Every so often, I get an email that jumps of the page. I read very slowly, but I can spot an historical opportunity like lightning. Tonight I had one of those special emails from our very own South Staffordshire Water Company historian, and outstanding good fellow, Chris Patterson.
Chris sends me these little historical gems on a regular basis; they are always a joy to read and research. He said he “Stumbled across the attached extract from an old Company News Review”, that was written by Gordon Sims, his former boss and the person responsible for the preservation of the Sandfields and other engines.
I have transcribed the article for you here;
The death on June 14th of Mrs. Mary Bradbury, the wife of the late Cyril Bradbury, former Foreman at Brindley Bank Pumping Station, severed a family connection with the South Staffs that had lasted a total of 97 years.
Mrs. Bradbury’s father was one Joseph Plant, the son of a Lichfield railwayman, who was born in 1867, and in 1886 he Joined the Company as a labourer and boiler cleaner at Sandfields Pumping Station, and was destined to spend his whole career at that location. Slowly rising through the ranks over the years, he finally became foreman engine driver, in charge of the three James Watt engines and the Jonah Davies “Cornish” engine.
He became heavily involved in the modernisation of the Plant in the early twenties, when the James Watt engines were scrapped out in favour of two Suizar “uniflow” high speed horizontal engines. During this period of two years he nursed the “Cornish” engine through many months of continuous running, stopping only for the occasional repacking of glands etc., until the new Plant was commissioned.
He was father to seven children, all born and raised in the waterworks cottage adjacent to the station. Of these, Mary was born In 1907 and grew up amidst the sights and sounds of Sandfields, including the then long shift system, especially at weekends, that Joe and his associates worked. A fact which, at one stage in her teens, made Mary vow that she would never marry a Waterworks man!!
Joe Plant completed in 1936. fifty years of service and duly retired to Christchurch Lane in Lichfield until his death In 1945. At the retirement ceremony Mr. R.J. Dixon congratulated him on being the only Company employee to have served under3 Chief engineers, Mr. Vawdry. Mr. Ashton Huh and himself.
To return to Mary Plant and her vow of marriage, she met a farmer’s son from Burntwood who, much to her initial annoyance, soon afterwards decided that prospects would be better if he left the farm and so Cyril Bradbury Joined the Company in 1928 as an engine cleaner at Maple Brook, tending the two triple Expansion Vertical engines.
The couple married in 1933 and Cyril settled down at Maple Brook becoming a stoker and then an Engine Driver, throughout the War years, also serving in the local branch of the Company’s home guard unit.
in 1946 he left Maple Brook to become foreman at Brindley Bank Pumping Station at Rugeley, a position he was to hold for some 26 years. During that time he made many changes to the appearance of Brindley Bank, both inside and out. The normal high standard of engine cleaning was improved over the years until it became a topic of conversation throughout the Company, whilst outside his gardening talents produced massive flower beds in the spacious lawns.
Like his father-in-law many years before, Cyril was also involved in a major plant reorganisation at his station but this time it was total electrification, a fact which he never really accepted with a hundred per cent enthusiasm, being a true “Steam Man’ However, he was delighted to learn that his beloved engine was to be preserved in the plans and the last year of his service was spent In the restoration for static display of the Plant and some small items from other stations.
In 1972 Cyril retired after 44 years service and promptly bought an empty South Staffs house at Blithfieid Reservoir at Abbots Bromley and spent there a happy five years looking after his pigeons and gardening until his death in 1977.
Mary Bradbury proudly claimed, on many occasions in latter years. that she had completed more “service” with the Company than both her father or husband and contentedly lived on until June, happy in the knowledge she had been connected for 75 years with the South Staffs.
It is these historical gems that allow our redundant buildings to tell their story, and this is why Sandfields pumping Station is a keeper of memories and guardian of the past. Allowing this building and it’s Cornish beam engine to fall into disrepair is a statement of utter contempt for the lives of these people. These are stories of good honest working folk, offering a fascinating insight into how things were. Chris Patterson has again done us proud; his diligent searching of the SSWW archives continues to open up an opportunity that is allowing us to bring the past forward in time, to make it a useable past.
I would also like to take my hat of to Peter Ellis, an extraordinary photographer who had the hindsight to go out and photograph these remarkable stationary steam engines and feats of water engineering before many of them were assigned to the scrap yard
Peter Ellis, photos of Brinley Bank Pumping Station