Oiling Palmers… More info on where it all began

From time to time here I have material to publish that’s of a more – shall we say – technical nature and I always struggle with exactly how to present it. Such is the case today with this important article compiled by David Evans from notes by Gerald Reece of the land transactions surrounding Palmers Hay and environs, which are thought to have been where the Coppice Side Industrial Estate is today.

Gerald has stated in a previous article published here (repeated at the foot of this post) that he believes that’s where the mining history of Brownhills began, and I agree with him.

David, going through Gerald’s notes, has summarised the documents the great historian worked from, and I post that summary here as I know the land and history anoraks amongst us will have a ball with them, and I invite their contributions – after all, the nights are now dark and the weather is awful so what better than a little … Technical local history to burrow through?

So have a read, spot some familiar names, and why not kick of the debate? Please do comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my coat on social media.

My thanks to David and of course Gerald, without who our local history record would be very much the poorer.

This is Gerald’s hand-drawn copy of the 1840 Tithe Map as featured in his work on Plamers Hay below; note in the area highlighted, there are areas labelled ‘Old Coal Pit Land’. Old. In 1840. Note also the wonderfully named ‘Handkerchief Piece’. Click for a larger version.

David wrote:

A bountiful bundle

Among the plethora of photographs, maps, document wallets and their contents, newspaper cuttings, charts, magazines, brochures et al that comprised the many years’ local history research that Mr Gerald Reece has graciously allowed me to review and peruse is a copy of a seemingly anonymous bundle of legal papers. This  ‘Abstract’- ten sheets, measuring  15 inches by 9 inches, of beautifully handwriting –  is dated August 1753, but  it is a review of the  previous transactions up to the date of the document.

(note, the spellings reproduced here are those used in the document)

The ‘cover’ fold has these words ‘Abstract of the Title to Palmers Hays Estate in Little Wyrley’.

So, what – and where- was ‘Palmers Hays Estate’?  The abstract gives hitherto unpublished details in its review of the  previous transactions for this/these land(s).

The first sheet is headed ‘An Abstract of the late Phineas Hussey Esq Title to an Estate situate in Little Wirley in the County of Stafford called Palmers Hayes’

‘No 1’ 

2nd Sept 1569, 12th Elizth… (twelfth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st – David)

Whereas Thos. Smith of Homerwich in the Cy of Stafford, Yeom for divers good causes and consons him moving did grant and confirm unto Fabrianus Orme Gent ,Thos Royle and Wm Webbe of Homerwich af (aforementioned; David) One pasture with appurts in Little Wirley in the C. af ( County aforementioned; David) called Palmers Heyes in the holding or Occupation of thesd.(the said) Thos and all other his lands and Tenemts. in Little Wirley afs(aforesaid) To hold thesd. ( the said) pasture and promes (premises?) with the appurts to  the (said) Fabrianus Orme, Thos Royle and Wm Webbe their Heirs andAps for ever to the use of the( said) Thos Smith for Life

‘No 2’             

6th March 1637, 13th Car ( thirteenth year of the reign of King Charles)

In part – ‘ All that Close or pasture in two parts divided called or known by the name of Palmers Hays with the Appurts lying and being within the Lordship of Little Wyrley in the Cy of Stafford And all that Cottage or

( continues on sheet two )

Tenemt. thereupon erected and being with all Woods Ways  and all the Deeds

Gerald and Cherry Reece: on whose shoulders all my work here stands. Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

‘No 3’             

6th March 13th Car

Bond from the aforesaid Erasmus Smith to the said Ralph Smith in the penal sum of 200£ to perform covenant in the last moth of Deed

‘No 4’             

Hil Term 14th Car 1st  1630

In part

a Tine between Ralph Smith, Erasmus Smith and Mary his wife. John Underhill and Isabella his wife..one cottage and 24 acres of pasture with the appurts in Little Wirley

‘No 5 ‘            

4th January 1654

Indre of the agreement made bet(ween) John Smith of the Close of Lichfield in the C(oun)ty of Stafford Gent and Joyce Smith of the Close  aforesaid widow mother of the aforesaid John Smith on one part and John Speed of Brownhills in the County of aforesaid Yeom (an) and Milborow his wife on the other part…all the premes( premises?) described to hold thes. premes with the appurts to them the aforesaid John Speed and Milborow his wife their heirs and Aps for ever.

