The story of clean water in Staffordshire tells a us a lot about the remarkable lives of the everyday people who worked tirelessly to ensure the pumping machinery functioned efficiently and effectively. We are very fortunate that South Staffs Water kept meticulous record of their activities, right down to every nut, bolt and washer they used. The South Staffs Archive is a remarkable record of the past, because not only does it show the working drawings, shareholder certificates and tender documents, it also tells us a lot about the people who worked at the pumping stations ensure the supply of life giving water was not interrupted.
No archive can ever be complete, its like collecting, there is always more to add. These additions can and do add value to the collection, so that the sum of the whole exceeds the total of the individual parts. Additions bring in a different prospective, clarify the unclear and assist us in our understanding of past events.
Basil Henney has been in touch with the trust, coincidently just as we received and enquiry from a decedent of William Patterson, Forman of Maple Brook Pumping Station, to tell us his story of life at Maple Brook.
In the mid nineteen thirties my grandparents lived at Holly House, Nag Hill, Burntwood, Nr. Lichfield, Staffordshire. Their house was near the crest of a hill. The road passing by, led from Burntwood, over the hill and down quite steeply to Maple Brook Pumping Station. At the age of 10 or 11, when visiting my grandparents, I would walk down the hill to visit my aunt and uncle and their two children who lived in a house adjoining the pumping station. My uncle William Patterson took me inside the big building which housed the mighty steam engines. I would marvel at the massive rotating fly wheels and the slow-moving vertical piston rods. It was not noisy except when steam was released. The sound was more like a deep vibration of one’s own body. Uncle Bill was in charge of the station.
Uncle Bill was a Scotsman who had been apprenticed to Glenfield and Kennedy, engine builders of Kilmarnock, Scotland. In 1922 he was one of his company’s team of engineers engaged in installing a second steam operated pumping engine at Maple Brook. The new engine was identical to the first engine, installed in 1915 by Galloways of Manchester. The engines are described as “Inverted, triple expansion, surface condensing, rotative steam engines”. In 1972, the steam engines were replaced by electrical pumps by Sulzer of Switzerland. The first of the two steam engines was preserved and can still be seen at Maple Brook.
During the months of installing the new engine Bill Patterson found a love interest at Holly House, a ten-minute walk up the hill from Maple Brook. She was my aunt Stella, next youngest sister of my mother. Bill was offered the job as superintendent of Maple Brook Pumping Station. He took the job, married Stella and they moved into the company house at the station. Bill stayed there until he retired. After his retirement he and Stella moved to a house in the country, just a few miles away from Maple Brook.
Bill Patterson came of Ayrshire farming stock. He maintained his links with his family and when I knew him, he regularly took his family to Scotland for summer vacations. One day Uncle Bill walked me to the end of his garden. There was a new gate into a field and there in the field were two calves and a wooden shelter for the animals. Uncle Bill had rented the field, built the shelter and now was raising beef animals as a hobby. Bill Patterson had an interesting and demanding job, a lovely wife, two beautiful children and the freedom to maintain his links with his farming heritage – in all it must have been a happy life.
John was the older of Bill and Stella’s two children. Gloria was his sister. John trained as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and Gloria studied to be a registered nurse at a hospital in Birmingham.
John joined the Royal Air Force in 1944 but was allowed deferment to study at Cambridge University. His flying training was probably begun in 1946 and he served as a pilot in Rhodesia, Singapore and Malaya. In 1950 John was transferred to Fighter Command flying Meteor Jets.
On 29th of February 1952 a formation of eight Meteor jets were on a training flight over York. John was the sole occupant of a plane which was in collision with another. His plane plunged to the ground killing him instantly. The other plane safely returned to base. The previously happy life at Maple Brook was now marked by tragedy.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Stella retired to a house in a nearby village before Bill’s beloved steam engines were de-commissioned in 1972.
Basil Scot Henney 2017
Stories like this bring the past to life and help us form a sense of identity. Knowing more about our ancestors other than a date of birth and a date of death give us a deeper understanding of the life that person lived. Peoples working lives form a significant part of an individuals identity, that enable us to understand their values, and the things that were important to them.
South Staffs Water Archive
Bio of Basil Henney
Basil Henney was born at Armitage Staffordshire on May 30,1925.
From the age of four to thirty, his home was at Bourne Vale Pumping Station, near Aldridge. He left home to serve in the Royal Navy from 1943 to 1946. Returning from the Navy he continued his education at Birmingham Technical College and Glasgow University. After graduating as a Civil Engineer he worked abroad for several years before finally emigrating to Canada in 1974. Now retired, writing is one of his hobbies. He has published a book “Mainly by Chance” which gives details of the first 30 years of his life.