154 – Chasewater RailwayMuseum Bits & Pieces From Chasewater News Dec 1992 – Part 4 Cannock Chase Colliery Company Transport Development – The Formative Years.

154 – Chasewater RailwayMuseum Bits & Pieces

 From Chasewater News Dec 1992 – Part 4

 

Cannock Chase Colliery Company

Transport Development – The Formative Years

Mike Wood

Cannock Chase prior to 1840 was an expanse of barren, desolate heathland with no centres of population and without developed rail, road or water networks – on of the last great wildernesses of England.  The villages of Chasetown and Chase Terrace did not yet exist and were twenty years into the future.  Its few inhabitants made a living from the land selling agricultural produce at market in Cannock or extracting coal from shallow bell pits or drift mines.  There was not only coal on the Chase but also ironstone.  Local opencasters had been aware of its presence for many years but made no use of it as the smelting of iron required organisation and equipment well beyond their primitive means.  For the mineral resources of Cannock Chase to be exploited to the full, big business had to take a hand.  In the form of Henry William Paget, landowner and Marquis of Anglesey, and John Robinson McClean, civil engineer, big business was just around the corner.

The Marquis of Anglesey, whose estate encompassed almost entirely what was to become the Cannock Chase Coalfield, did not begin exploitation of the mineral wealth on his lands until the mid 1840s.  By this time, coal had superseded water as the new power base of the industrial revolution with the increasing use of steam driven machinery in factories and for producing iron.  The success of Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ at Rainhill in 1829 had also led to the widespread adoption of steam traction on the new fast-growing railway network.  The comparative late development of the Chase as a coal producing area is almost certainly attributable to the absence of a satisfactory transportation network of roads, railways or canals.

The first canal to enter the region was not completed until 1797, when the Wyrley & Essington completed its north easterly course from Wolverhampton to Huddlesford Junction near Fradley where it joined the Trent & Mersey Canal.  In connection with this W&E scheme, a large feeder reservoir was created in 1798 by damming Crane Brook at a point one mile north of Watling Street between what are now the villages of Brownhills West and Chasetown.  Norton Pool, as it became known as, was constructed as a storage facility in connection with maintenance of water levels on the main W&E canal. Access from reservoir to canal was via a narrow drain-off channel of approximately 1¼ miles in length to Ogley along the exact course of what eventually became the Anglesey Branch of the W&E or ‘Curly Wyrley’ as it was known locally.

A similar view to the previous photo – the old Wharf Lane bridge can be seen through the new one carrying the M6 Toll.

By 1840 the national canal network comprised over 4,000 miles of navigable waterways providing a means of high capacity, low cost transportation,

It is certain that the presence of a new waterway crossing the southern boundaries of his estate plus imminent construction of the South Staffordshire Railway, due to be opened in 1849, and padding by in the same area as the canal, finally encouraged the Marquis to exploit his underground wealth.

In 1845 the Marquis directed that shafts be sunk at Uxbridge, Hammerwich and Four Mounts on the south eastern shores of Norton Pool, 1½ miles north of the W&E canal and the proposed South Staffs Railway.

The canal company built its Anglesey Branch in 1850 by enlarging its drain-off channel from a main line junction at Ogley.  This branch terminated at Anglesey Basin, a few yards south of Norton Pool where facilities included stables, offices, coal loading chutes and gantries, plus a railway interchange which opened in 1858.  Deep moorings accommodated the endless stream of high capacity canal boats which were to pour their black wealth south down the Birmingham Canal Navigation to fire the industries of Birmingham and the Black Country. These two photographs show the stables and other buildings at Wharf Lane.

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