"Memoirs of a Black Country Mining Engineer" by Howard Hill
A Warren of Sheds Built from Old Doors
I first met Howard in his retirement years when he married my dad's (Ben Auden) older sister (Winnie). Winnie and Howard had many happy years together, many spent following the local fox hunt. They did not have a family of their own but uncle, a widower, did have a grown up family which Winnie and the rest of us soon became part of.
A visit to their home was always a memorable and enjoyable one both for the warm welcome and for the inevitable forage to find my uncle in the warren of sheds that veritably filled their garden in Stambermill.
My uncle was a warm, friendly, kind man who spoke in a typically black country way. I knew him as a mining engineer and even in retirement local mining continued to play a significant part in his life. Conversation would often include him describing a particular local topography and then the mining and coal seams beneath and very importantly water courses both above and below ground. A very important knowledge as can be seen from his memoirs.
He was an active, resourceful man having built the sheds from old doors or whatever was to hand. He populated them with steam engines and boilers he had saved from various mining sites. (He also kept chickens in them -
He once described to me, from memory, how to construct the timber support for a pit head winding gear. An experience well remembered whenever I see such structures, but understandably a knowledge never used.
Fortunately my uncle decided to write down his memories. It must have been in the 1960s when he wrote them and when I saw them first. They recently came to light again and Nigel has done an admirable job transcribing them to this web page. I hope you enjoy the read.
The road from Stourbridge through Lye, Halesowen to Quinton seems to me to be a dividing line between the Industrial and Agricultural country. If, turning right just beyond St. Mark's Church, Stambermill, we make our way via Careless Green to Oldnall, it is from this point that one takes most excellent views of the surrounding countryside Frankley, Romsley, Walton, Clent, Kinver, Clows Top, the Clees, the Wrekin etc. Coming closer Brierley Hill, Netherton, Rowley, Blackheath, but it is the latter which interests us for the time for it is in this valley that I spent most of my working life.
The Industrial Country
The River Stour, which starts in Clent Hills finding its way to the Shenstone, Halesowen, here it was impounded to drive the wheels which gave forges their power. Further down stream at Furness Hill and Combs Holloway crossroads another pound was made which provided power for the Button Factory and the Spade and Shovel works. Carrying on to Hayseech we had another pound here which drove two wheels for the Gunbarrel Works; one worked the Forge, the other the machinery for grinding the gun barrels. I had the pleasure of seeing these work daily as a lad working there whilst they were in operation. The next Water Wheels were at Belle Vale, by the Hall Gate, these finished about 1909 but I did see the one at Bladon's at work on the site occupied by Clancey's. This one was driven by the Lutley Brook which also supplied power for the Mill which was situated at the back of the Shelton Inn. Back at the bottom of Drews Holloway was Baches Mill which made spades, shovels etc and Lutley Mill which is still standing.
We next come to Cradley Mill, used for the Iron Trade, this is situated down stream of the bridge. Cradley Mill had several wheels. Cradley Forge had several wheels, situated as it was by the junction of the River Stour, Mouse Sweet Brook and the Salt Brook. The Mouse Sweet and Salt Brooks were arrested by the pool dam where they joined thus the Forge had two supplies as all met by Cradley Forge Bridge. About 1908 the mill at the bottom of Hayes Lane on the down side right of the bridge was demolished and was used as a tannery in quite a large way. My Grandfather was there blasting etc. and I went to take his meals while he was there. This mill pool extended to Bower Lane bridge. The next was at Lye Forge, while the one at Bagleysbrook which was quite a good specimen was only demolished some 20 years ago. While the river provided power in it's area it also served doing the essential job of drainage to all the collieries in the valley.
Ernest Stevens & Co., Cradley Heath: The holloware factory at Stour Works, Woods Lane and registered 'Judge Brand' trade mark.
Fifty years ago looking across towards Dudley and Rowley one could see the discharge from winding engines and also hear the baffling sounds from them as the lever was thrown against the motion, the sight and sound of dozens of railway engines shunting on main lines and private sidings, broad guage and narrow. The powerful thud of steam hammers from heavy industrial premises. From Ruffords looking east one could see all kinds of kilns in full fire; brick kilns and Breeze Ovens similar in design, while at night Blast Furnaces would light up the sky. Who could realise that all this activity could be plunged into chaos, caused by the miner's strike of 1921. Blast furnaces, Puddling furnaces and Brickyards dependant on the fire brick trade came to a halt, many never to start up again. I was working part time at Old Hill Blast Furnaces, as I was on the Colliery Books at the time for N. Hingley & Sons Limited which was covered by our engineer Mr W. Danks. For Collieries which did re-
In the foreground is Lye whose main industry at one time was Holloware. The street in front of us is Pargeter Street where Williams & Sons produced horseshoes for home and export. Bakers of King Street are still manufacturers of horseshoes, etc. At the bottom of the street was the works of Amos Perrins. The Amos Perrins Chain Works have in recent years closed (I leave this area to Wesley Perrins). Eveson Bros, were quite a large company in former years. The Holloware trade enamel, galvanished goods, etc. employed hundreds of people; then there were Crofts, Rounds, Hill Pritchards & Hill, Sergant Turner, Ludlows, John Stevens and other smaller firms in Lye, while in Cradley Heath Ernest Stevens also employed hundreds of people. This trade has now these last few years shrunk owing to the coming of plastic materials. Taylor Law carry on their business on part of the old Rufford works, while just beyond St. Mark's Church Yardleys still manufacture spades, forks, shovels and rakes etc. for gardens. This trade flourished right through to Halesowen and Darby End and it was said Darby End for spades and shovels and Rowley Regis for bricks.
