crossroads of Watling Street and the main road between Brownhills and Burntwood (which we called Chasetown and Chase terrace then). The line then went across the junction of Whitehorse Road where I paddled in the canal with uncle Arthur. There it ran alongside the canal and there was a huge contraption right across the canal, where coal came out of the rail trucks and was dropped down the chutes into the barges.

On top of the dam at Norton Pool there was a pump house to regulate the water in the canal. We also called the dam ‘The Monkey Run’ which was where boys and girls would meet. We used this route as a short-cut to Chasetown.

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20 Responses to The scars were always black

  1. Pedro says:

    Going to stick my head above the trenches, and duck back down!

    “We do not like to be called ‘Brummies’ as we are Staffordshire with an accent of our own.”

    1891 Harborne went from Staffs to B’ham, and so into Warwicks.

    1911 Handsworth the same, and it was not until 1928 that Perry Barr moved to Warwicks.

    While I would concede that you could tell a Brummie accent from one of the Black Country, there are a wide variety of dialects in the Black Country let alone Staffordshire. Many pride themselves that they can tell which part of the Black Country a chap comes from by his accent.

    • Ann G says:

      Hi Pedro. You are right to say your were sticking your head above the trenches and will duck back down on the questions of accents. I am the simple typist of the original Mavis family book of her memories – she is my second cousin – and while the splendid Dave Evans is very good at keeping her up to date with what appears on the blog (she doesn’t have a computer) – she calls me regularly with updates and her reaction to the comments on the blog. She told me this evening you must be a Brummie….and agrees there are a variety of accents in what is now Staffordshire – maybe she should have been more precise and said that the Brownhills accent is not the same as the Brummie one, and is unique to the area. However, ever forgiving, she says if you live in and love Brownhills then that makes you OK. But she offers you this wee bit of education and a challenge….if you have the courage to meet up with the (Brownhills accented!) folk of her generation who meet on a Thursday afternoon at the “Grab a Granny Club” (her description) at The Waterside (pub) in Brownhills West, then you will learn what a real Brownhills (Staffordshire) accent is….and if you don’t agree the dialect is indeed unique to Brownhills (and Staffordshire – and definitely not Brummie!) she will “box yur ears” (presumably to help your hearing…(!!). If I were you I would be busy on Thursday afternoons……

      • Pedro says:

        I am a indeed a Brummie, live in the Black Country and love the all accents.

        Of course their is a difference between the B’ham accent and that of B’hills. But I would certainly need educating to tell the difference between the Brownhills accent and that of Walsall Woodian, David Evans!

        Do you want me to goo and play up me own end!

    • peter says:

      Hi Pedro, For a 12 month period, whilst living in Hednesford, I worked in Oldbury just off junction 2, it took about 6 months for me to understand anything that anyone was saying!!!!!, we had local blokes on the shop floor, who whilst living perhaps only 1 or 2 miles away from each other, to me spoke a completely different language. Mind you I was raised in Sutton Coldfield and couldn’t understand anything anyone said in Hednesford either!
      Accents and dialects spoken are one of the many things that makes us different from each other, and I love it.
      Next time your passing a keyboard……….. any chance you could try and find out anything about Edgehill Road in Four Oaks, on old maps is a rather large building sat by itself, I often wonder what it might have been???????
      Love it Pedro, Peter……..

      • Pedro says:

        Now it just so happens that I sleep with me Iphone keyboard under the pillar. But Peter, I think you know something that you don’t want to say yourself, and you are trying to get me into trouble!

        William Roberts’s family did not come to Brownhills and the man himself appeared in 1860!

        Here is a link to the 1884 map showing Edgehill, and if you zoom you can see a large complex. Now this is remarkably close to Hill Hook where William Roberts lives with his father whose occupation is farmer, and recorded in the 1841 census.

        I will see if I can find out anything about the place.

  2. Andy Dennis says:

    This is an angle I’ve not seen before. I’m quite surprised at how elaborate the structure was. There is one thing remaining, apart from the canal, the brick pier towards the left.

    I’ve been doing some analysis to go with my family history, based on an area similar to today’s Brownhills ward. In 1861 67% of residents with an occupation worked at the pit in some capacity, in 1881 it was 65%. Some with jobs such as labourer, engineer, blacksmith, or carpenter, might also have worked at the pit. It just shows how dominant the pits were in the economy.

    This undercounts girls and young women in service, because they would be living elsewhere, as Mavis says, in places like Walsall and Sutton Coldfield, and maybe some of the larger houses in the surrounding countryside. It is probably possible to get an accurate picture of how many local lasses went into service, but probably a very time-consuming job.

  3. Pedro says:

    Downside up?

    The picture showing what is called Wide Pit says that it was re-opened in the 30s. My guess is that it would probably be better named Wilkin Colliery (Wide Pits), owned by J&B Cox and featured in the article “The western front”. It would then tie up with the location given as on the left hand side of Pool Lane, going from the A5…

    Now the first picture from the same book shows a J&B Cox Pit along Pool Lane, from Watling Street on the right hand side. Further it adds that the subsidence from this pit swallowed up the cottage which stood between the pit and White Horse Road.

    So were there two collieries, and where was the cottage?

    Looking at the spoil heap on the Bing map from the article, and looking at the OS map from 1883, you can see “Old Air Shafts” marked. Moving from the 1921 map to the 1938 map you can make out a building that has appeared near the old air shafts that does not appear on any of the others. This could probably be the re-opening of the Wilkin.

