Walsall Wood Past and Present
The Village of Walsall Wood was a thriving community with a Colliery, Railway Station, busy shops in the High Street, and a variety of industries all located around the Church of St Johns. Sadly over the years the industry and retail shopping have gradually declined.
Situated on the High St, Saint Johns Church is the focal point of the village.Built with Staffordshire blue engineering bricks in 1837, the church was originally consecrated in the parish of Walsall, but became a separate district in 1845, and was then known as district of St John Walsall Wood.
The Church was extended in 1886 and again in 1896 using ordinary red brickwork. The organ was installed in 1896 and in 1903 a 4 ft diameter clock was fitted in the tower side facing the High Street. A war memorial stands in front of the Church, inscribed with the names of the Walsall Wood people who gave their lives in the two world wars. Also in the Church is a miner’s lamp engraved with the names of the miners who lost their lives in the 1930 Grove Pit disaster.
Saint Johns Church February 2010, in the process of having a new roof fitted.
Walsall Wood was built around the mining industry. Known locally as The Coppy Pit, Walsall Wood Colliery, was opened in 1874
Two brick-lined shafts, each of 15 feet in diameter were sunk to a depth of 576 yards. The cages used to transport the miners to and from the pit bottom, and to bring the coal to the surface, were of 2 deck construction. Fitted onto the cages was a large water tank which was used to remove the water that had seeped into the workings.
A furnace was initially installed in the pit bottom, to ventilate the mine. It was replaced by an electric fan system in 1950.
In the first half of the 20th Century, a total of 1000 people were employed throughout the site, along with 50 to 60 pit ponies who rarely came to the surface.
Each week 6500 tons off coal left the site in Lindon Road. Being adjacent to the Wyrley and Essington canal, coal was loaded directly into narrow boats, for distribution by water. Links by rail were via the Midland Railway line to Aldridge, and a token operated single track line, direct to the marshalling yard at Norton Junction, Pelsall. Details of these railway lines can be found on other pages in this blog.
Like most Collieries Walsall Wood operated its own steam locomotives.
One of the Walsall Wood locomotives was 0-6-0 Lord Kitchener (photo courtesy of chasewaterstuff)
During the early 1960’s, the coal seams gradually diminished, and were eventually exhausted by 1964. The Colliery finally closed on October the 30th 1964.
For a short time after the closure, the mine workings were used to dispose of Industrial waste from Leigh Environmental, trading as Effluent Disposal.
The site of the old Colliery is now used as an industrial estate.
Some of the original buildings in Lindon Road, have been converted into industrial units.
A memorial to the Colliery, was erected in January 2010. Standing 60 feet tall the pit head replica is the largest of its type in the world, and stands in Oak Park close to the site of the old coppy pit.
The monument was designed and built by Luke Perry and his team from Industrial Heritage Stronghold.
Another major industry in Walsall Wood since 1775, was the manufacture of bricks. The ground around Walsall Wood is rich with red clay known as Etruria Marl which is used to produce the famous Staffordshire Blue engineering brick. Due to its high strength, and its very low rate of water absorbtion, it was used mainly for foundations, as well as being widely used in the canal and railway industries, for general buildings and bridges. Open cast mines were excavated on the Aldridge side of Walsall Wood to cope with the high demand for this extremely useful product.
Most major Collieries had their own brickworks, and the Coppy pit was no exception, when in the 1870’s the colliery and brickworks were opened side by side in Paul’s Coppice. Being adjacent to the Wyrley and Essington canal, 2 basins were constructed, one for the colliery and the other for the brick works, to enable the end products to be loaded directly into narrow boats, for nationwide canal transportation. Distribution by rail was via the Midland Railway line to Aldridge, and a single track line direct to the marshalling yard at Norton Junction Pelsall. The brick works at Walsall Wood Colliery closed down in the 1920’s.
Further brick yards were opened around the open cast mines in Stubbers Green, and a rail link cut through Shelfield, to connect with the Walsall to Lichfield line at Pelsall.
There were 6 major brickworks in the area, Barnett & Beddows, Atlas Brickworks, Empire Brickworks, Vigo Brickworks, Joberns Brickworks, and Aldridge Brick and Tile who manufactured the Utopia brick.