Work, Games and Attractions
Nails and chain were made in nearly all older type houses, a nail and chain shop was sometimes part of the wash-
I have seen adults playing bunt the ring instead of ordinary marbles. They each used a iron ring about one and a half to two inches in diameter (ring in this case meaning marble). Five marbles were placed in a circle, each player taking his turn to either break up the ring or to bunt the other player's marble. One good place to see this game played was the workhouse in Oldnall Lane near to Beech Farm. Access to these premises was through an archway into a large courtyard surrounded by four square buildings; it was here I well remember this game being played. I had some of the very same bunters that were used there until I left Furlong Lane in the 1920's. Children played games such as Jack upon the mopstick, release, Knock Peg, Kick back blind hoss (horse). Hopscotch and marbles (shoot the ring and chuck in the hole) and so on. Most boys and girls during their dinner break at school took their fathers, brothers or neighbours dinners to their place of work. When at Cradley Heath C of E school I took dinners to Coombes Wood Tube Works with hundreds of other boys and girls.
Halesowen Mop, Brierley Hill Wake and Lye Wake were some of the local attractions. Then there was Saltwells Wake on May Day, Groaty pudding being served at most of the local public houses in the district to all their customers. Cradley Heath market attracted people from the surrounding districts, the stalls in the High Street did a roaring trade in the winter months with the old paraffin open flame burners belching forth their smoke seeming to add warmth to the atmosphere. People waited to shop late in those days because all perishable goods had to be sold as there was no way of keeping them, hence the give away prices for meat etc, for which Cradley Heath was famous! Some cattle came to Cradley Heath by truck, while others were driven from local cattle markets such as Stourbridge, Hagley, Bromsgrove and even Kidderminster to Lye, Brierley Hill and Cradley etc. People engaged in this job were called Drovers and were in some cases quite rough characters. I have seen a good few of these people and one that comes to my mind was a woman named Sally the Drover complete with dog stick, clay pipe and language as strong as could be found.
Returning to previous notes on industries of the area. Chain and nail making came quite naturally to children because they saw so much being made that the trade grew on them, no wonder boys and girls started young making common fencing chain. People employed as side welders started at four and five a.m. in the morning because of the heat at mid-
There were dozens of brickyards making red and blue bricks in this area who used the seam of clay known as the Oldbury Marl. These bricks were second to none: I am sorry to say that practically all have gone. Mobberley and Perry made red, blue and fireclay bricks and glass retorts, always carrying a large stock of fireclay. Their Hayes Brickworks were on each side of the road at Hayes between Lye and Colley Gate. These works and the mines owned by the Company employed hundreds of people. At the back of the works on the Hayes Lane side were the lime kilns taking the limestone from the outcrop right by. The measures or strata could be seen a few yards from the Hayes crossroads on the Lye side.
Most industries depended on the Pits, the chain industry depended upon large breeze ovens for their fuel. This was obtained by burning fine coal slack in bee-
Wages in 1910 were very poor in all sections of industry; labourers were luckey to get 18 shillings per week, while a horse driver might get £1, if he had two horses to drive and attend to it may reach £1 2s 0d to £1 3s 0d per week for a 12 hour day. Work started at 6 a.m. with ½ hour for breakfast and 1 hour for dinner, finishing at 5 or 6 p.m. Some factories started at 7 a.m. and worked until 7 p.m. Nearly all worked until 1 p.m. on Saturday, pay-
There was an abundance of ironstone in the measures below Old Hill and Cradley Heath which was to be found above the heathen coal and sometimes above the brooch. Some firms worked two main seams of fire clay, the Old Mine and the New Mine, while on Rofford Estate there were five seams of clay but poor quality coal. Looking up the River Stour the "golden rule" is the further you go to the right the poorer the quality of coal until it runs out at Wassel Grove, Hayley Green to the south of the Manor Colliery, Halesowen. This brings us back to almost where we started, and now we will look around and have a try to picture what it looked like in the early 1900's with what has been handed down to me by family and friends I have made during my work in the different coal fields.
Collieries and Brickyards
The Manor Colliery had three shafts, the largest being 12 ft diameter with wooden guides while in the other shafts, both 8 ft diameter shafts, there were no guides. This was quite common as one shaft was nearly always used for a lift (pump) for top water which was good for all purposes. In 1919-
Westward approximately half a mile away we come to Old Hawne Colliery, I never remember any coal being drawn up here as I always knew it as the main drainage. Here, again, there are three shafts. The double shaft about 12 ft diameter, and I should say the tanks held about 4 tons 10 cwt of water. The guides were made of steel wire, the engines were about 30 inch diameter cylinders, 5 ft stroke Corless valve type, about the largest pair of engines I know of with a 16 ft diameter drum. The Lancashire boilers were rather large fired by coal brought down from New Hawne Colliery. The Pit finished around about the time of the 1921 strike, but at the time of this writing the Engineman who occasionally wound there, namely Mr George Webster is still alive today, and regularly rides his bicycle. The above facts were revived by him a few weeks ago.
