Burning Boak (courtesy Sgt John De Hayes @ResponseSgt)

Walsall’s burning – but what next?

Burning Boak (courtesy Sgt John De Hayes @ResponseSgt)

It will be no news to many readers of The Bloxwich Telegraph that over the past few years there has been an increasing trend in the area for historic local pubs in particular to close and, having deteriorated over time, whether by misfortune or by intent, to either be demolished because of their poor condition or, something which has become a blight on the borough of late, ‘spontaneously combust’.

This latter event seems to happen either ‘accidentally’ due to people breaking in and smoking etc or – as seems more and more often to be the case – as a result of deliberate arson.  Yet no-one ever seems to be brought to justice.

The Crown at Leamore on fire (Johnny Sanders)
The Crown at Leamore on fire (courtesy Johnny Sanders)

In Walsall town itself, there is now a disturbing trend for large,historic, often former industrial buildings, to be let fall into disrepair and eventually go up in smoke.  Some of this at least is clearly due to deliberate arson, for what purpose we can only conjecture.

There has been much speculation off and online by local people as to whether there is a definable pattern to this, and what is or should be being done about it.  In an area which has lost so many of its historic buildings to often ill-considered ‘redevelopment’ in the past 150 years we cannot afford to lose any more of our built heritage.

Perhaps more importantly to many minds, this plague of conflagrations which seems to be sweeping the Walsall area is bound, if it continues, to result in loss of life, whether public or within the emergency services, and damage to other properties, including both homes and businesses.  The whole of Station Street and Navigation Street could easily have been destroyed as a result of the recent act of arson committed on the massive former Boak Ravenscraig leather works, for example.

Bull's Head Burnt Down 6 Nov 10
Firemen damping down the badly burnt Bull’s Head, 6 November 2010 (courtesy Terry Humphries)

This whole sorry matter has clearly come to a head now, and at the AGM of Walsall Civic Society earlier this month, angry questions were being asked by members about the plague of fires and derelict heritage buildings, and what was being done about it by Walsall Police and Walsall Council in particular.

This week the Civic Society has written to the local press, the Council and the Police raising the matter in no uncertain terms.  Their letter, sent on the Society’s behalf by the Secretary,  John French, is as follows:

“Dear Sir.

Walsall in Flames

To whom should we assign blame for the regular disappearance of historic buildings in Walsall?

Certainly to the man or woman with the box of matches. But that is too easy. What about owners who care too little for their buildings to arrange appropriate maintenance and security?

What about the Council itself which fails to exercise its enforcement powers on recalcitrant owners? What about the Police whose investigations are fruitless, if they happen at all?

Nationally listed, Iocally listed, historically interesting, or architecturally interesting buildings have a value to the whole community not just to their legal owners. This point seems to have escaped all the above, they should wake up to it.

Yours faithfully,

etc.”

The concerned citizen of Walsall borough can hardly argue with the  questions asked and sentiments expressed above.

This appalling and ongoing state of affairs in the Walsall area has understandably also exercised the active and rightly outspoken Twitterati of Walsall, as well as the borough’s prominent blogosphere.

After the Fire (courtesy Brownhills Bob's Brownhills Blog)
After the Fire (courtesy Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog)

The latest stage of the debate, which has been facilitated by historically-inclined local activist and blogger Brownhills Bob in his post “After the fire had gone out – an appeal’, is also about what can be done in a practical way to raise the profile of, in particular, historic buildings at risk, bring them to the attention of the Council and others, and perhaps make a record of them for posterity.  Hopefully this will eventually develop into a community-led initiative in this regard.

The Bloxwich Telegraph certainly supports the initiatives of both Walsall Civic Society and Brownhills Bob and other local people as well as anything that Walsall Council and the Emergency Services can do.

Also, the members of the Walsall Flickr Group are very heritage minded, and this is very much a topic of conversation there, where you’ll find many a sad but well-taken photo of the demise of the Boak Ravenscraig Works at the moment – check it out via this link.

We would like to encourage you, our readers, to join in the debate and express your concern about the accelerating loss of our built heritage, whether it be by neglect or by criminal activity. We invite you to do all of the following:

  • Write to the local newspapers.
  • Email your local blog.
  • Contact your local Councillor and express your concern.
  • Write to Walsall Council, Walsall Police and West Midlands Fire Service and ask them what they are doing about this.
  • Keep an eye out for buildings at risk and report them to the authorities.
  • Let us know at The Bloxwich Telegraph about any specific concerns you have for historic buildings in Bloxwich, Blakenall Heath, Leamore or Birchills.

We simply can no longer afford to watch our history and our lives go up in smoke. Now is the time to stand up for our local heritage, as never before!

The picture of the Boak fire at the top of this page is published courtesy of Sgt John DeHayes (@ResponseSgt)
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