Tuesday, 31 August 2010

finding your way underground!

Oops sorry, this was the map that I had drawn to go with the last blog on the underground canal system under Castle Hill and I forgot to post it so here it is anyway.
Just left click on the map to enlarge it then left click again to enlarge it again.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Like the Jam - Going Underground

I was recently given a copy of the Dudley Canal Trust’s newsletter called The Legger from Spring 2009 to read.

The main reason it was lent to me was the fact that within it was a re-print of the first newsletter of the Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society[DCTPS] (Dudley Canal Trust’s forerunner) It was lent to me by Margaret, the owner of the next boat to Minnow on our moorings, having had quite a few discussions with each other over the last couple of years we have both been around a few years and both know a lot of the same people from the same 1960’s – 70’s period and also that I had been an early member of the DCTPS, so she knew I would be interested. Reading the articles and looking over the pictures reminded me of my early beginnings as far as canals are concerned and also my other hobby of the time of potholing/caving /mine exploration.

The DCTPS had been formed in 1963 when the tunnel was under threat of closure from British Rail wanting to build an embankment over it’s Tipton portal to support/replace a collapsing viaduct, their first bulletin was produced in September 1964 and I joined in early in 1965. As the tunnel went through and was linked to the Limestone workings it was only natural for me to be also interested in the ‘Caves’. Through the 1960’s and 70’s I spent many hours poking about down the mines mainly under Castle Hill and less time under Wrens Nest Hill, and even one sortie in the middle of the night within the Zoo grounds and under the castle itself. As this system of mines were directly connected to and serviced by the canal network, I thought this may be of some interest as it is part of our ‘canal system’ that is no longer available in the main to the general public apart from the ‘Disneyfied’ sections seen on the current tunnel trips undertaken by the Dudley Canal Trust.

The network of mines were served by a series of interconnecting canals, sometimes through brick lined tunnels, sometimes through rock tunnels and sometimes in open sections (although inside the mine of course) There was also underground brick built loading wharfs which in some cases were served in turn by tub type tramways/railways although long gone, visible evidence of their existence was still in place such as in the brick lined tunnel sections of Flooded Mine where the imprints of the sleepers were still clearly visible. The craft that were used in this subterranean network of canals were of very crude construction being similar, but much shorter, to the ‘Starvationers’ used in the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal mines at Wordsley.

(A mine boat in Castle Mill Basin in 1917, 3 years before limestone extraction finished in Dudley)

I remember spending a couple of weekends in about 1967 along with several other DCTPS members trying to clear away all the limestone rocks and mud in and around one of these mine boats which was sunk just inside the rock tunnel leading from Singer Cavern to Little Tess.

What follows is a reflection of a typical Saturday or Sunday down the mines. I will attempt to remember as much detail as I can. Equipment we would take with us would be :- a complete change of dry clothes, 2 pairs of boots (1 dry, 1 wet. The wet ones had ½ “ holes drilled in the soles, overalls, hard hat, ex-miners battery pack & lamp, a carbide lamp, various ropework and climbing equipment, an inflatable ex-RAF one man survival dinghy (although we have had three in it) Flask of hot soup/drink, sandwiches, small emergency tin (match/candle/safety pin/plaster)

(1965 and ready to crew another trip through the tunnel and left to right Eddy Sherwood, Me and Phil Ritchie all dressed the same as we did for a day ‘down the mines’)

We would all meet at a pre arranged time at Castle Mill House, which at the time was owned by the DCTPS and situated above the top of the construction shaft in the Lord Wards Tunnel close to Shirts Mill Basin, it actually came up into the kitchen floor of the house by means of a square access manhole. All unnecessary items including dry clothes and food were stowed in Castle Mill House and then we would set off to make the short walk past the Hexagon shaped ‘gatehouse’ to the Zoo grounds/castle hill, which at this time was still inhabited, then follow the pathway off up the gradual climb up the back of castle hill. The ground around this area was pitted with depressions where early limestone excavation had taken place and also some the result of subsidence where the mines below had suffered with roof falls and collapse, some of these occurring while the mine was still active the miners response being to drive a brick lined tunnel through the roof fall accessing the remaining mine such as at Sam’s Dig in Mud Hole . After a walk of just under a mile the entrance of Big Ben would be reached, a large triangular shaped entrance in the bottom of one of the larger depressions.

