Up around the bend


A new image of the SLS May 1959 rail tour – but it is really at the Conduit Colliery? Image spotted on Six Bells Junction by Simon Swain, sourced from the John Debens Collection.

More here today that goes to show the Venn diagram of history forever curiously overlaps – Ian pell has waded in once more on the subject of the notorious May 1959 rail tour up the Walsall Wood line to the Conduit Colliery – from which a few pictures have emerged over the years and was raised here again last week by Simon Swain with a great new picture.

Ian, local rail expert and longtime friend and contributor to the Brownhills Blog of many  brilliant and informative articles has spotted something curious about last week’s photo, which may also be of relevance to the Harpers bus enthusiasts.

Ian wrote:

It’s the rail thing – Conduit or is it further round the bend?

Hi Bob

What a fascinating and intriguing new photograph has been unearthed of the SLS special of May 1959. Thanks Simon for drawing it to our attention and Six Bells Junction for adding it to their Railtour notes of the event.

The photograph shows the special at buffer stops, and is captioned as being ‘at Conduit Colliery’ (Jerome’s), Norton Canes. After looking at the photograph for some time I was puzzling as to how the No.2 end of the train, i.e.:- the end with the not quite correct headcode and the ‘SLS special’ headboard, which was at the southern end of the train, could end up with this end at the buffers. Surely, if the No.1 end of the train was the north end this would be the end at the buffers at Jerome’s?   This appears to be borne out by the Ian Clarke photo at Conduit Colliery Sidings on the return leg and the other photographs by John Debens on the return trip at Walsall Wood and Aldridge. This leads us into an area of speculation that the final destination was not Conduit Colliery sidings (as I initially thought – see ‘Bending Conduit’), or Conduit Colliery as per the caption, but Coppice Colliery at Five Ways! Unfortunately, I only have a little video footage of this location shot by Ivo Peters, and so I apologise if I am off the mark, but sticking my neck out a long way I would suggest that the special is actually in the colliery yard at Coppice, with the Harper Bros. bus depot in the rear left of the photograph. To get to Coppice the train would have had to reverse up the Five Ways branch from Conduit, hence the No.2 end being at the buffer stops.

If this was able to be confirmed, it would indeed be the tour that reached the ‘other parts of the system’, and would have meant travelling over the very tightly curved section from Conduit Colliery sidings to Conduit Colliery, and the NCB section from the exchange sidings to the colliery at Coppice. It would be (I stand to be corrected) the only special to have traversed the Five Ways branch and the connection between the LNWR and Midland lines at Norton Canes.

The Six Bells Junction website shows the booked times for the tour, with very tight margins at all the stops. It begs the question as to whether the itinery was changed and the Five Ways section added? The times also do not give any stops for Conduit Colliery sdgs or Walsall Wood, which again gives rise as to whether the timings were changed.


SLS special 30th May 1959 Ryecroft MR avoiding line. Photo by M.Mensing, image supplied by Ian Pell.

To add to the fleshing out of the tour it was the Stephenson Locomotive Society’s 50th Anniversary Railtour around Birmingham and the West Midlands. It was split into two sections, the later being formed of two three –car Birmingham built Metro-Cammell DMUs. They travelled from Birmingham New Street via the Soho loop, Bescot, Walsall and the north Walsall line as far as Bushbury No.1. The 2 DMUs then ran via Wolverhampton High level and the North Walsall line to Aldridge, before undertaking the Walsall Wood branch trip. They were photographed by Michael Mensing heading eastwards for Aldridge along the ex-MR avoiding line and crossing the Walsall – Rugeley line at Ryecroft. The front end of the train shows the split headcode and “SLS special” headboard.

So, if any one can confirm that timber was stored in the colliery yard at Coppice or indeed that the background buildings are those of Harper Bros. it would go a long way towards solving the rather intriguing question of where this photograph was taken and prove or otherwise, that the tour did reach Coppice Colliery. Now that would be a turn up for the books!

