A hole lot of sink


These days, such a site would be far more fenced off, and this shot would give modern safety officers fits of the vapours – but the lax security meant an excellent photographic record. Image Kindly supplied by Steve Turner.

One of the curious things about writing and keeping this blog has always been the steady, curious dynamic of story arcs – where an old subject gets continually, slowly and gradually expanded as Google lists it, people search and find the post, comment and expand it.

So it has been with the curious, still pretty much unresolved tale of the September 1982 canal breech at the Wyrley and Essington canal by Millfield School at Catshill.

I had originally thought that the voids that opened up under the canal were caused by mining subsidence, but others have contested this is not the case and that they were just sinkholes – but they did a huge amount of damage.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a whole tranche of images of the drained canal and damage – which in those days wasn’t particularly rigorously faced off – from Steve Turner, featured above and in the gallery below. Steve supplied the wonderful pictures of Brownhills High Street I posted here in the week.

He said:

Good Morning Bob,

Sorting through some old photos and came across these that might be of interest to your readers.

Late 70s I think when a hole appeared at the back of Millfield School and drained the canal.

Best Wishes
Steve Turner.

As ever with these kinds of photos, as interesting as the subject is, some of the background is equally memory-jogging. See Saddlers Mill on the canal side, still a factory before renovation and conversion – and the Superalloys factory – is that the base of the chimney there, or am I imagining it?

These photos obviously compliment the wonderful work supplied way back in 2012 by that great local historian, David Hodgkinson. There’s still much I’d love to know, but we are getting closer. I include that post below the gallery to save flipping browser windows.

Of particular interest is the idea that the modern drainage system for Chasewater’s overflow – where it dives under the canal and into the Crane Brook – was built in response to this event Can anyone add more to that, please?

That’s to Steve for a wonderful donation, and if you can help with memories of this dramatic event, or anything else relating to it, please do comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.


The original 2012 post on the subject below:

This has shown me how disconnected memory can be. David found this photo, and very specifically dates in as 12th September, 1982. I can remember it being reported on Beacon Radio as a mine collapse, fairly sure it was a Monday, because I wanted to go look but it was a school day. I remember walking down here with the canal drained on a snowy, grey winter’s day, so it was clearly dry for a long time after. Picture courtesy David Hodgkinson.

Yesterday, in a post relating some recollections of the Chasewater modern overflow culvert, an anonymous correspondent suggested that the new system had been constructed in response to a serious subsidence issue near Anchor Bridge. In that post, I rather cheekily yanked the chain of David Hodgkinson, top bloke and long time local historian and webmaster of the parish. I knew that David had good recollections of the collapse, from comments on his own excellent site, but today, David has excelled himself.

Digging through his archives, David has located a series of photos and a sketch made after the incident, and some later during the reparations. He is also able to date the occurrence to sometime around the 12th September 1982 – almost 30 years ago. That any material from this work survives is remarkable, let alone this veritable treasure trove. Readers of this blog and my fellow Brownhillians never cease to amaze me.

All I remember of the incident was hearing reports on Beacon Radio’s lunchtime show, when home from school for dinner, saying a mine collapse had happened and the canal had burst onto farmland. I wanted to go and look, but had to go back to school. I remember that evening, it was light (so not in the winter as I falsely recalled) and men in waders were collecting floundering fish from the mud of the canal near the Anchor bridge. I’d never seen so many fish. I think, to be honest, they were being taken illegally, as they were loaded into vans. I also remember crayfish struggling in the black mud.

I recall walking past the works on a winters snowy day sometime – must have been winter of 82-83, and the work was still ongoing. You can, of course, still see the length of rebuilt canal – it narrows slightly and has different bank construction.

I can now see a further reason for the creation of the new storm drain at Chasewater – it may have been to reduce incidental load on the canal. It’s possible, I guess, that if Chasewater had recently overflowed, that the existing overflow system on the canal itself into the Crane Brook had not been able to dissipate the surge quickly, and caused loading further down. I have no evidence for this, it’s pure speculation.

David sent the following message:

Dear Brownhills Bob,

I have found a few photos of the rebuilding of the canal after the leak. These were taken August 1983. There were three or four actual cave-ins covering both sides of the canal, in a line crossing at an angle. I thought that the problem was put down to mine workings but can’t remember any more at the moment. I may have some cuttings from the local papers of the time if I can find them.

I have done some scans of the prints from a not very good 35MM camera (I thought it was wonderful at the time but looking back cheap camera and cheap processing equals fuzzy results). I have scanned at 600dpi.

(I am now looking for a photo I took of the actual breach at the back of the school.)

All the best,

David Hodgkinson

PS – Are you allowed to use “Mum” in Brownhills! I search high and low to find birthday cards using “Mom” (but I’ve got nothing better to do with my time!)

I say, that old Mom/Mum question is a linguistic nightmare. Prepare for comment incoming!

