I came across this lovely picture last week when scouting for @BlackCountryPic, posted on Flickr by Phil Broadbent. This is a row of cottages in Coal Pool, now a suburb on the northern side of Walsall, not far from the more substantial village of Rushall, taken in the 1930s. Coal Pool itself is a fairly old hamlet, based around the junction of Harden, Goscote and Coal Pool Lanes. It’s recorded in the 1540s as being held by the Stone family, and later as the site of a water mill (see the map posted by Brownhills Bob), and will likely have got its name from the outcroppings of coal that were found across the Black Country. Until 1850 however, it really was just a small smattering of houses with not much to mark it out.
In 1850, a Mr John Brewer bought a parcel of land to the south of Coal Pool’s existing houses. Ethel Badger’s helpful account mentions that Brewer’s intention, carried out during the Crimean War of 1857-8, was to build three rows of cottages to accommodate the workmen building the new railway line between Walsall and Lichfield. I’m not sure about this – Rushall station, at the end of Harden Road, was completed in 1849, and the South Staffs Line was opened in its entirety in 1850, so perhaps this was somewhere for the navvies to live after they had completed work. It’s also apparent that by the 1861 census the majority of occupants were miners, so I’m not convinced by the railwaymen thesis.
Whatever their intention, these grey-walled houses were built in three terraces with rear alleys and gardens. From the 1886 OS First Edition, 40 were built facing Northwest – they seem to be small, squat dwellings – according to Ms Badger, of a similar plan to those found in Ireland at the time (which is particularly interesting for me…). The remaining 25 were built to a different, L-shaped pattern and were larger, facing Northeast. At the rear of the properties was the Cross Rooms, a subscription-built, temporary structure for a new Wesleyan chapel, an offshoot of Centenary Chapel on Stafford Street.
In the 1850s a new, more permanent chapel had been built on Coal Pool Lane, and the Cross Rooms converted to a pleasure gardens with boating lake, almost a moat around the edge. These terraces still remained the bulk of the village, and the chapel became the hub of the new community. The bulk of the village’s employment is likely to have been at one of the nearby collieries, Harden, Lees, or Forest; and in fact these were closer than the nearest pub, determined drinkers having to light themselves to visit The Trouper, Black Horse, or Railway Inn in Leamore to whet their whistles.
This great picture shows one of the terraces, with the new Methodist chapel in the background. It seems to be taken at back door, part way along; the gardens were separated from the houses by a back alley, with makeshift paths linking the two. This is thought to be the 1930s, in which case the houses are over 70 years old, and I don’t think they look too shabby for their type – perhaps Brewer, as a conscientious Methodist, built to high standard for his tenants, a pattern not always repeated elsewhere.
If this was the 30s then shortly after the terraces were demolished to make way for a wave of council housing. The map shows the housing and grounds in 1938 – you can see the new, curving roads filled with semi-detached housing now surrounding the pleasure gardens, and by 1959 (below), the old site is now completely changed, the only exception being the Methodist Chapel, rebuilt in 1896 (see current pics here and here).
Take away the railway and add some new housing, and this is the scene today. Coal Pool was the site of a large thrust of municipal housing in the 1930s and a second burst in the late 1940s, when the area was selected for the first post-war council housing in Walsall borough. Today, the area retains that somewhat sparse, almost-there feeling of 50s council housing, a mix of the earlier, decent-sized houses (as per Bevan’s limit of 12 dwellings per acre) with the later, more typically municipal boxes which flourished under later, usually Conservative administrations.
This is a fascinating photo for me: single storey houses with this small footprint were fairly unusual, but it also appears that thought was given to construction, outdoor provision and community cohesion – all which later social housing was criticised for lack of. Victorian philanthropy hardly even dulled the edge of the overcrowding and poor living conditions of the working classes, but there are certainly interesting parallels to be drawn between the thoughtfulness of cottages like this and the minimum requirements laid down in the days of Bevan and Beveridge.