In 1914, as World War I broke out, two military training camps were built on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, to train soldiers before they were sent to fight in mainland Europe. These were situated at Brocton and Penkridge Bank (near Rugeley). In 1916, Cannock Chase Military Hospital (also known as Brindley Heath Military Hospital) was built on the Brindley Heath area of Cannock Chase to support the training camps.
Brindley Heath Military Hospital
The hospital comprised 12 wards sized 20ft x 208ft connected by a long corridor, and treated up to 1000 convalescent soldiers at a time. After the war, the hospital was taken over by the Ministry of Pensions to treat those suffering from shell-shock (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD) and those who had been injured in poison gas attacks.
Creating Brindley Village
The Ministry of Pensions closed the hospital in 1924. The West Cannock Colliery Company, who owned the land, re-purposed the wards into bungalows, to house 75 families of workers at their nearby ‘No 5’ (‘Tackeroo’) mine. The site already had electric lights, water, and sewage disposal, so it was considered a good opportunity to convert the buildings into dwellings.
Brindley Village – or ‘Happy Valley’ as some locals referred to it – also contained a school, a working men’s clubhouse, a small shop, and St. Mary’s church, converted from the hospital chapel.
The village also had a football team, and often men posted at the RAF base at nearby Marquis Drive (built in 1938) would join in the games with the village men and boys.
In 1953, the residents of Brindley Village were moved to purpose-built council housing in Hednesford, and the village was demolished. However, the school remained open and eventually closed in 1959, shortly after Cannock Chase was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Many of the residents were deeply upset at being moved from life amongst the beautiful surroundings of Cannock Chase, and felt a loss of the village’s unique community spirit.
In the nearly 70 years since the residents moved out, the trees and bushes which were once part of gardens have overgrown and become a deciduous forest. Wildlife has moved in from the local heathland, and the spot is now popular for recreation. There are still signs of the village to be found; the entrance stone of the hospital remains, and is often adorned with flowers and notes to loved ones.
Bricks, cement and even asbestos (!) can be seen amongst the undergrowth. Cement fence posts still stand along the clearly-defined paths around the village, foundations of buildings edge out from the ground, and wreaths and mementos hang in the trees to remember those who lived – and died – in the village.
There are lots of plants and animals now living in the area where Brindley Village once stood.
See if you can spot laurel, rhododendrons, willow, brambles, cuckoos, speckled wood butterflies, nuthatches, long-tailed tits, robins, or squirrels as you stroll through the area.
Here are some of the changes to the landscape we spotted on visits during May.