Black Country Bugle
Sandwell Park Colliery Tramway
LONG before coming to the Black Country I enjoyed the friendship of Colin Betts, a Blackcountryman from West Bromwich who was exiled in London.
We shared an interest in railway byways and he prepared me for emigration to the Black Country by telling me about some of the local railways that interested him. Two examples come to mind – one subject he had studied was the railway system in the Swan Village Gas Works, another was the Sandwell Park Colliery Tramway. This text is based on what Colin Betts had to say on the subject.
West Bromwich was served by two mainline railways – the Great Western Railway, which became the Western Region of BR, and the London North Western Railway – later LMS and then Midland Region of British Railways.
At one time there were eight stations within the town’s boundaries, plus a number of canals which played a part in the transport of locally mined coal. Local colliery tramways played a part in moving coal from the pits to the canal system.
Jubilee Colliery was the daughter colliery of Sandwell Park whose three shafts were sunk in the 1870s. When working started, however, it was found that coal could be mined more economically by sinking a further shaft at a point two miles away from the Sandwell Park pit. As this new project was planned in the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, it was called Jubilee Colliery.
Although work began in 1897 coal was not drawn until 1911. The old shafts at Sandwell Park ceased to bring up coal in 1914, but the transport facilities and screens there were good and so continued to be used. Jubilee Colliery, on the other hand, suffered from remoteness from the rail or canal networks.
Thus, it was that a two-foot gauge double-tracked cable operated tramway was built between Jubilee Colliery and Sandwell Park, and the Birmingham Canal Navigation (BCN) – a distance of about two miles. The line was always cable-worked and therefore never had any independent motive power that would have made it better known to enthusiasts, however such “tramways” were very much a feature of the Black Country landscape.
The line was operated in three sections. The longest section, of about 1 ½ miles, ran southwards from Jubilee Colliery to a point near Roebuck Lane (marked “B” on the sketch map). At that point it was joined by a branch from Sandwell Colliery. The tramway then turned south-westwards in a double track about two hundred yards long to the top of the BCN embankment. The third stretch of line, which was single, ran down to the level of the canal.
In later years road transport became more important and the tramway was used to bring coal from the pit to a point just across the bridge used to carry the tramway over the GWR mainline. (Marked “A” on the sketch-map.)
A coal dump was established at that point where coal was transferred to an endless stream of lorries. It was more convenient to use this “transfer” than try and provide more vehicle access at the pit.
The “cable” was originally a chain and power came from a stationary steam engine, but in 1936 this was replaced by a steel rope operated by a 20 hp electric motor situated at Jubilee Colliery. The tubs used on the tramway were of the standard type used underground. The tubs were brought up to the surface where the coal was screened and washed before being loaded back into the tubs and pushed onto the tramway.
The tubs were marshalled in threes or fours and were attached to steel rope by means of chains fastened at each end of the rake of tubs. They proceeded along the tramway at less than five miles per hour.
The tramway was wellfenced along the route – possibly to prevent injury to any potential trespasser, or possibly to prevent theft of coal as the tubs travelled fairly slowly! At one point the line was spanned by iron hoops covered in corrugated iron sheeting. This was also thought to inhibit coal theft. The line passed through a surprisingly rural landscape and had several “features” in the form of three over-bridges and a tunnel.
On leaving the pit, the line crossed some marshy ground known as the Warstone Fields, close to Sandwell Park Farm. At that point the line was fairly level but after passing under one of the bridges it began to climb, passing fields which included the Sandwell Golf Course. About a mile from the colliery the summit was reached and then it passed through the 200-yard long brick-lined tunnel which took it under the main Birmingham Road – the A41.
By the time the tramway approached the bridge that would carry it over the GWR it was on quite a substantial embankment. Once over the GWR the tramway reached the point where coal could be transferred to lorries.
Once this became the dominant way of taking coal away, the remaining part of the tramway to the canal was replaced with a conveyor belt, installed in 1938, although before that it had been a tramway worked by another cable. On reaching the canal the coal was lowered to the canal-side down a sharp incline, but that was also replaced with a vertical conveyor belt and chute, as seen in the photograph.
The pits became part of the National Coal Board upon nationalisation in 1947. The tramway was used up until the closure of Jubilee Colliery in 1960.