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Bloxwich in Pictures – a Decade Ago

September 18, 2017 in Bloxwich, Features, Photography by Stuart Williams

Words and pictures by Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

My last post, Walsall Town Centre in Pictures – Twenty Years On, was so hugely popular, I’ve decided to reveal some more pictures from the relatively recent past!

Ten years ago this year, as Walsall Local History Centre’s photographer, I was able to undertake our first digital photographic survey of several of the main town centres within the borough, using a Canon EOS 300D (who remembers when DSLRs were 6 megapixels?!).  Because this was the Centre’s first digital survey, it was possible to take more pictures than the survey which I made of Walsall town centre twenty years ago on film, so the survey was definitely not done in a day!

To mark the 10 year anniversary of this first digital survey, then, I’m going to be publishing selected pictures from this over the next few months. This first time around, the selection of twenty photos given below is from pictures which I took of Bloxwich on the 2nd February, 2007.

Sadly, it is not practical to add ‘now’ pictures to these ‘Decade Ago’ posts, due to lack of time, but I do hope you will still find the past pictures of interest, especially the ones showing how much has changed in just a decade.

Stuart Williams

 

Click on each individual picture for a larger view 

Bloxwich Baths (then Function Hall), now demolished, 2 Feb 2007

Bloxwich Baths (then Function Hall), now demolished, 2 Feb 2007

 

Bloxwich War Memorial and All Saints Church, High St/Elmore Green Rd, 2 F eb 2007

Bloxwich War Memorial and All Saints Church, High St/Elmore Green Rd, 2 F eb 2007

 

Bloxwich Co-Op Building, 2 Feb 2007

Bloxwich Co-Op Building, 2 Feb 2007

 

Electric Palace youth centre (originally Pat Collins' Grosvenor/Odeon Cinema) and other High St buildings, 2 Feb 2007

Electric Palace youth centre (originally Pat Collins’ Grosvenor/Odeon Cinema) and other High St buildings, 2 Feb 2007

 

Bloxwich Library (now Bloxwich District Library) and Bloxwich Library Theatre, Elmore Row, 2 Feb 2007

Bloxwich Library (now Bloxwich District Library) and Bloxwich Library Theatre, Elmore Row, 2 Feb 2007

 

The George pub, now Bloxwich Hardware, High St, 2 Feb 2007

The George pub, now Bloxwich Hardware, High St, 2 Feb 2007

 

Woolworths, now Bright House, High St, 2 Feb 2007

Woolworths, now Bright House, High St, 2 Feb 2007

 

Corner of Victoria Avenue and High St, 2 Feb 2007

Corner of Victoria Avenue and High St, 2 Feb 2007

 

Bloxwich High St and beginning of Queens Parade, 2 Feb 2007

Bloxwich High St and beginning of Queens Parade, 2 Feb 2007

 

The Carousel, now The Lady Diana, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

The Carousel, now The Lady Diana, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

The Bull's Head, now demolished, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

The Bull’s Head, now demolished, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

Former Bloxwich 1832 Methodist Chapel, Wood's Picture Palace, Pat Collins' workshop and Bert Brittain's factory, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

Former Bloxwich 1832 Methodist Chapel, Wood’s Picture Palace, Pat Collins’ workshop and Bert Brittain’s factory, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

Bloxwich Fountain before restoration, Promenade Gardens, 2 Feb 2007

Bloxwich Fountain before restoration, Promenade Gardens, 2 Feb 2007

 

P. Baughan Electrical, now long closed, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

P. Baughan Electrical, now long closed, Park Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

The Turf Tavern, Wolverhampton Rd, 2 Feb 2007

The Turf Tavern, Wolverhampton Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

The Cottage (a restored Georgian cottage, once abandoned), 69 Sandbank, 2 Feb 2007

The Cottage (a restored Georgian cottage, once abandoned), 69 Sandbank, 2 Feb 2007

 

The two Romping Cats (the chip shop was the original, the present was the Sandbank Tavern until 1957), Elmore Green Rd, 2 Feb 2007

The two Romping Cats (the chip shop was the original, the present was the Sandbank Tavern until 1957), Elmore Green Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

Spring Cottage pub, Elmore Green Rd, 2 Feb 2007

Spring Cottage pub, Elmore Green Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

Bloxwich United Services Club (now long closed), Elmore Green Rd, 2 Feb 2007

Bloxwich United Services Club (now long closed), Elmore Green Rd, 2 Feb 2007

 

