The Oldbury smell– Everyone knew the source, everyone detected the odour of cat piss. A local councillor even waved her withered bush in front of a committee as to the effects it had blighted on the neighbourhood. I have unearthed the story of this pussy pong in several previous posts.
But we are not done yet it seems from this article.
The bad smell appears to have reached Tipton, (and quite ominously Dudley Port), in this article from The Birmingham Daily Post of 29 July 1967. The familiar themes emerge about the MO of the offending olfactory menace- sleepless nights, making people feel ill, and elusive to track down. But was this in itself “the Oldbury smell” of old, or a new “Lion King” on the block?
Some might say that the Rattlechain Brickworks and the man who operated them were cursed. Even in the days before any health and safety legislation- (we know that Samuel Barnett had lost an arm at the nearby Stour Valley Brickworks), calamity appeared all around the chain. The 1899 bursting of the banks and emptying of 7 miles of canal into the 100 yards deep marl pit is well documented.
Not so well known are the deaths of two men, who were working on heightening the brickworks stack in 1906.
This post deals with another serious accident between the two World Wars at the brickworks, and interestingly gives an account of when they were still operating.
Position of the former Rattlechain brickworks superimposed on the current lagoon site.
From The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 7th March 1930 we learn that A Tipton man- Fred Turner was given a £90 compensation payment after breaking his leg three years earlier whilst working on the face of the pit. By now Barnett himself was dead, but his sons had obviously taken over the business. One wonders if the delay in payment and the long layoff of poor Fred was due to the litigious nature of this company and The Barnett’s in attempting to avoid blame. A job or business with them was a risk not really worth taking.
When industries involving dangerous chemicals fold there is a very big problem. Who picks up the mess when these companies shut their doors for the final time and the workforce move on? I have seen it many times and stories about how these sites are left are chronicled by so called “urban explorers” who photograph what is left behind. One such example is the former “shitehaven” factory of Albright and Wilson. Chemicals and leaking drums were mixed with a sea of papers, some of them containing personal information about individuals previously employed there.
Such sites appear to be like something out of the film 28 days later, as though abandoned by a catastrophic event that has mothballed them. Such sites become the target of looters, scrap metal thieves and worse arsonists. The dangers that such places pose to local residents and the environment from left behind hazardous and flammable chemicals are real.
One such place locally that I have stumbled on is the former Liberty Drawn Tubes (previously Phoenix Steel Tubes) in West Bromwich. The site closed production in November 2018, but prior to this PersimmonHomes had gained an interest in changing the use of the site for residential development. This was approved by Sandwell council last year.
DC/18/62186 | Proposed erection of 128 dwellings and associated works. | Land Adjacent And Rear Of 37 & Land Adjacent 100 Phoenix Street West Bromwich B70 0AS
But Persimmon have yet to make any appearance on the site, and no bricks have even yet appeared. This post is about the story of the disgusting manner in which those at Liberty Drawn Tubes- principally their directors and those with financial leadership of this company have left the site. It is quite apparent, as will be revealed that there is currently zero security.
Firstly the site location itself. The Balls Hill canal branch passes to the rear of the sprawling factory. This canal has effectively been long abandoned by the former British Waterways and now the Canal and Rivers Trust. The fate was effectively sealed by the crooked Black Country Development Corporation, who in their wisdom built the Black Country Spine Road ( a gypsy pitch hard shoulder) through it at swan village. The canal still goes under the road, but its connection to the Ridgeacre branch is now unnavigable, meaning that no boats can ever go down there.
Unfortunately it appears that with the closure of the factory, someone used the opportunity to put pallets across the silt to gain access into the abandoned site. It is quite visible from the towpath that the thieves have been helping themselves to what was left behind- and of greater concern , have been removing drums of toxic and hazardous liquids which have found their way into the canal. It is quite clear that tanks and barrels and potential vats of chemicals remain on site, which were not decommissioned by the abandonment. This is of course the problem- but whose problem is it to deal with?
I contacted the Environment agency who basically said if there was no pollution then its not us .GOV. So I then contacted Sandwell council, who of course in their wisdom have granted Persimmon planning permission. I’m not sure if a single planning officer has ever set foot on this site, or certainly any councillor who approved the application- but what a great place to live eh? I also contacted The Canal and Rivers Trust.