And then…

Dear Bob,

I have found the photo taken on 12 September 1982 that would have been soon after the breach occurred. I have not found a picture of any of the other nearby collapses.

Taken with a Kodak 126 Film Instamatic so square photo.


So finally…

Remarkably, David also found this sketch of the layout of the breaches and sinks. People never cease to astound – for me, this was all a hazy memory. Original sketch by David Hodgkinson.

Dear Bob,

I have found my note from 12 Sept 1982. At the time I marked three cave-ins as shown on the sketch. One at the back of the school field, one on the towpath and one in the farmland beyond.

From the photos it looks as if the canal was being pumped out just before the junction with the Rushall branch and although blocked at Lichfield Road (Anglesey Bridge) was in low water all the way back to Chasewater.

Yet again I can’t remember the exact details. I think in court it’s called “Not A Credible Witness”!


David, I can assure you, you’re a wonderful witness, and thanks for adding so much history to the blog. Cheers, you’ll always have a beer in with me, old chap.

It was clearly still late summer when these pictures were taken. Up the bank to the right would be the old Anchor Inn. Picture kindly supplied by David Hodgkinson.

This is the narrows at the back of Chandler’s Keep – then a plant hire yard and auto repair business. The canal was dammed here by dumping a pile of clay as a dam. Again, I think site safety would have something to say about that today. For many, it’ll bring back memories of just how grim that bit of the cut was back then. Picture kindly supplied by David Hodgkinson.

This is Qwikform shuttering, as produced up the canal in Aldrdge at RMD. Note the old bank and remains of Brawn’s Wood on Lanes Farm in the distance.Picture kindly scanned by David Hodgkinson.

This was some project, and must have been planned and executed on the hoof. Costly, too, I’d wager, in a time of little public funding. Image donated by David Hodgkinson.

A less successful dam near Anglesey Bridge. Some vies never change. Picture supplied by David Hodgkinson.

David seems to have had fairly open access to the worksite – how different to how it would be today. Those vehicles bring back some memories. Another great capture by David Hodgkinson.

For those confused about the electricity pylon, we had a line of these run over what is now Clayhanger Common, next to the flats and over the fields to Lichfield. They were rendered redundant, along with a large substation in Clayhanger, by the installation of new underground cables in North Walsall, and a new distribution compound in Cartbridge Lane South. The pylons were subsequently removed. Picture donated by David Hodgkinson.

This entry was posted in Bad Science, Brownhills stuff, Chasewater, Environment, Events, Followups, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Local Blogs, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Spotted whilst browsing the web, Walsall community and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A hole lot of sink

  1. Some excellent new photos there from Steve!

    For clarification

    When I said “I have found the photo taken on 12 September 1982 that would have been soon after the breach occurred.”, what I should have said was that they were taken soon AFTER I HAD SPOTTED the breach which is not necessarily the same thing.

    The photos of the rebuilding were taken in August 1983

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    amazing photos indeed. I remember that local anglers had saved the fish..perhaps this can be confirmed ….I did go and jave a look…what is not apparent in the pgotos is the drop from the bankside to the field..where the blue vans are…. Clearly vosble from the yrack was the different clpur of the soil where the breach had occured. Wrd was that Tom, labourer at Mr Lanes farm, had drive. the bucket/ loader tracter to try to stem the flow when the breach occured…again, perhaps this can be confirmed, please.
    What came as a surprise was seeing an empty canal, and seemingly much shallower than I had imagined..perhaps an illusion
    many thanks for the photos and details, Steve
    kind regards

    • stymaster says:

      I don’t think it’s an illusion. A few years ago I saw the canal near here drained due to vandalism, and that wasn’t deep. I’ve also had an unscheduled swim in the Anglesey Branch this year, and at the edge the water only came up to just above my knees…

  3. Don Thomas says:

    God I remember has us kids off the avenues me and my mates walked the length of the breach inthe mud and the snow in our wellies lol good good times !

  4. david moreton says:

    I remember coming home from work and going upstairs to change but when I looked out of the window I was puzzled as to why part of Lanes’ field at the back was under water. It didn’t take long to realise the bank must have collapsed and the water was from the canal. Remember also watching the repair work being undertaken. As an event, I guess it must have been unprecedented in the area. There is a particular picture that I would like to get a copy of if it is possible. Perhaps you could let me know if it’s feasible. Many thanks to all for the fabulous pictures. Keep up the good work.

  5. Pork Torta says:

    Absolutely amazing! I’d completely forgotten about this until these fantastic photos were shared…now it’s all flooding (ha!) back. Anyone know how long the canal was dammed for? It feel like an AGE as a kid.

  6. Pingback: The mysterious falling canal level: Water carry on! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  7. Pingback: Thats not a breach…. – The Canalorak

  8. Pingback: The lost Brownhills tramway: Did they give a dam? | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

Leave a Reply

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