The Brownhills tramway to nowhere – a railway expert writes

I always love expanding railway and related threads here on the blog – and it’s always great to hear from local railway historian and expert Ian Pell, this time on the matter of  the lost and somewhat mysterious tramway that is said tohave run close to the original route of The Parade in Brownhills, before it was a road.

These beautiful trees appear to be concealing an interesting bit of local industrial history. Image from my 365days journal.

As I hoped, Ian (who has done so much to expand railway matters here on the blog, and in whose debt aI remain) spotted this the Parade post and sent me a couple of articles with his thoughts on the matter.

One thought that has occurred to me is there was a colliery for a while slightly to the west of Watling Street School, and perhaps the tramway served that and shallow mining south of what would be Chasewater?

I’m sorry to say I know less than bugger all about the collieries around Watling Street, but perhaps the tramway served them? Image from the National Library of Scotland Archive from 1884 1:2,500 scale mapping. Click for a larger version.

In true local history ‘And furthermore!’ style, Ian sent a second piece soon after the first, further expanding on the question.

He wrote:

Hi Bob,

Good to see you back on form.

Tramway to and from nowhere in particular.

Been giving the tramway across Brownhills Common some thought.  
To me, there are two possible uses which spring to mind.  

Firstly, was it used in the construction of the reservoir at Chasewater?  If so, it would connect the newly opened Wyrley and Essington canal from a wharf near to the location of the older wharf build by the L&NWR in the 1850’s.  The canal opened around 1797, the same time as the original reservoir, but as the reservoir was I believe rebuilt in 1800, it is possible it was used for that.   From Watling Street the 1880’s OS map does indeed show some sort of track between Watling Street and the reservoir, albeit not in a form which suggests it was a tramway.

The other possibility is that it was a tramway from Pool Lane Colliery in the period up to the 1850’s, again to a canal wharf.  The existence of a ‘coal wharf’ on the canal is borne out by G. Bradshaw’s Feb. 1829 map of the canal and roads of the area (there were no railways at this time!).  

1829 Bradshaw.  Map of canals and roads (extract). Click for a larger version. Image kindly supplied by Ian Pell.

Certainly, the tramway in what ever form appears gone by 1858 when the railway arrived.

There are no records of any tramways in this area using locomotives, so it was most likely to be horse drawn wagons.

Most people associate Bradshaw with Mr. Portillo and railways, but this is not the case.  He first published canal navigation maps of Lancashire and it wasn’t until 1839 that the railway timetables, and later, the Guides began to appear.

Thanks to GB for indicating the ‘coal wharf’ on his map.  Is this a clue, or was it being used to bring coal to Brownhills from, say, Pelsall Colliery?

Apart from the lack of railways, the map also doesn’t show the Cannock Extension (1863 to Hednesford) of the Wyrley and Essington canal.  Interestingly, Ford Brook is shown, as is the enclosed Norton Hall (possibly not where you might have thought it).

Returning to the tramway, my money is on the pit – no, not the one on Oak Island!  Of course, all the above is pure speculation and conjecture on my part – unless anyone know different?

Kind regards

Brownhills Common around Watling Street is now a peaceful wildlife haven, but once thundered to the fire and anger of a coal mine in full swing. Image from my 365days journal.

Some time later, Ian was struck by the ‘…and another thing!’ impulse and wrote:

Hi Bob

Below is a map dating from the 1850s and as you can see the tramway embankment stops to the north of the L&NWR railway. To the south of the railway there is no indication of earthworks between the railway and the canal,; not even a track or a coal wharf!  It would appear to stop at the junction with Pelsall Lane and the High Street, where the Brownhills UDC headquarters was later to be built.   It preceeds the railway and so its end is probably coincidental.  To the north of Watling Street the ‘tramway’ again has no clear definition and does not appear to exist.  There is one other interesting note at the Watling Street, a reference to ‘The Machine House’.  Any ideas what this was?

[Bob’s note: The machine House, like Frog Hall, has been a mystery for years. I suspect it may have been a pump for local shallow mining operations: Coal was very near the surface there and Cox’s pit in particular was so shallow wives could, it is said, shout down the shaft to men working below, so a general pump may have been a useful and profitable enterprise if say, hired to jobbing miners, a lot like the one near Engine Lane was suspected to be.]

1850s OS map extract kindly supplied by Ian Pell. Click for a larger version.