Whatever, the outcome it always amazes me of the buried treasure that still surfaces from time to time to make us reassess our assumptions of ‘the facts’ from over 50 years ago.

Kindest regards

Ian never ceases to stun me with his knowledge and deduction. My hat is doffed. Thanks so much.

Please, if anyone has anything to add, you’re welcome. Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

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16 Responses to Up around the bend

  1. Mick Bullock says:

    Sorry to burst the bubble but that is definitely not Harper’s Garage,similar shape but door opening is too wide and the window configuration is different,roof is different and there were no high buildings at the the other side of garage.The railway that went into Coppice Colliery was in a deep cutting after going under the Norton Rd,it was impossible to see any of the buildings in Cannock Rd from this.To be honest this is nothing at all like Coppice Colliery pit top.



  2. aerreg says:

    re the fair lady queery i have a number of photographs of the coppice re thefair lady before and after its life one shows the collieryfrom the back of harpers garage in the for ground are bricks and wood stacked up ready for building to take place this could be the site on which harpers built their social club and used as a parking space for their busses on the subject of the sharp railway bend another picture shows following the pit closier and removal of track the the sharp bend quoted i should have pointed out the social club was demolished before it was was used to park the buses also on the site was built the four winds cafe a very very popular watering hole for many many years sorry ive rambled and you can follow my garble but i have not got the skill to shoo you the pictures hope its of some help god bless from aer reg

  3. Brian Ansell says:

    The other wonderful photograph that is headed Ryecroft MR; can anyone pinpoint this place. I have doe a search on Bing maps but come up with nothing resembling the intersection of what looks like two railroads, one above the other with a road passing over. I thank you for your time.

    • This one I think I can answer, I’m no railway head, but going back to 1935 mapping, Ryecroft is a good bit more complex than it is now, and shows Jack Haddock’s beloved engine sheds. I’ve highlighted the bit in green I think it is, which is long since gone.
      Untitled 9

      It shouldn’t be too hard to find as I think the overheads are trolleybus lines?


  4. This shows it better
    It’s still present on 1965 mapping so was probably extant at the time of that tour


  5. Ian Pell says:

    Hi Bob
    Spot on with the location at Ryecroft. Yes the overhead lines are for the trolleybuses.
    Thanks for the comments Mick, I had hoped thar someone would put me right. Yes, you are quite correct the line up from the Exchange sidings was steep, curved and in a cutting for some considerable distance. in reality the 1962 OS shows a telephone exchange where the background buildings were. I was equally, not sure that it was Coppice, although I am pretty cetain (unless I’m proved wrong again!) that it was not taken on the branch. Again though I find I am not able to definately pin the location down, it is increasingly looking like it is Birmingham Central, the special’s destination after the branch was visited.
    If it proves to be the case, then in a strange sort of way, I’m happy because the original thoughts that it did not go past the BR limit of operation on the Walsall Wood branch, ie:- Conduit Colliery sidings, were correct. it also confirms that the DMUs didn’t go to Conduit Colliery via the very tight curve which I was pretty sure they would not be able to manage.
    Hopefully we may find a photo for Heath Hayes which would help finally put me out of my misery and stop my going right round the bend.
    Many thanks to all.

  6. If that was Heath Hayes Fair Lady Colliery the driver would have to change ends at the Conduit 3 ( Jeromes) sidings as after it crosses Chester Rd past the old station on the common goes under A5 alongside Chasewater branches left before the causeway over Norton East Rd then Brownhills Rd at Norton Canes then would swing left back towards the A5 at The Conduit 3 sidings. Here now the driver would have to change ends and after a manual points change run alongside the conduit sidings under Norton Bridge run parallel with the Hednesford Rd swinging left under the Hednesford Rd at 5 Ways and into the Coppice Colliery Sidings. As already been pointed out that’s not Harpers Garage on the left of the DMU, hope this helps

  7. Ian Pell says:

    Thanks Phil. That was exactly the thinking as to how No.2 cab arrived at the front of the train. I.m happy that we seem to be establishing that the building does not appear to be Harper Bros. garage, hence my previous comments. Ideally any photos from around 1959 would be nice but they are like hen’s teeth.

