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Warwickshire's Industrial Railways

LMS Route: Nuneaton to Birmingham New Street See Forgemills Station (14) for the details on the nearby passenger station.

Hams Hall Power Station

by Keith Turton

This segment, or chapter, was written from four forms of source material only, (1) the solitary record of the coal contracts of the City of Birmingham Electric Supply Department, (2) a loaned copy of a booklet detailing shunting and trip working timetables of the Midland Railway part of British Railways in the Birmingham area for 1955-6 (by kind courtesy of Bob Essery) (3) Notes accumulated over fifteen years of research into the coal trade and its wagons and (4) the faithful Google.

Overall, this is a unique opportunity to study what are today called logistics to source, transport, deliver the essential supplies and collect the empties and return those empties to the source of supply. For a power station it is simple, for a gasworks an added complication is that the coal empties have to be returned to the colliery, and an additional form of traffic is created in the products of coke ovens and chemical plants, and returning those empties to pick up another load. For a steelworks the only surviving record ((and this is incomplete) which I have been able to study is that of Stewarts and Lloyds Corby Works. Here the variety of inwards and outwards goods is substantial and the logistics are far more complicated. For example a 1938 photo of the works shows many coke wagons and many others belonging to the Tarmac company, loading furnace slag to be transformed into roadmaking material.

For simplicity, let's start with a power station!

Designed to supplement the existing power station of Nechells and replace the soon-to-be-phased out at Summer Lane, Hams Hall was intended to cater for the electricity requirements of Birmingham until the nationalisation of the power industry. Hams Hall was, in contrast to Birmingham's existing power stations, not served by a canal.

The first of three generating stations, Hams Hall 'A', commenced operation in November 1929 and is notable that it was the first in the country to burn pulverised coal as a fuel. Coal-fired power stations normally and historically burned small coal and slack coal, the cheapest on the market and a blessing for the collieries in that it helped them unload large quantities of this material otherwise stockpiled until a buyer could be found.. The choice of location was obviously influenced by its proximity to the section of railway between Water Orton and Whitacre Junction, which gave direct access for coal traffic from the South Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire coalfields and from the Toton Marshalling Yards. Preparations for its construction may date back to 1920, when it is recorded that a siding (for construction traffic?) was laid. It was closed in 1975, leaving both the "B" and "C" plants running.

Hams Hall 'B' power station was opened in 1942, extended in 1946 and 1949 and closed in 1987. Hams Hall 'C' was built between 1956 and 1958 and converted to burn natural gas between 1970 and 1973. It was closed in 1992 and the entire site cleared and redeveloped as an industrial estate which incorporates a rail/road transport exchange for containers (and possibly some of the sidings).

As an indication of how much coal is consumed by a large power station, the only records of the City of Birmingham Electric Supply Department which are relevant are those which detail contracts for 1933 and held in Staffordshire Archives. It was found amongst documents of the Hamstead Colliery, arousing suspicion that it may have been misfiled due to the similarity of the two names. Even so there was no covering document to confirm their identity except a signature which I matched up with that of the then Secretary of the Electricity Department.

This is surprising when so much of the Birmingham Corporation's contract details have been preserved and can be found in the Archives of the Birmingham Central Library. From this source over many visits I was able to copy out details of almost all of the Gas Department's contracts for its entire existence, together with those of the inter-departmental Coal Buying Committee.

Revealed was an anticipated consumption of 400,000 tons of coal from several collieries, plus 50,000 tons of coke breeze from the Birmingham gasworks which was transported by a fleet of seventy canal boats owned by the Electricity Department for the short distance from the Nechells gasworks to the Nechells power station and possibly also to that at Summer Lane. (and hopefully well sheeted down!).

This quantity is similar to that consumed by the Nottingham power stations for the same year and has been used as an estimate for coal consumption in the late 1930s, Nottingham used twice that amount (800,000 tons) and it is reasonable to assume that Birmingham's offtake was similar. The only known reference is a vague and undated note in Wikepedia that Hams Hall consumed 775,000 tons of coal a year, in round figures 16.000 tons a week needing 220 wagon loads, 5/6 trains a day seven days a week with seasonal variations, based on ten tons per wagon. Assuming this was slack and small coal, it indicates that the entire output of these two grades from all three collieries on the Kingsbury Colliery branch plus that of others in the Nuneaton area was accounted for, in peacetime to the delight of the colliery owners.

Additional supplies were ordered to cover shortfalls at the Birmingham Coal Exchange, but not recorded , although this was practiced by the Gas Department. Known collieries to have been patronised were Butterley, Mapperley and Denby in Derbyshire; Shireoaks and Pleasley in Notts; Coleorton, Netherseal and South Leicester in Leicestershire and Conduit and Cannock Old Coppice in Cannock Chase.