Sheet three

‘No 6’             

20th June 1659 Car 2nd

 Testment (Testament) made between John Speed and Milborow his wife of the one part and Michael Turton of Wolverhampton in the County of Stafford Gent and Jos Bright of the same Town and County on the other part.

It is witnessed that John Speed his wife Milborow in consideration of 40 £ of lawful money to them paid by Arthur Milward of Burton in the parish of Much Wenlock in the c(oun)ty of Salop Yeom(an) grandchild of the aforesaid John Speed and for divers other good causes and consons did give grant and confirm unto Thos Turton, Jos Bright their Heirs and offspring(?) for ever

all the premises with the apperts before abstracted

‘No 7’            

12th June 1659…12th Car 2d

fine sur connuzance above covenanted to be levyed… between Thos Mich. Turton, Jos bright and John Speed and Milborow his wife

continues on sheet four

of one cottage and 24 acres of pasture with the Appurts in Little Wirley

The Birch Coppice/Coppice Side Area was in all probability, the origin of what we now consider to be Brownhills. Wonderful drone image kindly shared by Steve Martin.

‘No 8’           

22 Dec 1677

Copy of the Will of Arthur Milwart of Harley in the county of Salop the original proved at Ludlow the 22 May 1690

‘Whereby he gives and bequeathes his real Estate at Brownhills in Staffordshire being a dwellinghouse and the Mesue therto belonging or in any way appertaining with all the profits and benefits to his sister Joan Wilkes Widow for life – Rem(ainder) to Margt Wilkes youngest daughter of Joan Wilkes for life’     ..continues

‘No 9 ‘            

23rd Nov 1736

Inre of the testmt of that date made between Francis Wilkes of Broseley in the County of Salop  collier and Ann his wife of the one part and Ralph Smith of Broseley aforesdaid Backsmith of the other part. It is witnessed that the said Francis Wilkes in concson ( recognition, payment; David) of 141£ s1 of lawful Money to him paid  Did grant  sel..unto Raplh Smith  all that foresaid Close( enclosure?enclosed land?David )  divided into five pieces called Palmers Hays situate at a place called Brownhills in the Township of Little Wirley aforesaid toger ( together) with their aforesaid Mefsue (measure?) or Cottage thereupon erected.

‘No 10’           

3rd Dec 1737

Indre (reminder) between the said Ralph Smith of the one part part and Thos Haslewood of Bridgnorth in the county of Salop Ironomonger of the other part

Sheet 5

It is witnessed that Ralph Smith in conson of 120£ of lawful money of Gr(eat) Br(itain) to him paid by Thos Haslewood  did sell demise lease Sett and to Farm Lett unto the said Thomas Haslewood..all the Close into 5 parts divided and Mesure or Cottage thereupon erected…unto the ful term of 1000 years from henceforth..under the yearly Rent of a pepper corn payable as therein mentioned.

‘No 11’          

10 Augt. 1753

Quadripartite of this date made between Hannah Haslewood of Bridgnorth in the County of Salop Widow and Administratrix of the Goods and Chattels rights and credits of Thos Haslewood late of the same place Ironmonger.. of the first part Thomas Ralph Smith of Brownhills in the parish of Norton Canes in Norton under Cannock in the Cty of Stafford Coal Master of the 2nd part Phineas Hussey of Little Wirley in the Parish of Norton aforesaid Esq of the 3rd part Thos Cobb of the..

Sheet 6

City and County of Stafford Gent of the 4th part……..long document where Phin Hussey buys part mortgage from widow of deceased Thos Haslewood.