Persimmon’s “environmental consultants” (georisk) record what actually is on site in their site walkover in the application on behalf of Persimmon Homes, but this is where I have the profound difficulty. If both they and Persimmon are aware of the risk, and Sandwell council have approved an application knowing about this risk then why have all of them taken no interest in removing it, prior to said application being made? Here are selected extracts from the Georisk appraisal of the then site conditions- which are now of course elevated due to the trespass and pollutant linkages which their report does not address.
Of course the house building lobbyists and their political shills claim that reusing such sites will get them cleaned up- well does this mean that they can be deliberately left like this, and are they being for this purpose? Why are house builders even allowed to submit planning applications and have them granted BEFORE they have cleared up the site, and not left it unsecured as is the case here? All three of these agents , house builder, environmental consultant and planning authority are complicit in knowing the dangers to members of the public, and of course the directors of Liberty Drawn Tubes for leaving behind such a fucking disgusting mess.
It was quite clear speaking to the perplexed guy on the phone at SMBC , that there were no adequate forms to record the type of complaint that I was making- but it has I’m told been recorded by their environmental health team. BUT
THIS IS A SERIOUS ARSON RISK- INVOLVING DANGEROUS CHEMICALS THAT COULD BE RELEASED TO AFFECT RESIDENTS WHO LIVE ACROSS THE ROAD.
IT IS A RISK TO CONTROLLED WATERS AND THE CANAL AND WILDLIFE.
THERE IS ASBESTOS ROOFING AND OIL TANKS THERE.
THERE IS A DANGER TO TRESPASSERS ON THE SITE.
The EA will act only if there is a pollution issue. The fire brigade will only come if there is a fire which may involve the abandoned chemicals that are now scattered everywhere across the site and beyond. BUT WHAT ARE THEY ALL WAITING FOR? Is the risk less important than an actual event that they are all prepared for within their remits but will not act to prevent it from happening?
It appears that some urban explorers have entered the site and posted a youtube video, which even further underlines the point that I am making here. I don’t care about fucking boreholes and percussion tests to determine contaminated soils and if this can be remediated and sticking 600 cm of top soil over it to cover it up- Such desk studies by bookish theorics are worthless. The main issue is the current state of the place and the lack of security. But I just ask the question again- WHO PICKS UP THE MESS OF LIBERTY DRAWN TUBES BEFORE THE FIRST FOUNDATIONS FOR HOUSES ARE SUNK?
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They say that life is stranger than fiction. A couple of observations just lately have left me with tears of laughter strolling down my cheeks.
I have outlined the full list of planning applications for the vile Trinity street chemical factory- source of all the associated toxic waste including the white phosphorus that poisoned birds at Rattlechain lagoon extensively on this website. The latest in this series had escaped me up until recently with the demolition consent granted of three buildings from the Albright and Wilson era- namely the Accomet store (described in HS21 as “a finished product of highly sheared silicon in chromic solution used in the metal finishing industry”) , phosphorus chloridesplant and the EO store. (phosphorus trichoride being a chemical weapons pre cursor.)
As part of the documents submitted, Solvay wrote to householders advising them of the scheme, and Mr Mike Jones is listed as “project manager- THE POSEIDON PROJECT”
DER, DER ,DER…….. Is this a top secret codenamed operation to develop trident in Oldbury?! 😆 Whatever could this project be in connection to this site and the associations with a macho God of the seas? I was even tempted to ask The tramp phosphorus living at Rattlechain lagoon if he knew anything, but as ever he has long standing grievances against the site operators and had not been given what he had requested.
But rather than alluding to Greek mythology , it only reminds me of that great disaster movie of the 1970’s- The Poseidon adventure.
In the movie the ship is hit by a tsunami creating disaster for all on board as “hell upside down” is created. 😆 There are explosions, fires, and general death and mayhem- sounds much like Trinity Street and a rather apt name for any project connected to the site. 😆
DISASTER AT PO BOX 80!
