In the early 1930s a William Noak had retired as Works Manager of Twyfords, which was at the time one of the largest sanitary ware manufacturers in the UK. Knowing that the industry was crying out for a reliable source of pale-firing clay following restrictions on foreign imports, he began prospecting coal mines in the South Staffordshire coalfield which he knew as having the geology usually associated with this type of clay.
The Swan pub in Pelsall Road, Brownhills, was opposite a coal mine that was suffering financially. Calling in for a pint he overheard some miners complaining of the ‘awful, sticky mud’ they had to contend with in order to reach the coal. Talking to them he discovered that the coal seams were so shallow on Brownhills Common that they came to the surface.
Indeed much later during WW2 local people would dig coal out near the surface and sell it. The story goes that the landlord took him down into the pub cellars where behind some loose bricks was exactly the soft, buttery, pale grey clay he was looking for.
William then decided to invest his life-savings in purchasing the run down colliery across the road which he named Swan Works, as it is today. A few years later in 1935 The Potter’s Clay & Coal Co. Ltd. was incorporated which again, still exists to this day.
The site between the works and Coppice Lane has been extensively opencast with an earlier quarry now flooded and used by fishermen. The last big operation was in the 1970s, and is now in filled. However a relic of this operation, a Rushton Bucyrus Dragline Excavator remains on site. The site of the original colliery is also long quarried away.
In the 1950s the company operated a pit slightly north of Coppice Lane. Its spoil heaps can still be seen amongst the trees close to the road. The company had driven two ‘adits’ as described in a contemporary works, but more accurately could be described as inclined drifts similar to those in Royal Forest of Dean. These drifts worked Shallow Seam and one still remains but blocked and flooded.
Also on the edge of a spoil tip is a concrete buttress supporting an axle base which must have carried pulley wheels associated with a haulage system.
Brownhills Common is today a public open space, but coal mining had been carried on here for hundreds of years. The area is riddled with shafts, not all of them being accounted for and treated.
Just north of Engine Lane further down, two shafts have recently been treated by the Coal Authority.