BCN Branches and Byeways


by Ray Shill



13. Pelsall Waterways



When it was decided to hold the BCN Summer Rally away from Titford, Ray agreed that it would be appropriate to base his research for this article on the area where it was to be held, Pelsall. Unfortunately the rally was postponed but we will be ready for next year with the information Ray has put together here:-

The Wyrley and Essington was the navigation that served the community and industries of the district around Pelsall. This was an area that became known for coal mining and iron smelting and a lesser extent engineering.
It was a waterway surveyed by William Pitt and constructed principally by John Brawn. The first plan was to join Wolverhampton with the mines at Essington with a branch from Sneyd to Birchills near Walsall. This design changed with the additional powers granted to make the Extension Canal, which linked Birchills with the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford creating a through waterway that linked Wolverhampton with the East Midlands navigable waterways.

Pelsall lay on the route of the Extension Canal. This was as convoluted as the original line to Essington and Birchills. It served areas initially noted for coal mining. There were mines at Brownhills when the Canal was constructed and at Pelsall Common.

The Wyrley and Essington Canal provided the means of developing the mines and several private branches were constructed. Early connections included the link to the Brownhills mines, a branch across Pelsall Common and a short branch to serve Pelsall Ironworks.
When the Wyrley & Essington Extension Act was approved, a clause was inserted that enabled Phineas Hussey to build a branch canal to the Brownhills Coal Works. This branch was subsequently built, and became known as the Slough Arm. There was a lock near Engine Lane, which raised the canal arm to a higher level. Water suply for the arm, it is presumed, was turned into the branch by the pumping engine.

The Pelsall Common Branch can be attributed to William James and Co who arranged for the construction of alink to the pits and shafts then in work. It was a waterway that hadone bridge the carried the turnpike road over this waterway. Construction commenced about the yeay 1811. Principal coal pits were placed near the terminus on the west side of the road.

James had various mineral interests including Birchills Colliery (Wyrley & Essington Canal), various mines around Wednesbury ( BCN Balls Hill Branch) and the Wyken Colliery (Oxford Canal).
William James, himself, had a very complicated life, which included various canal and railway engineering projects, such as the Stratford & Moreton Tramway. Had the situation been different he might have received a genuine acknowledgement for his part in getting the Liverpool and Manchester Railway completed. James' empire unfortunately collapsed following a period in debtor's prison (1822-23) and then bankruptcy (1823). The mineral estate was sold and divided up. The Pelsall Common branch came to serve mines owned by George Gilpin, which included the pits known as Newlands, which he leased from 1835. The private canal came to be known as Gilpin's Arm.

George Gilpin handed over his interest in the Newlands pits to Bernard Gilpin, who passed on the responsibility to Elias Crapperand W Brocksop during 1875, Mining ceased in 1880 and the canal had seemingly little use after this period. There was a steam powered pumping engine that came to be owned by the Bloomer family, which drained the mines and passed water into the Gilpin's Arm. The following reference mentions an agreement for the supply of water:

Birmingham Canal Proprietors Minutes 29th December 1871,
Minute 1870
With reference to minute 1749 "Bloomers Engine", that Mr Williams himself, and the engineer had arranged with Mr Bloomer to pay him 5 a lock for all water pumped by him into the canal by his Newland Engine and his No 8 Engine an indicator being fixed to each engine.

Water supply was an important issue. Cannock Chase Reservoir provided an increasing amount of water as the dam was enlarged and raised and eventually a second dam added. Coal mining also supplied water through agreements with the owners and this was a particular significant supply for the Bilston and Tipton districts in South Staffordshire.
Gilpins Arm therefore acted as a feeder for the water despatched from the Newlands Engine and the neaby No 8 pit. Yet by the time the First Ordnance Survey, the west part of Gilpin's Arm beyond the road hadbeen closed off and the branch terminatedat the former bridge.

The other Pelsall private waterway has no name, but was the short curved branch that served another group of pits north of the canal on Pelsall Wood. Development of these mines began after 1824 and this was principally done by a Wolverhampton banker, Richard Fryer, who was also instrumental in the establishment of a pair of iron smelting furnaces alongside the 'main linw' between 1831 and 1832. This iron making operation began as the Pelsall Iron Company and initially comprised a smelting furnace and forge. This property passed to William Fleeming Fryer and during 1850, Bloomer and Davis.
Richard Fryer was keen to improve the canal communications to Pelsall and helped promote the Birmingham, Walsall and Liverpool Junction Canal that was essentially three separate waterways proposed in 1825, which linked the BCN, Wyrley and Essington, Staffordshire and Worcestershire and Trent and Mersey. Part of the route formed roughly the course that was to become the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, Hatherton Branch. It was a scheme that failed but might have put the Pelsall Ironworks at the crossroads of an important canal highway. As it was Pelsall developed principally through the links to a national railway network.

This partnership of Boaz Bloomer and Thomas Davis created the base for further expansion as Boaz Bloomer and Sons. This trade was enlarged to include a pair of two new smelting furnaces and three separate ironworks laid out alongside the banks of the Wyrley and Essington Canal.
As a result of the ironworks expansion and the new branch to Hednesford (the Cannock Extension), the private cut to Pelsall Wood became disused and part was covered by spoil from the ironworks expansion. A section remained and can be seen on the First Ordnance Survey. Pelsall Ironworks became more rail orientated and the sidings, lines to the pits and various ironworks were linked with the London and North Western Railway during 1865.

The canal, however, remained important with an interchange basin provided to enable the transit of coals between rail wagon and narrowboat. Pelsall Ironworks was acquired by the Pelsall Coal and Iron Company in 1873 and was noted for the rolling of wide sections strip and bar iron rolled at the mills.
They remained in operation until the winter of 1891 and were often offered for sale. The mines were purchased by the Walsall Wood Colliery Company but the ironworks plant and furnaces found no buyer and were sold of as part of a general dismantling sale during the autumn of 1892.

The railway was retained to serve the mines and was later used by Freakleys to dismantle the slag mounds.

It is significant fact that the Pelsall Mines supplied water to the BCN at one time.

In our present time water supply to the former Wyrley and Essington is derived from Chasewater. Repairs from May 2010 will deprive the Wyrley canal of an important water source. Such is he concern of the lack of water that an arranged boating festival at Pelsall has been cancelled. It is a pity that the water source provided from the Newlands engine shaft cannot be utilised again.
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