    On the 1883 map the triangular area between Pool Lane, White Horse Road and the canal/pool is pretty barren except for near Watling Street. This remains the same up to the map of 1938!

    • Pedro says:

      The Wilkin Pit re-opened

      April 1920….Old Wilkin Colliery

      Further progress has been made with respect to the re-opening of the Old Wilkin Colliery, which has been closed for 25 years. on Saturday workmen were able to proceed down the shaft to the bottom, where it was found that there was very little water. It is stated that there are several good seams of coal in the pit, and it is expected that the work of repairing the roads will be commenced at an early date.

      March 1922…a Landsale Wharf opened in Pool Road, Brownhills.

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Mavis mentions the phrase “the Monkey Run” which may not be known to many . Perhaps your readers can help . There may have been others!
    By the way, a Walsall Wood mon whittles his bodge in a manner totally different to that of your actual Brownhillian. So theer.
    kind regards, and thanks for the fine presentation

  5. aerreg says:

    re the monkey run there were two brownhills high street and norton pool its orogine after jack turners qne and nine at the regent on saturday night unntil monday there was nothing to do no youth clubs etc young people were not allowed in pubs or working mens clubs begause you were not an adualt until you were 21 and principly men only women inthe snug so 0n sunday nights we would gather and stroll up and down high having a chat weying up talent swopping a joke it was accepted most of the girls had to be home by ten or dad would be on the war path family life was respected change of seanery was norton pool we would sroll acrosthe dam to pavios row no fights jus friendly banter but also that moder phrase ime bored used some times bostin night do you know who ar sin lasst night er was a cracker when arm 21 mate yow wate un se it mite be wedding bells for me un her god bless from aer reg

  6. aerreg says:

    there was another run the club run breezes sankeys ogley and the top club these were working mens clubs in the early1900 to be a member you had to have a number over the week end a tipe of lottery would take place you would pay a small some of money and if you were in the club when your number was drawn you won some cash hence the pub run because most of the members belonged to all the clubs club life was a daily way of life the club outing for the old folk and kids the crate o beer in the boot foor the comitee rhyl blackpool her we come yes mavis and david you have opend my childhood world i lived at 113 lichfield road by the avenues i spent hours round there i knew the woodhouses any conection on the subject of clubs alice woods fish and chips was supper on the way back wum i know i said wood some call it jones but alice was jack wood the paper mhans sister there lies another story b

    • Glenys Jones Smith says:

      My Uncle Rupert and my late Auntie Doris Brownridge live at 121 Lichfield road, when we used to go I remember the name Alice Wood, my Uncle Rup used to use Sankeys, we had relations ( The Whitbrooke’s ) who lived in the Avenues which we used to call the buildings, we also played down a place called the Cem further up the road, Brownhills much like Norton where we were born and bred has changed so much since the 60’s, our joke about Brownhills Clock no longer exists, because we used to say ” About as reliable as Brownhills Clock ” but my memories of Brownhills remains close to my heart, my Mom was born in Clayhanger, so most of her siblings moved to Brownhills..

  7. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    thanks for your Brownhillian memories, Reg.. Can translate for you Pedro if needed.
    I think there was another Monkey run in Walsall Wood High Street in times of yore
    Were there others in the Chase coalfield? or Pelsall?

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  9. aerreg says:

    as i have srolled through back isues i noted the photo of the kitchen with mrs parsley captainrparsley wife they lived in the mill house down millroad and her band of helpers i recognised one or two the kitchen was made of couragated iron sheets and served some bostin meaies a favourite snack was dripping on toast we wernt botherd about calories in them days it was located where the flats and the police station is now before the merry brothers from chasetown built the new council houses then it struck me ive never seen any comments on the old wooden scout hut that also stood thereit was very well used and part of the brownhills way oife scouter brickley was well known he lived up church hill ive know dought there are still some great grandads still with scouting days to recall and no dought guiders with those words dib dib i thinit was nocked down to build the fire station the old fire engine was housed in the council yard with the old ambulance the driver of that was mr speake and at one time the clock was the fire bell well more memouries stired time to go god bless from aer reg

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  11. Pedro says:

    Talking about accents!

    Does the ITV series Arthur and George do justice to the Great Wyrley accent?

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  13. Ivor Sperring says:

    My late uncle, David Chandler, worked for Ben Cox. On one shift the roof collapsed on him, crushing his ribs, when they put him on a stretcher to carry him to the surface the stretcher proved to be rotten and he fell through it. Around the year 2000 I was minister at Central Methodist Church in Dudley when I was asked to conduct the funeral of a certain Mr Ben Cox. It was an odd, challenging experience.

  14. christine holbrook says:

    In about 1954 mom used to take us down engine lane with the twin pram,me propped on its apron ,to collect nutty slack from the black hills,why I dont know because dad wad a miner.
    In the late 50s we used to play on the common opposite Coombe house, there wad a shaft there covered with a big square piece of metal, we camped out there too.
    The little coppice was behind Albion road and the big coppice was over the other side of the tracks there. It’s where we got all out fallen trees for bonfire night,dragging them round into Albion road with a piece of rope. All the local kids sat along our wall to watch our bonfire,which was the biggest around. Elder brother Roy gave rides on crossbar of dads pit bike for a penny a go. Oh the memories.

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