(View from the bottom of Big Ben looking back up towards the surface)

With lamps lit we would start our descent into the mines. The entrance sloped down at an angle of about 45° and this ‘ramp’ would be approached by a succession of continuous jumps, with each jump managing to cover about 20feet in distance. The other way to travel down (for the less ambitious) was sitting either on your bum or on your own feet and ‘skiing’ down the limestone screed. After about 100 yards the bottom of the mine would be reached and we would either turn left for about a further 150 yards towards a total collapse of the mine although many hours of fun could be had crawling over, under, around the huge slabs of fallen limestone, some as big as a car. Turn right and it was about 100 yards to the roof fall at the other end of Big Ben. At the very bottom of this mine, it was about 100feet wide and about 75 feet from floor to roof and before the roof had collapsed, it was all part of the Dark Cavern or 144 making the Dark Caver originally in excess of ½ mile long. Over the years, cavers/potholes etc had found/dug/opened up a very small passage through the roof fall going over, under, around the slabs of fallen limestone which lead out into the end of 144. I’m afraid that nowadays I would not have been able to crawl through it, but back in those days I flew threw it. It was that small and tight that it was nicknamed The Virgin so I can safely say that when I was younger I went through a virgin most Saturday afternoon’s! When once through The Virgin you dropped down over the other side of the roof fall again made up of huge blocks of limestone into another cathedral sized mine, Dark Cavern. Over to the left and at the very base of the mine was a partially covered brick wall in the centre of which was a tunnel entrance which led into a brick lined tunnel of identical design but of smaller section than the associated canal tunnels. This was one of the brick lined tunnels driven through the roof fall to allow continued extraction of limestone from the ‘Big Ben’ section of this mine to be taken out via the canal in Dark Cavern.. After a short distance the brickwork had collapsed and this tunnel closed. There was evidence of ‘sleeper imprints’ in the floor of this tunnel showing that Big Ben’s limestone in its latter years was removed in tub’s via this tunnel then following along the rock wall at the base of the Dark Cavern for approximately another 50 yards then making a 90° curve, terminating alongside a brick built loading wharf. Running along the right hand side of the mine was an elevated flat level ‘pathway’ about 20 feet above the base of the mine. The roof along this section of Dark Cavern was supported by huge pillars of limestone being left in place during limestone extraction. Due to the beds of limestone running at an angle of about 30° then these pillars lurched up from the right hand side of the mine at an angle of about 60° and about half way up their length there was a fault in the limestone with a 2 foot thick layer of softer material which, on some of the pillars was supported with large timber sections and wooden wedges, which often fell out. In total there were ,I think, thirteen of these huge pillars running in a row along the length of the mine. As I mentioned the tub way from Big Ben ended alongside a brick loading wharf, at this point was an underground canal basin from which the canal ran back from this point along the bottom left hand edge of this mine for about 150 yards then the canal, which was about 20 foot wide and 5 foot deep entered a brick lined tunnel about 14foot bore and about 50 foot in length. After this the canal emerged into another open section about 50 foot long to disappear into another brick lined tunnel originally about 50 yards long but blocked by a roof fall half way through, which lead the canal into Little Tess Mine by an open canal about 75 yards long then finally into a 50 foot section of tunnel leading to the underground junction with the main bore of the Dudley Canal Tunnel at Cathedral Arch.

(1966 and an empty trip boat returning to Tipton, behind the boat is the main Dudley Tunnel bore while to the left can be seen the entrance tunnel to Little Tess known as Cathedral Arch.)

