It seems that whilst looking for the elusive hall, Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler’s attention was snagged by a cartographical curiosity in Coalpool, and from that fell down somewhat of a historical rabbit hole, exploring the lost pleasure ground, chapel and their origins.
Thanks, as ever, to Peter for a remarkably thorough article whit will be no doubt of interest to the wonderful Simon Briercliffe and his his fantastic ‘Up the Oss Road’ blog. I love publishing material like this, I had no idea these grounds had ever existed.
In search of the Pleasure Grounds
I blame this article squarely on BrownhillsBob. In his tantalising article Trawler he placed a picture of what was captioned as Harden Hall from 1946. I had not heard of this previously an so looked at the modern map around the district of Harden, just north of Walsall. Finding no candidate I referred to the OS Map of 1886 but to no avail, however something caught my eye just below Harden.
It was not long after that a comment from Ian Pell informed that the picture was in fact Arden Hall in Cheshire, and a google image would back this up. So back to the 1886 map and just below Harden is Coal Pool and an unusual array of cottages the formation of which seemed out of place for the time. But close to the cottages was a circular ‘Pleasure Grounds’!
If you Google ‘Coal Pool Pleasure Gardens’ you come up with a local Blog, Up the Oss Road by Simon Briercliffe. Simon had written an interesting article entitled Coal Pool Cottages in June 2014, which included a picture of some of the cottages which had been posted on Flickr.
Simon speculates that perhaps Brewer, as a conscientious Methodist, built to a high standard for his tenants, a pattern not always repeated elsewhere. Indeed, I believe that this would make John Brewer an exception to the rule.
A lot of the information that Simon draws on is from the ‘The Methodist Chapel at Coalpool, Walsall: An original account by Ethel Badger.‘ (According to sources close to the movement it is suggested that it may have been drawn up for the Centenary in 1996)
Briefly, Ethel says that John Brewer bought the land upon which the cottages were built in 1850. They were erected at the time of the Crimean War (1857/8) for the railway workers who were cutting a new line northwards to Lichfield. On completion Coal Pool became a hamlet quite distinct from Walsll. Wherever Mr Brewer built houses his aim was to also erect a place of worship.
The first Meeting House, known as the Cross Rooms, was a roughly built structure and for many years was used for services until sufficient funds could be raised for a proper chapel. She also adds that later the Cross Rooms were bought by an old gentleman and his two sons and converted into the Pleasure Grounds. The rooms were surrounded by water and small rowing boats could be hired, and the island equipped by swings etc. the New Chapel was opened in October 1896.
Simon has rightly cast doubt as to the purpose of buildings being for railway workers, as the railway was competed around 1850, and also that the 1861 census shows a number of miners. He quotes the local collieries as Harden, Lees and Forest. However these were small and the big push for coal did not come until around 1870 when the collieries such as Copy Hall, Leighswood, Aldridge, Speedwell and Walsall Wood were opened. There is another interesting thing about the 1861 census, as opposed to 1841/51, and that is that there is the first mention of Rows at Coal Pool. The rows are named Lotty’s(?) Row, Goodwin’s Row and Big Row. (Around 10, 8 and 7 dwellings).
Move on to the 1881 census and the the Rows become Brewer’s Buildings 1, 2 and 3! Did Brewer buy the properties and maybe renovate and extend between 1871 and 1881, at the start of the push for coal?
At the opening of the new Chapel in 1896 there was a public meeting chaired by RN Brewer, who stated that it was 60 years since the old Chapel had been built. He added that his grandfather had a great interest in Coal Pool, and he did not want that interest to die out. Mr Bates went on to give a description of the chapel and village, the origin of which he attributed to Mr James Brewer, who had built the chapel and had been the leader for about three years.
It is not clear whether Mr Bates means that Brewer built the village well as the chapel, however we can see that it was built around 1836.
So was there any relationship between James and John Brewer? I can’t find any, but there was a James Brewer; House, Land and commission agent at Walhouse Street, Walsall. In January of 1857 he advised that the Large Cross Rooms at Coal Pool, with cottage, stable and land; also a pool well stored with fish would be let for rent of £25 per year. These premises are well calculated to make a place of innocent recreation, except the Sabbath. Apply James Brewer, on the spot.
I think we can safely say that the Chapel predates the cottages, but were the services held in the Cross Rooms only on the Sabbath, and when did the term Pleasure Grounds come into use?
There is a mention in 1854 of a tea meeting in aid of the Walsall Fund for the wives and families of the British Expeditionary Army at Coal Pool on Easter Monday. The repast provided in the spacious rooms there, and the pool and its boats would be accessible from 9 in the morning. (The army reached the Crimea on the morning of 14 Sept 1854.)
Now I’m not sure that a Chapel would hold such an event, but a Pleasure Ground probably would be more likely. In 1853 two sermons were preached in the Wesley Chapel by a Rev J Hickey one of the oldest ministers in the Connexion, having been sent out by the man himself the Rev. J. Wesley in the year 1788. The report goes on to say that a tea meeting was held at the same place on Monday evening and about 600 persons were present.
In 1856 John Brewer Snr, who was born in Darlaston, took a back seat in the business, and at the time his address was Portland Street, limestone, ironstone, coal, timber and sand works. The family also had interests as John Brewer Lime and Coal Works, Vauxhall, B’ham. In 1865/6 he was Mayor of Walsall.
However the Brewer family appear themselves to be land owners as in 1857 there were advertised 170 plots of building land for sale at the improving village of Blakenhall…’a church is expected to be built and a National School is already erected.’ Apply John Brewer, Lichfield Street, Walsall
Sometime before April 1859 John Brewer had laid the foundation stone for the new Wesleyan Chapel in Walsall. In that month there was a letter sent to the Walsall Free Press to take issue with Mr Brewer on an assertion he had made at the time, that there was no Unitarian Chapel when he came to Walsall. A gentleman pointed out that there was one, and a congregation, years before Mr Brewer was born. It stood in what was called Cox’s Yard, nearly at the top of High Street, which had been standing since 1715.
At Coal Pool there must have been quite an interest in the Crimea. In 1868 there was a Crimea Colliery belonging to Mr Stubbs, where due to intelligence, two kegs of gunpowder of half hundredweight each were found concealed at some depth in the ashes, and were removed by the police. Close by the bridge over the cut was known as Crimea or Hilldick’s Bridge. (Coal Pool was already a hamlet in its own right long before the cottages were erected. The Hilldick family having a long history of edge tool making there.)