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Wednesday, 16 October, 2019

Common Knowledge

This section of the web site is used to store the interesting snippets of information that we have gleaned about the history of the Common. Friends of Baddesley Common however, are not able to verify this anecdotal information and it is therefore provided purely for interest.

Bell Pits

At places like Baddesley Common where the coal occurred on the surface, families dug into the seam and carried the coal away digging along the measure and forming a drift mine. Sometimes they dug out the coal until a large bell-shaped chamber was left which would then collapse inwards if it was not propped up by timber.

Fred's Pit

"I was born in a house next door to Granny Ball's Shop.  I have lived in Baddesley all of my life and almost on the Common itself.  My Grandfather, Fred Chetwynd (born 1894) was a miner at Baddesley Pit for nearly all of his working life.  He fought in the trenches during the First World War and not only were the conditions bad in the trenches, but when the war was over the soldiers he was with were transported through France in cattle trucks.  There was an epidemic of flu which killed thousands and Granddad said that it almost killed him.  When he managed to get home he was in a terrible state and had to take all of his army clothes off in the shed and burn them on the garden because they were infested with fleas and lice.  His father, who was also named Fred (born 1859) used to deliver coal from the Pit to houses in and around Baddesley with his horse and cart, travelling up and down Parkside Road.  The horse was called 010 because it was an ex-army horse from the First World War and was branded 010.  He was a real 'WARHORSE'. There are still a few people in Baddesley and Baxterley who can remember him.  He used to keep his horses on ground at the top of Hill Top which, until recently, was always known in the village as Fred’s Pit.  There are houses built on it now and it is now called Manor Close.  My Grandfather used to tell me that there was at one time a pit and a large deep pond on the site and that a train (Locomotive Steam Engine) had fallen into it. They were unable to get the train out and had to leave it there.  Granddad told me this story over and over again and swore that there was a train in Fred's Pit." [Brian Wykes]

If there is anyone who remembers Fred's Pit and the story about the train please let us know.

Jim Crow's Pit

"On the opposite side of Newlands Road from the Vicarage there were two big thick iron plates set in the ground right beside the Black Path.  One of them was cracked and we used to jump up and down on it to see if we could break it.  Luckily we didn’t because Granddad told us that the plates covered an old mine shaft called Jim Crow's Pit.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later when the steel plates were removed so that the shaft could be filled in that we realised just how dangerous it had been.  It wasn’t the only mine shaft on the common and surrounding areas that had been left open. There were at least six just inside the wood only a few yards from the road.  These didn’t even have a covering over them just a wire fence placed round them. We used to crawl up to the edge of the shafts so that we could look down to see if we could see the bottom.  I have always been amazed at how neat the brickwork was and wondered how they managed to build such a perfectly dead straight tube of bricks all the way down a shaft that was so deep that you can’t even see the bottom.

Some of the old shafts were covered with wooden beams which will eventually rot and give way. This is what happened to Maypole Pit Shaft and a Pit Shaft that was on the opposite side of the road to Oakwood Close.  The covering on both of these shafts gave way and they had to be filled in and a fence was put round them.  Laurel bushes were then planted on the top of them.  The bushes were removed from Maypole Pit Shaft because they were spreading further over the Common, however, they weren't removed from the Pit near Oakwood Close and they are now covering a large area of the Common.  I think there are other old shafts that may give way in time.  Taking into account all of the old shafts and tunnels, it’s no wonder that Baddesley Common has been left alone and not built on.  If you started to dig foundations for houses you could disappear down a very deep hole." [Brian Wykes]

The Million Guinea Road

Soon after 1817 an underground road was dug under the Common connecting most, if not all, of the pits underground. This underground road was called The Million Guinea Road and all of the coal produced in Baddesley travelled along this underground roadway.  It ran roughly parallel to where the Black Path is and travelled the whole length of the Common to a shaft in the Merevale Fields adjacent to Colliery Farm.  The shaft was known as Reuben’s Wind and it was there that the coal was wound to the surface and transported by a tramway to the Canal at Baddesley Wharf.  In 1832 spontaneous combustion caused an underground fire at Reuben’s Wind and this made the shaft inoperable.  An emergency alternative had to be put in place in a hurry as there was now no means of transporting the coal out of Baddesley.

The Black Path

Shown on a mining map of 1845 and labelled ‘Railway’, the Black Path tramway was laid down across the Common and stretched from the Bunny Banks at the top of Hill Top to a point near Folly Lane.  From there a tunnel had to be dug to continue the tramline to the existing tramline in the Merevale fields.  This tunnel is 430 yards long and had to be built as quickly as possible, and so a shaft was dug in the middle so that four faces could be worked on instead of the usual two.  The tunnel is still there and you used to be able to walk down it, although the roof had caved in half way down. The entrance has now been blocked off.  One wonders if the Million Guinea Road still lies beneath Baddesley Common!

