In memoriam, Mr. Ian Pell

I have some very tragic news for blog readers that I have to share, but which has saddened me greatly: Ben Spears contacted me in the week to inform me that local rail expert and historian, many times contributor the this blog, Ian Pell, passed away at the beginning of September.

Ben said:

Many of you will be aware of Mr Ian Pell either personally or by his contributions to the likes of Brownhills Bob’s blog.

Sad to report that Ian passed away on 3rd September this year. He was, to many, simply Mr South Staffs. His research took the level of knowledge of this little known backwater from nearly nothing to being one of the best documented lines in the country.

His archive is truly immense. He was always willing to share this information with anyone who asked and was equally delighted if you found something new to pass on to him.

I have had the pleasure of knowing him for the last nine years and will no longer be able to ‘Ask Ian’ should I need to know something.

Ian will be missed by many of us.

Ian was one of the contributors here that I felt truly honoured to feature the work of: He was a brilliant, informative and concise writer, who nonetheless still filled his writing with colour, character and great warmth, as well as truly amazing levels of technical detail.

I will miss Ian greatly for another reason: His immense humility. Ian was approachable, friendly and always ready to help, often spontaneously contributing wonderful articles that must have taken hours to write.

Ian was a great rarity in local history – he was not a gatekeeper or in the slightest hostile to other historians or indeed, their opinions. He was instantly likeable and a very affable, but knowledgeable man.

This blog will be very much the poorer for the passing of Ian Pell and my heart and condolences go out to his family and friends. We truly have lost ‘Mr. South Staffs’.

Rest in peace, Ian. one day we may meet again on the up platform of Brownhills, doubtlessly waiting on a late steamer, reflecting on the signalling arrangements at Highbridge Junction.

For a measure of this immense man, I include the text of my favourite Ian Pell article, written in 2018, below.

Brnach Line Summers Fade

1938 1:25,000 mapping showing the Leighswood Branch highlighted in purple. Click for a larger version. Imagery from the NLS archive.

I always love expanding railway threads here on the blog – and it’s always great to hear from local railway historian and expert Ian Pell.

A few weeks ago I featured a request here by Simon Swain for images and memories of the Chase Line, currently being electrified. On that post, long term reader and old blog friend Fawlty commented, recalling his memories of the lost Leighswood branch.

He said:

I believe the line closed to passenger traffic in 1965. I used to travel from Pelsall railway station to Derby, via Lichfield and Burton, to go trainspotting in the early 60s. Used to spend some time in the signal box at Leighswood Junction, which was at the back of Victor Street, where the signalman lived. There was always a good coal fire in the Winter. I remember being allowed on the footplate of 70000, when it stopped at the box hauling freight. Couldn’t believe my luck! Happy days.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BR_Standard_Class_7_70000_Britannia

There was a footbridge near the signal box, near the branch to Aldridge, which ran through Shelfield and under Four Crosses Road and the Lichfield Road, via Aldridge brickworks. That branch was closed to passenger traffic a long time ago, but I remember the track still being down in 1963/4.

There was another footbridge at Pelsall Station. I remember finding a 10 shilling note in Station Road when I was walking home after one of my spotting trips! The line was closed to freight around 1984. The track lasted a while after that but was eventually lifted. Sad loss to the community in my opinion.

In response to this, Ian Pell has Kindly put together a potted history of the Leighswood Branch and some lovely memories of a childhood spend hanging around the line.

I’d like to thank Ian for yet another expert article on railway local history, which I’m flattered and honoured to feature it here. If you have anything to add to this, please do feel free: Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Ian Pell wrote:

Hi Bob

Fawlty’s comments regarding Leighswood Sidings brought some memories flooding back.  As such please find attached some observations regarding the box and the branch line.  As I’m sure you can appreciate these are only a very small amount of the detail, as the branch was exceedingly busy in its heyday with mainly bricks goning out from the clay works at Aldridge and Stubbers Green; Empire and Atlas to name a few.

Both the Chase line and the South Staffs main line lost their passenger traffic in January 1965, although the platform were retained until the 1970’s.  Occasionally, they were still used for Sunday school outings or Miners holiday trains to Rhyl or Blackpool.

While the Chase line remains open to this day with a reinstated passenger service (ironically not much freight these days) the main line was closed between Ryecroft Junction and Anglesea Sidings (Brownhills) in March 1984 and the remainder north to Lichfield City in 2005; almost four years after the last revenue traffic of oil.  In that time they did manage to build a bridge over the Toll Road!  Since, the bridge to the Lichfield South by-pass has also been completed. Totally daft if the line is never to be reinstated – but there we go.

A larger view of Leigh’s Wood Junction and footbridge at Heath End from the 1938 1:10,000 Ordnance Survey draft. Click for larger version. Imagery from NLS Archive.

Will never forget the happy times at Leighswood, whether watching the trains; playing cricket at the Cricket and Sports (right next to the line); or watching the Villa (Pelsall Villa) playing football behind the pub I believe my great, great grandfather ran.  My grandfather was teetotal, but that’s another story.