Thatched House Tavern, now converted into a shop, Elmore Green Road, 2 Feb 2007

Thatched House Tavern, now converted into a shop, Elmore Green Road, 2 Feb 2007

 

 

When the Maharajas’ ‘Ghost Trains’ ran through Walsall

June 26, 2017 in Features, Jack Haddock, Railways, Walsall by Stuart Williams

Aerial view showing the old Walsall Station (bottom right) and the railway running north towards Bloxwich under Park St, c1930

Aerial view showing the old Walsall Station (bottom right) and the railway running north towards Bloxwich under Park St, c1930

By Stuart Williams and Jack Haddock

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

Some years ago I wrote a series of local history newspaper articles about Walsall transport, based on the memories of the remarkable Jack Haddock.  Walsall’s finest and most prolific transport historian, Jack has sadly since passed away and become part of history himself, much like the subject of this piece, which I decided to revisit after a trip to the Tyseley Locomotive Works last Saturday.

Long before my own time, during the 1930s, ‘The Ghost Train’, so Jack told me, was the name given to a special goods train which worked through the old Walsall Railway Station, which was then far bigger than the present stop.  The train concerned was a special out of gauge load running from Washwood Heath sidings, near the centre of Birmingham, to Birkenhead Docks on Merseyside.

During the days of the Indian Empire, various Maharajas (Indian princes or kings) owned their own personal and luxurious railway coaches.  These private carriages were manufactured at the Metro-Cammel Coachworks, in Washwood Heath.  These coaches were the last word in design splendour, incorporating gold plated bathroom and toilet facilities.  However, being built to a larger size than the standard British Railway carriages, such large luxury coaches caused problems when moving on our more limited gauge railway system. For the conveyance of non-standard railway loads, the railway companies built special low-load bogie wagons with the centre bottom only just above rail level.  Also, side hand screw jacks enabled a load to be moved sideways to avoid bridge or tunnel obstructions.  Thus these special wagons were used on special working through Walsall Station.

The unusual out of gauge load left Washwood Heath on late Saturday evening after the last passenger trains had finished their run.  It was routed over the old Midland line via Walsall then onto the Grand Junction line to Bushbury junction and Stafford, then diverting to the Great Western Railway system at Shrewsbury, who then worked it to Birkenhead Docks, arriving in the early hours of Monday morning.

Walsall Station flooded, showing the tunnel entrances under the station concourse and Park Street, 1927 (W.B. Shaw)

Walsall Station flooded, showing the tunnel entrances under the station concourse and Park Street, 1927 (W.B. Shaw)

It appears that Walsall Station was a major problem on this route.  The main bottleneck was the Park Street Tunnel with its limited clearances.  Also, Walsall Station regulations applied permissive working within its station limits, controlled by Walsall signal boxes 2 and 3. The regulations permitted locomotives to work ‘wrong line’ for attaching and detaching coaches on vans to local passenger trains.  This wrong line movement procedure was always referred to by railwaymen as ‘Bang Road’, the meaning of which would be obvious if signalling rules were ignored!  Very strict rules were applied to this practice and accidents were unknown in Walsall Station, fortunately.

To assist in these movements, many small ‘call on’ or ‘dwarf’ signals were positioned trackside at ground level facing the up and down sides of Walsall Station, including a number beneath the confines of Park Street Tunnel.  To enable these special out of gauge loads to move under Park Street it was deemed necessary to remove some of these ‘call on’ signals from their bases to relieve any obstruction to the passing ‘Ghost Train’ and also to save time.  Accordingly, the Walsall permanent way engineers at their New Mills depot would receive orders to dismantle these signals at the appropriate times.  This meant much welcome overtime for the local permanent way men.

After the first out of gauge load movement was successfully undertaken, a finalised plan was established to enable the future movements of these special Maharajas’ personal coaches to work to a timetable.

A 'Tommy Dodd' ground level shunting signal (bottom right) in Walsall Station, 1961. British Rail Fowler 4-6-0 locomotive 'Blackpool' waits with the Pines Express. (Jack Haddock)

A ‘Tommy Dodd’ ground level shunting signal (bottom right) in Walsall Station, 1961. British Rail Fowler 4-6-0 locomotive ‘Blackpool’ waits with the Pines Express. (Jack Haddock)

Permanent way staff, now long retired or passed away themselves, so Jack Haddock told me, were of the opinion that Walsall Station was the biggest problem on the route to Birkenhead.  It is many decades later now, and this historical aspect of the long-gone British Empire is but a memory, preserved locally in Jack’s writings. In those writings, culled from the memories of  Walsall’s old railwaymen, permanent way staff, signalmen and drivers, one otherwise forgotten connection remains to that era of Walsall Station, preserved in the traditions concerning a certain permanent way worker said to have been involved in the dismantling and installing of the Walsall Station call on or ‘dwarf’ signals.

