Get your Freakley on…


This still existing structure is stunning. It’s the remains of the bridge of the Midland Railway where it crossed the Wyrley and Essington Canal at Swingbridge farm, between Clayhanger and Brownhills.

Just recently we’ve talked extensively about the Midland Railway through Walsall Wood and Brownhills, and the notorious rail tour that seems to have been the last passenger train along it – but we’ve also discussed local brick making too, and I think this is an excellent time to feature this article by top local historian Gerald Reece.

Gerald, who featured this piece in his 1996 book ‘Brownhills: A walk into history with Gerald Reece’, makes some fascinating points about the Midland Railway, which ran from Aldridge into the coalfield around Norton, which I think may provoke some discussion.


The last remains of the Midland Railway Bride over the Chester Road are removed in May, 1983. Image kindly supplied by Gerald Reece.

There’s also a surprising link to the Council House in Brownhills many may not be aware of.

Also featured are a couple of remarkable images of the last remnants of the Midland Railway Bridge over the Chester Road being removed in May, 1983 – these images were very kindly donated by Gerald in response to recent discussion and were taken by his son.


I remember this taking place. There seems a lack of site safety here! Image from May, 1983. Image kindly supplied by Gerald Reece.

This is a remarkable work and I pay tribute to Gerald’s work here and now: without this remarkably dogged, intelligent and resourceful man, so much of our local history would remain unknown. If you ever get chance to buy a copy of his book, please do. It’s rarer these days than rocking horse shit.

Comments? Disputes? Feel free. Either on this post, or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Gerald Reece wrote:


Scan 7

Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.

In 1880 The Midland Railway (Additional Powers) Act was passed on 6th August. It gave the Railway Company permission to build their long awaited foothold into the Cannock Chase coalfield. The Walsall Wood Extension Railway would enable them to link their line from Aldridge with the Cannock Chase and Wolverhampton Railway near Chasewater. It was to be an expensive venture for them. The days of free license were over, they now had to deal with an array of obstacles in the form of roads, canals, water-mains and other railway companies property. They also had a Local Government Board and its bye-laws to contend with. Theirs was to be the last major railway undertaking in the area. Local bye-laws controlled the height of bridges and the width of roadways. “The arch or bridge for the crossing of the lines of the South Staffordshire Railway shall be constructed and maintained with one span or opening of not less than fifty feet measured on the square and a clear headway of not less than fourteen feet six inches’. This they took into consideration in their planning. The Wyrley and Essington Canal also offered little difficulty in crossing. It was to be the building of bridges over the Pelsall Road and the Chester Road that were to cause them problems. For them to build bridges at the height required under the local bye-laws would mean increasing the height of the embankment along most of the line. This would have been a costly undertaking had not a solution been found.

Scan 6

Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.

The high vaulted bridge over the trackway leading to Swing Bridge Farm is a splendid example of civil engineering. The blue bricks used in its construction were made by Freakley Brothers of Tipton, they were the main brick suppliers to the Midland Railway Company in this area. It is interesting to note that the blue bricks used to build the new Council Offices, (lately Fairclough’s), at Brownhills Bridge were also supplied by Freakley Brothers. Bridges could be built to conform to local bye-law specifications without them being raised, the ground underneath them could be removed and the roadway lowered. Two main issues were on the agenda at the next Local Board meeting. (1) The cost of materials for building the new offices. (2) Regulations concerning the construction of railway bridges. Those in favour?

Scan 8

The last scheduled passenger service to depart the station on Brownhills Common, in March 1930. Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.

The railway opened in April 1882 followed closely by the new imposing Local Board Offices.

At first the railway only operated to bring coals out of the pits. In 1884 the line was opened for passenger traffic as far as the Chester Road where a station was built. This station was known as the Brownhills Midland Railway Station.

Its passenger service was not an overwhelming success, for one thing the station was half a mile outside town and the stations covered by the line could be reached by an alternative route. It was used mainly by the miners going to and from work and for their annual excursions and holiday treats. Such exotic places as Sutton Park and the Malvern Hills were popular venues. After regrouping in 1923 the line also came under the banner of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. It took them several years to realise the loss making potential of the line and it was closed to passenger traffic in March 1930. It continued as a rnineral only line until September 1960 when following the demise of the coalfield, it was closed. The line was taken up from Chasewater to Walsall Wood. The bridges have also been removed but the parapets of some still remain together with their Freakley Brothers Blue Bricks.

Scan 5

I have a feeling this may put the cat amongst the pigeons. Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.

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12 Responses to Get your Freakley on…

  1. Pedro says:

    Sept 1881….

    Liquidation by arrangement…John Freakley and Joseph Freakley trading as Freakley Bros

    • Geof says:

      The tunnel under the railway bridge was where my wife and myself stood on night Coventry was bombed, before we were married,and listened to the shrapnel from the aircraft guns dropping on the road

  2. Geof says:

    As to the tunell under the railway bridge on the Chester road my wife and myself stood under there before we were married and watched Coventry being bombed in the war the shrapnel from the antia

    • Geof says:

      Aircraft guns was dropping on the road, I think I was on leave at the time,I I just hope and pray those days never come back, this is the continuation of the previous reply,

  3. Geof says:

    The tunnel under the railway bridge was where my wife and myself stood on the Chester Rd before we

  4. Geof says:

    aircraft was pinging on the road.If my memory is correct I was home on leave at the time,These days I hope we never see again. This is a continuation of the paragraph above

  5. Geof says:

    The tunnel under the railway bridge was where my wife and myself stood and watched Coventry being bombed by the Germans.the shapnal from the anti-aircraft guns was pinging on the road,We were courting at the time.we were married later and had 63 years together.

  6. Geof says:

    Please excuse the previous mistakes, but I am 93 and still learning how to use these Mod Cons.

  7. aerreg says:

    dont worry GEOF i know the feeling i dont know why the got rid of pidgins power to them fingers your a valuable history book god bless you from aer reg

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    An amazing of many revelations in Geralds book….sadly the Council House now has a fine grill which protects the basement but also obscures the view of the blue bricks there.Also Geoff (Harrngton?) gives us the date for anti aircraft action over Brownhills Common!
    The Council House seems to be in need of some brickwork TLC to repair the ravages of time and weather…not to the blue bricks, I must add. They seem fine!
    And a thanks to Bob for this excellent presentation.
    Kind regards

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