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What lies beneath Walsall? Historic underground culvert gets makeover

What lies beneath Walsall? Historic underground culvert gets makeover
Published on 26 July 2021 Print

Our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors were not only great architects, they were also notable engineers and many of us are probably unaware of the hidden structural design history that literally lies beneath our feet.

One such feat of engineering is the concealed culvert that runs underneath the site of the old Fordbrook Bridge in Walsall town centre.  A culvert is a drainage structure that allows water to flow under a road and keeps excess water from flooding.  In the tradition of our structural engineers both past and present, 21st Century Walsall Council has made sure that this important drainage system has been managed, maintained and improved upon for many years.  This historic and important piece of town engineering has been in place since 1903 and since then has been diverting and draining water around this area for nearly 120 years. 

The Town culvert has recently received some renovation help, in the form of a £412K Environment Agency grant. The money has helped the council make extensive improvements - and the work which was completed earlier this summer, will add at least another hundred years to the system’s working life.

Walsall’s culvert also plays an important part in our modern day flood defences and to this day, the water that has travelled through it helps tell the tale of its working history. The former gushing brook that originally lay above it was culverted gradually in the early 20th century and cleverly detoured underground.  This work was achieved by engineers before the Council House and Library buildings were even constructed.  

Prior to its installation, many a bustled and petticoated Victorian lady had found themselves ‘at sea’ when they wanted to travel from one side of Walsall to the other – understandably wary of drenched hems, they would have to pay a pretty penny to travel across the town’s open gushing brook by pony. The below excerpt from an archived Walsall document – tells how the Walsall women folk of yesteryear paid good money to avoid splashes on their frocks – and it gives old meaning to the ‘coined’ phrase of ‘spending a penny.’

         

And as time moved on, you can also see some of the excavation work that took place during the 1920s - leading to further structural development and our modern day version of the culvert with its spanking new improvements.

      

Councillor Adrian Andrew Deputy Leader of Walsall Council said:

“The Victorians and Edwardians were great innovators and this culvert is a great piece of engineering with a basic design principle that has stood the test of time. I was amazed to find out just how far this underground drainage system stretches across Walsall town centre and how important it is to the town’s flood defences.

“The council was awarded a special £412K Environment Agency grant to further maintain this important structure and our newly made over culvert will improve access for all road users and give the system a further service life of 100 years. A job very well done - and I think our engineering ancestors would be rightly proud of our modern day culvert and of their enduring legacy.”

Notes to editors

  • Walsall Council received a £412 k grant from the Environment Agency to make improvements to the culvert.
  • The work was completed earlier in the summer will give the drainage system a further 100 years of service life.
  • The culverted section of the Old Fordbrook runs along the north side of the Civic Centre, turning adjacent to Hatherton United Reformed Church.
  • At this point the Arboretum culvert runs under Gala baths and drops in to the Old Fordbrook and crosses Tower Street continuing under the Town Hall towards The Bridge.
  • The brook was originally culverted gradually in the early 20th century (circa 1903) before the Council House and Library buildings were constructed.

Archive Photos

  • Excavations on The Bridge, corner of Darwall Street exposing culvert, 1923
  • Mr. W. H. Duignan, local solicitor and historian sitting underneath the Fordbrook bridge, 1904
  • Walsall council has maintained and developed the culvert over a period of 118 years.