Sheet 7            

‘No 12 ‘                      

2 January 1744

Indre of this date made bet Thos Ralph Smith of the 1st part Richard Ford of Colebrooke Dale in the parish of Madley and Cty of Salop Ironmaster of the 2nd part and Wm Perryday of Buildwas in the same Cy Master Collier of the 3rd part

Reciting that the said Ralph Smith had purchased of Wm Smith of Middlestools in the parish of Norton Canes oth Norton under Cannock and Ruth his wife and niece several Closes or pieces of Land therefor called the Great Brownhlls but then called by the several names of the patch Croft, the Wett Piece, the Barrotts Bank, the new Leasow, the Bigg Brown hills close, the Birch Tree piece, the poole piece, the upper Leasow and the meadow cont(aining?) tog(ether) ab(ou)t 55 Acres

And reciting that Thos Ralph Smith had purchased a piece of land of Francis Wilkes lying near these other closes cont abt 17 Acres, under wich premises there was a Mine of Coal or Ironstone

And also reciting that the said Ralph Smith for the better advantage of getting the said Mines of Coal or Ironstone had paid to Chris Wood of Norton under Cannocka sum of 70£ in conson that Phin Hussey of Little Wirley nor any other person should not within the space of 6 (?) years after the 25th March 1743 get raise of dispose of any Mines of Coal or Ironstone from or out of any of the Lands of the said Phin Hussey lying within the Liberty of Little Wirley . And also reciting the said

Sheet 8

Ralph Smith had expended the sum of 1551 5 6 in getting Coal and setting the same work on foot And also reciting that these Coal Works were intended to be carried on in Copartnership bet all those parties And in pursuance thereof Thomas Clifford and Wm Ferryday had paid 1034£ 10s Carrying on their work

It is witnessed that Thos Ralph Smith is conson of the sum of 1034£ 3s being 2 third parts   continues

did Grant Bargain Sell and Assign unto Thos Rd Ford and Wm Ferryday..all the Mines and berns(?) oof Coal and ironstone under thes. premes. And also 2 third parts of the Engines Gins and other Implements and Utensils used in and about these works… unto the full term of 99 years from hence..at the rent of 10£ for every Acre of Land under which they should get the Mines of Coal

And also that it should be lawful for the said Ralph Smith, Rd Ford and Wm Ferryday to Work thes. Mines and berns ( seams?)of Coal

Sheet 9     

Note 13  

20 Aug 1753

A lengthy document where Messrs Ford and Ferryday sold their share and shares in the mining venture to  Phineus Hussey… Mines of Coal or other Minerals… And also for those Gins and Implements used for Carrying on these Coal Works

Sheet  10

concludes the sale..

‘All the Fire Engine Gins and Implements used in getting the said Mines of Coal and ironstone or any other Mines under these Lands…And all their share of and in the same and every part thereof. To hold the said Fire Engine and Implements for carrying on these works unto the said Phin Hussey his Executors or Administrators  from henceforth to his and their own use for ever.’

Executed by Rd Ford Wm Ferryday and Ralph Smith and two sevl rects for 500£ Indorsed

And here is the article from Gerald from 2014 to which the above pertains, if you see what I mean:

I am very pleased and honoured to present today this lengthy but detailed work by eminent local historian Gerald Reece, author of what has to be the greatest work on Brownhills, ‘A walk in Walk Into History’.

Gerald no longer lives in the area, having long ago decamped to Devon, but following his interest in this blog, and the staging of the hugely successful talk he gave in 2012, Gerald has been good to his word and written the ‘missing chapter’ of his 1996 book, detailing how coalming began in Brownhills, giving rise to the settlement we see today.

This is an extraordinarily detailed piece of work, and Gerald welcomes any comment, and regards it as a sound foundation for further research by others. That he maintains such a fascination with Brownhills after years away is remarkable – and very, very welcome.

It will help if you read the previous work Gerald wrote on coal mining in the area.

The work was sent to me as a scanned PDF, which you can download yourselves here; the text itself is presented below.


Gerald Reece is a remarkable man, who worked hard to explore our history in a time when it was neither fashionable, nor easy.

When I started this blog five and a half years ago, I had no idea where it would lead, and expected it to die a painless, unnoticed death within weeks if not days. That it has survived so far, and led to the writing of work such as this, is a matter of great surprise, joy and pride to me.

I thank Gerald for his devotion to Brownhills and the history thereof; for his years of patient and costly research in days before the internet, and for the warmth, generosity and humility he exudes.

Thank you Gerald. I’m sure that even now, the Brownhills debating society have the kettle on and are warming up. It foes look like rain, after all. I do hope there’s Battenburg.


