A pumping station, glassworks and pottery kiln at Ashted Circus
Archaeological work as part of a new development along the Digbeth Branch Canal near Ashted Circus, has investigated remains of a pumping station, two glassworks and wartime structures.
Ashted pumping station
Canals lost water at locks and through leakage and evaporation, and needed topping up. Steam engines were used to pump the water. In Birmingham, there were canal pumping engines at Ashted on the Digbeth Branch Canal, at Bowyer Street on the Warwick Canal, at Witton on the Tame Valley Canal and near Edgbaston Reservoir.
The Ashted pumping station was built in 1812 on the north side of the Digbeth Branch Canal, near Ashted Locks. The Boulton and Watt steam engine here worked continuously until 1928, when it was bought by Henry Ford following his visit to Birmingham that year. It was dismantled and taken to Ford's museum in Dearborn near Detroit in the United States, where it is still on display. Although the superstructure of the pumping station has gone, excavations revealed the well-preserved base. The outer walls are nearly two metres high and the details inside the pumping station include the pump shaft, sandstone slabs which held the support for the engines beam, and a pit which held the engines condenser tank.
The remains of the pumping station will be preserved in the new development.
Belmont Glassworks and Belmont Row Glassworks
Although glassmaking in the West Midlands is mainly associated with the Stourbridge area, it was an important Birmingham industry as well. 18 glassworks were established in Birmingham in 18th and 19th centuries, mostly alongside canals, which were ideally suited to carry the bulky fuels and raw materials required by this industry and its bulky and fragile products.
In 1803 the Belmont site, alongside the Digbeth Branch Canal, was owned by a china and earthenware manufacturer, and by 1806 cut glass was being made there. Pottery making ceased by 1807 but glassmaking continued. Three glass cones are shown on a site map of about 1855, by which time the works occupied both sides of the canal. One of the glassworks' boundary walls is still visible.
Excavations revealed part of one of the cones and remains of other glassworks buildings marked on the 1855 map, together with a circular brick structure which was probably an earlier glass cone, that had gone out of use before 1855.
Wartime at Ashted Circus
In addition to remains of industries, the site contained two Second World War air raid shelters and an ARP cleansing station. The cleansing station or decontamination unit was one of 23 such structures constructed at Public Works depots in Birmingham in 1939 in fear of gas and chemical attack. The building retained design features related to its original function, including downward sills on windows to prevent accumulation of chemical agents; a vertical brick course and brick patterning to enable routes and access to airlocks to be felt in darkness or by people blinded by attack; high window openings to counter shrapnel: and two airlocks.