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Legacy of lost limestone mines beneath Walsall’s streets

By dan shaw  |  Posted: May 11, 2013

Harry Green (front) exploring a old working beneath Peal Street in 1938

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THESE old photographs are a reminder of one of the long lost industries of Walsall – limestone mining.

The last limeworks in the town closed in 1903 and there is little trace of the mines and quarries left on the surface today, but beneath the streets of Walsall are an unknown number of old workings and tunnels.

Walsall stands upon three beds of limestone that were worked over many centuries.

The lowest, the Barr or Woolthorpe limestone, outcrops at the eastern boundary of the old Walsall parish, from Hay Head to Gillity Greaves. The upper and lower Wenlock limestone beds are near the town centre.

The more valuable was the lower, which outcrops around Church Hill and the arboretum.

West of there the limestone was reached by shafts sunk through the overlying coal measures.

There are records of burning limestone to produce lime in Walsall by the 15th century and Walsall limestone was being used for building by the late 16th century. The Industrial Revolution saw a great increase in demand for limestone in producing iron.

John Wilkinson, the famous Bilston ironmaster, worked the Hay Head quarries from 1808 and by 1813 they were being worked by James Brindley.

Hatherton Lake in Walsall Arboretum is a flooded limestone quarry and there are old workings beneath High Street, rediscovered in 1910, Peal Street, and either side of Wolverhampton Street. The Butts Limeworks were in the area of Shaw Street and in 1845 produced 11,348 tons of limestone and 5,076 tons of lime.

The last limestone workings were the Portland Street Limeworks, established in the 1850s by John Brewer. By the early 1870s this had been taken over by Elias Crapper, who owned the nearby Hatherton works.

There, in 1847, just over 12,000 tons of limestone was raised and almost 1,500 tons of lime made. Crapper’s two works were merged but retained their separate names and later passed into the hands of Louis Lavender, whose closed the works in 1903.

These pictures are taken from the summer 1967 edition of Sphinx, the works magazine of Joseph Sankey and Sons, and we thank Pat and Terry Jordan of Coseley for loaning their copy to us.

The older picture was taken around 1900 and shows limestone miners below ground underneath Littleton Street. The second photograph was taken in 1938 and shows Harry Green, nearest the camera, exploring, and a newly uncovered lost limestone working beneath Peal Street.

In the 1960s Harry was the Manor Works time and study man, hence his pictures appearing in the Sankeys works magazine.

The exploration of the old workings combined Harry Green’s two great passions, local history and caving. He was secretary of the Walsall History Association for a number of years and an honorary life member of the Wolverhampton Caving Group. He also assisted the Walsall borough surveyors in tracing old limestone workings when they were planning new roadways.

Many of the old mines were filled in to make them safe in the 20th century but in the late 1970s some houses were affected by the collapse of old workings. But as no maps were ever made of the many limestone tunnels and workings dug over the centuries it is all but impossible to find where all the old limestone mines are.

Luckily, there is a very low risk to houses today from the limestone honeycomb beneath the streets of Walsall.

 Does your family have any connection with the old Walsall limestone mines? Please send any stories or pictures to us at the usual address.

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