  8. Your very welcome Ian, I have left Bob a couple of photos of the rear of the Garage, you might have to twist his arm a little lol.

  9. The more I look at the headed photo, the more I’m convinced that this is not Conduit 3 (Jerome’s ). I was born in Norton 1946 and lived in Brownhills Rd across the road from the pit until 1966 then around the corner in Burntwood Rd until 1980. The Conduit closed in1949 and just stood empty until 1958 when they started to demolish the chimneys but the majority of the buildings remained until the last shaft was capped in 1962 and the Conduit offices also on site closed. The land was then filled for development. The Coppice at Heath Hayes did not close until1964, so the Walsall Wood mineral line was still in operation. The building to the left of the DMU is not one that I ever remember and certainly not a timber yard, as the colliery remained mainly in tact all to the left of the train would be original colliery buildings. The buildings behind the train are in the wrong place to be Norton, behind the train would be a sloping track with embankments both sides to run under Norton Bridge. Its my guess the points were set wrong and instead of heading for Norton went across the causeway to the Cannock Chase Collierys and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up at No 3 the Plant or No5. The timber yard could be Olaf Johnson’s alongside No5

  10. aerreg says:

    hi philip you have stired the old grey matter again and i hope i am not being personal but did your mom have a small cafe on the bridge at norton she was a lovely quiet lady i remember he well the cafe was another oasis in tthe days of fellowship of electric gas and council men on the conduit it was part of my childhood days my uncle jack trawford was a mechanic there uncle horice lote a winder my last memory of jeromes was the day the last pit pony was brought to the surface his poor old eyes covered by erdan sack to protect them the days of little oss over iwas working at the meb substation at the time oh for the touch of the old days thanks for the memories

  11. Hi Reg, you are quite correct, that was my moms café on Norton Bridge, and well used by Conduit office staff and like you say council, electric an gas workers for their cuppa and a bacon sarnie. Reg I think you might be interested in a facebook group I have recently started with lots of Norton photos, its Norton Canes History also a website http://www.nortoncaneshistory.co.uk. You would be very welcome to join us. Kindest regards Phil.

  12. Ian Pell says:

    Hi Philip
    Thank you for your comments regarding Conduit colliery which I would completely agree with. I would also add that the background to any photo looking south would have been dominated by the massive slag heap.
    The section of the Midland line between Conduit Colliery sidings (just to the north of where the Chasewater Railway’s Brownhills West station now stands) and Walsall Wood Colliery was closed in 1960. The offical date being given as .
    The line across the causeway was colliery owned and not available to BR use. In any case if the train did continue this way the same problem of the wrong end being at the buffers would still be applicable.
    Having chased up some further information I believe I can offer proof that the location of the photograph is indeed Birmingham Central Goods station. Hopefully, some photos will help to clear this matter up once and for all, and in due course they should become available via Bob.
    Unfortunately, I don’t think the comments section is able to take photos.
    Many thanks for all the positive contributions, they are always most welcome. it is worth reminding ourselves that places once familiar are now often totally unrecognisable and so it is only with help that such sites can be pinned down.

  13. Philip Burton says:

    Hi Ian, you are welcome, I only mentioned as a possible alternative the Cannock Chase Colliery pits, but like you correctly state the Causeway and also the line to the conduit 3 & The Lady at Heath Hayes were coalboard mineral lines and in use until 1964 when the Lady closed. So in Bobs photos Bending the Conduit & Keeping Track was as far as the BMU travelled which was parallel to the Brownhills Rd and Just North of Chasewater Preservation. I hope you are right about finding proof of the location and look forward to your photos & comments

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