Many coal contracts stipulated a quantity of 'boatloads', which have been taken as 25 tons. It is assumed that these were specified for the Summer Lane power station, but some may have gone to Nechells, which was equipped with a Telpher to expedite unloading. This would indicate that almost 66,000 tons was carried in this way. However, as one of the contractors was the Samuel Barlow Carrying Co. of Tamworth, a major user of canal transport, and much revered by canal historians and enthusiasts, it is quite likely that the canals and the LMS railway shared this (and possibly other) contractors traffic particularly if it was delivered to Nechells . It was the usual practice for operators like Samuel Barlow to hire railway wagons to honour their contracts during periods when canals were closed to traffic (I.e. frozen over in winter). Three other contractors, Spencer Abbott, Frank Knight and Leonard Leigh also known to have owned canal boats.

It should also be considered that the Pooley Hall Colliery, which features frequently as a supplier, had a rapid loading system which could load a canal boat in 15 minutes and some not specified may have been sent by canal. Such were the complexities of the day showing where even a basically simple operation could, did and still does confuse students of the period.

What is detailed here are the contracts placed with various merchants and factors, and which would have been shared between the Summer Lane, Nechells and Hams Hall installations, the latter dominating.

Warwickshire collieries are shown in bold type

Contractor Tonnage Colliery
Samuel Barlow Coal Co, Tamworth 6,250 Ansley Hall
  7,800 Minorca
  6 boats per week Holly Bank
  9,500 Pooley Hall
  500 (boat) Pooley Hall
  15,000 Shipley
A. Brockhurst, Birmingham 7 boats per week Cannock Chase
  5,200 Coleorton
Alexander Comley Ltd, Birmingham 9 boats per week Baggeridge
  15,000 Brereton
  28,600 Keresley
  44,000 Cadley Hill
  13,000 Kingsbury
T & M Dixon, Birmingham 5,200 Ansley Hall
Haunchwood Collieries Ltd 10,400 Tunnel
Frank Knight Ltd, Birmingham 2 boats per week Cannock Chase
  6,240 Arley
  26,000 Birch Coppice
Leamore Coal Co, Birmingham 26,000 Baddesley
  13,000 West Cannock
Leonard Leigh, Birmingham 20,000 Cannock & Leacroft
  13,000 Griff
  6 boats per week Hamstead
Lunt Brothers, Birmingham 5,200 Exhall
  12,000 Newdigate
Moira Colliery Co, Ashby (Leicestershire) 15,000 Donisthorpe (Note ¹)
Pooley Hall Colliery Co. 20,000 Pooley Hall
Spencer Abbott, Birmingham 9 boats per week Aldridge
  6 boats per week Warren Hall
D M Stevenson & Co, Birmingham 6,500 Binley
  13,000 Whitwick
Wilson Carter & Pearson. Birmingham 6,500 Tamworth

With regards to narrow boat deliveries, it would be expected that alternate transport be used during periods (e.g. frozen over in winter) when the canals were closed.
Footnote No ¹ alternately, coal from Church Gresley and Bagworth could be supplied.
Donisthorpe has been noted as wagons from the utility were frequently recorded as seen there.

Looking through the list of successful contractors, it is surprising to see that the three most dominant in the industry on a national scale, Stephenson Clarke, Wm. Cory and E. Foster and Co, are not featured. Neither are two of Birmingham's biggest, J.C. Abbott and Evesons. It is inconceivable that they were not invited to tender, as Wilson Carter and Pearson obviously were. However, there are three in the successful list who, from beginnings at the start of the twentieth century, grew into large and influential members of the trade,, Spencer Abbott, who were also canal boat builders and later emerged from the decimation of the coal industry to become successful commercial motor body builders, Lunt Brothers, master quarrymen and Alexander Comley Ltd, the latter two continuing their coal interest in conjunction with Pitt and Leeson to form C.P.L.Fuels Ltd. Three others, Haunchwood, Pooley Hall and Moira, were colliery owners.

Of the others, D. M. Stephenson were a long established firm of coal exporters and Iron merchants based in Glasgow, who made a short-lived foray into the English trade, Frank Knight Ltd were established back in 1910 with a depot at Soho Pool and still trading 46 years later. T. and M. Dixon were of some substance and their presence at Redditch was such that they had their own group of sidings in the station yard. Of Mrs A. Brockhurst and the Leamore Coal Co. I have no further information, but they had to be reliable and efficient traders to have won contracts such as this.

The really interesting one is Leonard Leigh, who was a major canal trader on the waters of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, specialising in the haulage of coal from mainly Cannock Chase collieries. Leigh owned many canal boats designed for short journeys (called 'day boats') and also copied the system on the River Thames with a fleet of diesel powered tugs hauling up to six loaded unpowered barges. Leigh was still taking delivery of new tugs as late as 1946 and traded on the canals until 1965. (See Working Boats). The firm later developed into specialists in the field of industrial waste disposal.

