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
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
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
|Samuel Barlow Coal Co,
||6 boats per week
|A. Brockhurst, Birmingham
||7 boats per week
|Alexander Comley Ltd,
||9 boats per week
|T & M Dixon, Birmingham
|Haunchwood Collieries Ltd
|Frank Knight Ltd, Birmingham
||2 boats per week
|Leamore Coal Co, Birmingham
|Leonard Leigh, Birmingham
||Cannock & Leacroft
|| 6 boats per week
|Lunt Brothers, Birmingham
|Moira Colliery Co, Ashby
|Pooley Hall Colliery Co.
|Spencer Abbott, Birmingham
||9 boats per week
||6 boats per week
|D M Stevenson & Co,
|Wilson Carter & Pearson.
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
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.