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A Black Country community scattered to the four winds

By john workman  |  Posted: February 08, 2013

A part of Walsall's version of the Bermuda Triangle.

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Ray James, the Bugle's very own correspondent from the Highlands of Scotland and formerly of Tipton, has been musing over a community in Walsall he knew in his younger days and the shock that awaited him on a visit there in the 1990s. He told us: "Everyone has heard of the Bermuda Triangle, where all sorts of things have disappeared without trace. Well now it seems the good people of Walsall have their own version called the Ryecroft Triangle, where I found two thirds of an estate I once knew very well had been swallowed up by an area of grass and trees.

“Back in the 1960s and 70s I had three very good friends who lived in this part of Walsall, along the three roads that form the triangle, Farm Street, Leckie Road and Cannon Street North, and I know for sure that two of the families were living there when the estate was first built. As so often happens, you lose contact with mates from the past and I hadn't been down that neck of the woods for a long while, but in the early 1990s I just happened to be riding my Suzuki GT750 Kettle through Walsall, past Leckie Road, when I instinctively turned off the main road to try and revive some happy memories I had of the place.

“But what a shock I had in store! In Farm Street there had only ever been five houses, numbers 1 to 9 on the left-hand side, and on the other side of the road were the ends of two houses that faced into Leckie Roa and Cannon Street North. Numbers one to nine had gone and there was a pool where my best friend's back garden used to be. I was bewildered.

“Similarly, the whole of the one side of Leckie Road had gone and only a couple of houses remained on the lefthand side of Leckie and Cannon Street North. The rest had disappeared as if they had never been there and I suddenly felt that a tight-knit Black Country community that I had once known so well, had been scattered to the four winds.

“It was a warm summer's evening and there were three ladies cantin' on the front wall of one of the remaining houses, so I made myself known and asked what had happened to all the houses? ‘They were gradually sinking into the ground,’ they said, ‘and the council had 'em knocked down.“ From my visit back in the early ‘90s until just recently, my curiosity about the Ryecroft Triangle has never really waned, and on one of my visits back to the Black Country I was determined to find out why the houses had been slowly sinking. The obvious answer was of course mining subsidence, so I made a B line to Bugle House and bought a couple of OS Maps for the area to see whether they could throw any light on the matter.

“The Walsall (NW) map for 1902 revealed that the area from Bloxwich Road along Proffitt Street and Coalpool Lane was riddled with sandpits. Afterwards a main railway line and an extensive housing estate had been built.

“I rang the local history centre in Essex Street, Walsall, and spoke to a lady called Libby who generously offered to look at any records there were for the ‘triangle’. She discovered that the estate was built in 1938, but in 1980 the surrounding ground was declared unstable due to subsidence and the council was forced to sanction a phase of demolition, which began in 1981. There was also a mention in the records of the existence of some uncapped mine shafts in the area.

“I told her my OS Map showed no evidence of mine shafts and she confirmed that her map reference, dated 1914, hadn't any either. In fact she told me the area in question (Ryecroft Triangle) was open land between 1914 and 1938 with no sign of mining activity at all.

“I presume by 1981 the estate had become a little tired and in need of attention, although perhaps the resulting demolition was a little bit on the drastic side.

However, you would have to go a long way and pay some serious money to open your curtains on a morning here in the Dark Region that revealed a vista of woodland green, which is now what exists instead of houses. But pretty as it may be, I really miss those decent, hard working Black Country folk of 40 and 50 years ago, when Walsall in its heyday seemed to grow businesses from every nook and cranny.

“Any road up, mustn't linger on a down-beat note 'cause I've bin surfing the electronic highway, and although there are some old pals of mine who have passed on, I've managed to track down two good mates from the past who hopefully I will be meeting up with very soon. One of them, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, told me I was probably the cause of the subsidence and the eventual demise of the estate. It was when I used to start up my pride and joy, a BSA DBD34 Gold Star, outside his house back in '63. According to his mom the ground would always shake and she was forever muttering, ‘One day that Ray will fetch this house down!’

jworkman@ blackcountrybugle.co.uk

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  • MadOldBaggage  |  February 08 2013, 7:19PM

    Back in the 19th century Ryecroft was well known for ironstone (iron ore) mining and small amounts of limestone were also mined there. Perhaps that's a clue towards the subsidence?