Saturday, 22 November 2014

Friday, 24 October 2014

GEC Poster, 1920

Poster depicting several buildings of the GEC in 1920, including several in Witton. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Bromford Mill & Forge, West Bromwich

A couple of months ago we visited Bromford rolling mill in West Bromwich; above is how it looked in the late 1980s from the air, the Birmingham to Wolverhampton  canal cutting through the site, which opened in 1777. But Bromford mill is older than the canal, and was there using the waters of the River Tame from at least the early 1600s. The river is just out of shot at the bottom of the image. Bill Venables, who has worked at Bromford for the last 30 years, showed us around the mill.

Up until the late 20th century there were a number of industries that could trace their roots back to medieval mills along the river, but all but one, Bromford, have gone now. Photos below by Ian Stenson (visit his website here).

Bromford Mill was bought in 1610 by William Turton the Younger and used as a 'blade mill', grinding sword blades, which would have probably been made and finished elsewhere, but brought to the mill for sharpening. Ten years later Turton bought more land including 'Smithie Leasow', a nearby pasture, where there were 'all manner of pooles, stagnes, waters, lands and watercourses'. The name of the pasture suggests that the mill had been being used as a 'smithie' for some time.

By the end of the century, in 1693, Joseph Carles(s), a Birmingham whitesmith (basically a tin worker), bought the mill and converted it into 'an iron forge or flatting mill'; taking down much of the original mill and enlarging the mill pool. The Carless family were a big Birmingham and Black Country metal working family, and their steel mills in Birmingham helped the Birmingham streets ring out with the sound of hammers. The family owned the mill through the mid 1700s when it was used for making edge tools.

In the late 1700s the mill as owned by the Abney family, descendants of the Turton's, and they lived in and worked nearby mills too. They witnessed the coming of the canal that cut behind them, and wrote to Matthew Boulton asking him to advise on an expansion, probably wanted to keep up with the industrial changes of the time. Towards the end of the century the mill was making wire.

In 1800 the renowned Black Country iron founders, Wright & Jesson, took over the mill, adding to their collection of other iron forges along the River Tame, such as Old Forge. Nine years later, after marrying Jesson's daughter, a man called Samuel Dawes became partner in the firm. It was at about this time that the river was abandoned as other forms of power came into play and Bromford moved closer to the canal, leaving the old mill behind to be run by the Izon family, another Tame dwelling family with mills along the river.

Next it was the railway that came through, it was completed in 1851 and cut the original mill site in half, the pools were drained and the site used for Oldbury Carriage and Wagon Works. The original water powered mill was gone, but the business that had grown from it prospered by the new waters of the canal.

Photos above by Ian Stenson, visit his website:

From Men & Things of Modern England, 1858. 
Map from the 1880s showing Bromford Iron Works. GREEN shows the canal and the site
of the new Bromford Iron Works. BLUE shows the River Tame and the site of the original
water powered mill. 

A Tour Around Hemphill Castings, Bromford

I went on a visit with Ian Stenson, to Hemphill Castings, which is run by Terry Knowles, and who inherited the foundry from his uncle. On the day we visited Terry showed us round and Kevin was working making aluminium castings.

The aluminium is heated by gas in the furnace, the metal placed inside a crucible which can resist the incredibly high temperatures, the office mannequin, below, showed us an unused crucible.

Kevin making parts for lights that will be sent to France when complete.
These photographs were taken by Ian Stenson, who has been working taking photographs for the project- you can view more of his work on his website.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Researching Our Witton Walk: Phyllis Nicklin's Photographs #1

A few weeks ago, Jenni and some of our Tame Past Present Future volunteers took a stroll around Witton and along the Tame towards Salford Bridge, now situated underneath Spaghetti Junction. We will be producing a heritage walk through the area, so we were testing the route, finding out about the history, as well as using Phyllis Nicklin's photographs from the 1960s to explore how the area has changed. Nicklin was a geography lecturer at Birmingham University in the 1950s and 1960s, and as part of her work she took hundreds of images around Birmingham. We've pinpointed those taken in Witton and along the River Tame, and during the walk everyone was clicking away recording the industry in the area, and also trying to retake Nicklin's images.

