What stopped the merging of Aldridge and Brownhills? Muck and bullets!

Today I thought I’d share a gem again found in the British Newspaper Archive by the young David Evans who has finally found proof of what many of us who were kids in this area already knew – there was a military scrap yard on Castlehill, between there and Lazy Hill, in an area called The Fox Covey.

Anyone who was young and curious who scouted around the Fox Covey will well remember the spent bullets and other interesting bits of scrap ordnance we found on the land, which was strictly off limits but everyone seemed to visit.

What we’ve never been able to do, however, is find any written evidence of the scrap operation or munitions store, or who operated it. It’s widely believed it was a business of Charles Ferrie, local entrepreneur Ralph Ferrie’s dad.

Apple Maps imagery shows that the ribbon of land containing the Fox Covey is a green ribbon between Aldridge and Brownhills still.

Well, thanks to David, who spotted this gem of a planning appeal report in the Lichfield Mercury of Friday 26th January 1962, we have now. It talks about the land being derelict and contaminated. The appeal clearly failed, however, as the land concerned still forms the rural ribbon between Aldridge and Brownhills, but within the back and forth, one can see how the classification of brownfield – land previously used and developed and now out of use – came about.

It’s also sad to note that we no longer have this depth and quality of local news reporting on planning issues.

From the reference to an unsuccessful attempt to farm the land in 1946 we can probably assume the operation had ceased by then, but considering this was 1962, and the reference to the land being weathered for 11 or 12 years one wonders if there was further activity between 1946 and around 1950 – prime years of course for the dealing in war scrap.

The Ferrie family wealth was reputedly built on farming the nearby Grange Farm and dealing in scrap metal, so this would make sense.

1945 aerial imagery from Google Earth shows something was going on northwest of the Fox Covey, but is not detailed enough to show quite what. Click for a larger version.

Do you know anything about this operation, how long it lasted and who was running it? These yards were common and many Black Country self-made men became prosperous on the scrap from the war – The Richardson twins for one, and don’t forget there was a similar operation in Burntwood, still leaving its legacy today.

Please do comment here, catch me on social media or mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Little by little, we’re documenting more of our history.

Mapping of the time overlaid on current Google Earth imagery gives no clue anything was going on there at all – but some distance from roads, I bet it was easily overlooked. Click for a larger version. Imagery from the National Library of Scotland Archive.

Stonnall land used as ammunition store has ‘no agricultural value’
Lichfield inquiry told by firm wanting to build there
Lichfield Mercury Friday 26th January 1962

Land in the green belt area of Stonnall on which a Four Oaks firm wished to build houses was of no agricultural use because the site had once been used for the storage of ammunition and scrap metal and the ground had become soured from the trodden-in copper and brass, contended Mr. F. Blennerhassett at public inquiry in Lichfield on Wednesday.

The inquiry, conducted by an Inspector of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, was into an appeal against the refusal of Lichfield Rural District Council to permit the erection of dwelling houses on 35 acres of land on the South side of Castle Hill Road, Stonnall by Messrs. Ashworth and Steward Ltd. builders of 276, Lichfield Road, Four Oaks.

Mr. Blennerhassett, on behalf of the builders, said the appeal site, because of its use, had become completely useless. During and after the war the land had been used for the storage of ammunition and scrap metal and had become hopelessly soured by cartridge cases, spent bullets and brass swarf being trodden into the ground.

He said the land had been unsuccessfully farmed since then, which proved it to of no agricultural value.

Mr. Blennerhassett went on to say that the green belt was not museum piece – it was meant to be area of country primarily devoted to agricultural uses which served useful function and made contribution to the life the country. It did not help to put into the green belt areas of derelict land which were on the borders of built-up areas. It was a shocking waste money when the land was in part of the country where there was tremendous shortage of houses.

Mr. D. D. James, a partner in the firm of Gilbert, Son and James [sic], auctioneers and surveyors, said the brass swarf on the land would increase the acid content of the soil and any copper could be poisonous to cattle.

Mr. J. G. Rimand engineer and surveyor for Lichfield R.D.C. said the land surrounding the site was used for grazing and the appeal site could be used for the same purpose.

The plan for drainage into the Stonnall sewer which had been put forward by the builders was quite feasible, he said but the obstacle was that the present sewer would have to be doubled to take in the extra houses from the appeal site.

OPEN CHARACTER

Mr. J. A. Brant, Deputy Area Planning Officer, Staffs County Council Eastern Area, said the purpose of including the appeal site and other open land in the vicinity in the green belt was to keep its open character, to prevent the adjoining built-up areas of Aldridge and Brownhills from merging into one another and thus to retain their separate identity.

‘The Local Planning Authority consider that these objects can only achieved, by a firm implementation of the green belt policy. They submit that the residential development under appeal – and similar development likely stem from it – would progressively result in a deterioration of the open character of the area, and a whittling away of this sector of the green belt” he added.

Mr. Brant said there had been considerable pressure to build in the area, a pressure which had been consistently resisted by the Local Planning Authority.

He pointed out that in June last year there had been 350 acres of residential allocated land in Brownhills which was not built on or occupied and in Aldridge there was 488 acres. In reply to Mr. Blennerhassett, he added that it was quite possible that this land was already in the possession of builders.

Mr. D. Stevens, acting on behalf of Mr. J. S. Borland, The Castle, Castle Hill Road, Stonnall who was objecting to the development, said his client owned a smallholding opposite the appeal site where he farmed his spare time. He had made unsuccessful attempts to purchase this land and was still willing to buy it for agricultural purposes.

He submitted that there could no permanent destruction from the metal on the land and said that during the past 11 or 12 years the effects of weather and nature must have altered the situation from when it was unsuccessfully farmed in 1946.

He also said that the housing development was granted allowed Mr Borland would lose his view and a certain amount of privacy.

Summing up on behalf of the appellants Mr. Blennerhasset pointed out that the Ministry of Agriculture were making no objections to this appeal and they all knew the Ministry were fighting a losing battle to retain land which they thought could be put to agricultural uses. This, coupled with other evidence, was proof that the land was useless.

Mr. Blennerhasset added ‘If derelict land could be put to a good and useful purpose then it should be devoted to that purpose. To have it on the fringe of developed area, in the green belt, is only putting it to misuse.’

There was one of the worst overspill problems in the country in the appeal site area and when all available land was built up then was the time to use land such as that the appeal site.

At the conclusion of the inquiry the Inspector visited the site.

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5 Responses to What stopped the merging of Aldridge and Brownhills? Muck and bullets!

  1. Louis Lillywhite says:

    I recall picking up spent .303 cartridge cases from land alongside Castle Road, which we knew had been an ammunition dump, removing the bullet and trying to get the detonator to fire by striking the cartridge case whilst being held in a vice – failed which was probably a good thing! Whilst a little older (circa 1964 – 66) used to do some running training around the Covey.

  2. Alvin Cox says:

    I know people were digging this site up from the middle 1940s through to the late 1970s , local people who lived around the corner and they were making a good living from the scrap bullets and metal from it .

  3. Eldyne Cooper says:

    I don’t know about military scrapyard but I used to spend many hours at the riding stables run by Bob Woolley that were where the Bluebell Road estate is now. We used to ride all over the fox covey then, there were no fences, just a few ditches to jump and safe place away from the roads

  4. Norman Pitt says:

    During the 1960’s used to dig up a lot of full metal jacket .303 and various small arms bullets from there and sell them for scrap.Nice source of pocket money for young kids!

  5. mickysix says:

    When I worked for BMSales (Ferries) they always talked about Noddy Farm is that the same farm as The Grange or is it different.

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