We will pass on now to New Hawne Colliery, a few hundred yards away. Clay and coal were drawn here, large thick coal tubes being used, wire guides were used in both shafts. The third shaft was inside the engine house, and a lift pump was used in this shaft to lift top water. The winding engines were a pair of 28 in diameter cylinder engines with a 5 ft stroke, a very powerful pair, judged to be the fastest then known in the area and the longest reversing lever that I have ever seen requiring two steps to operate. A narrow guage tramway ran from the pit to Corngreaves which took supplies to the furnaces. In later years the endless rope system of haulage was used, the old winding ropes being used for the purpose. This system was the same as at the Golden Orchard Colliery, the engines being of the same type.
After the Corngreaves (Mid British) Iron Cos. closure, which was a black day for the whole area, Garratt Limited took over New Hawne and Timbertree Collieries and worked them until they finally closed. No electric lights or appliances were used at these pits, everything being steam driven. New boilers were installed in 1921 at New Hawne Colliery but were never used. This firm was never bothered by water and it is a pity that this company's efforts should have gone under. The premises are now used by Halesowen Council. All engines mentioned so far are of the slide valve type. The winding engine at New Hawne Colliery having the slide valves working on the top of the cylinders similar to the 'Lord Dudley' 12 inch and 18 inch engines. The Mid British Iron Co. had closed down some time before I came to live by Corngreaves Hall in 1910.
Returning to New Hawne Colliery, there was an accident of some local importance, happened just after the 1921 strike. The ropes were being re-
Witley Colliery lies to the west of the New Hawne Colliery on the Stourbridge/Halesowen road and bear the foot of Drews Holloway, The main shaft had two double deck cages, each deck holding one tub. A second shaft had a lift for top water, and a third shaft acted as an emergency shaft powered by a 18 h.p. engine that had seen better days. The winding engines were of Coreless Valve design about 26 inch cylinders and 5 ft stroke. Six or seven boilers supplied steam to the engines at 75 Ibs/sq. inch. The boilers also supplied a large brickyard wholly given to the making of fire bricks. Wire guides were used in the drawing shafts, no guides were used in the No. 2 shaft. An endless rope system was employed on the surface wharf dirt bank etc. This was one of the first pairs of engines to work in this area and the engine driver who came with the plant was a Welshman. It is also said that it was the first endless rope system to work in the area. In its heyday it was 'THE PIT' run by the Witley Colliery Company early 1900. The manager at the time was Mr Harry Jackson. My grandfather as a lad walked from Lye with the other lads to work down the pit. Thick coal, clay, brooch coal were drawn. Two locos ran from the Colliery to Corngreaves Sidings going under the Stourbridge Road about 50 yards above the present Lutley Mill Road. The one loco named the 'Witley' was a proper Wells Fargo Type of loco while the other more modern loco was a Saddle tank. My father had the clay charter basis until Timmis of Stourbridge took over the pit. Coal and clay was then taken from the Corngreaves Sidings down the Stourbridge/Birmingham railway line to the Stambermill works of Timmis.
The Gob or Old Workings of New Hawne Colliery were struck by Witley's operations close to the 'Shelton Inn' in my grandfather's time, while on the opposite side of the valley below Alma Street in 1920 my uncle and my father watched the horses and tubs of Harpers and Moores go by after 'thirling' into their workings. A few weeks prior to this the Manager of the Witley Pit had said to this uncle "Will, keep your packs tight." "What, don't I always, what's the joke" replied Will. "Well" said the Manager "you are just about under your own front room and I wouldn't like to shift your piano." To return to Timmis their own pits closed when the Rufford Co stopped pumping. The Hasbury and Hagley Green side were on the crop or rose from the pit bottom and so there were a few brake hills, the longest ran under the old tin fever home. All minerals were wound from the clay inset, so after the 1921 miners strike and Garratts and Fellows stopped drawing water at Old Hawne it took only a short time for the pound water to reach the Witley Pit bottom. This was the end of the pit's era. My father and brother were two of the last bond to come up after going back to work in the pit for the last 18 months of its life.
The shafts were sunk prior to or around the turn of the century and an old beam engine was first erected to wind. This engine was kept in repair by Rufford Co. Why the shafts were not worked might keep one guessing, one suggestion is that a local mining engineer was allowed down the shaft after 'tipping' the sinkers, saw the quality of the coal and bought the adjacent mine. Another suggestion was that the quality of the coal was inferior to that of the Cradley area and therefore could not compete. While another theory has it that Rufford & Co at some later date was to run a railway line to the then named Pig Lane Pit from Stourbridge Junction. This theory carries some weight as the bridge which was to carry the railway away from the Junction is still to be seen. Pig Lane Pit was re-
On Saturday evening the 9th May 1953 at approximately 9.30 p.m. Mr G. Webster, engineman, came on shift. At this time there was no person down the pit. The first duty he was to perform was to test the bonds, and it was while he was 'trying the bonds' the overwind control failed, therefore he had no control over the winder. The engine thus ran away. The cage coming up the shaft then came out of the shaft, up the frame and detached. The rope wound on to the drum and the capling was then thrashing around the enginehouse. The rope that was being run off the drum by then had run to its limit and began to wind back on to the drum. The rope thus filled the drum bringing up the second cage which then detached in the frame leaving the rope to complete its wind on the drum and the second capling to thrash around in the enginehouse. The engineman was not able to retreat from the enginehouse and so had to stay in his seat until the drum had stopped turning.
