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A school trip to Saltwells clay pit 82 years ago

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 01, 2014

  • A view of Doulton's Clay Pit in 1906 showing a truck at the top of the incline

  • Above the clay workings where the trucks were off-loaded

  • The coal seam clearly visible at Doulton's Clay Pit.

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'THE CENTRALIAN', the Rowley Regis Central School magazine, provided us with a intriguing visit to The Wren's Nest a few weeks ago courtesy of an article written by Margaret Bell (Form 4) and published in June, 1931.

The following year (August, 1932)the school magazine featured an article written by Marion Hackett (Form 4) entitled 'A Visit to Saltwell's Clay Pit', a fascinating description of not only the geology of the site, but also the work that was still being undertaken at the works.

These days Doulton's Claypit, located within Saltwells Nature Reserve, is an SSSI, a site of special scientific interest, with spectacular cliffs showing a section through the rocks of the Middle and Lower Coal Measures. The Middle Coal Measures were laid down in the Upper Carboniferous period circa 310 million years ago, and the carboniferous clay, a source for Royal Doulton, was extensively excavated during the 19th and into the 20th century before being abandoned in the 1940s.

When Marion Hackett was fortunate to visit the clay pit in 1932, it was still a working environment. This is her account through the eyes of a young teenage girl.

"On a fine summer afternoon, armed with pencils and notebooks, we set off on our visit. On the way we noticed a number of derelict pits-shafts, which, we were informed, had probably been closed owing to an inrush of water, or because the coal-seam had been worked out.

"Adjoining Saltwell's Clay Pit was a marl-hole which we carefully inspected. The one side formed a steep slope which presented a splendid example of stratification's, the different layers of rock being easily distinguishable. There was much here to show the work of denudation agents, for the rocks had been broken up and resembled sandy, fertile soil. Another feature which interested us was a disused horizontal pit-shaft.

"We left the marl-hole and proceeded along the pathway which led us into Saltwell's Clay Pit. Here we were informed that the pit derived its name from the saline well in its vicinity. The well was once a popular local resort for the cure of certain diseases, but owing to the growing importance of spas such as Droitwich and Bath and the industrialisation of the district, it had lost its earlier fame and the baths themselves have only recently been taken down.

"Near at hand we noticed a band of coal running through the clay. The coal is not yet exhausted, for men were busily engaged in working it for use in the kilns. We also found a remarkable substance known as 'rhomboidal calcite' - 'Rhomboidal' because no matter how many times it is divided it still retains its original rhomboidal shape. On breaking it up, we were able to obtain specimens of red and white calcite.

"After crossing the clay-pit we came upon a busy scene of industry. While one half of the workmen were engaged in digging, the others were filling the trucks with clay and rocks which were being conveyed to the top of the incline. The workmen informed us that while digging they often found extraordinary fossils, and had only that morning given some to a party of enthusiastic visitors from the University of Birmingham.

"We crossed the pit and made our way up the steep incline where the manager of the works told us that a blasting operation was about to commence. We were all eager to see this process, so we made our way to the extreme end of the valley where we could easily view the proceedings.

"One of the workmen rang a kind of bell, whereupon everyone else working in the pit left their various occupations and hid themselves for the time being in a small shed. A fuse was placed in a crack of a huge rock boulder which was lit by a workmen who quickly retreated from the danger zone. Then, after a lapse of about a minute, two successive crashes seemed to shake the very foundations of the valley.

"For a moment we could see nothing because of a great cloud of dust that filled the valley. But when this had passed we could see that the dynamite had done its work thoroughly.

"Once more we made our way to the top of the incline, where we were met once again by the manager, who conducted us to the engine-house where we stayed for some time watching the machinery which slowly but surely pulled the trucks to and fro. Following our guide, we left the machinery and proceeded to a small office where the manager showed us some fossils and other curious specimens which had been found by the workmen during digging.

"After thanking our guide, we left the works and proceeded up the incline which led to the canal. Near Brewen's Bridge we noticed occasional small beds of rock known as 'keuper marl' which had been denuded and now provided material for the manufacture of the famous South Staffordshire blue brick.

"Passing under the bridge, we at length came to the canal side and watched the boats being loaded from the trucks, ready for transport to Doulton's Works at Springfield, which is widely famed for its earthen-ware products. We were also informed that this region was the end of an 'anticline' which begins near Shrewsbury and passes through Dudley.

"While resting on a wall which skirted the canal, we noticed that in the wall opposite were a number of pieces of rhomboidal calcite, parts of which we broke off with the aid of a hammer and took back as specimens. We also noticed conglomerate beds near to the bridge. The last interesting point we observed had to do with stratification. This time it was a feature which is comparatively rare, namely an example of tilted strata. Instead of the layers running parallel and practically horizontal, they were almost vertical"

It is nearly 82 years since Marion and her school friends went to Saltwell's Clay Pit, and the report of her visit in 'The Centralian' magazine all those years ago has now become an invaluable item of Black Country industrial history. In conclusion she said, "After a pleasant walk along the canal side, we all dispersed in different directions for our various homes, having spent a most enjoyable and profitable afternoon.

If you have any memories of school trips and would like to share an anecdote with fellow Bugle readers, please write to the Black Country Bugle, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email editor@blackcountry bugle.co.uk

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