The Journal of the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust – No.259 – Summer 2021
Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust
501 Birmingham New Road, Dudley, DY1 4SB • Tel: 0121 557 6265 • www.dudleycanaltrust.org.uk
Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust is a Registered Charity No 1166460
Chairman Jeff Luesley
Treasurer/H&S Paul Smith
Trustee David Caunt
Trustee Richard Langford
Trustee Kate Bennett
Trustee Alan Hazeldine
Trustee James Deacon
Trustee Don Powell
Trustee Les Bradshaw
Chairman Paul Smith
Director Alan Hazeldine
Director Lyn Head
Director Ian Watson
Director Traci Dix-Williams
Director Megan Parker
Membership Richard Jones
Work Parties John Rudge
Archivists Mike & Hilary Skidmore
Legger Editor Traci Dix-Williams
Chief Executive Traci Dix-Williams
Finance & Admin’ Manager Diane Griffin
Volunteer Coordinator Becci Cooper-Sayer
Operations Manager Becky Wright
Catering Manager Peter O’ Toole
Commercial Manager Matthew Dix-Williams
- Chairman’s Report
- CEO Report
- Murder Mine
- Minister for Digital & Culture Visit
- Hurst Cavern
- Alarum Theatre
- Boat Parties/Socials
- Membership Matters
The views and opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the editor or Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust.
Like everyone else I am looking forward to getting back out, especially being able to be on site and spending time catching up with Members, Trustees, Staff and Volunteers.
We are still hopeful that we will be back to “normal” in June but like many businesses there will be a number of ongoing changes, especially in how we operate, our opening times and use of our spaces. The team have been excellent in adapting to all the changes we have had to implement so far and I know they will continue to do this to ensure the site and our offer is safe and sustainable.
2021 has got off to a great start for us, confirmation of our second round of Culture Recovery Funding, visits from Caroline Dinenage, the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, the new Deputy Chief Executive of the Council Balvinder Heran and Leader of the Council Patrick Harley. We also have seen a lot of filming on site with film crews from Peaky Blinders and the new Clarice Cliffe film as well as BBC West Midlands and Four in a Bed.
Anyone who has visited Dudley recently will see that the development of areas such as the Very Light Railway and Dudley College Innovation Centre have really picked up a pace and this is bringing a lot of focus to the area. The new developments in the town including improved transport with the Interchange Bus Depot and the Metro tram stops are helping make Dudley a real hub of activity. They are also promoting new offers and events and are looking forward to capitalising on the launch of the UNESCO Black Country Geopark and connections with the Commonwealth Games.
We have come through what to date has been our most challenging period but we have a lot to look forward to—both in our own offer and the area where we are located. Please continue to do all you can to support us.
Jeff Luesley Chairman
As I write this we are about to reopen after 14 months of closures, partial opening and uncertainty. To say we are very excited and very grateful to be in this position is an understatement.
We have worked hard to keep our profile raised and make new friends in high places, we have engaged digitally with many of our service users through Virtual Chit Chat and Digital Chit Chat, we have been able to highlight a lot of our stories and history through our Facebook posts and we have been able to attract VIP’s, MP’s and new channels to the site on numerous occasions.
We have added new attractions to site, including the Little Skipper Explorer Park, A new Hurst Cavern Show and 120 sqm of new interpretation. Our open water Explorer Boat has gone down very well with lots of excited families taking the trip and every inch of us has been 3d laser scanned and captured digitally.
We have been lucky to recruit new Trustees and we welcome Megan Parker, Don Powell and Les Bradshaw onto the Board and Enterprise. They bring a wealth of experience with them and they are all actively getting stuck in and helping us develop our offer. We have also welcomed new staff on site, Nina Withers, Jane Allcock and Terry Morris joined the team during lockdown.
The staff have been brilliant in rolling up their sleeves and getting the site and boats looking the best they can in readiness to reopen. Many have completed training, worked in new areas and developed new skills and experiences. All against the backdrop of staying safe and looking out for each other and the community in which we are located.