The clues were out there. This is Gerald’s hand-drawn copy of the 1840 Tithe Map; note in the area highlighted, there are areas labelled ‘Old Coal Pit Land’. Old. In 1840. Note also the wonderfully named ‘Handkerchief Piece’. Click for a larger version.

Gerald wrote:

In my account of the early history of Brownhills entitled ‘Brownhills, a walk into history’, first published in 1996.1 mention on page 99, first paragraph,

When coal was first mined in Brownhills is unknown. No documented evidence exists giving the place and date of the initial operation.

Since making that statement I have located evidence that shows when and where coal mining, on a commercial scale, first took place in Brownhills. The following account is taken from the notes of a talk I gave on the subject in November 2012.

It concerns the history of two ancient plots of land. They were known as Palmers Hay and Great Brownhills and they formed the area that is known today as Coppice Side Industrial Estate.

The earliest reference I have found concerns the fields known as Palmers Hay and date from the 16th Century. The name Palmer is said to be a reference to Pilgrims, sited where it is this is a probable assumption.

Dated 2nd. September 1569, the twelth year in the reign of Elizabeth 1, an indenture stated that a pasture with appurtenances being situate at the boundary between Little Wyrley and Pelsall adjoining the lane leading from Wolverhampton to Lichfield (an important pilgrimage route) was offered for sale by Thomas Smith of Hammerwich.

It was offered to Fabrianus Orme, Thomas Royle and William Webbe all of Hammerwich. The sale did not go through but it does establish the ownership of Palmers Hay at that time.

Cross referencing these details in other documents of the period I noted that Fabrianus Orme was part of a consortium who in 1567 purchased the Manor of Ogley Hay from Lord Stafford and his brothers Walter and Rupert. (S.R.O. D546/3/5/1).

Fabrianus Orme is mentioned as living at Overton Grange in Hammerwich. Page 264 of the Victoria County History of Hammerwich. (S.R.O. D(W)1734/2/l).

In 1573, 16 Elizabeth 1, the Rent Roll for the Manor of Little Wyrley makes mention of Palmers Hay.

In March 1637, in a document of indenture of feoffment, Erasmus Smith of Hammerwich, son of Thomas Smith, did for £100 of lawful money of England, grant, bargain, sell, alien, enfeoffe deliver and confirm to Ralph Smith, Gentleman of Cathedral Close, Lichfield, his heirs and assigns:

All that close or pasture in two parts divided called or known by the name of Palmers Hay with appurtenances lying and being within the Lordship of Little Wyrley in the County of Stafford.

Together with all that cottage or tenement thereupon erected. An area of 24 acres, more or less.

In 1651, Shortly after the English Civil Wars had ended, the Little Wyrley Rent Roll contained the following entries of ownership of land.

The Queen  Henrietta Maria of France, the widow of Charles 1) holds land also holds the Hilkin Wilkin and the Manche.

  • The Cathedral Church of Lichfield hold land.
  • The Vicars Chorall of Lichfield hold land.
  • The Wardens of the Conduit Trust of Lichfield hold land.
  • The Wardens of the Schoole of Walsall hold land.
  • Sir Richard Leveson holds the Crossacks.
  • Sir Edward Leigh of Rushall Hall holds Brownhills.
  • John Smith holds Palmers Hay.

Only land owners were mentioned in the Rent Roll. Tenents and Sub Tenents were not mentioned.


A fantastic, wonderful and rare book; do get a copy if you can. Mine has been so well read now it’s falling to pieces.

In January 1654 the son of Ralphe Smith, John and his widowed mother Joyce decide to sell Palmers Hay. It was bought for £100 by John and Milbrow Speed of Brownhills. they included in the transaction a proviso for their grandson Arthur Milward to have one third share. After the death of John Speed the full title was granted to Arthur Milward by Milbrow Speed.

Arthur Milward of Burton in the Parish of Much Winlock in the County of Salop died in 1677.

In his Will he bequeathed his estate in Brownhills, being a dwelling house and messuage with all profits, to his sister Joan Wilkes, widow.

Around this time the Manor of Little Wyrley changed ownership. It was purchased by Roger Fowke of Brewood. He was succeeded by his son Walter whose daughter and heir Sybil married Joseph Hussey of London. This was the beginning of the Fowke/Hussey Dynasty.