Back to the canal basin in Dark Cavern, also at this point the canal makes a 90° turn then immediately disappears into a brick lined tunnel about 80 yards long until it opens back out into a mine about 75 feet in length called Mud Hole. At the far end of this mine the canal stops but running along each side of the canal are brick built loading wharves form where the limestone was loaded into the mine boats described earlier. This limestone mine actually ran at 90° to the canal and the mine ran off both to the left and the right. On the right the roof had collapsed and a brick wall ran parallel with the wharf about 20foot away and at the middle of it was a partly covered tunnel entrance called Sam’s Dig which lead into a small brick lined tunnel that had also collapsed a short distance in. On the right hand side running away from the loading wharf was a short mine that terminated in a total roof collapse called The Conference Room. At this point the limestone was quite soft and crumbly and lumps were easily split open with a welders chipping hammer or a brickies hammer to reveal loads and loads of the famous Trilobite known as ‘The Dudley Bug’. Continuing straight on from the loading area, lead through a very unstable section of mine regularly collapsing, then to a rising passageway leading to the surface and bringing you out through a small climb/crawl into the bottom of another of the surface depressions or pits. Back into the Dark Cavern at the canal basin, the pathway we were following passes over the top of the tunnel entrance to Mud Hole then past the next limestone pillar and finishes at the base of a stone set of palatial steps leading up the sloping side of the mine to a higher level.

(A view inside Dark Cavern showing one of the huge pillars and its fault line. Also the stone steps and the tunnel leading to Mud Hole)(photo Roy Fellows)

At the top and at the left of this stone staircase, is the Bandstand a flat ‘stage’ area surrounded by a low stone wall, again all built out of limestone. It was from this stage that in 1849 Sir Roderick Murchison gave a lecture on Dudley’s limestone and fossils to an invited audience of 15,000. Evidence of the gas lighting installed for this and subsequent visits were around this area with iron gas piping and supporting brackets. Continuing along this higher pathway brings us past another six limestone support pillars and then to the main entrance on the right hand side which consisted of a large pit breaking through into the mine with a set of stone steps leading up through the pit to the surface. Continuing on a further 50 yards you are confronted by a most impressive stone arch way in which was a large iron gate. Between the top of the arch and the roof, large sections of tree trunk were fitted as supports and from a distance, especially with a light behind the archway, it looked like a set of monster teeth hence its name The Dragons Teeth. Behind the gateway was a pathway that lead up to the surface which I understood to be a mine workers entrance. As there was no access forward to link to Little Tess, you had to leave the mine system here at this point and walk the short distance across to another small surface fissure which led down into Little Tess via a climb/crawl. Little Tess was only a small mine in comparison to the Dark Cavern being about 70 yards long, 50 foot wide and about the same height. At the bottom was the open section of canal with a tunnel leading off to the right to the Dudley Tunnel, originally a tunnel went of to the right leading back to Dark Cavern, but this had been lost in roof fall. Leading off on the left at an angle to the through canal was another tunnel, this time not brick lined but of natural rock. This tunnel being about 9 feet wide and with water 5 foot deep. This 80 yard tunnel leads through to the Singing Cavern, which now forms part of the modern day Tunnel trips and has been ‘altered and landscaped’. In the 60’s the canal continued along the whole length of the mine up to the roof fall at the end, approx 100 yards. About half way along its length and on each side of the canal were brick built loading wharfs. Leading back from these wharfs were short 25 foot rock tunnels and at the end of each of these tunnels was a 10 foot circular brick lined shaft leading to the surface but capped off and leading down to a second set of galleries about 70 feet below and totally flooded. Above where the rock tunnel emerges from Little Tess, were three large limestone pillars similar to those in the Dark Cavern and also at this time, above and behind the rock tunnel were two large holes leading out to the surface giving both fresh air and easy access. Some say this mine was called ‘singer’ because the wind used to blow through these two holes and make sounds, but I must say I’ve been down there from slight breeze to gale force and never hear any sounds, however this mine was very close to the surface and as a result was always very wet with drips continuously falling and as the floor of the mine was all canal, if you stood quietly all you could hear was plop plop plip plop plip plep plip plop plap plup plip plop! And I was told that this was where it got its name from! The last two mines I will describe were not connected to any of those previously described, other than they all connect back to the main Dudley Tunnel. Leading off the Castle Mill Basin on the Dudley side is Murder Mine. Originally both Castle Mill and Shirts Mill Basins were not basins as such but were roofed over and were limestone mines in their own right but later had their tops taken off opening them up to the surface. Murder Mine was named after a dead body found there many years ago ( there’s always a body!) It is a bit non descript really being about 80 feet wide 30 feet high and 125 yards long and terminating in a roof fall. The other mine, known as Flooded Mine , for fairly obvious reasons, ran at 90° to the main canal off Shirts Mill Basin. As you come out of the main Dudley Tunnel into Shirts Mill Basin, or to give this section it’s proper name , Lord Wards Tunnel, you are flanked on both sides by brick built loading wharfs. The tunnel entrance you had just come out of had two side tunnels, now bricked up, to enable boats to await loading and leaving a through route open for boats using the main Dudley tunnel.