All the best
Kindest regards
Ian

Leighswood Sidings and the Branch – some milestones, highlights, losses and memories.

  • 1878 14 Nov Leighs Wood Branch opened (freight only).Inspection of completed works (ready on above date) requested by LNWR on 5 Nov 1878, accompanied by drawing from Stafford Engineer’s Office dated 10 Oct 1878, approved by Crewe 31 Oct 1878.
    ref:- mt6/236/2Leighswood Mineral Branch opened [14th November], worked by Leighswood Colliery Co.’s locomotives. L&NW locomotives commence to work the line 1.4.1880 and Colliery Co locomotives withdrawn from line
    14.6.1880 SLS

I would imagine few realise now that a busy goods railway uses to run through this triangle of gras between Four Crosses Road and the Lichfield Road in SHelfield. Image from my 365days journal.

  • 1880 13 April It was reported that from the 1st inst the London and North Western engines had worked over the Leighswood Colliery Branch to and from the Aldridge Colliery and Victoria Brickworks : the Leighswood Colliery Company continuing to work their own traffic to the junction with the main line. The line is to be worked under the train staff regulations, and a signalman has been appointed on the Branch for regulating the train staff. The wages of the man to be paid by the Colliery Company. The earnings to be reported in six months.
    LNW Minutes Off 20650
  • 1903 Nov Cabins and Apparatus completed:- Leighswood Siding – 1 cabin and apparatus with 16 levers.
    LNW Minutes LC 20624
  • 1950-60’s Richard (Dick) Burrows signalman. LNW Nameplate, central on the front of the box, has yet to be replaced by LMR one on the gable end. They were replaced as and when the box was re-decorated. Some of the longer names remained in their original positions and were not replace, i.e. Norton Junction No.3.
  • 1960 31 Dec Leighswood Branch closed to traffic
    Closed lines, 6080
  • Line through Shelfield to Aldridge brickworks closed ref.1960.098 closed lines originally to serve Leighswood colliery, Aldridge. Worked by token from Leighswood Sdgs.
    Ref 6080
  • 1960-63 WTTs illustrate workings on the branch for period June 1960 – June 1961. Branch still shown in 1961-1962 WTTs but with no workings. In 1962-1963 WTTs no longer shown in timetables.  (WTT – Working Timetables for freight trains)
  • 1964 25 July The Leighswood Branch will be taken away from a point approximately 270 yards from the connection with No.2 siding and the portion remaining will become sidings. The ‘One engine in steam’ working from Leighswood Siding box to Aldridge Brickworks will be withdrawn. (WE1:30: Saturday 25-7-1964), also clinker 208
  • 1964 Oct Leighswood Branch “officially” closed. Remaining shunt spur closed

Between the branch and the sidings, Dec 1962-3. Main line at the top of photo heading towards Pelsall. Footpath is between Heath End and Fordbrook Lane. Image supplied by Ian Pell.

  • 1965 13 May MOT objected to closure of the Leighswood Branch in a letter to GM, Euston following closure request dated 19th February 1965. The reason was that the Minister was awaiting the outcome of a report -“Transportation study for the West Midlands” – prior to receiving further advice”.Comment: Once again, while matters proceeded on the ground, the reality was that authorisation for the line to be destroyed was still awaited from the MOT !
  • 1965 26 Aug Leighswood Sidings Signal Box closed
  • 1967 1 Oct Points and crossings removed between 9 & 91/4 mp. (Leighswood Sidings).
    WE1/41 30-9-67
  • 1967 1 Oct Recovery of sidings between 9 and 91/4 mp. (Leighswood Sidings).
    WE1/41 30-9-67

Leighswood Sdgs SB 1966 – note:- signal box nameplate removed J. Haddock-ip col. Image supplied by Ian Pell.

Epilogue

Next to the “Jungle” (Norton Junction), this was the place to come. I imagine that in its heyday the line was a hive of activity, being an ideal exit route for bricks, especially those destined to be used by the railway companies along the length and breadth of Britain. For many years the ex-MR Johnson’s 0-6-0’s were the staple fare for the branch line workings; attacking with vigour the rising gradient all the way from the various brickyards to the sidings at the main line. There was a deafening roar as they charged up under the Lichfield Road and Spring Cottage bridges at Shelfield with their fully laiden loads. At Leighswood sidings the signalman often had a friendly greeting and on many occasions beckoned for us to join him in the box. There we would sit on the train register desk and watch the comings and goings. In later years this often involved condemned stock or cripples, waiting their turn at South Staffs Wagon Co. at Bloomfield Basin or the BR Wagon repair depot at Vauxhall; these being moved to and from the sidings at regular intervals. One day we were sitting on the footbridge when a convoy of very tired and weather-worn WDs approached from the Brownhills direction. It was plain to see they were in trouble with the lead WD leaking steam from everywhere. The points were changed to direct the sorry convoy into the sidings, and on reaching the safety of the sidings the WD’s boiler gave what appeared to be a large sigh and the front bogie wheels literally fell off. There these fallen work horses remained for several days before they continued on to be their fate; I believe at Arnotts in Bilston.