Despite all our efforts we are aware that the hard work really now begins. We need to get people through our doors and on our boats. We need 100,000 boat passengers per annum and despite all efforts to vaccinate everyone, we know there is still a reluctance in many areas to venture too far from home. With this in mind we are targeting our local community and showing them what a great and safe trip we offer. Please help us to do this—wherever you can recommend us, follow us on Facebook and Google and come and visit us yourselves .
Traci Dix-Williams – Chief Executive
At our last Board meeting in April, for Health and Safety reasons, it was decided that we needed to move the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust AGM from the 23rd June to later in the year.
I hope that you will all agree that this particular meeting has to be a ‘real’ meeting, not a virtual one. For many of us, it also gives us the chance to meet with old friends and generally having a good old chat, something we have not been able to do for several months.
With the current Covid situation, although theoretically all restrictions should be gone by the middle of June, we felt it was just a little too soon to take the risk. I am sure many of us would feel just a little uncomfortable in such a situation.
So, as the following couple of months will see a number of us taking holidays, as well as it being the Trust’s busiest time with tunnel trips etc, Wednesday September 22nd has been chosen as the new date for our AGM. The timing will be as usual, 19.30 and the location will be as 2019, The Portal.
I hope that I and the rest of the Board will have the opportunity of meeting up with you then,
Memory, Rumour and the Murder Mine: Dudley, 1961
We would like to thank Wyrley Blog for allowing us to reprint parts of their fascinating article. https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com
This is a sad tale, as it deals with someone completely lost to us now. The purpose in writing it is two-fold. First, it seeks to set the record straight, as much as it can, primarily to give a little dignity to the lady involved. Second, its retelling is also intended to highlight the limitations of memory: to show how individual and collective memory, rumour and simple acceptance of truth have, in this case through no planned deception, given birth to a series of exaggerated events that have seen the colloquial naming of a geological feature within Dudley as ‘Murder Mine’.
These events would have remained unaddressed had it not been for two reasons. First, the case was brought to my attention during the process of seeking better control of the (former Dudley) Coroner’s records held at the Archive. Second, a little while ago Dudley Museum made a video (with the help of Brian, from the Dudley Canal Trust) on the ‘ghostly tales’ of the canal. This video was not meant to be serious, just a bit of general entertainment with Brian recalling what he had once been told by a mine inspector some years back. Brian’s good faith is not in question here, but the actual events he relates are open to scrutiny through contemporary newspaper accounts and the Coroner’s file (access for which was granted by the Coroner, although understandably without reproducing any photographs from that file. I have also redacted any names that do not appear in press coverage).
A summary of the video (as it is appreciated that the sound is not of the best quality) is as follows: a mine inspector (who is not named) once visited the Dudley canal caves, and had done similar inspections for a number of years. Back in 1951, this inspector was in a cave adjacent to the canal; the entrance then being some ten or so feet lower that it is today. Concerned that a limestone slab constituted a trip hazard, he instructed that it be removed. Upon removal, the skeleton of a young lady was found underneath. The lady, to this day, remains unidentified. Some old clothes and part of a whalebone corset were present indicating she had ‘been there a while to say the least’.
The rusty blade of a knife, without a handle, was found under the body which could have fallen though the skeleton as the body decomposed. As far as Brian is aware, ever since then it has been known as ‘Murder Mine’ by the locals. So, how much of this is true? How much an exaggeration? And how much pure invention? Well, you can judge for yourselves as we look at the evidence, however, that evidence comes from 1961 and not 1951.
Murder Mine was at least once a mine, even though it had long since been abandoned by 1961. This mine, along with others, and the tunnel and canal network, were a part of the subterranean workings within the limestone outcrop on which Dudley Castle was built. The workings were enlarged over time and canal branches followed to link workings and the Castle Mill Basin, originally in a cavern, became exposed. The extraction and processing ceased in the 1920s and 1930s.