I have previously considered the lagoon being a brilliant setting for a film location in this post.
The other stranger than fiction moment occurred when I discovered that rattlechain lagoon itself has become the unlikely setting to feature in a murder mystery serial killer novel entitled “Fatal Promise” by Angela Marsons. 😆
I just can’t think where the local author’s inspiration came from for its inclusion in the book, but I’ll have to get a copy and review it. 😆
I hope Poseidon isn’t coming to rattlechain anytime soon. There’s been enough disaster down there when Albright and Wilson turned up with chemicals and started dumping them. Perhaps the song used in the film is befitting for that of Oldbury, on the morning after their dirty polluting factory finally shuts its bow doors for the last time.
Sandwell themselves were rather secretive about this, with the documents associated with this application slow to be put up on their planning website. Similarly ever since there have been no updates whatsoever as to if the application had been approved or what exactly had happened with its “registered” determination.
Not one to rest on my laurels and as an objector to the scheme, I emailed the case officer listed on the website- one Dean Leadon, who failed to get back to me. After having made a complaint to Sandwell council about this, they now inform me that he left the authority in December of last year ,(I have since found out from enquiries that he has in fact joined a private planning advice consultancy 🙄 ), but without anything to state this on their website.
He’s still listed- and no environmental assessment requested- FFS!!
In the interim, I put in two FOI requests to the two main statutory consultees involved with the regulation of this Top Tier COMAH site.
“As a statutory consultee and competent authority for this Top Tier COMAH site, please provide all comments/correspondence with Sandwell council including emails and attachments in respect of this hazardous substance application consent which deals with modification to pressure of Phosphine used, and proposed storage and use of Hexene, Hydrogen Peroxide and Cyanex 923 on site.”
They replied stating that they had made only initial comment on the application, but very little else.
“Hexene, Hydrogen Peroxide and Cyanex 923 The new chemicals are for use in a new chemical manufacturing process being installed by the Solvay Company. The technical details of the process are being assessed by the Environment Agency and HSE (Health and Safety Executive).
Having checked our records, the Environment Agency have had no communication with Sandwell District Council, over the permit application.”
It therefore seems that both of these organisations are keeping their cards pretty close to their chests- but let’s hope when they do finally respond to SMBC that they don’t give this prosecuted industrial polluter the usual free reign to do as they please. It’s been going on in Oldbury ever since the days of “The Oldbury smell”– it’s just the wind direction that masks the air pollution.
I have outlined the history of this former neighbouring lagoon to Rattlechain HERE. Formed as a figure of eight shape pool by the merger of the former Samuel Barnett Stour valley brickwork pit and The Groveland colliery pit, it subsequently became “a tipping area” like Rattlechain- in this case for waste arising from the VONO furniture and bedding mattress manufacturers.
One can appreciate, that at this point in post war Britain there existed “adventure playgrounds” , as vividly recalled by Malcolm Edge, who also remembers The Vono pool. But these were very dangerous times. The Rattlechain lagoon fatality was not the only death- The Vono lagoon also had drownings as evidenced by newspaper articles of the time.
Two lagoons- VONO at top , and Rattlechain below.
The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 9th July 1957 reported on the opening day of an inquest into the death of 12 year old Dennis Clarke of Coneygree Road Tipton. It appears that he and his friends had been swimming at the Vono Lagoon- “off Tipton road” before he drowned.
A report from the following day in the same paper fills out the story. Dennis Clarke drowned in 8 feet of water at the named “Vono pool”- a disused marlhole. A verdict of “accidental death” was recorded by coroner Frank Cooper. Having claimed that two of his friends attempted to save him, the article also mentions that Cooper would be writing to the Vono company about erecting signs.
I think the criticism of two elder youths who it is claimed were at the scene but “slunk off” and did not jump in to “save” the drowning boy is totally misplaced. They did not invite the three youths to go into the water to start with;who did so at their own misadventure. It is also possible that they couldn’t swim themselves- and were rightly not prepared to risk their own safety for the foolhardy actions of those who were out of their depth. Unfortunately this takes the edge from the story- which should really have been about the foolish risks of swimming in such a dangerous place- and the limitations of a company who had not adequately secured their site from the obvious risk. I very much doubt that any life saving equipment was located near the pool at this point in history.