On many occasions the signalman would let us pull the Pelsall home starter off. This signal also had the Ryder’s Hayes distant signal attached. It was quite a way from Leighswood box and difficult to see and so a repeater in a small round box was provided in the cabin. We would often watch with delight as this returned to the danger position as its larger companion dropped in the haze of a summer’s evening.

We watched as the branch line became derelict and overgrown and enjoy adventures daring to venture down its length to the murky black holes of the clay pits; imagining we could hear a train coming towards us, but none came. Then the tracks were ripped up, leaving only the sidings at the junction. Eventually, the passenger trains were withdrawn and the signal box closed, no longer offering us a ‘home from home’, and so we gathered on the footbridge which itself was beginning to look worse for wear. Gaps in the wooden posts began to appear, rotten floor planks had to be replaced, and yet it always seemed a welcoming place to enjoy a summer’s afternoon watching the trains. Brits, such as “Flying Dustbin” and “Ruddy Kippers” passing by on afternoon parcels became all too soon memories. The footbridge was replaced with an enclosed version. We no longer visited.

Ian Pell
Jan 2017

Wd/iep/South Staffs rails/line hist-docs-Leighswood Branch – 270117 part 4
©iep-south staffs 2017

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6 Responses to In memoriam, Mr. Ian Pell

  1. Fawlty says:

    So sorry to hear this sad news Bob. Somehow I missed Ian’s response at the time and have only just read it. It certainly rekindled happy memories.

    We never met Ian but many thanks for taking the time and trouble to share your experiences.

    Rest in Peace.

  2. andkindred says:

    This is indeed sad news. Ian’s unparalled knowledge has made fo many an interesting need about facets of our local history.

    I met Ian at Shire Oak Grammar School, where he captained the boys hockey team in season 1974-75 (at least I think it was that season, Ian was about 2 years older than me. At the time he lived at Heath End, a few doors along from the Red Cpw. I guess that is where he became intersted in the passing trains. After that the next I knew of him was when He popped up on your blog.

    I hope his material is suitably archived. and displayed.

    RIP Ian.

  3. Deeply saddened to hear that Ian has passed away. His deep knowledge of the South Staffs Railway and the surrounding mineral railways was second to none. I was privileged to watch some of Ian’s presentations he gave for the Lichfield Waterworks Trust and when asked, he gave a presentation to Back The Track members – free of charge. He attended the opening of the greenway between Pelsall and the A5 Newtown Bridge and provided invaluable information and detailed plans of the layout and history of Brownhills Station – all voluntarily and in great detail. This helped Back The Track make understanding of the building footprint and the associated rooms within.

    Many thanks Ian from all the members of Back The Track for your help, understanding and assistance in recent years. I hope that your working logs and archives of the South Staffs line are not lost for those seeking detailed information of a historical nature.

  4. Ian says:

    I really enjoyed and valued Ian’s posts, what a sad loss. Thanks Ian, rest easy old chap.

  5. Stephen Stackhouse says:

    I seem to recall Ian Pell from living in Pelsall as a young boy in the late 60s and early 70s Kind Regards Stephen Stackhouse

  6. David J. Hayes. says:

    Like many, I shall certainly miss Ian. I had the pleasure of knowing him for at least 10-years, if not longer. His knowledge of the South Staffordshire Railway (SSR) is second to non and he was very generous in sharing his information with others, including myself. I have acknowledged Ian’s valued assistance in several of my past railway articles, which have appeared in various magazines over the years, such as BACK-TRACK, RAIL EXPRESS and TRACTION.

    Likewise, I was able to offer some small assistance to Ian’s labour of love, the SSR, by providing him with additional Working Time Table Information for the 1970s.

    Due to the pandemic, my meetings and correspondence with Ian hadn’t been as frequent as in the past, so I only found out about his passing a few days ago. Previous to then, I’d had a telephone conversation with Ian, which was probably just a few weeks before he sadly passed away.

    Ian and myself were amongst a modest gathering of fellow railway enthusiasts that would occasionally meetup at the King & Castle (Kidderminster SVR) three or four times per year for a “Pie & Pint” session, although I hasten to add that Ian didn’t drink (not alcohol, anyway!). However, due to the said pandemic, such get togethers were put on the backburner and the last time I saw Ian was circa February/March 2020, which was at the last “Pie & Pint” meeting before COVID hit.

    I’ve arranged a lunchtime “Pie & Pint” gathering at Kidderminster (SVR) for Tuesday 16th November (the first since early 2020) where myself and a number of others shall pay our respects and fondly remember Ian. His wife, Anne, said that she would also come along as well. Anyone reading this is very welcome to join us at the King & Castle (12-midday until around 4pm).

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