BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

On a bike, riding somewhere. Every day, rain or shine.

Posts tagged ‘local history’

#365daysofbiking Looking the other way

Thursday December 3rd 2020 – On an evening ride on a night as the sky was clearing, I headed along the canal to Ogley Junction, and stopped as I usually do on the bridge there, for a moment of contemplation. Normally, I take a shot of the canal back towards Anchor Bridge, but today I turned to the right instead.

Here, the canal continues in a lazy arc to Anglesey Wharf and Chasewater, but before that is passes a notorious area of Brownhills called ‘The Chemical’.

The blue factory unit over there is stood on the site of a Victorian chemical factory and later, an alloy smelting works that poisoned the land, polluted the air and led to it’s descriptive nickname.

The Chemical stood as wasteland for many years until six years ago when the new unit was built as an extension to a local factory. The contaminated soil was encapsulated beneath the new building’s floor, and held safe.

Given a few years, I doubt many folk will ever know why we call this place The Chemical.

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#365daysofbiking Life’s better by water

May 15th – As I get older and older, I find it much harder to explain to those younger, or newcomers to this town just how much things have improved here since I was a kid.

This is not trivial, or frivolous: The town I grew up in was poor, suffered terrible pollution from industry and and refuse tip at it’s heart, the waterways were rubbish filled ditches and there were very few of the trees here there are today.

I grew up in a smelly, wildlife-free post industrial wasteland.

Now, the waterways are limpid, but full of life; the smells and pollution have all but gone. Everywhere is green with trees and hedgerows. I regularly see deer, foxes and all manner of birds and bugs.

On a sunny, beautiful Friday evening in the golden hour, quiet in lockdown, it was hard to believe what this place once was.

But the memory will never fade.

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#365daysofbiking The place I love

August 15th – Some things make a place what it is, although one may not be fond of them in themselves.

And so it is with the Parkview Centre in Brownhills for me.

The former council house and for many years seat of Brownhills Urban District Council became redundant after our absorption into Walsall in 1974. After a good few years as head office for a building company, this four square, red terracotta building stood empty and decaying.

It is imposing, handsome, I guess. Very civic. It’s got a clock that used to be famously and notoriously wrong (but the clock runs to time now, remarkably). It’s part of the fabric and soul of Brownhills, but I’ve never been fond of it architecturally.

After years empty it was extended horribly insensitively and converted into a health centre and library. The extensions are hideous and completely out of step with the building, and the library, although functionally fine, is boxy and dull.

However, in recent years the flowerbed out front before the Miner Island has been beautifully maintained by a local older couple and it is a credit to them, and looks beautiful. It brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

On a decent but clouding over afternoon, it was a joy to the heart. For better or worse, this building is Brownhills, and is my hometown – and I may not be it’s greatest fan but it’s part of the place I love.

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#365daysofbiking Telling porkies

August 11th – Still ill and resting, I just went for a short ride around Brownhills, and checked out the recently controversial clearance work on the former Swingbridge Farm site off Northfields Way, between Brownhills and Clayhanger.

The farm that stood here for pretty much 200 years in one form or another finally shut in the early 90s when the adjacent housing estate was built on it’s land. After a period of dereliction, the buildings were demolished, and it seems the rubble and hardstandings were just left where they lay.

It’s possible the land has now been sold, and the owner is in the process of clearing it, and I must say I was unaware of the sheer amount of masonry and rubble remaining. This was really just a drop and run.

There is no planning application currently relevant for the site despite the gossip circulating, but tales of new estates, big houses and other baseless flapdoodle have been circulating like wildfire.

The simple fact is that nobody’s applied for anything yet and an owner is entitled to clear their own land providing the operation is environmentally lawful, and we’ll just have to wait and see.

But that won’t moderate the gossips to any degree…

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January 19th – In Darlaston’s Kings Hill, the former Servis domestic appliance factory site is soon to be transformed into housing. Once employing thousands, this ground was cleared after the company went bankrupt and lofty promises of new retail and leisure developments were made. But permission was granted for houses, which in fairness, we do need. 

A few months ago, surveyors marks appeared on the nearby pavements and roads; then ground inspection bores were made. Now the heavy plant and high vis are arriving, ready to move rubble and earth and create a new neighbourhood.

Soon, you’ll never know Servis were ever here.

August 21st – Saint Anne’s Church in Chasetown – hidden down a quiet dead end, unassuming in it’s grace and simple elegance, hides a surprising history: it was the first church in England to have electric lighting. Supplied from the pit at the bottom of the hill, the benevolence of the local mine owner led to this unique installation. Great walker, Staffordshire lover and fellow Panoramian Pedro Cutler pointed this out in his photo gallery. It just goes to show, to a nosey and inquisitive cyclist, remarkable history is all around.