Down the pit clay had ceased to be drawn at this time. A ¾ inch rope haulage system extended for approximately 1,000 yards towards Wassel Grove in the thick coal seam, while in the top coal two main and tail haulage systems were used transferring their loads down a brake hill to the common coal inset. The main and tail was later replaced by a ¾ inch endless rope system. There was not a great deal of water in the pit until 1952. Prior to this it was 'tanked' out before 7 a.m., at 11 a.m. and then after the drawing shift. Minerals were then wound up the downcast shaft only. With the coming of the electrical winding gear coal was drawn from both shafts. Water was then coped with by two small electric pumps situated in the clay inset. These were later replaced by a submersible pump in the pit bottom. Water here was not connected to any other pound although it was always close at hand. Bounded in the north by King Bros. Mine and the west by Oldnall Colliery and on the east by Harpers & Moore's Mine, all roads in the pit from each inset went in the same south-
Cradley Park Colliery or Top Park, was roughly north of Beech Tree Colliery. Standing on the brow of the hill overlooking the Stourbridge Road to Halesowen, about 500 to 600 yards from Beech Tree. The winding engines were a pair of 20 inch diameter cylinder engines driving a 14 ft diameter drum, giving one the impression that they were over drummed as they always seemed to be labouring. Brooch coal, thick coal and clay were mined here. Bounded north and east by Harpers & Moores, south by Beech Tree and Oldnall and west by the Hayes Colliery. An endless chain system supplied the landsale wharf where the garage is now, while other minerals destined for the railway sidings carried on on the same haulage under the main road. This Colliery was reputed to have been worked to the last cobble, possible evidence of this can be seen in the large breaks that can be seen from the road on the brow of the hill, while a large slip can be seen in front of the entrance of Harpers & Moores.
On top of the hill between Beech Tree and Oldnall Colliery roughly on their boundary stood Beech Tree Farm which comprised of two cottages and a group of outbuildings, these buildings had to be pulled down owing to large breakes in the ground. The ground today still shows many signs of movement. I don't think that much more could have been mined according to the surface movement. When Harpers & Moores closed their pit, it was only a few days before Cradley Park Colliery closed too. By this time the drum was rubbing the bedding and the crank waa striking the base, so the engines were slipping as well. Approximate date of closure was August 1927. The shafts were only covered over with railway sleepers and up to the day of writing are still unfilled. I often wonder why with so much ground slip they should build flats so high on the adjoining land.
About 500 yards west across the brow of the hill we come to Oldnall Colliery. The shafts were sunk by Fisher & Co who were the owners of the Hayes Brickyards around the beginning of this century. This Company failed and the brickyard and pit was taken over by Mobberley & Perry, the pit being opened up about 1906. Caleb Thomson was in charge for some time before going to Coombes Wood Colliery. Top coal, thick coal, clay and in its later life brooch coal, were mined here. The winding engines were a pair of 22 inch cylinder engines, and three 'egg-
The haulage incline to the Hayes Wharf was in Oldnall Pit's day an endless chain, all tubs being fitted with two 'Vee' plates into which the chain was dropped when the tub pushed on. The incline took over 80 dozen tubs per day regularly. In 1937 a mechanical failure occured on the winding engine, the rear of one of the cylinders was blown out and the resultant flood of water flooded the clay inset. I don't think the clay was worked again after this. The coal seams were worked until 1941. Several breaks could be seen during the last few months of working, one of these lay in the old gateway leading from Oldnall Road to the pit and was approximately a yard wide. Most of the 'mine' worked by this Colliery belonged to Stourbridge Blue Coat School, as did the Colliery itself. Final closure of Oldnall Colliery was in 1941.
Coming back to Oldnall Colliery and going down the incline to the Hayes and about 500 yards down the incline on the right is the Hayes Colliery. This pit was sunk prior to the turn of the century, possibly by Messrs Fisher & Co. This pit was worked by Mobberley & Perry until it closed in the latter part of 1925. The winding engines were a pair of 18 inch cylinder engines. Both shafts were used for drawing minerals, a double deck cage was used in each shaft, each deck holding one tub. The bottom deck of the 'far' shafts cage hold a tank, which was used for drawing the pit's water. The water drawing was carried out before the normal shift and usually took about half an hour. The Hayes and Dingle pits were interconnected in the workings by an incline main and tail rope worked. All clay not needed for the trucks was drawn up the Hayes and put on the bank. The Hayes Colliery closed in 1925 as a colliery but two tanks were put in and the pit was used to draw water to take the head water off the Oldnall Colliery water. This only lasted for a short time.
The Dingle Pit had as its winding engine an Earl of Dudley 18 h.p. geared engine with two 'egg ended' boilers 5 ft 6 inches diameter. The rear shaft being the drawing shaft had double deck cage in. The near shaft had a 3 ton water tank in. One working mineral shift was employed and one water drawing shift only. There were two men working on the bank, namely the Banksman and his mate, who tipped coal and clay into the railway trucks by Tippler. The tubs went in to a kind of large drum on rollers, the drum was then spun round under the control of a brake. It was here I saw the effects of using Saltwells pound water in the boilers. Rubbers in the guage glasses only lasted a few hours and the resultant leak of water covered the floor with salt, then one of the boilers dropped a plate then it was all valves open and the steam clacks (safety valves) plopped and the dire drawn. A night I shall never forget. The pit was closed about the same time as the Hayes Colliery.
There were several more shafts within a few yards of the Dingle Pit which were domed over.