This man was one Mr. Thomas Dodd, a very loyal and efficient track worker, so Jack Haddock was told, who was unusual in that he was very small in stature, his height being several inches below five feet.  Inevitably, perhaps, his colleagues began to refer to all these small ‘call on’ signals as ‘Tommy Dodds’, in honour of this diminutive permanent way worker.  Over the following years and indeed to the present day when all these mechanical dwarf signals have been replaced by small coloured light ground signals for shunt movements, they are still sometimes referred to even in the modern diesel and electric railway age, within the vicinity of Walsall, as ‘Tommy Dodds’.

Today, whenever Tommy Dodd’s name is mentioned, perhaps we should all think of that bygone age when Walsall’s transport system was closely linked with a much bigger world, and the Maharajas’ ‘Ghost Trains’ ran through Walsall Station in the days of the Indian Raj.

45632  ‘Tonga’ on the Down Middle Loop plus 45662 ‘Kempenfelt’ (Pines Express) on Down Slow, Platform 1, Walsall Station, summer of 1959.  (Jack Haddock)

45632 ‘Tonga’ on the Down Middle Loop plus 45662 ‘Kempenfelt’ (Pines Express) on Down Slow, Platform 1, Walsall Station, summer of 1959. (Jack Haddock)

 Stuart Williams

Saint Mary’s in the Alder Village

June 20, 2017 in Aldridge, Features by Stuart Williams

St. Mary’s Church, The Croft and farm, Aldridge, early 20th century.

St. Mary’s Church, The Croft and farm, Aldridge, early 20th century.

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

The settlement at Aldridge dates from at least the Anglo-Saxon period.  Known as ‘Alrewic’ or the ‘Alder village’, it was already a thriving little agricultural community by the time of Domesday Book (1086), some twenty years after the Norman Conquest.  Aldridge is listed in the Domesday survey as farmland held by ‘Robert’ from his lord, William Fitz Ansculf, who was a major landholder in theWest Midlands.  From this period Aldridge was part of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge, but Aldridge was subsequently granted as an inferior manor to a local family.

In the Middle Ages, the Manor was held by a number of important local families, such as the Hillarys and the Mountforts, who were associated withWalsall.  The Jordans, a family of minor landowners in medieval times had risen to the status of lords of the manor by the 17th century and by the late 18th century the manor was in the hands of the well-known Croxall family from Shustoke.

Aldridge Church prior to 1798, with the old rectory.

Aldridge Church prior to 1798, with the old rectory.

The parish church of Aldridge, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, was originally thought to date back to around 1250, but in recent years a charter has come to light at Stafford Record Office which, although undated, belongs to the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th.  This concerns Robert de Barr, with one witness being Drogo of Aldridge and the other Widon, parson of Aldridge.  It contradicts the theory that the church was founded by Nicholas de Alrewych (of Aldridge), a minor official of Cannock Forest whose family received the manor of Aldridge in the 13th century and took their name from the village.

The effigy in the chancel of the present church was formerly thought to be of this Nicholas de Alrewych, but it is apparently that of a 14th century priest, which makes it more likely to be Roger de Elyngton, a rector of Aldridge c1345, who founded a chantry chapel and was given a position of honour as a resting place.

The church, which has been altered many times, probably replaced an original wooden building.  The oldest part is the nave and chancel, with a 13th century chapel being added on to the north side.  This was soon extended to form the north aisle.  The western tower and a short south aisle were added in the 14thcentury.  Later, a gallery was built over the north aisle for the schoolboys and another across the belfry arch for the girls.

Box pews belonging to local families faced in every direction and there were almost no seats for the poor of the parish.  The ground floor of the tower was used as a vestry.

Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Aldridge, c1920

Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Aldridge, c1920.

The bells were cast in 1738, and the clock was installed by 1754.  The Rev. Jeremiah Finch Smith was the first Rector of Aldridge after Barr had been made a separate parish in 1849.  He was instrumental in restoring and improving the church in the 1850’s.  A new aisle and vestry were added, the galleries demolished and the nave opened into the lower part of the tower.

The old pews were taken out and new ones, later replaced in their turn, were installed.  They were apparently the first pews without doors to be installed in Staffordshire.  Extra seats were added for the poor.