Here is a selection of Phyllis Nicklin's photographs and the images taken by myself and our volunteers as we walked around the area.


The original image (see above) shows the River Tame flowing beneath the old canal bridge. The Hockley Brook, which was clearly visible joining the river in 1963, is now obscured by greenery.

By Albert Blakeway


The following two images show the entrance to Witton's GEC, that in 1964 employed about 9000 people. Today (2014) the GEC is closed and most of its buildings have been demolished; though, the main building is listed, a gate post remains, as does a rather shabby looking electric lamp post (one of presumably many that would have lined the entrance). Around the back, along the canal, a chimney stands too.

GEC from Dulverton Road by Albert Blakeway
GEC from Dulverton Road by Si Hope
GEC from Dulverton Road by Jen Dixon


The Tame Valley Canal follows the river, on and off, from Wednesbury. Here it cuts to the rear of the GEC in Witton and joins the Grand Union and the Birmingham & Fazeley canals at Salford Junction, now underneath Spaghetti Junction.

Lots more images showing the changes from the images of Phyllis Nicklin in Witton and Salford to come......

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tame Industries Map

We will be adding all of the industries we find along the River Tame to our 'Industrial River Tame' Map, so you can find out more about each of them, see pictures and link back to the blog for more detailed information. Click on the coloured pins and information pops up (see below).

Any of our researchers can add their own pins to the map, to find out about researching click here, to find out how to make your own map click here.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The River Tame's Natural History

Musk mallow was once one of many
'principal plants' along the river; many
have disappeared due to industry,
urban change and river realignment. 

A number of factors have meant that over the past few hundred years the River Tame has lost a great deal of its original wildlife and plant-life. In 1886 there was a survey conducted regarding Birmingham's natural habitats, and a little bit was written about the fish the Tame:

“Of the River Tame, a well known angler states: “In my opinion this is a remarkable little river; in three and a half miles it contains in abundance at least ten species of fish, viz., trout, pike, chub, tench, perch, roach, rudd, dace, gudgeon, minnow, all of which, except the pike, attain a size equal to any in rivers or pools in a hundred miles of Birmingham.” Large fish are not so common now as formerly, but probably this river will recover, and attain its wonted excellence, when the ‘Black Country’ sewerage works are completed”.


By this time it was becoming very obvious that the industry and urban growth along the River Tame was causing a decline in the fish; from the 1850s there were complaints from some of the great houses of the gentry that had enjoyed abundant fish, but were now noticing a decline in the river's health, and that of the animals it supported. In the archives of Birmingham and the Black Country are a large number of documents referring to the correspondence between these landed gentry and the local councils who were being asked to put a stop to the pollutants being put into the river. Industry was a large factor, and the chemicals washed away by the river, but also, the river was being constantly re-aligned, and plant-life was removed meaning that the more delicate species died out on the river.

Dyer's Weld, another old Tameside
'principal plant'. 

Within the 1886 survey it was seem worthy to list the botanical species that you could find along the River Tame; some of these have not just vanished from the banks of the Tame, but from England altogether. The list of the 'principal plants' of the river is below (I have begun adding common names, as these were not included in the original survey).

"TAME. – This sub-district includes Walsall, Lichfield, Shenstone, Barr and Handsworth. The surface rocks are Trias, Permian and Coal measures, and the limestones of Walsall, Rushall, and Hay Head. The greatest elevation is Barr Beacon. Both the source and the mouth of the Tame are within the limits of this sub-district. The principal plants are:-- 

