Well connected

I’ve had this one in for a while, and a grey Sunday seems about the right time to share it, as I’m sure this wonderful post from blog rail historian Ian Pell will be of interest both those engaged with local rail history and those with a focus on the industrial development of our area.

Following my posting of a 1947 map here some weeks ago, a large amount of interest was expressed in the rail lines and particularly the sidings at Highbridges, near Ryders Hayes on the Pelsall-Brownhills border.

You can read the original article and excellent comment thread here, and there’s a previous article Ian sent in here, discussing the sidings themselves.

Untitled 9

A 1947 1:10,000 OS map that really caught reader interest. Click for a larger version.

I’m hugely indebted to Ian for this – it’s so good, and indeed an honour to feature his work here. If you have anything to add, please do comment here or mail me at BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

Ian wrote:

Walsall Wood Branch – LNWR

Further to the recent correspondence below is a copy of the land ownership for the Walsall Wood Branch. The Plan Nos. correspond to those on the plans. In essence only Messrs. McClean and Phineas Hussey appear to have any titlement to the land at this time. Interestingly, although both men have interests in mining the line was original intended as a branch to the brick and tileworks.


Walsall Wood Branch 1854 land ownership details                                                                                                      iep collection

These drawings of 1854 pre-date the construction of the Norton Branch which opened on the 1st February 1858 and they were not to be acted upon until 1880, when an Act was Authorised for the construction of the line by the Walsall Wood Colliery Company. I believe the colliery had opened in 1874 and while it was rail connected directly to the Midland Railway lines, it was seeking an additional route onto the LNWR system so as to supply directly to the West Midlands rather than via the more complex routes offered by the Midland Railway Company.

The line was constructed during 1881-82 and opened on the 11th October 1882.

There are two specific references to the line within the LNWR Traffic Committee Minutes for the period as follows:-

1882 9 July

Ryders Heys – the Walsall Wood Colliery Co are constructing a branch about a mile in length to connect their pits with the railway at Ryders Heys near Pelsall. They also have a connection with the Midland Co who have also provided sidings for them free of charge. They ask the LNW to do the same. Some land required but basically LNW agree.
LNW Minutes Tfc 35387

1882 16 Aug

Ryders Heyes (near Pelsall) – connection of Walsall Wood Colliery Co Branch to their site with the railway at Ryders Heyes near Pelsall. Ordered that the sidings for empties and also the connection between the L&NW siding and the new branch up to the L&NW boundary be laid at L&NW cost. No additional signalling necessary.
LNW Minutes PW 23916

It is interesting to note the spelling of Ryder’s Heys(sic) [Controversial there – Bob] – to date I have come across 11 different spellings!

The opening date for the line is confirmed within the Private siding Agreement No. 782, which is for the sidings opened by the LNW as referred to above at Norton Junction. These were the ones situated on the Pelsall side of the main line, immediately next to Norton Junction No.1 signal box,

1882 11 Oct

Walsall Wood Colliery Branch opened.
(ref:- IRS,BY, others)

Walsall Wood Colliery had opened 1874. Agreement dated 11. 10. 1882 shown on Private Sdg No. 782 map, dated 4. 1915

1882 7 Dec

Two Hunslet saddle tanks used by John Garlick, contractor, put up for auction at Brownhills LNWR station after completion of their use in the construction of the Walsall Wood Colliery branch. ‘Minnie’ was HE229 of 1879 an 0-4-0 ex. John Knowles of Woodville Derbyshire. The other loco was an 0-6-0 but no further details are known. ‘Minnie’ was sold to a Lord Kennedy?


Pelsall – Walsall Wood Branch – Original drawings                                                                                                      iep collection

At the end of 1882 the contractor’s locomotives were sold. Any further details regarding their fates would be appreciated.


Northwood Brick and Tile                                                                                                                                                     iep collection

Finally, as you can see the location of the Brickworks was directly on what I call Coppice Lane. The canal and Ford brook can be easily identified to the left of the map. At this time it was also too early for the Midland Railway which was to charge north to south across the map, but as they say, that’s another story.