The report made by Detective Inspector MacDougall to the Chief Constable of Dudley Borough Police in May 1961 first described the location of the cavern, it being: ‘in the Dudley Zoo grounds between Castle Mill Lodge and Forest Road [Forest Road is the other side of the wooded area on the 1887 map, but had not been built then], and is approximately forty yards from a disused canal basin which forms the junction of two underground canals’. Back in 1961 the basin was disused, although it contained ‘stagnant water’; it was smaller than present – the cavern entrance being some forty yards from the canal basin compared to today – as the 1989 tunnel between the mine and the old canal tunnel had of course not been constructed. Finally, as Brian said, the entrance to the cavern was down a dip – it has since been levelled – and the cave was frequented by rats.
The basin was no picturesque exemplar of industrial archaeology; instead, it was then overgrown and was described by MacDougall elsewhere, as was the cavern itself, as a playground for local children. This fact had seen the tragic drowning of a boy in 1949. Further, there had been a deeply distressing incident in September 1958 when a young girl’s body had been recovered from the basin under very suspicious circumstances. The case is too sensitive to discuss in detail; while a criminal investigation did follow, although no successful prosecution was made, whispers of murder were clearly circulating in the local community according to the press. The fact that MacDougall does not, and nor does anyone at any point within the Coroner’s file or the newspaper accounts, refer to the cavern as ‘Murder Mine’ during the 1961 case suggests that it is from this event that the name was later derived and not from the incident of 1958.
MacDougall went on to describe the cavern itself as: ‘approximately 75 yards in length, and varies in breadth from 25 feet to 45 feet. The roof inside the Cavern is 30 to 40 feet from the ground. The entrance to the Cavern is in the form of a triangle, the base being about 16 feet wide and narrowing to a point, the height from this point being 7 feet from the ground. Inside the Cavern there are numerous large pieces of rock, which have fallen from the roof at various periods’. The cavern has since been blocked after just a few yards with a mound of rubble.
On the morning of Tuesday 16 May 1961 two workmen from Johnson, Poole and Bloomer, a mining engineering company based in Priory Street, Dudley, were working in the canal tunnel between Castle Mill basin and Severn Sister’s Cavern. Joseph Stanton was the elder of the two men, being then 40 years of age, and from Pensnett; while Ronald Westwood was two years younger and from Lower Gornal. At around 12.50 in the afternoon the were taking their lunch in the open air at the Castle Mill Basin when they were approached by a man called Dennis Hickman, from Kinver, along with a Boxer dog he was walking on behalf of someone. Hickman may have been known to Westwood previously and was an employee of British Federal, a welding company based at the Castle Mill works.
Hickman, knew the two were mining engineers, advised that a vixen had gone into the ‘Castle Mill Cavern’. Why this motivated the engineers, especially on their lunch break, isn’t stated but they had a ‘powerful electric light’ and so went into the cavern while Hickman remained at the entrance. Around thirty yards into the cavern the two men came across something ’round and brown in colour underneath a piece of rock’. Stanton thought it was a child’s ball but Westwood poked it with stick only to find it was ‘hard’. Westwood ‘picked up the rock’ covering, which wasn’t very heavy (although it was also described in another statement as ‘half a hundredweight’ – that is 56 pounds in weight). It was then they noticed it was a human skull.
The two then ‘moved away other pieces of rock and uncovered a human skeleton’. This evidence shows that there were rocks (the main one as mentioned, weighing 56 lb, was on the head itself) that partially covered the remains, but this was no limestone slab removed as a trip hazard. The bones were located on a flat area between to very large pieces of rock, each weighing up to a ton. Also, there were ‘very large pieces of rock on the right of the cavern sloping to where the skeleton was lying’. Stanton, with his experience as a miner, commented that he believed the rocks were from a roof fall, but a fall could cause other pieces of rock to slide down the slope over the skeleton’: in short, while there had been rock falls from the roof, there was no definitive proof that the rock that lay on the body had not arrived there post-mortem.
