Category Archives: Brownhills

Brownhills – A Bit More from the Fifties

Vicarage Road, Brownhills (Pic  – Jean Hucker)

It is fifty years ago this month since I left Brownhills – where did that go?  I used to live in the house behind Ken Williams and Henry Taylor.  This month is also special because on the 26th, my father would have been 100 years old.

In my previous Brownhills post I had got down Church Hill as far as the rear entrance to some of the High Street shops, including my Grandma’s.  Just down the road on the opposite side stands the Shoulder of Mutton public house, still with Mr. Roberts’ window.

The Shoulder of Mutton

Roberts’ window with the trade mark steam locomotive in the centre

Moving to the bottom of the road, Gordon Roberts had his barber’s shop.Not the hairdressers as it is now but Gordon’s barber’s was where Cresswells is now.  He was a very good barber but he took his time!  If there were more than two in front of you , it would be at least an hour before you got out!

Turning left along High Street towards Brickiln Street (it was hard spelling it that way!) the next picture that I have is of the shops which had their rear entrance in Church Hill.  From the left, the MEB showroom, Tisdale’s fish shop, Smiths fireplaces, Flossie Rogers’ greengrocers and Bradbury’s.Pic from ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Down High Street and across the road was Cyril Kingston’s shoe shop.It is now a Solicitor’s office, but the white door on the right of the green framed window hides what used to be the only sports goods display in Brownhills.  The best shop window in the town! In those days football shorts were only available in white, blue or black – but then, one day I saw them, a red pair of football shorts.  It wasn’t long before I had them and was getting them covered in mud over the batters!

Opposite was Daft’s fish and chip shop, Jones’ the Jewellers, later Lotes and Joes.Phonetalk was Daft’s, then the Jewellers then Joe’s

To end this post, a walk over the bridge to the entrance to the park.The Library car park is to the right, the site of public conveniences in those pre-vandal days!  I’m sure that the bank on the left was much steeper when I were a lad.  I remember once a glider, a full size one, landed on the parade, coming to rest just short of the top of the bank.  (It couldn’t happen now with my ‘favourite’ trees in the way!)

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Brownhills in the Fifties

Brownhills in the Fifties

There was a question on a radio pop quiz which triggered a memory from some fifty-odd years ago.  The question was ‘Who made the record ’Why do fools fall in love?’  The answer was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, in 1956.

The memory was of a picture in F.W.Cater’s shop window in High Street of the group wearing sweaters with a large letter ’T’ on the front.  A quick visit to Google soon found it!  I was at school in Walsall in those days and used to catch the number 23 bus from Brownhills to Walsall from the stop outside Cater’s shop.  I think it was the only place in Brownhills where you could buy records at that time, and they used to display the ‘Top Twenty’ records each week (and sheet music!).

The shop hasn’t belonged to Cater’s for many years, I know that at one time it was a motor-bike showroom, and according to this photo, it was a restaurant,  but according to google street maps now it’s a carpet and furniture shop.

Across the road is Farmfoods, where the old Co-op used to be.  It was great to go in there, they had a cashier’s office where all the money was sent and change and receipts issued.  The money was put into a container and attached to a device which sent it by wire across the ceiling to the office where the sale was recorded and the change and receipt sent back by the same method.  It was pure magic to a child!

Moving up Brickiln (Bricklin!! to us older residents) Street the former Doctors’ surgery hasn’t changed much but now it’s a Veterinary surgery, and across the road from that was the former library.  I was one of the early members when it first opened – I can even remember my first book which I borrowed – ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome. – funny how some things stick in the memory.

Talking of the memory, there are a few things in this same area which have remained the same since I left Brownhills in 1960 until about five years ago.  Number one, the Church Hall in Vicarage Road had a new front door fitted, the first new one, I think, since the original in 1954.  Next was the gate and fence around the School Field in the Back Lane.  I know that it’s Short Street now, but to us it was the back lane.  I’m going back now to the early fifties, us football playing lads were, I’m sure, under 10 years old, and the girl’s school (the Junior School nowadays, I think) hockey pitch was the only place that we could play with proper goal-posts – I know they were small but so were we!  We could crawl under the gate in those days, the more ambitious would climb over – not me!