If the two youths had dived in to attempt to save Dennis Clarke- there may well have been more fatalities that day.
A dangerous unfenced magnet for local youths
As though to demonstrate the dangers of amateurs attempting to rescue others, the article from 24th August 1973 Birmingham Daily Post illustrates this perfectly- with another fatality at the Vono lagoon. By this point in history, the pool had vastly reduced in size, having been infilled due to the expansion of the rolling mill that had been built at the rear of the site. See this picture from 1971.
Arthur Stockford is named as the man who had drowned after attempting to save an eight year old who had fallen into the pool. The boy was rescued by his mother, who could not save the other man from drowning.
The 15th Septemberreport on the inquest tells how the 48 year old was a poor swimmer and the circumstances of how the boy ended up in the pool were not clear.
These two articles thus show how this site like Rattlechain lagoon were a very real danger to children as well as those who bravely attempted to save them from drowning. Unfortunately every year youths and some adults still drown in open water in disused marlholes and open water, but it is their own foolhardy folly in doing so. Some lessons from history never seem to be learnt.
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It is certainly known that Rattlechain lagoon contains chemicals (white phosphorus) that have systemically poisoned wildfowl. There have also been anecdotal claims of at least one dog entering the water and dying when Albright and Wilson were still depositing waste in the lagoon and the tanker drivers used to leave the gates wide open for anyone to enter between runs to and from the factory.
This is supported by press reports of the day as to how the lagoon water was “a peril to children” in an article from 1957. But before this, another article from 6th July 1953 Birmingham Daily Gazette confirms how one unfortunate young swimmer at this site lost their life.
Local youth John Hickinbottom appears to have been swimming and diving in the lagoon, here named as “Barnett’s pool”. There can be no other “Barnett’s pool”, and it is interesting to see how history at this point still links it to the rattlechain brickworks and former owner, even though at this time Albright and Wilson were undisputedly depositing their phosphorus waste into the site.
The article supports how children used to swim in the pool of “unknown depth”, though not mentioned are the toxic chemical risks of doing so.
A follow up article from the same title of October 14th 1953 confirms the youth’s death as well as the callous nature of the call operator when one of his friends had tried to raise the alarm. Such an incident today would undoubtedly have made national headlines.
I do find it very odd that the company who “acquired” this site for waste disposal are not named or even asked for comment about their appalling lack of security for what was a hazardous waste tip. But it is perhaps typical that they would have accepted “no responsibility” for the actions of others or their “misadventures”, and also typical that no one in authority had bothered to ask the directors of the company what they were depositing there. It would have been interesting to see a toxicology report on the unfortunate lad, though a “broken neck” no doubt provided them and the British Government to whom they supplied their phosphorus war machine with a convenient alibi.
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Rattlechain brickworks and former pit circa 1950; by now Albright and Wilson were tipping their poisonous waste into here- note the white stained banks.
A tool from the excellent National Library of Scotland allows composite present day images to be superceeded onto old maps, showing the footprints of where buildings and other structures once existed. It appears to be remarkably accurate.
Shown below are several images which demonstrate where the brickworks buildings once existed in 1904, now replaced by an abandoned and over tipped mound of foundry sand that has greened over.
At this point in time, the ground around John’s Lane was also at Water level. The adjacent pool on the left of Rattlechain was the Vono waste dumping lagoon which has now been concreted over to form The Autobase trading estate. Also shown is the former Groveland Colliery which together with the pit from Samuel Barnett’s other works “The Stour Valley New Brickworks” formed this figure of eight pool. I will be writing more about this in an upcoming blog post.
At this point in time, the area was still a part of Staffordshire. It can be clearly seen how the tramway entered the pit from the works, as well as where former pit shafts were located on the North embankment and towards the South of the site and the former sewage works where Callaghan Drive now forms a border . Several footpaths cross the site.
The most striking picture shows an elevated overview of the site.
Though these buildings and what went on there are now lost to history, the name “rattlechain” given to the type of chain and the noise it made used in the brickmaking process lives on.