(The Lord Wards Tunnel looking back towards the Tipton portal showing the two ‘loading tunnels’ either side the main tunnel.)

On the right a short brick tunnel lead to a round vertical shaft leading both up presumably originally to winding gear, and down to Tipton Colliery running through this short tunnel was excavated a short length of tub rail track with cast rails and sleepers into which was cast the name Ward, the Earls of Dudley family name. On the left hand side was a small triangular mine entrance which lead into a small chamber about 20feet square then leading off from this was a brick lined tunnel of similar dimensions to the brick lined tub track tunnels in Dark Cavern and Mud Hole. This tunnel was about 100 yards long then it opened out into another small mine about 70 feet long and 40 feet wide only to again disappear into another brick lined tunnel about 100 yards long which again opens out into a small mine with a larger section of mine going off and upwards to the right hand side. Continuing into a third 100 yard section of bricked tunnel you finally come out into the main mine. So far you have been wading through 2 feet of water from the very start of this mine, also the remaining imprints of the tug rail sleepers can be seen through the whole length of this mine before you disturb the crystal clear water that is! As you emerge into this last part of the mine the water gets shallower and shallower until over on the left hand side of the mine you are walking on dry floor. Over on the right at this point there is an iron pipe about 4 inches diameter running vertically from ceiling to floor and into the water. At a point on the surface that we worked out to be over the top of this point is a small brick building with a 4 inch pipe coming up through the floor and on the top of the pipe was a series of ceased levers and mechanism which I would say was some pumping system. Eventually after a further 100 yards the floor of the mine gradually gets nearer the roof as you clamber over another roof fall. In total you have probably travelled close on half a mile or there abouts and in freezing cold water just below your tender bits, (so long as you don’t splash about to much and walk gently) Well there you go that’s about it, once again my biggest regret is, same as the canals at this time, that I didn’t take loads of photo’s. Anyway I have only one word of warning for you, if you still could venture down and you did, then as far as those big loose lumps of rock are concerned – Don’t bang ‘em about,


Sunday, 22 August 2010

Dem bones, dem bones.

Well what a weekend it has been. Saturday night we were supposed to be going to an anniversary party being held by fellow ‘fish’ Josher owners of Trout Dave and Karen in a field up above Hoo Mill in a marquee. But in the end this was not to be. Saturday morning and Dawn went off to work and I went off down Minnow to work, at about 1.00pm Dawn phoned me to say that her mother had fell in the kitchen at home and broken her hip and could I come home and meet her at her shop to go over to the hospital in West Bromwich We did and sat with her mom and dad until the doctor and surgeon came round and explained what would be happening and that she would be going down to theatre about 9.30am on Sunday morning. By now it was after 8.00pm and we came away leaving Dawn’s Dad and elder sister with her Mom. At this time neither of us had had anything to eat and was really hungry so we stopped off to collect some battered chips. By the time we had got home and devoured these chips it was about 9.30pm and far too late to be going to the party.