As usual, hope the above is of interest

Kindest regards


This entry was posted in Brownhills stuff, Environment, Events, Followups, Interesting photos, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Walsall community and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Well connected

  1. Pedro says:

    It seems unlikely to me that JR McLean had any personal land entitlement at that time if the reputed owner is listed as the South Staffs Railway Co.

  2. Ian Pell says:

    The South Staffordshire Railway was leased to John McClean in 1850 (some sources quote 1/9/1850, others 1/1/1850) for 21 years. This included locomotives, rolling stock and track. It made John McClean one of only two individuals to ever personally “own” a UK railway company. As such, while the name of the “South Staffs Railway Company” is shown as the owner, in reality McClean was the driving force behind such projects.
    I also believe that in 1853 together with the Earl of Dudley McClean was instrumental in creating the “South Staffordshire Water Co” who were to utilise the railway track bed to bury a pipe to carry clean water from Lichfield to Walsall and eventually to Dudley. McClean’s achievements justify the title of “Brunel of the Midlands”.
    Kind regards

  3. Pedro says:

    There seems a tendency for some recorders of local history to seize upon a personality and more or less claim him as their own, and this is the case with John Robinson McClean (JRMcC).

    Here are the final two sentences from the article concerning JRMcC on the CCMHS web site…

    “The people of Brownhills can only be thankful he [JRMcC] chose to spend his life developing the Industries and so the prosperity of the area. He was truly a great man.”


    Well they got one thing right; he was truly a great and extraordinary man.

    However, when you take a look at his achievements, it is blatantly obvious that he did not spend his life developing the Industries in Brownhills, Cannock Chase or even the Midlands!

  4. Ian Pell says:

    I dont think anyone is suggesting a “right” to Mr. McClean as their own, rather acknowledging his works within the area and of their importance at their time. Yes, he clearly worked on many other projects throughout the world; Egypt, India to name but two..
    No one suggests that IK only did works associated with the GWR, but he is best remembered by many for his GWR works and as such identied in that manner. Similarly, John McClean is probably remembered for his work on the Suez Canal by those with an interest in that work, but also by people in Midlands for his works which gave benefit to many in the area and more importantly, were engineering achievements of merit in their own right.
    From the records of Mr McClean that we have, he does indeed appear to have been a first class engineer in the true Victorian mould, and his works for the West Midlands, at one time in his life, were trully remarkable and worthy of a greater acknowlegement. Labels are often contenteous, yet how do you acknowledge the achievements of the man? Perhaps, the engineers of the LMS were right? I think I for one would be inclined to agree with them.

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Ian
    thanks for all this amazing information regarding local railway lines” that nearly were”! I think there were proposals for a line running through or to Bullings Heath and on to possibly the brickworks at one stage. Is this the one you have detailed in your article, please?
    I hope blog readers can help to find the names of the two locos
    Kind regards

  6. Pedro says:

    Nowhere in the above comments have I contested that John Robinson McClean was not a great Engineer, indeed I have gone further and added that he was an extraordinary man. I have also intimated that the term “Brunel of the Midlands” does not do the man justice. He lived at the same time as Brunel, and in my opinion, he deserves praise in his own right.

    Anyone wanting an succinct and detailed description of McClean’s life can do no better than visit the Grace’s Guide site below….


    I have not denied that the recorders of local history should not give him credit for his involvement in the SS Railway, SS Water and Cannock Chase Colliery, but I find bizarre that one could state that he “chose to spend his life developing the Industries and so the prosperity of the area (Brownhills).”