The map can be dated pretty accurately as the Norton Branch is shown as a black line towards the left of the map and the Midland Railway Extension No.2  is on the right, again in black, entering Anglesea Sidings.  This indicates that these were the proposed routes of the lines and that construction (Norton Branch opened 1858) had no yet been undertaken .

The red line (which incidentaly is the purpose for the map) comes from the Walsall Wood direction and heads towards Chasewater. The Line is to the east of the settlement of Brown Hills and cuts across the Common and Parade areas.  It also shows that at the time Clayhanger was a much greater developed settlement than Brownhills.   But what is this line? 
 It’s actually the original propsal for the Midland Railway No.1 route.  This became the Walsall Wood Branch and skirted to the west of Brownhills, rather than to the east as originally proposed.

Yet another part of the mystery.

Kind regards

I’d like to thank Ian for yet another expert article on railway and local history, which I’m flattered and honoured to feature it here. It fills me with pride that I can feature material of this quality here.

If you have anything to add to this, please do feel free: Comment here, hit me up on social media or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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16 Responses to The Brownhills tramway to nowhere – a railway expert writes

  1. Ivor 2302 says:

    In 1956 I worked for Brownhills Motor Sales, part of the time in the part of the set up behind The Station Hotel. The building was clad in corrugated sheets, more like lace because of the rust etc. I was told that this building had been the tram shed and it was close enough to the canal and the railway line. Could this have been to do with the line in question?

  2. andkindred says:

    Hello Bob, Ian, all.

    Looking at the 1903 OS (NLS archive) the symbol used for this curved railway is the same as (to north west behind Albutts Road) “mineral railway (disused)”. Presumably, the line on the Common was the same? Zooming in on the 1884 map in your post, it appears to connect to the old Midland Railway at points, from which I surmise it was a standard gauge track no longer in use. The 1903 mapping does not show a shaft, but clearly shows an irregular raised area (still there, but maybe less prominent). Could this have been spoil from other collieries in the area? The alignment of the track implies these would be to the north, where Conduit Colliery looks most likely.

    On 30 October 1903 the Lichfield Mercury reported that claims for pay in lieu of notice were made against Messrs Owen and Dutson Ltd, Watling Street Colliery, Brownhills, so the colliery was still operating then (but only shown as raised ground on the 1915 revision). However, the railway appears not to have served that colliery.

    On my wanderings around the common I often passed through the lumpy ground of “The Fuzzogs” (as we kids knew it) and assumed it was spoil from a colliery nearby, possibly even a bell pit, but I now think it more likely to have been spoil from elsewhere.


  3. Reg Fullelove says:

    the colliery in question is coxs pool lane the powder house was in a field opposite on left it later became the race way there were some ginny pits on the comon between coxs and white horse road dont recall any railway connection

  4. Reg Fullelove says:

    just had another memory spot as you came down pool lane on to the watling street oposite weresome cottages also a large industrial gate way which led to the brownhills west station goods yard and the line then whent on to here today is chasewater railwayand the chase coal fields

  5. Ian says:

    Hi All
    In reply to the comments posted, may I offer the following observations:-
    1. The garage behind the Station Hotel was in fact the new garage of 1912 to accommodate the Omnibuses for the L&NWR’s service to Hednesford. This commenced on 1st October 1912. Unfortunately, it became a casualty of WWI and the service was withdrawn from 17th April 1915 never to resume.

    The area to the south of Albutts Road was the location for Coppice pits. No.6 was certainly connected to the Norton Branch of the L&NWR from around the 1880s. However, within 10 years the siding to the colliery was redundant and by 1901 had been reduced to a long siding. This was further cut back and disused by 1910, remaining for the sole purpose of the storage of empty wagons. It wasn’t until Dec 1934 that the connection with the down line of the Norton Branch was removed.
    The Midland Railway’s connection is a little more difficult to pin down. It was probably built around 1883, some time after the extension of the line from Brownhills (West) to Cannock Chase Sidings, which was open to traffic from 1st November 1882. In the Midland Railway’s Appendix, dated 1883, there is no reference to the connection. By 1902, while the formation remained, the connection had been removed.
    The 1903 Lichfield Mercury article is probably referring to Owens’s lease of the Coppice pits Nos. 3, 1 & 5 to the south of the Rising Sun. His lease ran out in the 1890s. These pits were initially served by tramways to the Wyrley & Essington Canal, although a section of standard gauge line was constructed between Nos. 3 & 5 pits and Harrison’s Siding on the L&NWR Norton Branch. This again didn’t last long from around the 1870s to the 1900s.
    The Common at one time extended quite a distance west of Brownhills and waste from the pits was tipped in the area from the Coppice pits.
    Trust the above is of help.
    Kind regards

  6. Ian says:

    Hi All

    Found an old reference, from quite an obscure source.