Barnett’s brickworks From Conurbation 1948 Crown copyright, as seen from The Birmingham canal.
The two images below show the brickworks and basin the early 1960’s at its demise, with the rattlechain bridge over the basin being the constant witness. The brickworks replaced by shoddy over tipped mounds of foundry sand , with the basin infilled.
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Six years ago, I set up this website in order to tell the true story of how a major local scandal of industrial pollution involving a banned rat poison and chemical weapon (white phosphorus) had been buried under water and had gone unchecked for decades, ably assisted it seems by regulators and the authorities over that time.
It started with seeing a single dead swan, (twenty years ago), a juvenile that I had followed and seen in other locations perfectly healthy until it landed on this “hazardous waste site”. More birds followed and so the long quest to proving that the company that owned the site had been responsible for all the deaths all along by poisoning them with their waste dumped white phosphorus.
There are those who I offer a debt of thanks in helping to uncover this disgusting immoral tale. Chris Adams has always been a dependable friend and ally, and there are other rescuers (you know who you are), who have helped along the way. Ellen and Peter of The National swan convention. Wychbold swan Rescue took in many birds and I am grateful to Jan Harrigan and her team, who were as much in the dark as I was about what was going on in the early days. I am grateful to Marianne Walsh and her husband Michael of the US Army Corp of Engineers whose guidance due to their expertise in dealing with white phosphorus poisoning at Eagle River Flats in Alaska put me on the right track that I knew I was on. Professor Bill Roebuck and Alan Hunt who similarly gave advice on the wildfowl deaths.
There are locals like Jim Price, Malcolm Edge , David Wilson and Roy Martin who have shared their stories with me and I have passed these important memories on. Others have also helped in circulating the dire situation that exists and will still exist through blogs, social media and other avenues. I also thank Tony Larner and Adam Aspinall of the Sunday Mercury, whose pieces broke important ground and threw light upon an area that many would have like to have seen buried. The website What do they know? has offered an opportunity to ask awkward questions in the public domain and revealed a great deal that had previously been buried or restricted in private meetings.
I have been to different parts of the country on a jigsaw puzzle quest to piece together events, pictures of the past , and other information relevant to exposing the truth, and I have to say, I am not nearly done yet with that!
But I would also like to take this opportunity to say “thanks for nothing” to the following organisations.
The Environment Agency.
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.
The Health and Safety Executive.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Natural England (English Nature).
Public Health England/Health protection Agency.
and of course last and by all means least Albright and Wilson,Rhodia and Solvay.#liarsofthechemcialindustry
Collectively the former civil servants, (and no doubt some still current), belonging to these public bodies were a bunch of idiots, chemical industry idolaters, cretins and scum bags. Dozens of letters I sent out over the years, asking awkward questions, stating facts and getting dozens of excuses, buck passing and waffle. Your university degrees were worthless and your claimed education and scientific experience shown to be null and void in this case.
If you think that I am a conspiracy theorist or tin foil hat wearer, just consider the following email between civil servants concerning the white phosphorus testing of a swan on rattlechain, which I only obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. One wonders to whom they serve and why they were so desperate for a member of the public NOT to learn the truth about white phosphorus poisoning and swans?
I still maintain that the company at the centre of all this had the ability to pull strings, influence policy making and get what they wanted, when they wanted. There was certainly an insidious post war Quaker “society of friends” enterprise at work, a conspiracy among this cult, which permeated civic society,monopolised business, financial institutions, the judiciary and politics- Cadbury, Lloyds, Frys, Barclays, etc- The Albright and Wilson’s were related to them all, and together they set about control of all of these areas . As a former military contractor for The British Government , The British Government also has face to lose in all this with their wartime mess- but to what extent do the latter day civil service wankers get to cover it up? For those fixers, particularly of a political persuasion who may have helped in this matter, this issue will follow you to your graves- you are all cursed.
In going forward I have now set up a facebook page to reach a larger audience. The link to this page can be found HERE.
Please give it a like and share and become part of the chain gang. The more people know the truth about what lies beneath rattlechain lagoon, the more people will hopefully be able to stop more victims of the chemical industry.
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