    Going back to my original point, McClean was not a land owner in his own right. He would of course be part owner by virtue of his 600 shares in the SSR Co. (600 shares also belonged to the Chairman, RC Chawner)

    As I see it, and correct me if I am wrong….around 1846 a group of local industrialist formed the idea of certain railway lines that would aid the trade of their district, and, could be leased out for a percentage. They formed the SSR Co and the shareholders (including other rail companies?) provided the capital to put their ideas in to practice. Who better to employ as Chief Engineer than the respected McClean. McClean had his base in Westminster, and I am sure that he worked on more than one project at a time.

    In 1850 McClean took on the lease of the SSR lines for 21 years until 1871, at varying percentages and increasing with time. He could give notice at certain times with 6 months warning, otherwise he would be liable to a forfeit.

    Sometime before 1861 the “idea” appears that at the end of McClean’s lease it should pass to the LNWR, and an Act of Parliament was sought but thrown out. At the start of 1861 the “idea” is …for LNWR to take immediate possession of the line, having made the needed arrangements with McClean.

    Some say that the lease was “bought prematurely and paid out J. R. McClean £110,000.”

  7. Ian Pell says:

    Hi Gentlemen
    David, I think that this is the railway you are referring to. Interestingly, the alignment of the built line is almost the same as the original. Hope that’s ok.

    Turning to the matter of the SSR formation, apologises for the slightly long winded reply but here is a quick run through.

    The year 1846 was the height of “railway mania” and as such it was not surprising that a company was formed as the “South Staffordshire Junction Railway (SSJR). Without going into detail, after amalgamation with the Trent Valley, Midlands and Grand Junction Railway (TVMGJR) on 7th August 1846 the “South Staffordshire Railway Company” was born.

    The Midland, LNW railways, together with the chairman of the Birmingham Canal all formed part of the Board. McClean in an effort to lessen the power of these interests led a group of independent parties in making an offer to lease the railway. This would give the SSR control over its own traffic arrangements without the prior consent of the other companies. Bearing in mind the efforts that the GWR had made in trying to secure the southern section of the SSR this appears to make eminent commercial sense to McClean, although to the Midland and the LNWR the unproven record of the SSR was probably the difficulty which lead to their stance. As previously noted, McClean won the day and the 21 year lease was entered into.

    McClean quickly realised that financially to run the railway was unsustainable without spreading the debt burden and so a Working Agreement with the LNWR on Feb 1862 contracted the running of trains to the LNW. McClean at this time worked from Walsall, although the SSR’s headquarters remained at Lichfield. During 1858 both parties (McClean/LNWR ) decided that they would like to relinquish their obligation. McClean’s other business ventures meant he was unable to spend time on the running of the railway. A “Heads of Agreement” was agreed on 21st January 1858 but negotiations on completing the deal were prolonged over the amount McClean claimed as compensation for the unexpired portion of the lease. Eventually the sum of £110,099 was settled after the parties went to arbitration. The lease was surrendered and from 1/2/1860 the LNW gained a new lease for a period of 99 years. Within 8 years, the SSR was vested in the LNWR with the passing of a further Parliamentary Act on 5/7/1867.

    I think it became clear to McClean that without the financial clout of the larger railway companies the railway would become a financial drain which would lead him to insolvency and ruin. At the same time the LNW saw the railway as a way into Burton (Beer) and the East Midland/Nottingham coalfields, avoiding charges to the Midland Railway for the use of their tracks. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the surrendering of the lease by McClean was in both parties interest.

    The Brunei reference I think shows you the esteem in which the LMS engineers held him. It was a total complement to his achievements, saying that he was in their eyes on a par with Brunei.
    Please remember that this comment was made, almost as an aside, in a 1930’s engineer’s paper.

    I would totally agree that he deserves a far greater recognition than he currently enjoys, and clearly while not insignificant, the works about which we write were only a part of his overall portfolio. The Grace’s guide is indeed a good place to begin to understand this man and his works.

