Concrete Evidence

Due to a vague notion I had that canals had to follow a straight line, my previous attempt to follow the route of the Wyrley & Essington canal from the London Rd bridge to Sandfields Pumping Station had not been a resounding success. Determined to find the stretch of the Curly Wyrley (the canal’s nickname derived from the way it, ahem, doesn’t follow a straight line) that I’d missed,  I had a walk along the Birmingham Rd. Near to the Duke of Wellington, half a canal bridge and two modern street names – ‘Wyrley Close’ and ‘Essington Close – confirmed that this had once been part of the route of the canal between Shortbutts Lane and Sandfields.

Canal where?

Essington Close and Wyrley Close to the left as you look at the photo.

Standing in Essington Close looking back up the line of the canal towards the bridge.

In fact, I’d already been over the bridge plenty of times before but just never taken any notice of the clues staring me in the face. My excuse is that my head is always turned the other way, ready to look out for the old Maltings on the other side of the road.

Lichfield Maltings

One of my first friends in Lichfield used to live on the site.  One of our favourite topics of conversation, inevitably, was the history of the building we could see from her house, especially on those occasions when my friend had chatted with one of the employees and was able to regale me with tales of burning buildings, footsteps and orchards.  Through these chats and a bit of reading, we discovered that the malthouse had belonged to The City Brewery Company (Lichfield). In October 1916, a fire destroyed most of the brewery leaving only this building, and the red brick brewery manager’s house and offices (see my earlier post on the fire here). Shortly afterwards, Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries took over the site.

What we didn’t appreciate enough at the time is that as we were scouring the archives for events that took place nearly a century ago, history was also happening right there under our noses – in 2004, this was one of only six remaining operational floor maltings in the country.The following year, it closed and the building was eventually purchased by a propery developer. Thanks to a Historic Building Assessment and photographs from urban explorers, the architectural features of the building have been documented. However, I wish we’d have talked to more people and asked more questions and recorded the first hand experiences of people doing a job that would very shortly cease to exist, in a building that would soon no longer be used for its primary purpose. You live and learn….

After standing unused for several years, scaffolding now surrounds the malthouse, and the adjoining modern shed has now gone. This could be an indication that the building’s transformation from industrial to residential use is now underway.  It seems to me that giving new life to an old building like this is a good way to balance the need to protect the past and the need to look to the future.  I hope that wherever possible the old features that tell the story of the building’s old life are retained, as recommended by the Historic Building Consultant’s assessment.

On the opposite side of the road to the Maltings, I followed a drive that lead under a railway bridge to some rusting gates. Until I got home and looked at an old map, I had no idea that this had formerly been a concrete works. Back in 1986, the Domesday project recorded that this was once the site of Bison Concrete. Unlike the canal and the maltings, I can see no reference to the site’s recent history. Maybe the time when we celebrate concrete is still to come…

I think that those of us that don’t have the nerve to explore & photograph the inside of derelict buildings or the necessary funds to pay for the physical restoration of a building, do have another weapon that we can employ in the defence of our history – the ability to listen.

The three places I visited above are all a part of Lichfield’s industrial heritage. On my way over to them, I passed a fourth – Sandfields Pumping Station. David Moore is gaining a lot of support for his campaign to safeguard this overlooked yet important part of our social and industrial history. You can listen to what he has to say by visiting his blog here!

Notes

I think my research could also be described as a bit ‘curly wurly’ as I never seem to be able to resist taking the scenic route instead of going from A to B. When I was on the Domesday site, I read some of the other entries for the Birmingham Rd area and the one that especially caught my eye was ‘Shire Horses – Lichfield’, with an accompanying photograph of said horses emerging from stables on the Birmingham Rd. Does anyone know anything about these in addition to the short description here?

On a final curly wurly note, this tree on the Birmingham Rd looks like it has teeth.  The one next to it doesn’t, so I’m not sure why…

Bark worse than its bite?

Sources:

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/maltings

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16 thoughts on “Concrete Evidence

  1. I enjoyed your ‘curly wurly’ post – I always end up going off at a tangent when I’m reading, or walking, or looking something up, but ‘curly wurly’ is a much better description of what happens! That was some good detective work on the canal.

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    • Hooray! That’s brilliant. I want to follow the next bit too so that should make it a whole load easier (although getting lost isn’t always a bad thing…)

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  2. Pingback: Route Canal | Lichfield Lore

  3. I`ve a friend that worked with the shire horses. The yard was in Essington Close off Birmingham rd. The two horses in the photo are Conway & Derby, and they did their time at fairs and shows all over the country. They were often seen around the market square out on exercise.

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    • Aha! I did think it looked a bit like an industrial unit they were coming out of. I’ve just been reading about horses at the Brewery too – what a lovely addition they must have been to the city.

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  4. Kate,The historic use of concrete is worth a look at from the romans down
    to modern times,Roads like M54,Bridges,some years ago a man built a
    concrete boat at Stubbers Green he was going to sail it to Australia if he did
    or not I do not know,Keep your fantastic blog going it is a real tonic to a lot
    of people.

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    • Hi Pat, Good to hear from you and thanks for the comment. My ideas about concrete are rapidly changing! I also read that Bison made the WW2 pill boxes, I’m going to take a look and see if I can see anything about the concrete boat – wonder if the chap made it and is there sunning himself whilst we all freeze!

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  5. My Grandfather and Uncle worked at the Bison after they finished in the Forces after the War. I too was a frequent visitor to Conway and Derby, I can’t remember if it was these two horses I use to polish the brasses for? Also my Father helped fill in the canal after it became disused, will be interesting if they can re open the canal along the original route? I use to play around the Sandyfields pumping station as a child and I also enjoyed watching the trains on the now disused Walsall line nearby. Memories oh memories.Another great blog and thanks you Kate.

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    • I think that LHCRT will be reopening the canal along the original route wherever possible. However, there are of course parts that have been built on, and so they’ve had to do a bit of a diversion in places. I saw last night that there were plans for a heritage trail along the route which is a great idea.

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  6. Pingback: Thirsty Work | Lichfield Lore

    • Would like to hear more about that’s going. Have they managed to save many of the original features? Have you heard the footsteps & smelled the cigar smoke? 😉

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