Number three in the changes was at the end of the drive in Church Hill (Road if you like!) leading to the rear of some of the shops in High Street, including Woodhouse’s, the Undertakers, the MEB Showroom (Midlands Electricity Board as it was) and Tisdale’s fish shop.  You could also reach Smith’s Fireplace Shop and Roger’s Greengrocers. 

The big tree was the first tree on the right looking up Church Hill.

At the end of this drive stood a big tree. It was one of our goal-post when we played in the yard (if the ball went into the road it was a goal – not many cars in those days!)  This tree had been there all of our lives and longer before it was cut down sometime after 2000.  Shame, but I don’t think it can have been too safe after all those years!

More of my Brownhills

On my Brownhills Walk earlier in the year, I took some photos along the Wyrley and Essington Canal Anglesey Branch.  One in particular made me wonder – what was there before the M6 Toll?Then we had the collection of old photographs from Laurence Hodgkinson and there was the answer:Taken in 1966, a level crossing over Wharf Lane and the railway line, as straight as an arrow, down to Anglesey Sidings/Charrington’s depot/transport yard.  You can even see one of the large storage tanks in the distance.This is the view from Wharf Lane canal bridge,and this is a similar view now.The trackbed still looks straight – what you can see of it!And on to Newtown Bridge!

There were a number of old buildings to the left of Wharf Lane, including the old stables and a water tower.

I wonder who’s got the ‘Whistle’ sign?

These railway remains were the line from the collieries down to Anglesey Sidings where the line joined the LNWR line from Wychnor to Bescot – nowadays more commonly known as the Lichfield to Walsall line.  From there the coal could transported to just about anywhere in the country, although a lot of it was used in the Black Country.

The colliery involved in this railway was the Cannock Chase Colliery Company, which ultimately had 10 pits in the area, although they weren’t all in operation at the same time.  In the very early years of No.1 and 2 collieries, the canal was mainly used, but then McClean completed the rail system.  Since McClean owned both the coal and rail companies, the canal was hardly used between 1857 and 1861, but then McClean gave up his lease on the railway company and canal sales increased to about one third of the company’s output.The end of the Colliery line at Anglesey Sidings.  Cannock Chase loco No.6, a Sharp Stewart 0-6-0ST  2643/1876.  This picture, taken 21/7/1936 also shows Hammerwich Church in the background and the signal box on the Lichfield to Walsall line.

My Brownhills

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.

The view today follows:

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!

Brownhills Walk 2

Another stroll with the dawg, this time starting from Brownhills West Station – I had some leaflets to drop off so it made the decision easy.2009_08220001I decided to walk along the Midland Railway trackbed to start with – ‘our line’ from the other side of the M6 Toll.  This first pic is taken from the bridge over the motorway.2009_08220005This bridge is where you first take the footpath along the trackbed, just over the motorway.2009_08220006Nice to know that the trackbed was put to some good use.  This pic was taken a few hundred yards from the previous one – I bet this was better than playing at Wembley when the kids were young – their very own goal-posts!2009_08220009Talking about football, this was taken in between the A5 and the Chester Road and it is the pitch where Brownhills Scouts used to play – takes some believing!2009_08220011Back to the trackbed, this is taken facing from the Chester Road back towards the A5.2009_08220014There is still some brickwork left of the old Brownhills Midland Railway station in the undergrowth.2009_08220016Walking along the Wyrley and Essington canal now, the photo looks back from High Bridge bridge.  I had taken a bit of a short cut, which didn’t do me any good.  I’d crossed the Chester Road, meaning to go down the Norton Branch trackbed but found another footpath before I reached it and took that instead.  Just a path through trees, nice pool half-way along (which the dog fell in!), otherwise muddy and boring.2009_08220021This photo was taken on the other side of the bridge and shows the area where the Norton Junction marshalling yard used to be.  From here I crossed a field and made my way onto the LNWR Lichfield to Walsall trackbed, from which you can still make out the trackbed of the branch from Walsall Wood Colliery to the LNWR line. We have the train staff for this line in the Museum.  This picture was taken by my good friend Godfrey Hucker and used with his permission (well, he would have given it if I’d asked him!!)Trackbed 3 Walsall Wood Colliery to Norton JunctionFrom here I walked along the trackbed towards Brownhills.2009_08220023A lone signal post is all that’s left and a little further along, the trackbed gets much narrower.  If you look closely at our Ellie you will see that she looks as though she has got grey wellies on.  It was foul smelling clay-type mud – if the weather had got much warmer I would probably had to chip it off!

