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.
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).
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.
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.