Going back to Balds Lane, about 50 yards above Brook Street on the opposite side of the road was Speedwell in the Lane, this pit was at work in my grandfather's days. The winder was a beam engine, but I knew it as two domed over shafts, long finished. Further up the road between Pargeter Street and the Schools were another pair of shafts. There was supposed to be a pair of shafts on the site of Croft's works and a pair in Eveson's works. Hayes Lane is situated on the 'Fault'. The outcrop carried on towards No. 33 Quarry Bank. From the first railway line going down the Hayes Lane to the Saltbrook Inn there were quite a few '6 inch' pits drawing clay and coal.
Harpers & Moores Lower Delph Brickworks and Colliery were quite a large concern, making many types of firebricks and other refractory products. Their boundary was the footpath of the Main Road (Park Road). I, like many other people, have watched the brickmakers through the windows at work. Women could be seen barefooted pressing the clay into the moulds with their feet. The offices and weighbridge were just through the gates and about 50 yards further in were the shafts. The winding engines were a pair of 26 inch diameter cylinder slide valve engines, valve gear on top of the cylinders heavily built driving a 14 foot drum. Their workings under Two Gates with an endless rope system running under Tanhouse Lane, Field Lane, below the Water Stile. Just past this location the terminus wheel was situated. The quality of the coal was good and they maintained a good tonnage of both coal and clay. With the closing of Witley and Hawne Collieries this pit received their water. The system of working at this pit was the common practice of drawing materials up one shaft and drawing water up the other, electric pumps were also used here to lift water. The water shaft had a tank in and the drawing shaft had a double deck cage in. When the Hayes and Dingle Collieries closed the pit had their water also. With their electric pumps and tanking it took them all their time to hold their water and they finally gave up in 1927 closely followed by King's Top Park Colliery.
At the rear of Harpers & Moores in Netherend which is as the 'crow flies' about 300 yards was King's Bottom Park Colliery, this was in the valley almost at railway level more or less at the back of the Park Tavern. The winding engine was a pair of 26 inch diameter cylinders on a 14 ft diameter drum. Steam raising plant was two Lancashire boilers. I understand that this Colliery was the first, or one of the first, to use the steam brake on its winding engines, the mechanism was mounted horizontally with slides and worked very efficiently. This pit aided Harpers & Moores to draw water. The quality of clay and coal mined here was very good, and workers here in its heyday had, I believe, some good jobs, good coal and good stints. This Colliery was closed in 1921.
Further down the road towards Netherend Church and about 100 yards off the road to the left is Old Netherend Pit. The engine was an old beam engine. This was closed before my time, working mostly on the crop side towards the Hayes. In the fields below towards the River Stour were several 'Gin Pits'. King Bros were well known for their red bricks, terracotta, ornamental designs made by them can be seen all over the country. The houses built with their best bricks can, after 50 years, still put any of today's manufacturers in the shade. Their fireclay products were also second to none, the fireclay works were adjoining the Bottom Park Colliery while the red-
Passing the Unitarian Church and going down Mogal Lane we come to the Horse & Jockey Inn, opposite to the Inn where new houses now stand were the Jackey Pits. They were not worked in my time. At the bottom of the road and over the brook is Bobs Coppice, here Elwells worked the outcrop about 1927. Going back to the Worcestershire side of the brook we come to Maypole Fields. Behind the Horse & Jockey Pitt in the middle of the field between Mogul Lane and Maypole Lane were another pair of shafts sunk by King Bros in the late 1920's but the project was abandoned because of water. Coming up Maypole Hill we come to the Evers Brickworks at Homerhill. This was quite a large concern, making firebricks etc. drawing their supplies of coal and clay from Old Homerhill Colliery which stood on the side of the hill above the works. Between the pit and the works was a mineral railway. The coal landsale wharf was adjoining the works, and the main line trucks were brought into the works by the main line sidings which crossed the road by a level crossing over the Lyde Green Road. The winding engines were of a vertical design uncommon to this area. The drum was mounted above the cylinders on sandstone pillars, the drum was 12 ft diameter and the cylinders were 24 inch diameter and the cylinders were 24 inch diameter. The windingman stood below the drum. [NOTE: My grandmother's father, was crippled down this pit in the last part of the last century when she was a little girl. She was born in 1893. He was Mr Isaac Bloomer who was a Coal Face Pikesman. She says she remembers him being brought back in a cart still black in coal dust.]
The steam raising plant was three Lancashire boilers. There was a second pair of engines put down with a large flywheel between the cranks. The piston rods were extended through the rear of the cylinders connecting up to the compressors which were mounted on the rear of the cylinders. The pair of engines were also vertical mounted, the cylinders were 24 inch diameter with a long stroke. In its heyday haylages and mining equipment were worked by compressed air underground. I understand that at one time pumps were worked by compressed air and water was pumped from the pit bottom by the same method. Three brothers Arthur, Hurbert and Lawson Roper were the winding enginemen until 1917. (Arthur came under N. Hingley & Sons Collieries after which I was in close contact with him for the next 30 years while he was at No. 26 Old Hill, Manor, Witley, Dingle, (M & P) Hayes and Oldnall Collieries. He was a good engineer with a good electrical training and he was second to none in plant layout.) After the miners strike in 1921 the brooch and brooch clay were mined.