The skull was found face down, slightly to the left, and was the closest part of the skeletal remains to the mouth of the cave. Then, ‘found at increasing depths under the covering of rock and rubble’ were the rest of the remains. These remains were in anatomical order the medical report states: ‘the spine [included with this were the ribs], pectoral girdle, pelvic bones, and lower limb bones were found as though the body had been placed or pinned down face downwards’. Saying that, only one full arm (ulna and radius) and one full leg (tibia and fibula) were found according to the medical report – and one assumes these were from the same limbs, however it was not recorded. For those bones that were not present, it is suggested throughout the file that rat activity could be the reason – and foxes
In a somewhat bizarre act, the two workmen formed a pile out of the bones instead of leaving them in-situ. It was after this possibly evidence-destroying act that Mr Hickman came into the cavern to view the remains before leaving. The two workmen left the cavern and contacted Mr. Friend from their company, who came and viewed the remains. All of this had only taken an hour and a half, as at 2.20pm a phone call was received by the police from a Mr. Poole of the company saying that the men had found a ‘body in a cavern at Castle Mill’. Stanton and Westwood remained at the cavern until the police arrived.
The police took ten minutes to arrive, but the main cavalry turned-up at about 2.50 pm in the form of Superintendent Hullah, Detective Inspector Alexander MacDougall (who was the main Dudley Borough Police liaison with the Coroner), Police Constable Douthwaite (the Coroner’s officer) and the police photographer. At around 3 pm Doctor Barron, the police surgeon, arrived. Barron’s initial thoughts were that the remains: ‘judging by the pelvic bone, appeared to be that of a female. The flesh was all eaten away and the bones were discoloured… Death occurred many years ago’. MacDougall and Douthwaite then fixed the distance of the skeleton from the entrance as being 102 feet.
Following Barron’s advice the police called in a forensic team: this was made up of Doctor Montgomery, University of London Forensic Laboratory and Doctor Griffiths, a Home Office pathologist. They arrived at 7 pm. That evening and the following day a further search was made and further bones recovered. Along with the skeletal remains there were also certain articles of clothing, as well as a set of dentures and part of an umbrella. Soil samples were also taken. Permission was obtained from the Coroner to remove the remains for further analysis.
By this stage the press had been notified and had been photographed – or obtained photographs – of activity around the cave entrance. On 19 May the inquest was opened and then adjourned to gather more evidence after the initial statements on discovery. With this, the focus of investigation moves onto the analysis of the bones and items found.
Doctor Walter Montgomery examined the clothes and the accompanying accoutrements. The first thing noticeable is the absence of certain evidence – although the archaeological maxim that that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence does need to be remembered. The thing to mention is there was nothing found giving a definitive identity or absolute date (or at lease give an absolute terminus post quem, the point after which death must of occurred).
Then, at no time does Montgomery or anyone in the entire Coroner file mention, a rusty blade underneath the skeletal remains. In fact, no item other than clothing was mentioned at any time other than the dentures and umbrella. The Dudley Herald did mention a ‘rusty hairpin’ in its first report on 19 May: however, considering there is no mention of this in any other news report (as yet seen by myself) or within the Coroner file, and that the Herald then wrongly reported the colour of the shoes, it is possible that their reporter may have misheard or reported here-say.
Next, with the body some 100 feet inside the cavern, there was no evidence found of any lantern, torch or candle holder that must have lit the way to that spot. It may seem self-evident that light was needed, but we do have proof: the Dudley correspondent for the Birmingham Daily Post scouted out the spot within the cave, he did so by the light emitted by one ‘miner’s flickering tallow candle’. Saying that, if our lady had just a candle, then it is unlikely to have survived, however, the point as a whole needs to be remembered.
Montgomery’s report on what he did find was laconic, stating that: ‘the position of some of the fragments of clothing suggested that the clothing was present in the cave when the last roof fall occurred’; according to the Birmingham Daily Post correspondent: ‘Beyond the point where the bones were found, a rockfall [presumably the one Montgomery meant] almost completely blocks the tunnel’. His identification of the umbrella is simply that it is a ‘lady’s’ model and of ‘black cotton’. Montgomery had little to go on with the clothing in general as there were no labels and even the type of garment was unclear.
There were ‘fragments of a printed mercerised cotton dress… the original colours included cream on a red background’. After this, Montgomery simply states that ‘fragments of a green cotton garment are present’, as well as ‘fragments of coarse black lace’. He could at least identify ‘fragments of a laced corset consisting of canvas covered with cotton fabric’. It is possible, along with animal activity, that fungal spores had rotted the fabrics away in the damp atmosphere.