    Bertrum Baxter’s 1966 “Stone Blocks and Iron Rails” makes reference to a “Brownhills Tramroad”. “.This tramroad, about 1400 yards in length, ran north to coal pits near Watling Street from a canal wharf on the Wyrley and Essington Canal, near Brownhills”.
    R.Shill also uses the above reference in the “IRS Industrial Locomotives of South Staffordshire”.
    This seems to me to be in all probability the same tramroad we are talking about.

    Apart from the lines previously mentioned, in the area of Pool pit and Whitehouse Lane, there were no other lines recorded.
    Kind regards

    • Pedro says:

      The reference by Bertram Baxter is very interesting, and if the claims can be backed up, Brownhills Bob’s Blog may have uncovered a piece of history that has been omitted from the “definitive guide” to the Cannock Chase coalfields by the CCMHS.

      Watling Street Colliery could be discounted and the group of pits above Watling Street considered. The dates of use could be narrowed down.

  7. Pedro says:

    In the CCMHS book there is a plan based on Brooks R Smith (1841) of the shallow coal. It is interesting that the future “Parade” is marked as a footpath from near the TURKS HEAD (HUSSEY ARMS) up to Watling Street. There is no embankment shown, and it seems it is of no mining interest. Also the markings of the old shafts finish to the left or west of the footpath and following the outcrop. The old shafts are more prevalent below the Old Chester Road and up to the Rising Sun.

    In 1798, after the canal was opened, various tramways were built to carry coal to the canal basin near the Jolly Collier and Slough Basin, but the “Parade” just looks to be a footpath. I would think that the path existed before the enclosures and would be an important route for pedestrians up to Norton Pool as mentioned.

    So up to say 1841, and if it had some mining connection, for example down to the canal Wharfs at Brownhills, where was the supply of coal coming from? The Watling Street Colliery, shown on the later maps, was mined by utilising old mine shafts. One of the shafts was in use in 1841 as a pumping shaft with a beam engine used by Robert Hanbury. He later leased out the mine but it was abandoned in 1903. There does not seem any evidence of a track from the colliery to the path and it would seem easier to drop down to the Chester Road.

    Up above the Watling Street candidates would be Conduit No2 (a group of shafts also known as The Engine and Corner Pits, Coppice Colliery and the Wilkin) which were sunk around 1850 but it is stated that and there was a trackway to the Norton Branch of the South Staffs Railway. By 1850 the Anglesey Branch Canal was navigable and Pool Lane Colliery and Wilkin Wide existed, but it would be much shorter going north to The Anglesey than using the footpath.

    From 1850 onwards the deep coal mining began in earnest, and the footpath would become even more important for pedestrians to reach the the Reservoir and on to the expanding Chasetown. By 1883 the OS Map shows the path with what appears to be a section of embankment, but by this time the main collieries were established. There seems evidence that the path was well used at all times of the day, and our friend William Roberts recommended around 1880 that the posts along the path should be painted white for the safety of the travellers at night. Perhaps the level of the path was raised above a marshy area on the Common?

  8. Pedro says:

    For interest in January 1883 the Brownhills Local Board…

    “in the interest of miners and others passing over the common at all hours of the day and night, the Surveyor was instructed to repair certain footpaths, and to ask the Canal Company to extend the crossing over their open cutting on the Common…. Miss Hussey declined to contribute anything towards the roads or footpaths.”

    Lichfield Mercury

  9. Ian says:

    Hi All
    Thank you Pedro for your thoughts.
    Some further observations and sculpturing smoke.
    Both the 1850s map and the 1884 OS map show the “embankment”. They also show a parallel track heading north to south in the position of the parade. Why two tracks? Why have one on a raised embankment? The maps also show the embankment has having no track either in 1850 or 1884. This is further confirmed by the Parliamentary Plans for the South Staffs Railway which were produced in 1845 and again just indicate the formation.
    Clearly, whatever the purpose of the embankment route, if indeed it was a tramroad, had ceased prior to 1845 or so.
    A C&F plan, dated 1947, indicates an old shaft to the west of White Horse Road, just to the north of Watling Street and quite close to the end of the embankment. Could this have any bearing on what we are talking about?
    Conduit No.2 pits, I would suggest, are too far away. The rail connections to this group of pits are indicated in my previous comments and are post 1850.
    As previously mentioned, the coal wharf shown by Bradshaw in 1829 at Brownhills is neither the L&NWR wharf, or is it located in the same position but further south.
    In conclusion, whatever the embankment’s purpose or reason, it is clear that by 1845 or so, it was purely an “embankment in the landscape”. If it had been a tramroad, it was no longer in use and had been dismantled.
    We really need a detailed map prior to 1840s which would help use come to a better understanding of what was happening. Anyone able to help, or suggest a possible source?
    Kind regards

