Precautions for war – the local fortress

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.

1963 aerial image of Stubbers Green with Northywood Bridge upper left of centre, with Aldridge Brick and Tile on the right of the canal. By this time the pit mounds from the former colliery (left of the bridge) seem to have gone. Image from the University of Cambridge Archive. Click for a larger version.

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.

The area around Northywood Bridge in modern times: Broadly from the same angle as the archive aerial above. Lovely drone work by Pete Hummings. Click for a larger version.

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

Observation posts

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.

Aldridge Brick and Tile from the book ‘Aldridge Village Memories’ by Stan Brookhouse and John Sale.

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.

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11 Responses to Precautions for war – the local fortress

  1. stymaster says:

    One of the brickworks (Barnett & Beddows IIRC) is just visible on one of the c1975 photos in this post I made a few years ago, looking in the general direction of Northywood Bridge.

  2. Tim J Kitchen says:

    My father-in-law, Bob Brevitt, was chief photographer at the Walsall Observer and I remember him telling me about the caverns under S.Jones used for storage. Somewhere we have a photo of the trucks going in and out.


    Empire Brick was on the site where Veolia are with Barnet & Beddows next, Stubbers Green colliery next, I believe, I remember loading bricks at empire with my father,, I put in the first temporarry tanks for Efluent Disosal (Polymeric lTD.) at Empire in the Seventies

  4. David Evans says:

    Google Earth image..winding the clock back to 1945….shows the two mounds, I think..

    but I cant copy and paste ! Help!

  5. Eldyne Cooper says:

    My Dad worked for S. Jones in Aldridge and used to deliver coal from Cannock Chase pit to Barnett and Beddows most days in the 1960s

  6. Ray Wall says:

    In 1942, my first job on leaving Walsall Wood Comprehensive School was as office boy in the offices of Aldridge Brick Tile and Coal Company. Part of my duties was to climb the pit mounds to the observation post where Capt. Clarke seemed to spend most of his nights. My responsibility was to tidy up the place and make his bed, I believe that in an impeding air attack, the kilns could be dampened down so that the flames could not be seen from above. The kilns held parts for tanks, not bricks or tiles, at that time. The tank parts were being annealed before they could be machined, and it was a vital local task that seems to have gone unnoticed. One bomb (500 lb. I believe) was dropped by a German plane and it fell into the water-filled quarry without exploding. Walsall Wood, where I lived, was apparently on the direct route to Coventry where massive air raids almost demolished that city. I also worked on Boston bombers at Haliwels Aldridge maintenance unit, where these planes were sometimes flown in by be demure women pilots of the ATA, But that’s another story! Regards to all Ienjoy your posts. Ray Wall from Sydney, Australia.

    • Chris Myers says:

      Very interesting comments, Ray. No doubt the Home Guard was very much involved in all this defence activity after its formation in May/June 1940. All were members of the 32nd Staffordshire (Aldridge) Battalion.

      Rupert L. Thomas was a director at Aldridge Brick, Tile and Coal at the time. I knew him well immediately post-war but was too young – or not interested enough! – to ask him anything about the Company’s activity in the war years. He lived in Four Oaks, was a Great War survivor and commanded a Platoon of the Sutton Home Guard. There is an image of him online as a HG officer (in my staffshomeguard website).

      I’ve seen some discussion elsewhere about Haliwels/Helliwells – “Walsall Airport” – and in particular the fact that at least one defensive position survives there to this day. Images online, somewhere.


  7. David Evans says:

    HI Ray
    thank you so much for your amazing comment on this topic. I don’t think anyone knew of the work that was being done there for the war effort by the brickworks and would love to learn more.
    With my kindest regards and best wishes

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi Ray
    my father was an Air Raid Warden in Walsall Wood during the conflict and one of the Walsall Wood Football Committee at that time was a William “Bill” Martin, who was the foremen at the brickworks, I understand that he lost his life there in tragic circumstances in 1943 …but my father would never talk about this.
    kind regards

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