The shoes did yield some information that is significant for it offers much as to the fate of the smaller bones, flesh and fabrics (added to natural putrefaction and fungal spores): both shoes bore evidence of rodent tooth marks (most of the upper parts being eaten away). The shoes were fragmentary, but were made of black hide and had ‘toe caps and low heels’. The right shoe has evidence of a single strap. These shoes, sole-wise, were practical for cave exploration.
The remains of the shoes were taken to an expert: in the form of Enoch Merrington, from Messers Collins, High Street, Dudley. According to MacDougall, Merrington ‘was of the opinion that the footwear were manufactured about 40 years ago’. Allowing a margin of error on top of this, this would have placed the shoes to the period of the Great War to the General Strike of 1926. The life-span for a pair of shoes depend on their quality, the frequency and nature of use, and whether they were subject to repair. As no comments on any of these issues were recorded in the file, the shoes can only give a vague terminus post quem of around 1920.
The skeleton was examined by Doctor Griffiths. His confirmation of the natural articulation of the body was made – in other words: ‘bones were found as though the body had been placed or pinned down face downwards’. Griffiths examined the pelvic bones, sacrum (the base of the spinal column), clavicles and shoulder blades – which confirmed the remains were that of a ‘female… and that the age of the deceased was over 25 years at the time of death’.
The skull offered a little more. The cranium was blackened on the right side with staining of both the interior and exterior. This was subjected to Benzidine tests, which showed dried blood in these areas, as well as in the right eye orbit. No hair was found at all, so a report in the Daily Herald (London) on 18 May 1961 that she had ‘dark hair’ was unfounded. Griffiths turned his attentions to the cranial sutures: the closing of parts of the coronial and saggital sutures indicated to him that the remains were from a 30-35 year-old woman.
The skull revealed a number of defects, all of which were to the right side. The right maxilla (upper jaw) had a: ‘crescentic shaped [fracture] ¾” long in the vertical axis, with a radius of ½”. The curve of the crescent was directed towards the nasal bone. The fracture was slightly depressed. The frontal process of the right maxilla showed a linear fracture running into the floor of the eye orbit. The right frontal bone showed three shallow linear depressions’. His conclusion, however, was that there ‘was no evidence as to whether the injuries found had been sustained by the deceased before or after death’.
Griffiths contacted Mr Kirby, a Consultant Dental Surgeon at Dudley Road Hospital, and he and his technical staff gave expert opinion on the dentures and the teeth. There was an upper and lower denture found. The upper was in two parts. The denture was made of vulcanite: ‘the teeth in the denture were of the cheap variety, and the original denture appears to have been of the type made for someone in a low income group, although the subsequent repair had been made by an expert’. The lower denture was a partial denture of vulcanite with a metal bracket.
Detective Inspector MacDougall did refer the dentures to ‘a large number of dentists and dental technicians’, for two reasons. The first was to ascertain more information on the dentures themselves. As with the shoes, nothing definitive could be found: ‘opinions differed as to the age, but all agreed that the dentures were made over 25 years ago’. This is not surprising as vulcanite dentures had been made from the mid-nineteenth century, although universally popular by the end of the century, and continued to be manufactured until the Second World War.
The second reason was to refer to the dental records of dentists to see if there was a match to the dentures found. MacDougall felt ‘the only hope of identifying the skeleton is by the means of the dentures and records of dental patients’. The Detective Inspector was to be thwarted, however, as he had ‘not yet located any dentist who has kept records dating back 25 years, and it appears fruitless to pursue the enquiries any further. Since the National Insurance Act came into force in 1948 dentists were only required to keep records for two years’.
MacDougall had not been idle despite the lack of evidence: along with particulars of the case being presented in the press (although not always accurately), ‘enquiries have been made by all Police Forces relating to persons missing from home over 25 years ago’ Further, the photographs was also been published in the ‘Dentists Journal’. In his report on 5 August 1961, no identification had been made.