New Homerhill Colliery was on top of the hill Colley Gate side of the School. A large beam engine was used here for winding. The engine worked 'condenced' and was double geared. The pit belonged to King Bros. drawing clay and coal. The landsale wharf was at the pit head while there was a tub railway which ran down the hill to Kings Bottom Park Sidings via a single track to the top of the Spirit Hole (Marl Hole) and a double tracked self acting incline from the top of the hill to the Main Road with a single track over the road. Breeze ovens worked here, using the fine slack to make the breeze that was used in the local chain and nail shops. This mine dipped towards the Cradley Church and their methods of dealing with water was crude and so an accumulation of water in the deep workings followed. After some time R Fellows Corngreaves Pit worked that way released it but could cope with it as they had some good electric pumps. This was another colliery that closed with the 1921 miners strike.
Before crossing the Stour we will look around the Lye side. George King Harrison & Co worked a pair of pits by the Lye Station. The plant was well laid out drawing out of both shafts with a pair of engines. The clay and coal was used in their own brickworks on the same ground. The works here again were quite a large size with their own railway sidings and the main line sidings. In its heyday it made many types of firebricks and retorts. On the other side of the road towards the waterfalls on the River Stour behind the premises of Moles Foundry was Lunt Colliery which was also owned by G.K. Harrison drawing mostly fireclay. This pit was worked with an 18 inch diameter single engine and was worked until 1932. There were several more shafts within 100 yards of these.
In Engine Lane about 50 or 60 yards past the bridge towards the Stourbridge Road there was an old beam pumping engine, step off the footpath and there she was, my first impression of steam power.
Coming down the side of the railway were another pair of shafts on the Stour side of the footbridge at the bottom of Rufford Street. It was here that Frank Jew was killed. While descending one of the shafts in the bowke or bucket the catch was thrown onto the winch bursting it up and throwing him out of the bowke to the bottom of the shaft resulting in his death. This pit was owned by Timmis & Co.
On the opposite side of the river about 100 yards past the waterfalls was a clay pit (on Lady Greys estate). The winding engine was a pair of 12 inch diameter cylinders geared engined worked by Timmises. In their brickyard they had another pair of shafts, the winding engine here was a pair of 12 inch diameter cylinder table crank geared engines, a very 'leggey' pair. These pits worked until Ruffords closed down their pumping plants. Timmis were also makers of firebricks and other refractory products at their fairly large brickyard.
At the bottom of Cemetry Road we had Hickmans Brickyard. There was a pair of shafts worked by a beam engine just inside the works which later on was used as the mill engine. There were just a few pairs of shafts on this estate. This was a fair sized brickworks and also drew coal and clays from the Hadcroft Estate. There were a pair of shafts just above the works in Haygreen, while opposite on the area which is today the sports ground were another pair of shafts. In Morvale Street I am lead to understand there was another pair of shafts and a brickyard on the same site. Traversing Pedmore Road we come to Sheppards Brook and the older generation would remember the Ford that was here before the bridge was built, on the left where the Mucklow's housing estate is now was the Hadcroft Brickworks. On the right was the Rufford Estate, Brickworks and Pits. The Old Noah's Ark Inn stood opposite the Hadcroft entrance, this brickworks made red bricks until about 1935 when Mr A. Porter took over from Hardiss & Co who then started to produce fireclay bricks etc. Just inside the gates and to the left about 40 or 50 yards were a pair of shafts which were worked in the 1920's for a short time.
There were also quite a few 'Gin Pits' in the area between the brook and the Schools working the mine on the crop as it rose 1 in 3 towards the park. Huddy Castle Pit was at the back of Hadcrofts Brickyard about 250 yards from the gates, this was worked by Hickmans and after by Garratts who had taken over their business until 1921, when it closed down. A large single cylinder engine situated between the two shafts did the winding, while down the shaft an Evan double acting ram steam pump situated between the two shafts in an inset about 15 yards above the clay workings dealt with the water. Other water and the overflow was wound out by a tank in the one shaft. The whole installation was dismantled. In 1948 Mr A. Porter decided to draw clay again for his own use, so I put a pair of 12 inch diameter cylinder enginers geared type and a pair of pit frames up again. Two submersible pumps, one in each shaft with a 4 inch delivery were installed. These soon brought the pound down and within a few weeks they were drawing clay. This pit finally finished about 1956, after which the machinery was dismantled and the site levelled.
On the other side of the road was the Rufford Estate. There were dozens of shafts in this area from which large quantities of clay were drawn. These were drawn from the pit head by large dray horses hauling large waggons of the clay to the Jail and Viaduct works, on a well laid out system of light railways. Within this area there were two beam pumping engines working while there were several more used for winding. There was also a beam engine driving the machinery at the red brick works. This works was situated about half way between Grange Lane and Rufford Road, near Taylor Law factory which was formerly Ruffords. The red brick works was demolished in the 1930's and the Marl Hole filled in. In passing it is good to relate that at one of the pits the beam engine wound from three shafts and the winding man only had one arm.