"I can remember that there were large cast iron pipes sticking up out of the ground in various places all the way up the Common.  They were about thirty feet high and about a foot in diameter.  Could it be that they were air vents for the underground road?" [Brian Wykes]

If anyone knows the answer please let us know. 

It wasn’t until much later when the tramway became redundant and the rails were removed that it became known as the Black Path.  So named because after its removal, a wide path made of slack and coal dust was left which crossed the middle of the Common.  Miners from Baddesley and Grendon used to walk along this path to and from Baddesley Pit.

Albert Fretwell states that the tramway was of the Coalbrookdale type, using plates six feet long, which would probably best be described today as heavy duty angle irons.  There were no sleepers, the plates joined by chairs mounted on stone, fish-tail-shaped blocks, each weighing 67 lbs (30kgs), let into the ground.  Albert suggests that there must be hundreds of the stones left on the common just below the surface where the line used to be.

Near Atherstone

The image above is a painting by Edmund John Niemann (1813-1876) titled ‘Near Atherstone’.
It is said to show a haulage house on the Black Path and the Church in the background is the newer Baddesley Church.

The Gullet

The area of Church Row and the path leading down to it was probably called The Gullet before Church House was built.  Older people of the village have always referred to it as The Gullet.  The name has been passed down through generations.

1945 Aerial Photo

1945 Aerial Photo

"There were no trees on the Common, just grassland with a few bushes here and there.  Every year the grass on the Common was mown and left to dry for a week or so, and then bailed.  It frequently caught fire and the fire brigade had to come and put it out.   There was nearly always a herd of cows on the Common.  I think the cows belonged to Mr Jody Wood who had a small holding at the bottom of Folly Lane where he lived at Woodview Cottage.  His Cottage must have had grazing rights on the Common.  Each morning the cows were driven up Folly Lane and onto the Common to graze.  There was always a herdsman with them but I can’t remember what his name was.  Another person who grazed animals on the Common was a Mr Ted Albrighton who had a small holding at the rear of Granny Ball’s Shop.  Mr Albrighton had all sorts of farm animals and would graze his sheep and goats on the common near our house.  His property must have had grazing rights also.

In the aerial photo (shown right) the Common is virtually treeless and there are signs of cultivation which we believe were part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during the Second World War.

All of the ground on the Common had a sort of uneven wavy surface, rows that had been hoed up just like potato fields.  My Grandfather told us that prisoners of war were put to work growing vegetables on the Common during the Second World War and that’s why the ground seemed to have a wavy surface.  When the war ended and the last crops were harvested the Common must have been abruptly abandoned as far as crop growing was concerned, and the grass was left to re grow where the crops had been.  All of the Common had been used for this purpose except the areas that were used as rubbish dumps. The area known to villagers as the Mill Knob wasn’t used because it was mainly sand and clay.  Also, the site where the Maypole Pit used to be wasn’t used because it would have been too toxic from the Pit waste.  Obviously the Black Path wasn’t used.

We weren’t allowed to play in the roads or streets because if we did someone would come out of their house and tell us off. We were told to play on the Common, as far away from houses as possible, as many of the men in the village were miners and some were on the night shift and had to sleep during the day.  The Common was a fantastic playing field and we used to have football and cricket matches on the Common." [Brian Wykes]

School Walks on the Common

"The teachers at Baddesley School used to take us for walks along the Black Path and we had to walk in two’s in an orderly fashion with each boy holding a girls hand.  As we passed the cows some of the girls were frightened of them and would start crying.  Those of us who spent most of our time playing on the Common were quite used to them and took no notice of them. We would often meet miners from Baddesley Pit walking down the Black Path and I would usually see my Grandfather, he would stand with a big grin on his face watching us walk by, and when I got home from School Granddad used to pull my leg saying that I must be sweet on that girl as I always held the same girl’s hand.  I tried my hardest to explain to him that the teacher put me with the same girl every time we went for a walk, but Granddad loved to pull my leg.  He had a hard life but was always one for a joke and a laugh.

In January 1921 his wife, my Grandmother, gave birth to my mother, but there were complications and the doctor was urgently sent for.  The Vicar was also ill at this time and the doctor decided to go to the Vicar instead of going to my Grandmother’s aid. Next morning the Vicar was dead and so was my Grandmother.  Granddad was left with two little girls to bring up without a mother, but my Great Grandmother acted as a mother to them both.

Granddad suffered for a long time with coal dust in his lungs and died in 1969. Albert Fretwell came to his funeral with a Union Jack and draped it over his coffin." [Brian Wykes]


Fretwell, Albert., 1994. 'Low Seams and High Vistas – Baddesley Ensor of Yesteryear'.