Is it our fault?

Houses in Fort Crescent, Walsall Wood, lost to subsidence in the mid-1970s.  Picture from the Walsall Observer.

Reader John Blanchard has been in touch all the way from Aukland in New Zealand with some interesting and hopefully debate-provoking memories of subsidence effects in Walsall Wood from the 1960s onwards.

This is an interesting thread that’s been gradually expanded here over the years; John mentions several articles in his original email to me but a really relevant one on this isn’t: Fault Finding, where the young David Evans gets his teeth into some interesting physical geography which will no doubt be illuminating to John and anyone else interested in this hotly-debated topic.

You can read the Fault Finding post here.

My thanks to John, and I would welcome any more contributions John would like to make – I’m sure he has plenty of other memories of The Wood and they’d be most welcome!

Thanks, old chap – this is wonderful.

John Blanchard wrote:

Early in the long winter of 1962/1963 when I was living at 14, Salters Road, Walsall Wood, my father noticed that the water-flush for the outside toilet was not going down properly. In my recollection, he rode his push-bike to the council office in Brownhills to report this and he was told that the blockage must be on our premises and he should get someone to ‘rod through the pipes’. He came home having decided that we should do it ourselves using the chimney sweeping rods he owned.

He enlisted help from my elder brother and myself to dig-up the catch-pit cover which was situated on a bend in the sewer pipe under a path that was surfaced with red ash from the burning colliery spoil-heap off Clayhanger Road.


The now infamous 1926 Aerofilms photo of Walsall Wood, showing John Blanchard’s home in Salter’s Road, Walsall Wood. Click for a larger version. Image supplied by David Evans.

The path was frozen solid and required pick and shovel to get down to the cover. When the cover was lifted, the sewage rose to almost ground –level. This was obviously not caused by a blockage in our sewer-pipe so father went to see the neighbours and, with their permission, looked into their catch-pits. He found they too were not draining properly.

We dug a hole under a pear tree down the garden, bailed-out sewage from our catch-pit hole, took it in wheelbarrow loads down the garden and poured it into the hole we had dug. This was disgusting and obnoxious but the extreme cold was an advantage in reducing the smell.

The reason for this problem was identified later as mining subsidence which had changed the direction of the fall in the sewer under Salters Road. For some years following, the sewer was emptied on a weekly basis by a suction pump on a lorry with a tank on the back.

Houses suffering subsidence in Fort Crescent, Walsall Wood to be demolished. Taken from The Walsall Observer, Friday, February 18th, 1977.

Recently I came across the ‘Cape Crusader’ posted early last year. On the 1926 aerial photograph of Walsall Wood I can see (with magnification) the house, now 14, Salters Road, but then, the last house on that road. It is pretty well in the centre of the top right quarter of the photograph.

While on the subject of subsidence, I recently came across Sink Estate? posted Feb 4th 2012. This reminded me of some very rapid subsidence which took place on a line stretching from the Lichfield Road to Castle Road in Walsall Wood. This occurred in the middle 1960’s (I think) probably soon after closure of the Walsall Wood colliery and was alleged to have been the result of removal of metal pit-props from an underground road in the mine. In my recollection the road surface of Lichfield Road possibly just further up the hill than where Holly Lane was then, had to be built-up every week for some time because of a rapid drop over a short distance. It was quite hazardous for motorcycle drivers (as I was) particularly at night. A row of old terraced houses on the left going up the hill had to be demolished because of the danger of collapse.


The ‘gap’ in Castle Road, as taken by David Evans and posted in the article Fault Finding by David Evans.

On Castle Road, there is a gap between the houses going up the hill near number 30 on the right corresponding to where a house was demolished for the same reason and I guess that the path through now on the other side of the road is also in a space left by demolition. I recall that houses were knocked down on the estate(s) which had been built on the common, but could not identify exactly where as I would have used only ‘through roads’. I guess that looking at the satellite image for the area on Google maps could give guidance though more recent building could have obscured the line of that subsidence.

John Blanchard.
Auckland NZ

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6 Responses to Is it our fault?

  1. Annette Abley says:

    I lived in Fort Crescent and there was 8 houses knocked down and a couple in Castlefort Rd opposite Fort Crescent.

  2. Edwina. says:

    What interesting pieces of history you bring us, things that living locally for many years and as a child you just do not notice, you just take for granted. I have now spent 3 hours going around various pieces of history from Walsall Wood and surrounding areas … and with loads more to read. How very interesting and I take my hat off to you and your pals for bringing this to us, fantastic and long may you reign …

  3. Trevor says:

    Hi Bob and all my friends in the Wood, in the late 40s we you walked down from the Vigo to the Wood you could just see the top of the double deckers going down the High St over the railway bridge, many years later on you could see the wheels on the bus, the bridge had sunk that low, the Litchfield road by Holly lane sunk almost 4 ft.
    Cheers Trev

  4. Bill Blakemore says:

    Dear Bob,

    great site!. This topic fascinates me, my dad (Fred Blakemore) was born in Beech Tree Rd in 1906, he went to work in the pit (Walsall Wod colliery) with his father and brothers when he was 14. He told me that when he was a boy they used to play cricket behind St Johns, on what I remember as a smallish grass area and that the pitch then was level with the canal.

    Keep it up Bob. Lovely stuff.


  5. We lived at number 26 Fort Crescent right at the top of the road. We did have some small problems but nothing serious.

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