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.
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?
In true local history ‘And furthermore!’ style, Ian sent a second piece soon after the first, further expanding on the question.
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!).
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?
Some time later, Ian was struck by the ‘…and another thing!’ impulse and wrote:
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.]
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.
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.