The Smestow Valley - A brief history

We hope that the following brief history of the valley enhances the experience as you explore the area for yourselves!!:

The Smestow Valley was formed at the end of the last Ice Age. The Smestow Brook flows through the area opened up by glaciation, which removed part of the ridge, creating the Aldersley Gap. It effectively forms a boundary between the catchments for the Trent and Severn rivers. In fact the glacial action shifted the Smestow Brook from the Trent to the Severn catchment.

The Smestow Brook rises from it's source at Water Street in Park Village at the site of the old Springfield Brewery. It drains, Wolverhampton, South Staffordshire and parts of Dudley , and it is the most important tributary of the river Stour, forming part of the Severn catchment. The brook flows over glacial gravel beds, but for the greater part runs over sandstone deposits. These are permeable and the size of the brook is deceiving as most of it's water flows underground. This is further evidenced by the number of it's tributaries that may be familiar to you: The Spittle Brook, Dawley Brook, Holbeche Brook, Wom Brook, Black Brook, Perton Brook, Finchfield Brook and Graisley Brook.

This permeability of the ground explains why, despite fairly high annual rainfall, the surrounding natural habitat was originally of heath and birch woodland.

Two Roman sites were built along the Smestow, with the larger Greensforge, where two camps utilised the brook as part of it's fortification.

The Anglo-Saxons cleared this land for farming. They were the first permanent settlers in the valley. From the middle ages, locally produced charcoal and the availability of water gave birth to a local Iron industry.

The first references to the valley were made in the 14th Century, when the area was known as "smetheslall" and "Smethestalle", and even by the 19th Century, it was still referred to as "Smestall" in surveys, meaning "place of the Smiths".

The lower Smestow was lined with bloomeries and forges, with the brook water being used for cooling and later to power machinery. (e.g. Grange Forge at Trescott, Heath Forge at Wombourne, Swindon Forge, Greensforge and Gothersey Forge).

The Foley family and Dud Dudley (Whose father lived at Himley Hall), made fortunes locally and the latter carried out the first trials using coal as a substitute for charcoal in Iron production.

The Oxley to Kingswinford Railway was originally owned by the Great Western Railway and one of the last stations to be constructed by the company now forms the ranger station at the main entrance to the Smestow Valley Local Nature Reserve, off Henwood Road. Work began on the station in 1913.

The railway ran as a passenger service  between 1925 and 1932, before becoming a goods service until it closed on 24th June 1965. The line had also served as a World War 2 ambulance train service.

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, which runs along the length of the valley was designed by James Brindley and opened in 1772. Water power was so important to the valley, that when the canal was being constructed, Brindley's plans to cut off the natural flow of Smestow Brook were blocked  and he was forced to construct the Dunstall Water Bridge to carry the brook over the canal, so maintaining it's natural course. The canal served to heighten the attractiveness of the valley to industry, allowing major Iron works to be created at Swindon and Gothersby, the former continuing until 1976.

Dunstall Water Bridge - changing the course of history,
 without changing the course of the Smestow Brook!

The area prospered and Swindon village had an iron-works, forges, a blade-mill and corn mills, whilst Wombourne as a village, swelled, housing a body of local nailors who ran their own small forges, using iron produced by the larger works nearby. By the Victorian period, the Smestow Brook powered over 30 mills with it's water.

The appearance of the Smestow Brook belies it's true scale, since most of it's water flows through the underground Aquifer. Henry Marten wanted to extract millions of gallons daily for drinking and industrial use in the 1850's. However he was blocked by the carpet makers of Kidderminster, who were worried that the plan would destroy the flow of the River Stour, which they used to carry their effluent. In 1852 samples of Smestow Brook were sent to London for testing and were classed as being exceptionally clear and free of decaying matter.

A large pumping station was, however constructed in the 1890's at Ashworth, near Swindon, followed by the Bratch Pumping Station at Wombourne, which supplied Bilston with it's drinking water. Both stations were situated by the canal to allow for coal to be delivered, powering the aquifer pumps.

The Smestow Brook was also exploited to extract water for brewing. The Springfield Brewery was built by William Butler, at the brook's source in 1873, and ran until it suffered fire damage in 1991.

Wolverhampton Council bought the reserve in sections, mainly in the 1970's. By 1992, all of the current sections had been purchased and was called Valley Park at that time.

Valley Park was designated Wolverhampton's one and only Local Nature Reserve (LNR) in April 1998.


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