Black Country Buffalo

When deciding on a project I try and find something a little bit different taking the most averse route to avoid clichés and so it was that I gave consideration to one of the rail/canal interchanges that sprung up around the Black Country, initially to assist transfer to heavy supplies and products from the canal network to the heavy industry for which the Black Country became known across an old empire. Avoidance of the obvious led me to look into ‘Shrubbery Basin’ as it was labelled on old OS maps. This lay a short distance south of Wolverhampton High Level station, accessed from the GW Walsall Street Goods site and sitting between the LNWR’s Stour Valley route and the Birmingham Canal as shown in this map.

My initial research was frustrated by a lack of source material with little or nothing from the local council or archives other than original land purchase documents. The site itself was wiped from the map at some point during the 1960s and consumed by the expanding British Oxygen Company site and all that has surfaced since starting that research is a single image showing the shed covering the sidings and basin. Beyond my living memory the orientation and style of the shed came as a surprise to me looking a little more like a slice of Herbert Street Goods Station. The current owners of the site, BOC, had no information available from the time of their acquisition despite their estates manager recalling basic information.

Frustrated I fell back to the position of being able to better research the nearby Chillington Basin as being the only rail/canal interchange still in existence in the country and thankfully now the subject of a preservation order. The boundary of the site is reasonably accessible from Chillington Street and the towpath of the Birmingham Canal where urban decay has taken hold after the site finally fell out of usage in the last ten years.

A view of the west side of Chillington Basin from the canal towpath.

Chillington Basin, as an interchange point was first constructed by the Chillington Iron Company whose factory was half a mile east of the wharf and linked by a horse-drawn tramway to allow the products to be loaded onto the narrowboats for onward transport. The LNWR purchased the site in 1897 building the shed as we know it and opening the site as Monmore Street Goods in 1902 with the purpose of catering for other local goods needs including inbound oil supplies via rail from Ellesmere Port transferred to the canal and transported a very short distance under the Bilston Road to Gaunt & Hickman’s British Oil Company which which had moved to a site in Eagle Street after WW1 – Reference.

In the 1930s one ‘arm’ of the basin was capped off and removed to allow the building of a travelling crane for transshipment of goods between the two sidings beneath it and a central roadway illustrating the change in importance of road transport. I’m surprised that the remaining ‘arm’ of the basin remained intact from that point forward.

Ownership subsequently passed to the LMS and BR(M) and this 1952 shot still shows signage from its previous owner. In 1966 the site was ‘re-branded’ as part of the conversion of the Walsall Street Goods site to the Wolverhampton Steel Terminal with the whole of the former goods station site now being accessible from the former LNWR siding from the west side of the Stour Valley route to Birmingham New Street. The Chillington Basin portion of the site then became more of an adjunct to the main terminal as a dumping ground for sundry wagons and another loading point between lorries and wagons as shown in this 1970s view. At this time the purpose of the steel terminal was a centralised outbound railhead for the latter decade (and a bit) of outbound finished products of an industrialised area.

In current times the Wolverhampton Steel Terminal still exists but purely for inbound traffic of steel seeing 12-15 trains per week offloaded by crane and forklift as an interchange to the road network. The site is currently owned by DB Schenker and by their kind permission I was able to access the site and take more detailed pictures (some 500!) and measurements to enable the Chillington project to move forward. The foreman who facilitated the site visit was the longest-serving employee on the site, his first job being to operate the travelling crane which was still operational in 2000.

Chillington Basin travelling crane

Coincidentally the foreman had the photograph shown above in his office showing his grandfather standing in the open wagon beneath the new travelling crane evidencing that outbound steel products brought to the wharf by rail-owned transport were the staple diet of daily activity prior to WW2.

Buffalo? We day ‘ave basins in the Black Country, they’m Bisons.

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2 thoughts on “Black Country Buffalo

  1. As noted on Canal World Forum

    I have various notes on Chillington Basin

    Can you send an email address, having great difficulty posting images on Canal world or your site

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