Road transport gradually replaced rail logistics and eventually the rail line closed.
There are only two brick manufacturers left in the area now, namely Salverson in Stubbers Green, and Ibstock, in Brickyard Road, who took over Aldridge Brick and Tile in 1965.
The Aldridge branch of the Midland Railway, built-in 1882 to transport freight from Norton Canes and the Cannock Chase coalfields, passed through the centre of Walsall Wood. A station was built on the land now known as Oak Park, adjacent to Lichfield road, and a passenger service commenced in 1884.
The passenger service ceased in 1931 but coal traffic lasted until 1962 when the line eventually closed.
A children’s play area now occupies the site of the old station.
In 1904 a single track tramway was constructed from the terminus, opposite St Johns Church, into Walsall Town Centre
Lasting until 1927 the trams were then replaced by motor buses.
In April 1951 a more modern bus drives over the narrow hump back bridge at the end of the High Street.
A footbridge was under construction for the safety of pedestrians to negotiate this dangerous bridge
Photographed in July 2010 the next photo shows how a major reconstruction of the bridge, incorporated a much wider roadway, with a more friendlier gradient, with footpaths on both sides.
One of the latest Travel West Midlands buses, leaves the High Street on its way to Walsall August 2010
Situated at the corner of Brook Lane, and Lichfield road, was a parcel delivery firm. Formed in the early 20th century by Charles Collins, it was originally called Collins parcel delivery specialists
Using a fleet of blue painted Bedford vans, the company offered a daily parcel delivery and collection service, within a 50 mile radius from their Walsall Wood base.
In the late 1960’s Collins Express Parcel Service, as it was then called, formed part of United Carriers. With the head office based in Wellingborough, it had 22 depots in the UK and with 3000 personnel, it offered a nationwide parcel service. Each depot ran a fleet of mainly Bedford vans in the new yellow livery, delivering and collecting in their locality.
A nightly trunking service ran between each depot using ERF articulated vehicles.
Each depot employed a night-shift, of sorter/loaders who ensured that the delivery vans were loaded for the next day’s delivery.
The French company Geodis bought out United Carriers in 1999, and then in 2002 they ceased trading with a job loss of 92 employees at the Walsall Wood depot.
A number of houses have been built, on the large piece of land, made available by the company closing down.
In the days before the extensive coverage of television, entertainment was by means of local cinemas. Most towns had at least one cinema and Walsall Wood was no exception. Situated in Brookland Road, the Palace Cinema, or the Blood Tub, as it was known locally,opened in 1913.
The noise coming from the steel corrugated roof in heavy rain, made it extremely difficult to hear the soundtrack of the film.
The late 1950’s saw the demise of many local cinema’s, and the Palace finally closed in June 1957.
A block of flats were erected on the land, when the cinema was demolished.
Walsall and District Co-op Society opened a store in the High Street opposite the Church, and offered a milk delivery service, using a horse-drawn milk float.
A new store was built on the corner of High Street, and Coppice Road.
It was converted to a self-service store in May 1957.
The store closed in the late 1970’s.
Walsall Council built a neighbourhood office on the site of the Co-op store in 1981. With the re-organisation of Walsall council the office was closed in 2005. In 2007 Walsall Wood library was re-located from their old building in Lichfield Road into the vacant neighbourhood office.
Education in Walsall Wood was provided by the Lichfield road school of St Johns, which was opened in 1859.
It was then relocated to Brook lane in the late 1970’s.
The school at Streets Corner was opened in 1903, with Mr Street as the Headmaster. This is how Streets Corner acquired its name.
In later years, further Schools were built-in the outer areas of Walsall Wood. Castlefort School opened in 1960, and Shire Oak Grammer opened in 1961. Shire Oak Secondary modern opened in 1966, and then later merged with the Grammer school to form Shire Oak Comprehensive.
Apart from St Johns Church, other places of worship have been built-in Walsall Wood.
Built in 1878 on the Walsall Road, between the canal and Hall lane, was the old Westley Church.
In later years the Church was used as a Sunday School, followed by Hawkins & sons, organ factory, and H B Case leather works.