    Kind regards

  8. David Evans says:

    Good morning Ian
    many thanks for all of this information and for all the articles re railways history that you provide. I find them all totally absorbing .Mr McClean is mentioned in one of Pedro’s equally captivating articles on St Anne’s church, Chasetown.
    We humble blog readers are most fortunate to have such quality articles to enjoy and appreciate. Just wish there was a better word than “blog”.
    Best wishes and kind regards

  9. Pedro says:

    The Birmingham Daily Post, on 15 February 1861, reported the previous day’s Extraordinary Meeting of the shareholders of the SSR Co, who had met to consider whether to accept the proposal of the LNWRC to take over the lease of the line. About 300 were present. The Chairman RC Chawner (McClean’s mate) was in the Chair. All directors but one were strongly in favour of the proposal.

    The Chairman outlined the case for taking up the proposal, and it was seconded by a chap called Williams who had just become a director in the LNWRC. He reminded the meeting that it was hard to take on the big boys.

    Colonel Dyott said that the shareholders had been led by the directors to understand that the proposed agreement with the LNWRC had been entirely broken off on the refusal of Parliament to sanction it in 1858; and yet an exactly similar agreement was now laid before them. [Later Chawner would state that the principal reason for the House of Commons refusing to sanction the agreement was that McClean would not give evidence]. The negotiations had been carried on for this agreement previous to the half-yearly meeting in August last, and yet no notice had been given to the shareholders at that meeting. He moved that the consideration should be adjourned for six months.

    Dyott added that in the last few weeks he had heard McClean declare that he could not only pay the 4.5% interest according to his lease, but he could raise the interest to 5% when the proper time came to do so; and that if he had an extension of the lease, he would continue to pay 5% interest on it. Other people had also heard this…..he was willing to do this three weeks ago, but something had happened during the last week, though what it was, none of them were likely to know. (Loud applause).

    Dyott complained about the distribution of proxy votes. He stated that the Lessee had been called upon to make a deposit of £10,000, and to make the quarterly payment of dividends. Now that deposit was made in the form of 4,536 shares in the SSRC, 600 being the property of the Lessee, 600 the property of the Chairman of the SSRC, and the remainder from a Mr Smith, on behalf of the LNWRC. the £10,000 instead of in cash, bonds or other securities was in SSRC shares! The LNWRC had 7,994 shares in their own name, which they would of course have distributed among their adherents and thus increase their voting power.

    McClean gave details of the profitability of his lease so far. He regretted that Dyott had made use of information given to him in a very crude form, and not intended for such a meeting. The figures were three years old and they did not in any way bear upon the present working of the railway. He must say that he had given up the lease only because of the agreement that was proposed with the London North Western Railway company, without any reference to him, though he was the lessee, and without in any way offering him the reversion. After that he thought he was at liberty to make such arrangements as he saw proper with the London and North Western Railway company without consulting the shareholders.

    As to the £10,000 and security, he thought the shares of the undertaking were as good as any other security with respect to the progress of the line, during the first two half years he lost £20,000, and his partner then left him, he (Mr McClean) giving him £20,000 to get out. The next year the line was extremely prosperous, but afterwards, by the opening of the West Midland Railway, he lost much of the traffic of the Dudley and Wolverhampton district, and for the next two years paid to the shareholders more money than he received. After that the line was successful until 1857, when hard times came on the district, and in 1858, when the shareholders made the first agreement with the London and North Western Railway company, he was very glad, as he was afraid lest the district might ultimately become unremunerative…..It would have been different if his lease had had longer to run, but they granted the reversion of the line.

    Dyott explained that the figures he had quoted as those of Mr McClean, had been given to him by the gentlemen in the boardroom, in his capacity as director, so there could be no breach of confidence in making the public.

    Exclusive of the shares in possession of the London North Western Railway company the proposal was accepted.

    • Pedro says:

      One of the most interesting things in McClean’s evidence…

      “during the first two half years he lost £20,000, and his partner then left him, he (Mr McClean) giving him £20,000 to get out.”

      What did he mean by partner? Were there initially two names on the lease? Did McClean become sole owner of a railway by virtue of his partner leaving?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.