Dudley Borough Police, and those forces in the immediate vicinity, did keep missing persons registers. These were checked. A report in the Birmingham Daily Post from 25 October 1961 claimed that a woman, who was ‘a known frequenter of the caverns’ had been suspected but the police had been ‘unable to make the final link which would have made the identification certain’. There is some truth in this, although at no stage in MacDougall’s report is it mentioned that she was a frequenter of the caverns. The lady in question was described at ’35 years in age, 5′ 5″ in height and of plump build’ when she went missing around 1936. She was a married woman, a native of Kidderminster and, it was believed, left with a gentleman that was lodging at the house at the time. This man, it was known, was a native of Manchester. By 1961, the husband of the lady had died and her daughter, who had been 13 years-old at the time, could offer no assistance and so the trail went cold. DNA testing was not available then.
The inquest was brought to a close on 24 October. With MacDougall drawing a blank on identification, the actual verdict on the death were left open as no evidence could be found to suggest unlawful killing (murder), misadventure (death resulting from a deliberate action – such as going caving) or accidental death. It was Griffiths’ final conclusions that showed how little could be ascertained:
The skeleton is that of a female of average build, age 30-35, height 5’5″ – 5’8″. The bones appear to be components of the same body and show normal articulation to each other. The positions of the bones as discovered at the scene suggest that the deceased died, or was placed after death, face downwards with the head pointing to the mouth of the cavern, and the head on the right side. There was minimal coverage of the upper part of the body by rubble and rock, and maximal over the lower part of the body. Fractures of the right upper jaw were found, but there is no evidence as to whether these injuries were caused before or after death. The skull showed the presence of blood on the inner and outer aspects of the right side, but there is no evidence to the cause of the bleeding, or whether the blood was shed before or after death. Examination of the skeleton did not real a cause of death.
Examination of the skeleton did not reveal a cause of death. The dentures found appear to have been made before 1939, of cheap materials, but repaired by an expert. The position of the skeleton in relation to the rock and rubble suggest that the deceased may have pinned down by a fall of rock from the roof of the cavern.
So, what are the theories? Murder or accident, it seems. I fall to the accident theory and will explain why, but first a comment on the frustrations of the case file: the witnesses do not seem to approach some vital questions, which even an acknowledgement that they could not answer would at least be of evidential value.
This lack of exploration may be illustrated if we take our ‘cave frequenter’ as the model for our victim. First, a historical context was missing: at her disappearance, around 1936, it was likely the zoo, which opened in 1937, had not been constructed and it is also possible that the canal system and mining operations were no longer working – suggesting that cave exploration was a reasonable assumption. The dentures dated from at least from 1939, but could be somewhat older, so fit with this – although there was no evidence recorded that this lady had dentures. The shoes date from around 1920, which is possible, although it would have helped had the description of the footwear included if the shoes had been re-heeled and an expert opinion on if they were fit for cave exploration could have been useful.
The phrase ‘frequenter of the caves’, when linked to the disappearing at the same time as the lodger, may subliminally infer that our lady was of shady character and making the murder scenario more likely – as she was alone. What happens if she wasn’t alone? The possibility of other remains wasn’t discussed. The Birmingham Daily Post correspondent said the cave was partially blocked after her body position and the evidence from the inquest said there were rockfall debris all around – including whole slabs of limestone – is it not possible that the lodger, now simply an innocent caving companion, could still lie buried, lantern and all, under it?
Another disappointment is the lack of apparent interest in the rubble – not all of it of course, but the one piece that had lain over the head and had been removed by Stanton and Westwood. A proper description (especially weight), forensic analysis (test for blood, if possible) and expert opinion on what damage such a rock would do to a skull (if it struck a direct or glancing blow) would have been useful. Soil samples were taken, but nothing was ever used as evidence at the findings.
Perhaps the most frustrating is the umbrella. The design, if ascertainable, would be useful first for dating – as the pocket umbrella had only been invented in the 1920s. Second, if it was a standard type, then it could be assumed there was no wrist-strap and she must being carrying it when she fell at the spot she was found – if she received injuries elsewhere why would she take her umbrella?