In 1902, a new Westley Church was built-in the High Street, opposite where St Johns surgery now stands.
This was closed in 1959 and demolished as part of the bridge and road development.
On Lichfield Road towards Streets Corner, was the Methodist Church, together with the adjacent Sunday School.
A present day photo shows the Church, standing alone, with the Sunday School having been demolished.
As well as the Co-op, many other shops have come and gone, in the Lichfield Road and the High Street, including the following.
Bayleys ran a shop at Streets Corner.
It was later changed to a Hairdressers, to be run by Mary Bayley, who is the little girl in the above photo. Now taken over by David James, the shop is still in business as a hairdressing establishment.
One of the larger stores in Lichfield Road was Batkins General Store.
Today the building is used by Roadrunner which is a thriving car spares and accessories company.
On the corner of Beech Tree Road and the High Street was Emery’s Drapers.
In later years it was used by Whynott Cycles, until the shop was demolished and the area landscaped.
Jesse Shilvock ran a small one man cobbler shop for 17 years in the High Street.
After his retirement the shop was taken over by a motor cycle spares company, but a sign outside, suggests that another change of use is on the cards.
Opposite St Johns Church was Headley’s shop.
It as since been used by the Midland Bank, opening Tuesday and Thursday only. Then a pet shop, followed by Ashcroft Funerals and Memorials. When Ashcroft re-located, the building was a fruit and veg shop for a short time before its present use as a sandwich shop.
A small general store in the High Street was originally run by Mrs Boucher.
It was taken over by Mrs Williams, who ran it until her retirement, in the 1990’s.
Today the shop premises forms part of the Drunken Duck’s extension.
Side by side was Bill Holmes Greengrocer, and Don Smith Butcher’s shops. After Bill Holmes retired, the greengrocer’s shop, was run by Don’s wife Chris. When Don & Chris retired in 2005, Ashcroft Funeral Directors and memorials, re-located from opposite St Johns Church, into the two vacant buildings.
On the Walsall side of Don Smiths, would have been the new Westley Church, and Ecob’s Chemists.
Sadly both buildings have now gone, demolished as part of the road and bridge development.
Like most mining villages Walsall Wood has had its share of public houses. In the first part of the 20th Century there were four pubs on the Walsall side of the canal bridge. Standing on the corner of Boatmans Lane was the Boot Inn
On the same side of the road between Boatmans Lane and the canal, was the Travellers Rest.
The Coach and Horses, which was opposite the Travellers Rest, sold Blencowe’s Beer.
The fourth pub in the vicinity was the Horse and Jockey.
The four public houses, were sacrificed for industrial development, and a new drinking establishment, was built on the land behind the old Horse and Jockey. Originally called the Poachers Pocket, it as since been re-named The Horse and Jockey.
The Hawthorn stood in the High Street
After a few changes in name and structure, over the years, it is now known as the Drunken Duck.
Also in the High Street was the Red Lion.
After modernisation it is now known as The Boatmans Rest
A more recent drinking house is the Royal Exchange.
Situated in Hall Lane was The Beehive.
Since it closed as a public house, it as been, a Foundry, Flats, and is now an Engineering Factory owned by Niken.
At the end of Hall Lane was the old Black Cock.
A new pub was built, retaining the name, on the corner of Hall Lane and Green Lane.
On the site of Wally Evans Car Sales, in the High Street, is the new St Johns Medical Centre, re-located from Beech Tree Road.
The old site in Beech Tree Road as been re-developed and a Care Home built.
Since I moved into Walsall Wood during 1971, there have been many changes to the High Street. From those early days, only three business’s remain the same. The Transport Cafe, although having had numerous owners, still caters for locals, and passing lorry drivers, who can park on the lorry park at the rear.
Last but not least Trevor, who, even after his heart by-pass surgery, still operates his one man Gents Hairdressers, as he as done for the past 40 years or more.
One of the later shops to open in the High Street is the Spar Shop.
The store which includes a Post Office, is a thriving business open from 6-00am, until 8-00pm daily, and is a credit to the proprietors Rash and Lata Patel, who along with all their staff are very friendly and helpful.