We’ve recently been loaned a collection of old photographs of the Brownhills district by Laurence Hodgkinson. They are mainly based on the mineral railway around Chasewater but the first one especially brought back a lot of memories of the late 1940s and early 1950s.I don’t suppose that there are too many people reading this who have much idea where this was taken, but if you put a Canoe Centre on the left-hand side, it becomes obvious.It was the two Brownhills basins of the Wyrley and Essington Canal. It was in the right hand basin that my friends and I first started fishing, catching, on a good day, small roach and perch and even smaller gudgeon.
We usually left the other basin to a more experienced angler – Mr. Bickley. He used a spot about two thirds of the way towards the main canal and usually caught similar fish to us, though perhaps more of them. He always had time for a chat, and considering that we were just bits of kids, we had a great deal of respect for him. Then one day it happened – Mr. Bickley caught a tench – not a monster as far as tench go but for our small basins it definitely had the X factor. Of course, after this, our respect for him knew no bounds – he was our hero.
To get to our fishing spot and general play area of our childhood we would walk to the left of the Regent Cinema, past the back of it – hence our name for the area ‘the back o’ the flicks’ also known as ‘the batters’ – across the brook and up onto ‘our’ field. This was our football pitch, cricket pitch, a very unsuccessful tennis court and cycle speedway track.The whole area had been our cowboys and indians and hide and seek territory before sport took over our lives. To get to the canal basins we would walk over ‘our’ field through the fallen railway fence and across the track.Occasionally there would be a rake of empty coal wagons in the siding, and that did make it difficult to get to the basins to fish. We seldom travelled light so we had to get rods, nets and baskets under the couplings – not so easy, but we were young enough to bend in those days.
Originally, there were four sidings at the basins, but that was before even our time. There was just the one line remaining, to the left of the original photo.All the years we played there, I don’t recall ever seeing an engine in the siding. They must have paid a visit from time to time, to collect or deliver the wagons – obviously while we were at school!