The font was given in 1853 by Mary Ann Allport in memory of her parents.  In 1881 the church was lit by gas as a memorial to Edward Tongue.  A new vestry was added in 1975.

St Mary's Church, Aldridge, mid 20th century

St Mary’s Church, Aldridge, mid 20th century.

Saint Mary’s Church remains one of the finest and most interesting buildings in Aldridge, especially since so much else was demolished in the 1960’s.   It continues to form the historic centre of this ancient town, once the ‘Alder Village’.

Stuart Williams

In Old Willenhall Town

June 13, 2017 in Features, Willenhall by Stuart Williams

Market Place and Dr Tonks' Memorial Clock, Willenhall, c1904

Market Place and Dr Tonks’ Memorial Clock, Willenhall, c1904

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

Willenhall (then known as Willenhalch, Anglo-Saxon for ‘the meadowland of Willan’) was first mentioned in the eighth century, when King Ethelbald of Mercia signed a treaty there.  Domesday Book (1086) records ‘Willenhala’ as a very small settlement.

In the Middle Ages, Willenhall was a small agricultural village with a chapel, within the parish of Wolverhampton.  It was not until 1840 that Willenhall had its own parish church, St. Giles; the present church dates from 1867.

Original St Giles' Church, Willenhall, c1865

Original St Giles’ Church, Willenhall, c1865

In 1666, Willenhall’s population was about 300.  In the 1700’s, however, iron and coal began to be fully exploited and the population increased dramatically.  The town grew up around Market Place and Stafford Street with many tiny streets crammed with houses, workshops and pubs. Read the rest of this entry →

Some Old Pubs of Bloxwich

June 5, 2017 in Bloxwich, Features, Pubs by Stuart Williams

The original pre-1834 Wheatsheaf pub, on what is now Field Road, Bloxwich, showing the landlord Mr William Purchase and a Bloxwich Peeler (policeman), about 1861. The present building is late Victorian.

The original pre-1834 Wheatsheaf pub, on what is now Field Road, Bloxwich, showing the landlord Mr William Purchase and a Bloxwich Peeler (policeman), about 1861. The present building is late Victorian.

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

The old English village of Bloxwich was always famed for its historic pubs, though sadly many have been lost over time.  We will consider just a few here.

The Royal Exchange, Stafford Road, 10 May 2009 (Stuart Williams)

The Royal Exchange, Stafford Road, 10 May 2009 (Stuart Williams)

Most Bloxwich ‘locals’ date from the late 1800s-1900s, when many ancient inns were swept away.  One exception is Bloxwich’s oldest surviving pub, the fine old Georgian ‘Royal Exchange’ in Stafford Road.  Built in the late 1700s the ‘Exchange’ was added to in the early 1800s when it was described as being on the ‘Short Heath’ (the village green, now Bloxwich Park).  Read the rest of this entry →

Remembering Old Rushall

June 1, 2017 in Books, Features, Rushall by Stuart Williams

Rushall Central Club and Coffee House, where the library now stands, 1930s.

Rushall Central Club and Coffee House, where the library now stands, 1930s.

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

The village of Rushall, near Walsall, is first mentioned in Domesday Book (William the Conqueror’s survey of 1086).

The name means ‘a place in marshy ground where rushes grow’.  Its first church was a chapel of Walsall, but the independent-minded lords of Rushall soon secured a parish.  In 1440 John Harpur rebuilt Rushall Church on the chapel-site next to his Hall.  It was rebuilt 1854-6, the old square tower remaining until 1867. Read the rest of this entry →

Walsall’s Grand Old Railway Station

May 11, 2017 in Features, Railways, Walsall by Stuart Williams

By Stuart Williams

Senior Archives/Conservation Assistant

South Staffordshire Railway Station building, Station Street, Walsall, taken by Mr John Whiston about 1965.

South Staffordshire Railway Station building, Station Street, Walsall, taken by Mr John Whiston about 1965.

Back in the ‘good old days’, Walsall was adorned by a grand railway station, the heart of the town’s transport system.  The first railway line through Walsall –  the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Warrington – had opened in 1837, with a station at Bescot Bridge.  In 1847 the South Staffordshire Railway opened a temporary station in Bridgeman Place, linking with the Grand Junction line.  The Wichnor Junction line to Dudley opened in 1849, connecting with the Walsall section.  A magnificent new station building, designed by Queen Mary’s Grammar School ‘Old Boy’ Edward Adams, was built for the South Staffordshire Railway in Station Street. Read the rest of this entry →