2009_08220026 Back on to the Wyrley and Essington canal now, looking through the LNWR railway bridge to the Pelsall Road bridge beyond.2009_08220033I came off the canal in Brownhills at the new bridge and walked across the parade towards Chasewater.  I took this photo to illustrate my point from the first walk, about the lack of light and grass under the trees – it uses to be just grass and very pleasant.2009_08220035Back to the entrance to Chasewater Country Park and a chance for Ellie to have a paddle to get rid of the mud – not to mention a well-earned drink!2009_08220041Nearly back at the railway, and as you can see, the mud has been washed off and she has company – she ignored them to start with but had to say a quick ‘hello’ eventually.  They were completely unimpressed and it was their turn to ignore her!!

Brownhills Walk

Although I left Brownhills in 1960, I still think of it as my home town (despite having lived in Hednesford for some 44 years!), and since I finished work about 11 years ago, I’ve tried to have a walk around at least once a year.  This has slipped a bit in the last two or three years but today I made it – complete with camera.2009_08210066I parked at Chasewater, by the Innovation Centre, instead of at the Railway – makes a change – and my trusty hound and myself went back over the bridge and turned left on to the public footpath by the old trotting track.2009_08210031The picture shows what’s left of the back straight.  We went over to cross the A5 by the White Horse, and then on to the common.2009_08210033This pic shows the common not far off the A5.  When we were kids, this area was long, tufty grass with lots of small pools in and around – almost impossible to walk across – so a great deal of work has been done to get the ground up to this standard.2009_08210036This is where the Brownhills St. James football team first started playing.  This is somewhere else where a lot of work has been done.  We never had a surface to play on anything like this – talk about jealous!!  Passing through the gate and into the park we came to another pitch we used to play on.2009_08210037In fact, we were the first team to use it, the land the pitch is on was also reclaimed from long, tufty grass – you’d never believe it now.  The only used to be a triangular path round the park leading from the entrance to some swings near the far gate, then across and along the fence by the cricket pitch to the ride called the ‘Boat’, then back to the entrance and the ‘Giant Stride’ and the ‘Witches Hat’.

On and out of the park and onto the Parade – an area that I don’t think too much of!2009_08210040Again, when we were kids, we used to have a kick-about along this area.  If I remember correctly, there was a well spaced row of trees on either side of the parade but the grass area was just that – open grass.  Now there doesn’t seem to be any light along there, the grass struggles to grow and when the leaves fall it becomes something of a mess (just my opinion but I much preferred the open space).2008_0708Miners0053Through Brownhills next, past the ‘Miner’ down the High Street and up Church Hill.  Through the Church Yard and down Vicarage Road to Ogley Road.  Turned left and went towards Newtown Bridge, getting on the canal side to walk back to Chasewater (I’ve got used to the name now, but when thinking back to Sunday afternoons of our youth, we still went for a walk ‘over the pool’ – a reference to the old name of  ‘Norton Pool’).2009_08210042Walking along the tow-path, it’s nice to see that some of the residents on the far bank have made a very neat job of running their gardens down to the canal-side.2009_08210044Just putting my railway head on for a while, on the other side of this bridge, the railway and canal came together.  It seems a shame that they both couldn’t have passed under the M6 Toll together, too.   That bridge looks very wide just for a canal!2009_08210046That’s the direction the railway used to take.  A level crossing across the road and on to Anglesey Sidings.  The next picture faces the other direction.2009_08210047The track used to be here and a building which housed the old stables from way back.  There’s plenty of room for a small station building and a run around loop, if only we could get there!2009_08210052The old track bed is still there for a lot of the way, but as you can see in top right of this photo, the road runs on some of it before running down to the island at the access to the M6 Toll.  Shame.  Not far to go to Chasewater now, so back along the canal. passing what is left of the loading gantry and the overflow from Chasewater.2009_082100572009_08210056If the canal also gets full to overflowing, the water can run through the grating at the front of the picture and on to the low lying ground behind.  Towards the basin and the start of the canal – where the water comes in from the reservoir.2009_08210061It would be nice to think that, sometime in the future, if the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust succeed in reopening the canal as far as Lichfield, and we at Chasewater Railway, should succeed in reaching the wharf, the basin would again be a hive of activity, this time for tourists.  Well, we can but dream!