And if her body was dragged there, why go back to the scene to deposit an umbrella when it could be easily disposed of in the canal? The partial covering of the body makes little sense unless it was a natural event: if it were a case of murder, surely you would either leave the body hoping the cave itself would hide it, or you would cover it all. The injuries could have been cause by a human hand, but are more suggestive to me, as Griffiths thought, that she was struck, fell and pinned through a rock fall, or tripped and hit her head – possibly dying when hypothermia set in.
The investigating officers do touch upon the murder aspect. Detective Inspector MacDougall, at the end of his first report in May, simply says ‘the local press have published various stories regarding the skeleton, and have even suggested it was a case of murder’, while the Dudley Herald quoted Superintendent Hullah in its initial report as saying that ‘we don’t know cause of death and because of that we can’t rule out foul play’. They, like Griffiths it could be argued, favoured slightly the person being pinned from a rock fall, but really it was all speculation.
When looking at memory, those of the mine inspector have been found wanting: 1951, rusty blades, method of discovery, trip hazards and so on, although she had been there a while, the corset and the lack of identification were accurate. When looking at truth, the death remains unexplained but ‘Murder Mine’ is a misnomer – it should really be called Mystery Mine or Skeleton Mine. This story will not likely change much: the then Castle Mill Mine will stay as Murder Mine rather some oher, more accurate name, because the murder myth has more appeal.
After trying to give the deceased a little dignity it would have been nice to visit the grave of the lady concerned; an unknown body would, after release by a coroner, be buried at the local authority’s expense, the problem is, when Dudley Council checked their cemetery records, there wasn’t a grave for an unknown lady for that period. And so another mystery started.
As there is nothing in the Coroner file to suggest then he, or Dudley Borough Police, received the remains back from the Forensic Laboratory in Birmingham, a Freedom of Information request was sent to West Midlands Police, as the successor body to Dudley Borough Police, asking if they had any information on the case. They replied that they had none. Therefore, the request was sent to the Home Office as it was their pathologist the carried out the examination.
They politely replied that they had no record of the case either, as they seemed to have passed this responsibility onto Forensic Archive Ltd. A West Midlands Forensic Laboratory file does survive in the National Archives for the period up to the late 1930s , so I am hopeful the files for the 1960s exist and may provide an answer as to what happened to the remains after August 1961. Their reply is awaited.
In memory of the one I don’t know, and the one that I do
With Thanks to:
- Black Country Coroner and Staff
- Dudley Archives
- Dudley Canal Trust (especially to Brian)
- Dudley MBC Cemeteries
- Dudley MBC Museum (especially to Graham Worton)
Training Day Photo
Thank you Matt Nobbs for this recent staff photo, training day complete, now all into the caverns to see the new Hurst Cavern display.
It’s The School Holidays & That Can Only Mean One Thing …
Little Skippers Holiday Fun
Join us during the summer holidays and enjoy some fun-filled crafts. Activities will run every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday throughout the summer.
Tricks & Treats Halloween Fun
28, 29, 30, 31 October 2021
With Tricks and Treats and Bumps and Howls, this is sure to be a great Family Fun evening. Disappear underground on our “Spooky Boat” and enjoy the madcap Krazy Kris UV Groovy show and magically themed décor. Book online to secure your seats for this popular event. Don’t leave it too long—you don’t want to miss out.
A Fairy Tale Christmas
Selected dates 3rd—23rd December 2021
Join Santa and Little Red Riding Hood as they search for the Big Bad Wolf and all the presents he has stolen. Hop on board and travel to an amazing underground world of Christmas. If you find the presents be sure to call at Santa’s Grotto—he will have a special reward for you. This popular event always sells out so make sure you book your tickets early to avoid disappointment.
Minister for Digital and Culture – Caroline Dinenage Visit
Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust were delighted to welcome Caroline Dinenage the Minister of State for Digital and Culture to site on Monday 17th May in support of our reopening and to see how the DCMS Cultural Recovery Fund has helped support us during the pandemic.
Also in attendance were Eilis Scott from Historic England and Councillor Patrick Harley, Leader of the Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. Staff and Trustees took the guests on a tour of the underground caverns and tunnels and showcased the new Hurst Cavern display along with the added interpretation on site, including the soon to be opened Little Skippers Play area.