The Minorca, Cadley Hill, Whitwick and Moira collieries were in South Derbyshire or Leicestershire and would have been funneled from the Woodville Junction Sidings via Burton-on-Trent or via the Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Line via Nuneaton. Shipley was in Derbyshire and sent via Toton, Baggeridge was in the Black Country in Worcestershire, Brereton, Aldridge and the Cannock Chase collieries were all in South Staffordshire. Hamstead was within Birmingham itself.

The number of trip workings and shunting rosters detailed in 'The Kingsbury Colliery Branch' in this series gives some indication of the procession of trains carrying coal to Hams Hall from the direction of Tamworth, Burton-on-Trent , the Kingsbury Branch and Nuneaton. To these must be added target 62 from Saltley, start 6 a.m. with a 4F tender engine, working Shustoke, Arley Colliery, Hams Hall, Tunnel Colliery, , Whiteacre, Tunnel Colliery, Coleshill till 8.50 p.m., then as required till 12.56 a.m. then light engine to Saltley. This turn also involved Sunday working at Coleshill as required from 9.17 a.m. until 4.00 p.m. There were two regular workings from Nuneaton shed, target 85 run by an 8F 2-8-0 between Nuneaton, Washwood Heath, Hams Hall and the Arley Colliery and target 93, hauled by one of the timeless 0-8-0s of LNWR origin, still working hard in the mid-1950s, which did two return trips to Hams Hall from the Stockingford branch and the Arley Colliery I do not have all of the Nuneaton shed's rosters, only a few notes for trip working between Nuneaton and Water Orton and sometimes beyond. It is likely that Coventry shed would have covered much of the traffic from the Warwickshire coalfield between Nuneaton and Coventry.

Of course there was other traffic into the power station, particularly during the development stage Building supplies, bricks, sand, cement, aggregate, timber, ironmongery, stone and liquid fuel would have been included, often in substantial quantities. Heavy electrical equipment would most likely have been respectfully left in the domain of the out-of-gauge road heavy haulage specialists.

Keith Turton

First of five aerial photographs showing the Fort Dunlop factory and sidings together with the adjacent railway
Ref: mrforg1058
W Wright
View of Coleshill Signal Box with Hams Hall CEGB sidings signal in the foreground on 3rd August 1969
Second of five aerial photographs showing the Fort Dunlop factory and sidings together with the adjacent railway
Ref: misc_indust301
R Carr
Hams Hall loco shed showing two of the RSHN tanks with a third in the background in November 1971
Third of five aerial photographs showing the Fort Dunlop factory and sidings together with the adjacent railway
Ref: mrforg1056
HA Gamble
Now named Coleshill, the station is now dominated by the West Midlands Gas Company's Lurgi Gas Plant
Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Works 0-6-0T No 7158 at Hams Hall Power Station on 22nd April 1978
Ref: misc_indust078
AJ Booth
Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Works 0-6-0T No 7158 at Hams Hall Power Station on 22nd April 1978
Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns 0-6-0T No 7 is seen at Hams Hall Power station on 10th April 1965
Ref: misc_indust040
HA Gamble
Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns 0-6-0T No 7 is seen at Hams Hall Power station on 10th April 1965

Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns 0-6-0T 'CBES No 7' is seen shunting wagons at Hams Hall Power Station
Ref: misc_indust041
HA Gamble
Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns 0-6-0T 'CBES No 7' is seen shunting wagons at Hams Hall Power Station
Peckett Class 0-4-0ST No 4 is seen resting between duties at Hams Hall Power Station on 10th April 1965
Ref: misc_indust042
HA Gamble
Peckett Class 0-4-0ST No 4 is seen resting between duties at Hams Hall Power Station on 10th April 1965
Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns 0-6-0T 'CBES No 7' is seen shunting wagons at Hams Hall Power Station
Ref: misc_indust371
K Lane
Robert Stephenson Hawthorn Works No 7151, CEGB No 9, is seen on shed at Hams Hall Power Station in April 1978
RSH 0-6-0 CEGB No 9 is seen shunting a rake of British Railway steel bodied wagons at Hams Hall in the early 1970s
Ref: misc_indust372
G Edgar Archive
RSH 0-6-0 CEGB No 9 is seen shunting a rake of BR steel bodied wagons at Hams Hall in the early 1970s
British Electricity Authority, Midlands Division 0-6-0 No 10 is seen in 1967 in a very dirty condition towards the end of its working life
Ref: misc_indust373
J Wiltshire
British Electricity Authority, Midlands Division 0-6-0 No 10 is seen in 1967 is seen near the end of its working life

Another view of CEGB No 9 shunting wagons at Hams Hall Power Station on an unknown date in 1972
Ref: misc_indust374
D Taggart
Another view of CEGB No 9 shunting wagons at Hams Hall Power Station on an unknown date in 1972

Industrial Locomotives (38) Colliery Locomotives (8)