Palmers Hay was inherited by Roger Wilkes and then passed on to his son Frances.

In November of 1736 Frances Wilkes of Broseley, Salop, Collier and Ann his wife sold to Ralph Smith also of Broseley, Blacksmith, for the sum of £141/1/0d, the area Palmers Hay then in five separate fields divided.

On 3rd December 1737 Ralph Smith of Broseley used Palmers Hay as collateral when he borrowed £120 from Thomas Haslewood, Ironmonger, of Bridgenorth, Salop. The monies to be paid back within one year with interest.

Ralph Smith used the money as part payment when he purchased from William and Ruth Smith of Middlestools in the Parish of Norton Canes, ‘All those closes of land called or known as Great Brownhills’. Also called by several names, Patch Croft, The Well Place, The Barretts Bank, The New Leasow, The Bigg Brownhills Close, The Birch Tree Piece, The Poole Piece, The Upper Leasow and The Meadow. An area of 55 Acres, more or less, lying next to Palmers Hay.


Beneath this busy, but unassuming warehouse on the Pelsall Road, the history of Brownhills really began.

The change of ownership of the fields of Great Brownhills was entered onto the returns of the Court Baron of the Manor of Little Wyrley for the year 1743. ( S.R.O.)

This document also mentioned that the Lordship of the Manor of Little Wyrley had changed. Phineas Hussey had sold off ⅔rd’s of the manor, retaining only ⅓rd.

The ⅔rd holder and new Lord of the Manor was Christopher Wood. He was the son of Henry Wood, Rector of Aldridge. Christopher Wood also held part ownership of the Manors of Norton Canes and of Ogley Hay.

The rights of the Lord of the Manor included control of all mineral rights through-out the Manor. Which up until that time had never been exercised. That was to change.

In March 1743 Ralph Smith, owner of Palmers Hay and Great Brownhills, was for the sum of £70 paid to Christopher Wood, granted the sole concession to excavate coal and ironstone within the bounds of the Manor of Little Wyrley for a period of six years.

In December 1743 Ralph Smith stated that he had

…Expended the sum of £1551/5/6d in getting coal and setting the same.

Included in this amount was

…An Engine, Gins and other implements used in or about the coal field.

The size and type of the engine is not mentioned, nor is the location and depth of any shaft.

In 1990 an article in the Express & Star covering the opening of the new T&S Office Block in Apex Road stated:

That construction was complicated by the discovery of three separate seams of coal and a disused mine shaft.

[Bob’s note: That’s now the One Stop warehouse.]

On 2nd. January 1744 Ralph Smith signed an agreement of partnership with Richard Ford and William Ferriday. They each purchased a ⅓rd share in the business. They paid £1034/3/8d which included a share of the engine and gin. Ralph Smith kept control of Palmers Hay and Great Brownhills for which he charged the partnership rental.

The two new partners in the business were very important figures of that time. Richard Ford was the grandson of Abraham Darby the Ironmaster of Coalbrookdale. Richard’s father also called Richard had married Mary Darby, Abraham Darby’s daughter. After Abraham’s death in 1717 Richard senior took control of the Ironworks at Coalbrookdale. In 1742 he had installed at Coalbrookdale a Fire Engine of the Newcomen design to recycle water back up hill. When Richard Ford the elder died in 1745 Richard the younger and his two brothers inherited interest in the iron works. They were bought out by Abraham Darby 11 in 1756.

(Article Shropshire News Sept. 1924).

The other partner in the consortium was William Ferriday of Buildwas, Wyer Hill. He too had a distinguished career being a Coalmaster and owner of several coal and ironstone mines in Shropshire, in 1740 he purchased from Coalbrookdale the engine and pumps he installed at his Lightmoor Colliery.

This must have been a frustrating time for the Hussey family. After controlling Little Wyrley for decades they could only watch as outsiders reaped the reward.

Ralph Smith built himself a sizable estate. He had purchased several collieries in Pelsail and he had set himself up as Master of Pelsail Hall.