thalictrum flavum (meadow rue) : arabis perfoliata (tower mustard) : cardamine amara (large bittercress) : cardamine impatiens (narrowleaf bittercress) : nasturtium sylvestre (creeping yellow cress) : teesdalia nudicaulis (shepherd’s cress) : reseda luteola (dyer’s weld) : silene noctiflora (night flowering catchfly/clammy cockle (similar to campion)) : malva moschata (musk mallow*) : erodium cicutarium (redstem filaree/common stork’s-bill/pinweed) : genista anglica (petty whin/needle furze/needle whin) : lathyrus nissola (grass vetchling) : orobus tuberosus : prunus insitatia P. padus : geum rivale : rosa subglobosa : rosa micrantha : rosa collina : rubus suberectus R. rhamnifolius : pyrus aria : sedum telephium : saxifrage granulata : chrysosplenium alternifolium : parnassia palustris : helosciadium repens : myrrhis odorata : apium graveolens : OEnanthe crocata : dipsacus pilosus : valerianella denata : gallium witheringii : campanula trachelium C. Latifolia C. Patula : solanum nigrum (black nightshade) : linaria minor : veronica buxbaumii V. Montana V. Scutellata V. Anagallis : limosella aquatica (water mudwort) : pinguicula vulgaris (common butterwort) : utricularia vulgaris : lysimachia vulgaris : centunculus minimus : parietaria officinalis : ulmus Montana : salix pentandra : acorus calamus : epipactis palustris : convallaria majalis : typha augustipholia : lemna gibba : narthecium ossifragum : colchicum autumnale : scirpus sylvaticus S. Caespitosus : carex pallescens C. Pseudo-cyperus : calamagrostis epegejos C. Lanceolatus : milium effusum : avena pubescens : triticum caninum : asplenium ruta-muraria : aspidium lobatum : osmunda regalis"

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tame Walk: North Walsall to Bescot

You can only glimpse the Ford Brook at it passes under Mill Lane,
as it is fenced and you can't follow it either way.

Yesterday we went to the local history centre in Walsall, and afterwards I decided to take a walk and try and follow the Ford Brook, a tributary of the Tame, and once called 'Tame' itself, down to Bescot Station and the main River Tame. I had no idea if it was possible. At the history centre I had got talking to a man called Jack Haddock, a gentleman probably in his 90s who had lived nearby all his life, and told me that locally the brook had been called 'Butts Cut', though he had no idea why.

NB: This route is along residential areas and used footpaths, but some areas are VERY off the beaten track. I am not promoting this as a walk, just describing its existence.

The journey began with a mini fish&chips at 'Mr Chips', and a sit down in the local park to plot a route to the brook. I suspected Mill Lane would be a good place to begin and there found Mill Lane Nature Reserve, which contained everything but the brook as the railroad cut between the two. I have later found that if you follow the nature reserve the railway veers off towards Aldridge and you can walk to Goscote Valley where you can follow the brook upstream towards its source. But I was following the flow of the water downstream where apple trees were growing out of reach amongst the strike of green lining the railway tracks.*

The brook briefly interrupts Mill Lane near a road called 'The Cutting', and you can see it each side of the road, wide and flat (see above). The information board at the nature reserve had explained that Mill Lane was originally a cartway to 'Butt's Mill', a place that had all but disappeared by Jack's time, yet the name had obviously been passed down to him. You can't follow the brook downstream here as it is fenced all the way round, so I followed the idea of it down Cecil Street* and found it again through an archway marked '1993' down to Lower North Street. Again, it was fenced all along, and channeled through a concrete culvert (see below). Here it brushes shoulders with the railway, then is directed beneath the street and into a private car park, before being sent underground.

This area was the the original, old part of Walsall; tanneries and saw mills had once clustered against the brook here along Hatherton Street, with occasional reminders such as 'Saw Mill Close' re-calling that time. A little street on the right, Albert Street, now serving as a short cut to the new Tesco store, contains a tumble-down industrial ruin (see above & left) with half the roof falling in buddleia clinging to the walls. If anyone knows what this used to be I would love to know.  

Further down, into the centre of Walsall, a Victorian pub called the 'Tap & Tanner' serves as a reminder of the leather tanning industry, and of the forgotten brook that flows somewhere here, underground. And then there is Bridge Street, a now obsolete name that lets you know your on the right route.*

Walsall town centre seems to bear little resemblance to my aging A-Z, but I find my way through with help to where the brook emerges again on Fairground Way (see below). Nearby is the regular and familiar thump of a manufactory, Walsall Pressings Co, that supply car parts, mainly for Jaguar, a Tameside presence since the 1940s.

Walsall Pressings (Walpres)

Again, you can't follow the brook, but must navigate through the streets (Bradford Street, Wednesbury Road & Bescot Cresent to be exact) lined with remnants of 20th century industry. The Walsall Lithographic Company has been converted, with a painted advert preserved on the side, and the Crown Works (below) is now the Abu Bakr Trust School for girls; school had just finished and girls were laughing and chatting outside.

