Fire and clay: A lost history unfolds

This is the former clay hole from which marl was hauled up a ramp to the brickworks which stood by the bank of the nearby canal.

I see that there David Evans is hot on the local history trail now his beloved Walsall Wood FC have hung up the boots for the summer – and yesterday he sent me a lovely article on a bit of local history that interests many, and is of continual fascination to blog readers – Brownhills Brikworks and the Jones House (‘The Big House’) at Clayhanger Bridge.

Where the new pond and house are today were once a fairly large brickworks. The marl hole left when production ceased was then turned into a private residence with surprisingly lush grounds – including a tennis court as documented here previously. Later, the remainder of the void was employed as a spoil heap for Walsall Wood Colliery, which itself was removed in the early 1980s, and used to cap the dreadful blight that was Clayhanger refuse tip; that is now the wonderful Clayhanger Common.

Thanks to a the generosity of Mr. Ray Jones, David has been invited to the the house to take some pictures and explore the past of this fascinating site.

My thanks to Ray Jones, David, and also to Gerald Reece who way back in 1996, before we had the internet, lit this whole history up. It is on the shoulders of the tireless efforts of people like Gerald and David that I and this blog stand, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Anything to add? Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

David wrote:

Gerald Reece’s totemic local history book, ‘Brownhills, a walk in to History’ was published in 1996 and is an amazing compilation of his original and unique research.

On page 60 there are three paragraphs which describe the brickworks, which closed down in 1896, which I include here:

Brownhills Brick Works

Although it is outside the bounds of Catshill, The Brownhills Brick Works merit a mention. It stood near to the present Clayhanger Bridge and had loading wharves at the canal side. Amongst its products was a building brick with a distinctive impression.

Francis Harry Gordon was the entrepreneur who established the Brick Works here in the 1870’s. He also had other business interests in North Staffordshire. The Brick Works covered an area of 7 acres. The large crater made during the excavation of the clay can still be seen. The clay measure here was 30 ft. thick. The buildings of the works included three drying sheds, the largest one measured 150 ft. x 30 ft. and had a cast iron plated floor.

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

There were three 7 holed burning kilns, two dwelling houses and an Engine and Mill House. The machinery and plant included a Cornish Steam Boiler measuring 20 ft. X 6 ft. 3 ins. A Horizontal High Pressure Steam Engine with a 16 ins. Cylinder. This had a stroke of 2 ft. 10 ins. And a 9 ft. Fly-wheel. There were also two Capital Cameron Steam Pumps and a Brick Cutting-Off machine.

The Brick Works were closed down in 1896, its trade had been undercut by the neighbouring Walsall Wood Colliery Brick Works. After several abortive attempts to reopen the Works as a going concern it was finally sold for its plant and machinery by William F. Gordon, J.P. of Lichfield, he was the son of Francis Harry. Many buildings in the area can be dated from their usage of F. H. GORDON bricks.

Looking across the deep lake.

I have very recently been kindly invited by to view what remains of this once important site. Indeed, apart from the water-filled marl-hole known locally as ‘Jones Pool’ the works themselves have been completely removed with the passing of time, and now a private residence graces this former industrial works.

Clayhanger village has also seen a complete transformation from the sad, poor mining settlement and ugly landscape into the present-day fine community. Last year the headmistress of the local primary school allowed me free access to the complete set of Headteacher’s log books from the day the school opened in 1880, and I saw for myself a record of those sad early times  until the modern, immediate pre-war times, and the ongoing improvements to the community since then.

This shows the bankside of the lake and where a ramp stood. I was told that trucks hauled the clay from here to the works, by the canal bank

The school children had been engaged in a study of their local area, and my, they were so full of enthusiasm and produced an excellent record of their local area study.

This , I believe, is where the brick kilns stood, part of the works, and in among the trees, the canal bank..quite a way up to the level of the canal towpath.

Time has passed, and with it, the buildings that were once Brownhills Brick Works.  And yet, as with the old horse and Jockey pub in Walsall Wood, one glorious part has been retained and preserved.

Embodied in to one of the modern outbuildings by the house, this beautiful witness to local history

I would like to extend my sincere personal thanks to Mr R Jones for allowing me visit  and take these photographs.

David
May 2018

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One Response to Fire and clay: A lost history unfolds

  1. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    many thanks for your excellent presentation…..most appreciated
    Whilst there I was told that a wheel,(?) thought to have been a sluice and mentioned somewhere in the blog, was in fact the village water well , before mains water arrived….
    kind regards
    David

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