Events took a turn in 1751 when Christopher Wood, the ⅔rd Lord of the Manor of Little Wyrley had financial difficulties. He could have quickly solved his financial problems by selling his share in Little Wyrley which included the important mineral rights. He had several potential buyers waiting, including Ralph Smith.

The Hussey Family protested and stated that Little Wyrley was their ancestral holding by right and that they and only they should be allowed to purchase it.

It took an Act of Parliament to settle Christopher Wood’s financial affairs.

The Hussey Family regained control of the Manor in full.

The partnership of the Brownhills Coalfield realised that their sole concession of the mineral rights over Little Wyrley had expired and was unlikely to be renewed. Phineas Hussey offered to buy them out, they accepted.

£500 each was paid to Richard Ford and William Ferriday for their share. Ralph Smith was paid £1,300 but he had £122/16/0d deducted. This was paid to Hannah Haslewood of Bridgenorth who had loaned Smith £120 in 1737 to buy Great Brownhills, but had not been reinbursed.

Ralph Smith also agreed to sell all of his other property in the area to Phineas Hussey. On 17th August 1753 an indenture recorded the transaction. This included lands in Pelsatl.Wolverhampton, Little Wyriey, Essington,Bloxwich, Rushall, Walsall, Goscott.etc. It included Pelsail Hall. It also included Palmers Hay and Great Brownhills, together with all messuages, dwelling houses, tenements, edifices and buildings there upon.

The Hussey Family kept control of the mineral rights over Little Wyrley until 1st January 1947 when the Coal Industry was nationalised.

But the story does not end there.

Back to 1759 when the most unlikely person came onto the scene. Canal Builder and Engineer, James Brindley. The fame of his genius is universal but his connection with Brownhills has virtually gone unrecorded. I came across his involvement by chance when reading the history of the Brindley Water Mill in Leek. An entry in their records, written by the late Dr. Cyril Boucher, directed me to the archives of the Institute of Civil Engineers in London. There James Brindley’s diary notebooks are preserved. In one of them he mentioned being invited by Phineas Hussey to erect a steam pumping engine at Little Wyrley in 1759.

Although originally a Millwright, James Brindley was also a pioneering Engineer and he had successfully built several steam pumping engines in the North Staffordshire Coalfields. Very little is recorded in his notebooks regarding the Brownhills Engine. On a visit to the site he did mention ‘the plate boiler is short of steam’. He ordered ‘a little boiler for assistance’, from Coalbrookdale. In a letter dated September 1759 a mention of a brick boiler is made. (Northumberland Record Office 2/DE/7.)

From early Estate and Tithe Maps of Brownhills we now have a rough idea where the Brindley Steam Pumping Engine was situated, adjacent to the perpetuated Engine Lane.

The mining of coal on Palmers Hay and Great Brownhilis became unproductive mainly because the deposits there were shallow and of a poor quality. The site was gradually phased out. Meantimes test workings had located better deeper coal deposits north of Coppice Side under Brownhilis Common.


The plan of test pits, as featured in Brownhills, A Walk Into History’ on page 98. Click for a larger version.

I now believe that the map shown on page 98 of ‘Brownhills, a walk into history’, (The original map is in Walsall, Essex Street, archives. Ref. 35/11/14), is from the 1760s and shows test pits across The Common from the area of Engine Lane leading in a north easterly direction up to the Watling Street where the School is now at the top of The Parade.

This was to lead to the opening of the New Brownhilis Colliery on The Common just south of The Rising Sun.

John Hanbury, Farmer of Norton Canes, secured the first lease from Phineas Hussey, Lord of the Manor of Little Wyrley.

The rest is history.

Some of the documents studied for this analysis were deposited in The Staffordshire County Record Office, Stafford. This should be the starting point for any further research.

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2 Responses to Oiling Palmers… More info on where it all began

  1. andkindred says:

    When we were dealing with the Aldridge Brownhills Local Plan, and later the Walsall Unitary Development Plan, in relation to the (then) proposed out-of-scale house building at Clayhanger, a major landowner was a Mr Orme, resident on the Isle of Man. Is it safe to presume that he was a descendant of Fabrianus Orme Gent under No 1?
    Andy Dennis

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    very many thanks for postng this extensve article..and for all the time and effort you have pit in to the editing. Very much appreciated
    kind regards

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