I’m absolutely indebted to the young David Evans this week who’s been beavering away while I’ve been rather indisposed, as many of you will be aware – anyway, I’m back at it now and David has sent me a whole bunch of interesting archive material including this absolute stunner from the Walsall Observer in 1939.
This report, published on Saturday 29th April 1939 – before the outbreak of war itself in the following September – illustrates what life in Britain must have been like in the run up to the great conflict, documenting how a local company had converted an old pit working and associated buildings into a veritable command centre and shelter for up to 350 people. This must have been a remarkable construction, and I wonder when it was razed?
I do hope we can find someone with living memory of this.
Aldridge Brick And Tile I think were on the Aldridge/Walsall Wood/Stubbers Green border where the Brickyard Road industrial estate is now, or possibly on the other side of the canal where Veolia is now. That was certainly the site of the colliery mentioned.
I’d love to know more about this, including any information possible on location and just when the installation was demolished.
If you can help, or have an opinion to share on the matter, please do get in touch. You can comment on this article, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my coat on social media.
David Evans transcribed:
An Air Raid Fortress
Walsall Observer, Saturday 29 April 1939
Disused pit engine house and tunnels adapted at Aldridge
Much interest has been aroused by the extraordinary comprehensive scheme of air raid precautions evolved by the Aldridge Brick Tile and Coal Co for the protection of their employees.
They have been able to use an engine house and ventilation tunnels formerly serving the now disused Aldridge Colliery for the creation of a splinter, blast and bomb-proof shelter and to install on the top of the old pit mounds observation posts from which operations could be directed in the event of the works being attacked during a raid.
The scheme is centred upon the old engine house. Around its existing walls and additional wall has been built, five or six feet away, and the intervening space filled with rubble. This gives walls eight feet or more thick and the roof of the shelter has been protected by 12 feet of alternate layers of concrete and rubble.
The interior has been converted into a complete A.R.P. headquarters with rooms for first aid, rescue, decontamination and fire squads; store rooms and a specially protected wireless telephone room from which connection can be established with an inter-shelter and inter-works telephone system as well as with the national system. There are four entrances to the shelter all on the air-lock principle.
From it steps lead down to an underground chamber which was formerly the ventilation fan drift and to a barrel arch ventilation tunnel. These once connected for ventilation purposes with the up-cast and down-cast pit shafts of the old colliery, now blocked up. The deepest parts are about 20 feet underground and they are electrically lighted and painted with anti- gas paint. They have been reinforced with steel girders.
Room for all 350 employees
The whole of the employees numbering upwards of 350 can be accommodated and they can all reach their places in the shelter in less than seven minutes. Detailed squads are being trained and equipped to carry out all the functions of A R P
On top of the pit mounds are the two observation posts. Two steel tanks with doors and observation slits form the basis for these and they have been covered with a layer of cement 2 feet thick, a layer of bags filled with rubble and finally another foot of concrete. The observation slits narrow down to the interior so as to lessen the danger from flying splinters. First-aid chests and telephones form part of the equipment.
The observation posts command the whole of the works and during a raid it would be the duty of trained observers to inform the A.R.P. squads where their service were required in the event of a direct hit or a fire. Their task would also include keeping a watchful eye on the nearby Birmingham canal. This is on a higher level than the works and a direct hit might cause serious trouble through the breakdown of the banks leading to flooding.
The cost of the scheme works out at about £3 per head of the employees.