  10. Peter Cutler says:

    For anyone interested in rail history the 1842 Bradshaw Sumber Companion can be seen on the Internet Archive…

  11. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    belatedly, for which I apologise…my sincere thanks to Ian and to Pedro for the amazing research and diligence in this topic. Blog? no, this set your blog out as something much much more than this.
    my best wishes and kind regards

  12. Ian says:

    Hi All
    Actually have acquired a copy of “Stone Blocks and Iron Rails”. The reference to the tramway is on page 186. However, it is possible that this is a reference to the tramroad from the wharf on the Cannock Extension Canal near the Grove pit and which connected to the Catherdral pit. On reflection this is probably more likely what the notes are pertaining to.
    There is also a reference to the wharf west of Becks Bridge and the tramway north to Conduit Nos 3 & 1 pits near the Rising Sun Inn.
    On balance, I unfortunately have to conclude we are no further forward in ascertaining if the common tramway did exist. Perhaps, we need Time team or a fly past by Drone, or even geo-physics! Sorry to raise hopes, but this is waht research is all about; gaining the information and then evaluation.
    Bertram Baxter, for whom tramways became his absoring hobby, was a member of the Newcomen Society and a founder memeber of the Railway and Canal Historical Society, with over thirty-five years of research on a very difficult subject. The book is a most absorbing and interesting insight into the world of tramroads until the late 1800’s. Well worth a read.
    Keep digging.
    Kind regards

  13. Pedro says:

    I think it is going to be difficult to prove one way or the other if the “Parade” was once used as a tramway. As the track would lead towards Brownhills it seems that the earliest date would be around 1795 and the of the opening of the Wyrley and Essington canal. The Anglesey Branch was built as a feeder to carry water for the canal from the new Reservoir in 1800, but it may not have been navigable until it was upgraded around 1850, at the start of the boom years. It also looks that the tramway would fall into disuse by the 1840s, but would be used as a busy footpath or bridleway.

    As there is no sign of any link to the track from the west its most likely use as a tramway would be to carry coal from some pits above Watling Street, it could have been useful to take a route across the Common and down to some sort of landing where the future railway wharf at Brownhills was situated. It is difficult to trace contours on a built-up modern map, but correct me if I am wrong, there is a slight downward slope from Norton Pool to the Canal. This would be useful to take laden trucks downward and bring them back up empty?

    Brownhills Common belonged to the Hussey family. In 1789 Brownhills collieries were leased to John Hanbury who died in 1792, and the lease expired in 1810. It was taken up by indenture between Thomas Rice and Phineas Hussey. William Hanbury formed a partnership with William Sparrow of Wolverhampton and leased from co-Lord of the Manor, John Ogden, land that adjoined that of Price. This was part of Norton Common and lands between the south shore of Chasewater (then called the Great Pool) and Watling Street Turnpike Road. Shafts were sunk in the area between what is now Hednesford Rd. and Whitehorse Road.

    There must have been many shafts before the building of the Canal but unfortunately the names of some of these pits became known after 1840, and probably became known as Wilkin Wide and Pool Lane Pits. In 1812 Hanbury and Sparrow obtained the lease for Price’s pits. In 1846 Hanbury purchased part of the Manor, and in 1849 surrendered his lease of Brownhills Collieries to Phineas Fowke Hussey and the lease was taken up by William Harrison.

    Various tramways were built to carry coal to the canal basin adjacent to Pelsall Road near the Jolly Collier and to Slough Basin. Numerous shafts were worked by the “Old Coppice Colliery” from the canal reservoir across the common towards Birch Coppice.

    The plan of 1841 shows coals worked out to the boundary fault line near the Hussey Arms.

    The conduit Colliery Company came into being in 1850, and held four collieries in the Watling Street corridor between the Turf Public House and White Horse Road. (a group of shafts also known as The Engine and Corner Pits, Coppice Colliery and the Wilkin) Conduit N°2 was north of Watling Street in an area adjacent to Wilkin Road.
    By at least 1865 these collieries had access to the railway.

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

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