Sunday morning we received a phone call from Dawn’s dad saying that the operation had been cancelled and that her Mom would not be going down to theatre until Monday morning. We arranged to go over and visit her Mom on Sunday evening and to pick her Dad and elder sister up on the way. After breakfast Dawn did her housework while I went down Minnow for a couple of hours. I repaired three of the false floors with timber re-cycled from a pallet that was lying about the yard and gave them a coat of my mixture. With this done, all the false floors are now finished and I am now ready to start on other jobs. I came back home about 3.30pm and had dinner, after which we went over to pick up Dawn’s Dad and visit her mom in hospital. She has now been told she will go for surgery tomorrow. Here’s hoping.

And just for the doctors and nurses,

Don’t bang ‘er about.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Been very busy at work at the moment!

Been doing lots of jobs round the house!

A lot going on in my life at the moment!

My computer has been down!

Been on holiday!

Been to see my new Grandson!

I thought of all these excuses that I could use for not blogging for the last five weeks when the actual truth is I could not think of anything to write about. I have never professed to be any type of scholar or academic and writing does not come naturally without I have a subject that I think worthy of writing about. I will sometimes think of some snippet of subject matter and then as quickly as I’ve thought of it, I think naw, nobody would be interested in that. I sometimes get directed to other blogs and read what I consider to be absolute twaddle, then there’s others that I regularly read (daily) such as Dove’s and Chertsey girl’s and am amazed how they find such interesting things to blog about. So excuses over and humble apologies made here we go and so to waffle on about nothing in particular other than a quick catch up of what little has happened over the last five weeks after returning Minnow to her home moorings at Kings Bromley.

Went down to St Ives, Corwall to spend a few days with my eldest daughter and son in law and more than anything see my latest grandchild Sam.

Drank lots of Rattler cider, ate loads of Cornish pasties, went to Land’s End on a rainy foggy day and saw nothing and spent loads of time with Sam!

Since coming back from St Ives have spent most Saturdays down at Minnow carrying out lots of little jobs that needed doing as well as polishing brass and black leading.

As we had been having quite a bit of rain in the last couple of weeks I went down the boat this Saturday and pumped about 9inches of rain water out. Quite early in the day Jim and Sarah returned with Chertsey after their jaunt up the Trent. After helping them to tie up and a quick chat they were off to Shardlow to fetch their car back before heading off home. I had decided the next job would be to re black the false floors with creosote mixed with black bitumastic. On Sunday afternoon both Dawn and I went down and made a start. Dawn sat and kept Bruce occupied and worked really hard on a book of wordsearch puzzles while I lifted all the false floor panels (some call them shuts) from one side and stacked them on the other side of the hold then proceeded to wash the bottoms out removing all the accumulated crud.

After washing down and again pumping out, the floors were all put back down and were all given a liberal coating of my special brew. On the Sunday afternoon I managed to finish all the one side. On Monday I took a change of clothes to work with me and went straight down to Minnow after work to start on the other side.

Dawn turned up about an hour later with Pizza, wedges and garlic bread for tea so we sat on the back end boards and devoured as much of this feast as we could, leaving one slice of the ‘Spicy chicken’ pizza. After stuffing myself I started blacking again and Dawn said she was bored so asked where the fishing pole was. I fetched it and set it up for her, stating we Had no bait but undaunted Dawn set about fishing using small pieces of the spicy chicken. ‘Never catch anything’ I thought when Dawn cries out shad had one.

A nice plump 8 inch roach! She went on to catch another five and dropped two off, all in about half an hour. (beginners luck) Tonight I again went straight down Minnow from work and finished off the floors, all done, so Need to think of next job for this weekend. So till next time

Don’t bang ‘em about.