Towards the Hatfield R.D. Council Houses stood another pit working, the frames were of the same pattern as the old wooden frames at Beech Tree. The engines were a pair of 24 inch diameter cylinder engines which were dismantled for scrap in 1919 by B. Shaw of Cradley Heath. Water was the trouble in the Rufford pits and as the strata dipped towards the previous mentioned colliery from the neighbouring clay and coal fields Ruffords naturally had most of the water. After approaches had been made to the surrounding colliery owners asking them to contribute towards the cost of maintenance of pumping plants on several occasions, a final statement was issued to the effect that if no help was forthcoming the pumping plants would be closed down. This like all the rest of the appeals failed. The next thing Ruffords did was to open up all the pits they could and stockpile as great a quantity as they possibly could. After a year or two when they thought their stocks were sufficient they closed down all their pits and associated plant without any notice to the rest of the surrounding firms. The era of Rufford mining had finished. Soon there were requests for the pumping plants to re-
From Amblecote Hall to the Delph crossroads there were dozens of small pits and as the mineral deposits were shallow and in general outcropping only small plants were needed, small winch engines, single 12 inch diameter bore cylinder engines and also a few Earl of Dudley 16 inch h.p, single engines were in evidence as well as a number of 'Gin Pits' worked by horses. Halls brickyard stood on the hill at the back of the Viaduct. On the brow of the hill stood Halls No. 2 pit. The winding engine was a single cylinder geared engine. There were two shafts, one used for drawing water. This pit worked until 1962/65 when it was opencasted. On the Vicarage Road side of the pit about 30 yards from the shafts was Halls coal drive mine drawing coal for the brickworks. This latterly was electric wound and air shaft on both sides of the Vicarage Road supplied the ventilation for the drift. This drive worked until the brickyard finished at the time of opencasting. Halls mined the land on the Lye side of Amblecote Road (Vicarage Road) to where Stamford Road joined it by the Birchtree Public House.
Right behind the Birchtree pub was Halls No. 12 pit. This pit started life as a colliery and was closed in 1947/48. It was re-
On the Lye side of the hill up to Stamford Road is, I believe, Lady Greys estate and from here to the Thorns was the Earls. Timmises also worked some of the Lady Greys mine around Astons Fold but these were slopes or drifts. G.K. Harrison worked some of the mine around their Caledonia brickworks. This works was later taken over by Kings. Lord Dudley Colliery Co also worked a slope in 1936 in Caledonia Road. This drift drew coal but was stopped by an underground fire which was burning a few hundred yards away as far back as 1930. Halls worked the area up to Thorns Road for coal, one shaft was about 15 yards from the road and the engine was about 100 yards away on the corner of what is now Brandon Way. Working in the same field was John Stevens & Co mining clay. Mobberley and Perry worked the Thorns pits which were situated in what is now known as Cider Avenue off Thornhill Road, this was worked for clay until 1921. The winding engine was a 12 h.p. single Earl of Dudley engine. At the back of T.B. Wellings works J. Round worked a pair of shafts drawing coal in the 1930's. At the corner of Bower Lane and Park Road in what the locals call the 'Dangerfield' was another pair of shafts drawing clay. The winding engine was a single 'L.D.' engine 12 h.p.
Coming back to Dunns Bank and passing down a foot road called the Pig Trough which leads to the Lye, about 50 yards from Dunns Bank was a 'Gin Pit' on the right side of the path. This was worked for clay until the 1930's. Further down on the left were several more 'Gin Pits' worked by King Bros and further down again was another pit, two shafts worked by a 12 h.p. single engine. There was a rough road passing at the back of the enginehouse, this crossed the previously mentioned path and came out into Thorns Road at the side of what is now A.J. Morgans. The road passed alongside E.J. Pearsons old brickworks and past by three shafts in line with one another. After the brickworks was demolished Halls worked the area for coal. Tintern Abbey pits were situated opposite the Dog & Partridge Inn, there were three shafts here roughly parallel to the road. Halls worked the pits for coal, working firstly the top and bottom shafts and then the two bottom shafts. For a shallow depth group of workings there was a tremendous amount of water. The electric pumps were running day and night. This pit finally finished in 1952/53. There was no coal to speak of until we come to Bobs Coppice where we meet the outcrop from the Cradley side, which runs below New Street, Quarry Bank to the back of the Schools in the High Street. Houses In New Street still show the signs of the mining era, Hadley's shop slopes towards the road badly.
The Saltwells, High Street, Quarry Bank brings us to the area that was worked by the Earl's No. 33 Colliery or as it was sometimes called the New Pit. The shafts were situated behind the Junior Schools in the High Street at the top of what the locals call 'Rose Hill'. The enginehouse was between the two shafts, the one shaft was only 45 yards to the coal workings while the other was 150 yards to the coal. The engine used here for winding was a pair of 18 inch diameter cylinders with an unusually long stroke type of engine. The drum was built with two different diameters to permit winding at two different depths. The complete winder was made in Scotland and after service at several other pits finished up at the Earl's No. 27 Old Park Colliery and was still in good condition when broken up in 1941. On this engine was incorporated a slow banker and other safety devices. There were also a pair of 18 inch diameter cylinder engines which were used to operate the underground haulage. The plant was quite a well laid out plant, linked to the Earl's Pensnett railway system.
Pensnett Railway Network
On passing it would be well worth looking at some of this network of railways. Nearly all the pits belonging to the Earl of Dudley were served by this standard guage railway, while some were linked with a narrow guage system as well. The Pensnett railway linked up with the G.W.R. at Cradley Heath, Round Oak and Shut End. On the eastern side of the Round Oak works the line decended the Tipsiford incline, through the Saltwells Coppice with a branch leaving the main line to go to Darby End. The main line continued through to Dudley Wood where it branched, one to Penn Bros and the Speedway pits, and the other to Cradley Heath station with sidings to the Earl's No. 24, 25 and 30 Saltwells Collieries on the way. This line also supplied other factories in the area. The branch which went to Darby End had several branches, after its parting with the Cradley Heath line there were several 'shunts' serving the Saltwells Collieries and an incline up to the canal where the trucks were drawn up by a pair of 18 inch diameter cylinder geared engines, which also drew up narrow guage tippler waggons.
