CANNOCK Chase lies just beyond the Black Country but the two areas share much they same history and culture. The Cannock Chase Coalfield is separated from the Black Country's South Staffordshire Coalfield by the Bentley Fault. Coal mining employed hundreds across the area and many mining families moved back and forth between Cannock and the Black Country in search of employment as the fortunes of the different collieries waxed and waned over the years.
The result is a close kinship between the neighbouring regions, a sense of "family" that is lacking in the Black Country's relations with Brummagem, and today, the Bugle has many readers in and around Cannock Chase.
Sadly, the Cannock Chase collieries are no more. The last, the Lea Hall Colliery in Rugeley, closed in January 1991.
However, these photographs are a reminder of the final years of the coalfield. Taken in the 1950s, they show locomotives of the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery, once a familiar site on the Cannock Chase Railway. The pictures have been loaned to us by reader Laurence Brownhill of Netherton.
In the 1950s the Cannock Chase Railway was owned by British Rail but it was operated by the NCB from the depot at Rawnsley. The line dated back to the early 1860s when Henry Paget, second Marquis of Anglesey, held the right to construct a mineral railway in the area to serve his pit at Rawnsley. He sold the undertaking to the London and North Western Railway and the LNWR operated the line until 1867, when the first Cannock and Rugeley Colliery locomotive was delivered.
That original loco was still working some 90 years later and our photograph of it was taken on April 7, 1950.
No.1 Marquis was named for the Marquis of Anglesey, and was an 0-6-0 saddle tank built by the Lilleshall Company of Oakengates, Shropshire.
A year later a twin engine arrived from the Lilleshall works, No.2 Anglesey. She too remained in service until the late 1950s and our photograph of it was taken on June 16, 1950. A third Lilleshall locomotive, Rawnsley, was delivered in 1873.
Our third photograph shows No.5 Beaudesert, named for the ancestral home of the Paget family on the southern edge of Cannock Chase. The house is now a ruin, having been partially demolished in the 1930s after most of its fabric and fittings was sold off. The locomotive were built in Bristol by Fox, Walker and Company and entered service in 1875. Our picture was another taken on April 7, 1950. Again, an 0-6-0 saddle tank, she remained in service until the 1960s.
Our next two pictures show the locomotive No.8 Harrison, named for William Harrison, a prominent mine-owner in the area. This locomotive had an interesting history. It was originally built as a 2-4-0 tank engine by the Yorkshire Engine Company of Sheffield for the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway and named Hope. The line linked collieries in North Wales with Shrewsbury but, despite its name, never reached as far as Stoke-on-Trent and was closed in 1880. Hope was then sold to the East and West Junction Railway, which ran from Fenny Compton to Stratford-on-Avon, via Kineton. The engine was then sold to B.P. Blockley of Bloxwich, a dealer in railway locomotives, who sold it on to Cannock and Rugeley Colliery in 1905. In 1916 the loco was rebuilt as an 0-6-0 and she continued in service until 1955.
In our pictures Harrison is shown with the "Paddy Train", the only passenger service to run on the line. In 1908 the LNWR and the colliery came to an agreement that allowed the colliery to run passenger trains for the miners and other employees. Our pictures were taken in 1953 when the old carriages were still in use. They were a Maryport and Carlisle Railway six-wheel 3rd class coach, built by the Metropolitan Wagon and Finance Co., in 1875, and a Great Eastern Railway six-wheel passenger brake built in 1894. However, the poor condition of the coaches forced the closure of the passenger service in 1955. But there was still a need for the trains and, following pressure from the miners' union, it was reinstated in 1958 with an ex-LNWR 3rd class brake coach. The paddy train only ran for a few more years as bus services and the increase in car ownership rendered it obsolete.
Our last photograph shows Stafford, built by Hudswell Clarke of Leeds in 1889 and bought by the colliery in 1915. She originally served the Hednesford Colliery.
In 1923 the LNWR became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway which was itself absorbed into British Rail. The colliery continued to operate services on the Cannock Chase Railway but as yields from the mines declined in the 1950s the trains stopped running and as the mines began to close in the 1960s the railway tracks were lifted.
Today Chasewater Railway, at Brownhills West Station, preserves the last remaining part of the Cannock Chase Railway and runs services at weekends through much of the year.
Have these old photographs revived memories of the Cannock Chase Railway? Perhaps you recognise some of the train crews pictured. Please share your memories of the Cannock Chase collieries and the railways, contact email@example.com or write in to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.