Where Bescot Cresent leads onto Broadway West the brook emerges at the edge of the playground, fenced, but lined with greenery to begin with, then channeled and concreted into place, and sieved as it passes beneath the roads. It crosses diagonally under the crossroads, as do I, and here is the first time it is treated less like a dangerous wild animal- the barriers are lower, even crossable with a little more youthful dexterity, but just in case you thought it was a 'tame' brook, the waters are dotted with warning signs. "Fast flowing water", "No swimming", "Strong currents", "Underwater obstacles", and my favourite, "No diving". No diving! If I stood in it, it wouldn't get my knees wet! But obviously someone, somewhere perceived a diving risk.

The brook flows through a channel of trees parallel with the Bescot Cresent (see below), which is quite industrial; music pumps out of one warehouse and a kind of low hum from another.

As the road curves, the brook is taken under a pretty bridge and follows on its way towards the motorway, which can be seen and heard just in the distance. Just behind the bridge is a narrow footpath, un-signposted and uncertain, but it follows the river so I took the route. The brook flows gently at one side, its calm broken only by a towering billboard for the benefit of motorway traffic: "Boundary Mill Stores M6 J10- Fashion and Home Shopping- up to 75% off RRP". At its bend is the railroad, the wheels of the trains clunking past at eye level, and another warning sign- "TO PREVENT INJURY DO NOT CLIMB FENCE". You can still follow the brook, it goes round to where the Willenhall Tame flows in under the railway bridge to join it from the right. This is the Tame now, and the waters of the brook have been upgraded to 'river' status, and they proudly march off in the other direction (see below). It is a choice of battling through dense undergrowth to follow the river, or allow yourself to be directed under the M6 knowing that the river will meander back.

Beneath the motorway there are two routes, and two rivers. Here, the Oldbury Tame slides in quietly from the west along the railway tracks, and you can follow it back; I took this route for a short distance, up a stairway to the motorway winding me up to the top of the M6 where I could meet eyes with the lorry drivers in their trucks. The wind pushed from both sides, from the trains passing below and the traffic on the road, and the bridge rumbled and shook with each large vehicle. Below you could see Bescot Junction, which can be seen briefly from the M6 as you drive by, and the vast expanse of waste land between here and Church Hill in Wednesbury (see both below). I've been to this waste, last year; I was looking for the river in the wrong place. There was once a works, but only rubble and crumbling walls remain, and now the great mounds of rubble are used by quad bikers or the similar, much to the efforts of the landowner to prevent it.

It is just down from here that this Tame meets the first, both circle a concrete island under the motorway and emerge to join in the open (see below).

This river is now just the Tame, and flows into the distance at the side of the motorway; Bescot Station was just to the right, the iron bridge leading from the street route (see below). I caught the train home, the river passing two, three, maybe four times, back and forth beneath the railway.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Memories of Bromford: Bill Bowen

Bill Bowen walked from Wales to the Midlands in the 1930s
to find work. 

In the 1950s Bill Bowen began working at Bromford Iron & Steel Co. Ltd, West Bromwich; how he got there is recalled by workmate, another Bill- Bill Venables. “He had been born in the Rhondda Valley but left there in the 30s at the time of the depression and walked up to the Midlands to find work.” Bill Venables tells us that “he was our hardest working labourer who had enormous muscles and strength, and was a fairground prize-fighter in his younger days to help feed his family”. “After finishing his day shift on Fridays he contracted to dig all the millscale out of the water pits at 4/6d per ton and load it into skips. He did all this by hand with a No 10 shovel and a wheelbarrow and used to work all the way through until Sunday afternoon before walking home. A No 10 shovel could hold half hundredweight of millscale at a time and only he could lift it. In his final two years at Bromford he was put in charge of the new mess rooms and showers and woe betide anyone leaving a mess because he used to thump them”.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Tame Industries Map

We will be adding all of the industries we find along the River Tame to our 'Industrial River Tame' Map. Take a look to find out what we have been looking at so far.

We will be adding lots of information and photos, much of which will link back to here so that you can find out more.

If you would like to add to these industries, you can. Please email Jenni: for more details.