Further on towards the Dudley Wood Road was another shunt road to No. 7 and 19 pits. Opposite Dudley Wood Road was a narrow guage tramway to the canal. Further on a short way along the line were the engine sheds and stores for the area on the left with fitting shops etc. which supplied pumps winding engines and spare parts, besides housing some locomotives. Carrying on past the Golden Cross Public House and passing to the rear of Barnsleys works and continuing on to cross Bowling Green Road the line was crossed by another narrow guage tramway which went to the canal. Before crossing the Halesowen Road there was a back shunt to the Earl's No. 26 and 29 pits. After crossing the Halesowen Road the line passed and served the No. 28 pit and carried on to the Red Cow Pit, Gill Street and the Gawn Colliery. On the western side the railway passed the main engine sheds at the Wallows, here a line went to the Old Park Collieries and the landsale at Wellington Road, Dudley while another line crossed the Fens Pools. A branch leaves the main line here to serve the Wallows Fish and Commonside pits. The main line carried on to Pensnett passing under the main Dudley/Kingswinford Road at a place near to Pensnett Parish Church and down a notorious incline into the Shut End Colliery pits of Himley. Near the Crooked House, Himley was a branch built by the G.W.R. for the Earl of Dudley which went to the Baggeridge Colliery.
Recapping on the Barrow Hill incline at Pensnett a pair of engines were used here to haul trains up this incline before the introduction of larger engines. Almost at the bottom of this incline to the right was a branch running by the old brickyard to Gibbons bottom works, passing on past Hunts Mill serving No. 58 and other pits then continuing under the Himley Road to serve other pits before terminating in the top works of Gibbons Bors. Going back to the main line before reaching the Baggeridge Branch there was another shunt road to No. 23 pit at Bobs Brook near the Baggeridge Miners Welfare, Lower Gornal. This branch also served No. 6 pit passing on to the Baggeridge Branch at this point the line joins the G.W.R a branch front the nearby G.W.R line crossed the P.R. and joined with the Baggeridge Branch about 200 yards from the main P.R. Line at that point there were sidings to serve the No. 9 pit while after crossing the Crooked House Road there was a branch line to the right which crossed under the main Himley Road to No. 4A pit, this line branched off the Baggeridge line. This particular branch was laid by the G.W.R on the turn of the century for the Earl to serve the then new colliery in Baggeridge woods.
Going back to the main line it then continued passing to the left of the No. 4 pit and approximately ¾ of a mile further on it passed to the left of No. 5 pit where it veered to the left to pass the coke over sand the No. 7 pit on the right before crossing Oak Lane. After this the line went to cross Ham Lane but prior to this crossing was a left handed branch to the No. 2 pit and the branch to the No, 8 pit. After the line crossed the road at Ham Lane it continued to the manned crossing at Stallings Lane and then on towards Kingswinford Parish Church passing Prestwood Colliery. At this point the line joins the original line which ran between Corbyns Hall and Ashwood Canal Basin, At this junction the line veers to the right passing to the right of the swags (now the Park) to cross the main Kingswinford/ Wolverhampton Road near to the Bridge public house, Dawley Brook by an over Bridge (now demolished). Here I remember watching the engines shunting the landsale walf and putting the tippler waggons into the gasworks sidings when on my way to school. From here the line passed on through Wallheath and here there were several branches to various sand holes. The line then continued into the country to Greensforge and down an incline which in early days was rope wound into Ashwood Basin. Locos returning from the basin would usually bring sand from the sand holes at Wallheath to be sold at different places or for general use in the collieries or ironworks. The engine we saw most of in 1909 was one of the Wells Fargo types.
Returning to the Wallows, Brierley Hill there was line towards Dudley which followed the general direction of the main road, passing Old Park and the Power Station to Wellington Road Walf, with a shunt line to No. 25 pit, another line went to No. 22 pit and on to No. 27 and 26 pit. Several more shunt lines served No. 21 and 29 pits and others in the Old Park area.
The Earl's machine shop and factory at Castle Mill, Dudley (now the British Federal Welders) maintained all the locos and manufactured most of the colliery and associated engines. In its heyday it was one of the best engineering concerns of its day. Here were built the 12 h.p., 18 h.p. and 24 h.p. engines for winding and other purposes, some of these were slide valve engines while many of the larger engines were of the piston valve type. All engines were of standard design so interchangeability of parts made maintenance of machinery easy. This particular factory complex was served by the G.W.R. and engines for heavy maintenance were transferred to the G.W.R. at Brierley Hill for trans-
I hope that in these last short passages I have been able to give a slight idea of what it was like on the Earl's private railway where one could wander for many miles in years gone by without being interfered with or ordered off. One only had to be careful and mindful of the Flagman at the crossings and the guide who rode on the leading wagon of any train. Rakes of trucks were always pushed by the loco, and the complex of lines were yours to walk as a right.
The road crosssings that were manned had brick built round houses with a fire grate and a rough wooden seat inside, the people who manned these crossings were either elderly or disabled people who had been injured in the Earl's employment. The usual lock on most of the Earl's property was a ⅝ bolt and and the appropriate sized box spanner the key.