The Minister stated that DCMS through #HereForCulture has been here for culture through the horrific lockdown period and now they want people to be able to come back to embrace these amazing visitor attractions and fantastic historic sites and to be really able to enjoy them and the stories they have to tell.
Patrick Harley said “I’m incredibly proud to welcome the minister to Dudley today, our town is a hive of exciting regeneration activity and we have a proud cultural and industrial heritage that forms a significant part of our visitor economy. Dudley council has worked closely with Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust over the years and we have helped to secure multi-million pound funding for this popular attraction, which forms an important part of our rich natural and industrial history.”
After serving as Volunteer Coordinator for the Trust for the last seven years, Becci Cooper-Sayer has decided to move roles and has taken up a new position in Education. She will be missed by everyone who has worked with her and we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for all her hard work and wish her well for the future. Becci remains in post till August so please make sure you take the opportunity to say goodbye.
Claire Healey who has supported Becci will be taking up a new position as Engagement Officer and will have the overview for our Volunteering, Learning and Curatorial activities, supported by the rest of the DCTT team. This is a new approach for us so there will be some development work involved but we hope it will help us better respond to current and ongoing needs, especially where school engagement evolves as lock down restrictions ease.
Creating a New Display In Hursts Cavern
Hursts Cavern – such an interesting space, historically, geologically, and just aesthetically pleasing. The display inside has been a little dated and doesn’t highlight effectively the caverns unique space, the working conditions, ways of life, and personal stories from the miner’s perspective. The new display which was made available thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund has enabled us to make big improvements and bring our visitors closer to our miners, their stories, and the environment in which they created and worked.
The display has transformed from a static mannequin set into a moving lively space full of action from the Miners. Each Miner has an independent job to do and physically demonstrates how it would be done; this has proved to be effective in connecting the visitors to the miner’s role and how they carried out their individual duties on a day-to-day basis. The new display clearly demonstrates the Miners’ actions and working conditions to include the children who worked in mines, attire, tools used, and even down to the candle lighting; smoke is used to create a more realistic active mine environment.
The new display lighting used emphasises better the interesting shapes, angles, and textures of the mines surface. It also creates shadows of the miners for all to see. One of the challenges of the project was ensuring all elements were visible at each point on the boat, casting large shadow was a clever way to allow all visitors onboard to view the job disciplines.
From Our Archives
A visit to Castle Mill Basin 1846. FP Palmer & EA Crowquill
Just released, this fascinating book tells of the amazing and successful efforts of Rick Stanton MBE GM who together with John Volanthen led the team that rescued the Wild Boars football team and their coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand. In 1918. As a West Midlands fire fighter and avid diver and cave explorer Rick records how he spent time on our own system here at Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust.
Coming Soon – I Dig Canals – the show!
Reborn post-lockdown as Alarum Productions, to reflect the fact that they are not just a theatre company, Kate Saffin and Heather Wastie are very excited to be bringing their brand new show to Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust in September! This will be the first performance ever in the unique outdoor setting as well as being the first time this site-specific show will have been performed anywhere.
A world premiere in fact!
Alarum are delighted to be collaborating with the Trust to share some of the wonderful stories gathered from women during their recent I Dig Canals project and while working on more recently funded projects on the Dudley No 2 canal.
So put Saturday 11th September 6pm for 6.30 in your diary to join us for this special treat which will be performed on our new Towpath Theatre space.
From Our Archives
The Flying Scotsman being rescued from an embankment after it was dug up by members of the Trust. Ian Smallshire, one of the rescuers remembers it took a couple of days to complete, slowly inching it forward bit by bit.
New imagery courtesy of Nutcracker Design & Marketing
Historic Boats & Working Party & Social News
Due to lockdown we have not been able to offer our normal work party or social activities or attend boat shows. We hope to return to these soon. However, we still need more volunteers to help us with moving boats, doing site maintenance and canal clearance works and manning our historic boats at boat shows and at our main visitor site. If you are interested please contact email@example.com
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our Members who continued to support us during 2021 by renewing their subscriptions and donating to our Keep Us Afloat campaign. Every penny makes a difference to us.